Posts Tagged ‘Richard Maegraith’

Several months ago I happened to catch a performance of a band called Video8 at The Annandale. They were tight, edgy, obviously influenced by the sharp end of the 80s and surprising. Surprising in their originality and sound, but also surprising because they were fronted by Maxine Kauter.genre maxine cred chris allen

I had only recently been enjoying The Maxine Kauter Band’s album Alibech The Hermit – a collection of literate, acoustic-flavoured songs that could not have been more opposed in style to the glassy funk of Video8. Yet the same Maxine Kauter who yearned and purred from within the carved wooden walls of Alibech… was up there before me proclaiming with equal intensity and depth from a very different place, an Orwellian synthetic tube-farm of right-angled rhythms and 80s guitars.

And she got me thinking about genre in music.

How can an artist seem totally and fundamentally committed to more than one genre? And how can their creativity work entirely effectively within both? Or in as many genres as they choose to work in? How can they even like such diametrically opposing stuff, let alone love it?

genre richard maegraith cred rifton recordsIt is not the pastiche of the teevee ad jingle writer, or the jack-of-all session muso or the numbed human jukebox of the RSL musician – it is original and fully-felt in creation. I’m thinking of Elvis Costello’s brief switch from caustic new wave to the alkaline pop-country of 1981’s Almost Blue, hippie roots-rocker Neil Young’s techno album Trans, and even Igor Stravinsky’s sudden dumping of High Art Modernism in the 1920’s for the cool marble touch of Neo-Classicism.

Thinking further on it, I realised this thing of genre-or-not can reveal something about the approach and mind-set of the creative artist – in music moreso than any other Art form – and that is something I always think is worth the price of admission.genre luis rojas cred john snelson

And thinking yet further I realised that it was probably best if I asked hose who knew – three Sydney musicians whom I have long admired for their individuality, genre-defying and plain great music.

As well as Maxine Kauter – who is always good copy – I sent the same six simple questions to jazz saxophonist Richard Maegraith and guitarist Luis Rojas. Richard has long been a leading light of Australian jazz and fronts his unclassifiable band Galaxstare. Luis is a member of the tranvestite-metal band Mechanical Black as well as Shanghai, an experimental group unfettered by genre, style or expectations.

Here are their responses.

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1. Why do you think so much music binds to one genre or another?

Maegraith: Humans love to compartmentalise. Genres help us feel safe and secure, and like we’ve got control over it.

Kauter: I think it’s because we need patterns to understand things right away. It’s the way we learn to play music too. Certain ideas are grouped together under particular headings known as genres. I think all of that comes back to narrative and to the way we pass on information. Like why is the Madonna always front-on in Madonna and child picture? Because that’s what tells me what the picture is about. It’s sort of like that with genre. Put a pedal steel on a simple chord progression and everyone will say ‘it’s country’, or ‘alt country’. Why? Because the Madonna is face-on.

Rojas: Two things spring to mind: Instrumentation/equipment and Influence.

A lot of genres are formed as a result of like-minded use of instrumentation, the line up of a band and the instruments played (eg. 4 piece: drums, bass, guitar, vocals) and the influence of past musical groups with similar instrumentation.

Take ‘post-rock’ for example, a non-specific genre that popped up out of nowhere, is basically a rebellion against the stereotypical 4-5 piece rock band sound. Compositions can involve classical and electronic influences performed within the confines of a typical rock band’s instrumentation. Different playing techniques and use of effects further help to differentiate from a typical rock band sound. A lot of these bands have a similar mindset, creating a community with a similar approach to their music and their influence. Influence begets influence until these bands end up painting themselves into a corner or pigeonholing themselves into that specific genre.

From a composer’s point of view, you have a choice of whether to compose for the limitations of an instrument (eg. an acoustic guitar may not be able to perform something written for piano), or the perceived rules of a genre etc.

A composer can begin writing a multi-instrumental piece on piano, for example, however, they would need to understand the various limitations and expressive playing techniques of the instrumentation for which they are composing.

A genre can arrive through a natural and organic process involving the progression from an initial musical idea which is then influenced by the choice of instrumentation and available equipment, as well as with the composer’s knowledge of musical styles and how instrumentation is used to create and execute certain musical ideas.

