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"Space Invaders Mind The Gap"

The Basement, November 11
Music is the imaginative interruption of silence. The space (or lack of it) around notes defines music as much as the notes themselves, helping delineate rhythm, phrasing, mood and drama.
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Perhaps it is a cosmic witticism for a band as attuned to the use of space as Baecastuff to often leave big gaps between performances and recordings over its 14 years.
They aired two pieces penned by a forebear of Baecastuff's leader and saxophonist, Rick Robertson; a gentleman who was apparently one of the Bounty's mutineers, and was given to writing hymns.
The first, Gethsemane, wafted and churned compellingly without a constant pulse. Come Ye Blessed worked up a head of testifying steam reminiscent of that great 1960s firebrand Albert Ayler, then slipped into a calypso rhythm, the connection being that there were a couple of Caribbeans with Robertson's ancestor on Pitcairn Island.
These were actually two of the denser pieces in a set that otherwise highlighted Baecastuff's ability to apply the art of space to the intersection of jazz, groove and atmospherics.
Partly this is down to the shared instinct of Robertson, trumpeter Phil Slater and pianist Matt McMahon to improvise in discrete phrases, between which the waxing tide of the rhythm section washes. The rhythms themselves were also perforated, thanks especially to the less-is-more bass playing of Alex Hewetson.
Hewetson usually has a ready ally in drummer Simon Barker. For this performance James Hauptmann was deputising and while his approach was more conventional, he slotted in to the prevailing ethos with flair and feel, and fitted hand-in-glove with the beautifully melodic conga playing of Aykho Akhrif.
Drifting sections (notably on Hewetson's exquisite Mud) contrasted with settled grooves that beckoned spearing trumpet, squally tenor or edgy piano.
The night opened with someone else who knows a thing or two about space and phrasing: guitarist Tim Rollinson.
Armed with a rich, almost lavish sound - one of the best guitar sounds in Australian jazz - Rollinson's lyrical lines arrived in chunks that left ample room to absorb the svelte ideas of bassist Nick Hoorweg and drummer Evan Mannell.
Drawing on material from the impressive You Tunes album, they moved between brooding ambience, fairly straight-ahead jazz, extended journeys and howling climaxes.

- Sydney Morning Herald

"Out of this World"

John Clare
Sydney Morning Herald
"A very interesting Australian disc and a significant leap beyond their first effort, which was good enough. This one finds a real identity in that area where jazz seeks to engage with other modern forms.

There was a time when popular music had to get with jazz because jazz was the energy of the times. All the great popular composers were influenced and they influenced jazz in turn. Jazz continues to develop, in a kind of underground where it cannot help but interact -not only with rock, but with other undergrounds.

The first track here is based on an Aboriginal melody and is voiced in long, unison harmony tones on trumpet and soprano saxophone. These sound almost electronic, and the bumping, dancing, popping and oddly detached rhythm accompaniment subtly suggests techno music.

In fact, nothing here is exactly like any other kind of music, but strong affinities are established. Unison trumpet and soprano carry most of the tunes -a wonderfully bright, polished sound which becomes haunting and plangent at times. Some of these melodies are like the kind of jazz the mutant band played in the original Star Wars movie.

Others are long-toned repeating shapes, rather like Miles Davis's version of Nefertiti. A piece by bassist Alex Hewetson sounds initially like courtly Renaissance music. It develops martial and pagan overtones and ends with one of the few points of hard, blasting, congested energy on the disc.

A11-out jazz solos are deployed sparingly, too, but when either trumpeter Phil Slater or saxophonist Rick Robertson lets rip the energy fairly blazes. Likewise, the rhythm team of drummer Simon Barker and percussionist Aykho Ahkrif are sparing with the full barrage, which, when it comes, is all the more effective. Matt McMahon is effectively minimal throughout on electric and grand piano.

