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RIFFZ2000 @ Goodwill Club gets 6/10

RIFFZ2000 @ Goodwill Club – The Rechabite

Sunday, November 8, 2020


Goodwill Club at The Rechabite played host to one of Perth’s more interesting jazz outfits as RIFFZ2000 played the penultimate show for the Perth International Jazz Festival on Sunday evening. RIFFZ2000 are a trio with Ben Vanderwal on drums, Harry Winton on guitar, and Harry Mitchell on keys.

The lads play “remixes” in the most drastic sense of the word. Using vocal tracks from a selection of songs from the seventies until today (pop, rock, hip hop and otherwise), the band explores these themes as jazz fusion numbers. These aren’t straight covers though, but dexterous, herky jerky and often winding jazz renditions that don’t so much reference the tracks as they reinvent and deconstruct them.

The sound won’t be to everyone’s taste, and the strength of each performance rested on how good the backing track was as a vehicle for jamming. The boys cut up these tracks themselves, looping the vocals and sometimes speeding them up. It may have been a matter of track selection, or merely this reviewer’s ears settling into the group’s sound, but the set took a while to get going. It opened well enough with spacey guitar and tinkling bells before kicking off on a hard-edged jazz fusion cover of the ABC theme.

Things took a dip from there. In Da Club came next, its key riff snarling on guitar and its stabbing rhythm used as a vehicle for some heavy jamming. The band’s chops were undeniable, but this felt too cacophonous. The backing track was too quiet throughout and at times meshed poorly with the keyboards. At one point a snippet of the Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic was overlaid, which was fun but added another layer of noise over an already atonal stew.

The track then gave way to R. Kelly’s Ignition which was played in its entirety. The track was a questionable choice, but regardless of what one thinks of the artist the sample itself was rather dull and again too quiet, completely buried under some directionless jamming. Suck My Kiss was featured next, and was similarly uninspired.

Thankfully it was here that the tracks started to get better and the band’s playing, and vision, clearer. A sped up version of Sexual Healing laid a good framework for discordant jazzy drumming, and an ambient African-themed tune gave space for some slick atmospheric soloing. I’m Every Woman by Chaka Khan allowed Mr. Winton to lay down a smooth guitar riff and some even smoother guitar solos featuring very sexy wah-wah guitar.

Some re-workings of songs by local musicians Allira Wilson and Matt Allen came next, and a spoken word piece (talking about Crocodiles in Queensland) drew some laughs. This gave way to a funny segue into Owner of a Lonely Heart, whose prog rock riff was perfectly suited to the band’s angular sound. This was the highlight of the night, with big cascades of keyboard notes and huge soloing. Vanderwal’s drumming here was an absolute delight.

Living on a Prayer came next but hit a bum note, boxed in as a strange fusion number that didn’t take advantage of the huge pop hook at its disposal. But the band closed very strong with a three-punch combo of No Woman No Cry, a stellar herky-jerky rendition of Stayin Alive (full of demented, caterwauling jazz chords), and finally Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball. It was on this final track that the band’s vision was most clear, the track’s pop-perfect chorus indeed “wrecked” apart and deconstructed as a series of atonal jazz chords. It was fun and tongue in cheek, ending on the riff to Back in Black for good measure.

At its best, this was a fun take on jazz fusion by a trio with some serious chops and a great ear for tunes. Here’s hoping that the project continues to develop and they streamline their approach, with a greater focus on pop tracks and improvisation that not only deconstructs but accentuates them.


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