Tamara Murphy Trio
Melbourne bassist Tamara Murphy retired her long-running ensemble Murphy's law some years back. Of late, she's focused her attention on her quartet, Spirograph Studies, while continuing to perform with Andrea Keller, Nat Bartsch, Paul Grabowsky and others. TMT, however, counts as a brand-new project. Working in stripped-back format of bass/guitar/drums, the trio creates music with ample space to breathe, aided by a close-knit simpatico. TMT boasts a stellar cast: Steve Magnusson is one of our finest guitarists; and drummer James McLean is the go-to guys for a host of bandleaders. Along with Murphy, they instigate a mostly original program, with a few covers thrown in. Chief amongst these is an incendiary take on Lennon's 'Come Together', highlighting Magnusson's space guitar, which digs deep into the groove, teasing out the song's inner-mechanics. 'The Salt and The Sea', with its glacier-like tempo, finds the trio in Bill Frisell mode, the music shot-through with a warm glow of nostalgia. Them Yorke's 'Atom's For Peace' takes on a timbral, abstract demeanour, gentle and contemplative, while Bernie McGann's 'Brownsville' highlights the Monk-like aspect of the late saxophonist's work. The title track is a masterclass in slow-moving minimalist music: Magnusson's guitar uncoiling at a leisurely pace, drifting across bass and drums, a cosmos of emotion conjured by just a few notes. TMT attests to Murphy's love of nuanced textures, her deep desire to strip things back to essentials, uncovering the space within, a music at once unadorned, heartfelt and expressive.
Rhythms Magazine - March 2023
Tamara Murphy Trio
Artist(s): Stephen Magnusson (guitar), James McLean (drums), Tamara Murphy (bass)
Label: CD, digital. Artist's release.
“Despite the fact that this group hadn’t played much together prior to going into the studio, there’s a very natural and organic chemistry at work here, as well as an obvious affinity for the kind of wide-ranging material they cover. Let’s hope they have a life beyond this impressive album.
Bassist Murphy says on her website that she “did a gig or two” with Magnusson and McLean a few years ago and had so much fun she wanted to record the group. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic that didn’t happen until January this year, but to hear them you’d never guess they hadn’t played much together. There is plenty of simpatico, and they take a “tight but loose” approach to the music, a mix of five Murphy originals, one by Magnusson and three by other composers.
The recording is warm and intimate, and in terms of the overall band sound and songs they explore, it’s hard not to think of John Scofield and some of his groups. The ensemble’s texture is quite transparent, Magnusson tending to favour single lines which are often mixed with fragments of chords, although he does play fuller, traditional chords at times. What’s particularly striking however, is his masterful use of different guitar sounds, arguably one of the defining characteristics of the trio. These include a relatively clean jazz tone, twangy sounds, bluesy colours, grungy effects, all of them tending to use varying degrees of reverb and sometimes changing a number of times within a piece. Murphy’s sound is full and round, McLean divides his time between both brushes and sticks, and all three favour a conversational approach.
The first track is the iconic Beatles’ song Come Together, and it’s interpreted in a great, contemporary way. Murphy references the original bass line for much of the melody section before shifting to her own lines for the guitar solo, her whole performance demonstrating what a great groove player she is. McLean is very much on board with her funky take on things, and together they provide a wonderful, infectious and earthy foundation for Magnusson, who takes what could be described as a “fractured” approach to the melodic role. His phrases in the opening vamp include a number of dissonances and angular phrases, and when it comes to the well-known melody, he gives us his own refracted version. His tone varies quite a bit throughout but tends to be on the “gnarly” side, and at one point in his solo he really sounds like he’s channelling Hendrix. It’s a tremendous solo, but fairly brief, and at its conclusion the band comes right down and moves into a short coda rather than revisiting the melody. Magnusson quotes the original final guitar riff for this section but fittingly, it’s again filtered through his own idiosyncratic lens. At just over four minutes the performance could easily have been longer, but it’s an excellent opener to the album.
The third track TM, is Magnusson’s, and it’s a lovely 3/4 piece which begins with a solo introduction from the guitarist. He uses a jazzier sound, and though there’s plenty of his own musical personality in evidence, some of his voicings and his approach to single lines are very reminiscent of Pat Metheny. The rhythm section plays a wonderful, interactive accompaniment, and after another succinct solo from Magnusson, Murphy emerges beautifully from the texture with a bass solo that is substantial in length, full of ideas, and which highlights her attractive and resonant sound. The theme is then restated, and the group finishes with a repeated, unresolved figure, an imaginative way to complete a really enjoyable reading of the song.
