Bernie McGann's gruff, vocal alto sound and rough-hewn lyricism have marked him as an invigorating voice from Australia. The son of a metal worker who played drums in a dance band and listened to jazz, McGann first appeared on the Australian jazz scene in the '50s. Almost from the beginning he was controversial, with one club owner refusing to have him work in his club. He developed a sound reminiscent, but not influenced by, Ornette Coleman. His playing has remained rooted in traditional bop, as well as integrating elements of his native land's folk music. In the '50s, he began working with drummer John Ponchee and bassist Lynn Swanton. Together, they worked as a trio under McGann's leadership and under Ponchee's leadership in the combo Last Straw and the tentet Ten Part Invention. McGann and his cohorts gained greater visibility in America in the late '80s and '90s with the release of recordings by all three of these ensembles. These, starting with Ugly Beauty, served to introduce listeners to a voice at once rooted in the jazz tradition and evocative of McGann's Australia.
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