A month ago, Veronica Swift’s incandescent singing lit up the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival, yet her recent album, Confessions, provided no preparation for this in-person agility, power, beauty, commitment and excitement, it being overproduced and her singing relatively constrained. What has this to do with Jazzmeia Horn? In 2015, Swift came second to Horn in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, and Horn’s album is considerably stronger than Swift’s, which begs the question: is she, too, even better, live? She’s penned most of the material (of a higher calibre than that of many her contemporaries), and although not exactly breaking through any frontiers, her music is less rooted in bebop than Swift’s, leaning towards R&B when she slides away from jazz. Regardless of what she’s singing, however, she’s a towering improviser, her startling improvisational flights earthed by a warm, soft-centred voice, and as both a lyricist and a singer she deploys an engaging sense of humour. She’s ably supported by pianist Victor Gould, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Jamison Ross, plus guests. Perhaps her future was mapped out from the moment she was named. JOHN SHAND
THE ORCHESTRAL MUSIC (Decca Eloquence)
Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra (one of Europe’s oldest, dating from 1743) has a long, proud Brahms tradition. It was the composer’s orchestra of choice to premiere his 1869 German Requiem, and he conducted and played piano with them many times, so the orchestra claims authenticity in this repertoire is in its DNA. This eight-album set has the Gewandhaus and its 1970-96 conductor, Kurt Masur, playing all Brahms’ orchestral works: four symphonies, two piano concertos, violin concerto, double violin and cello concerto, overtures, serenades and 21 Hungarian dances. Although none of these would be first-choice performances on their own, they are very fine, and make an excellent entry point to truly great music at a budget price. Masur’s strengths are transparency, clarity and attention to detail; all orchestral voices are perfectly placed and balanced. To the modern ear, the slower tempi can suggest a loss of momentum, but there’s an integrity and nobility to Masur’s approach, and he draws out some beautiful playing. The soloists – refined violinist Salvatore Accardo, ardent cellist Heinrich Schiff and graceful pianist Misha Dichter – are distinguished, and the dances really flow. BARNEY ZWARTZ
SUMMIT OVER (Earshift)
There’s nothing like new sounds to keep the ears young. Yes, you hear a wild spray of reference points in the music made by Sydney trio Holopeak on this debut album, but the totality of what they’re doing is unique. Having met when studying jazz at Sydney Conservatorium, guitarist Nick Mielczarek, bassist Harry Birch and drummer Chloe Kim have quickly escaped any obligation to adhere to tired conventions. They work in a dimly lit musical back alley where free improvisation collides with the aesthetics of rock: specifically the peculiar energy that results from volume, density and insistent rhythms. Where the 1970s jazz-rock idiom tended to make the rock elements prissily sophisticated, Holopeak takes rock at its most raw, and then adds the sophistication in the shaping of their improvisations. Furious assaults are countered by dips into pools of surprising serenity. Some of these U-turns in mood and narrative were created in real time; some in post-production editing. Both are a means to the same end of telling musical stories that have not been told before. JOHN SHAND
Every album by the Who since, oh, 1978’s Who Are You has been an occasion to remember that the original proponents of London’s youthquake rebellion – the mod hellions who declared, “hope I die before I get old” – were actually getting old. The surviving members, guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend and frontman Roger Daltrey, are respectively 74 and 75 now, but they’re not taking a step backwards: “I don’t care, I know you’re going to hate this song,” begins opening track All This Music Must Fade, complete with a trademark Townshend mix of surging acoustic and electric guitar interplay. For the most part, the pair’s first studio set in 13 years is muscular without quite being moving: songs such as Street Song play up the still sizable parameters of Daltrey’s voice, without creating a specific sense of place or moment. The oddities are interesting, including Townshend singing of romantic satisfaction on I’ll Be Back, complete with a rock opera middle eight, while Detour is vintage English R&B. That said, there is little overt nostalgia or self-aggrandisement here. Credit to the Who: they are determined to be a part, however awkwardly, of right now. CRAIG MATHIESON
COME ON UP TO THE HOUSE: WOMEN SING WAITS (Dualtone)
Tribute albums like this, though always well-intentioned, often have the effect of re-contextualising the celebrated artist as a “heritage” act, implying they are past their prime and a relic whose music is best considered retrospectively. Happily, this is largely not the case with this all-female collection of Tom Waits covers – partly because Waits, as he approaches 70, remains a wild, elusive and relevant artist, and partly because this album is suitably eclectic in terms of both the performers involved and the songs selected. As singers from Tim Buckley to Tori Amos have proven over the decades, beneath the gruff and experimental veneer of many Waits tracks there lurks something exquisitely melodic. Here sister-trio Joseph’s slow and sparse rendering of the title track emphasises its inherent loveliness, while Patty Griffin’s take on Ruby’s Arms is similarly moving. More robust and ambitious interpretations come from Courtney Marie Andrews with Downtown Train, and Kat Edmonson with her dream-pop take on You Can Never Hold Back Spring. To their credit, each of the covering artists succeeds in imbuing Waits’ music with something idiosyncratic and personal. BARNABY SMITH
ANYWAY GANG (Royal Mountain)
The job of Canadian indie supergroup is already ably filled with the New Pornographers. But here’s another one, which includes Chris Murphy from Sloan, a band that has had a remarkably high run of great indie rock albums over a 29-year career. Along with Dave Monks of Tokyo Police Club, Menno Versteeg of Hollerado and singer-songwriter Sam Roberts, he formed Anyway Gang as a side project to “make dad jokes and jam out on a bunch of three-chord songs we all had lying around”. Hopefully, the dad jokes were good, because even though the album’s a side hustle, it’s still a little thin, both in length and depth. It is just nine tracks, and one of those is a 44-second They Might Be Giants-like interlude: an intriguing harmonic snippet that should have been expanded. Fly Francisco is the Dreamliner in this hangar of Cessnas, a chiming piece of Beatles-esque sparkle that glides above the pack. The rest is passable post-punk throb and new wave fizz, alongside a strange dub-tinged track about personal injury payouts (Everybody Cries), and a slice of jangle-pop cheese that has the not-so-lofty ambition of rubbing shoulders with the theme from Friends (I’m Just That Good). BARRY DIVOLA
Writer and author Barry Divola – who specialises in music, popular culture, food and travel – lives in Sydney, but his heart lives in New York.
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
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
Barney Zwartz, a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, was religion editor of The Age from 2002 to 2013.