Take a journey into outer space with this jazz quartet


Music writers and critics review four new albums, including Ephemera Quartet’s Blackholes and Modulations; the latest offering from Sydney husband-and-wife duo Gavin and Niyati Libotte, Goldfynch; the familiar tones of Joan Armatrading’s voice on Consequences; and Melbourne-born, New York-based musician Chet Faker reconnects with a rootsy Byron Bay sound on Hotel Surrender.

Ephemera Quartet somehow escapes the laws of gravity, while taking inspiration from the night sky.

Ephemera Quartet somehow escapes the laws of gravity, while taking inspiration from the night sky.Credit:Phyllis Photography.

Ephemera Quartet, Blackholes and Modulations (ephemeraensemble.com) ★★★★


Ephemera, always outward-reaching conceptually, has now expanded in size from a trio to a quartet with the addition of violist Carl St Jacques, and the sonic options have grown exponentially. As on the band’s first album, composer Keyna Wilkins takes her inspiration from the wonders and enigmas of the astronomical universe, and, perhaps unremarkably, the end result is music of peculiar depth and mystery that somehow evades the laws of gravity. Her own piano and flutes are joined by Elsen Price’s double bass (sometimes with looping) and trumpeter Will Gilbert, along with St Jacques’ viola and recordings from NASA of both space missions and deep space sounds. Apollo Mission, for instance, uses audio from the first moon landing, which could easily been a gauche option, but Wilkins not only evades that trap, she restores the sense of wonder we felt at the time the landing happened. The quartet can achieve a surprisingly orchestral sweep, whether playing improvised or fully notated music, partly because of Wilkins’ instrument-swapping and partly because an abundance of solo sections (notably Price on Mercury Vista) and duets amplifies the impact of the trios and quartets. John Shand

Goldfynch, Goldfynch (goldfynchmusic.com) ★★★½

Goldfynch may be a recent collaboration for husband-and-wife duo Gavin and Niyati Libotte, but neither is a stranger to Sydney’s contemporary music scene. Achieving success in previous projects The Urban Gypsies and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Libottes are now focusing on brand new original material that showcases their love of storytelling and soul-baring. With its dreamy combination of acoustic guitar, whispering flute motifs, murmuring trumpet lines and cello harmonies, Goldfynch has a fairytale-like whimsy, bolstered all the more by Niyati’s lyrical narratives. Ballooning over Paris is every bit as adventurous as it sounds, with its soft bossa groove evoking just a hint of Sinatra when Niyati sings, “Then let’s head to Peru, via Machu Picchu”. Comparisons to Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones also wouldn’t go astray, as jazz intersects with Latin influences and a distinct pop sensibility, while the closing Illumination is an unexpectedly upbeat Latin-funk number, after the ballad-permeated track list. Although undeniably oozing talent, the band still sounds like it is finding its way creatively: the genre-hopping is effortless, but the restless shifting never quite lets us get a hold on who Goldfynch really is. Jessie Cunniffe

Joan Armatrading, Consequences (BMG) ★★★

There is a certainty to what Joan Armatrading does. From that commanding voice to the way that these new songs exist above, or beyond, the world of 2020 and 2021, Consequences comes at us on its own terms. Armatrading, who eschews the personal, sings of characters who are in love at an instant, in a trough of despair, or in the satisfaction of established love. And, with as little fussiness as there is in the language, she offers a straightforward sense that things will be fine, or at least bearable. Also without fuss, Armatrading offers melodies that feel solid and seasoned, but she builds them with imaginative arrangements that can comfortably accommodate low-humming electronics and bass-prominent ska; a moody groove that implies heaviness, or an instrumental that leans into northern folk. And across it all her voice is a comfort as well as a leader, which is no small thing to balance. So there is no obvious reason to drag down this skilfully done album, yet as hard as I tried, I could not find any ways in which it was elevated above solid. But Armatrading has long done things her way, and it has worked. Why should this time be any different? Bernard Zuel