2. Is the idea of genre important to you and your music?

Maegraith: Not really.

Kauter: Yes, but in the sense of a history. Some ‘genres’ are really pointless. Like ‘indie’. Indie is the shark jumping moment in bending the definition of musical genres. That and ‘world’. In fact world might be worse because it’s also really racist. These genres are not really about music and are unhelpful as designations because other genres actually describe certain musical attributes that people have found a helpful name for grouping them together. ‘Indie’ and ‘world’ are the devils of genre. They’re the product of minds that actually don’t listen. Probably marketing minds. ‘Make it sounds like it didn’t cost a million dollars to make and then we’ll say it’s indie’.

For me the idea of genre is important when it is capable of evoking a history. For example ‘folk’ tells me about a long tradition of travelling musicians who comment on the political situation of the day and societal pressures on the common human, infusing these with their own personal stories so that the listener is reminded that they are part of something. Society exists. There is American, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and on and on. There are lots of sounds in folk, patterns of playing that are particular to regions. All are characterised by the fact that they focus on acoustic instruments and a prominent singer. Lyrics are important. Emotion, story, the listener… all king. It’s democratic, it’s for the people.

In this sense, genre is important to me. I want to exist in that history, it informs me. I don’t have to sound a certain way. The patterns played, the roads travelled etc, they don’t have to be the same. I don’t need to stand in a field with my shoes off to say ‘folk!’ I just need to acknowledge that history and genre by recognising what it is at its essence. But that’s for me, not really for others. It helps me to stay connected to an idea of music that is important and poignant to me. I imagine people feel this way about a lot of different genres of music.

So, actually, the genres we bandy about are wonderful language devices that conjure whole histories comprising musical motifs, patterns, standards, instruments, repeated narratives, certain innovations, particular regions, sounds, political revolutions, great love myths, heroes, heroines, failures and villains. They all manage to be referenced by this one word that shoots out great lightning pulses like neurons into the collective consciousness, lighting up a whole galaxy of meaning and culture. And that can happen with any of these genres.

It’s for this reason that certain ones are really offensive like ‘world music’ because the history it lights up is such a boring one about ‘you’ vs ‘me’. This idea that there is me and all of my nuanced history with the many genres needed to express it and then there is all the other people who make this one kind of music called ‘world’. That’s the kind of story we don’t need to be lighting up. That’s bad logic that only gets worse the more we use it.

Rojas: Audiences use genre in order to make it easier to seek out music they may like according to their individual tastes.  I think as a composer, genre can be a hindrance, more than anything. Catering to any particular audience is quite easy to do once you know how, usually rendering the resulting compositions stale and derivative. As a fan of music, I can relate to the need for people to categorise music into easily to digest genres, but when I have my composer’s hat on, that need is superfluous.

I rarely start writing a song with any specific genre in mind.  As a song is formed though, it becomes clear which particular musical project I am involved in it would be most suited for.  Having said that, I have been able to translate a heavy metal song into a classical piece quite easily, because the compositions do not rely on the limitations or confines of any particular genre or instrumentation, rather their adaptability comes from a strong emphasis on melody and structure

3. Here are 3 genres: what are your brief reactions? – 1. Pop-country, 2. Blues-rock, 3. Hip-hop

Maegraith: Keith Urban, Gary Moore, Lecrae

Kauter: I think immediately of the film The Player by Robert Altman. There’s that great first shot that goes on forever and at one point we listen in on a writer pitching a film to a producer and he is describing a film in which a political candidate has an accident that results in him being able to read minds. The producer says, “So it’s a psychic-political-thriller-comedy… with a heart.”

I also think, “Hyphens are fun”.

Rojas: POP COUNTRY: Pop was my first love. I grew up listening to ABBA, The Village People, Elton John, and The Beatles.  I usually apply a pop mentality to everything I write. Pop music to me is catchy, concise and to the point, so just because you’re writing an avant-garde noise piece, doesn’t mean you can’t apply those same elements to it.

