In the warm evening air that smacks of a summer brewing, my bike wheels are spinning – along lamp-lit streets thick with jasmine smell and cricket chirp. It’s a short ride from my place to the Chrissie Parrott Arts space, turns out. I arrive in time to stand back and admire the place, having not been here before. Gold-white fairy lights glow atop a long warehouse-y structure. Next door, a date palm and a ceramic kangaroo and emu. Long shadows on gravel. Down a dark alleyway, a roller door, and the “foyer” (the word seems too formal for this improvised, industrial-looking entrance area, kitted out with a card table and fake Ionic columns). The performance space beyond the curtain, by contrast, is a thing of straightforward austere beauty. Concrete, rendered brick, sloping tin roof. One bright light source near the doorway, casting a dramatic chiaroscuro on everything inside. In these moody confines we are introduced to JAMESON FEAKES.
I’ve heard the Sydney-born, Perth-based Mr. Feakes play before, in the “lounge” opposite Kakulas on William Street. He was playing in an improv quartet simply called Feakes/Gioia/Myburgh/Reid, and they explored some wild and densely textured sonic territory. His solo performance tonight is a much more pared-back and measured affair, consisting entirely of acoustic guitar harmonics played over a persistent and unchanging tone (a very pure, continuous pitch – probably a sine wave, but not sure). He sits on a chair, we sit or stand in a cluster, facing him. The experience is a bit like this:
The laptop plays the tone. It’s not quiet, but not loud. Feakes begins to patiently (but not particularly slowly) pick the strings, never letting his fingers press steel against wood, instead lightly touching the vibrating strands to elicit varying pitches. They ring out with a glassy resonance, paired with occasional and momentary splutters as the strings buzz against frets. This continues. The resonant tones harmonize with the laptop drone, occasionally crystallising into sweet chords, at other moments revealing microtonal inconsistencies. This is initially pleasant and kind of interesting – after an extended time, it is boring – a while later it is interesting again, and finally it is pleasant again. It reminds me of that John Cage quote: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” Eventually we find Feakes slowing down his patterns, and arriving at a single pitch – one identical to the electronic tone. It almost feels corny but there is a lovely sense of settling, of closure. And fittingly, the piece ends. I do wonder if sitting on wooden benches, or standing up, as we were, was the best way to experience such a meditative and minimalist work. I would have liked to maybe lie on a soft rug, sipping green tea. Anyway: the overall impression it leaves is elegantly simple, and refreshingly singular.
After a quick break in which we purchase tasty italian soft drinks from the card table, Victoria’s JAMES MCLEAN appears at the drum kit. The 25-year-old, jazz-trained percussion virtuoso is a bit of a rising star in the Australian leftfield music world and over the next twenty minutes it’s not hard to appreciate why. He begins with slow, contemplative strikes of upturned china cymbals placed on drumskins, the clanging notes allowed to ring out, revealing their spectral complexities as they fade into silence. This peaceful introduction makes way for a phantasmagoria of wild, overlapping textures, variable polyrhythms, cacophonous improvisation and inexplicable infectious pseudo-grooves. A long, meandering drum solo – however imbued with skill – is the sort of thing that you might expect to seem self-indulgent or (eventually) tiresome, which makes this set all the more impressive. It’s hugely compelling and decidedly varied. And though it may be improvised, it’s clear that McLean has thought things through: the kit is tuned (despite not incorporating “tuned” percussion) in such a way that the toms resonate to form subtle chords and arpeggios; cymbal bells ring out in melodic euphony; chains sizzle and snare hits crackle like wildfire. It’s a thrill to behold.
Finally – IMP (is this a band name, or just an abbrevation for improvisation? Or both?) In any case it’s Feakes and Mclean coming together, joined by locals Djuna Lee on the double bass and Lindsay Vickery on the soprano sax. The set begins (as improv jams often do) somewhat tentatively. I’m not sure if these four have even played together before. But before too long they have sniffed each other out, and their sounds are colliding gracefully. The cascading lines and golden squawk of the sax. The restrained, peculiar chime of the guitar. The scattered, faux-primitive rattle and pound of the drums. The thump or bristly glide of the double bass pinning it all down, a parachute holding helium balloons close to earth, but not close enough to stop them floating around in a majestic weirdo choreography. And then the drums are the parachute and the bass is a balloon. And now McLean has finished his beer and he’s playing a rapid-fire drum solo on the empty bottle, exploring the crude object’s range of pitch and timbre. And then incorporating it into a wild percussive squall, along with cowbell and cymbal hiss and rubber wrists. And all of it building to a fiendish, blood-quickening cacophony and filling the room, squealing and racing and booming and crashing. And finally breaking like a wave and the last trickles fading away. Only the crickets chirping now, before a long, hearty applause.
Riding home, grinning. Tonight has been the kind of thing I stand in the shower and dream about, thinking “ah man – unreservedly freaky free jazz in a big empty room in Maylands – why can’t that happen on a Tuesday night?” Turns out my shower-brain is not as original as at fancies itself, because evidently it does happen, but I’ll cop that. Just keep it coming, Club Zho, you weird beautiful beast.