For this Adelaide Cabaret Festival show, artistic director Ali McGregor gathered together four musicians – jazz vocalist Emma Pask, singer-songwriter Jamie MacDowell, beatboxer Tom Thum and multi-instrumental looping artist Adam Page – to create her own version of what Simon Cowell might call a “superband”.
Unlike with Cowell’s famed One Direction – the boy band that worked because its inexperienced members were all so similar and marketable and would do whatever the execs asked them to do – McGregor chose these musicians because they’re so different from one another, experienced in their genre and unique in terms of their artistry. Then she told them to make some festival music.
What happened on stage was Big Sound, somewhere along the lines of a fresh kind of acid jazz where beatboxing and scatting are inevitable.
Hailing from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, respectively, these four artists came together for the sole purpose of creating this show (although Tom Thum and MacDowell are a regular duo). What this meant for the audience was that we were watching creativity in the moment, witnessing real-time art-making, seeing how musicians inspire one another – and damn did these four have fun.
You might remember ARIA-nominated Pask from season two of The Voice, although that underplays someone who’s performed for the late Princess Di and Prince Charles, as well as at the wedding of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. MacDowell and Thum are Triple J Unearthed artists, popular at festivals around the world and, when not playing as a duo, are each revered in their own right. Tom Thum also has one of the most watched TedX talks in history.
Page is a composer as well as a million other musical things, and when watching the four musicians on stage, there was a sense that he had a firm handle on how to get it right and keep it tight. That said, there was no leader, no frontperson, nobody outdoing any of the others because it was pure collaboration, each musician bringing their individual influences and histories together.
The stage was set with a couch and beanbag, creating that basement rehearsal feel, and the lights were of ’80s disco jazz, so the overall feel was intimate yet stylised.
The house was packed and everyone clearly loved the performance but none more so than the musicians themselves, who claimed to “hope the show has legs”, meaning perhaps they’ll keep working together as a quartet. I hope so, too.
See more Adelaide Cabaret Festival coverage here.
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