Schrodinger vs the Cat, a Murphy tune, is track number six. A loose and slightly quirky piece with a loping 5/4 groove, Magnusson goes with a bit of a “countrified” tone, this very much suiting the rambling character of the song. His solo stays true to that aesthetic (which must be said, is a very natural part of his musical personality), and it’s great to hear him inhabit it so fully and bring so many colours and expressive elements to the table. The leader follows him with another extended bass solo, and here the guitar and drums provide a relatively minimal accompaniment, allowing Murphy pretty free reign, and eventually leading to a more subdued rendering of the theme than was the case the first time around. From there, the piece moves to its conclusion, and somewhat surprisingly, it ends in quite a reflective way.
Track number seven is the Bernie McGann song Brownsville, a lovely 32-bar bop piece, and the only straight-ahead jazz tune on the album. The trio takes a pretty traditional approach to it, the rhythm section moving between two and four feels for the melody section and then swinging beautifully for the guitar solo. Magnusson plays almost exclusively single lines throughout, and for this writer it’s particularly glorious to hear him playing in a bebop style. His approach to both the melody and his solo is broadly in the Scofield vein in that he displays a distinctly laid-back time feel, a way of moulding lines that is somewhat elastic, and a vocabulary rooted in bop that coexists with a more modern, angular language. His tone and articulation, however, and the way he puts it all together make it a conception that is very much his own. All three players take two choruses (64 bars) each, and it’s the only time we get to hear a McLean solo. He doesn’t disappoint, taking advantage of the space afforded him to create a wonderful improvisation which uses many different rhythms, feels quite free and yet has a strong and compelling narrative. From there, the group plays the melody section once more with the same basic strategy as the first time, but in the tradition of contemporary jazz, this time it’s a little changed via the improvisational spirit of the solo section. It’s a thoroughly satisfying performance of a great piece from an Australian jazz legend.
There is plenty more compelling trio music to be found on this album, and although the programming of a couple of low-key pieces around the halfway mark result in a slight flat spot for this reviewer, it’s a wonderful band, and I’m sure listeners will be hoping there are more recordings to come.
The Music Trust E-Zine: Loudmouth. Available at: https://musictrust.com.au/loudmouth/tmt-tamara-murphy-trio/
Tamara Murphy Trio
This impressive album, with immaculate sound, is from a relatively new trio consisting of musicians who know each other well, led by Melbourne double bassist/composer Tamara Murphy. Her two colleagues are well-chosen: guitarist Stephen Magnusson, co-winner with James Muller at the Wangaratta National Jazz Awards competition in 2000; and drummer James McLean, awarded the prestigious Freedman Jazz Fellowship in 2016. With musicians at this level of excellence, expectations are high, and they deliver in spades. This is primarily a showcase for the unique artistry of Magnusson, a guitarist with a completely individual voice, who at will can flick the switch from lyrical beauty, where Bill Frisell has shown the way, to abstraction. Of the nine compositions here, Murphy has five, including a new version of her lovely tune Kindness Not Courtesy, with others including a nod to Australian repertoire in Bernie McGann’s Brownsville, and John Lennon’s Come Together. Murphy’s solos, built on taste and musicality, achieve a marvellous bass sound that is full-bodied without ever becoming strident.
Published in the Weekend Australian, February 11, 2023
Music Trust - LoudMouth:
“Very much a cooperative, Spirograph Studies inhabits a musical world that is not only diverse in its influences, but one that also incorporates its own distinctive approach to group interplay and improvisation.”
Whilst this is an album you’d most likely file under “jazz”, it inhabits its own quite distinct world which in part, also draws from rock and pop. This is apparent in its grooves, in the way the guitar operates both functionally and sonically, and the fact that harmonically, triadic sounds are often heard. What also contributes to the personal sound of the music is the fact that although there are solos, the overall sense is one of a cooperative where all the members of the group are working together to drive the pieces along, rather than a traditional “band accompanying soloist” approach. Thus, when the piano appears to be taking the foreground role the guitar may be playing varied obligato parts which are more than routine comping figures, instead being thoughtfully crafted improvised creations that are integral to the texture. This has the effect of blurring the lines between composition and improvisation, something that also seems to be a strategy within the compositions themselves on occasion. The pieces (all written by bassist Tamara Murphy) do have themes but sometimes they’re not obvious, instead sounding like loose sketches where the initial material sounds like it could have been improvised by either the guitar or the piano to reflect the chord progression of the piece.
