Benjamin Hauptmann is a performer who quietly, but forcefully, demands an audience’s attention through his masterful solos and lush atmospheric textures. His voice is always one to be heard and his total command over his guitar sounds is a thing to be revered.
So when it was announced that he would soon be releasing his second album, Lekker, naturally I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of the CD and to experience it performed live at Saturday’s album launch.
The Sydney Improvised Music Association teamed up with FBi Social to hold the event at their Kings Cross location, rather than their regular home at the Seymour Centre’s Sound Lounge. I’m not normally to be found at night on the streets of Kings Cross but I could not have been happier about the location change. Given the enormous sound of Danaïdes and Hauptmann’s own band, the alternate venue was simply more appropriate.
Can’t say if this was an attempt to distance this music from the jazz scene or eliminate the boundaries and preconceptions that confine jazz and jazz-related music to restaurant-style venues like the Basement, 505 and the Sound Lounge. I would welcome the latter.
The evening began with the always charming Luke Escombe as the night’s MC who ever-so-eloquently introduced each band in verse form.
First up was Danaïdes — a band formerly known as the Alcohotlicks, and also a project of Hauptmann’s. In all the years I have been following this band, that also features Aaron Flower and Evan Mannell, this was the tightest performance of theirs I have ever seen. With their rebranding and new artistic direction, it was immediately apparent that Danaïdes have a new air about them and have formed an even more coherent, solidified unit.
Despite the shift towards a new electronic sound evident in songs like “Baader” and “Neon”, it was pleasing to see they could still include old favourites such as “Hot in Hell” (an indirect tribute to American duo Hella) in their set.
On to the main event and nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
Imagine you have just watched a David Attenborough documentary and the following week you decide to travel to Africa to see the wildlife yourself. For me, seeing an all-star band including Harry Sutherland, Franco Raggatt, Dan Junor, Evan Mannell, James Hauptmann and Jonathan Zwartz perform the music from Lekker live was the sonic equivalent.
Hauptmann takes the listener on a futuristic kind of musical journey across (at least) three continents: the first stop is Africa with songs “Walk”, “Salad For Now” and “KT”. Think Paul Simon, but less boring. Despite the heavy use of synthesisers and MIDI instruments, Hauptmann and his band manage to create a very fresh and organic sound that is also dirty, swampy and raw.
“Justice”, the album’s single (if you could call it that), is a sneaky little homage to the French electronic music duo of the same name. Like Justice and other European artists such as Kavinsky, Digitalism and Daft Punk (before they went all disco), Hauptmann takes the electronic sounds of the ’80s in one hand and physically squeezes them into the heavy rock context sitting in the palm of his other hand, creating a filthy (but beautiful) new sound.
Likewise, “Ry” tips the hat to legendary guitarist Ry Cooder. Live, this tune picked up and transported the audience to its next location. A definite highlight of the evening, his solo soared majestically through the air, each note like a passing cloud against a blue sky. This is Hauptmann at his most expressive.
Ben Hauptmann is an evidently natural performer. He always seems at home on stage and not merely for the fact that his MIDI You Rock guitar is comparable in size and aesthetic to a Guitar Hero controller.
The beauty in his music is always presented effortlessly and no matter how hard and how deep he digs to express himself with his musical voice, his words are never forced.
Lekker is an album that deserves your attention and if ever you are presented with the opportunity to see Ben Hauptmann play this music live, you’d be wise to seize it.