FGHR

Gigs

The Age / 29 April 2009 (excerpt)

Katie Noonan is accustomed to large audiences, but she seemed genuinely appreciative of the several thousand people who turned out to see her as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Her opening act, local jazz outfit FGHR (Farrugia, Grigoryan, Howard, Robertson) looked delighted, too – they were beaming with pleasure, exuding a joyous energy as they melded their instantly appealing melodies with lush instrumental textures.
Jessica Nicholas

Australian Stage Review / 29 April 2009 (excerpt)

Opening act, FGHR launched their new album, Going Home, playing a wonderfully cool and laidback set of original song-based instrumentals with Brazilian and European jazz influences. FGHR (with Daniel Farrugia on drums, Leonard Grigoryan on guitar, Luke Howard on piano, Ben Robertson on bass, Ben Edgar on guitar, and Ross Irwin on everything else) performed with a tangible and infectious joy and delight. As Howard contorted his face to the music (seeming to be silently scatting), Farrugia danced with his shoulders, and Grigoryan lounged cross-legged in a private jam session. I felt a bit uncomfortable simply sitting and watching, I, too, wanted to move and to let the music fill me with the same joy and groove.
Olympia Bowman-Derrick

The Age / 17 February 2009

As far as acronyms go, FGHR has turned out to be a practical – and occasionally misleading – band name for this fine Melbourne ensemble. Drummer Darryn Farrugia, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan, pianist Luke Howard and bassist Ben Robertson formed the band in 2003, but the lineup has become more fluid and flexible over the past few years.
With Farrugia now living in London, another Farrugia (Daniel) has taken the drum chair, while various other players have joined the quartet on gigs and in the recording studio. Sunday night’s concert at Bennetts Lane served as an unofficial launch for FGHR’s second CD, Going Home, and featured a five-piece lineup.
Most of the evening’s repertoire was drawn from the new CD, along with some favourites from the band’s 2007 debut (Stationary). There were also two non-originals (by Marc Johnson and Ralph Towner), though these pieces shone with the same warmth and lyricism that infuse the ensemble’s own material.
FGHR’s sound is unashamedly melodic and distinctly – almost defiantly – optimistic. The band’s publicity blurb emphasises the influence of European jazz, but the unselfconscious ebullience of artists such as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell also springs to mind.
On Sunday night, Luke Howard’s Folksong captured the exquisite simplicity of an old Celtic folk tale, the piano’s melody echoed by classical guitar, arco bass and softly chiming glockenspiel (played by multi-instrumentalist Ross Irwin). St Ali sashayed to a Brazilian-style samba shuffle, while Something Something was pinned to the kind of gloriously rousing chord changes that sweep you up and carry you along in their wake.
Jessica Nicholas

Beat Magazine / 28 January 2009

First of all, great venue. The Paris Cat is a cool little jazz spot, tucked away in the warren of cosmopolitan laneways that run off Little Bourke between Elizabeth and Queen. As cosy as it is tasteful, it features a crystal-clear sound system and, for shortage of available wall surface, some savvy adornment of roof space. Secondly, this wasn’t exactly FGHR but, as pianist Luke Howard put it, EFGHIZ, with Ben Edgar providing support on additional guitar, the slightly funkier (and somewhat heavierhanded) Jonathan Zion standing in for Ben Robertson on double-bass, and Ross Irwin guesting on trumpet, percussion, glockenspiel…, basically everything but the kitchen sink.
In a set dominated by selections from their forthcoming album Going Home, t he key ingredients of FGHR’s established excellence – an overriding feeling of whimsy and hopefulness, filtered through a folk melodic sensibility and jazz sophistication – remained consistent, especially for pseudo-title track The (Other) Road Home. Yet the new material also showed signs of having a more varied stylistic vocabulary, with songs like the Brazilian influenced St Ali; and a wider emotional palette, with the last song of the first set (hey Luke, next time try announcing the song titles after the audience has finished applauding, okay?) slowly rising from, and sinking into, a brooding mire. On several occasions, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan would use his volume pedal to great emotive effect.
There was still time, though, for some favourites off debut album Stationary, like the flawless melodic simplicity of Folksong, or the dose of soaring gung-ho optimism that is Red Red Road. The group used the droney chord structure of Next to get a little bit psychedelic, with drummer Daniel Farrugia (son of veteran session muso and founding member Darryn Farrugia) cutting loose in spectacular fashion.
The evening ended with the band breaking their ‘no covers’ rule (for approximately the fourth time) with an utterly magical rendition of Ralph Towner’s Beneath an Evening Sky. I don’t trot out this highfalutin imagery for just anything, but for six minutes I felt like I was on a boat bobbing hypnotically on a voyage into a sea of dreams. FGHR have some more gigs coming up over the coming months, and I can’t recommend enough that those with even a meager tolerance of jazz check them out. The only downside to musical escapism this complete is the jar that comes with returning to reality.
Jesse Shrock

