Obviously the music was great. Jazzgroove deserves its reputation for producing seriously engaging art. Amongst its members are some of the most talented young musicians in Australia, each one seemingly possessed in unlimited supply of the courage it takes to shrug off the cult of tradition that has had jazz in a headlock for years. And they do it in their own particular style, showing a surprising level of self-awareness about who they are and what they are doing.
Humour doesn’t always get a look in with modern jazz/improvised/serious/whatever music. I’m as much of a Miles and Trane tragic as the next aspirational Australian but let’s face it, they weren’t known for getting laughs. They were serious and good for them. The Jazzgroove Association has chosen to disregard that part of the legacy and enjoy itself. This was evident onstage, particularly with trombonists Hibbard and Borthwick (perhaps something to do with nature of the instrument?), but much more so offstage, in between the sets. The trivia contest and the mullet grooming spectacle gave the gig a sort variety night atmosphere that you don’t often get with this kind of music. We were in an RSL.
The unusual mixture of football-club-talent-quest style entertainment and jazz wasn’t such a bad combination. Sidecar played the first set and, while they are firmly planted in the improvised music tradition, you can hear the influence of the grunge rock that they must have listened to before they went to music school. They tend to play a tightly organised head arrangement and then vamp on an unadorned four chord figure, Aaron Flower’s guitar switching from single note runs to straight up strumming while Hibbard blows simple, flowing lines on his trombone.
The Matt Keegan trio were a bit more outside. Where Sidecar emphasise harmonic simplicity, the tenor trio format will always deliver complex implied harmonies. There is a risk here: if one of the players hasn’t got the ears to cope with the implications and use them advantageously, the music could sound like it’s wandering. Keegan’s band avoided this thanks mostly to Cameron Undy’s African style bass lines, which sounded more like something you’d hear from a thumb piano. Keegan was able to float across and interact with the bass, and Dave Goodman’s busy drums, without falling into the trap of relying too much on false-fingered tenor tricks. There was a nice contrast when Lily Dior came on to sing a tune and then Stu Hunter appeared on the Wurlitzer to give the rest of the set a bluesier feel.
During the set break a man dressed like a prostitute wandered around soliciting money from people. I don’t know what he was selling but Exposed Bone was the next act on stage so I wasn’t going to risk asking. Funds raised, Borthwick’s impressive bone chops took over. He and the guitar Hauptmann played long and complicated lines in perfect unison while the drum Hauptmann looked like he wanted to bench press the drumkit, a là Billy Cobham. His aggressive style was perfect for the large, auditorium venue, filling it with sharp, crisp sound of a well-hit drum while Zoe Hauptmann’s syncopated bass got people dancing.
It was a rare thing: a night of art music exploration that was completely lacking in pretension. Which, in a roundabout way, placed the emphasis completely on the integrity of the performances*. Music is abstract. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the image and politics that usually gets wheeled out whenever it’s presented. Whether you’re dressed in a black polo neck sweater or wearing a flannelette shirt, close your eyes and your ears will tell you what’s really going on.
*Note my integrity – I am giving them a positive review yet I did not win the raffle.