Loft's original player returns

Luke Sweeting is Sydney-based now but hasn't forgotten where his jazz journey began, Janet Wilson writes

Jazz lovers came to know the Canberra-based Luke Sweeting Sextet for its original and energetic music. Now based in Sydney, Sweeting still has great affection for his home town.

"Yes," he says, "Canberra's been really good for me because I've had so many opportunities there. I graduated in 2007 [from the ANU School of Music] and spent the next five years playing with really good jazz musicians in Canberra, including international jazz musicians who were coming through the city.

Luke Sweeting still has great affection for his home town.
Luke Sweeting still has great affection for his home town. 

''By staying there I got some really broad experience in performing and composing but moving to Sydney is a great step to the next challenge: to play with new people and broaden my network."

Sweeting and his sextet are featuring the new album People and Lightbulbs on their Newcastle to Melbourne tour, which visits Canberra on Thursday for a one-off performance.

Music enthusiasts may recognise Sweeting's work from the 2010 Canberra International Music Festival.

"It was great," he says. "We played with trumpet legend Miroslav Bukovsky and we played a reinterpretation of a Kats-Chernin composition. That was really exciting."

Sweeting, on piano, often teams with soprano virtuoso Rachael Thoms as an intimate duo. Sweeting is a versatile musician who can turn his hand to accompanying old silent films at the Film and Sound Archive or travelling to gigs in China or South Korea.

"Jazz is my main focus and improvisation. I play in alternative bands, play a bit of folk and I've also just taken up the piano accordion."

Sweeting was the originator of Jazz at the Loft, in Dickson.

"It's really quirky," he says. "It's not a venue per se. It's the staffroom upstairs at the Majura Medical Centre in Dickson.

''I was living in Ainslie and I needed a piano to practise on. I knew the doctor there and he thought it would be great because all the patients who were waiting would be able to listen to the piano being played. So the next step was to ask if we could run a jazz series up there a couple of evenings a month because Canberra really needed a great jazz venue. Everyone was so supportive and the thing has really taken off. The Alliance Francaise is also a lovely little venue. I've played there with Rachael Thoms and with Miroslav Bukovsky, too.''

Sweeting says his music is ''all original". ''I absolutely love composition. It's a great outlet and one of my passions really,'' he says.

''We have some interesting characters in the band. James Greening is such an incredible musician with such a loud personality. I love playing with him. He's got such energy."

Sweeting is making Canberra the first stop on the release tour for People and Lightbulbs.

The band members have changed since its Canberra days: Sweeting on piano with some of Sydney's finest improvisers - trumpeter Ken Allars, saxophonist Matt Handel, trombonist James Greening, double bass player James Heazlewood Dale and drummer Finn Ryan. The People and Lightbulbs album was launched last year.

"It sold out," Sweeting says, "and a lot of my friends and contacts didn't make it so this is the national tour essentially, playing in Canberra, Newcastle and Melbourne as well as in Sydney. It's a chance to play with a slightly different line-up in the band. But the album itself is a Canberra album. After playing for a few years with some close mates we decided to take it to the studio and catch up with the Canberra thing we had going."

So how would Sweeting describe his music? "Well, it's very melodic with some brooding textures," he says.

"In a way it's humble music - not really in your face. It's a little bit like I am - a bit reserved maybe."

■ The Luke Sweeting Sextet, January 31, 7.30pm, at The Loft, in the Upper Room Studio, Majura Medical Centre, Unit 2-3/151 Cowper St, Dickson.