Live review: Directions In Groove/‘Clearlight’ Launch/The Studio SOP,Dec 2011

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Music gig review: jazz
Tags: , ,

D.I.G – Directions In Groove – hit the stage of The Studio at Sydney Opera House, hard and tight at the tail end of their national tour to promote the new album Clearlight – their first studio album in thirteen years.

After a warm up set from the unique Abby Dobson (accompanied by Paul Mac), the room darkened into sea greens and acid purples and Clearlight’s ‘Pythonicity’ boomed through the PA. One by one the band came on stage and seamlessly merged with the recorded track until they were playing it, live. As a piece of theatre it was rivetting and something few ‘serious’ jazz flavoured groups would think to do – but that is D.I.G, never running with the pack. And D.I.G fans love them for it.

Keyboardist Scott Saunders announced the next piece, ‘All Is Quiet’, jokingly chiding us in the audience for being a little too quiet and ‘well behaved’. The featured soloist here was guitarist Tim Rollinson who rippled and howled over the band with fluidity and fire. (I caught a showcase gig that D.I.G played earlier this year at Newtown’s NOTES and Rollinson’s solo there was brittle and a little hesitant – tonight, toughened from touring, the guitarist – and indeed the whole band – was unstoppable).

Saunders introduced new D.I.G vocalist, Laura Stitt and they went into Clearlight’s opener, ‘Strangers Talking’. A sharp and hooky (almost) pop track, ‘Strangers Talking’ serves as a bright wake-up and a statement of intent for D.I.G’s new, evolved direction. Stitt – the latest in a line of enviable vocal collaborators such as Inga Liljestrom and Michelle Martinez – possesses a voice and style that work perfectly within the D.I.G sound-world; just like the band, her approach evokes jazz (tasty little Billie Holliday phrase endings), trip-hop, soul and the best of contemporary pop.

Stitt stayed onstage for ‘Upside’ and the surreal dreamscape of ‘Rumour Has It’ from 1998’s Curvystrasse, which took us into the new track, ‘Sunnyside’, a wash of synths with Stitt’s sky-clear voice floating disembodied over the top. The whole room held its breath until we were safely back to earth.

‘Bassick Insync’ serves as a vehicle for the joyfully funky bass of Alex Hewetson. Together with the astonishing Terepai Richmond on drums, they form one of the most intense and truly funky rhythm sections around today. And it is a funk that breathes – even moving in and out of tempo – rather than a funk that suffocates, which sadly every Saturday night brings to damp rooms all over Sydney. It is the jazz at the base of their playing that keeps the groove always moving forward, light and delicious.

A case in point is the Scott Saunders-rapped ‘Two Way Dreamtime’ from 1994. The groove is sinuous and preciously held all the way, allowing tenor/alto saxplayer Rick Robertson to paint lines and dots across the music. Robertson opens the following ‘O’Cumbaya’ with an ancient-sounding motif, a timeless African blues line, in the vein of Weather Report’s global voice. Whether playing simple three note phrases or free-jazz squalls, Robertson expresses it all with a great respect for the material and an obvious joy in his instruments’ voice.

By the time Laura Stitt returns for Clearlight’s title track, the natives at the bar are growing restless, whooping and clapping along. Closing number, ‘Re-Invent Yourself’ from 1994’s Deeper seems to flip a switch that says BOOGIE and the stagefront is filled with dancers. And I am reminded again what a great dance band D.I.G is, and just what groove truly is for. The track finishes and the band leaves the stage but the dancers will not allow this coitus interruptus and cajole D.I.G into just one more: ‘Favourite’, also from Deeper ignites the room with its ass-shakin’ riffing.

Music for the head, the heart and the ass. All the greats – Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery et al – know how to give us this anatomy lesson so well. D.I.G speak this language in a voice that will have us coming back for more and more. Long may they groove.

Published December 2011 on



  1. Big Ricky says:

    Thanks for the review mate. Cheers,

    Rick Robertson

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