The Melbourne International Jazz Festival prides itself on the diversity of its line-up, and subsequently the diversity of its audience. On the 9th of June, a cold Friday evening in Melbourne, the Darebin Arts & Entertainment Centre demonstrates this diversity rather clearly. “I don’t think either of the bands we have tonight would classify themselves as ‘jazz,’ but they both fall under that umbrella in a way,” an announcer says as she introduces the eclectic Melbourne based trio Krakatau.
In a theatre setting, with a seated audience gazing upon them expectedly, Krakatau appear out of their element. I’ve experienced live Krakatau sets a number of times; at music festivals, in bars – but always to a standing, and often party-minded audience. As their set begins under a purple lighting hue with an ambient chord running beneath an elongated saxophone note, their crowd settles in. The beauty of an outfit like Krakatau is that, stylistically they bridge the gap between modern and traditional music, existing in a rare, ill-defined space which is entirely of their own. Perhaps this is why they seem to resonate with an audience that encompasses so many demographics.
Maybe it’s the full moon that is so prominent in the sky, or maybe it’s the fact that the morning of this performance was the coldest morning of the year – but there is a melancholic mood as they run through their set, a certain ripple in time allowing this performance to exist in a unique place. Each note seems to hold a centre of gravity, every pulse on the drum isolated, each tone so full and crisp. It could be the sound system, or the acoustics of the high ceiling room – either way, there is an undeniable power to the performance which anchors and carries it. Krakatau seem somewhat out of place on such a large stage, as if they don’t know what to do with the room they have been provided. They are attentive of their parts, statuesque in their performance, while simultaneously emanating passion.
As the band preapre to perform ‘Apogean Tide’ at the conclusion of their set, their keyboardist announces to his seated audience, without a microphone, “apologies, I just need to tune this, uh, untameable synthesiser here.” The acid-synth driven track that follows seems to take much of the audience, made up of many older people, by surprise – though there is a certain respectful admiration that seems to run through the room. Krakatau, as always, offer a performance which is flawless and smooth – it is as though they are symbiotic, feeding off and influencing one another to create an enviable, impeccable whole – they are moving parts of the same machine, seperate limbs of the same animal, atoms binding.
After a brief intermission, the announcer relays a short story of how the festival booked The Luke Howard Trio, an outfit they have been attempting to get on their line-up for years – only for scheduling woes to get in the way each time. In a triangular formation, The Luke Howard Trio grace the stage, in a performance which appears to be as much for their own benefit as it is for the audience’s.
Luke Howard himself stares at the keys of his grand piano, it’s top open, strings visibly vibrating. Each member of the trio seem utterly transfixed on their instrument, caught up in their individual world, while complimenting and working with one another. Dramatic and theatrical, the trio own the room as they serve up a joyous performance. Bassist Jonathan Zion gyrates around his upright instrument, his facial expressions warping and contorting with each note – he is one with the music. Behind the piano, Howard is a virtuoso – he flows through his keys, his very being singing through each note played. The trio’s music is almost lyrical – each tone plucked, each accent on the drums seems to be a spoken word, forming sentence after sentence with each phrase. At one point, Daniel Farrugia on the drums plays his hi-hat and snare with his fingertips, creating a kinetic, almost industrial rhythm pattern.
The trio exchange smiles and glances, exclaiming to acknowledge one another’s skilful performance of certain phrases or runs. This may be a factor in why they perform in a triangle – they want to vibe off of and acknowledge one another .The performance dynamics, the balance between the loud and soft is arresting, even transcendental.
At the conclusion of the show, as the final note rings out on his piano, Howard sits transfixed, eyes down and unmoving, as if he is a painting – he waits out the final breath of the note until it fades, a fleeting moment in abstract time, existing only in the memories of those who witnessed it, gone now and forever. Some refer to music as the language of the soul – The Luke Howard Trio wholly embodied this notion through their music, and the emotional landscape they created as part of The Melbourne International Jazz Festival.