Tag Archives: Murphy’s Law


Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures Little Creatures

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures & Little Creatures


Murphy’s Law performed Big Creatures & Little Creatures at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne on November 11, 2012

I don’t know much about modular furniture, but I have a hunch it is fairly dull. You have a box-shaped couch seating three, you add a couple of modules and it seats five.

Forget Ikea. Tamara Murphy‘s suite Big Creatures & Little Creatures is not at all dull., but it is “modular” — the order in which its movements are played can be determined, or improvised, on the night.

A bonus of this approach is that the suite will be different each time it is played, though the main movements (big creatures) may be similar. This potential for variation is particularly enticing and encourages listeners to pay attention, especially if they have heard an earlier version. It sets in train a gentle form of suspense — what will this ensemble play next?

Jordan Murray with Murphy's Law.

Jordan Murray with Murphy’s Law.

Big Creatures & Little Creatures, for which Murphy won PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission, features two drummers  — Danny Farrugia and Joe Talia — in the line-up, along with Murphy on bass, Jordan Murray  on trombone and Nashua Lee on guitar. The work was premiered in June this year at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and revisited at Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival 2012.

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures Little Creatures

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures & Little Creatures

I found this performance even more enjoyable and sustaining than the MIJF premiere. Again, the music was immediately compelling, so that any plans I had to pay careful attention and record some thoughts were soon abandoned. I wanted to experience the immediacy, the in-the-moment nature of it, rather than trying to be a detached observer.

Joe Talia and Nashua Lee with Murphy's Law

Joe Talia and Nashua Lee with Murphy’s Law.

Yet I did reflect on the reasons for its appeal. This suite is engrossing due to its explorations of texture, the interplay, the level of detail, the attention of the musicians to their tasks, their focus and their responsiveness. Of course, these are not unusual features of improvised music.

Also, there are the combinations of instruments that come in and out of play as the music develops, swelling in volume and growing in intensity, then backing off. All sorts of sounds are appealing: the droning ‘bone against the patterns created by guitar and drums; the stronger, declarative trombone eventually jettisoned by drums as they exude the patter of tiny feet; the rasp of brass and the insistence of guitar; the hints and suggestions in a spare solo; the muted rustle of drum sticks on knees; the sound of one drummer’s hands clapping; the ‘slapping’ sound of Murray’s mute.

Jordan Murray

Jordan Murray with Murphy’s Law.

In scripted parts the band was tight, scintillating. Breakouts occurred, as if someone had left the gate open, but the escapes were short-lived. As if not sufficiently satisfying, they had to be repeated. But the instances of explosive release were cathartic.

Joe Talia with Murphy's Law

Joe Talia with Murphy’s Law.

There was grace in a solo by Murphy, then solemnity in Lee’s guitar chords and simplicity in the patterns he sustained behind the bowed bass. Guitar and trombone acted as effective anchors as notes of an emerging melody floated free from the bow.

Quite a lot of the suite was slow, but for periods it gradually gathered momentum as the ‘bone and two drummers built intensity over the guitar’s musings.

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures Little Creatures

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures & Little Creatures.

Being at this live performance prompted me to reflect on the value of jazz as experienced this way rather than on a recording. Musicians are releasing their work via live streaming, digital downloads and on USB flash drives, as well as on vinyl. But can it ever match the immediacy and impact of listening in the moment?

Maybe not, but I have been playing Big Creatures & Little Creatures a lot, before and after this live rendition, and, though it is not quite the same as being there, it  does the trick. And there is always the option of doing the modular thing by selecting the tracks at random.

Certainly there is every reason to drive past Ikea and find your modular suite on CD or at a live music venue.


Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures Little Creatures

Tamara Murphy with her ensemble performing Big Creatures Little Creatures

Tamara Murphy has a website

And to buy Big Creatures & Little Creatures (both the physical album and digitally) visit Bandcamp.

Jessica Nicholas reviewed this performance at Bennetts Lane for The Age.


Ninth reason


9. A suite creature feature

I had the privilege of reviewing the debut of Big Creatures and Little Creatures, which Murphy’s Law — led by bassist Tamara Murphy — performed at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, in June this year for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012.

PBS Young Elder of Jazz Competition winner Murphy wrote the suite for her band, which comprises the bassist, two drummers — Danny Farrugia and Joe Talia, also on electronics — with Jordan Murray on trombone and Nashua Lee on guitar.

