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Gemma Farrell masters the EWI on new album with her Quintet

Gemma Farrell sits on a concrete bench against a wall full of graffiti. She's wearing a purple jacket and in her hands is a purple EWI.
Gemma Farrell. Photo by Josie Nolan

With 9 albums under her belt [including three with her Quintet and four solo] Gemma Farrell is an accomplished jazz saxophonist, bandleader, and composer. While you’ve heard her aplenty on all four saxes - soprano, alto, tenor and baritone - the new album ‘Electronic’ with her Quintet is all about jamming on the EWI [pronounced EE-wee] – and it’s out on May 3rd.

Gemma discovered this novel electronic wind instrument, which was invented in the ‘80s by Nyle Steiner, while studying her master’s at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in 2010.

Back then, she didn’t (yet) feel confident improvising on it, it’s only been since her recent PhD research at the WA Academy of Performing Arts (where she also lectures in jazz studies) and which included learning how to use software synthesizers, that her masterful execution of this instrument really took off.

My instrument is a NuRAD EWI by Johan Berglund from Sweden,” Gemma says. “Berglund is being credited as bringing the EVI [Electronic Valve Instrument] back to life, as until his resent instrument designs, it was pretty hard to find one. His instruments, and my EWI, are 3D printed.”

Gemma Farrell Quintet. Photo by Josie Nolan

Gemma Farrell Quintet [GFQ] started in 2015 and its current iteration includes Perth-based musicians Sam Hadlow on trombone, Dan Garner on guitar, Ryan Daunt on drums and Lucy Browning on bass.

GFQ is Gemma’s main outlet for her original music, and this third album follows up from the acclaimed ‘The View from The Top’ [2022] and ‘Organised Chaos’ [2018]. While it still features the grooves you’ve come to know and love from GFQ, ‘Electronic’ is guided by its compositional influences, exploring academic or experimental practices. But unless you have a trained ear, don’t expect to hear those deeper motives - ‘Electronic’ sounds smooth and effortless.

Featuring EWI shout choruses on ‘Abigail’s Song’, which was the first song Gemma wrote after becoming a mum; to the more contemplative jazz found in the track ‘Sixth Sense’; and the synthesizer-charged rush of the closing track ‘Aberdeen Street’, which reminds Gemma of clubbing at Perth venue The Deen in her late teens; the album explores the intersection of modern jazz and fusion, and it’s a fun and imaginative listen.

This project has basically ticked a major bucket list item for me and the EWI along with the sax of course will continue to be featured in the GFQ moving forward,” she says.

In addition to her Quintet, Gemma also writes for a band called MFG with Cologne-based guitarist Nico Maas and Zurich-based keyboardist Thomas Goralski; and for the Artemis Orchestra, which promotes Australian jazz musicians of marginalised genders.

She also leads the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra’s ‘Progressions’ Pathways Program, which was nominated for an APRA AMCOS Art Music Award for Excellence in Music Education; was one of three finalists for the 2022 and 2023 Australian Women in Music Awards in the Humanitarian category; and was one of 16 Australian musicians nominated for the Freedman Fellowship Award in the Jazz Category in 2022.

‘Electronic’ by Gemma Farrell Quintet will be released digitally and on CD on 3rd May 2024.

The album is being launched on Saturday 4th May at Lyric’s Underground, Maylands WA. TICKETS



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