Baecastuff is something else."
- Sydney Morning Herald

"One Hand Clapping"

'Baecastuff integrate electric and acoustic jazz feels into a seamless whole...It is music that is both thoughtful and rhythmically dynamic. It is vastly original, yet also impressively easy to log into. A most remarkable effort and one bound to get international musical palates salivating' Craig Pearce DRUM MEDIA - Drum Media

"One Hand Clapping"

another top-line Rufus offering. This disc...exploits some of the territory opened by the electric Miles Davis, bringing some distinctive new touches to bear. It is certainly jazz in spirit, but open to developments in funk and techno...everything is done here to make the whole production sound interesting, inviting and urgently or dreamily funky. Exciting solos are the cream on top' John Clare SYDNEY MORNING HERALD - Sydney Morning Herald

"Big Swell - Baecastuff"

'one of Sydney's most energetic and imaginative jazz and fusion projects...You couldn't ask for a more satisfying mix of the poignant, the complex and the downright funky' Cal Clugston REVOLVER
- Revolver Magazine

"Descendant hunts musical Bounty John Shand September 27, 2011"

IF ADULTERERS are always jealous and thieves fear being robbed, Rick Robertson should be nervous about mutiny in his band, given his ancestors' deeds on the Bounty.
Robertson, a saxophonist and composer with Dig (Directions in Groove), and leader of Eon Beats and Baecastuff, is a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the 1789 mutiny. He is celebrating this heritage in Mutiny Music, a concert drawing on material written by the mutineers' descendants.
Robertson's mother is a Norfolk Islander whose forebears include George Hunn Nobbs (1799-1884), the chaplain, schoolmaster and community leader on Pitcairn Island a generation after the mutineers arrived. He also oversaw the community's move to Norfolk Island when it had outgrown tiny Pitcairn.
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''Nobbs married Fletcher Christian's granddaughter [Sarah],'' Robertson says. ''So that's where my connection to Christian comes in. Being a small community, of course, they married each other, so I'm probably related to all of the mutineers.''
All but one died within a decade of the mutiny, mostly violently. The last survivor was John Adams, a pious man keen to impart English ways to the Polynesians who had accompanied the mutineers.
A unique fusion of European and Polynesian culture evolved. Nobbs went to Pitcairn Island in 1828, then returned to England to be ordained. While there he also studied composition and hymnal singing.
''He went back to Pitcairn,'' Robertson says, ''and instructed them on four-part harmony. But because of the isolation they developed their own way of doing it and it's quite beautiful.''
Nobbs and others wrote hymns that were handed down as an oral tradition until relatively recently. While Robertson hears no Polynesian influence on the compositional aspect, he does in the joyous enthusiasm of the singing, which he first encountered as a child on Norfolk Island.
''I would sit beside two old Norfolk Islanders who'd be singing different [harmony] parts to most of the congregation,'' he says. ''I used to try to follow their parts. I didn't realise that I was singing in the traditional way that had been passed down through all those years.''
Born in New Zealand, Robertson moved to Norfolk Island with his family when he was nine. He subsequently returned to New Zealand and moved to Australia, but still goes back to Norfolk Island each year. Since composing a piece for Norfolk Island's large historical cyclorama, he has been keen to write more music inspired by his heritage.
''Instead of performing the hymns … I felt it would be good to use them as catalysts for an improvising group like Baecastuff [which includes trumpeter Phil Slater, pianist Matt McMahon and bassist Alex Hewetson] and to try to bring in other influences of the culture - such as Polynesian drumming - which got pushed out by the missionaries,'' he says. ''So I've got [drummer] Simon Barker and [percussionist] Aykho [Akhrif] learning some of those rhythms, and we'll incorporate that into the music.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

"Transporting work takes audience to another time and place John Shand October 4, 2011"

Notes, September 29

IF THE ultimate enemies of musical creativity are cliche and resorting to familiar templates, then Rick Robertson has forged a truly liberating context for the imaginations of the members of his band, Baecastuff.

Drawing on his heritage as a descendant of the Bounty mutineers, the world premiere of Robertson's Mutiny Music was a barrage of surprises. These began with him delivering the story's spoken-word elements in the patois of Norfolk Island, which immediately seemed to slice back through time and deposit us amid the utopia and hell that was Pitcairn Island after the 1789 mutiny. (Baecastuff is a Norfolk word for wild tobacco.)
A screen showing images of the protagonists, the mutiny, the islands of Pitcairn and Norfolk (to which the Pitcairn community moved in 1856 after an unlikely act of largesse from Queen Victoria) thickened the atmosphere without overly distracting from the music.

That music was also a time machine, drawing on 19th-century Pitcairn hymns and 21st-century sampling, Polynesian drumming and free or groove-based jazz, all with equal ease. Robertson's triumph was that while the contrasting components may have been sources of surprise, they ultimately complemented each other and gelled into a musical narrative, albeit an oblique one.

