Australia’s Sunny Side Up gets down at Church of Sound

Gareth Thomas
27 August 2019

Thanks again to Gilles Peterson, Brownswood’s latest compilation, Sunny Side Up, does for Melbourne what 2018’s We Out Here did for London

It is a showcase of some of the best jazz coming out of the city right now. The album’s comically obvious working title – We Down Here – suggests the perfect parallel to its London counterpart. But with a sound entirely of its own, Sunny Side Up is much more than that.

At St James the Great Church in Clapton, crowds take to pews arranged in a circle around a mess of wires and instruments as they help themselves to vegan curry supplied by a local Ethiopian cafe. Church of Sound is one of East London’s hippest converted church venues, and it is soon filled by the eager chatter of those waiting in anticipation to hear what Peterson has been hyping up for months.

First up are Mandarin Dreams (pictured): a collective of musicians, many of whom feature on the compilation, including Kuzich, Horatio Luna, Dufresne, and Sunny Side Up’s musical director Silentjay. Over the following two sets, the band perform compositions written by its individual members, constantly changing positions and switching places with each other. Dufresne begins by hammering out chords on a keyboard. The next moment he is on bass and before long he is back over his keyboard again, before picking the trombone to improvise a solo.

These musicians are not only great multi-instrumentalists, but the vocal harmonies created by each of them are also excellent, not least of all Lori who cuts through the music with piercing soulful cries. “It’s nice to play in a circle,” she comments on Church of Sound’s set-up – a feature that makes gigs here so brilliantly intimate – and jokingly points out that this is the first time they have actually seen each other play. The diversity of Mandarin Dreams’ repertoire is remarkable, covering a whole range of genres from spiritual jazz, broken-beat and neo-soul, to shoe-gazing psychedelia, punk rock and funk. Songs like ‘Freedom to Talk’ carry a defiant energy not unlike War’s ‘The World is a Ghetto’. It’s impossible to pin these musicians down to a single style.

Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange arrive to play the closing set of the gig. At 11.30pm, it’s a late start, but they manage to keep up the momentum initiated by Mandarin Dreams by delivering seemingly perpetual acid-house-meets-jazz grooves, driven by synth riffs and heavy latin percussion. Moments into the set, the venue has ceased to resemble a church. It has transformed into a fully-fledged nightclub, and everyone is up on their feet until closing.

The artists and musicians that make up Sunny Side Up have their own distinctive sound but the similarities with We Out Here are obvious, most notably the strong sense of community that runs through the music alongside a deep respect for cultural heritage – for the indigenous population of Australia and beyond in this particular case. It’s a sense that observers of the London jazz scene have praised time and time again, and it’s wonderful to see the exact same thing emerging from regions as far away as Australia.   

@GarethLThomas            

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