While it’s been a six-year gap between releases, Andrew Murray, the force behind big band jazz group ATM15, has been far from idle. ATM15’s 2010 debut, Big Band Reborn, delivered a groove-based update of the big band format. But Murray’s since shifted his focus towards writing and arranging music based on more traditional forms of ensemble jazz.
“It’s drawing influences from the more contemporary big band composers such as Thad Jones, Maria Schneider and traditional people like Duke Ellington and Gil Evans,” says Murray. “It probably took maybe three to four years to compile enough original compositions to create a whole album.”
The result of that writing process is Human Music, ATM15’s sophomore long player, which the band will be launching with a show at Stonnington Jazz on Saturday May 21. Throughout the writing process, the 15-piece group remained active, holding down a two-year residency at the Royal Derby Hotel in Fitzroy that enabled them to road test new material as it was being conceived.
“When you are working on a scale of that many musicians, it really takes a long time for the songs to settle in and for everyone to get familiar with the repertoire. So it was pretty fortunate that we had that opportunity,” says Murray.
This experience fed directly into the recording process, with Murray trying to replicate the live setup in order to give preference to feel over a technically pristine sound. “We tried to do everything at once. I don’t think there’s any overdubs on the album this time. I wanted the emphasis to just be on giving me heaps of energy, dynamics and musicality,” says Murray.
This mission also gave the album its title, which is a reflection of lessons learnt along the way. “On our last album we went to town with all the editing and digital manipulation that you can do and I didn’t really like the outcome,” Murray says. “I wanted to make it sound like humans were playing the music. That’s where Human Music came from.”
From a young age Murray learnt a variety of instruments, making use of those available in his high school music room and pursuing live performance across multiple genres. This was an essential experience that gave him the knowledge to write for multiple instruments, as well as the language to be able to communicate those ideas to the players.
“I’ve spent a long time learning how to arrange and gaining a big love for this kind of music. Eventually it really does start to feel like your own instrument, just a big band.”
Having moved to Melbourne from WA eight years ago, Murray has witnessed the city’s jazz scene continue to blossom in exciting ways. “The younger generation in the scene are hungry for it to happen, and if you have that hunger you are out there trying to create opportunities, and that has a big overall impact on everyone around you.”
This is something Murray has witnessed in his other role as leader of the house band at the recently opened Bird’s Basement jazz club. This position has him not only creating new music on a weekly basis, but also collaborating with guest vocalists once a month, an idea he has also pursued in ATM15 with singer Hue Blanes. Blanes will feature in the second half of the album launch set, performing previous collaborations with the group as well as some of his original compositions arranged for the band. Before that happens ATM15 will play the entirety of Human Music, a prospect that Murray is personally excited about, considering the acoustic properties of the venue, Chapel Off Chapel.
“The opportunity to perform it at a bigger scale and venue where people are specifically coming out to listen gives you more scope with planning the set. It’s going to be a great listening experience.”
BY ALEX WATTS
ATM15 with special guest Hue Blanes will launch Human Music as part of Stonnington Jazz at Chapel Off Chapel on Saturday May 21.