Matt McMahon

Paddington Uniting Church, October 17

Freedman Fellowship/ Matt McMahon
Matt McMahon. Photo supplied.

Influences are more like friends than relations, in that you can choose who they are. They might come from New York or Delhi, from yesterday or 500 years ago, but a certain logic pertains to considering those close to home. In his first Paths and Streams project pianist Matt McMahon rearranged pieces by diverse Australian composers whose work he admired. Now for Paths and Streams II he unveiled music penned by himself with multifarious local inspirations.

Although conceived as a suite it is more like a latent concept album, in that the breadth of influences did not make for an obvious cohesion beyond the band’s sound and McMahon’s native artistry. The latter’s key elements are curiosity, intelligence, a love of ravishing melodies coloured by a fondness for distinctive harmonies, and a keen instinct for creating contexts in which his collaborators may shine.

The septet’s sonic character was emphasised by performing unamplified (apart from James Muller’s electric guitar) in a room ideal for the purpose. Occasionally Brendan Clarke’s double bass was swamped, but mostly it was perfectly discernible fattening the sound beneath the piano, guitar, trumpet (Phil Slater), bass clarinet/tenor saxophone (Paul Cutlan) and violin (Michele O’Young).

If the quaint Alfred Hill (for the Australian composer) and the subsequent Streams were not completely convincing, Confluence, acknowledging McMahon’s Irish heritage, swiftly redressed this. Ingenious harmonies relocated in time a place a glorious lament for violin, before a Slater solo began with fluffy-edged notes and grew in agitation without becoming louder.

The imaginative Klang engendered sparse collective improvising, contrasting with Mondo Chisel, nodding to Mondo Rock and Cold Chisel with a simple groove, soulful tenor and glistening guitar. Boosting the contrast further Other Chord (based on an Arabian scale) opened with dramatic drums that beckoned a sinuous bass clarinet melody and stunning subsequent solo.

Among other inspirations were McMahon’s Sydney Conservatorium teachers, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Peter Sculthorpe and the Sydney Improvised Music Association, in the history of which McMahon is, himself, now a major player.