Swooping Duck: the jazz trio painting with sound and making colours sing

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Swooping Duck: the jazz trio painting with sound and making colours sing

Words by Zachary Snowdon Smith

If you love hallucinatory light shows but hate the Grateful Dead, Stonnington Jazz has a show just for you. Three-piece Swooping Duck, known for their provocative improvisations, will be serving up a synaesthetic multimedia experience designed to give listeners a peek into a dimension of pure jazz.

“It gets heavy, it gets dreamy, it gets weird, it gets chill,” bassist Paul Bender says. “We will play ‘Autumn Leaves’ exactly zero times.”

For Jazz in Colour, the band is teaming up with multimedia artist Lloyd Marsden, better known as Zero Crossing. During the show, Zero Crossing’s visuals will respond in real-time to music by Swooping Duck. Bender is looking forward to seeing the visuals – if he gets the chance.

“That’s the weird thing about the visual component of a show: the musician isn’t standing out the front watching it, so you miss out on that,” he says. “If it’s a really, really good, high-tech show, like Timeboy did for us at Sydney Opera House – [it’ll] basically be the most disorientating, rainbow mindfuck ever. I felt like I was on acid inside Pac-Man, and also going blind from being shot in the face with lasers. That kind of thing definitely keeps you hyped up during the gig.”

Swooping Duck are experienced collaborators, having worked with hip hop artist Little Simz, multi-instrumentalist Taylor Crawford and doyen of the drumkit Greg Sheehan. While the band are known first and foremost as improvisors, Jazz in Colour will combine improvisation with highly arranged music – it’s up to the audience to see if they can tell the difference.

“Those days of 100 percent improv purism are over,” Bender says. “Sometimes you need a break from ever looming total failure to chill out and play something that you all know. I think it’s interesting for the audience, too, not knowing which parts are improv and which aren’t. It gives you the opportunity as a musician to hit people hard with something you know works and then head into the unknown and there’s still the potential for absolutely unpredictable and sometimes transcendent things to happen.”

The three members of Swooping Duck are also members of Grammy-nominated future-soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote, as well as innumerable other side projects. As Bender and keyboardist Simon Mavin work on albums with the Putbacks and Laneous & The Family Yah, drummer Perrin Moss contributes to a Cleveraustin record and all three are caught up in recording with Hiatus Kaiyote – it’s no surprise that Swooping Duck’s debut record is taking a while to come together. Although the album doesn’t yet have a title or a release date, Bender assures us that a Swooping Duck release is on the way.

“It’s a wild, busy time,” Bender says. “Maybe the record should be called Time Management is Hard: Volume II: The Reckoning.”

In the meantime, Swooping Duck are putting together a mixtape with material culled from years’ worth of live and studio recordings.

“It was actually ridiculously traumatic, to be honest, listening through so many hours of pure improv,” Bender says. “It’s hilarious and depressing, the realities of trying to make something sound composed out of literally guesswork and intuition and whatever you know how to do. But then there’s some gold that you conjured out of nothing. So we made a little story out of our favourite bits of that stuff for the mixtape.”

Despite the technical challenges posed by his upcoming Stonnington performance, Bender is glad to be spending more time on stage.

“I’m just happy to be getting out of the house, you feel me?” Bender says. “I haven’t been on tour for real in a little while and sometimes I miss it. Touring is the extroverted side and studio is more introverted. I think you need a bit of both in your life.”

Jazz in Colour’s rhythmic, adrenalin-laced jazz and kaleidoscopic visuals should appeal to any muso with an appreciation for strange and risky creation, not just to dyed-in-the-wool jazz fans.

“I was told that, if you can’t sing Miles’ solo from ‘So What’, security will escort you from the premises,” Bender jokes. “You will be tested, and, if you’re not willing to put in a little effort, you only have yourself to blame.”