Spirograph Studies at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Feb 20, 2021 

How the world of live music has changed. It's all about managing the audience experience, where health and safety now have priority, and  audiences  need to wear a mask through the whole performance. The foyer bar is closed, there is no merch for sale, no meet-and-greet after the show. 

So what is left ? The music, of course. In this case, the mesmerising, cinematic compositions from Tamara Murphy, bassist and leader of Melbourne-based Spirograph Studies. Along with Fran Swinn, guitar, Luke Howard, piano, and James McLean, drums, the quartet performed compositions from their recording Kindness, not Courtesy, along with some pieces from their upcoming CD.

I was excited to hear the quartet again, after seeing them at the Melbourne Jazz Festival  a few years ago. To my ear, the music invites contemplation, being almost meditative at times, so that the listener travels with the developing melodic motifs, as well as the lovely harmonic changes. It felt like being in a kaleidoscope of sound and texture, inviting many emotional responses.      Each performer shines individually for a time, then joins with the others to continue the forward-moving, ever-changing musical journey. 

Swinn played some beautiful lines and motifs, with a tone that reminded me at times of Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, while Howard's evocative piano brought to mind some of the work by Tord Gustavsen. Murphy and McLean created a solid structural foundation, while always having breath and space in their rhythms and bass lines. 

In the subtly lit space of the Primrose Potter Salon, I was grateful to be hearing this music, and to be wearing a mask that enabled me to be a part of this wonderful performance. Bravo, Spirograph Studies. 

 

 

The Australian-Brazilian ensemble at the Jazzlab, January 22 

Brazilian music is always inspiring and uplifting, even the melancholy ballads about lost love. It was a special treat to hear the Australian-Brazilian ensemble at The Jazzlab, featuring music by various Brazilian  composers including Baden Powell, Guinga, Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim. 

The ensemble was led by guest director Ken Murray, who featured on guitar, and included Darrin Archer: piano, Alastair Kerr : drums/percussion, Erica Tucceri: flute, Paloma Bica : violin, and Rodrigo Salgado: bass. 

From the outset, the ensemble jumped into the rhythms, and kept it tight throughout the evening. Erica Tucceri played some fantastic flute lines with passion and energy, and Salgado created sensuous and punchy bass grooves. Ken Murray's guitar performance was evocative, with a gorgeous tone. Archer and Kerr maintained a solid, yet spacious rhythmic foundation. What was exciting for me was to be able to listen to the whole ensemble musical story, and at the same time have my attention drawn to individual instrumental lines. Murray and Salgado also contributed their own compositions to the programme. 

There were so many gorgeous and exciting moments, but the stand-out piece for me was the final tune by composer Tom Ze, which was simply amazing. 

After such an uplifting  and joyful evening, I can only say thank you to the Australian-Brazilian  Ensemble and and to the Jazzlab. We need live music more than ever. Bravo !

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The Songwriting Process 

I sometimes get asked about how I write songs. Where does the initial impulse come from ? It can include a photo, or a fragment of text that keeps going round and round until it lands on the right rhythm, which then has to be transcribed quickly, as it can be fleeting. Or a short musical phrase  or chord progression. It can even be my impression of a person I have seen in real life, who becomes the inspiration for the story. 

I recently finished and recorded a song called Love is a Restless Heart, where one of the characters is a " lonely jazz boy" who plays guitar and sings, then falls in love with the wrong girl. But the inspiration for this character came from seeing a bass player at the Paris Cat Jazz Club. He is  a very fine musician, and didn't even play guitar ! But he had a kind of energy that spoke to something in my imagination. 

When people say " I feel a song coming on" -- that isn't just a cliche. It's a visceral, emotional and intellectual response that drives the creative impulse, and won't rest  ( or let me rest ) until it is given musical form, with notes, chords, words, imagery, etc. This process can take days, or weeks, or even months, until the creative impulse is finally satisfied. 

Or is it ever really finished ? 

Joe Chindamo at The JazzLab, December 30, 2020 

It's almost the last night of the year. A year that no-one will forget, and that will be talked about and the experience of which is already being made into films, plays, podcasts, songs, videos, as well as several  terrabytes  worth of social media posts. 

This night is my New Year's Eve. The lockdown kept me away from hearing and seeing live jazz for about 10 months, it felt like being in prison, even though I could access endless streamed entertainment. But tonight, I am finally here. A kind of home, a darkened room, with a grand piano, where history is made every night.

Joe Chindamo is one of Melbourne's finest jazz musicians. Tonight, he is joined by Ben Hanlon, bass, and Danny Fischer, drums. They swing hard, but can switch to  lyrical gentleness as required by the arrangement of a song. Joe has this amazing gift of being able to meld 2 songs together stylistically, yet each song is clearly recognisable of itself. I'm talking about My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music, alongside Norwegian Wood by The Beatles. 

Listening to Joe's improvisations, I'm transported to another place, where time stands still, and there is only the sound of the present moment. Improvisation, like meditation, is present moment awareness.