Murphy’s Law premieres “Big Creatures Little Creatures: The Modular Suite”, written for MIJF by PBS Young Elder of Jazz Competition winner Tamara Murphy — Jordan Murray trombone, Nashua Lee guitar, Tamara Murphy bass, Joe Talia & Daniel Farrugia on drums and percussion — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Saturday, June 2 at 8pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012
It’s the sign of a good festival, I’ve been told, when there are gigs you’d love to be at that clash with others you can’t miss. Tamara Murphy‘s suite clashed with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter‘s appearance with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra at The Forum and I had decided on the big band — until I realised that fast footwork could allow a visit to Bennetts Lane before catching Potter in the second set.
I was really glad that I’d opted to hear the Australian (and world) premiere of Murphy’s work, because it was entrancing. It was also, to my surprise given the modular nature of the suite (referred to by Murphy in an interview with Miriam Zolin before the work was complete), not at all fragmented, but rather seemed to be compellingly cohesive.
But how much was improvised on the night and how much was scripted? None of the musicians appeared to be using any charts, and there was a level of concentration and intensity that usually accompanies spontaneous improvisation. Clearly the musicians were highly attentive to what the others were up to, but it was almost as if they were following a script that was not written down, yet was in their heads. Surely there must have been hours of rehearsal for this suite to work so well, but I do not know whether that’s the case.
The suite came across as an exploration of timbres and textures in a way that was tonally and percussively rich — even luxuriant at times. Some pairings of instruments worked extremely well — Murphy’s bowed bass with Murray’s muted trombone, Lee’s guitar with Murphy’s bowed bass — and Farrugia’s intensity on drums contributed significantly.
Big Creatures Little Creatures was relatively subdued until the latter stages, when that changed as the work ended in a real climax. The tight playing at this point emphasised the musicians’ synchronicity, especially as exemplified by Talia and Farrugia, who worked faultlessly together on drums in a way that was hard to believe.
I would definitely like to hear this suite performed again, perhaps at a Stonnington Jazz or Wangaratta Jazz festival. It deserves a wider audience than there was space for in the large room at Bennetts Lane, though that was packed.
With this work, Murphy and her colleagues have added to the growing list of important and engrossing suites created in Australia, such as those by Allan Browne et al (The Drunken Boat, Une Saison en Enfer) in Melbourne and Stu Hunter (The Muse, The Gathering) in Sydney.