Review: Christ 3 Buddha Nothing

Christ 3 Buddha Nothing – Bohjass
Independent release
CD Review by Andrew Lindsay

Christ 3 Buddha Nothing

Some nights you just luck out. I was walking home, chilled out after Tai Chi, and feeling the time had come for a glass of Stout. Walking past Melbourne’s legendary venue 303 I heard some sounds that pulled me up short, and I wandered in. I liked what I heard, I liked it a lot, bought a CD after the gig and ended up chatting with the horn and flute players. That’s how I met Bohjass. They’re a Northcote institution, and their music is a treat, if you like lyrical, gnarly, hypnotic jazz played with grunt and virtuosity. Their new release is a double CD, Christ 3 Buddha Nothing, and the humour of the title is typical of the bandleader and composer, Tim Pledger.

My own sense of ‘classic Bohjass’ is when they launch into a powerfully stated riff or tune, and lock onto it, and shake the bastard free and loose…

Twenty three new tunes, and almost two hours of new music. It starts with a bass clarinet wail and moan, over a solid pulse, that fades, before the band starts singing, not with their voices, but on reeds and hides and strings and keys, and they settle into the deep groove, and this is Bohjass.

There’s a lovely generosity in the playing, a true ensemble feel. Most of the band members have been playing together for over a decade.

Theres no need for showing off, they’ve all had their chops for years – there’s a surprising modesty in the playing, that mingles with a kooky, inventive verve. There is restraint, and excess. They are not afraid to voice a simplicity that can at times become a kind of menace. One of the delights of this recording is the way that all the players find their places, and this constellation shines. Moments of frenzy lead into pools of reverie and deep reflection.

There’s so much to like about this band, though for me one feature has always been the way that the saxophone or clarinet lines meld so beautifully with the flute, and the way Tom Fryer has a great knack of tricking the ear, as he finds ways of making you believe that his electric guitar is part of the wind section, and does this while also keeping his guitar anchored in the rhythm section. Ali Watts is on bass, Mike Portley on drums, Chris Lewis on percussion. Belinda Woods is on flute, and Tim Pledger plays sax, bass clarinet and guitar.

Louise Goh on keyboards is a recent addition to the lineup, though she’s already clocked up a few years with the ensemble. In her playing there’s a subtle lightness and grace, married to a sometimes whimsical invention.

My own sense of ‘classic Bohjass’ is when they launch into a powerfully stated riff or tune, and lock onto it, and shake the bastard free and loose, while playing with a glorious tightness and discipline. There’s an anthemic feel sometimes, but these are not the anthems of stadium rock, these are anthems of delight, songs without words to let the heart sing. And, typically, the band will fire up some stirring tune, and find their way to cascade into a marvellous dereliction, or subversion, while keeping the playing both tight and free, and then they’ll hit you so gently with an exquisite tune that will bring you in contact with the sublime, and just as you’ve begun to sink into this mellow moment, they’ll burst it open, and shriek and wail, before they bring that exquisite melody back in, but they’ll keep that dark edge too, and just as quickly they’ll gently wind the whole thing down, and it’s become a kind of lullaby.

Belinda Woods is a sweet monster on the flute, the beguiling effortless of her invention masks the years of work, but years of work won’t guarantee the edginess and clarity of her blissful execution. When she plays she’s lyrical and feisty and marvellous. But they are all great players.

There’s a lot of heart in the band. I write this while listening to their requiem for Will Poskitt, a much loved keyboard player. It’s called ‘Teardrop (vale Will Poskitt)’. He played with the band in an earlier incarnation of its life. His requiem becomes riotous, celebratory and mournful, and at times does all these things at once. It’s a gorgeous tribute.

It took three or four years of catching different gigs before I realised that all the players are composers and bandleaders in their own right. By then I’d heard Belinda Woods in Meter Maid, and the Tom Fryer Band, and bass player Ali Watt’s Slipper, and The Boys, yurodivye, Wildflower, Kewtie… but clearly all these leading players and composers are happy to dive in, and take their parts in Bohjass. I suspect it’s a measure of the regard they have for Mr Pledger’s compositions. They are all masters and mistresses of their instruments. One imagines it’s a delight to play together…

As I listen to Christ 3 Buddha Nothing I keep picking up the cover to check the titles of tracks that have just caught my ears, but with each listening I find I’m picking it up so often I finally accept that the marvellous joke is on me. Some titles are funny, others lyrical. I’m loving a tune, I pick up the CD cover. It’s a sweet, sweet melody. Its name? ‘She’s fucking another man’ Another night-and yes, there may have been Stout taken-I find I’m dancing in the workroom. What’s that tune called? ‘Guantanamo bed and breakfast’. And then another quirky delight pops up, it’s called ‘The Jesus sandwich’…

This music is deceptive and sweet and spiky, fuelled sometimes by a legitimate sense of outrage. The dominant sense is one of joy, even in the midst of chaos and pain and consternation. The lyricism always shines through, perhaps this is at last a music of compassion. Christ 3, Buddha Nothing….

PS: Their website is