12 January 2017
It was a regathering of old friends, fellow students at ANU and old friends of CJ, when Great rack and an empty club reverb played at Hippo: Luke from Sydney; Aidan from Berlin; Reuben and Em from Melbourne; all gigging at Hippo, another old friend. But this was not Just Friends as in jazz standards. The band's title said lots: odd and long and suggestive of electronica. Em's performance was pretty much the title, working as she did at a small desk with mixer and effects. But much more. This was modern, melismatic music, as played in clubs, for dance, I guess (not a scene I know) done by trained jazz professionals. Breakbeats and drum'n'bass and warped reggaes and hugely infectious rhythms and odd times and some contemporary jazz polyrhythms (bliss!) and insistent drum grooves that writhed and mutated but never put an accent in a wrong place and bass lines from Luke's Hammond that would be dense or sparse and move feels inconspicuously or sometimes more obviously. Then solos that didn't spell the fact, trumpet that would echo unobstrusively. Two sets; each without a break. Luke told me after that they had about ten charts but they may not have used them all as the music moved unassumingly from one tune to another. I could pick changes, but it was more joy just to sit back and take all this in. Then voice over, that rack and reverb, Em leading with chatter, or as she said, her dialogue with the audience. "Distance separates us / there ... here ... there .. here". All with impish humour. Words that spelled stories, perhaps improvised, if only to some degree. Words subject to digital effects; words merging into repeats and wordless vocals; vocals in counterpoint or extended harmony with trumpet, sometime like a two-horn frontline (although this was no Blue Note session). Words are conversation and contact: music lovers talk of music as a language but I reckon words add and connect. I strained to hear some stories. Hippo is inherently noisy and continually chatty and the sound wasn't so clear. But the music was infectious and mobile and connecting and done by these trained musicians. Not strictly jazz but jazz training allows this, at this level, stunningly, even when just a get-together. This is not a permanent band. Just old friends, on a night out, playing a rhyming storm in the home town. Fabulous!
Great rack and an empty club reverb comprised Emily Bennett (voice, live signals), Reuben Lewis (trumpet, live signals), Luke Sweeting (organ) and Aidan Lowe (drums).