08 May 2008

Blokes’ night out

Geoff Page’s jazz series featured the biggest band in its history when Wanderlust played at the Gods the other night: six hulking guys on that little stage. And what a pleasure it was! The music of Wanderlust is a rich, worldly blend of styles and influences. And the playing is from an experienced batch of musicians of similarly worldly backgrounds. The band has been around for about 15 years, so the gathering is mature. Gigs are not frequent (more like a family outing) and the pleasure of the players and audience is palpable when they occur. The music flows and swings and grooves with sweet melodies, taut harmonies, strong and attractive grooves and understated but very satisfying solos.

These were six big blokes, lounging in jeans and t-shirts. No hype; lots of smiles and comradely support; jokey, especially from the ring master, James; satisfied as in the glances of Miro or the smiles of Alister, but not overweening; competent and joyous, and also profound. There were tunes you’d recognise from the Wanderlust songbook. I don’t know all the titles, but everyone knows their “only hit” as a “one hit wonder”, Bronte Café, snippets of which I still hear on ABC Radio National every now and then. There were unusual times, like a mesmeric 9/4 bass-line (divided 4-5), with tinkling piano and slide guitar fills, whale calls and a slow, mystical melody overlay. There was a jumpy African 4/4 rhythm. There was funky with hot grooves and a guitar solo with dirt (rockabilly meets Jim Kelly). There was support from James jumping to the groove, sitting out (once literally, in the audience), and calls of Yeah and the like. This was like a mates’ barbeque afternoon, but the chatter was with horns and the discussion was broader than footy. Excuse the amateur gender studies, but it took on this dimension for me: a serious but playful male event. It makes me wonder whether Wanderlust was different with Zoe Hauptman on bass.

John Mackey was a ring-in for the second set. The tenor changed the tenor a little, although it was the second set and a bit more of a blowing session anyway. John gave a different air, with a woodwind sound (contrasting with the normal bell-like clarity of Wanderlust brass), a third harmony and a different approach, although his Coltranesque flurries seemed less conspicuous in this company. Superb playing as always, and a surprisingly easy fit for a visitor.

The second set saw a hard and committed version of Bronte Café, with hot solos all round, and generally intensive groove out of the excellent rhythm section of Steve and Fabian, abetted by complementary comping from Alister and Jeremy. James had played the night with his characteristically simple and superbly correct melodies, but broke into some challenging discordance and later Alister brought the excesses back to earth with masterly control. A beautiful ballad followed called Peace please. Just a melody and individual solos kept faithfully within the melodic style. I noticed John’s sax here (sax is such an apt jazz instrument, being able to voice like vocals, so excelling on ballads) but also Jeremy with an effected tone which gave him a horn-like presence (a standard “defret” effect on rear pickup and bassy tone setting). And pulling all this together was Miro, host and confidant, Harmon-muted or tempestuously trumpeting. Overwhelming and a night of joy.

Wanderlust were Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), James Greening (trombone), Alister Spence (Rhodes piano), Jeremy Sawkins (guitar), Steve Arie (bass) and Fabian Hevia (drums). They were joined by John Mackey (tenor) for the second set.

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