Jackie Orszaczky's final statement of his art before his death nearly a year ago is almost completely and brutally stripped down.
Gone are the cunning arrangements for horns and chord instruments, displaced by just Orszaczky's voice, Dave Symes's bass and Hamish Stuart's drums delivering the songs' bare bones, sparely fleshed out with the leader's quirky piccolo bass.
This instrument was Orszaczky's signature sound over his last 15 years and was much more than a conventional bass. His own creation, it was a bass guitar with lighter-gauge strings and tuned up as much as an octave higher than normal. Treated with various electronic effects, it sometimes sounded rather like an organ and at other times more like a guitar.
This album's sparseness provides an opportunity to appreciate the constant. Symes's funky lines, to doubling the vocal melody, sketching chords and soloing (very lyrically on The Nearness Of You).
The sparseness also places particular focus on Orszaczky's singing. That striking, gravelly surface is like a husk wrapped around the innate warmth (and sly humour) within, and this multi-faceted layering helps him convey every lyric as if it were a very personal letter to the listener.
Even more telling is the phrasing, which always lies at the heart of Orszaczky's art, whether singing, playing, arranging or composing.
So intensely rhythmical is this phrasing that if one pulled the backing tracks out and just listened to his voice, the funkiness you hear in the totality would already be there — and in spades.
The material includes new and revisited originals, plus a typically idiosyncratic array of covers. One might not, for instance, expect to find James Taylor's Fire And Rain sitting near to Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression (with a suitably wild piccolo bass), nor Hoagy Carmichael's The Nearness Of You nestled beside Dr John's Me Minus You Equals Loneliness.
But then under the Orszaczky treatment material of all stripes fuses and melds in the consciousness.
One of the strongest originals is the revisited Lights Off (from the classic Family Lore CD), which is so much more poignantly sad than it is sexy, as he tells of a girl who "made love in the dark, so she could be with whom she wanted".
Then there's the opening Ready To Listen, which has one of those Hamish Stuart beats that could have once made Sly Stone (and therefore Miles Davis) get up and boogie. Against this, both Symes's supple bass and the piccolo bass create an intricate network of intersections and parallel lines, while the singing is as percussive as the drum part is singable. Orszaczky's partner, Tina Harrod, swells three tracks with her backing vocals, including Look Up and I Heard It Through The Grapevine.
Otherwise we have the essence of Orszaczky. What could be a more fitting epitaph for a wonderful artist?
LEGENDARY Sydney musician Jackie Orszaczky, a mentor to many, died on February 3, aged 59, after a two-year battle with lymphoma.
Since then there have been numerous tribute concerts in Sydney and a big one in his native Hungary in April.
This CD was recorded in several Sydney studios during the two years to 2006 in live, one-off takes, and mixed in 2008.
In it Orszaczky is heard on his trademark piccolo bass and vocals, and in his trio with long-time collaborators bassist Dave Symes and drummer Hamish Stuart.
About half of the 12 tracks are originals and Tina Harrod, Orszaczky's musical and life partner, provides back-up vocals on three songs.
For 25 years he contributed his arranging and bass playing talents to albums by Marcia Hines, Savage Garden, the Whitlams, Tim Finn, Hoodoo Gurus, Grinspoon and many others.
More an influential soul and funk stylist than a jazz performer, Orszaczky's vocal approach owes something to Ray Charles, and his piccolo bass grooves and wails like a funky guitar.
Hoagy Carmichael's ballad The Nearness of You gets a bluesy rearrangement and a swinging Orszaczky bass solo accompanied by his unison scat singing.
James Taylor's hit Fire and Rain is another song well suited to the funky style featuring swampwater bass work with a small amount of reverb.
Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix in 6/8 time explores some of the composer's guitar ideas with the addition of Orszaczky's overriding, semi-strangled vocals. Of course all of the original tunes are perfectly suited to the composer's style, with Look Up and Burnin the most vocally raw and emphatic; in these and throughout the album, Stuart's drums and Syme's bass provide visceral support.
Vitamin Records has just one more Orszaczky recording left to release, in mid-2009. Meanwhile, Ready to Listen is a fine collection from a great talent