Marc Hannaford: The Garden of Forking Paths

In his liner notes to The Garden of Forking Paths, pianist Marc Hannaford asks that the listener experience his debut album's content for “what it is, rather than what it is not”—sound advice indeed, and a good reminder that any material should be broached, to some degree at least, with respect to the artistic intentions of its creator. Which, in this case, is music that inhabits a largely improvised space that also incorporates predefined frameworks (pitch cells, rhythms, fully-notated passages); in other words, Hannaford directs his collaborators—trumpeter Scott Tinkler, drummer Ken Edie, and double bassist Philip Rex—in specific ways but not so much so that their freedom is encroached upon excessively. The collection's eight pieces constitute aural snapshots of Australian musicians improvising in solo, duo, trio, and quartet configurations within an acoustic-based, free jazz idiom.

Abetted by the others' unflappable support, Hannaford's playing style is as bold as his compositional concept (his aggressive attack in the trio setting “Sauna Twins” shows he's clearly no wallflower while “I'll Go Down...” provides a revealing portrait of his playing sans accompaniment), and all musicians regularly move outside traditional strictures of harmony and rhythm. “G.E.B.,” seventeen minutes long and a scenic sojourn filled with bravura interplay by all four players, is naturally the album's go-to piece. As one might expect, the trip is winding, filled with stops and starts, loud and soft episodes, and occasional solo spotlights, yet the guides' simpatico interaction remains compelling throughout; in Tinkler, Edie, and Rex, Hannaford has found musicians whose sensibilities clearly coincide. His playing style is more Uri Caine than Keith Jarrett, more inclined towards, say, freeform openness than elegant consonance, and the characterization generally applies to the compositional approach adopted throughout this challenging but rewarding album.

September 2007