The leader's saxophones were joined by Phil Slater's trumpet, Matt McMahon's electric piano, Alex Hewetson's bass, Simon Barker's drums and Aykho Akhrif's percussion. One of the piece's most powerful aspects was the dichotomy between the waves of fierce Polynesian drumming and the hymns' rather sombre mood: a snapshot of the cultural tug-of-war within the little community as they set about carving new lives on that tiny island.

The players are among the finest improvisers alive yet the piece as a whole was the star.

Extremely ambitious in its scope, the piece could have proved a jarring and dissipated experience, yet it not only held together, it allowed for potent collective and individual statements.

An astute festival director would snap this up.

- Sydney Morning Herald

"Big Swell - Baecastuff"

'this Australian group get a lot more out of jazz, funk and rock and their various crossing points than many a more renowned band' PENGUIN JAZZ GUIDE
- Penguin Guide to Jazz


Album - Big Swell - 1997 - Rufus Records RF033/Universal Music
Album - One Hand Clapping - 1999 - Rufus Records RF044/Universal Music

Album - Out of this World - 2000 - Naxos Jazz.

Streaming Tracks - Flash Player at:



Mutiny Music is a new show depicting the plight of the Pitcairn Islanders between the period of 1789 when the famous Mutiny on the Bounty occurred until 1856 when the community was forced to move to Norfolk Island. It's a colourful story. Fletcher Christian tossed the volatile Captain Bligh into a long boat with a sextant, food and few of his crew, turned the Bounty around and went in search of somewhere to hide. They returned to Tahiti, stocked the Bounty with livestock and provisions and then departed secretly in the night with Tahitian “wives”, most likely unaware of their departure, and 5 Tahitian men. Christian and his crew spent the next 12 months criss-crossing the Pacific until the wrongly charted Pitcairn Island was found and became their home. Pitcairn was the perfect hiding place, with fertile soil and an abundance of timber and water, and completely isolated from the rest of the word.
Nine Europeans and Eighteen Polynesians made up the small community. Land and wives were divided up amongst the 9 Europeans and the 6 Polynesian men had to share the 3 remaining women. This was not ideal but the community made do for a couple of years until Williams’ wife died and he abducted the wife of one of the Polynesian men. Things went horribly wrong and within ten years all the men on the island apart from John Adams had perished, most of them violently. Adams had a sign from God and took it upon himself to lead the remaining women and children in a pious existence. When the community was finally discovered after a dozen years the descriptions suggest a harmonious almost perfect existence. All the islanders spoke both English and Tahitian.
New blood arrived not long after with visitors wanting to stay on and join the community. George Hunn Nobbs, who claimed he was the illegitimate son of Lord Hastings but who certainly had been a pirate, mercenary and opportunist, was educated and had some idea of religious protocol. He became the teacher, religious leader, and married Fletcher Christian’s Granddaughter.
In the 1850’s the community had grown to almost 200 and the tiny island was increasingly unable to support them. They asked Queen Victoria for help and she offered them Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island had been a penal colony that had recently been disbanded and the island deserted. In 1856 the entire community of Pitcairn embarked on the journey to their new home 3700 miles away. Everything about their new home astonished the Pitcairners who were confronted with massive stone buildings, cattle, exotic fruits and flowers, furniture and of course the reminders of convict punishment.
With help from the strong leadership of Nobbs, the community settled into their new home well. A few families returned to Pitcairn unable to deal with their homesickness and their families remain there today.

The Music:

John Adams, the last remaining Englishman, taught his small flock, comprised of 9 Tahitian women and 20 children to sing. They would sing Psalms using melodies remembered by Adams. Traditional Tahitian music and dance also prevailed as visitors to the island were entertained by a percussion group under the leadership of Arthur Quintal and 3 female dancers. Religious music was composed as well and performed in 4 part harmony. These hymns were transcribed and remain in use on Norfolk and Pitcairn today.
The language which is a mix of Tahitian and English is spoken in a very musical way. Recordings of spoken word have been transcribed and used as melodies for use in the show.
Mutiny Music is a show which endeavours to describe this colourful story using the music and language unique to this tiny island paradise.

The Band:

Baecastuff is led by Rick Robertson, a descendant of Nobbs, Christian and Quintal and who’s family reside on Norfolk Island. He is the principal composer, however the band is comprised of the finest musicians and improvisers.
Matt McMahon – Piano.
Phil Slater – Trumpet
Alexander Heweton – Bass
Simon Barker – Drums
Aykho Akhrif – Percussion.

Originally formed in 1996 the band went on to record 3 albums of original material and play at clubs and festivals throughout Australia.