Into the Clouds: Roger Frampton in Retrospect by John Shand

Issue 4 excerpt:  Essay

Into the Clouds: Roger Frampton in Retrospect
John Shand

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John Shand has written about Australian jazz for Jazz magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Hours, Limelight, and Australian Hi-Fi magazines plus numerous other notable publications.  He is also a playwright and librettist.

Jazz legend Roger Frampton, “one of the most elfin spirits and gifted players in Australian improvised music”, is the subject of Shand’s essay, an excerpt from which appears here.

When asked what set Frampton apart as a pianist, Cale points to ‘the uncanny ability to state two entirely opposing ideas with his left and right hands, and make them into one… This was done not to the exclusion of what the other players were doing, but to the inclusion of what he was doing with all the sound that was transpiring in the improvisation. And Roger’s touch on the piano was distinctively his own. There was a voice in every note he played; never mechanical or just reflex; a real voice with tons of conviction.’ Of Frampton’s horn playing, Cale observes: ‘Roger had an enormous stack of stored multiphonic knowledge on the saxophone, not necessarily learned from John Coltrane’s work. He could write or compose on the spot (or rewrite) a piece just using multiphonics. These were some of his brilliant inventions like no other.’

In 1981 Frampton performed his Double Entendre with Serge Ermol at the Opera House, the same year his Five Reflections on Consciousness for saxophone sextet and percussion was debuted at the Conservatorium (with Pochée on drums). He then went to New York and studied with saxophonists including Lee Konitz, and pianists including Joanne Brackeen and classicist Lucy Greene, who boosted his confidence in the legitimacy of his technique.

Frampton finally formed his own band, Intersection, in 1982 with Treloar, guitarist Peter Boothman and bassist Steve Elphick. Personnel changes, a tour to India and a recording would follow. Including guitar solved the problem of his saxophone taking a back seat to his piano playing. ‘Much as I like to play the sax with bass and drums,’ he told Tony Wellington in 1983, ‘sometimes I like to have a chord instrument going too―and it’s very hard for me to find another piano player who plays saxophone. Plus I’m quite particular about what a piano does behind me…’ Thus he had ‘a band which is potentially two bands’ when he swapped instruments. But there was also the familiar bleakness of a lack of gigs in the Wellington interview. ‘It seems to me that you’ve basically got to hang in there and not be broken down by the system, or disheartened or whatever,’ he observed. ‘You’ve just got to keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.’

“Expanding your consciousness means getting away from music as entertainment. ” so says David Ahern in this 1971 ABC TV interview, also featuring Roger Frampton.

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