Grabowsky, Morrison, Kram: A Chat with The Others
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Grabowsky, Morrison, Kram: A Chat with The Others

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Casting my mind back to the 2017 Wangaratta Jazz Festival, I remember the reaction to the debut performance by The Others – an unlikely trio featuring Paul Grabowsky, James Morrison, and Kram of Spiderbait fame. The trio received acclaim following the performance, despite some confusion surrounding the general concept of these three musicians – from quite different backgrounds – improvising together.

This month’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival will give The Others another opportunity to explore the bounds of their music. Speaking with both Kram and Grabowsky about their approach to this group, they remain incredibly enthusiastic about the continually flourishing dynamic between the three.

“There’s a great sense of quality in the group,” Kram says. “I always think of that when we’re playing together. I’ve been in a trio for so many years and Spiderbait is a similar energy; the great thing about trios is that there’s all these different connections.

“There’s this real interconnectivity, which I think works great for improvisation. I really noticed, playing with them, just how different my playing is. If I’m playing with Paul and James, how I play my instrument is very different to how I play with Janet and Whit [in Spiderbait].”

On their critics and the idea of presenting this type of music at festivals like the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Grabowsky ponders on the idea of purism.

“Jazz is one of those art forms that attracts what I call ‘the trainspotters’, the people who know every recording and every take on every recording. They exchange information on a very micro-level. That is attached to, I think, a very specific way of looking at what jazz is. These people have got a very fixed view, sometimes, about that. I’ve never really subscribed to that idea,” he says.

“I started playing jazz as a more-or-less conventional jazz pianist, attempting to convey that tradition. I came to understand over the years that jazz is, for me at least, a word that describes a process. The process is about improvising and it’s about drawing on different traditions, whatever the traditions are, that are authentic to your method of expression. A project like The Others enables three of us to come from our respective places. Even within the jazz world, James and I represent quite different points of view and styles. James is generally known for being what most people would regard as ‘the mainstream’. A lot of what I do sits quite outside that. Under this umbrella of jazz, we’re able to bring what we do with a will to making music together as a band.”

After recording together a number of years ago, being able to bring this music into the live sphere was an accomplishment of its own.

“It was a breakthrough for us to finally play a gig,” Grabowsky says. “We’d done the recording several years ago, but to play it live really subjected the whole concept; it was the testing of the hypothesis. Will this work, or will they go, ‘Who do these jokers think they are?’”

“I didn’t think of that until after. It could’ve been a bit shit if we fucked it up,” Kram laughs. “I wasn’t sure if the audience would dig it, but I knew I would. I was surprised at how I naturally gravitated towards the audience. I thought I’d be a lot more introspective, but as soon as you’re on stage in front of a thousand people it’s like, ‘Alright – let’s fucking do this.’

“It’s taking me happily to another zone,” Kram says, comparing this experience to his rock background. “I wouldn’t say the word ‘comfort’, because I like the risk and reward of this group. You literally walk out of a full house of people and you have no idea what’s going to happen. I always feel there’s a sense of responsibility as well; the best way to make this magic is to look deep into myself and start playing something, but also to listen to what the other guys are doing and communicate. Through that, just like a conversation or any interaction, just let it happen. It starts to work by itself.”