Lawson Mechanics Institute, March 2


vamps res
The Vampires: opening new doors and old. Photo: Arthur Wollenweber.

These Vampires are very much alive. A decade ago they were a little too close for comfort to the vein of Lloyd Swanton’s world-beat band The catholics. Now they are as distinct from them as everyone else, using reimagined rhythms from the Caribbean and Africa on which to set thematic ideas that are often moodier or edgier than the grooves might lead one to expect.

Core members Jeremy Rose (alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet), Nick Garbett (trumpet) and Alex Masso (drums) were here joined by guitarist Ben Hauptmann and bassist Brett Hirst. The portentous guitar and plangent trumpet of the opening Endings and Beginnings (Rose) were instantly arresting, as was the segue into the reggae of Hard Love (also Rose), into which Hauptmann’s guitar solo burst with all the shock value of a snarling dog at a gate. I’ve never heard Hauptmann play better than on this night, notably on Rose’s Suck a Seed: his grainy sound the conduit for a barrage of ideas that became ever more intense.

That vitality of sound was a hallmark not just of Hauptmann’s guitar playing, but of the band as a whole. The trumpet solo in Rose’s Freedom Song (for offshore detainees) exemplified Garbett’s capacity to lace his lines with such an array of voice-like effects as to be akin to listening to an engrossing raconteur, and he shared a telepathic sense of phrasing with Rose. The latter’s more acerbic improvising provided contrast with the multi-coloured trumpet, while also being studded with moments of higher drama (on the saxophones) and deeper moodiness (on bass clarinet).

Despite Masso’s proclivity for restraint (reminiscent of some Malian or Cuban percussionists), the groove on Garbett’s Bendalong was irrepressible, with the tenor and trumpet coiling around it like vines. The band could flit from Bali-inspired moonlit music to Hirst’s vigorous realisation of Garbett’s Torta Salata (which was so swampy that one was almost swatting mosquitoes), and on to yet more scorching guitar on Garbett’s Palau. Memorable.