By John Hardaker
Galaxstare. The name Sydney tenor savant Richard Maegraith rechristened his rather prosaically named Richard Maegraith Band for their second album, is a word to conjure with.
Galaxstare. Is it the feeling of staring outwards towards the galaxy, seeking answers, in awe of its wonders? Or is it the stare of the galaxy back towards us; the eye in the sky, its vast omni-vision casting its diamond gaze over our little lives? As a spiritually-attuned man and musician – his Facebook page declares ‘I’m a student of everything… and I play the saxophone’ – Maegraith perhaps is suggesting both.
Galaxstare the band suggests this wide cosmic vista in their playing and sound. Maegraith’s compositions seem to come from a place wider than Jazz and the band’s acoustic/electric sound gives a wider timbre than Jazz to realise them.
Not that there is anything wrong with Jazz timbre: the opener at Galaxstare’s 2 October gig at Sydney’s Venue 505, the piano-bass-drums Chris Poulsen Trio, proved that. Great driving piano jazz – but with the funky colours Herbie Hancock raises up whenever he plays acoustic piano – Poulsen’s witty and swinging heads won us all over. His bass player, Jeremy O’Connor stood out – are you allowed to have this much fun with jazz?
Then Galaxstare – with Matilda Abraham filling in for the group’s vocalist, Kristen Berardi – took to the stage and played us four tunes in a row, without pause. As on their album, A Time, Times and Half a Time, three tunes – ‘Love Feast’, ‘New One’ and ‘The Comforter’ (with an extended and involved Rhodes solo from Gary Daley) were fused together into a seamless flow. ‘The Comforter’ then grew into a new tune – Maegraith’s tribute and celebration of Indigenous Australians – ‘The Ones Who Were Here First’. The new piece was meditative and roiling by turns with Maegraith featuring the black-on-black tones of his bass clarinet. I heard ochre, deep desert wind and crackling dry branches – as with much of Galaxstare’s music, the piece was entirely transporting.
After the deep meditations of the opening quartet of tunes, Galaxstare snapped us out of it with the funk of ‘Romans VII’. And I realised that the band has toughened up their sound considerably. Karl Dunnicliff’s electric bass and Tim Firth’s drums – for all their hair-trigger dynamics and inventiveness (and Tim Firth constantly amazes) there is some serious rock crunch in the grooves, with backbeats that pay the rent. The funk under Maegraith’s tenor solo was electric, snapping and crackling.
A mention here must go to vocalist Matilda Abraham who filled in ‘at the last moment’ – her canny negotiations of the rhythmic quirks and intervallic leaps of Maegraith’s melodies was admirable. Dig the relentless 16th offbeats of ‘Romans VII’ – whew. Her scatting on the bright and funky closer, ‘The Journey’ was inspired and lit up the room.
The most staggering piece of the night was ‘A Time, Times and Half a Time’, the title track of the band’s latest album. A tribute to Japanese friends of Maegraith’s who survived the terrible Japanese tsunami, it is a deep deep meditation on existence, the galaxy-sized power of nature, and the depth of sorrow. That Galaxstare are capable of creating this huge, deep, wide, bottomless universe of music in a room on Cleveland Street using only bass clarinet, voice, accordion, bass and drums is astounding and humbling.
Richard Maegraith’s music draws from many musics. It is nominally Jazz but, like Miles Davis and Weather Report, and today’s Christian Scott, it kneads in many other flavours. Maybe Maegraith’s music has greater depth because he moves in a world away from only jazz and jazz musicians – he is a deeply committed Christian and a family man with three boys.
All I know is that the thought ‘Why is this room not full to the brim? Why doesn’t the world better know about this music?’ came into my mind – as it does with saddening regularity these days. Of course I know the reasons why, but in the case of Galaxstare, the question needs to be answered. If this review can motivate you to buy their albums and/or go see their next gig then my words will have been worth it.
Galaxstare is: Richard Maegraith, tenor sax and bass clarinet; Matilda Abraham, vocal; Gary Daley, Rhodes, accordion and organ; Karl Dunnicliff, bass; Tim Firth, drums.
Galaxstare’s website is galaxstare.com
Richard Maegraith website www.richardmaegraith.com