29 June 2009

Varieties of lullaby

Pollen Trio is an elusive and facetiously meek name for a band which is anything but meek. It’s actually the Austin Benjamin Trio renamed, but the music has moved since their first album, and it seems to continually be seeking new natures. Their performance at JU surprised me with a minimalist challenge for the afternoon radio audience.

This Front gig was a little more aligned with the CD, but also more bombastic, with powered, repetitive figures that could be mistaken for free, until you encountered various starts and stops and obviously programmed bars and unison lines that stitched the parts together. There’s lots of repetition at high energy, some quite understated minimalist soloing and always that push and drive that’s the nature and intent from the top. Austin leads with a strangely effected Nord piano sound. A friend wondered why he used this tone, but to me it fits the manic style perfectly well. This is not an audio space for gentleness or hesitation. It seems post apocalyptic, informed by sci-fi thrillers, but with a sense of purpose and seriousness and threatening reality. Chris admirably holds bass duties and dropped in a few melodic lines with precision, but this is a repetitive although challenging bass role. I particularly enjoyed Evan’s drumming, here at its most involved and committed. Body flailing, sticks and mallets touching or beating with these movements. He’s a very mobile and expressive player. Passages that hinted of drum solo with a repeated riff from the band, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was full on solo or busy accompaniment. It was all mesmeric repetition and sustained odd time signatures. I thought I counted 5/4 and an oddly syncopated 8 and 7/4 and a 16 divided into 9 and 7. But the times were not easy to count, so perhaps I’ve erred. This intensity says menace and no prisoners, but an unexpected lullaby theme appeared in Chase the clouds. So, intriguing and involving and another worthy expression from this inventive outfit. Pollen Trio. I like the name. Despite the lullaby, it’s a delightful disparity from the music.

But lullaby was a clearer theme of the second performer, the Sydney-based ambient guitarist, Seaworthy (AKA Cameron Webb).

Why lullaby? Firstly, because I heard those simple, satisfying melodies in this guitar playing, and ambient seems to me a modern day lullaby for adults. Secondly, because his toddler daughter was there for the performance, and delightfully interrupted it at one point. (There’s no interrupting headstrong toddlers!) This was true ambient music. Simple themes and instrumental performance, supported by an array of tools of the trade (PC and effects and loops and echoes) and assisted by background soundscapes. Cam played two tunes (he normally plays a single long piece, but it was two this day due to the interruption). The first was against sounds of seagulls; the second against footfalls in an identifiably dull, reverberant space. Apparently he’d recorded this in concrete bunkers discarded the Navy. You could hear these reflections in cement, somewhat like a Canberra underpass but bumpier. This music was simpler than Pollen’s, but hypnotic and quite seductive.

So two versions of lullaby; two versions of hypnotic music. They were very different, but an interesting combination and well received. Also interesting was the neat little business card CD with tracks from each of the bands that you were given with the cover charge. Never seen that before.

Pollen Trio were Austin Buckett (piano), Chris Pound (bass) and Evan Dorrian (drums). Seaworthy was a one man band comprising Cameron Webb.

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