This band could represent Australia at the Olympics. They play complex arrangements at an incredible level of musicianship while making everything sound natural and easy. It’s challenging music but very listenable.
Where would we place if there was a Jazz Olympics? It seems Sydney listeners would say, “not on the podium”. Jazz isn’t popular anywhere in the world but it seems to have become almost a pariah in Sydney. Venues open and close like a goldfish’s mouth in an aquarium that needs a good clean; or start to float sideways because of lack of oxygen, like the Basement.
But there is talent here. And artists of great commitment, who put a lifetime of work into a career where material rewards are negligible (jazz makes few millionaires). The Sound Lounge was full for Steve Hunter’s Nine Lives but that wouldn’t mean much split between the eight members of the band. Speaking of which, who was the ninth life? The audience? The people who stayed home to watch Big Brother (or some other entertainment of equal distinction)?
Whatever local punters think, this was good music. The ensemble playing had a Mingus-style loose, unlaboured feel; not messy and not over-rehearsed but with a casual swagger and confidence. The compositions were varied in style, though, as always with Hunter, the writing had an engaging spontaneity and momentum throughout. The second set was slightly disorganised, with Ornette Coleman and a McMahon solo called on to fill a space, but it was filler of the highest quality.
Hunter’s virtuoso bass filled the room without losing definition or drowning out other frequencies; Rick Robertson swirled around the blues on soprano, Dave Theak poured out line after line of intense tenor, Miroslav Bukovsky was as tasty as ever on the trumpet, James Greening held the horns together with his trombone, injecting his humour into every bar, while Matt McMahon and Ben Hauptman added colour and nuance to the soundscape.
Gordon Rytmeister’s drumming was good enough to start a paragraph with. His groove had everyone’s head nodding along while never once playing the cliched patterns that drummers usually seem to lapse into. He, like the rest of the band, played with a resolve that is the over-riding characteristic of jazz and any good music. Forget what people tell you about definitions, categories, musicology. The personalities of these musicians make the music they’re playing transparent. They’ve reached a level where starting to play means opening themselves up – to the audience, the moment, their own satisfaction.
A Jazz Olympics? Despite the number of music competitions in the world, art is not a race and this gig demonstrated that. In a way it’s not even entertainment, at least not in the way television is. It’s communication. Which is not to say it’s serious and weighty discourse or frivolous gossip – or anything in particular. But it’s not the same on a compact disc. You had to be there.

Hash Varsani is the owner of The Jazz Directory, a network of sites related to jazz, travel and everything else he loves. He also runs a selection of jazz related sites including Jazz Club Jury, a jazz club and festival review site. Check out his Google+ Profile, to see what else he's up to...probably setting up another website from one of his many passions.