Alto saxophonist David Ades is a musician willing to go wherever his instrument takes him. He’s equally at ease playing for kicks and coins on the sandy streets of Byron Bay – his awe-inspiring notes melting ice creams and freezing tongues mid-lick – as he is performing inside the hallowed Sydney Opera House.
As a soloist he’s performed with many of Australia’s great jazz musicians and international luminaries. He’s been a member of various ensembles: from Phil Treloar’s Feeling To Thought, to his band FATS, which he released two acclaimed albums with, and most recently touring with tenor saxophonist Matt Keegan in support of the celebrated album The Matt Keegan Trio Meets Dave Ades.
In 2011 Ades decided to record his first album in 20 years, his last being 1991’s esteemed Bird On a Head. For the new album he decided to record with three of his favourite musicians in New York: bassist Mark Helias, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Gerald Cleaver. These exceptional musicians are among the leading light’s of the international jazz and improvised music world. Their individual biographies and discographies include collaborations with giants of the music such as Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, Roscoe Mitchell. They are all great band leaders and prolific composers. Ades had first met the trio 11 years earlier at the Wangarratta Jazz Festival when he was given the opportunity to perform with Helias’ amazing trio “Open Loose”. The meeting proved pivotal for Ades, with mutual respect between the four players evolving into friendship, fostered through Ades’ yearly pilgrimages to New York.
New York has always been Ades’ musical Mecca. It’s where he went at age 19, after completing his first year at the Sydney conservatory, to get his musical ass kicked. Night after night from 1981 to 1984, he sat in on shows at the Blue Book in Harlem, witnessing remarkable artists like Jack McDuff, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine and Freddie Hubbard. Quite simply, Harlem taught him how to play.
Armed with his saxophone, a little Casio keyboard and three rough compositions, Ades left the hills of Byron Bay in mid 2011 to return to New York. He secured himself in room above La Ripaille, a bustling French restaurant owned by his brother-in-law, and let the music come. Soon he had nine songs and, after one rehearsal, the quartet of Ades, Helias, Malaby and Cleaver entered the Acoustic Recording Studios in Brooklyn with engineer Michael Broby the following day. Proving the fluidity of Ades’ compositions, the dexterity of the players and the depth of their connection, the album was finished within five hours.
Titled A Glorious Uncertainty after a phrase his sister coined to describe their father’s life, the album contains nine compositions of startling individuality, each track dripping with a life force all of its own. Together they stand as a testament to Ades’ beautifully courageous approach to music and the shared willingness of the players’ sublime abandon.
Many are intensely personal, inspired by key figures in Ades’ life. There’s “Melissa”, an ode to his wife who passed away in 2005. It’s a loving journey into the deep end of sadness, which staggers triumphant out the other side to joy. “This Land”, one of the few tracks written before NY, follows Ades’ subsequent experience of “seeing the world through eyes of grief”. The frenetic, all arms and legs, “Moolie” is for his daughter; “Open Loose” is inspired by Helias’ trio, while opening track “La Ripaille”, literally ‘The Feast’, takes its namesake from the “mad and chaotic” restaurant Ades stayed above that provided the erratic heartbeat for his compositions. “Philstream (for Phil Treloar)”, is a tribute to his long-time collaborator and musical mentor, who taught Ades at a young age the importance of authenticity, trusting the creative process and, above all, to take risks, even if it means playing on “the edge of the abyss”.
Along with the track “Joe The Kid”, the heart of the album belongs to David’s father, Joe Ades, who died in 2009. Famous for selling potato peelers on the streets of New York, always immaculate in a dapper three-piece suit, it was Joe’s approach to life, the ‘glorious uncertainty’ that he thrived on, that Ades sought to capture. It is this exploratory nature, this gift of seeing the beauty in the question mark and the possibilities it represents, that Joe passed onto his son and which seeps through the album: if we’re not quite sure where we are going, we can go anywhere.
Technically, it’s jazz. Free, bold and magnificent jazz, fired by impeccable musicianship. Yet A Glorious Uncertainty is a work too large in spirit to ever fit neatly under one banner. It’s punk in its spontaneity and immediacy; it’s got armloads of soul, evident in every aching howl bleeding out of the dual saxophones. It’s as funky as Miles circa On The Corner and as wild-eyed and feverish to live as Neil Cassady on any of his Kerouac adventures. It’s as beautiful as the experience of embracing the unknown with both arms and following the glorious uncertainty of life wherever it takes you.