After teasing the release of her ninth studio album for three years, Alanis Morissette has finally revealed a tortured labour of love. Eschewing the usual cavalcade of buzzy producers and glossy pop productions, she delivers a modern twist on her familiar grunge-tinged pop. Morissette’s emotive mezzo-soprano voice has carried the weight of sombre diaristic salvos dedicated to her trauma for decades. In fact she took the idea of “angry young women” and brought humanity to it, singing about sexual abuse and female empowerment. Some of this has softened with age, Morissette finding moments to devote songs to her children, as on Ablaze, which carries heartening promises. It’s clear, though, that Morissette hasn’t lost her fiery anger, which erupts on ballads such as Reckoning, Losing the Plot and Diagnosis. The demons that taunted her years ago also persist: on Reasons I Drink, Morissette struggles with her long-publicised battles with an eating disorder and alcoholism. “One more rip,” she bemoans. “I go from one lily-pad to another to stay lit.” Her seamless use of modern slang serves as a wry wink to the audience, but it’s also a reminder that Morissette isn’t a relic of the past; she’s here to stay.
Monash Art Ensemble
HERE NOW HEAR (FMR) ★★★★½
Monash Art Ensemble reaches ever higher and farther afield for imagination-stretching material. Directed by Paul Grabowsky, this combination of students and professionals moves well beyond the jazz big-band mentality on this double album, taking listeners on the genre-crossing journeys of eight composers, deep into the land where improvisation and composition illuminate each other, rather than being mutually exclusive. Grabowsky’s For EE Cummings has Gian Slater singing a setting of the miraculously beautiful As Is the Sea Marvellous, the music otherworldly, the poem’s profound passion muted, like a memory. Andrew Ford sets assorted poems in Comeclose and Sleepnow: Six Liverpool Love Songs, with Slater’s Ariel-like voice casting a spell of a different sort: the music exquisitely orchestrated, the dissonances acting as thorns that unexpectedly snag the emotions. The theremin on Cat Hope’s The Dark Hip Falls could be the voice of an old friend who’s an alien, Marc Hannaford’s Fainter, Stronger employs massive contrast between labyrinthine density and more sinewy passages, and Sandy Evans’ The Drunkard’s Walk is a wild and zany ride that will have you gripping the arms of your chair.
CHROMATIC FLIGHT (Move) ★★★★
When was the last time you mentioned Bach, Telemann, Don Burrows and Chick Corea in the same breath? Odds on it’s never. But for veteran Australian performer, arranger, producer and composer Graham Jesse, they are all facets of the inspiration for Chromatic Flight, his new project for piano and flute. Interpreted and performed by the masterful Virginia Taylor (flute) and Simon Tedeschi (piano), the album is made up of two neatly defined halves. The first is a series of six programmatic vignettes, each embodying its title exactly as promised. Flutter features a flutter-tongue flute motif, Waves ebbs and flows in a graceful triple time, and the title track is indeed a flurry of semitones. Here is where the baroque and classical influences reside most securely, and yet the harmony is always more progressive than those composers ever dreamed of. The second half consists of two flute suites: one Latin, the other jazzy. Both are delightfully jaunty, but never cocky – sounding strangely effortless despite their energetic syncopation. If Chromatic Flight has an overarching flaw, it is that it’s over too soon: a deeper dive into those image-laden motifs and rambling jazz melodies would have been more than welcome.
HERMITAGE (COOKING VINYL) ★★★★
For Ron Sexsmith, consistency is a curse. Since the early 1990s, the 56-year-old Canadian has produced such a procession of high-quality records that it is almost boring and something of a predictable non-event when a new one, such as the excellent Hermitage, appears. This has all the staple Sexsmith ingredients: melodies with the knack of feeling unconventional yet at the same time warmly familiar; that tender drawl of a voice; instrumental arrangements which tread an exquisite line between polished and slightly unkempt, with Sexsmith playing everything except drums himself. Another predictable feature is the heavy echo of Paul McCartney, which infuses the single You Don’t Want to Hear It and another highlight, Apparently Au Pair, while the innocence of Morning Town recalls the winsomeness of his first couple of albums. Although some lyrics tend towards the melancholy, as on Is It or Isn’t It? with its tale of thwarted romance, there is an overarching summery positivity to these expertly crafted songs, most of which are carried by a perky tempo. Hermitage is a delightful listen, and par for the course for a genuine songwriting master.
John Shand has written about music and theatre since 1981 in more than 30 publications, including for Fairfax Media since 1993. He is also a playwright, author, poet, librettist, drummer and winner of the 2017 Walkley Arts Journalism Award