I Hold The Lion’s Paw are a local based collective of musicians with their artistic roots firmly within the realms of the more cross disciplinary.  Their music presents as a seminal mix of both quiet reflection and the most frenetic of movement. Having and continuing to enjoy a year long residency at Brunswick Green,  a much loved north side institution perfect for a chilled out libation. Reuben Lewis, leader of I Hold The Lion’s Paw spoke with The Melbourne Critique about music, ethos and the role that improv continues to play in the contemporary music scene.

What’s your connection to I Hold the Lion’s Paw?

I am the leader of the group. Which essentially means I book the gig, invite the performers, write the compositions (IF we technically play the compositions is another question!), then jump in and enjoy what happens when we start playing.

Can you explain the group’s ethos?

I Hold the Lion’s Paw represents a larger collective who have made music together for several years. Whilst the formations modulate, the ethos of the group remains as one of exploration into the in-betweens of groove, group improvisation and transient compositional forms. These act as gravitational pulls, with the music finding a balance somewhere in between.

In live performance, this ethos manifests itself in long-form group improvisations that freely interpret, dissect, abstract and (re)bind composed material into something for the now.

What made you decide to pursue this project? 

My artistic practice has become quite diverse since moving to Melbourne in 2013; ranging from work in improvised dance/theatre with the Tony Yap Company and THIS ensemble, to nu-soul with groups like 30/70 and the Tesky Brothers, to new music and contemporary jazz with The Phonetic Orchestra, UNFIX and the Australian Creative Music Ensemble (ACME).

I have always wanted to develop a band that could comfortably traverse all areas of the sound worlds I currently inhabit, and to go one further, bring these worlds together into a space the enables a constantly evolving dialogue through improvisation.

This desire had become particularly potent shortly before I was awarded the inaugural “Lebowskis Development Residency” in 2016. The intent of this particular residency is to allow ensembles to develop a creative concept and showcase its growth with a performance every two months, culminating in a live recording at the final show. I saw the DEV RES as a perfect chance to reconfigure or combine some existing projects and concepts to create a super group capable of achieving my “dream music” (for lack of a better way to explain it!)

Like all worthwhile things, they often get better and more complex with age, so I have continued with the project and am continually delighted with what unfolds on the bandstand.

Tell me about your residency at The Brunswick Green.

The Brunswick Green is one of the most important and under recognised supporters of experimental arts in Melbourne. In addition to having live music/dance/comedy most nights of the week, most their program is dedicated to fringe and experimental arts from all walks of the Melbourne community. For a band like I Hold the Lion’s Paw, The Brunswick Green is the ultimate venue with its great acoustics, cool bar, welcoming environment, and enough room to dance if people are so inclined.

The Brunswick Green is also one for hosting long term residencies. The Michelle Nicole Group celebrated their 10-year anniversary last night (the best jazz gig of every Thursday for 10 years running!) and Tinky Tuesdays (led by the incredible trumpeter Scott Tinkler) has been running for a year or two now.

I Hold the Lion’s Paw have been performing on the first Wednesday of every month since the start of the year, and will be doing so for the rest of the year and into the foreseeable future. We will also be doing a live recording every Wednesday in November.

What can punters expect from your live show?

A typical night includes 5-10 sound makers (occasionally some movers) performing two continuous long-form improvisations with a drink break in between. Expect to hear anything from and in-between harmonious free-floating melodies, electro-acoustic noise, slowly shifting tectonic plates of sound, grungy grooves, afro-beat and free jazz. Expect to experience the show in relaxed and welcoming environments such as the Brunswick Green.

Do you believe improvisation plays a relevant part in the musical context of the 21st century?

I would go as far as to say that without the ability and opportunity to improvise, not just in music but in all facets of our lives, we would be lost as a society. In my biased opinion at the very least, an environment devoid of some degree of improvisation is an apathetic one that leaves little room for relevance to this turbulent context that is my experience of the 21st century thus far.


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