There’s something so incredibly satisfying about listening to Hammerhead’s Mozaic. From the opening track, pianist Tim Bruer’s ‘Blues of Many Hues’, there are melodies that you can hold onto, grooves that get under your skin, an electricity that reminds you of first listening to jazz as a teenager: imagining yourself in some basement New York club, watching Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley fight it out through smoke rings. Sure, it’s the oldest cliché in the book. But, if many of us were to admit it, our earliest forays into jazz hinged on halcyon visions of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
That said, Mozaic is far from a mere rehashing of times past. It’s grounded in tradition, all right, but it’s supercharged with an energy that’s very much of the now. Classics, including Cedar Walton’s ‘Mosaic’, Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak No Evil’ and Oliver Nelson’s ‘Butch and Butch’ are sharply rearranged, and lined up against more recent tunes, such as Pat Metheny’s warm, pensive ‘Sometimes I See’ (recorded in 1996). The originals, penned mainly by bandleader and saxophonist Jason Bruer who returned to Australia recently after living in London for half a lifetime, are infused with dashes of contemporary funk. Crucially, however, their no-nonsense bop essence is in no way diluted.
Jason Bruer formed Hammerhead after discovering a shared passion for hard-bop in drummer Duncan Archibald. In league with double bassist Matt Gruebner, his hard-swinging yet light-as-a-feather drumming compels and seduces, in turn, underpinning horn work from Ray Cassar (trumpet and flugel horn), Andrew Robertson (alto and baritone saxophones and flute) and, of course, Jason Bruer (alto and tenor saxophones). What they hit right on the mark is the peculiar blend of fire and cool that makes hard bop what it is.
Australian improvised music might, in many quarters, be exploring other frontiers. But Hammerhead’s Mozaic is certainly testament to the extraordinary power, scope and timelessness of jazz as the likes of Art Blakey and Horace Silver reimagined it. As Blakey himself, who didn’t particularly like giving labels to music, put it, “If you feel like patting your feet, pat your feet. If you feel like clapping your hands, clap your hands. And if you feel like taking off your shoes, take off your shoes. We are here to have a ball. So we want you to leave your worldly troubles outside and come in here and swing.