Albums

Going Home / The Age Green Guide / 1 October 2009

The band's moniker takes from the surnames of the four members: drummer Darryn Farrugia, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan, Luke Howard on piano and bassist Ben Robertson. They have been working together for some time, but this album has a different feel to it, more thematic than their previous output and almost cinematic in its approach. The album, with its all-original 13 tracks, has a European jazz sensibility with some Brazilian echoes and shades of Pat Metheny over the top. As always, Grigoryan's guitar maintains a lyrical flow. Indeed, you can almost hear it singing. It's there on the opening track, Hornsby, with his repeating chords and melodic lines waiting over Howard's sound. The track Sevamba, with its infectious Latin rhythm amrks a turning point in this album, followed up by the swing of St Ali, both preludes to a mood that seems to turn more reflective and meditative. The album gets added depth with cameos from vocalist Emma Gilmartin, percussionist Alex Pertout, and accordion player Anthony Schulz, who features on the evocative and gentle Redsette. That, combined with Robertson's solo over the piano on Re: Song I Knew, are just some of the precious moments here.
Leon Gettler

Going Home / All About Jazz / 27 July 2009

When French philosopher Roland Barthes (1915-1980) wrote about photography in his 1971 essay "The Third Meaning," he conceptualized how an image is perceived not only as something that belongs to a recognizable reality but also as something that carries a meaning that lies beyond what can be put into words; what he called "the third meaning."
Looking at the cover photo by Lana Daubermann, and the many beautiful pictures that grace the booklet of FGHR's Going Home, recalla Barthes' writing. Here is a beauty that is hard to define.
The same goes for the music. While it may be easy to list the elements of FGHR's sound, carried by the combination of acoustic/electric guitar and piano in the forefront, bass and drums in the background, with added layers of percussion and choir, it doesn't really say much about the music.
Neither does it help to place the album within the scope of early ECM records made by Pat Metheny, which may be one of the more likely sources for comparison.
Nominally, Going Home is an album of light fusion with influences that ranges from the mellow samba sounds of "Sevamba" and "St Ali" to the impressionistic beauty of the closing "Affirmation." The tempi and themes are deeply felt and lyrical ballads, but uplifting and singable like pop songs.
It is an album that would be suitable for both background music while eating breakfast, and late night contemplation with headphones. It is a work whose beauty is instantly accessible, without a hint of shallowness or calculated emotional affect. If the exact meaning or reason for the music's beauty can't be pinpointed, suffice it to say Going Home is an album that comes highly recommended.
Jakob Baekgaard

Going Home / Beat Magazine / 8 July 2009

FGHR are Darryn Farrugia, Leonard Grigoryan, Luke Howard and Ben Robertson, and what this group of gentlemen does is apply their formidable jazz chops to beautiful instrumental melodies. The group’s debut Stationary was one of the independent treasures of 2007, due in large part to its complete lack of pretension and unifying feel of bold hopefulness.
Going Home’s opener Hornsby offers instant reassurance that FGHR haven’t strayed too far from their established feel, as it comes out swinging (or waltzing, anyway) with those same triumphant, melodic strides as heard on the debut. When taken alongside the breezy folk of The (Other) Road Home, it isn’t hard to recognise this as true comfort music... Even at the end of a lousy day, (and it has already helped this writer through a few) it has the ability to make you feel like you’re the protagonist in one of those final scenes of a movie where all the struggles finally make sense, and everything gets put in beautiful perspective before the credits roll.
In what follows, however, the band frequently leave that dreamy feel for something a bit more adventurous... With its contemplative phrasing and constant harmonic drone, there is a certain quiet intensity about a song like Desertion. Later, the group take an intruiging segue into neo-classical minimalism with the slowly-unfolding musical enigma of Something Something.
But even those with a pathological fear of anything resembling background muzak should find something substantial in the lively, even groovy St Ali (apparently named for a Brazilian-themed cafe that the band frequent).
The album isn’t without its abstract, nebulous arrangements – Pushka and Exaltation don’t seem to go anywhere in particular – but patience is never tested long before something as energetic as Three Miles Big comes along.
As great as it was, Stationary did, in some ways, live up to its name (feel-wise, it stayed mostly in the same spot), but Going Home, appropriately enough, feels a lot more like a journey – a meandering one at times, but one that fits in plenty of exploration before returning to those soundscapes the band do best.
Highly recommended for your life soundtrack.
Jesse Shrock

