Mary’s Underground, April 8


At first people tried dancing to it. In the second set they were shell-shocked into listening. By then the music was often hollowed-out; stripped of the swirling psychedelia of earlier on, so now Perrin Moss’s drums and Aykho Akhrif’s congas dominated the foreground, cushioned by Barney McAll’s keyboards and Paul Bender’s bass.

Moss and Bender are both members of the acclaimed Melbourne R&B band Hiatus Kaiyote, while McAll has long been one of this country’s finest jazz pianists and most imaginative sculptors of electronic sounds, and Akhrif one of our most fizzing percussionists. As their name suggests, Found Heads arrive on stage with a completely blank page, conjuring up not just improvisations, but structures, grooves, riffs and themes (or heads) in real time.

Perrin Moss. Photo: Rafi. Top: Barney McAll. Photo: Si Jay Gould.

The transition points were especially fascinating, the merest hint of an idea from one player being leapt on by the others with such alacrity that you’d swear the material was pre-arranged. Although the fundamental dialect was funk, it could be leaned out to tranquil pools or beefed up to battering-ram force. At its sparsest so much music was made with so few inputs as to remind one of the dark, hypnotising effect of repeated lines in one of Beckett’s short plays. During the most psychedelic sequences, by contrast, McAll was playing with sound as though it were plasticine: tugging, moulding and generally stretching the possible. Always astute about macro shapes as well as micro, he ensured any sonic tidal waves were followed by the respite of silence or smaller sounds – whether chirping or marimba-like – that intensified the grooves.

Not that they needed much intensifying, with Bender sometimes a one-man orchestra of sonic options on the bass, and sometimes locking horns with Moss and Akhrif via simple ostinatos. Akhrif not only compounded the energy, but gave the drumming a melodic veneer, while Moss, as playful as he is ambidextrously sophisticated, spread his teeming ideas around the kit in startlingly inventive ways that elevated hip hop beats to a rarefied improvising language.