Coming from a guy whose standard answer when asked “what kind of music do you like?”, is “I like pretty much everything”,  I can honestly say that country music comes very close to the bottom of the list.  The amalgamation of something I love with something that I loathe can result in either one improving on the other, or one ruining the other.  When ‘pop country’ springs to mind, I would say it is the latter.

BLUES ROCK: I love rock music but I really do have a love/hate relationship with the blues.  As much as I appreciate its influence and importance in modern music, it is not the kind of music that inspires me or excites me on a day-to-day basis.  Having said that, my guitar playing is for the majority influenced by blues.  One of the only scales I know is the blues scale and so any solos that I play end up sounding very blues influenced regardless of genre.  Despite my apathy towards blues, it is very much an integral part of how I developed musically and currently unwittingly express myself.

HIP HOP: Growing up through 80s, hip hop was an unavoidable part of my musical shaping.  There was a particular movie called Beat Street that introduced me to artists such as Grand Master Flash, Kool Moe Dee, and Afrika Bambaataa, at an early age.  Later on, I also found an appreciation for NWA and Public Enemy.  A little known fact is that Shanghai sampled a Public Enemy track from ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ on our first EP, ‘Esoterica’. In more modern times, two bands that stick out to me are The Beastie Boys and The Avalanches.  The Avalanches’ first EP ‘El Producto’ is one of my favourite hip hop releases of all time, especially with its use of Theremin being a personal highlight.

genre rojas - shanghai

In more recent times, I appreciate hip hop when it is approached organically.  For instance my appreciation of Beastie Boys and Avalanches stems from their incorporation of rock band instrumentation as opposed to relying solely or very heavily on samples, synthesisers and drum machines. It’s the fusing of real world instrumentation with the electronic realm that works best for me in this particular genre.

A lot of recent hip hop does absolutely nothing for me as its stagnated into this pool of sexist, macho, repetitive, derivative, formulaic droll.  The only artist of late that has stood out for me is Kendrick Lamar and his second release ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’.

4. Is current music, in general, moving further away from genre constraints or aligning tighter to them?

Maegraith: Both, at the same time, I think. There are what I call ‘archivists’ (people/groups who seek to retain the ‘true’ or ‘original’ genre) in all genres of music. They can be forthright about what is ‘jazz’ or ‘swing’ or the notion that any jazz after bebop was rubbish, or whatever. These archivists appear in most genres. Thankfully, they’re in the minority, but they’re usually pretty vocal about it. These people are keen to keep genre lines tight. At the same time, globalisation has allowed a new kind of genre blurring o occur which is exciting for the most part, I think.

Kauter: Further away. We assign genres to things merely as a way of branding the music in a certain way. Usually we really need to talk about bands or musicians that a particular artist sounds like because the genres have become either very mixed or perverted by people hijacking them as a way of falsely associating certain music with other music. That perversion sort of builds up on itself until genres mean so little there really isn’t much to move away from. That in itself is an interesting thing to think about. The fact that when designations become so important that people feel they need to manipulate their meaning to infer greater importance, eventually those designations come to mean nothing and yet it is still very important. You might say assertions of genre are only as powerful as the agents making them, whether that is musicians, executives, critics or others.

Audiences are never involved in assigning genre. I think that’s significant, especially when it comes to the nonsense end of genre meanings. Only certain agents can assign genre and now they’re saying things like “indie/alternative grunge/dance” and the listeners brain explodes, they have nowhere to put it so they HAVE to listen. It’s genius. Delusions of genre.

Rojas: I would say that the genres themselves are actually expanding.  For example, heavy metal – once fairly easy to define – is now awash with a sea of sub-genres.  While it’s easier for people to describe themselves as heavy metal fans, a metal-core kid could quite easily detest a founding band of the heavy metal genre, eg. Iron Maiden. Black Sabbath fans may also detest the latest djent masterpiece.

The blanket term ‘Heavy Metal’ is a good example of where there are bands that have similar influences aligning under one broad banner, yet move away from each other in terms of sub-genre.