The opener, Another Bright Light is a strong, atmospheric piece and quite reminiscent of the Pat Metheny Group’s sound. Its distinct theme is first stated by the guitar with just bass accompaniment and then doubled by Murphy’s wordless vocals once the other members have entered and set up the groove. Based on a fast straight eighths feel, McLean’s playing shines, particularly during the improvisation section, and Howard’s piano work is colourful and impressive. Once the melody statement has been completed the improvisation section begins, and it’s here that the co-operative nature of the group shows itself. Essentially it seems to be a trading of phrases between piano and guitar, but after their moment in the spotlight each player continues their extemporising whilst the other takes over, the result being a constant creative flow, and a kind of alternating counterpoint. Combined with the ongoing contributions from the bass and drums, it’s a compelling and dynamic group statement. This section is capped off with a brief, yet lush interlude that leads to a melody derived from the initial theme, the original then restated to round out the performance. It’s a great piece of writing and like-minded ensemble playing.
Track number three, Locked, has a dark flavour and is based on a slow 6/4 pulse which features a constant stream of insistent chords from the piano for almost all of its more than eight minute duration. The guitar handles the initial thematic material using a slightly distorted tone before it joins the piano for a subsequent unison statement which sees Howard shift the chords (which become decidedly dissonant) to his left hand. A piano solo then follows, with Howard building tension and Swinn responding with a variety of effects including squalls, and what sound like quiet explosions. After a momentary pause this gives way to some extended and intense simultaneous improvisation between the two, Swinn combining single lines with more effects and Howard splashing fast, dissonant runs across the high register of the keyboard. With McLean’s fiery responses and Murphy’s continuing input, this section has quite a menacing quality, the peak of which includes some strong dissonances from Swinn. The tumult eventually breaks, and the group returns to the opening section and the original thematic structure before working its way to a conclusion. The group’s not quite through yet, however, as the ending comes via a short coda which almost immediately revisits the provocative sounds of the earlier improvisation section before eventually tapering off. All in all, it’s an uncompromising bit of music making from the quartet.
The title track follows and presents a total contrast to Locked. A lovely, reflective and unhurried ballad, it features McLean on brushes and Swinn showcasing a guitar tone that evokes the sound of Bill Frisell. The guitar and piano tend to share the front line and the rhythm section is appropriately restrained, their accompaniment tending toward the approach of a traditional jazz ballad. Again, Swinn and Howard demonstrate a wonderful ability to weave, together, a spontaneous and compelling musical narrative which really elevates the character of the piece, and in this there is some inspired playing from Howard.
The final piece, Anteloper features Sam Keevers on piano and has quite a different character to the other tracks. Built on a slow but bouncy pop groove in 6/4, its structure largely involves the alternation of one bar of chordal movement with a bar’s rest, this allowing the members (particularly McLean) to fill the gap as they see fit. The main melodic riff is handled by Keevers and the tune’s overall feel and use of parallel major 7th chords conjures up the sound of well known Melbourne band Hiatus Coyote. The thematic section completed, the group embarks on an ensemble dialogue, each member playing a role in elaborating on the piece’s structure, as previously mentioned, a hallmark of the band. Rather than any repetition of the previous thematic material, the piece then moves to a new and contrasting section featuring an anthemic theme stated by the piano in octaves and the guitar embracing more of a rock sound. It’s a commanding final statement from a group with a strong identity and a seemingly common purpose, that being to explore the boundaries of what a contemporary improvising ensemble can be.
Available at https://musictrust.com.au/loudmouth/lowlights-spirograph-studies/
August 27, 2022
I was fortunate to catch Spirograph Studies’ debut performance at the 2016 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. Intrigued as I then was, I came away unsure as to whether I’d fully grasped the quartet’s collective approach, which melds jazz with ambient and post-rock. Times change, and I’ve since found myself mesmerised by their music, in which individual egos are sublimated to a group sound. Led by bassist Tamara Murphy – who composes the music – the band is awash with talent: Luke Howard on piano, Fran Swinn on guitar, and James McLean on drums. Given the busy lives of these musicians – each fronts their own ensemble – new recordings or even performances by Spirograph Studies tend to be sporadic affairs, to be sought out and savoured. Lowlights is the band’s second release, following Kindness, Not Courtesy (2019).