In the Ausjazz blog review, I wondered how much was improvised on the night and how much was scripted, because “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.”

It was an impressive performance. But it deserved a wider audience and another airing, so I recall expressing the hope that this suite would be performed again, “perhaps at a Stonnington Jazz or at Wangaratta”.

Adrian Jackson has given us the opportunity at this year’s Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival.

The suite has five movements, each featuring a member of the ensemble.

On the festival website, Murphy describes Big Creatures and Little Creatures as “fairly simple music”. She says each movement has a particular musical theme or character, which is used as a basis for improvisation.

“We deconstruct the movements as part of the suite. We call it a ‘modular’ approach, as the order of movements is not set and can be rearranged, or led by any member of the ensemble.

“We’ll probably play one long set of music, but with smaller musical structures comprising the larger, and it will be very dynamic. We have two drum kits too – so the grooves are very strong — and sometimes in stereo! We try to use the band both in conventional and unconventional ways. The audience will hopefully walk away not knowing what material was composed and what was improvised.”

Performance: Sunday, November 4, at 4pm, St Patrick’s Hall




Ausjazz blog picks some highlights from the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival:

Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif

A festival highlight: Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif from Norway.

All up, Ausjazz went to all or part of 15 MIJF gigs this year. This is an attempt to pick out some highlights, though there will be posts about individual concerts when time permits. A few explanatory notes: First, I chose not to review the Opening Gala: The Way You Look Tonight or the final evening’s Dee Dee Bridgewater Sings, because those concerts were not my cup of tea. That is not any reflection on the musicians involved.

Second, for reasons beyond my control I could not make any gigs from Monday, June 4 to Wednesday, June 6 inclusive. Again, that had nothing to do with the calibre of the music on offer. Third, I did not make it to any of the master classes, though I have heard from many who did that these were definite highlights.

Of the concerts I attended, there were none that I did not enjoy — perhaps I am easily pleased, but I believe this festival followed the usual rule by delivering more delights than may have been anticipated upon first glance at the program. It was not too adventurous — certainly not as “out there” as recent years under the direction of Sophie Brous. I did miss that aspect. The most experimental outings were Peter Knight‘s Fish Boast of Fishing and Andrea Keller‘s work with Genevieve Lacey and Joe Talia — both at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon and both involving Australian artists. From overseas, the Robert Glasper Experiment strayed from the conventional, as did the Norwegian quintet Motif, but the latter was the standout of these two for me.

Before I discuss highlights, it’s probably worth exploring the value or otherwise of reviews. Unlike reviews of opening night stage productions, with MIJF commentary there is in most cases no season ahead in which potential punters can decide to go or not go on the basis of what’s written. Most concerts are unrepeated or already sold out before reviews hit the airwaves, streets or online haunts. I see reviews as one way to build an archive or record of what a festival has succeeded in delivering. That record may provide some context to those who attended various concerts or merely arouse the interest of readers who may seek out that music in some form later, possibly even live if the artist or band returns.

So, in consecutive order by date rather than any (futile) rating, my highlights were as follows: I found Bernie McGann‘s quartet at Bennetts Lane on the opening Friday night deeply satisfying, not only because of McGann’s saxophone work, but because of what the other players in the band — Marc Hannaford, Phillip Rex and Dave Beck — contributed.

On the following night, at the same venue, Murphy’s Law impressed with Tamara Murphy‘s suite “Big Creatures Little Creatures”. At The Forum later that evening, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra showed its class with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter, but the standouts for me were the Andy Fiddes composition Gathering Momentum, some trumpet excellence from Phil Slater in the third piece (the name of which I did not catch) and Potter’s darker sax in the encore Rumination. Later still, back at Bennetts Lane, the Eli Degibri Quartet from Israel had a smooth fluidity and swing that definitely had me wanting more, especially from the 16-year-old pianist Gadi Lehavri.

What can I say about McCoy Tyner‘s concert on Sunday in the Melbourne Town Hall? The only basis I have for comparing the pianist now with his illustrious past playing is via recordings, and on that basis he is not quite in that league now. And I think Jose James could not act as a substitute for Johnny Hartman. I enjoyed the outing, and I don’t see much point in comparisons when you have a chance to hear a musician of Tyner’s stature. But this was not a festival highlight for me.