5. Have you ever been pressured to conform to a saleable genre for fame, limos and hoes?

Maegraith: No

Kauter: As a matter of fact I have. I was once playing at an open mic in a really upbeat afro-cuban bar in King Cross. It was a competition of sorts and my band and I were very much in the wrong place. It was the kind of place that you need to be high on cocaine to enjoy. The entire dance hall was crawling with B and C grade wannabe celebrities (now there’s a genre). After we had played I misplaced my drink and I headed to the artists’ dressing room to find an alternative. Metal featured heavily in in that room and from between a pair of bronze neo-celtic relief sculptures a woman appeared. It was Chan Marshall, aka, Cat Power: the queen of indie/folk. I’ve always really loved her so I was shocked. She said, “I really loved your set”. I looked at my shoes. She bought me a drink and told me that if I could ditch my band and become a lo-fi, ambient, trip hop artist that I could join her on a world-music tour as her support act. She had a lot of samples she’d been working on on her vintage casiotone and I wouldn’t have to write new songs, just set them to tiny drum beats and simple synths. I was quite freaked out.

She showed me her limo and told me she’d found a way to take the carcinogens out of cigarettes. She offered me one and it tasted sort of like the way I remember Malboros tasting when I was about 19 and they were still called Malboros. Of course, those days are over now. Hers were in these blue plastic bags marked “experimental house”. We made it to Japan before I woke up. My musical dream, in which I struggle with selling out and in the end reconcile myself to a life of public fame and personal sacrifice, was over.

Rojas: Not pressured, no. The only pressure in that regard would be any pressure that I put on myself in the past as a naïve young composer to try to fit into the stereotypes that I thought necessary at the time to progress successfully in a musical career.  Now with the benefit of hindsight, limos and hoes do not appeal to me, although some fame would be nice.

6. Who are your genre-bustin’ heroes? Why?

genre maegraith - Chris PotterMaegraith: There’s the obvious people like Ry Cooder and Bill Frisell but I’m pretty taken by Avishai Cohen and Chris Potter. They both have so many current influences permeating their music but still sound like jazz musicians. I dig that. Sometime world or really blurry genres end up sounding like what a potluck lunch tastes like. Neither this, nor that. And the musical conviction suffers.

Kauter: Hmmm, this is a tough one. Maybe my mother. She left school at 15 as a wayward fun loving, pubescent puberty blues-esque tearaway. At 16 she ran away with her sweetheart to Queensland where the odds were stacked against them and from where they returned 8 months later pregnant, prodigal. She worked as a checkout chick and had three kids by 22, a tough and kind-hearted down-on-her luck mother, fiercely protective of her kids and husband. Young and hopeful she began work for a major insurance company answering phones, ambitious and hard-working in a man’s world. Eventually she became a senior manager and policy writer at that company and was the high flying executive who feels guilty about leaving her kids at home alone after school. She was the perpetually busy career woman whose husband resents her success on some level. She was also a triathlete. Then she was the stay-at-home wife and mother who has seen the light and forsaken her career for the sake of her man and children. Now she is the happy, empty nester and grandma who spends her time working for the church and taking motorcycle trips through rural Australia with her teenage sweetheart.

Rojas: Frank Zappa. He has probably been the biggest influence on me since I first discovered his music, around the very early 90s, just before he passed away.  His prolific tendencies alone forced him to explore more musical styles within his lifetime than most composers of any standing.  I know that his roots lay in styles such as the blues, pop music and doo-wop, but even as a child, Frank appreciated the avant-garde music concrete just as much, with Edgard Varese and Stravinsky being two of his favourite composers.  He not only influenced me as a player – giving me a new found appreciation of the electric guitar – but also as a composer seeking out ways to fuse and reinvent different musical styles in a coherent and palatable way.genre frank zappa

John Zorn: Another prolific composer that has had a big effect on my writing, as well as exposing me to new musical ideas, approaches and artists.  From his covers of classic film soundtracks, to his intelligent use of musical game pieces, Zorn, and in particular his band Naked City, taught me that genre need not be a limitation on songwriting, and that the only restrictions as a composer or a musician are the ones placed on yourself.  Never did I think that an improvisational death metal grind-core band could exist with alto saxophone at its centre, totally devoid of guitar, but Zorn made it work in his band Painkiller, which also featured Mick Harris and Bill Laswell.