Opener ‘Another Bright Light’ aptly sums up the band’s strengths: a gorgeous, almost cinematic theme unfurled by Howard and Swinn, their instruments dancing lightly over delicate bass and percussion, the track building ever-so-gently over its six-minute duration, beguiling in its simplicity. There is a constant sense of imminence, of perpetual unfolding, at the heart of this music, essential and elemental. The quartet intentionally steers clear of conventional solos, instead weaving together an aggregated sound, full of subtle shades and granularity, a music of constantly shifting sands. With its emphasis on group interplay, ultra-fine melody and intricately woven textures, Lowlights is a pleasurable listening experience from start to finish, a testament to Tamara Murphy’s singular vision.
Rhythms Magazine, May/June 2022
Published in the Weekend Australian, January 8, 2022
If there is one quality which most permeates the music of Spirograph Studies, it is melodic beauty. It explains the great pleasure this quartet provides for the listener. Even the presence of pianist Sam Keevers on some tracks, substituting for normal pianist Luke Howard, does not undermine the quartet’s strong artistic direction. He fits like a glove. Bassist/composer Tamara Murphy has subverted jazz machismo, whereby a powerful soloist is backed by subservient musicians. As with their 2019 album Kindness Not Courtesy, the result is unusually conversational music, whereby all players freely come to the fore throughout, reacting sensitively to others’ contributions. Also including guitarist Fran Swinn and drummer James McLean, the group produces overwhelmingly reflective music, sustained by lovely harmonic changes in Murphy’s compositions. The music is assertive enough to avoid mere ambience, while at the same time flirting with collective improvisation without being excessive. It’s a commendable balancing act by a Melbourne group whose music is extremely well-integrated.
Published in the Weekend Australian, January 8, 2022
The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: October 2021
There’s a lot of subtlety at work on this enjoyable set from the Melbourne-based quartet Spirograph Studies, and the payoff to that approach are some pretty epic moments. It’s just as engaging to trace the path of the small, logical steps that lead up the huge melodic statements as it is to arrive at their destination. Those slow builds are the album’s winning quality, and border on addictive.
Best Jazz on Bandcamp List - October 2021. Available here: https://daily.bandcamp.com/best-jazz/the-best-jazz-on-bandcamp-october-2021
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
Spirograph Studies @ CJC Auckland - Live Review
The Melbourne group Spirograph Studies was exactly as described, modern and eclectic. In this quartet, there were no horns to carve out melodic lines. Instead, a guitar and piano spun intricate layers one on the other, focussing more on well-crafted motifs and harmonic development. There was melody but it was mostly implied, nestling comfortably among richly dissonant textures and emerging out of the subtle interplay. It was often voice-led but not as we know it and the overall effect was beguiling.
The playing was great but what also stood out were the compositions. What we experienced was an unmistakable Jazz Americana vibe. There were no actual Frisell tunes played but the great man’s essence hung in the air; residing most strongly in the interactions between leader Tamara Murphy and her bandmate Fran Swinn; Murphy the enabler and Swinn the ideal vehicle for realisation. As Swinn stroked the chords, the soulful utterances reeled us in; urged on by the bass. With music as delicately layered as this, no band member can afford veer off coarse and none did. This was a disciplined ensemble but in spite of that, the music flowed effortlessly. Their overall sound was warm and yet it tugged on the heartstrings, hinting at a distant sadness. The signature sound of Americana, where every note is weighted with nostalgia.
The other core band member was drummer James McLean. A drummer who showed his ability by responding appropriately to the textural subtleties and propelling the gentle swing feel. His brushwork was crisp and his stick-work understated so as to reside inside the music and not all over it. The pianist on the ‘Kindness not Courtesy’ album was Luke Howard, but on their Australasian tour, his role was alternated with Sam Keevers. I have heard Keevers before as he is a well respected Australian pianist. For a long period, he held the piano chair in the Vince Jones group (a coveted position held before him by Barney McAll). Having Keevers onboard during the New Zealand leg worked a treat. A skilled accompanist who knows a lot about supportive playing and comping. The piano and guitar interacting seamlessly and moving in and around each other’s phrases like dance partners.
The album titled ‘Kindness Not Courtesy’ is available from Bandcamp and the link can be followed here (spirographstudies.bandcamp.com/).The Auckland gig was at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 11 September 2019.
Spirograph Studies: Tamara Murphy (bass, compositions), Sam Keevers (piano), Fran Swinn (guitar), James McLean (drums).
