Adrian Galante

There are moments that are difficult to describe and interpret, either because you cannot find the appropriate words, or the occasion is just so emotionally immense that sentiment obscures the path to its expression. But what you feel is incredibly moving, a juxtaposition of passion and euphoria and a sadness that attaches to something that you will not necessarily witness again, at least for a while. Many supporters of jazz in the area have borne witness to a string of illustrious performances from pianist and clarinettist Adrian Galante over recent weeks at various venues across the region. Adrian went to the United States, recorded an album, put down some tentative roots and then returned to Western Australia for a short time before a longer sojourn (or maybe a more permanent stay) back in the Big Apple and elsewhere. This session of music from Adrian and his friends was significant because we simply do not know when we will see and hear him again in WA. We hear that he will return in nine months, in time for Christmas and the New Year, but it is likely that many of us will need to see him to believe it. So we needed to make the most of this evening, to savour every last lingering note, with a lump in our throats and maybe the odd tear or two in the corners of our eyes. Because make no mistake, what we have seen and heard during the short time since Adrian’s return to WA and his departure back to the USA, has been nothing short of miraculous, a constant stream of inventiveness and craftmanship that has taken our appreciation to new heights and led us to simply say, “Where do we go from here?”. And to have been there and to have witnessed this magic will have to suffice until the hoped-for next time and many of us will try to ensure, with as much clarity as our memories can muster, that we retain much of what we saw and heard as a constant reminder of the brilliance on show.

There were moments too, when the entertainer’s mask slipped a little to reveal a tenderness and an introspection not normally seen. Adrian was at his busy best, exploring the musical friendships with his colleagues and ensuring that the banter at which he is so good and which engages the audience so well, was well represented throughout his performance. But then a small cloud would pass, would blot out the sun and bring a realisation that this will end, even for the performer, and what has been savoured over these past weeks will slip from reality into memory. It was palpable as Adrian sat at the piano and produced a beautiful medley of sentimental ballads reflecting, as he said, his mood and for a while he was bent over the piano, seemingly elsewhere, alone with his thoughts in a crowded room. It was palpable also as we reached the end and he played an encore which maybe gave a semblance of the ambience as, with suitcase packed and departure imminent, he played, alone with his friend of the past five years, Danny Moss Jr., “Stranger In Paradise”, that haunting melody borrowed from Borodin’s
“Polovtsian Dances” whose English lyric contains the line “And I ascended out of the common place into the rarest, somewhere in space I stand suspended”. And maybe his introspection took him across the formative years to all that made him what he is today and which somehow culminated in this consummate idyll on this night in Fremantle.

And the friends who surrounded him let him take flight. They did not impose and badger. They were happy to support, to provide the musical cape around his shoulders, to give of their best but in homage almost, and in thanks to the masterful artist that he is and all that his music has meant to them by association. None more so than Danny Moss Jr., rock solid in the background, contemplating an intensely creative partnership and friendship covering the past five years. They have often been in each other’s pockets, enhancing the other’s capabilities, providing a reference point for the music’s growth and playing counterpoint to the hum-drum. The words that Danny spoke into the mike in celebration of his friend were heartfelt, more so because of the growth that each has made in the presence of the other. It is not known who leads who astray – it is probably both – but they have an extraordinary time to look back on in reflection and to build on for the future. Lachlan Glover is the pupil who is rapidly creating his own adventurous and creative space, increasingly confident, content to stand beside his mentor and friend and give an astonishingly mature musical performance on tenor saxophone. With Adrian gone, he remains and we can only wonder whether the heights he reaches will be similar in magnitude to those scaled by Adrian. And then there were the new boys, the young Sam Newman on drums who demonstrated all the ability that is going to be necessary to succeed in his field. He was confident, brash at times, but delighted to be there in the presence of such highly regarded colleagues. And finally, there was Jackson Van Ballegooyen, the pianist with the hardest job on the night, standing in on the piano while Adrian serenaded on the clarinet. Thankfully Jackson is not Adrian. He is assured and assertive but has his own style and self-belief. His playing is sparer than Adrian’s but highly inventive and he produced a number of fine solos during the evening that fitted with the overall timbre.