Carl Staling: Also a major influence on Zorn, Staling’s infinite smashing of genres and cut-and-paste aesthetic rings through my music in Shanghai.  I guess spending all that time watching Warner Brothers cartoons as a kid is paying off now.

Maxine Kauter, Maxine Kauter Band – http://www.maxinekauterband.com/
Richard Maegraith, Galaxstare – http://galaxstare.com/
Luis Rojas, Shanghai – http://www.myspace.com/shanghaimyspace
Published March 2013 on megaphoneoz.com
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One of the true delights of any music festival is that, for a few days – or even just a few precious hours – you are in a strange and beautiful new world, away from the tangle and hum of city life. The 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival reigned over Sydney’s Redfern-Surry Hills Delta for four days in January, staking out the territory in the name of modern composition, improvised music and the jazz life.

And what a strange and beautiful world they conjured for us among the bricks and grime, the litter and the 7-11 Stores.

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I was fortunate to start at the very beginning, with Tom O’Halloran’s solo piano opener on Thursday at Surry Hills’ Tom Mann Theatre. A smart choice to open the Festival, O’Halloran’s sure touch made the piano sigh and glitter. His closer, a sparkling ‘No More Blues’ served as a teasing appetiser for a weekend of stellar music.

jazzgroove mothership orc

And stellar was the word (a TV sports cliché yes, but too apt to not use here) for Jonathan Zwartz’s band, up next. A Dream Team of players – Slater, Maegraith, Greening, Julien Wilson blowing (his and) our minds, Dewhurst, Matt McMahon, Hamish Stuart and percussionista Fabian Hevia holding it down with the calm river that is Zwartz himself. And from that calm river flowed strong and sure compositions, with melodic lines that were often country-simple but Gospel-true. From the opener ‘Shimmer’ through to ‘Henry’s High Life’, it was transfixing soul-blues that had the soloists reaching within – Phil Slater and Richard Maegraith especially going deep on the latter tune – leaving the audience at Tom Mann visibly affected. Like all true wisdom there was very little flash, but a universe of quiet fire.

The opening night was climaxed by the mighty Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, paying tribute to genius jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer (who sadly passed from this earthly plane last year). Even though the Orchestra bristles with astounding soloists, it was the Festival’s International Guest Artist (I suppose Aotearoa counts as international) tenor magus Roger Manins that was featured on all charts. The Orchestra is truly a national treasure and for this, their 10th anniversary gig, they played better than I have ever heard them – snapping and roiling on the fiery pieces and painting colour washed mists on the quieter pieces such as the lovely ‘Fireflies’. Manins stood toe-to-toe with the band on the blasting finale, ‘See Saw’, his tenor sassing back and cajoling the Mothership. Big kudos to drummer Jamie Cameron who rode the roaring beast on all pieces with great style and verve.

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Friday was Fusion Day for me as I took in the electro-jazz of the Alcohotlicks at 505 and later, the flamenco-jazz of Steve Hunter’s Translators down the road at the Gaelic. It had been Sydney’s hottest day ever (!) on record and the evening was still dripping from the day.alcohotlicks

At 505, The Alcohotlicks’ Evan Mannell admitted to ‘shitting himself’ at the prospect of working without a drum kit. He then won us all over with a beautiful funky groove, cut-up on his sample box from Jimi Hendrix’s throaty ‘Who Knows’ riff. Joined by Ben Hauptmann on MIDI guitar and laptop, and Aaron Flower (the hoary traditionalist of the group who merely plays a guitar through an amp) the trio – winners of the inaugural Jazzgroove Association Recording Artist Award  – astounded with tracks from their album Danaïdes. ‘Neon’ was neo-NEU! motorik funk; ‘Baader’ was Goldfrapp/Moroder replicant-porn boogie. Did I sense a few members of the 505 audience shifting in their seats during the Alcohotlicks set? Artists such as these are the ones who move any music forward and all kudos to them for working at the edge of the Jazz comfort zone. A little seat shifting is always a good sign.

