REVIEW: MFG – Live at the Brisbane Jazz Club

mfgYou know you’re listening to a great live recording, when you find yourself wishing you’d been there, among the people in the audience. This is what happened to me, as I’ve been listening to this album – and by ‘listening’, I mean constantly: for the past 6-7 months, this has been playing in a loop; sometimes, the odd track sneaks into random playlists; each time, I find myself wishing I had been there, at the Brisbane Jazz Club, on August 23 2014, to see this group of friends perform their electrifying music.

MFG stands for the German phrase “Mit freundlichen Grüßen” (with friendly greetings). It also stands for the last names of guitarist Nico Maas, saxophonist Gemma Farrell, and pianist Thomas Goralski. The three of them, two Germans and an Australian, met in the course of their studies on the highly acclaimed Conservatorium van Amsterdam and decided to keep their collaboration going after their graduation. This was a wise choice, as theirs is one of the rare examples of a tight-knit group of people that have achieved a remarkable level of intense communication, creating a compact sound of extreme density – which is highlighted even more, when they let themselves loose.

Nico Maas is an inventive guitarist, his intricate playing oozing lyricism; Thomas Goralski, a sensitive, playful pianist, is the yin to his yang; the two of them seem to share a mind, they play as if one is finishing the other’s ideas. But the star of the show is Gemma Farrell and her two bandmates are wise enough to let her shine. Assuming they had a choice, that is: her presence is so commanding that it is seems inevitable for her to be anywhere else but the foreground, playing with an assertive clarity that leaves little room for ambiguity. With her weighty, self-confident phrasing, she offers the narrative for this set of songs, taking the audience by the hand and leading them to the journey planned by the trio (the band is completed by the sturdy rhythmic backbone of Joshua Hatcher on double bass and Nathan Goldman on drums).

The journey itself is a delight. Going through a variety of styles, their compositions are mostly based in the classic jazz-funk idiom, reimagined through a modern prism that borrows a lot from the european jazz culture of the last three decades – in contrast, say, to what their american counterparts would do, which is to lean towards the hip-hop palette of rhythms. Again, it is Gemma Farrell who guides us through all these styles, her playing echoing a series of sax traditions, from Dexter Gordon and Jackie McLean, to Stanley Turrentine, Gary Bartz and Jan Garbarek, to Branford Marsalis, (early) Joshua Redman and James Carter. Shifting from urgent jazz-funk to serene ballads, to electrifying post-bop, MFG keep their audience on the edge of their seats, presenting them with one surprise after the other.

With friendly greetings, indeed.

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