By contrast, Terence Blanchard‘s quintet on Thursday at Melbourne Recital Centre was a real standout. It’s definitely no criticism of Rob Burke, Tony Gould, Tony Floyd and Nick Haywood, who opened this gig, but I did think as Blanchard’s band opened with Derrick’s Choice that a band with a local trumpeter such as Scott Tinkler or Phil Slater would have been ideal.

In the quintet’s set I would have been satisfied just to hear Fabian Almazan‘s contribution on piano, but Blanchard’s playing was inventive, fluid and piercingly penetrating, with sampled audio from Dr Cornel West and some echo among the special effects. Blanchard’s tone did not really dig into the guttural until shortly before the inevitable encore and his sound was not as fat as I’d expected. Brice Winston on tenor sax was superb in the Almazan piece Pet Step Sitter’s Theme.

In terms of musicianship, Renaud Garcia-Fons on bass with the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC on Friday night stood out. I’d regretted having to miss the solo bass gig at Bennetts Lane mid week, but in a way this trio concert was a vehicle for Garcia-Fons to show his amazing talents. On his five-stringed instrument Garcia-Fons uses a range of techniques with and without bow, recalling Barre Phillips‘ solo performance at Wangaratta Jazz last year, but it’s a totally different experience. I could only marvel at Garcia-Fons’s skill, but, by contrast with Phillips, his music lacked the tension and resolution (or lack of it) that is so compelling in jazz improvisation. Also, I would have liked to hear more from Kiko Rulz on flamenco guitar, who in brief bursts only whetted my appetite to hear more. I could not help but wish that Pascal Rollando on percussion would contribute more fire and inventiveness. That said, this concert was a highlight.

Even more so was Dr Lonnie Smith in his trio with Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums at Bennetts Lane late on Friday. I love the Hammond B3 and Smith was enjoying every moment of his time on Tim Neal‘s beautiful instrument. This was a therapeutic experience and just what the Doctor ordered for me. Kreisberg’s playing was exciting and intense, and the organ was just a thrill and a joy to hear. The notes from a Hammond can be felt deep in the body and seem to free the spirit. I’ll be hanging out for Smith’s new album, Healer, due in a few weeks. But an album is not the same as being there and feeling the B3 vibrations at close quarters.

OK, I’m waxing too lyrical. On the second Saturday of the festival I made it to four gigs. Peter Knight and his ensemble’s Fish Boast of Fishing at the Salon, MRC, took me out of my comfort zone and into an emerging, growing, developing experience in which I felt there was a contradiction of sorts. There was definitely tension. There was complexity and coordination in the way sounds were produced, but when I closed my eyes the experience was of something organic, almost living and breathing. Perhaps that was the point.

Norwegian band Motif

Norwegian band Motif

Next came another real highlight for me and I would have missed it if I had not had a recommendation from ABC presenter Jessica Nicholas. The Norwegian outfit Motif was a standout. I always think European bands can be counted on to bring something significantly different to their music and Motif was no exception. This was intelligent, quirky and engrossing jazz, with extreme variations in dynamics and pretty well anything you could imagine. There was ferocity and solemnity. There was pandemonium and space. What a hoot! This was the night’s highlight. There was another great set to follow I’m sure. It was hard to leave.

But Tarbaby at the Comedy Theatre — with Oliver Lake on alto sax, Eric Revis on bass, Orrin Evans on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums — served up a set of take-no-prisoners hard-driving jazz. This was a top rhythm section that took me full circle back to the Bernie McGann concert at the festival’s start. Apart from Lake’s robust playing, what I loved most was Evans’s command of the piano in Paul Motian‘s Abacus. This set would have topped the night for me, but I still had Motif ringing in my consciousness and I wasn’t letting that go in a hurry.

I did queue up for a long, cold wait to hear some of the Robert Glasper Experiment, but it was too hi-tech for me. I just wanted to chill and listen to Glasper on piano, but the crowd at Bennetts Lane was all fired up. They probably had a highlight at this outing, but not me.

On Sunday, the final night, I caught the first set of Sandy Evans with Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton. It was the perfect wind-down.

All in all, there was plenty to get excited about in the MIJF 2012. The crowds were out listening to live music and many venues seemed to be full.

Next year? Well, maybe a few more European bands and a little more experimentation. But, after all, there is the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival for that.