Spirograph Studies at the Melbourne Recital Centre, February 20, 2021
How the world of live music has changed. It's all about managing the audience experience, where health and safety now have priority, and audiences need to wear a mask through the whole performance. The foyer bar is closed, there is no merch for sale, no meet-and-greet after the show.
So what is left? The music, of course. In this case, the mesmerising, cinematic compositions from Tamara Murphy, bassist and leader of Melbourne-based Spirograph Studies. Along with Fran Swinn, guitar, Luke Howard, piano, and James McLean, drums, the quartet performed compositions from their recording Kindness, not Courtesy, along with some pieces from their upcoming CD.
I was excited to hear the quartet again, after seeing them at the Melbourne Jazz Festival a few years ago. To my ear, the music invites contemplation, being almost meditative at times, so that the listener travels with the developing melodic motifs, as well as the lovely harmonic changes. It felt like being in a kaleidoscope of sound and texture, inviting many emotional responses. Each performer shines individually for a time, then joins with the others to continue the forward-moving, ever-changing musical journey.
Swinn played some beautiful lines and motifs, with a tone that reminded me at times of Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, while Howard's evocative piano brought to mind some of the work by Tord Gustavsen. Murphy and McLean created a solid structural foundation, while always having breath and space in their rhythms and bass lines.
In the subtly lit space of the Primrose Potter Salon, I was grateful to be hearing this music, and to be wearing a mask that enabled me to be a part of this wonderful performance. Bravo, Spirograph Studies.
February 24, 2021
Kindness, Not Courtesy
The Music Trust
“This album absorbed me with its understated movement, subtle colour shifts, beautiful melodic interaction, and textural approach to music making.”
Kindness, Not Courtesy is the debut album of the four-piece group from Melbourne, Spirograph Studies. It is an absorbing and distinctive album featuring the beautiful interplay of pianist Luke Howard, guitarist Fran Swinn, bassist Tamara Murphy and drummer James McLean. The compositions are simple sounding but thoughtfully crafted and well-designed vehicles for the ensemble to showcase the eclectic taste and versatility of the players. Their formidable ability makes everything sound effortless and, in every track, we can hear their enjoyment in making music together. Seven of the eight tracks were written by bandleader and bassist Tamara Murphy and the album takes the listener on a lovely journey through delicate and warm soundscapes.
From the first track it, is clear that these musicians are committed to making music together using a collective and textural approach. There is seldom a dedicated soloist, instead, there is space and respect from each player which allows the material to be explored by everyone simultaneously. Where one would normally expect to hear a solo from any of the accomplished soloists in the ensemble, we hear their collective approach to making music together interactively using excellent interplay, warmth, and empathy. On the rare occasion when someone is moving to the foreground for a feature, the high level of interplay and interaction is never lost.
While the album is generally quite gentle and warm, there is a healthy progression and variety to the material. There are not many sharp corners to the music; phrases stretch naturally, and the music breathes. One section leads organically to the next and the listener relaxes and enjoys the journey. The longest track on the album, the almost 10-minute composition Gospel, is an excellent example of this pacing. Beginning with a bold use of space and restraint, the track gradually swells and builds. Instead of feeling empty, the initial space draws the listener in to hear the material gently unfolding with curiosity and trust.
There is a lovely arc to the album and the first five tracks are nicely balanced by the more active final three pieces. The influences and musical tastes of the performers are diverse but merge together very successfully, allowing for the group to traverse many different landscapes as a cohesive unit. In the darker R & R and Gromp City we hear a tasteful use of Rockier musical sensibilities. The final track M31 by James McLean brings another colour to the album. Following the light moving guitar introduction, the performers gradually layer and increase the activity and density over the next seven minutes to construct a captivating textural sound world.
There was not a traditional hierarchy to the music and while this was one of the strengths of the album, it did take my ears some time to adjust. My attention was constantly zooming in and out to hear the beautiful detail each of the players was bringing to the music while also refocusing to hear how everyone was working together to build the colourful soundscapes.
Each subsequent hearing revealed more detail. It was a pleasure listening to the interplay between members and how they move through and explore the beautiful material together. This album absorbed me with its understated movement, subtle colour shifts, beautiful melodic interaction, and textural approach.
https://musictrust.com.au/loudmouth/kindness-not-courtesy-spirograph-studies/ July 27, 2020