by Ian Mann
June 12, 2023
The partnership between The Vampires & Abrahams sounds perfectly natural and organic and there’s a lot of mutual trust & respect from both parties. It’s only surprising that it hasn’t happened before.
The Vampires featuring Chris Abrahams
(Earshift Records EAR069)
Jeremy Rose – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, Nick Garbett – trumpet, Noel Mason – double & electric bass, Alex Masso – drums
with guest Chris Abrahams – piano, organ, Rhodes, synthesisers (Prophet, Udo Super 6, Quantum)
Formed in 2005 The Vampires are based in Sydney, Australia. Saxophonist Jeremy Rose, trumpeter Nick Garbett and drummer Alex Masso have been with the band since the outset although there have been a number of changes in the bass department, with the latest incumbent being Noel Mason. In 2017 the band were the first instrumental act to be listed for an Australian Music Prize.
Rose and Garbett write the majority of the band’s material and the saxophonist is also involved with a number of other projects as well as running his own Earshift record label, upon which most of the Vampires’ seven albums have been released.
The Vampires have toured globally and are a band with an international reputation. In addition to jazz they have been influenced by various styles of ‘world music’ and in 2017 released the album “The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke”, a collaboration with the great Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. Previous collaborations have included 2010’s “Chellowdene” album, which featured the group’s work with Cologne based trombonist Shannon Barnett.
“Nightjar” finds The Vampires collaborating with another illustrious guest, Chris Abrahams, the pianist with another of Australia’s most famous musical exports, The Necks. Formed as long ago as 1987 The Necks, featuring Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer / percussionist Tony Buck, specialise in wholly improvised performances of long single pieces, typically lasting as long as an hour. It’s a unique approach that has won them a cult international following. To date the trio have released seventeen studio albums in addition to a number of live recordings and cinema soundtracks. My account of a Necks live performance in Birmingham, part of a double bill with pianist and composer Harold Budd, from 2011 can be found here;
Tim Owen’s account of The Necks’ London show at Bishopsgate Institute on the same tour is here;
The links between The Vampires and The Necks are strong, and not just from Dracula’s point of view. Tony Buck appeared on Nick Garbett’s 2019 album “The Glider” while Swanton works with Jeremy Rose as part of the improvising trio Vazesh, a group that also includes Hamed Sadeghi playing the Persian stringed instrument the tar.
In view of the close ties between the two bands this latest collaboration seems wholly natural and Abrahams performs on a number of electric keyboards in addition to the piano that he plays with the all acoustic Necks.
The new album features six compositions by Rose and four by Garbett and commences with the former’s “Game Changers”, which represents a subdued but beguiling start, featuring the rich blend of tenor sax and trumpet with piano, underpinned by a gently insistent drum beat. Garbett’s trumpet playing is breathy and lyrical and he takes the first solo, complemented by Abrahams’ shimmering shards of piano melody. Rose subsequently takes over on tenor, probing subtly and intelligently, before eventually handing over to Abrahams. Bassist Mason also makes an increasingly significant contribution, both rhythmically and melodically.
Also by Rose “Khan Shatyr” deploys reggae rhythms while the main horn theme quotes from The Necks track “The World at War” from their 1990 album “Next”. Again the blending of the horns is as seductive as ever and Abrahams takes the first solo, exploring expansively and lyrically above the increasingly infectious grooves. He also overdubs some subtle electric keyboard effects. Mason’s bass comes to the fore as the music becomes increasingly dubby, the horns weaving melodic pathways through the beats.
Abrahams plays a mix of acoustic and electric keyboards on the introduction to Rose’s “Waves”, a shimmering atmospheric ballad that also features the sounds of breathy trumpet and bass clarinet. Bass and brushed drums only enter after an extended opening passage, with Masso fulfilling a colourists’ role on a piece that could almost be considered ‘ambient’ at times. It is only in the latter stages of the performance that there is any real sense of rhythmic propulsion in a piece that places the emphasis on atmosphere, texture and beauty.
Garbett takes up the compositional reins for “Ortigara”, which also begins quietly and atmospherically before striking up a deep reggae groove, with Mason featuring on electric bass.
Abrahams again performs on both electric and acoustic keyboards and the sounds of the horns, notably the leader’s trumpet, are subtly echoed as the music again ventures into the realms of dub.
Presented as a separate track “Ortigara Interlude”, also by Garbett, features Abrahams on electric keyboards exclusively, deploying a range of synths in conjunction with the horn and rhythm sections. Despite the title it’s very much an entity in itself and very different from the piece that immediately precedes it.
Rose assumes compositional duties once more for “Na Pali”, one of the album’s most uplifting tunes as Abrahams and the horns coalesce a propulsive, shuffling Afro-jazz style groove.
Rose and Garbett combine effectively, exchanging phrases prior to a more abstract finale with Abrahams’ piano arpeggios underscoring the plaintive sounds of the composer’s tenor sax.
Garbett’s “High Plains” places the emphasis on Abraham’s thoughtful acoustic piano playing. The composer’s breathy trumpet whisper adds to the fragile atmosphere, as does Rose’s grainy bass clarinet. Again the emphasis is on atmosphere and beauty and the piece features only minimal involvement from the rhythm section.
Mason and Masso have rather more to do on Rose’s “Evergreen” with its busy Middle Eastern style rhythms and strident horns. Rose and Abrahams exchange phrases and the whole thing barrels along irresistibly. Abrahams duels with himself on acoustic piano and synthesiser, urged on by Masso’s frantic hand drumming.
Garbett’s title track re-introduces the Vampires’ dub and reggae leanings, alongside a whole host of other influences. Abrahams appears on both piano and organ while the first solo goes to Mason on electric bass. It’s a slinky and seductive piece, underpinned by deep but highly mobile grooves and also features Rose and Garbett, working in tandem as well as in the role of soloists.
The album concludes with Rose’s “Sun Gazers”, initially a mellow offering with the band members delivering an aural depiction of the sun rise via lyrical piano, the shimmer of cymbals and the gentle ululations of the horns. A gorgeous melody suggests the warmth of a new day, but there’s also an underlying sense melancholy behind the lyricism, something depicted in the soft cry of the composer’s tenor.
Although this multi-faceted music may not be easy to describe “Nightjar” is a very impressive album which covers a broad variety of musical styles and which features the intelligent writing of both Rose and Garbett. The presence of Abrahams adds hugely to the success of the recording and he sounds like a fully integrated member of the group rather than a ‘guest soloist’.
One suspects that Abrahams enjoyed the experience of being away from the more austere musical environment of The Necks for a while and his playing on both piano and electric keyboards is superb throughout, adding hugely to the success of the recording.
The record is less ‘visceral’ than I had been led to expect but is none the worse for that. Instead it’s colourful, intelligent, admirably varied and possessed of a surprising emotional depth. As other commentators have noted it’s also immaculately recorded, allowing Abrahams to double up, and this only adds to its success.
The partnership between The Vampires and Abrahams sounds perfectly natural and organic and there’s a lot of mutual trust and respect from both parties. It’s only surprising that it hasn’t happened before.
blog comments powered by Disqus