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Unpredictable Amsterdam-based creative jazz ensemble Spinifex (named after a genus of Australian coastal grass) began as a feisty little big band in the mold of such Dutch outfits as I Compani, Willem Breuker Kollektief, and ICP Orchestra -- particularly the multifaceted modern composition side of those groups -- with a rocked-up side not unlike that of Belgium's Flat Earth Society. Several years after its initial formation, the group spun off a punchy avant jazz quintet incarnation featuring ridiculously tight arrangements, wild improvisations, and an experimental metal edge. Adding even more unpredictability to the mix, the group has explored Carnatic music, collaborating with notable Southern Indian musicians on tours of both India and the Netherlands, and has found inspiration in Eastern European/Balkan brass band traditions as well.
Trumpeter Gijs Levelt and alto saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Klein have been constants in Spinifex's shifting lineups, beginning with a nine-piece ensemble, the Spinifex Orchestra, co-founded with flutist Ned McGowan in 2006. Featuring Levelt, Klein, and McGowan in addition to trombonist Joost Buis, reedman Jasper Blom, accordionist Theo van Tol, electric guitarist Raphael Vanoli, bassist Sean Fasciani, and drummer Uli Genenger, the ensemble recorded the polystylistic album Triodia at Amsterdam's Studio Le Roy; the album was released by the Karnatic Lab label (directed/curated by Levelt and McGowan) in 2008.
The following year, the Spinifex Tuba Band (Levelt, Klein, McGowan, tubaists Axel Schappert and Pascal Rousseau, and drummer Gerri Jäger) was formed as a vehicle for melding Eastern European/Balkan brass band music with elements derived from noise and electronica. The Tuba Band continued into 2010, and then, in February of 2011, Levelt, Klein, McGowan, Buis, Genenger, and bassist Dion Nijland embarked on a two-week tour of India with a new project, Spinifex Indian Spin (FX). In keeping with Karnatic Lab's goal of combining creative jazz and modern classical with Carnatic music, the project saw the Dutch musicians collaborating with acclaimed Southern Indian artists Dr. Mysore Manjunath (violin) and Dr. Suma Sudhindra (veena) as well as percussionists B.C. Manjunath and Pramath Kiran. Spinifex Indian Spin (FX) played a pair of dates in the Netherlands during June 2011, and was back in India during January 2012, performing at two events featuring veena player Sudhindra. In May of that year, violinist Mysore Manjunath and percussionists B.C. Manjunath and Kiran were invited back to the Netherlands for another series of Spinifex Indian Spin (FX) concerts there.
Meanwhile, in 2010, Levelt and Klein decided to pare down the core Spinifex lineup -- although the original Spinifex Orchestra nonet remained a going concern, playing a series of dates in summer and fall of 2012 -- to a compact and edgy five-piece combining ultra-tight high-energy arrangements, skewed grooves, jazzy and noisy improvs, and even touches of Balkan and Carnatic influences from previous Spinifex endeavors. With Levelt on trumpet, Klein on alto saxophone, Jasper Stadhouders on guitar, Gonçalo Almeida on bass, and Philipp Moser on drums, the quintet released the aptly titled Hipsters Gone Ballistic on the TryTone label in December 2013. The quintet version of Spinifex headed to India in February 2014 with a new project, entitled Bollycore, featuring Indian vocalist Priya Purushothaman and dancer Maya Sapera. ~ Dave Lynch
- Amsterdam, Netherlands