Jazzlocal32.com September 18, 2019
KINDNESS, NOT COURTESY
Published in the Weekend Australian, August 24, 2019
Jazz of startling originality, difficult to categorize, has been streaming out of Melbourne for years. Kindness, Not Courtesy is an example. Seven originals by bassist Tamara Murphy and one by drummer James McLean are generally ruminative and minimalist, featuring beautiful harmonic changes. One might call this genre “textural jazz”, whereby no particular soloist dominates the sound mix with technical virtuosity. This is a collaborative venture with four players contributing sensitively to the whole. Still, there is individuality here. Lyrical pianist Luke Howard, while often unobtrusive, can also project strongly, with a very clear voice. Guitarist Fran Swinn, with a pleasing Bill Frisell influence, is a skilled conversationalist in the mix. While there is an appealing stillness here, the music also flares out, showing the influence of rock elements, while its inner music retains the majesty of jazz.
The Weekend Australian, August 24, 2019
Hypnotic Music Crosses Many Genres
Live Performance Review
Spirograph Studies leaped onto the Australian music scene with their nuanced and colourful approach to playing improvised music…
Music / Spirograph Studies. “Kindness, Not Courtesy” album launch tour, at The Street Theatre, August 16.
Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
What do you call music that crosses many genres, like post-rock, post-jazz and post-minimalism? In the case of Spirograph Studies, it’s called original and fascinating music.
Spirograph Studies, who have leaped onto the Australian music scene with their nuanced and colourful approach to playing improvised music say: “They shamelessly steal sonic palettes from all areas to build their cinematic sound.”
The group who are on a tour in Australia and New Zealand are led by Tamara Murphy as bassist and composer. They include Luke Howard, piano; Fran Swinn, guitar; James McLean, drums.
The small audience got to sit on the stage with Spirograph Studies in the Street Theatre Two. The atmosphere could not have been much more intimate or effecting.
A regular pulse on the drums set the pace and the mood for the opening work, “The Opposite of Afar”. The sound washed over the audience as the tempo and volume increased then subsided into a mellow, dreamy fusion of music.
The four players have a real feel for the music they make and perform. Even with little going on they sound rich and full and relaxed.
There are a few interesting aspects of this group. Each instrument is amplified or mic’d up. They all read from sheet music, but still manage to sound like free jazz. They offer a unique perspective on music. While they all perform as a group, they sound like it is four soloists playing together. It’s a bit like hearing four people all talk at once and it makes sense, with emotion.
The colour and variation that came from McLean on drums was something else. He seemed to be able to create any sound or rhythm he liked from his small kit. It was like listening to a masterclass in action.
Swinn on guitar, who has the lead voice of the group, was driven, engaged and passionate all the way through.
Their song “Does Thunder Sleep?”, came about due to Murphy’s daughter asking that question, as children do. The music also seemed to be asking that question, and Howard on piano who took the lead pounding loudly answered that question. The answer was thunder does not sleep.
Murphy on bass is the driving heart of the group. She owns each piece as the composer and a performer. She lives in her own world while playing and she performs with accurate clarity.
They wound the night up with a piece called “M31”, which begins with a subtle arpeggio-like tune on the guitar. Then the pianos softly slid in to accent notes and added a further melody of its own. Soon the sound became hypnotic as the piano spiralled around and all the others filled the places in-between.
Australians and New Zealanders should get out to experience Spirograph Studies while they are on tour, because they are worth the effort.
https://citynews.com.au August 17, 2019
Kindness, Not Courtesy
Spirograph Studies are a Melbourne based four-piece bringing their debut album, Kindness, Not Courtesy, to Aotearoa in September 2019. Band leader and bassist, Tamara Murphy utilises the immensely talented quartet to gently herd us through gorgeous soundscapes on this record. Spirograph Studies have captured the imagination of live audiences at jazz festivals in their home country and it is just a matter of time before they do the same here.
This record is cinematic in its breadth and detail. It conjures imagery and the colour pallet of a film score. The opening number, The Opposite of Afar, begins the journey and sounds like a journey in and of itself. Maybe the group are leaving, maybe they’re arriving only to leave again, but they always grab us mid-embrace. This record is a train station or an airport with singular emotions and themes brought into their truest forms – everything is on the move. Pianist, Luke Howard’s graceful improvisational work sparks out over the structure offered by Murphy and drummer James Mclean, only to build and swoon with Fran Swinn’s guitar.
Murphy is behind every sweeping turn, every flung open window or elusive dab of paint by softly nudging and probing. Then Swinn is off again wrapping delicate notes around broad swathes of drums and hi-hats to hold the exquisite tone together. Mclean’s drumming soars above on songs like R & R but it is the interwoven elements of this group that prove to be their strength. Particularly earnest pieces are blended with subtle layering from other members of the quartet to add depth and even playfulness. And when Howard’s piano is ready to crash, Swinn and co crash up against him like a rough sea in the superb and wild Gromp City.
