What a joy to listen to musicians who are simply being themselves, having fun, with no pretensions or attempts to appeal to some sub-culture, just playing music they enjoy to the best of their quite substantial abilities.
The Phax Trio’s mixture of jazz, classical and what they call contra-Balkan music is both comic and serious, light-hearted and dexterous, and it’s all in the music.
Having met in the South African National Youth Orchestra in 2011, in which they were principal players, they’re intellectual but not poncey, their straightforwardness refreshing.
Shaun Acker on alto sax is the most flashy of the three, in red shirt, tight jeans and sneakers, but he does come from a circus background so it’s simply who he is, euphonium player Andrea Fisher-Jeffes and Levi Alexander dress in the classical black, with Alexander bopping around on the big tenor sax like a porpoise on laughing gas.
That odd simile is apt, their compositions, most of the ones they played having been written by Acker, take surreal imagery and ideas for inspiration.
Salvador Dali’s spindly-legged elephants marching along bearing erotic symbols aloft, the movement of an octopus on the seabed, a camel escaping from prison (that was Fisher-Jeffes), the 1902 silent movie Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the moon), the corpses of mice caught in traps during a digs infestation – a requiem to rodents. All is grist for their musical mill.
They’re not scared to mix it up. Music, not purism, is their joy. Fisher-Jeffes’s a-musical mother suggested they create music more accessible to the common ear, so they wrote a drum-‘n-bass number for horns. They do an excellent job of it, Alexander pushing foot stomping bass-lines out of the tenor sax, Fisher-Jeffes playing percussion with the euphonium and Acker releasing a bunch of “cheap tricks” from the alto sax.
There’s a quartet of similarly mad musicians a generation older in Amsterdam who played an improvised show called Pand 7090 who I reckon would have an absolute hoot with this bunch, taking technique beyond the formalities of genre and formality, pushing the boundaries of composition, skipping along the boundary of noise and music.
I’m no musician, cannot play anything beyond a basic 4/4 beat on the drums, so I have no idea whether The Phax Trio mangled notes or destroyed progressions. If they did, it was not something I could pick up. From being slightly perplexed at first, I was tapping out rhythms and mixing and matching melodies under my breath by the end of their all-too-short hour-long set.
Amidst the angst, drama and graaning aan, these three provide a refreshing answer by simply blowing the wind.
The Phax Trio play until 4 October at They Crypt during the Cape Town Fringe
— Steve Kretzmann