Multi-instrumentalist Mark Turner has been a fixture in the Perth music scene for many years now, playing saxophone and guitar with acclaimed acts like Jessie Gordon and Adam Hall and the Velvet Playboys both locally and across the globe. Last year he stepped out on his own with the well-received Made for Us EP showcasing his diversity of talent across multiple instruments and musical styles. One year on, he returned with a bigger and grander offering with his new EP Slow Down comprising a broader and more accomplished offering. On Sunday, June 10 it was time to bring all of his latest musical endeavours to life on stage with a full band that complimented his new direction.
The Charles Hotel band room provided a warm and welcoming atmosphere on what was a pretty miserable Sunday night outside. The evening opened with local act Kings and Queens, and their sprightly folk melodies went down as easily as the first drinks. The duo, made up of Richard Glover and Kaleisha Dutton, did most of their vocal lines harmonising in tandem while sometimes bouncing off each other line by line.
Accompanied only by a mini Maton acoustic they blended well with a warm mix of bass undertones and sprightly plucked notes. It’s the kind of purist folk that transports you back in time, as if the second half of the twentieth century never happened, but still coloured with personal and contemporary themes and stories.
Next up was Jessie Gordon with a full band, opening the set with a quaint ukulele that rose above the tones of the smooth double bass and sparkling jazz guitar. Jessie Gordon’s vocals were the standout of the set, delivering songs with a jazzy vibe that fluctuated from bold and sassy to tender and breathy. A trio of girls also lined up on stage left intermittently throughout the set, providing captivating backing vocals and swaying side to side with the groove.
The group played a blues tune from their upcoming album, giving the audience a taste of the tunes they can look forward to upon its release in August. Then the man of the hour (and regular Jessie Gordon collaborator) Mark Turner joined her on stage to play guitar while she cheerfully prompted the audience to chant his name. Jessie Gordon picked up the ukulele again late in the set to play a song that her mum wrote, joking that it was the “worst form of discipline that comes in the form of a haiku about how disappointed she is in you”. She showed her appreciation for her amazing band members before closing with an enthralling hillbilly stomp.
After a brief intermission Mark Turner kicked things off for the final set with the title track from his new EP Slow Down. With a horn section comprised of trumpet, trombone, and saxophone, the track had delivered all the soul and flair that characterises an old school big band, with the groove of soul influences coming through. Mark Turner also gave the audience the first (or second) taste of his proficient musicianship, delivering a high octane guitar solo that climaxed at the highest frets on the guitar before dropping back down a few octaves to lock back into the groove. Another highlight of the ensemble was the sizzling whirr of the Hammond CK1 organ that complimented the bass melody throughout the set.
The diversity of styles at Turner and his band’s disposal became evident with the reggae rhythm of new track Do What I Want. It featured a solo on the double bass that also explored the notes beyond the 12th fret. Turner then repaid the favour to Jessie Gordon, inviting her onstage for a tambourine cameo before giving the horn section a break and picking up the acoustic for the more stripped back One Song. Turner then introduced a string quartet and shared a bit of the backstory of the EP which included simply placing a microphone in the room with the group and performing the tracks live. The violin, viola and cello provided a wealth of texture with cascading melodies fluctuating with the ebb and flow of the following songs. The smooth lounge bar jazz of another EP highlight Relax followed as the music was stripped back to an egg shaker and the double bass.
Turner followed this with a segment of songs from his 2017 debut EP Made For Us, including the tender Kiss Me and Again and Again. This suite featured a solo on the double bass that was impressive but would have been a little bit much for a studio recording. To close out the night Turner welcomed the whole band back for the massive Stone Cold. It was a real big band finale with all 12 members onstage, with the string and brass sections feeding off each other’s energy and rhythm, reminiscent of Ray Charles’s sixties reinvention of Georgia on my Mind. The finale was a barnstorming stomp, where each member of the horn section got a time to shine in fitting jazz custom with trumpet, saxophone and trombone getting a few bars to show their musical flair.
While Mark Turner impressed everyone with his vocals, songwriting and musicianship, the night was also memorable for the musicians around him that brought his songs to life. It’s not often you get the full big band experience complete with string and brass sections playing in a pub, and it all came off in fine fashion. The music and the lyrics never really challenged the listener but that was fitting for the occasion and it would be hard to find anyone onstage or off that didn’t thoroughly enjoy the evening.