Future Now @ The Forum
Last Friday night, The Forum held one of the most anticipated concerts of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Future Now, a collective show headed by Robert Glasper Experiment with support from Jose James and Taylor McFerrin, proved a true testament to how we struggle to accurately define jazz. It wasn’t your typical jazz concert, filling the huge Forum, not just with the middle-aged brandy-drinking suits and VCA alumni, but regular Vultures with regular haircuts and an appreciation of lager and sport.
Maybe this generalisation is a bit unfair; jazz can be every-man’s music too can’t it? Taylor McFerrin opened the night up, and performed a half hour set of totally improvised material. A beat boxer, with some serious chops on the computer and his pile of electric pianos, McFerrin worked the set and crowd into a bass induced euphoria. Signed to the influential Brainfeeder label (Flying Lotus, Teebs, Lapalux to name a few), McFerrin’s beats were deliciously wonky, with soulful chords and plenty of proper, incredible beat boxing (not the rubbish you hear some pleb doing on Australia’s Got Talent). With a set that ebbed and flowed between epic beats and chilled out pads with subtle clicks and clacks making up the rhythm, McFerrin’s set was over before the Vulture could say ‘bowlcut’. It was hard to call it particularly jazzy, with only the occasional jazz influenced solo, but that didn’t seem to matter as it showed how ambiguous Jazz can be. It also showed some balls from the festival organisers to put on, what was essentially an electronic artist.
Jose James followed up with a more traditional RnB future-soul set. James’ vocals soared throughout the set, however he was able to graciously give up the stage for a whole song as his backing band took it in turns to have a solo, highlighted by the drummer Nate Smith, who beat the skins with the skills that weirdly reminded the Vulture of a talented Iron Chef contestant. James’ modern jazz sound perfectly segued from Taylor McFerrin’s more electronic set, and it was no surprise when McFerrin came back on stage to have a jam with James.
Even the DJs knew what was going on, playing James Blake’s ‘CMYK’ but mixing it into Good Bad Not Good’s jazz cover, and playing various other part jazz-part electronic songs, typical of the night.
Next up was the main act, Robert Glasper Experiment. The set started out with gusto, Glasper showing why he has such an international reputation as one of the finest jazz pianists at the moment. His stage setup was extremely strange however, a drummer, a bassist, himself on piano and Rhodes keyboard and… a man with a big Mohawk playing a keytar and a vocoder. This was refreshing and pretty exciting for the first few spacey jazz tunes, but the Vulture tired of this. The vocoder was only partly cool in that Imogen Heap song. And ‘Woods’ by Bon Iver. However it becomes annoying pretty quickly. The set took on a life of its own, as Glasper would play for up to twenty minutes without stopping or acknowledging the audience. Some songs took on a free jazz vibe, with Mohawk doing a five minute sax solo through an octave pedal that simultaneously stunned and appalled, as a clear divide appeared in the audience; those who were keen on this strangeness, and the more pure types who found it repulsive. Is atonal mess really musically satisfying for some? There was one man with a trilby and his scarf around his neck trying to boogie, but got disorientated by the weird melodies and had to sit down before he spilt his pinot.
Bassist Derrick Hodge played a solo at the beginning of one of the songs, which was utterly amazing, showing incredible skill and musical finesse. However the damage had already been done, as the more alienated of the crowd began talking up the back, echoing through the enormous Forum and pretty much ruining the solo.
The Vulture was left wondering whether The Forum was an appropriate venue for a jazz concert, it’s size making it feel more like a rock concert.
However, over all, it was an excellent night, Future Now emphatically stamping their place on the future jazz/electronica/ hip hop circuit. Genre bending, quite challenging at times, but generally very satisfying.