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
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 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
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