Annandale Creative Arts Centre, December 7
When you look at a painting you not only see the whole, but let your eyes wander across fragments and details, right down to individual brush-strokes. Listening to music can be like that, and with both these bands it was fascinating to pull focus from the ensemble sound and just concentrate on what, say, pianist Linus Foley was playing in Skram Luff, or drummer Chloe Kim in Czarektrio.
Certainly the future of improvised music in Sydney looks rosy in terms of the quality of the new generation of players. These two bands – Skram Luff, a quintet led by bassist Jacques Emery and Czarektrio, led by guitarist Nick Mielczarek – could not be more different conceptually, and yet both realised their intentions with a high level of artistry.
Skram Luff began with a very free extrapolation on Stella by Starlight. An initially whispering, rustling rhythm section (Emery and Foley joined by drummer Ashley Stoneham) was overlaid with blistering alto saxophone (Jack Stoneham) and arcing trumpet (Thomas Avgenicos). Showing a collective flair for balancing restraint and abandon, they took the piece from rain-on-the-windowpane melancholy all the way to furious exhilaration. An equally stretched Blue in Green began with ghostly cries, harmonics and scraped cymbals, before a shrieking squall of horns blew up from nowhere, and died just as suddenly. When the piece slightly lost intensity at one point the players quickly recaptured it.
Czarektrio has local precursors in the Necks and Showa 44, while carving its own path. Just as there are rugs where you look at the pattern and rugs where you want to feel the texture, this music was primarily about texture, and the slow-motion building of density towards a climax that, after 20 minutes of free-time shimmering, beckoned a fluid groove and more overtly melodic guitar content. Mielczarek and the gifted Kim were joined by bassist Harry Birch on this 35-minute journey, the only disappointment being that they didn’t play a second improvisation to show where else they could go.