In a head-bopping nod to the obvious, The Vampires play vamps. Yet, these are no ordinary vamps. Written and improvised melodies are beautiful and flawless, and the harmonies between the three voices (woodwinds, brass, bass) ring with pitch-perfect sonority. There is a sublime pacing to each of the tunes here, with strategic shifts in texture, tonality, tonality, rhythm or intensity twisting the narrative of each hypnotic groove into an ever-unfolding and irresistible arc.
**** Gary Fukushima, Downbeat, 4 stars
Published in Downbeat Magazine, July 2019
Those unfamiliar with this Australian band might wonder about the origin of its name. But the mystery’s quickly resolved with a cursory listen: the utilization of an array of interesting ostinato bass patterns by Sydney native and current Los Angeles stalwart Alex Boneham, buoyed by Alex Masso’s crisp grooves, and overlaid with spacious melodies and harmonies from trumpeter Nick Garbett and saxophonist, label-runner and otherwise alpha-bat Jeremy Rose.
In a head-bopping nod to the obvious, The Vampires play vamps. Yet, these are no ordinary vamps. Written and improvised melodies are beautiful and flawless, and the harmonies between the three voices (woodwinds, brass, bass) ring with pitch-perfect sonority. There is a sublime pacing to each of the tunes here, with strategic shifts in texture, tonality, rhythm or intensity twisting the narrative of each hypnotic groove into an ever-unfolding and irresistible arc. For the most part, the band sticks to its chordless quartet and judicious use of long-tail reverb. Yet, The Vampires’ greatest appeal is how it manages to be artful, not haughty. Unlike the band’s namesake, these killer players won’t put listeners in mortal peril, choosing instead to slay with impeccable wit and relentless congeniality.
"This is such a good album that it's difficult to know which superlatives to start with.... This is state-of-the-art modern jazz at the highest level"
Eric Myers, The Australian (4 1/2 stars)
Published in the Weekend Australian, February 23, 2019
This is such a good album that it’s difficult to know which superlatives to start with. The Vampires are four exceptionally brilliant Australian jazz musicians, all in their early 30s: saxophonist Jeremy Rose, trumpeter Nick Garbett, bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Alex Masso. It’s an album of 14 tracks, with seven compositions by Rose, and two each from Garbett and Boneham. The three short percussion tracks from Masso suggest that he’s a creative student of African rhythms, and also point to one of the group’s principal strengths: their unusually sophisticated rhythmic time-feels. I’ve not heard before some of Masso’s innovative drum patterns in the ensembles, but they are natural outgrowths from the jazz tradition. It may be counter-intuitive to say that The Vampires’ music is innovative and yet at the same time traditional, but those two terms are not necessarily contradictory. This is a balance which only the finest jazz musicians achieve. There is something distinctive or original on virtually every track. Rose and Garbett have an unusually rich trumpet/saxophone sound together, and their empathy is palpable in the music. Of course The Vampires have been together for over ten years, and this is their seventh album. To my ears, the most infectious tracks are Garbett’s Don Pacifico (note its groove) and Boneham’s West Mass (note its beautiful time-feel). I couldn’t wait to go back and hear them again and again. This is state of the art modern jazz at the highest level, ticking many boxes, but at the same time it is unusually melodic and, dare I say, accessible to the average ear. I would not be surprised to hear that The Vampires have dedicated fans throughout the world.
“Not only is the composing and improvising exceptional, it’s the Vampires’ best-recorded album, too… carrying faint (and thrilling) echoes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.”
John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald 4 stars
Published May 4-5 2019
This is the first Vampires opus to feel more like a destination than a journey. That destination still has multifarious influences, but you sense a band that has moved beyond trying to be something, and is now a project allowing the four members fully to express their individual musicality within the shared love of reggae, Afro-beat and jazz. Three texturally and polyrhythmically intriguing percussion interludes from Alex Masso set this new tone of the band being more at ease in its own skin, so when the multi-tracking, electric bass and dub devices arrive, they seem natural; inevitable, even.
The music remains rhythmically vibrant throughout, as on Jeremy Rose’s evocative The View from Fez, which is followed by the skimming jazz of Liberty?, carrying faint (and thrilling) echoes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Bassist Alex Boneham contributes as a composer for the first time, including the lushly textured, hypnotic West Mass., with Rose’s bass clarinet and Nick Garbett’s muted trumpet spiraling airily around each other over a backdrop that includes Rose on piano. Not only is the composing and improvising exceptional, it’s the Vampires’ best-recorded album, too.
“simpler nature, yet equally expressive soundscapes… reminiscent of the fusion 'milestone' Bitches Brew”
Freidrich Kunzman, 4 stars
Published March 30 2019
While The Vampires' last venture The Vampires meet Lionel Loueke(earshift music, 2017) saw the Australian quartet collaborating with Beninese guitar virtuoso Lionel Loueke in a run of colorfully diverse tunes and extensive structures, their newest one finds them dialing things back to a simpler nature, yet equally expressive soundscapes.
One of the main things that manifests itself straight from the start is the powerfully upfront and modern production. Loud claps and compressed snare bumps, matched by continuous high-head hits that evoke similarities to minimal house music, are joined by strikingly straightforward basslines to the catchy melody of the pseudo-title track "Don Pacifico." To complete the picture, saxophone and trumpet become more and more drenched in an echoey pool of delay as the song progresses, recalling strong Afrobeat influences. But main writers, saxophonist Jeremy Rose and trumpeter Nick Garbett, have more in store than glamorous production tricks. Their intimate conversation on "Little Mountain" is merely a hint at how well they are able to run complementary lines by each other. Exhibitions like "Annica" or "Overnight" further elaborate this notion, in frames of subtle melodies and progressions. On "West Mass," Rose and Garbett join the percussive rhythm section by echoing one another's motifs in a call-and-response fashion. The atmospheric nature of the monotonous and robust bass line, combined with the screeching brass and wood, is reminiscent of the fusion 'milestone' Bitches Brew(Columbia Records, 1969).
Like "West Mass," some of the compositions on the album can more likely be considered as sketches, jams or interludes, not only due to a shorter running time but mostly because of their improvisatory and otherwise minimal nature. "Our music has always been about creating snapshots: places we've been to, people we've met, musical cultures that fascinated us, drawing from all corners of the world" Jeremy Rose says. Placed in between standout compositions, such as the bass and melody driven "Lahinch" or the free and jumpy "Vampage," the short outtakes make for a diverse and light listening experience.
The most impressive aspect of The Vampires has to do with the dichotomy between rhythm section and leads. Only very few musicians seem aware of how much very little is capable of summoning. Bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Alex Masso prove to belong to the minority who understand the value of understated grooves. The elegant melodies performed and developed over this crisp foundation by sax and trumpet make for a most pleasant listening experience.