The Others are here to save jazz as we know we it. What started as an improv experiment in Wangaratta has morphed into a festival-closing spectacle, driven by the charisma and skill of the musicians involved.
At first blush, taking two of jazz music’s most respected and elder statesman (keyboard impresario Paul Grabowsky and omni-brass legend James Morrison) and asking them to play an unrehearsed hour with a veteran rock-drummer (Kram from Spiderbait) might seem odd, but the genius of the combination soon becomes apparent. Every ultra-cool, tragically-hip gesture of jazz attitude exuded by Paul and James is answered by unreserved brash energy, raw excitement and a no-B.S. swagger from Kram.
Paul starts out with swirling arpeggios from a little green Critter & Guitari Pocket Piano, (a tiny half-shoe-box-sized hand-made synth perched atop his Nord Stage), signalling that we are leaving tradition behind. They quickly establish a Lalo Schifrin, Dirty Harry soundtrack tone, which feels all the more natural as they progress, the reference point being the moment in the 70’s when fusion experiments brought driving rock and funk drummers into the world of jazz for the first time.
They lead with dark upbeat funk, thundering tom-tom rolls and delayed trumpet trailing over the top. Paul plucks piano strings, then breaks into fluid gentle chordal drifts. Then there’s a moment of peace and chill to the round muted tones of James’ trumpet. A restrained rumble from Kram that occasionally breaks out into a burst of cymbal as his gold medallion dangles over the logo of his Adidas T-shirt.
Then, suddenly he walks away from the kit… just leaves to side stage, comes front-of-stage and plays a rhythmic feature first on just the sticks, then on the fold-back wedge, then the stage itself, before eventually making his way back to the drum throne.
These stage antics are a real highlight of the show, with Morrison wandering across the stage with a radio-mic held to the bell of his horn to physically interact with Grabowsky as he attacks the keyboard with gusto. Kram strides over to join them, his stick-rhythms bringing an instant burst of applause from the crowd.
This spontaneity and playfulness keeps coming back, like when Morrison breaks out with Bitches Brew era Miles Davis wail, only he’s not playing a trumpet, he’s playing a giant conch shell! Or the moment when Kram starts playing stick-rhtyhms on Morrison’s purple trumpet, (and instrument that looks like it could easily cost more than most of us make in a year), whilst he’s playing it! They seem unleashed by each other, liberated by this unique project.
At the end Kram takes to the mic and apologises for being such a rock pig at a jazz festival. But it’s this very irreverence that gives this band its defining feature: its manic vivacity. He yells “THANK YOU MELBOURNE!!” like he’s just closed at Rod Laver Arena, and the standing ovation at Melbourne Recital Centre says the feeling is mutual.