Bringing New York to West Brunswick (via Switzerland), new-kid-on-the-block ‘The Jazzlab’, was the host for MaxMantis as they made their Melbourne International Jazz Festival debut in the cosy venue. Three noticeably young Swiss men made their way down the stairs as the Friday night festival crowd settled in to their chairs and red wine, and what happened next is a bit difficult to explain. Not difficult bad, though, difficult good. If you came here for a detailed and technical analysis of their set, then you should probably stop reading right now. See for me, (as corny as it may sound), jazz more than any other genre, is about it how it makes you feel, how it makes your body, often involuntarily, move. Music that feels so effortless and right that you almost forget about it, you forget that you’re sitting in a crowded bar and that there is a real life band in front of you, and instead the music has taken you somewhere else completely.
For me that’s exactly what happened as MaxMantis began performing their soulful, often moody, controlled chaos. I became completely lost in the sound. Their set selection is perfect as they manage to effortlessly glide between tempo changes in an order that feels right (helping you remain in that coveted liminal space that only good jazz can take you to). What was particularly interesting was their way of blending traditional, often highly localised, Swedish folk songs with contemporary jazz. This was of course a really special experience for an Australian audience as it shed a new light on a traditional, often over-looked medium, and one that is clearly highly meaningful to MaxMantis.
What else is evident is how much the band enjoys the music they make, and even more so how much they enjoy performing it together. Lukas Gernet (on piano), Rafael Jerjen (bass) and Samuel Buttiker (drums) are close friends, having formed after growing tired of working independently as backing instrumentalists. Their set was punctuated with charming dialogue about how they formed, Swiss folk-lore, spruiking CDs (which is practically mandatory for musicians now) and personal anecdotes, all which felt completely organic and non-cheesy, reiterating how much joy was on the stage (which of course then extended to the whole room). Overall this was jazz that didn’t feel over-worked or demanding, MaxMantis delivered the kind of performance that makes your head bob and shake along to; that you can get lost in, the kind of jazz that gives you a big warm hug and makes you forget about the outside world, at least temporarily.