steve hunter, the translatorsDown the steaming street to the Gaelic. By now slightly drunk on the merlot and the humidity, I was taken away completely by The Translators. Too loud for the room – not a bad thing at all – electric bass toreador Steve Hunter and the quartet blazed through a set of flamenco-flecked originals that had Míro dancing with Manitas de Plata, Chick Corea dancing with de Falla in my swirling head. At times Ben Hauptmann’s electric mandolin solos sounded like a 70’s micro-Moog, the otherworldly tone beautifully offset by Damien Wright’s flamenco gut-string. ‘Turquoise’ was blue in green in orange. ‘The Last Trannie’ was Madrid via Soweto. Always a fiery and sparkling group, tonight – after not playing together for two years – The Translators shone like a Catalonian sun and lit all our faces with broad smiles. Not so long between sangrias next time, please amigos!

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the fantastic terrific munkle

Saturday my hangover needed the peace of Prince Alfred Park and the gentle afternoon humour of The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Cool breezes blew, people picnicked on the grass, and from between two huge trees, The Munkle – powered by Sam Golding’s tuba and the (snake-)charming clarinet of Jeremy Rose – wove their musical tales of whimsy, recalling ragtime, Dixie, weird old blues and French salon jazz. The song announcements were made through a megaphone, the guitar amp was powered by solar panels and guitarist Julian Curwin wore thongs. It was all so sweetly organic, it made the afternoon time stand beautifully still.

Too much daylight – bah! Back into the night and the Steve Barry Trio with Alex Boneham and the quicksilver Tim Firth at 505. This is the trio that played on Barry’s recent album, Steve Barry – a startling album made (conjured from the elements, rather) by this startling combination of players. All the telepathic play and spiritual-empathic magic that lights up the album was here on stage tonight. Reminding me of Bill Evans’ trios or Keith Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trios, Barry-Boneham-Firth could spat and spar – as on opener ‘B.W.’ – or dissipate like evening mist across an introspective ballad such as the lovely ‘Epiphany’. Some of the most fluidly intelligent music in jazz has been made within the piano trio format and groups such as Steve Barry’s trio remind me why.

After the rollicking fun of altoist Ross Harrington’s vibey, young and fun Midnight Tea Party – Dixie, klemzer, ska flavours; a huge hit with the 505 crowd – we were treated to the Andrew Gander Band.

richard maegraithIn a Festival line-up luminescent with musical wonders, I can unreservedly say the Andrew Gander Band was the highlight for me – and I am sure many there would agree. His five-piece group hit their jaw-dropping stride from the first note and ascended from there. I had already seen each of Gander’s sidemen in other Festival groups but playing with Gander seemed to push each of them into the deeper reaches of their own musical universe. Tenor player Richard Maegraith seemed particularly inspired, blowing hard into the white-hot areas of his horn’s capabilties. (My friend, CC – who knows about such things – said after one of Maegraith’s solos “I could see his aura and light flashing off him!”) Bassist Brett Hirst twinned with Gander through all of the music’s twists and turns almost preternaturally. Steve Barry would smartly sit out during guitarist Carl Morgan’s solos, allowing the drum-bass-guitar trio to stretch the harmonies and rhythms into new fluid shapes. The Gander originals such as ‘Retrograde’ (with one of those sizzling rock feels that Billy Cobham does so well) and the 5/4 roller coaster ride of ‘Prism’ were just eaten alive by the band, who also managed great takes on radically reshaped standards such as ‘Star Eyes’ and Dizzy’s ‘Con Alma’.

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ben hauptmann, zoe and the buttercups

Where to go from there? Thankfully the Sunday program offered sweet soul relief in the form of Festival Guest Roger Manins and the original lineup of his soul-jazz champions, Hip Flask. To a packed 505, Manins’ testifying tenor led the quintet through ‘Bang’, ‘Big Sis’, ‘John Scon’ and others from their Jazzgroove catalogue. Against the indigo-blue Hammond of Stu Hunter, Adam Ponting’s peppery shards of piano dissonance put Hip Flask in their own category without losing any soul-jazz juice. The intro to ‘Blues for Adam Ponting’ moved in and out of harmonic focus until Manins brought us back to the planet with some real deep earth. (Manins was also one of the drollest bandleaders of the Festival, his tongue popping almost through his cheek at times during his stage announcements…)

