Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Wells’

Seventies’ evil genius Frank Vincent Zappa is often cited as an influence by bands who work outside the mainstream, those who work down the alleys and canals and sewers of outré and outrage. Some go for Zappa’s anarchic approach to harmony and rhythm, which sorely test the players’ chops while testing the audience’s aesthetic threshold. Some go for Zappa’s sour (and hilariously barbed) misanthropy, which swings between the right-on and the right-off.

Some, like David Sattout‘s 8-piece jazz/rock/noise collective Facemeat, go for both. And yet, this is not slavish ‘tribute’ or fawning hagiography; Sattout very smartly uses the Zappa musical anarchy/discipline approach as a point of departure, a fertile bed in which his own sound-world can grow.

And grow it does, into flowers of evil and flowers of alien-skinned beauty and flowers of… you tell me, which populate the night garden of Facemeat’s debut album, Questions for Men.

facemeat 1


Opener, ‘Compliments to Your Band’ blazes in with electronic vomit, followed by a fuzz orchestral slam, before setting up the sort of demented guitar groove worthy of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Wise-ass vocal (singer Adam Moses plays every one of Questions for Men’s song’s characters with reptilian relish) over a sarcastic funk line, a Sattout fuzz-Zappa guitar whig out and more horn-fuzz train-wrecks and we are left pummelled (but grinning).

‘My Wife and Children’ see-saws tricksy scalar runs around stabbing horns (Ruth Wells‘ sax and Ellen Kirkwood‘s trumpet seem to pop up on so much good music around Sydney these days). ‘Dude Disco’ is Disco Boy for the new millennium, Moses’ lounge-lizard vocal dripping with enough fear’n’loathing to rust any mirrorball stiff. Bassist Josh Ahearn, drummer Miles Thomas and keys man Byron Mark (yes, Sattout has recruited the best) are all deliciously in on the joke.facemeat 2

‘Your Special Day’ froths with metal guitars and smart time-signature games; title track ‘Questions for Men’ is a beautifully layered misterioso noise-world; ‘Seven Days’ is my-baby-done-me-wrong from the point of view of a twisted mind, the woozy harmony walling us all into a small art-cinema thrilling to this noir movie of necrophilia and revenge.

The startling and unique rarely lets up across Questions for Men. Sattout’s cabinet of curiosities keeps giving up its treasures: some of them are strangely beautiful, some of them you turn over in your hand trying to figure its purpose, while others just slip between your fingers and slither off across the floor to glisten in a dark corner.

‘Hanging From a Line’ levitates a whole-tone vocal line overhead, while ‘In Time’ surprises with a dotty Kate Bush ditty sung by Wells and Kirkwood. ‘I Shouldn’t Have Killed You’ casts Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s silvery Stratocaster as the private dick against the Greek chorus of the drunken horns. ‘Keller’ could be called math-rock, but only if you didn’t have better words (or ears).

Unique and strange beauty abounds. So does sarcasm: Questions for Men‘s closer, ‘Big Noight Blues’ is as viciously satirical of 12-bar blues as you will hear: as mirthless a mastication of an instrumental blues as you can get. And God and Frank knows the modern-day blooz need it.

God and Frank also knows we need music like this – the jazz guys have hijacked the chops but not the fury; the indie guys have hijacked the irony but not the wit; the TV panel comics have hijacked the satire but not the danger.

Facemeat are a refreshing slap in the face for all of the above. Long may they slap.

Published September 2015 on


Trumpeter and composer, Ellen Kirkwood is a Sydney jazz artist I always look forward to hearing more of.

She first made me prick up my ears with the all-women Sirens Big Band, whose catholic orbit happily included her Balkan/jazz/blues mashups (check her ‘Balkanator’, the opening track on Siren’s LP Kali and the Time of Change). Her first album under her own name (ok, Captain Kirkwood), was a jazz/spoken word retelling of the ancient Greek legend of Theseus and The Minotaur.

She also bobs up with Mister Ott and Serge Stanley’s On The Stoop as well as others around town, including David Sattout’s grisly Zappa-flavoured Facemeat. The binding quality of her music and her collaborations is that is consistently has one foot firmly in jazz and the other trailing in the waters of a tangy broth of blues, rock, gypsy swing, klezmer, reggae and you-name-it.

fat yahoozah 2

Her new release – under the band-name of Fat Yahoozah – titled I Don’t Care, is no exception to her unique catalogue. Maybe a bit more fun, maybe a little more raucous, but as smart and brightly arranged as anything that has come before.

And she adds the arrow of vocalist to her quiver. The title track, ‘I Don’t Care’ has Kirkwood singing a world-weary lyric over a breezy pop song (Lotte Lenya goes to Bondi?). Simon Ferenci’s trombone solo is light and grinning before a lilting horn/voice ensemble riff.

