New York based tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby led Canadian pianist Kris Davis and local drummer Simon Barker in a one-off trio collaboration at the Jazzlab. ‘Fearless’ hardly begins to describe this evening’s phenomena but it’s a good start. Chunky piano chords, curly sax sounds, and inclement percussion quickly built up to a point where the three instruments were yelling at each other, a musical version of the Grand Prix, in-your-face, singular and loud.
This was unusual music produced by each musician’s original handling of their instrument. There were elements of prepared piano from Davis, Malaby’s long-term collaborator, who sometimes played with pieces of cardboard or her elbows and fists, creating a driving, rolling repetition of chords or growling and screeching sounds; it was astonishing. So was the way Malaby played sax, he made it breathe, whisper, creep, parp and honk, rush around corners, up and down stairs, roar, bleat, low and squeak like night birds, in a seemingly experimental exploration of all the possible sounds you can get out of the instrument.
This was playful, sexual music with a we-can-go-anywhere energy and extremes of sounds, with small tender conversations, prolonged laments and musical hissy fits. The trio was acutely tuned into one another; the piano and drums synchronised and almost became a new hybrid instrument. In Barker’s hands the drum set itself morphed into something new; he’s extraordinary. His drum solo was a percussive frenzy, rolling itself into demented balls, with tribal tom-tom sounds thrown in, and now and again rhythms reminiscent of a military tattoo.
Warble Pet included an extended scratchy persistent sax segment, the music again building up into a relentlessly competing ‘annoying’ jazz sound, utterances and outbursts suddenly giving way briefly to some middle eastern tunes or a more conventional conversation then returning to a crescendo where you begin to think the musicians might wear out their instruments. There was a distinctively random quality to the music. The sound this trio made was unique, practically inventing its own genre, which I’d call ‘industrial jungle’.
The last piece, Remolino, was a musical storm, and it was good to hear that this improvisation was indeed inspired by the intense tornados common in the southeast of the USA.
This concert forced you to give yourself over to it, it swept you up into Malaby’s aural world with such rewards. The trio returned to the stage after the finale but declined to do an encore after a long and electrifying show. “We’re exhausted,” Malaby explained. Nobody was going to insist.
A concert of surprising and transporting music.
2018 Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Venue: The Jazzlab | 27 Leslie Street, Brunswick VIC
Dates: 4 June 2018
Tickets: $43 – $48