Upon first entering Bird’s Basement, I was immediately conscious of the crystalline sound of the piano, each unamplified note lingering in the space, untrammelled by its neighbours. The audience, in darkness, appeared hushed, as if intensely focused on the music: lyrical, melodic and restrained. As I was drawn into this music, I was conscious of its fragile delicacy, as Mark Isaacs mined the upper register, unafraid of summoning sheer beauty from his instrument.
I heard something of Miles’ ‘Big Fun’the first time I played I Hold the Lion’s Paw’s ‘Abstract Playgrounds’.There, in the opening track ‘(outtakes from the)’ is that same soupy mix, the same muddy rhythms, as if primeval matter, inchoate, is ever-so-slowly coalescing into form. There is an urgency and drama inherent in that opener, as it carefully leads the listener in: what directions this music will take is a wide-open question.
Simon Barker has long been one of my favourite Australian drummers. Rest assured, he would have earned that place on the strength of his drumming in Mark Simmonds’ Freeboppers alone, without consideration of the extraordinary body of work he has produced since. For me, the Freeboppers’ album Fire (1993) remains one of the cornerstones of Australian jazz: four musicians – Simmonds, Scott Tinkler, Steve Elphick, and Barker – interlocking with a ferocious and burning intensity, their music exploding like a supernova.
“…an uncompromising album, demanding from the listener a certain willingness to engage with its architectural design. Working from scratch, its improvisations explore the tonalities of light and shade.”
In an era of short attention spans, when musicians seem to coalesce into new ensembles every other week, The Java Quartet, with more than fifteen years under its belt, seems something of an exception…