At last year's Viva La Gong, I distinctly and vividly recall numerous of outrageously talented young musos, many of whom were emerging from the 'gong's picturesquely-located Con. One or two were recognisably present in this audience, gathered, ostensibly, to see the Gerard Masters Trio, about to embark on a tour to promote their new album, Pendulum. The no-extra-cost bonus was a high school aged trio, comprising Tom Sherringham, electric guitar; Tom Wade, upright bass; Simon Panucci, drums. The uncomfortably tall, lanky Sherringham handled announcements in that mumbly, gawky, adolescent way, but worked his guitar rather better! Indeed, even sacred territory was within bounds, as well as his & the band's scope. Accordingly, as well as an original, by Panucci, we heard more than creditable adaptations of Bill Evans', Pat Metheny's & Charlie Mingus work. These and other pieces would've proved challenging for a much more experienced and self-assured outfit, but these boys played hard and did good; very good. I've no doubt we'll hear much more of them and sharpish.
It's no surprise Gerard should have the name Masters. He is in total command of his Nord electric piano; a necessity, when your companions are Cameron Undy, on bass, & Evan Mannell, on drums. Aside from a heavily reworked encore of Neil Finn's Message To My Girl, almost all the pieces we heard were originals, from Pendulum. The 'cover' was an interesting choice, as it would seem to reflect Masters' penchant for beautiful melodies, which, surprisingly often, for mine, carry an almost classical sensibility. Yet, practically as soon as one has congratulated oneself on this keen insight, the band bursts into a cacophonous flurry of blues-inspired rock character. This unorthodox approach seems to be a burgeoning one among recent generations of Australian jazz musicians, starting with, say, The Necks and moving forward to groups like this and, notably, another in which Mannell features (The Alcohotlicks). There'll almost certainly be those that condemn this breakout. I applaud it. Surely, the freedom that jazz has always implied, through its very nature (improvisational) ought to bring out these movements, shifts, changes; evolutions; revolutions. In his aspiration, again, Masters is in the best of company: 'though Undy looks tiny next to his bass, his ability, creativity and craftsmanship seems effortlessly, mindblowingly impressive; even if he purses his lips, like a cat's behind, in the process. Evan Manell has quickly become a dominant figure on the jazz- experimental scene, if I can call it that, and, as a drummer, has found & refined his style (a pleasure to watch, as well as listen to) much sooner than most. Indeed, while utterly divorced (since one is rudiment & technique-obsessed, the other plies the outer limits of his percussive imagination), I found myself comparing him to the greats, especially Buddy Rich, since Mannell suggests a similar command of his kit, confidence & bravado. Fortunately, he doesn't step over the line into the kind of solemn, control-freaked arrogance that Rich, as legend would have it, reflected.
The GM Trio has an edginess and vitality typical of the new groups I've described, which brings a whole other dimension to virtuosity. It's as if they've brought a cheeky, upstart rock posture to jazz. Kind of full-circle, perhaps, musicologically-speaking. Best of all, they're having fun, not nervous breakdowns, when they take impro to the extreme. There's something very visceral and irrepressibly exciting when band members are prepared to test each other's listening skills, counts and empathies, by deliberately almost losing it; cutting across rhythms and breaks, not quite knowing who's going to pick up the threads, or when, who'll take a different tack, who'll lead them back to the course they embarked upon.
Masters Mannell Undy sounds like a legal firm, or ad agency, but, no, it's a trio of very evenly talented (and prodigiously so) and matched, young gun jazz (or something) musicians. The Gerard Masters Trio is a marriage of minds and music which reiterates an age-old debate: are phenomena like this made, or do they just happen? Whatever the answer, it's very much their time. Dare I pun, the pendulum has swung very much in their favour. And it's all down to them.
Gerard Masters Trio
Venue: 313 Studio | 1-5 Miller Street Coniston
Date: Sat 11 Oct
Tickets: $15 gen, $12 IIMA, $10 students