The music, as always, was eclectic. There were lesser known tunes, there were old favourites and there were standards all treated with reverence and with a panache that we have come to expect from this band of musicians. Events began with the trio, piano, bass and drums, with Adrian taking on the music of Alec Wilder, who wrote “While We’re Young” with Morty Palitz, with lyrics by Bill Engvick. Adrian caressed this song beautifully. We did not hear the lyrics but humourist James Thurber said that they were “the finest piece of English writing he knew”. The song was from 1943 and the next, “Amapola” took us all the way back to 1920. With it’s Latin feel, it was written by the Spanish American composer Jose Maria Lacalle Garcia and was first recorded by a Cuban orchestra in 1923. Adrian picked up the clarinet for the old warhorse “Just In Time” which was taken at a fast pace with Lachie chasing Adrian all over the stage. “Just In Time” is from the pen of Jule Styne with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and was first introduced into the musical “The Bells Are Ringing” in 1956. We then returned to the songbook of Alec Wilder for the little heard “Blackberry Winter” which he wrote with Loonis McGlohon which again featured Adrian on clarinet. The song title refers to that brief cold spell in some parts of the USA when the blackberry bushes bloom. The last two songs in the first set were from the Duke Ellington songbook. The first is not heard much these days. “La Plus Belle Africaine” started life as “African Flower” and appeared first on Ellington’s 1962 album “Money Jungle”. Ellington composed it for the Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal. The cascading sequences of the song, meant to represent Ellington’s “imaginery vision of a beautiful flower blooming ‘Only For God’ in the heart” (Janna Tull Steed, Duke Ellington: a Spiritual Biography, 1999), were exquisitely played by the band with Adrian playing both clarinet and piano. Some fine drumming here too by Sam Newman. The first set concluded with “In a Mellow Tone”, which Duke Ellington composed in 1939, with some fine piano from Jackson.

“Takin’ a Chance On Love” led off the second set with Adrian on clarinet and Jackson on piano. This popular song from 1940 was written by Vernon Duke and featured in the Broadway musical “Cabin In the Sky”. And then we were into the medley of ballads that had Adrian drifting away into such sublime phrasing and sumptuous melody with bass and drums accompanying. I heard “What’d I Do”, “You Made Me Love You” and “All the Way” and there may have been one other but to tell the truth I was not really thinking about titles. I was thinking about how Adrian translates some fairly mundane popular songs into such wondrous musical journeys. The introspection over, we moved into the up-tempo “Oh Lady Be Good” by George Gershwin which had some intricate and pacey tenor saxophone from Lachie and equally mesmerising piano from Adrian. “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You” was written by English bandleader Ray Noble in 1938 who, ironically, moved to the United States in 1934. It is a beautiful, languorous ballad and was given sensitive treatment by Lachie on tenor saxophone and Adrian on piano. We were coming to the end of the evening and it was fitting that Adrian performed Michel Legrand’s “I Will Wait For You” which has become a speciality for him and is so appreciated by audiences wherever he plays. It was on point, gorgeous in execution, the different time signatures and rhythms as exploratory as ever. As the ovation was dying away after that, the band launched into “Caravan” with some searing clarinet from Adrian in the higher register of the instrument and good contributions from everyone including an explosive drum solo from Sam. The audience were on their feet and Adrian was walking away but, of course, he was not allowed to leave without giving us an encore and this came in the form of the beautiful piano and bass duet, “Stranger In Paradise”, with Adrian and Danny acknowledging each other’s prowess on their respective instruments. They might have been in the backroom of a pub somewhere, kicking back after a long day.

I have been listening to and watching jazz performances and recordings for a long time, too long to recall. I truly believe that during the past few weeks I have experienced some of the finest improvised music I have ever heard, anywhere. It sometimes happens that a musician has a good day and there have been some memorable performances from some that have been very special while other performances, while still very good, are more ordinary. But the consistency and quality that we have seen and heard from Adrian Galante and his colleagues over the past few weeks is to me unsurpassed. It is extraordinary that such elemental performances can maintain this level of ability and competence time after time. I do not regret Adrian’s move to the USA. In fact, I applaud it. A musician of his undoubted powers must constantly look to raise the bar. And I wish him every success. But I will miss him. He has brought me such joy and a belief in the constancy of a well-formed talent and I will forever look forward to future contact. In fact Adrian, I will wait for you…..

Photos courtesy of Lyn Bereczky

© Ken Westgate, 2023