This album reflects a masterclass in storytelling, in depth and detail and while that alone should be relished, it offers more. It is not often listeners are invited into something so intricate yet still so accessible. This album does something that can get lost in the heady throws of creation and that is allows a space for the listener. This record is an invitation, a warm welcome or the sounds of a new friend at a front door. All I can, do is suggest you walk through it.
https://writingincapitalletters.home.blog August 11, 2019
Big Creatures & Little Creatures (Independent)
BASSIST Tamara Murphy, who received the 2012 inaugural PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission, heads a band here with drummers Joe Talia and Daniel Farrugia, trombonist Jordan Murray and guitarist Nashua Lee. The ensemble blends heady atmospherics with grooves and melodies, along with a mix of electronics and superlative musicianship. Boulders Make Strong Friends opens with Murray providing a thrusting staccato trombone over guitar, bass and drums. It shifts to a riveting guitar solo, underpinned by driving drums before fading into electronic atmospherics. The track then segues into Refractal, followed by the final take, Bitter Sweet. Opening with Murphy's accentuated bass, Murray's trombone then enters so subdued, floating across the top like a wraith. As Murphy starts bowing the bass, her distinctly classical lines come through over Lee's guitar. This is enchanting stuff, it's hypnotic and hallucinatory, and is not an album you mindlessly play in the background. Rather, it requires close listening.
EG's weekly album reviews, February 8, 2013
Big Creatures & Little Creatures
An increasing trend among jazz professionals is to use unusual mixes of instruments. This album from the quintet led by Melbourne bassist Tamara Murphy is an example. Murphy won last year's PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission, which funded the project. She has added to her acoustic bass a guitar, trombone, two drummers and electronic soundscapes for an original suite of five movements, each showcasing a different ensemble member. These five Big Creatures are interspersed with three Little Creatures as links between movements. The approach ranges from lush textural, semi-classical washes to heavy stereo drumming, grooving or dreamy trombone and ambient or rock-oriented guitar; in short, a comprehensive sonic diversity.
The first movement, A Song for Two Rivers, opens with Jordan Murray's melodic pastoral trombone, underpinned by slow-moving bass and Nashua Lee's guitar ostinato. Rhythmic swirling brushes introduce Paircut, stabbing bass and chordal guitar building for a fiery, swinging trombone solo. A staccato trombone pattern over spaced pedals of aligned bass, guitar and mallets leads into an unexpected slashing rock guitar solo driven by a strong backbeat in Boulders Make Strong Friends. Bitter Sweet, the final movement, begins with forceful, first beat of the bar resonant bass notes ushering in quietened trombone as Murphy applies the bow to a singing bass, the guitar echoes with soft chords, and the drums supply a Latin beat. This collection is an impressive set of quality ensemble playing alternating between compositional and improvised performances.
The Australian, December 1, 2012
Murphy's Law - Live Performance
Bennett's Lane, November 11, 2012
When Tamara Murphy was awarded the PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission this year, it spurred the young Melbourne bassist to create an ambitious five-part suite (Big Creatures & Little Creatures) for her band, Murphy's Law.
The suite's composed movements (or "big creatures") are interspersed with spontaneously improvised passage ("little creatures"), and the movements can be arranged in any order and led by any member of the ensemble.
The idea, as Murphy explained before embarking on Sunday's performance, is to blur the line between composition and improvisation, and the keep the players - bandleader included - on their toes. This is a work that requires close listening, from participants and audience alike. Fortunately, the rewards for such focused attention are ample. Sunday night's concert took us on a fascinating sonic journey, filled with shifting moods, textures and musical motifs. Murphy introduced the first movement (A Song for Two Rivers) with some exploratory harmonics on arco bass, then settled into a restful sway beneath Jordan Murray's beautifully burnished trombone. Paircut was pinned to a muscular, funky backbeat, while Boulders Make Strong Friends saw the band dive into unexpectedly gritty rock territory, complete with a blazing guitar solo from Nashua Lee.
The final movement (Bitter Sweet) was a miniature suite in itself. Murphy and Jordan began with a hypnotic, dreamlike duet before drummers Joe Talia and Daniel Farrugia introduced and irresistible Latin shuffle, gradually amping up the volume until they were throbbing in syncopated tandem like twin heartbeats. Superb.
