Teeing off the Stonnington Jazz Festival’s run of shows at Chapel Off Chapel in Prahran, legendary Australian drummer Allan Browne was joined by the members of both his quintet and trio for a “program of musical portraits and poems”. Quite what to expect was somewhat a mystery, but the audience’s questions were answered as Browne settled in, sharing anecdotes of his days playing with jazz legends including Teddy Wilson and Milt Jackson before setting off on some fantastic musical performances. Browne read snippets of poetry between songs too, often accompanied by one of his musicians, making for laconic Australian spoken word.
The first set was blistering, with one ten-minute jam beginning its life as a 1920s New Orleans rag before melding seamlessly into a slice of Charlie Parker-esque bebop, then finishing with a soul jazz swirl.
Guitarist Geoff Hughes was versatile throughout, equal parts George Benson and Lee Underwood, Tim Buckley’s long-time collaborator. His moody playing helped set the tone for the sadder tales Browne shared throughout the show.
After the interval, the band tapped into a free jazz vein and they deviated only slightly until the end of the show. Alto sax man Phil Noy shone as his Cannonball-influenced licks combined nicely with the experimental nature of the music. The highlight of the second set was a tribute to New York hard bop legend Mal Waldron which showcased both Browne’s use of the kit and trumpeter Eugene Ball’s timbre in a hauntingly beautiful free jazz soundscape.
A fantastic way to begin the Chapel Off Chapel performances of the festival, Browne’s idiosyncratic manner and the dynamics of the group were a joy to behold. If you would like to hear more of Allan Browne and his bands, head to Bennett’s Lane where he plays a residency every Monday except the first Monday of each month- do your ears the favour.