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Great Waitress - back, before CD

Great Waitress - back, before CD

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"There’s a relationship between a music performance and a written-word account of that performance. But words arrive well after the experience has been abstracted, verbalised and written down and, although words do achieve something, doing justice to the experience of listening to this Great Waitress recording with them is an uphill battle. A favoured criterion I’ve lately adopted as to what constitutes ‘good’ music is that it should affirm the need for humans to make it; I should be able to intuit from listening: ‘this is why humans make and need music.’ This is how I feel when I listen to 'back, before.'

"I believe there’s a strong formal aspect to the trio format in music. It tends to allow for a complex autonomy of constituent parts yet still succeeds in creating a recognisable ‘whole’. Great Waitress have a strong identity, one that transcends the individual contributions of Mayas, Altman and Brooks. It’s an identity made from a multi-dimensional counterpoint—timbral, rhythmic, harmonic, melodic, emotional...—that results in an ever-evolving gestalt.

"It seems effortless the way Great Waitress’s music plays out; the way the various strands intertwine to inhabit a particular sonic area, for just the right amount of time, before shifting apart to explore other combinations. The music moves as if left to its own devices. That’s not to say there’s no human decision making: sections end and new material is brought into play, consciously. I detect a loose episodic structure that is in no way premeditated or explained verbally prior to the performance. The decisions to shift are felt, in the moment, by each player and are dependent on a shared, non-verbal, understanding of the unfolding context. Here I run up against the difficulty of explaining with words a form of communication that takes place without them. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that Great Waitress are able to make this extraordinary music in large part due to the trust Mayas, Altman and Brooks have in each other and the group as a whole.

"There is also a respect for the fundamentals of music making. Mayas has an impressive array of techniques, preparations and tools at her disposal. These she utilises with a strong formal syntax and a deep understanding of musical space. Often several elements are incorporated together in sustained passages; elements each with their own timbre, envelope, and amplitude, each with their own rhythmic and melodic phrasing or pitch variations. Some are recognisably pianistic, others orchestral, metallic or electronic sounding. Altman’s clarinet playing is powerfully affecting. Sometimes I hear proto speechifying; sometimes there’s avian-like phrasing; sometimes she plays long held notes that microtonally ‘beat’ against other sustained notes or arc across the developing strands of the sound world. Brooks’ accordion playing is always understated and occupies a vital dimension. The long-held chords are like the stretched-out breath of the group, made all the more compelling by the seeming effortlessness of their making. The instrument’s sound is more translucent than Altman’s clarinet, it seems to disappear and reappear—diaphanous, a slow swaying curtain.

"The Annandale Creative Arts Centre, where these pieces were recorded, is an old church hall in the inner west of Sydney. I was in the audience that night. It’s on a busy main street where cars pass by, their rumble barely filtered by the stained-glass windows. When I listen to this recording, I can hear the room. I hear its high ceilings when Mayas’ percussive utterances fly off into the dark reverb. I hear audience footsteps and coughing. Even a Google map direction blurts from a forgotten mobile phone. Yet none of this seems like an interruption, nothing damages the performance’s aura. External sound phenomena are subsumed by a music that welcomes any wayward noise, clothing it instantly in its mystery and beauty. The musicians can’t put a foot wrong, because the whole concept of ‘wrong feet’ is anathema to their ideology."

Chris Abrahams
October 2021