By now saturated to the brim with music and fine 505 merlot, I took one last rolling stroll down Chalmers Street, climbing the stairs to the Gaelic to bid the Festival adieu with Zoe Hauptmann and her Buttercups. The six piece snapped my jaded mind awake with their patented country-soul stomp and Tele-blaster Aaron Flower’s always-exhilarating chicken-pickin’. Watching Ms Hauptmann leading her Buttercups up there, a question swam into my mind: Where were all the women musicians at the 4th Summer Festival? Ok, there was Zoe H and new bassist Hannah James (yes, Elana Stone too, but I am not counting vocalists in this equation) – that’s two out of an awful lot of male musicians. This is not a polemic point, nor is the question rhetoric; it is an honest query. The Con and other institutions turn out many many women musicians, musicians who have graduated alongside their male contemporaries, women musicians who are out there any night of the week paying as many gig dues as the guys. So why, when you get to the highest levels of jazz in this country – such as the annual Jazzgroove Festival – are women so insignificantly spoken for?

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In his Sunday night wrap-up speech, Jazzgroove President (and Buttercup trombonist) John Hibbard admitted that this year’s Summer Festival almost didn’t happen. The committee had sat around Matt McMahon’s dining table and voted on going through with it or not. It was that dire. After four days of wonderfully attended gigs by our best and brightest – and some performances that seriously deserve to pass into myth and legend – it is hard to believe that meeting ever took place. But positive energy ruled that day – the vote was to go ahead – and that same positive energy ruled the 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival.

And thank God, Miles and Duke that it did.

The Jazzgroove website is here.

Published January 2103 on australianjazz.net 

Galaxstare. The name Sydney tenor savant Richard Maegraith rechristened his rather prosaically named Richard Maegraith Band for their second album, is a word to conjure with.

Galaxstare. Is it the feeling of staring outwards towards the galaxy, seeking answers, in awe of its wonders? Or is it the stare of the galaxy back towards us; the eye in the sky, its vast omni-vision casting its diamond gaze over our little lives? As a spiritually-attuned man and musician – his Facebook page declares “I’m a student of everything… and I play the saxophone” – Maegraith perhaps is suggesting both.

Galaxstare the band suggests this wide cosmic vista in their playing and sound. Maegraith’s compositions seem to come from a place wider than Jazz and the band’s acoustic/electric sound gives a wider timbre than Jazz to realise them.

Not that there is anything wrong with Jazz timbre: the opener at Galaxstare’s 2 October gig at Sydney’s Venue 505, the piano-bass-drums Chris Poulsen Trio, proved that. Great driving piano jazz – but with the funky colours Herbie Hancock raises up whenever he plays acoustic piano – Poulsen’s witty and swinging heads won us all over. His bass player, Jeremy O’Connor stood out – are you allowed to have this much fun with jazz?

Then Galaxstare – with Matilda Abraham filling in for the group’s vocalist, Kristen Berardi – took to the stage and played us four tunes in a row, without pause. As on their album, A Time, Times and Half a Time, three tunes – ‘Love Feast’, ‘New One’ and ‘The Comforter’ (with an extended and involved Rhodes solo from Gary Daley) were fused together into a seamless flow. ‘The Comforter’ then grew into a new tune – Maegraith’s tribute and celebration of Indigenous Australians – ‘The Ones Who Were Here First’. The new piece was meditative and roiling by turns with Maegraith featuring the black-on-black tones of his bass clarinet. I heard ochre, deep desert wind and crackling dry branches – as with much of Galaxstare’s music, the piece was entirely transporting.

After the deep meditations of the opening quartet of tunes, Galaxstare snapped us out of it with the funk of ‘Romans VII’. And I realised that the band has toughened up their sound considerably. Karl Dunnicliff’s electric bass and Tim Firth’s drums – for all their hair-trigger dynamics and inventiveness (and Tim Firth constantly amazes) there is some serious rock crunch in the grooves, with backbeats that pay the rent. The funk under Maegraith’s tenor solo was electric, snapping and crackling.