The Age, November 13, 2012
Murphy's law - Live Performance
Murphy’s Law premieres “Big Creatures Little Creatures: The Modular Suite”, written for MIJF by PBS Young Elder of Jazz Competition winner Tamara Murphy — Jordan Murray trombone, Nashua Lee guitar, Tamara Murphy bass, Joe Talia & Daniel Farrugia on drums and percussion — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Saturday, June 2 at 8pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012.
Murphy’s Law plays “Big Creatures & Little Creatures: The Modular Suite”
It’s the sign of a good festival, I’ve been told, when there are gigs you’d love to be at that clash with others you can’t miss. Tamara Murphy‘s suite clashed with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter‘s appearance with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra at The Forum and I had decided on the big band — until I realised that fast footwork could allow a visit to Bennetts Lane before catching Potter in the second set.
I was really glad that I’d opted to hear the Australian (and world) premiere of Murphy’s work, because it was entrancing. It was also, to my surprise given the modular nature of the suite (referred to by Murphy in an interview with Miriam Zolin before the work was complete), not at all fragmented, but rather seemed to be compellingly cohesive.
But how much was improvised on the night and how much was scripted? 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. Surely there must have been hours of rehearsal for this suite to work so well, but I do not know whether that’s the case.
The suite came across as an exploration of timbres and textures in a way that was tonally and percussively rich — even luxuriant at times. Some pairings of instruments worked extremely well — Murphy’s bowed bass with Murray’s muted trombone, Lee’s guitar with Murphy’s bowed bass — and Farrugia’s intensity on drums contributed significantly.
Big Creatures Little Creatures was relatively subdued until the latter stages, when that changed as the work ended in a real climax. The tight playing at this point emphasised the musicians’ synchronicity, especially as exemplified by Talia and Farrugia, who worked faultlessly together on drums in a way that was hard to believe.
I would definitely like to hear this suite performed again, perhaps at a Stonnington Jazz or Wangaratta Jazz festival. It deserves a wider audience than there was space for in the large room at Bennetts Lane, though that was packed.
With this work, Murphy and her colleagues have added to the growing list of important and engrossing suites created in Australia, such as those by Allan Browne et al (The Drunken Boat, Une Saison en Enfer) in Melbourne and Stu Hunter (The Muse, The Gathering) in Sydney.
Ausjazz Blog, June 3, 2012
Melbourne bassist Tamara Murphy's high calibre sextet has recorded eight of her originals, four of them live at Bennett's Lane and four in the ABC studios, with an album title taken from a Japanese folkloric character. Most of these pieces are played at a slow tempo, with one exception, Catalyst Boy opens at an ultra slow pace, but soon moves to furioso speed with Julien Wilson's tenor sax in leaping overdrive overtaken by Nashua Lee's racing guitar. Sweet Dreams proceeds at an unhurried speed in a lagging beat with tenor sax, guitar and Shannon Barnett's trombone all contributing sweetly to truly dream-like sequences. The leader's bass introduces Lilac Wine, a slow ballad featuring elegantly measured trombone ideas with Joe Talia double timing on cymbals. Slow Exposure is exactly that, gradually revealing its quiet theme. These players inject an enticing continuity of slo-mo mood throughout with trombone and tenor sax working together superbly in tranquillity or occasionally tumult.
The Weekend Australian, Oct 4th, 2008
Soundvault SVO 620
This Melbourne quintet, led by bassist Tamara Murphy, features some creative players in Julien Wilson (saxophone), Shannon Barnett (trombone), Nashua Lee (guitar) and Joe Talia (drums). For this project, Murphy expanded the ensemble to incorporate a string quartet, plus the turntables of Jamshid ‘Jumps’ Khadiwala (from The Cat Empire). The six tracks take the listener on a colourful journey, with constantly changing textures and rhythms, and some gripping statements from the soloists. Imaginative writing and bold, confident playing ensure the various components are integrated successfully.
Limelight Magazine, 2008
After an acclaimed debut in 2002 with Telling Tales, Murphy's Law is back on the streets, toting a string quartet and Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwala (of Cat Empire fame) on turntables.
Bassist Tamara Murphy leads this unlikely ensemble in a tribute to street artists that explores electronic techniques (delay, sampling, looping) with improvised acoustic music. With its energy, undercurrents and restless urgency, it effectively evokes street life. Murphy's compositions reflect city art's haste and impermanence, recalling glimpses, echoes and snippets of conversation in a colourful journey that can be gritty as well as delicate.
