26 November 2010


I hadn’t heard of Pan Francis, but I knew I’d like them. They were a visiting band from Melbourne. They were in a favourite configuration: sax trio with that open, unbordered sound that comes from not having a chordal instrument and with the strong and more equal role for each player. They had interesting and varied backgrounds, including National Jazz Awards and classical training and even Big Day Out. They had a promotional pic that was wonderfully amusing and sharp and primary colourful. Talk of collective improvisation, quirky melodies, thumping beats and deconstructions of rock and pop classics had me sure to be in the audience. When the first tune was from Bad Plus, I was sold. These guys are busy and vibrant and well versed in their instruments. But also playful and aware of music of their less jazz-obsessed peers and they are having a good time. Not that it’s an easy listen, but it’s capable and interesting and contemporary and aware and I like that.

Jon played alto sax, which fitted nicely for a lighter, more flighty sound than would a tenor. He’s classically trained and a finalist at the National Jazz Awards and an Arts Council grant recipient, so he’s got chops. You could hear it in the extended range and the sequences that spoke of a harmonic awareness at the level of each note he played, but there were also squeaks and screams for the passion. I was intrigued by long intervals of solos in whole note triplets, one time with a bass playing on 1-3- for a strangely floating effect. Michael was strong and edgy on bass with a lovely rig borrowed from Phil Jenkins (Acoustic Image & EA). His role is bliss for an adventurous bassist: free to improvise as an equal, often holding the groove, but also passing it to drums or even sax for ostinato lines, and lots of solo time. He’d busily range rapidly over the fingerboard with nice intonation, but equally drop to the quietest of repeated notes for effect. Very nice, and he was so obviously having a great time. Also busy and inventive was drummer Nick. He’s the one with history at Big Day Out, so has a rock heritage. I certainly felt it: matched grip on the sticks and some rock-style rolls and fills. There was a clear jazz sensibility there in his freedom, but it was not gentle and subdued from jazz training but more loud and grubby. It was a nice blend for a gritty band crossing over into pop deconstructions.

I mentioned Bad Plus’ Bugs (or more fully, Keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your ass [sic]). Other non-originals were a Bud Powell bebop called Wail, which sounded very contemporary and un-‘40s although hinting at its history. I was searching for the reasons here: the alto that was more fluid and indefinite or the bass lines that seemed more 2 note patterns rather than bebop 4s and that avoided the obvious statements of chords. Then a fabulously complex Paul Williamson tune with a complex time feel and unison staccato melody, and a funky 12-bar feel from band Fly. Then Spiderbait’s Buy me a pony and Pink Floyd’s Bike [obscure title alert] which I particularly enjoyed for its jolly, melodious tune with deceptive twists. There were originals by both Michael and Jon. Jon’s Loneliness was balladic. Jon’s Untitled (and due anytime now) was a dark ballad with a film noir flavour. Michael’s J’s track was a slow rocky feel with latin accent. I think I got the title wrong, because Michael’s Obituary didn’t feel to me at all funereal, but more light and cloudy with a contemporary melody that reminded me of Ornette.

All round, an interesting journey from capable players in a this open and adventurous format. Not easy, but I enjoyed it immensely. Jon Crompton (alto sax), Michael Story (bass) and Nick Martyn (drums, percussion) played as Pan Francis at the Loft.

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