Reviewed by Ray Smith, Saturday March 5, 2022.
As my guest and I walked into the quick and cozy Osmond Terrace reception center to see Läther play Continuity: Läther plays the music of Frank Zappa live, I was excited for two reasons. The first was that I was on an annual pilgrimage, or is it an indulgence, to see one of my favorite ensembles play impossible music live, and the second was that my mate had never seen one of my favorite ensembles playing impossible music live, and I couldn’t wait to see his reaction. The band takes its unusual name from Frank Zappa’s posthumously released sixty-fifth official album, and is the brainchild of one of Australia’s most talented musicians, Tim Hogan.
Now, 65 might seem like a very high number of album releases, and the main reason for that is that it really is a very high number of album releases, but it has to be seen in context. 62 albums were released during Zappa’s lifetime, but the total number of albums released between 1966 and 2022 is over 120. There were only 10 albums recorded in the studio, and the rest were either officially released live recordings, or fake recordings of live events, some of which were later officially approved.
Such a back catalog gave Hogan an almost endless supply of material from which to work and, since many compositions were performed differently, many times and with different musicians, by Zappa, it also gave him and his selected musicians, an absolutely free hand to improvise around the composer’s themes and intentions. All he really had to do was find musicians in Adelaide with a deep interest in the works and of such an extraordinarily high level of skill that they could actually succeed.
To give the reader, particularly interested musicians, some insight into the challenges players of this material, at this level, face, I quote Hogan’s setlist for the evening’s performance. “Set 2, part 5, Dupree’s Paradise – open solos, key unknown”. Most musicians would read this, cry pitifully, put away their instruments, and go home to watch Netflix, and there were plenty of these helpful instructions on the band’s setlists. Hogan introduced this particular piece by saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t think those guys do either, and I’m sure you don’t! Atonal, arrhythmic, heavily affected guitar played an introduction, then a clear throw to Saunders for a saxophone solo to set the tone and give direction to the rest of the band. Absolutely, incredibly brave and a master class in improvisation.
Läther are: Gerry Masi on vocals and occasional sound effects, David Goodwin on keyboards, Jez Martin on bass, Jarrad Payne on drums, Ryan Simm on vibraphone and percussion, Dave Saunders on alto sax, Gareth Davis on trombone and Tim Hogan, arranger and conductor, on guitar. A veritable who’s who of virtuoso jazzmen from South Australia.
Their playing was, of course, extraordinary. Beautifully abstracted solos morphed in an instant into a unison interplay of patterns so fast and intricate they blew the mind, but it’s the silent onstage communication between the musicians that always strikes me when I watch Läther player. As one member of the ensemble launched into a wild and seemingly limitless solo, other members, providing no basis for their colleague, moved to the back of the stage or left it altogether, to allow the soloist to fully concentrate on the stage. audience, then, with an almost imperceptible wink, or a raised eyebrow, call them all back to join him for the next impossible track. Except for Payne, Martin and Goodwin, who were the very soil from which the solo would grow in nurturing, understated, egoless backing.
The deep respect these men have for each other is palpable, and the trust they place in each other’s play is born out of that respect and an intimacy that must be experienced to be understood.
Suddenly the solo ends and the players are once again locked in frantic unison lines that seem to ignore anything remotely normal in terms of time signature or pitch, but jump from one improbable note to the next. another in an exhilarating vagueness of delicious precision.
Goodwin smiles rapturously at Hogan on such a perfect landing, his hands moving too fast to keep up, Simm’s vibraphone hammers a blur above his instrument, Davis’ trombone joins Hogan’s guitar in lines that I thought, mistakenly, just too fast for such an instrument, Saunders’ saxophone finds harmonies on notes that only last a millisecond, Masi’s vocal lines leap effortlessly through octaves as if they don’t were only semitones, mirroring Hogan’s guitar, while Paynes’ polyrhythmic drumming underscores tiny changes of emphasis in the chaos, while Martin’s bass gently slices through the frenzy into perfect, bird-sized chunks. a bite, as if you were calmly cruising through traffic on the freeway. I was exhausted just watching and holding my breath as the drama unfolded before my eyes.
I met another Zappa enthusiast in the front row of the audience before the show started, and we managed a brief introduction and conversation while waiting for the performance to start. A Brazilian musician and event planner, he was very keen to hear how these Australian musicians would handle such intricate and intricate works. He knew every word of every song and anticipated every change in musical direction that occurred as the ensemble improvised from theme to theme. A true Zappa enthusiast. At the end of the show, he told me he had never seen Zappa perform live, but now he knows exactly how he would have felt if he had.
We clapped, we stood in awe, we clamored for more as the second set drew to a close, but there couldn’t be any more, because Jarrad Payne had another gig to play that night, on the other side of town. This is hardly surprising considering the depth and breadth of Payne’s musicality. As Hogan said of him, “the greatest thing you can do is stand before this man.”
Hogan was wrong, of course, because the best thing you could do is sit in front of these eight men as they weave improbable stories with unimaginable precision, at ridiculous speed, while smiling happily at each other, like us in the audience. let’s hold our collective breath. It was an absolutely thrilling and deeply satisfying performance of some of the most complex contemporary music ever conceived, and it was quite different from the last time I saw Läther live. Like it should be.