28 June 2009

Free at the Front

It was the far reaches of jazz that attracted me to the Front for Melbourne’s mandala. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there was no bassist, so it was an unusual combination, and the descriptions were intriguing: “where improvisation and composition interact”, “like a dog with a bone”, “avant-guard sensibilities … Headhunters moments … post-modern blaze”. Sounds good, and it was.

This was a trio of drums, guitar and piano, with trumpet as special guest. Music that morphs throughout, as different instruments search for a new exposition, or sit and explore a riff awaiting development. The trio had played together lots, so there was closeness and responsiveness and expectation; a level of comfort with very demanding but undefined musical outpourings. Miro on trumpet waited a little more to hear the grooves and harmonies, but his playing was spot on for this band. (I was thinking: the Europeans do chaos superbly!) Trumpet seems so apt for this freedom, floating or flying sharp and clear over the energetic understory. Ronny on drums could be furious, loud with a sharp snare, rabid rock or other grooves, then descending to cymbals and percussive sounds. Geoff remained calm, but was fast and loud and tingling with his sharp Telecaster tone, sometimes echoed or otherwise effected. Sometimes a guitar solo, sometimes in the low registers with an e-bass mentality, sometimes string tones or even explosions of a guitar neck dropped a few inches into his lap. No damage to the guitar, but a clear challenge to the mainstream. Marc was wondrous at times, classically concentrated and straight backed, starting one tune with minutes of rhythmic searching on the slightest of melodic ideas: a tonic to a minor third. His piano tone (was it a Rhodes tone?) was breaking up with power at times. Othertimes, bell-like for contrapuntal passages at 4 or 5 octave intervals between left and right (he seemed to like these), or deep when taking a bass role, or ecstatic with lengthy, rapid modal solos that raged over hard rock grooves and guitar hardness, perhaps with that souring trumpet wailing above. This was music that morphed constantly, free, rabidly energetic, loud, frenetic, but always displaying chops and sensibility despite the instantly formed expression. Pure improv; no charts. Just sounds sprayed around and reacted to. What did they play? It was fully improvised so no titles, but I can report that they performed four improvs over two sets. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you know the language and hear the patter, it’s a thing of passion and beauty.

The Andy Campbell Trio introduced the night, but I only heard the last bars of the last tune. Just enough time for one blurred pic.

Mandala is an improvising trio from Melbourne comprising Ronny Ferella (drums), Marc Hannaford (piano) and Geoff Hughes (guitar). Miroslav Bukovsky was the special guest at the Front Cafe.

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