Cafe Church is, actually, a (Uniting) church. But not your average church. There are no ministers. It's a level-playing-field, arty congregation, that kicks back with wine and coffee. It's hard to know where the cafe finishes and the church begins. All I know it's been running for about 10 years and 'Cafe Church', now a regular Thursday night thing, has been operating, albeit quietly, as a venue for top-flight Aussie and, occasionally, overseas jazz, for around 7/10. It's a discovery. Dare I say, a revelation. And I could hardly have wished for a more fitting introduction than The Gavin Ahearn Trio, featuring the very same on Yamaha grand, Matt Greubner on barely-amplified upright bass, and Nic Cecire on drums, or, more rightfully, percussion.
What? You haven't heard of Gavin Ahearn? Does that mean he's not such an eminent pianist? Uh-uh. It means he's been enjoying favour, for the best part of the last decade, overseas. He's cut a swathe across Europe and made it in New York. And if you can make it there, well, you know the rest. In the Big Apple (does anyone still call it that?) he recorded a seminal trio album at the renowned One Soul studios. That trio comprised, apart from GA himself, Chris Riggenbach on bass, and the remarkable Christian Coleman, on drums.
I can't imagine GA's current cohorts give anything away to their predecessors. Greubner might sound like a buffoonish character from Hogan's Heroes, but he's a worldclass bassist, with mild manners, but fleeting fingers. He's all over his instrument; a veritable David Copperfield, making every tricky manoeuvre and deft touch look & sound like the easiest, most natural progression. His technique taunts, 'I can do this in my sleep'.
Cecire is one of those drummers whose percussive vocabulary extends well beyond the rims of his snare & toms. Nothing is really out of bounds, as he constantly scrounges for new sounds and variations on familiar ones. An intelligent approach, which yields profound dividends in complementary musicianship.
Ahearn is every bit the beautiful, lyrical pianist he's touted to be; not showy. In fact, he seems a little like a shy A+ student, covering his work to avoid the boy next to him copying. Much akin to Greubner, he tinkles and tinkers away, eking out the deeply affecting & truly extraordinary as if it's no more challenging than shaving.
One Soul is more than a record label, it's a brand that could just as easily, & equally, epitomise the very palpable Ahearn-Greubner-Cecire empathy. This is world's best practice progressive, improvised music. You've heard of peak oil. This is peak jazz. But whereas the former is finite and imminently threatening to lapse into decline, these guys, I reckon, are just getting into their stride.
The first set opened with the title-track from the trio's shortly forthcoming album, If You Were There. At least I think that's what it's called. In any case, if this piece is any indication, we're in for a reflective, contemplative collection: instrumental ruminations of rare, shimmering harmonic brilliance.
But don't assume, for one moment, the compositional strings are all pulled by the leader. Greubner's contributions are substantial; his song from the second set (the name of which, criminally, I didn't catch, or don't recall) was sublime. I understand Cecire writes as well.
Apart from the knockout originals, we heard tunes from the likes of Dale Barlow (with whom Ahearn has collaborated extensively), Thelonius Monk, Christian Coleman & a man, I gather to be one of Ahearn's key influences, Italian pianist, Enrico Pieranunzi.
With low lighting, provided by an eccentric grab-bag of op-shop lamps (which, if that much more subdued, would make for some classically noir, pronounced, long shadows), free tea coffee, OJ and water, glasses into which one is encourage to pour BYO wine, cosy, comfy couches and a concertedly shoes-off vibe, The Cafe Church Space would do Greenwich Village proud. As would the current lineup of The Gavin Ahearn Trio.
As pointed-out by one of Cafe Church's organisers, Anne-Marie, the room is much-prized by musos for wood-shedding new work and side-projects and, more generally, as a 'safe', free space in which to expand and experiment with the palette. In that sense alone, it's an invaluable, performance-enhancing experience, in which audiences can get up-close and personal with the thrills, chills and maybe even spills of impro.
Long overdue and much belated plaudits to entrepreneurs Anfrew Lorien, & Barney Wakeford (himself a very considerable piano-man), for their farsightedness, generosity and 'money-where-their-mouths-are', gung-ho, in getting it all going, let alone keeping it so, even amid the dreaded global financial meltdown. As long as musos and backers like this live-and-breathe, there's no chance of Australian jazz ever following a similar path to the damned dollar.
The Gavin Ahearn Trio
Venue: The Cafe Church Space | 37 St John's Road, Glebe
Date/Time: 9th April & 15th May 2009