‘Klezmore’ (get it?) is a drunken wedding waltz with a dark lyric of childhood foreboding. Even though I am reviewing this album in dry July, I look forward to listening to this tune (hopefully live) after maybe one too many shiraz cabs. Once again, beautifully balanced and heartfelt horn arrangements paint the picture.

‘Translation Day’ has Ruth Wells’ soprano intro-ing with some Eastern European blues before the ensemble clips along on a lovely village polka; Jessica Dunn’s bowed bass singing like Grandpapa. The tune accelerates and accelerates until all the winter leaves are blown off the trees. This tune made me realize how vivid the sound pictures are on the album; how much Soul it has.fat yahoozah 1

The band Kirkwood has assembled helps paint the pictures beautifully. She has smartly drawn the players from her previous and current collaborations – Wells from the Sirens and Facement, David Sattout on guitar, Serge Stanley on sax and accordian, Ferenci, The Sirens’ Dunn on bass with Evan McGregor on drums and percussives.

I know the band has been knocking everyone out playing live around town – it’s a killer one-two punch: jazz chops with gypsy party moods that anyone can love. It’s awfully good to drink to, but even better to listen to. I recommend you do.


Published July 2015 on


Since forming in 2010, the Sirens Big Band have been a blast of Persian-scented fresh air into Sydney’s jazz scene, a scene where the rare female musician (who is not a vocalist) can stand out like a sapphire in the gravel. The Sirens are all-female, all-funky and all-embracing in their influences.

Sirens - pic Quirijn Mees

Band co-leaders Jessica Dunn and Harriet Harding have guided the Sirens from the beginning into a unique style heavy on the world-music grooves – oh, how I hate that word (as John McLaughlin, himself a great cross-pollinator, said “we ALL live in the World, don’t we?”) – there are Ethiopian, African, Latin, Balkan, Indian sounds there as well as New York funk, Chicago swing and Newtown boogie.

The Sirens’ debut album, Kali and The Time of Change reinforces these pan-continental grooves just as it reinforces the good time the band has when making music. Opener ‘Balkanator’ – penned by trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood (definitely a composer to watch) – jumps out like a joyful and slightly tipsy village wedding dance, the players throwing the solos around over drummer Lauren Benson’s grinning groove.

Sirens mentor (“our jazz mamma”) Sandy Evans’ Indian-spiced nine-minute-plus piece, the title track ‘Kali and The Time of Change’ opens with Harding’s sopranino talking back to the Band’s unison riffs. The piece settles down into a floating groove over which Harding raps “something majestic/ something lyrical/ female Aladdin representing future changes yo…” – a bright rap that evokes scenes in the mind and a call for peace in the heart. Quite beautiful.

Harriet Harding and tenor saxophonist Ruth Wells travelled to the Middle East last year and came back with more than they took away. These inspirations fuelled Harding’s ‘Kali’ rap and also Wells’ gorgeous ‘Hawassa to Addis’. This piece has guitarist Milan Ring singing over the entire band singing as a choir. I don’t know why it affects so deeply but it does – is it the lovely pentatonic Ethiopian folk tune the piece is based on? or is it that the choir of female voices sounds like children? or is it the low blues moan of Jessica Dunn’s bass during her solo? Who knows – best not to dwell on these things, best to just dig beauty as she should be dug, unquestioningly.Sirens Kali

The Sirens have, since their inception, played charts by some wonderful local composers and it is gratifying to see they have included several pieces here that they have had in their setlists from Day One. Paul Murchison’s hip-shaking 7/8 (if there can be such a thing, this is it) ‘I Still Remember’ gets the whole band cooking before a coolly soulful piano solo from Monique Lysiak. Nadia Burgess’s evocative, watercolour-washed ‘The Music in My Dreams’ is a masterclass in jazz big band tone-colour and restraint.

Jenna Cave’s sprightly African-limbed 9/8 jaunt ‘Odd Time In Mali’ has long been a Sirens’ favourite – by the time it smoothes out to 4/4 for Emma Riley’s sinuous trombone solo and Milan Ring’s chicken-picked guitar solo, if your foot ain’t tapping you are either made of machine-parts or dead.

Closing track Mulatu Astatke’s ‘Yekatit’ has all the elements that we love about the Siren’s Big Band – Ethio funk that swings, killer solos (Sophie Unsen’s baritone sax burning here) over a blasting band, and a joyful vibe presiding over all. It is a combination you won’t get anywhere else and they are one of Sydney’s – if not Australia’s – treasures.

The Siren’s Big Band – long may they sing us over the edge.

The Siren’s website is

Published February 2103 on