My intention was to make it to Make It Up Club, Bar Open, in Brunswick St, Fitzroy, where some 15 musicians were offering some avant garde improvised music, but the night ended where it began, in a pool of poetry and other literary delights, along with music, at Bennetts Lane.
Launch of extempore issue 2
Martin Jackson, of the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, officially launched the second issue of extempore, edited by Miriam Zolin (above). He ended with a strong push for the journal to be given government funding, and his praise for Zolin’s drive in keeping this project going was echoed later by Sonja Horbelt on behalf of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.
Then the large crowd was treated to readings by two contributors. First, professed anarchist, poet, draughtsman and editor of experimental magazine Unusual Work, Pi O, read from his works, including 1928 Jazz in Melbourne for Sonny rehe, which appears in this issue of extempore. Pi O has used that name since the 1970s and will continue to do so for as long as he writes poetry. It represents his true initials, a symbol of his balance, his love of mathematics, anonymity and his function as a poet (the manipulation of words and letters). That background on the poet’s name came from the University of Wollongong.
Then novelist and sometime journalist Andrew Lindsay demonstrated his theatrical skills with an engaging and energetic reading from his verbatim piece for the journal, Music Slut from Hell.
MJC Transitions Series: Allan Browne’s “free ensemble”
So the die was cast for the evening. Soon, though not as early as expected, Allan Browne ushered in his “free ensemble”, along with a 1976 John Olsen etching of Cooper Creek in Flood. But more of that later. With Browne were Tamara Murphy on bass, ring-in Julien Wilson on tenor sax (“We’re really happy to have him, instead of Shannon [Barnett],” Browne cheekily noted later), David Rex on alto sax, Steven Grant on trumpet and Jex Saarelaht on piano. We were in for a treat — literary reflections with music.
That said, I did at times miss some of the words spilling from Allan Browne’s lips, hidden as he was at the back of the band, so their significance was sometimes lost. The first words were about Brett Whiteley, though I did not catch the author. Still, the key phrase came through, “… mixing the never yet attainable blue … INDIGO”. Saarelaht left some lovely deep ruminations hanging in the air before the others came in.
Next was Murphy’s musical response to Judith Wright’s Black Cockatoos “tossed on the crest/ of their high trees, crying the world’s unrest”. This was a delightful musical experience, but hard to describe — all breathy murmurings as the horns pecked at sounds; plucked piano strings; bowed bass and slow, drifting tenor sax. It was all subdued, perhaps unlike the raucous complaints we might have expected from cockatoos.
A reading from A. B. Facey’s A Fortunate Life, referring to a plan, momentarily considered, to roll an 18-inch wheel of cheese into no man’s land at Gallipoli “to flush out the Turks”, was followed by an arrangement by Steven Grant. This showed how capable horns are of gentle outpourings. There was chatter, grumbling, as if a lot of old men were behaving like old women (to use, unwisely perhaps, ideologically unsound cliches), then growing louder in their complaints — or was this then the battle we were hearing?
Browne prefaced the next piece with remarks on the Olsen etching. “It’s the most superb thing I own. I look at it and it makes me dream of Cooper’s Creek. I’ve never been to Cooper’s Creek. (Heckling from the crowd.) I have written this to tell the story … I guess Olsen is thinking about Cooper’s Creek flooding, and when it does a new life is born.”
The words above the etching read: I do my utmost to obtain emptiness, I hold firmly to stillness, and all the myriad creatures all rise together, and I watch their return.”
A bass solo followed, then tenor sax, and eerie, moving trumpet.
Before the second set, we were treated to visions of tubes of ice-cold beer and chundering in the old Pacific sea, a la Barry Humphries’s Bazza McKenzie. David Rex had turned these sixties’ memories into music.
William Street, as recorded by Browne with Grant on Five Bells, brought us back from the break with a thump in this reflection on the Kenneth Slessor poem about his love for the street in Sydney that leads to the Cross. A key phrase stuck: You find it ugly, I find it lovely.
In a full-throated solo by Wilson there was edge to his playing — was he reflecting the ugly, the loud, the brash, the crass, the brazen? When Grant came in and then the others, it was tough, searing stuff, with wailing saxes and a spiky trumpet mounting an assault on the eardrums. In the end, before dying away, it became an insistent babble of moans and cries. The lovely side of William St, for Slessor, was undoubtedly loud.
A piece “for Gertrude Stein” was obscure, with Browne waxing lyrical about “tantric arrival”, Facebook and “archival survival”. I gave in to the music and left literary references behind.
We then heard a musical take on James McAuley’s poem Magpie, which “gargles music in his throat, the liquid squabble of his note … He swaggers in pied feather coat and slips fat worms down his throat”. This was a lot of fun, with shades of Jelly Roll Morton, and then there was a final sight-reading challenge from Jex Saarelaht, which Browne described as “a bit like the Rite of Spring”. Right.
The small crowd left, tired but fulfilled — by music and words in concert.