His name is Peter Knight. He hails from Melbourne. And, if his new six-track album is anything to go by, he's the strong, silent type. Well, quiet, at least. Fish Boast Of Fishing opens with a thirteen-minute plus eponymous opus that's strictly for the wee smalls. Hours, that is. If you can't meditate to this, you can't meditate, so stick to tranquilisers.
Erik Griswold's tinkling and clanging piano sneaks up on you, followed by a similarly understated entrance by Knight's muted trumpet, sounding particularly sweet and pure. There's (what sounds like) feedback; bells; chimes; a whispering wind; crackling that sounds like a stylus on vintage vinyl; birdsong.
These could well be sounds generated by Knight's laptop, which he deploys as his second instrument, after trumpet. Is that percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson wielding a rainstick? Cowbells? Could well be. The tune tickles, tinkles and chimes. And Frank Di Sario's plucked double bass is in the house, too, complemented by the low moan of Adam Simmons' monstrous contrabass clarinet.
Knight is unafraid of silences; negative space; darkness. This track swells and subsides, as surely as the pulsating tide. It's lunar as, and very, very Miles, in an ambient, world music kinda way. It ducks and weaves; hides 'round corners. Now you hear it. Now you don't. It's a ghostly presence; an aural apparition. Knight's lips twist into all sorts of odd shapes, to draw out strangely-shaped sounds. It's unpredictable; mesmerising; enchanting. He's garnered very considerable acclaim for his brave eclecticism, unconfined even by the almost infinite scope of jazz. And it's easy to hear why. He's a snake-charmer; a Pied Piper. And a scholar. In fact, Fish Boast is the product of his doctoral research, only recently completed at the Queensland Con, at Griffith Uni.
In notes on the 'development of new works for improvising sextet', he says, 'I like to make music that's odd, challenging, but which also draws the ear; that is inviting'. And draw the ear it does. One is inveigled, almost tricked into engagement. But where so much experimental music can be dead boring, cold and unapproachably theoretical in its beauty, if it should even be present, Knight's outings have a magic and a warmth that has a comparable effect on the adult ear that a well-told tale has on the child's. There's a strange comfort in this flying carpet ride.
It's probably not unfair to say his eloquence off-stage, too, is rather more pronounced than that of many musos, as evidenced here. 'When we think of our physical responses to things we see for the first time, we notice some unfamiliar objects make us naturally recoil in surprise, or even shock. Other unfamiliar objects make us want to move closer, to look and satisfy our curiosity. This is the kind of response I want to create with my music.' Suffice to say, he's succeeded admirably and, above all, listenably, in exploring the improvisational instincts, techniques, and modes of expression of his group. There is harmony here. And camaraderie. Understanding. Empathy. It's an arseabout process, but his notation was informed by observations made with regard to their extemporaneous inclinations. He speaks of compositional structures: the very term would seem to imply far greater freedoms than a standard arrangement. It all gets a bit technical, so best we stick to the proof of the pudding, rather than the recipe.
Unknowness 1 has Di Sario walking with a limp, an allusion to the piratical nature of consciousness. Meanwhile, there's oriental clatter; haunting murmurings from monasteries ancient. Yet there's a decptive momentum and urge to it. It tmight reference the past, but it's moving forward, slowly, but steadily and, like the tortoise, outrunning the hare. There's a shimmering clarity to the sound, a shiny, smooth, slippery surface akin to gamelan. There's plenty of room for trumpet and contrabass to enter, together. They look around, sizing up the aural space. They linger, sounding a little melancholy.
Unknowness 2 boasts trumpet that sounds for all the world like the woody intonations of a shakuhachi, undulating over the top plodding bass; poring out like syrup, distilled by monks, from a large pitcher. As with the title track, it's unhurried, the antithesis of urgent, the antidote for all that's digital and instantaneous. It engages and seduces the attention span, long lost in the Twitterverse.
Short 1 is a song of the sea, lapping the shore, menacing, teasing, coyly hinting at her own power. It's morning in the forest; an awakening; the new dawn, fresh and clean and clear.
Short 2 has a funkier feel, introduced by an on-again, off-again affair with Fender Rhodes, as if it's turned itself on, after midnight, when not a creature is stirring, not even a muso. It's anarchic. There are veritable nervous crickets chirping, intermittently. The contrabass idles in, as if in earnest, secretive conversation. Percussion rattles and clinks about, like so many mingling mice.
In stark contrast, And Men Are Caught By Worms cracks on with a cacophony of drums (bass and toms), piano keys and strings, thundering about like a creature from the deep, a golem, or saskwatch.
Noone could credibly call this music accessible. In some, it will provoke anxiety, or even panic; presenting a compelling, ironic tension between its zen process and the output sonics. It sounds as if made in lab, as much as a studio. Perhaps the self-same where Frankenstein's monster first felt the inspiration of oxygen, or wherein Dr Jekyll turned into Mr Hyde. That said, it's my cup of tea, sloshing around and spilling into the saucer. This is a Knight mining dharma.
Reviewed by Brad Syke for Jazz Australia November 2011
Brad also reviews for Crikey