Going Home / Sunday Herald Sun / 26 April 2009

FGHR carries the delicate serenity of its previous album, Stationary, into a wide-screen landscape with Going Home, where sounds are lush enough to sink into, sadness is never desolate, yet there is much energy and lightness of being.
In 13 original instrumental compositions by members of the band – Darryn Farrugia (drums, percussion), Leonard Grigoryan (guitars, voice), Luke Howard (piano) and Ben Robertson (bass) – the mood is untroubled and unflappable. Grigoryan’s intricate fingerwork and Howard’s delight in higher octaves create flights of fantasy that take off to explore, gliding across gently melodic vistas in sound.
Sevamba and St Ali show great verve, and Robertson adds welcome depth in Re: Song I Knew and Affirmation. Anthony Schulz on accordion adds a wistful quality to Howard’s contemplative Redsette.
Going Home is a perfect reverie – a daydream in which it is pleasant to be lost in thought.
Roger Mitchell

Stationary / Weekend Australian / 19-20 April 2008

This album is reminiscent of the smooth jazz recordings from the late 1970s by guitarist Earl Klugh with pianist Bob James. The music is highly accessible, well played, uncomplicated and original, save for one track, a soft fusion rearrangement of All For Believing by Missy Higgins. The quartet’s name is an abbreviation of its Melbourne members’ surnames – Darryn Farrugia, drums; Leonard Grigoryan, guitar; Luke Howard, piano; Ben Robertson, double bass – and they are competent players in all.
Some tracks also include wordless vocals in choral style by Emma Gilmartin, adding to an already glossy surface. Stationary opens with soul-drenched piano meandering into out-of-tempo passages and a repeated single-note bass accompaniment before Farrugia’s drum kit arrives, followed by Gilmartin’s extraterrestrial chorus. Folksong is just that, with a melody sounding like the old Scottish folk song Loch Lomond.
Textural rather than improvisational, these songs favour group interplay over individual expression, but there is a danger of musical effects replacing deeper interpretation.
John McBeath

Stationary / The Sydney Morning Herald / 16 March 2008

An instrumental version of Missy Higgins's All For Believing opens this pastel-hued album from four of Melbourne's leading improvisers. The wistful cover image sets the tone as drummer Darryn Farrugia, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan (brother of Slava), pianist Luke Howard and bassist Ben Robertson toy with pretty melodies and flirt with a European chamber-jazz style. The resultant music is enchanting at best – as on the charming folk lilt of Red Red Road and Folksong – although elsewhere it can be a little limp.
John Shand

Stationary / Sunday Herald Sun / 26 February 2008

In short: a way to stay still and yet be in emotion.
The perfect place to enjoy Stationary would be in an Otways cottage – I know just the one – with nothing to do but gaze through raindrops on the window to the bush beyond. Hard to pigeonhole as jazz, classical or sophisticated instrumental, this has a delicate serenity that ought not to be mistaken for somnolence.
The jazz and classical pedigrees of Leonard (brother of Slava) Grigoryan (guitar), Luke Howard (piano), Darryn Farrugia (drums), and Ben Robertson (bass) are impressive. The original compositions and an arrangement of Missy Higgins’s All for Believing are intricate rather than energetic, reflective rather than arresting and melodic rather than acerbic.
The abiding mood is of a peaceful interlude that never discards thoughtfulness. Open Your Eyes (Grigoryan) starts simply, then expands its horizons. Red Red Road (Howard) gathers momentum in the hands of the pianist.
Roger Mitchell

Stationary / Beat Magazine / 10 October 2007

Which Way Music, the brainchild of local musicians Slava Grigoryan, Al Slavik and Reben Zylberspik, is fast becoming a standout label for music of a certain grace and intellect. The only misstep they have made so far is giving this group, potentially a source of great excitement for the well-informed, and this album, one of the finest I’ve heard this year, such dreadfully boring names.
FGHR stands for Darryn Farrugia (Drums & Percussion), Leonard Grigoryan (Guitar), Luke Howard (Piano), and Ben Robertson (Double Bass), and their allinstrumental debut Stationary is a rare treat indeed – a bunch of accomplished jazz musicians focusing intently on the beauty of the song.
The opening instrumental version of Missy Higgins’ All For Believing gives some indication of what to expect; not exactly jazz, but more finessed than pop. Maybe it’s just about what feels good… Certainly, the players seem to be having a ball with Leia, which breezes from a bluesy intro into a percussive Latin groove.
Stationary isn’t a collection of frivolous jam-outs, but songs of genuine emotion. Subtle emotion, to be sure, (as only musicians with as finely cultivated a musical vocabulary as FGHR can pull off) but emotion nonetheless, the most dominant being hopefulness. While the drowsy Out Of Darkness seems to speak of a newly and gradually dawning hope, Red Red Road bounces along with a feeling of indomitable optimism.
Without exception, Stationary’s arrangements sparkle with intelligence and elegance, but never pretentiousness. Though The Eyes Have It is one of several featured examples of an impeccably cool jazz feel that is as much about the notes that aren’t played as those that are, Folksong is two minutes of eerily beautiful melody, wisely left to its flawless simplicity.
Stationary is the perfect Sunday morning record. Sit in the sunlight, open a good book and let a little grace flow into your ears and into your life.
Jesse Shrock