Marc Hannaford: Polar

Perhaps the best description of Polar is the one provided by its creator, Marc Hannaford: “Polar is about exploration: the exploration of space through sound, utilizing either improvisation or composition.” The Melbourne, Australia-based pianist takes no prisoners on the forty-eight-minute recording, whose six compositions—five originals and one by John Rodgers—offer compelling arguments for the musician's fearless, high-wire approach. It's a striking recording in a non-musical sense, too, with three of the pieces succinct, two-minute statements while two others are veritable epics by comparison at sixteen and twenty minutes in length.

Recorded on a single day in July 2008, Hannaford's follow-up to 2007's The Garden Of Forking Paths documents his brash playing style in challenging compositions that embrace and explore concepts of post-serialist harmony and counterpoint—the sound of a musician versed in classical and jazz traditions straining to integrate them into an “asymmetrical” composing style that's as personal as it is uncompromising. Free-wheeling melodies entwine into tangled and knotty thickets throughout the recording. Distant echoes of stride playing emerge like faded photographs during “Genius and Emptiness” as Hannaford leaps through upper register melodies while anchoring them with a walking pattern below. Traces of Bartokian “night music” haunt the opening moments of the twenty-minute “The Book of Sand” before cascades of staccato waterfalls signal the piece's movement into more aggressive territory, Hannaford playing with abandon but never out of control.

Not yet thirty years old and clearly a player to watch, Hannaford already has amassed an impressive list of awards and performance credentials: a graduate of Australian National University, Hannaford was taught by Sydney pianists Paul McNamara and Matt McMahon, Canberra pianists John Luxton and Colin Forbes, and Melbourne pianist/composer Andrea Keller, and has studied with violinist John Rodgers, drummer Ken Edie, and saxophonist Elliot Dalgleish in Brisbane, and with New York pianists Jason Moran and Andy Milne and New York saxophonist Greg Osby. As ambitious a composer as he is player, Hannaford is currently working on projects for solo, trio, quintet, septet, and big band formats.

August 2009