Johnston St Jazz, May 7


In a brief interview at this concert’s conclusion, the bewilderingly versatile percussionist Jess Ciampa said that in the year prior to the lockdown he suspected he’d only had one day off. In the seven weeks since, by contrast, this was his first interaction with other musicians – an almost universally shared experience. Even the flow of new albums has slowed, many being delayed until performing to support their release is possible.

Julian Curwin. Photo: Perce Woodbury.

That Julian Curwin decided to proceed with launching his Midnight Lullaby opus seemed fitting, given the music’s mood is elegiac and introspective, and his compositions are more like miniatures than panoramas. The guitarist assembled some of Australia’s most creative musicians to realise his sparse but highly detailed scores on the recording: Ciampa, Stu Hunter (piano, keyboards) and Lloyd Swanton (of the Necks on bass). With Swanton unavailable for the launch, Abel Cross stepped in, and pedal steel guitarist Ollie Thorpe joined to approximate some of the album’s many colours.

Several of the new compositions, including At Dusk exemplified Curwin’s ability to evoke a disquiet akin to that of de Chirico’s paintings, leavened by a sly wink of humour or a glimmer of warmth. On Big House the pedal steel most effectively substituted for the recording’s theremin, while Curwin’s acoustic guitar was made to sound somewhat like a harpsichord.

From outside of the album’s repertoire came The Windmills of Your Mind, a piece carrying a similar sense of enigma to Curwin’s compositions, and on which Hunter’s spare piano solo left notes hanging in the air like ripe plums on the low branch fashioned by electric guitar, bass and melodic congas. Insomnia was realised just by electric guitar and bass, the former’s agitated fingerpicking conjuring the buzzing crosscurrents of a busy mind.

On Sleep Thorpe had his pedal steel sighing softly, and on the dreamlike motion of Midnight Drive it almost sounded like a sitar, before contributing to the frosty starkness of At Dawn. Not being music that demanded an audience’s energising presence, this concert worked exceptionally well as a live stream.