Reminiscence of a gig: Richard Pavlidis – Origins Live at the MRC

Richard Pavlidis – Origins

Live at the Melbourne Recital Centre

Friday 7 February 2020

As silence filled the salon at the recital centre, Ben Charnley’s cymbals act as a call to attention. The drummer lets their resonance hang in the air before launching into a burning, up tempo swing feel. Charnley and bassist Jordan Tarento’s light, bright groove bubbles along under Richard Pavlidis‘ languid melody until the band stops and Pavlidis launches into a fierce extended solo. It is reminiscent of a fight scene in an action movie in which Pavlidis plays the hero; his own piece of music – the challenge he has set himself. He toys with a simple motif, working it through the chord changes of the piece as if engaging in some light-hearted sparring before unleashing in earnest. The hero takes a few hits which adds to the drama. He dusts himself off and we know he has his opponent pinned when the torrent of rapid fire arpeggios build his solo to an exhilarating climax. The second soloist, pianist Mike Pensini, is a complete walk over. He barely raises a sweat as his fluid 8th note lines carve their way through this complex piece.


Richard Pavlidis is a respected Melbourne based saxophonist and composer who has made a name for himself within the Melbourne music scene through his work with various bands including Neon City Pilot, The Senegambian Jazz Band, Sex on Toast and Kingswood. In the last couple of years however, he has come into his own as a bandleader. Last year he released his first solo album, Without Within, comprised of entirely original compositions. This fertile creative period continues as he premiered several brand-new compositions at the Recital Centre that will be recorded and released later in the year on an album called Origins.

Pavlidis’ music sits comfortably within the modern jazz tradition established by artists such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny. The late acoustic releases of Michael Brecker are a particularly important reference point for Pavlidis. In addition to these influences, rock and pop artists like The Beatles, Queen and David Bowie have shaped Pavlidis’ song writing and song structure in a more conceptual way.

Despite the fact that his music is entirely instrumental, there is a desire to tell a story and capture a particular mood with each piece. He accesses a range of emotions to suit the intention of each piece, his improvisations serving the song as opposed to the composition being a vehicle for soloing.

The pace of the evening shifted in the second song with a new piece titled ‘Cycles’. The rhythm section’s cohesive sense of groove and ability to interpret and manifest Pavlidis’ vision for each piece was especially evident on this slow, moody song. Pavlidis alters his tone for this more subdued melody. His notes grow almost out of nothing, giving his sound a smooth quality, which is equally reminiscent of Jan Garbarek as it is of Kenny G. After the groove has been established and the melody stated, the piece takes an unexpected turn as disorientating chords, angular lines and a blurring of the pulse leave us feeling as though the ground beneath our feet is crumbling. Pavlidis holds the floor throughout the changing landscapes like a front man conveying a narrative, the band eventually weaving their way back to the original groove.

The next piece, another premiere titled ‘Four ones’, seems even faster and denser than the opening tune. Both Pavlidis and Pensini are up to the task. Pavlidis’ approach to improvisation is equal parts spontaneity and structure. He begins with intuitive thematic development, each phrase following on logically from the last. He creates momentum by stringing together a series of fast cleanly executed licks. Charnley is quick to respond, breaking up the consistent swing pattern on his dark ride cymbal by drawing out washier colours whilst maintaining a solid groove. Pavlidis builds his solo to a climax with an unrelenting stream of repeated riffs before releasing the tension into the hands of the next soloist. Pensini’s solo on this piece is particularly brilliant. He balances his effortlessly flowing scale passages with thick, two-handed chords. He builds intensity with McCoy Tyner-esque left hand bombs and contrapuntal lines, a la Brad Mehldau. Again, Charnley responds with jabs from behind the drum kit and the audience respond with excited cheers.

The title track of Pavlidis last release, ‘Without Within’, is a chance for both soloists to explore some more subtle textures. Pavlidis lets loose on the outro, juxtaposing complex diminished runs with heart felt blues licks and wailing altissimo (high notes). This is followed by a fresh take on one of Pavlidis’ older pieces, ‘Up Late’, which is practically a jazz standard and is included in the Australian Jazz Real Book. The feel is cleverly disguised in the beginning before Tarento settles into the straight 16ths groove with beautifully voiced broken chords on the upright bass. The next piece begins with an aggressive exchange between Pavlidis and Charnley. It’s great to hear Pavlidis play in this Avant-Garde tinged style without a set chord structure. His ideas flow naturally and his playful approach is undeniably Sonny-Rollins-inspired. The band’s collective foot eases off the accelerator as the intensity finally subsides for a stirring ballad performed as a duo with Pensini. This piece has a distinct vocal quality. Pavlidis’ treatment of the melody calls to mind a virtuoso diva belting an emotional power ballad.

As the band approached the final song of the evening, the audience felt the tension in the air dissipate. Now it was time to have some fun and the final piece, ‘Someone’s Version of the Blues’, provided that opportunity. It is a spacious modal piece that allowed the whole band to stretch out. The outro is built on a grungy rock riff that Pavildis has adapted for saxophone, complete with metric modulations, a jilted groove and saxophone shredding over chromatic harmony.

Throughout Pavlidis’ performance we got the sense that every element of this hour-long event had been carefully considered – from the pacing of the evening, the song selection and the range of moods expressed down to the musicians selected and the level of focus they brought to the performance. It was obvious that this performance meant a lot to each of the musicians involved and expressed something very personal for Pavlidis in particular.

It left me with a feeling of gratitude to have been taken on this thoughtfully curated, beautifully executed journey.