At Topology gigs, it’s always fun to do a little people-watching. Their audience is a fascinating mixture of subcultures and you’ll see classical fans, jazz heads, and rock geeks mingling (with appropriate social distancing this time, of course); the Brisbane-based quintet attracts a gathering of people with an interest in just about any musical style you can name, rather like Topology themselves. Consequently, their music is rather difficult to neatly pin down. There’s sometimes sheet music involved, so it’s clearly classical…right? The vibe, though, is closer to that of a hard-hitting and virtuosic jazz sesh rather than a typical classical ensemble.
This concert (and regional Queensland tour) is in support of their 16th album We Will Rise, and is intended as somewhat of an act of healing; the media release for the album states that it “has thematic links to the existential threat of climate disruption and the need for strength, hope, fortitude and resilience in order for recovery and collective healing”, after the onslaught of, well, everything in 2020. The album is essentially a themed best-of, although it does feature one new track with the intriguing title of Drought Stories Texas.
The other big draw for this performance (and for a handful of other stops on the We Will Rise tour) is the addition of drummer extraordinaire Grant Collins. If you’ve never seen him play before, the man’s ability to play the most complex polyrhythms with the greatest of ease is absolutely astounding. Separate time signatures with each limb? No problem at all.
The concert began with Two-Punk Fun. The piece (as well as the title) is an anagram of Bruno Mars’ 2015 hit Uptown Funk with splintered fragments of the original song’s hooks flashing in and out. Saxophonist John Babbage’s Millennium Bug showcased pianist Therese Milanovic’s sensitive touch, highlighting the uncertainties of 1999 (remember worrying about the millennium?), before turning to the new Drought Stories Texas. I’ll be interested to see what happens with this one, since this is apparently part of a larger-scale release happening in 2021, which Limelight reported on May. Topology accompanied and duetted with a mini-documentary discussing droughts in Texas, Queensland, and while I suspect the piece was worthy, the mixing here blasted the volume of the spoken passages far above the instruments to the point where I couldn’t tell you much of what they were doing.
Grant Collins came onstage for the impressive Tourbillon, named after a watch-making component, before turning to the rhythmic in-joke of You May Laugh. The trick with this one is that the groove switches from a very square emphasis on beats 1 and 3 before neatly flipping to beats 2 and 4.
Topology and bassist Rob Davidson have played with the idea of using words and speech in music before, writing music that outlines that exact melodic shape of speeches or statements. Davidson gave an excellent demonstration of this, asking for someone from the audience to say “anything at all”. “Anything at all!” one wag shouted, which Davidson promptly (and accurately!) imitated on his double bass.
They played three of these pieces – We Will Rise itself, based on a speech by Depression-era PM James Scullin, MLK, and a piece based on Greta Thunberg’s famous How Dare You speech. These are fascinating pieces, showing that there is indeed music in everything we hear, if we listen carefully enough, and hearing the initial speeches expand and transform into music is quite remarkable.
Grant Collins re-joined the ensemble for the brain-bending time-signature mash-up One Day Gavin Stomach, before Topology concluded with two pieces (movements?) from their 2013 album Ten Hands.
Topology is touring around regional Queensland and playing at some venues that certainly don’t often get the kinds of interesting performance that major cities do. If you’re at all interested in hearing the sort of unique and unusual sounds that a crack classical/jazz/rock/genre-less ensemble can make, you owe it to yourself to check this out. A great introduction to an ensemble at the top of their game.