Nashua Lee's guitar works superbly, either throbbing with life or as a muted backdrop to Julien Wilson's saxophone and Shannon Barnett's trombone. Sampled voices break like thoughts into serene sax on Street Art Part 3, with filigree strings as a garnish.
Murphy has inspired a wildly successful integration of classical, jazz and electronica.
Sunday Herald Sun, Sept 21, 2008
Murphy's Law - Live Performance
The Toff in Town
Tuesday 16 September
Melbourne bass player Tamara Murphy spent much of last year working on a new project designed to combine the different musical styles that informed her approach as a player. The result was Street Art, a three-part suite combining jazz with elements of rock, electronica and contemporary classical music.
Murphy launched the Street Art recording - along with a new CD by her jazz quintet Murphy's Law - with a memorable concert on Tuesday night at the Toff in Town.
The evening's first set was drawn from Tanuki's Revenge (the Murphy's Law CD), and featured the quintet in typically potent form. Most tunes were driven by the propulsive twin-engine team of Murphy and drummer Joe Talia, creating sturdy but malleable grooves for the horns and guitar to hook into. Sweet Dreams (the Eurythmics' pop hit) was given a deliciously grimy late-night drawl, while Catalyst Boy corralled a bracing, free-for-all explosion within the mournful plod of a New Orleans funeral procession.
For the second set, the band was joined by a string quartet and turntable artist Jamshid 'Jumps' Khadiwala. This extended ensemble performed the Street Art suite: a sophisticated and innovative work that explored the possibilities of electro-acoustic fusion. Rather than using the strings simply as a lush backdrop, Murphy asked the classical players to recreate various electronic effects: echo and reverb; looping and layering; sharp accents and shimmering waves. The core quintet (Murphy, Talia, saxophonist Julien Wilson, trombonist Shannon Barnett and guitarist Nashua Lee) interacted with the strings - soloing with extended techniques, or adding a driving pulse to anchor the sometimes dissonant voicings - while Jumps deepened the rhythmic momentum with syncopated samples and scratches.
The final movement was particularly compelling, Wilson improvising over Jumps' slow-motion blurs, then merging with the strings to produce eerily resonant tonal effects - a fascinating example of how imaginative thinking can point the way to new directions in music.
The Age, 19 September, 2008
In Short: Melbourne band spins fine tales with soul and style
One of the most striking sounds emanating from jazz scenes around the world is coming from a new generation of guitarists seemingly attuned to rock and beyond rather than the role models of years gone by, such as Wes Montgomery.
Australia's contribution to this ear-grabbing trend is enhanced by the brilliant, dizzying contributions of Nashua Chen Lee, who joins the likes of Steve Magnusson, James Muller and Cameron Deyell as a frontrunner in the guitar wizardry stakes.
But he is only one of the joys to be found on this outing by a Melbourne outfit led by bassist Tamara Murphy, not least being the leader's moody grooves in terms of composing.
Add to the mix tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson, trombonist Jordan Murray and drummer Joe Talia, and you are listening to jazz of a very high order.
Sunday Herald Sun, June 26, 2005
There's been no shortage of strong CD releases by locals bands this year, but the one I've been most excited by is the debut album from Murphy's Law. This band is led by bassist-composer Tamara Murphy, who has been increasingly prominent over the last few years, working with people like Allan Browne, Tony Gould, The Hoodangers, Will Poskitt, Craig Fermanis, and Jamie Oehlers, among others. She also did a great job in the 'house band' for the National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta 2003.
Joining her are tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson, trombonist Jordan Murray, guitarist Nashua Lee and drummer Joe Talia. The personnel gives her a head start, as Wilson and Murray are such accomplished players, and have often worked together in several bands, notably Ish Ish.
Telling Tales is an apt title for this album. Thanks to Murphy's skills as a composer and the efforts of the soloists, each track does indeed tell a tale, rather than allowing everyone to take turns at showing off what they can do. Tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson plays with tremendous imagination and fire (check out his opening salvo on 'Largo'), which is balanced by trombonist Jordan Murray's more measured approach.
Guitarist Nash Lee is the wild card in the band. Whether soloing or accompanying, he constantly produces unexpected melodic and textural ideas. Not a bebop cliche in sight. Murphy, meanwhile, holds it all together in tandem with drummer Joe Talia. In her own purposeful playing, as well as her writing, she suggests the influence of such bassists as Dave Holland and Mark Helias, which is no mean feat for a young bassist on her first recording.
Rhythms Magazine, November 2004