A mention here must go to vocalist Matilda Abraham who filled in “at the last moment” – her canny negotiations of the rhythmic quirks and intervallic leaps of Maegraith’s melodies was admirable. Dig the relentless 16th offbeats of ‘Romans VII’ – whew. Her scatting on the bright and funky closer, ‘The Journey’ was inspired and lit up the room.

The most staggering piece of the night was ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, the title track of the band’s latest album. A tribute to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s who survived the terrible Japanese tsunami, it is a deep deep meditation on existence, the galaxy-sized power of nature, and the depth of sorrow. That Galaxstare are capable of creating this huge, deep, wide, bottomless universe of music in a room on Cleveland Street using only bass clarinet, voice, accordian, bass and drums is astounding and humbling.

Richard Maegraith’s music draws from many musics. It is nominally Jazz but, like Miles Davis and Weather Report, and today’s Christian Scott, it kneads in many other flavours. Maybe Maegraith’s music has greater depth because he moves in a world away from only Jazz and jazz musicians – he is a deeply committed Christian and a family man with three boys.

All I know is that the thought “Why is this room not full to the brim? Why doesn’t the world better know about this music?” came into my mind – as it does with saddening regularity these days. Of course I know the reasons why, but in the case of Galaxstare, the question needs to be answered. If this review can motivate you to buy their albums and/or go see their next gig then my words will have been worth it.

 

Galaxstare’s website is http://galaxstare.com/

 

Published October 2102 on jazz-planet.com

 

 

 

Sydney tenor saxophonist and composer Richard Maegraith is a deep human being. A committed Christian and free-thinking artist, his work has always resonated with a sophisticated spirituality while maintaining a heartfelt directness. Whether it be blowing tenor with the Australian Jazz A-list – James Morrison, Sean Wayland etc – or whether leading his own ensembles, his voice and soul are unmistakable.

For their new album, The Richard Maegraith Band has become the intriguingly titled Galaxstare. The album title is equally thought provoking – A Time, Times and Half a Time. For this album – recorded live at Sydney’s Sound Lounge – the personnel remains the same as 2007’s buoyant Free Running but you can hear the development from Track One.

And what a Track One it is! ‘Romans VII’ snips along in a clipped Latin groove before relaxing down into a languorous swoon of jazz vocal; the track moves back and forth from one tempo to the other throughout – this band really breathes. Throughout the album, the spicy doubling and great interplay of Maegraith’s horn and Kristin Berardi’s vocal again reminded me of Chick Corea’s early 70s band with Flora Purim, before the synths moved in and Purim moved out.

And like Chick Corea, Maegraith is not afraid to move beyond of the bounds of whatever constitutes jazz in his time, (he refers to Galaxstare’s music as “Jazz-ish sort of music; call it what you will”). His pairing of voice and tenor with Gary Daley’s accordian and/or Rhodes makes for some otherworldly results.

For the title track, ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, this otherworldliness goes beyond anything I have yet heard. The track is dedicated to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s, survivors of the 2011 tsunami that wrought such indescribable havoc across Japan. Switching to bass clarinet and using only the live resources of his band, Maegraith creates a vision of universal pain, wonder and depth. It is one of the most startlingly spiritual creations I have ever heard, Ligeti-like in its suspension of time and space.

We are snapped out of it with the propulsive snap groove of ‘Waiting’ – drummer Tim Firth putting the pots on and cooking all the way. Firth whips Maegraith along during his solo, recalling some of those mighty Coltrane/Elvin Jones codas that seemed ready to split reality right down the middle at any time. Intensity!

The final track ‘The Journey’ – all Maegraith’s track titles have a telling positive/seeking/spiritual resonance to them – is 10:36 of jazz funk reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s spacier moments (special mention to bassist Jonathan Zwartz who lays down the deep river that this tune floats on). ‘The Journey’ takes its time to rise to the sharp peak of Maegraith’s tenor solo. You couldn’t get a performance this juicy in a dulled studio – the decision to record ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’ live in front of a more-than-appreciative audience was a wise one.

Published March 2012 on http://www.jazzandbeyond.com.au/