Foundry 616, June 16
Chemistry is more than white-coated scientists salivating about the interaction of substances, it’s about the way people interact. In improvisation certain players share antennae for where the music might go at any moment. Melbourne pianist Paul Grabowsky and Sydney drummer Simon Barker are like that. They have been making music together intermittently for 20 years and, with the artistry of both continuing to evolve and grow, each iteration of their collaboration is laden with surprises.
For this reunion their new partner was bassist Max Alduca, who neither impeded the others’ rapport nor was overly passive. Alduca may well be capable of a more vigorous participation in this musical conversation in the future, but he was already up to introducing ingredients of his own to spice the mix. His solo on Grabowsky’s gentle, ironically-titled Come Here and Say That, for instance, was enthralling as he found fresh implications in the harmonies.
Grabowsky’s Psalm had the piano and bass sharing wisps of melody as ephemeral as if they were written in sand, and the composer’s spidery improvised lines had sudden flaring convergences with the drumming amid mysterious abstractions.
Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright was played with such tangible joie de vivre that even I felt some unfamiliar muscles being exercised about the edges of my mouth, although Alduca’s superbly pertinent solo was slightly cluttered by the piano and drums. A second Dylan song, a restrained, pensive Forever Young, had Grabowsky unleashing the quicksilver quality that sets him apart, heightened by Barker implying a double-time feel as light as the brush of a bee’s wing.
That skipping lightness also aerated January, the three eschewing density as they built organically towards a more torrential force capped by Barker’s sudden squalls. This segued into Wist, the only time that Alduca’s playing felt slightly anaemic. The exquisite Helix floated in time and space, riding on occasional updrafts of gloriously unpredictable interaction from Barker and Grabowsky: two players who can dot one another’s i’s without closing off each other’s options.