Soft-spoken Grabowsky slides effortlessly between gentle tinkering to thunderous flourishes, his face a physical contortion of accents, beats and rhythms.
Like a confluence of perfect trifectas, pianist Paul Grabowsky, tenor saxophonist Mirko Guerrini and drummer Niko Schauble cap off a Friday already buzzing with Grand Final eve fever, a public holiday and summery warmth.
Paul Grabowsky Trio are fresh off a tour in Japan, Grabowsky explains how the trio are recalibrating: "We had to fill in a 25-minute slot and wondered what to play because you would need 25 hours of jazz to make your argument," he jokes in their welcome address. Despite Grabowsky's admission that the trio also encountered a similar dilemma in preparing for tonight's one-hour performance, they still kick off the NGV's new Friday Nights season with a shrewd selection of a half dozen tracks that provide just a mere taste of their talents. "We enjoy exploring ideas of jazz and other music... having fun, mixing them."
Performing original compositions that offer generous room for each musician to deliver a rhapsodic soliloquy, it is obvious that the three share a strong, highly attuned connection. Their opening track, Schauble's 2nd Exit, is moderately moody and gently contemplative. Guerrini — who had so impressively guested with Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda barely four months ago at Melbourne International Jazz Festival — is fast becoming a much sought-after contributor within the local jazz community. His self-penned Somewhere Sometime produces the desired traversing effect — one that Grabowsky predicts would be "perfect for a room such as this". "Once you are in that zone," he then warns, "you would not want to leave". A smoky, sonorous number, it does justice to the hallowed Great Hall and sets up a good contrast to the lively Italianate-inspired track that follows. One of Grabowsky's own offerings is almost Hitchcockian in elements, playfully taking us down dark, twisting corridors and surprising us at every turn with its quick switches in tempo and nuanced hooks. They visibly enjoy a jam session in a rapid-paced number, with Grabowsky's sticky keys and Schauble's rutes producing a highly feverish effect.
Swathed in evening glamour, the audience — chilled and glowing — lean in towards the tiny stage in reverence. Some even shush sternly at ecstatic murmurs rising from the bar during the intermittent holds.
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Soft-spoken Grabowsky slides effortlessly between gentle tinkering to thunderous flourishes, his face a physical contortion of accents, beats and rhythms. Schauble, a long-time collaborator, fearlessly stretches the physical limits of his drum kit — never missing a micro second where a little incessant rap with the hard sticks or a shimmery rustle of a brush on the hi-hat could polish off a harmony. Guerrini rounds them off with his classy, brassy repartee.
The hour flies by all too quickly, but the aforementioned argument is already won. With her renowned, voracious taste for the highly refined, Catherine The Great would have proudly annexed Paul Grabowsky Trio as another jeweled addition to her Hermitage collection.