Zodiac was selected as the Fine Music 2023 Jazz Artist-in Residence. It’s led by pianist Jordan Chung, with saxophonist Hinano Fujisaki, bassist Sabine Tapia and drummer Manson Luk.

Shortly after the AiR award, it received an ABC scholarship to record new original tracks. Along the way, it recorded for Fine Music Showcase, and had a wide range of performances for which Fine Music provided promotional support.

Although they came together at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Jordan and Mason had gone to school together, met Hinano during their first days at the Con, and Sabine later during their degrees. Raised and educated as first-generation Australians, they reflect Malaysian/ Chinese, Japanese/ Korean, Philippine, and Hong Kong cultural origins, not overtly in their playing, but each bringing their personal cross-cultural experiences, resonating with each other in creating complex interwoven stories in their music.

The process in creating an original album developed throughout the year, first establishing a pool of tunes with each musician bringing new material to rehearsals and openly discussing and workshopping ideas. Being surrounded by musicians they valued and with mutual recognition of their skills, they were able to confidently refine the compositions. Jordan reflected that one of the great beauties of playing and writing jazz is that there are always opportunities to develop the music and continue to play in a new light into the future.

The opportunity to solo was enabled in the compositions, but not directed. This allowed each to contribute their unique way of improvising, creating a contrast between their solos. Similarly, with different members contributing the core composition, this produces an incredibly diverse sounding album, each track having a distinct character. Recording this album was their first time ever recording any long-form pieces of music in a recording studio, spending two days at the studios, laying down each composition until they had completed all eight tracks. The experience of listening to each other through headphones was quite foreign to them, as the jazz idiom usually relies on direct and spontaneous response to the other musicians. The surreal experience was heightened by recording in an ABC studio where so many iconic Australian jazz albums have been captured.

One of the things Jordan enjoyed was heading into the booth after each take to listen back and decide whether “yep, this was the one” or “let’s do another take”. Jordan commented that “these two days at the studio were some of the most fun times I’ve ever had in my musical career and something I will never forget.” The experience was buoyed by their awesome sound engineers who, having recorded so much jazz over the years, really helped put them in the best position to be themselves and create an authentic studio recording. The mixing process especially brought a whole new way of listening to music.

When asked how the Fine Music Artist-in-Residency contributed, they recognised that it gave them a platform to promote and give the group a voice, creating exposure on the airwaves. This extended to live performances during the Station’s open day, with a favourite moment being able to record as part of the Fine Music Showcase.

Jordan added: “In our situation, we found being able to use the wonderful Founders’ Studio was an enormous help, giving us a rehearsal space to meet and workshop our compositions. Having that space available to use meant that we didn’t have to worry where we’d rehearse and gave us a real stability in our development as a band. All in all, we enjoyed working with the Fine Music people who are so passionate in supporting young musicians like us. Meeting people who understand the importance of having new and diverse voices in the Australian music scene has been incredibly encouraging for me as a young musician.” And overall, how does Fine Music continue to support young musicians? “Including a recording component would contribute a lot of value with a long-lasting impact for emerging groups, especially on their first release. Unfortunately, in today’s climate, recording for young groups is such a rarity due to the big financial commitment. There are so many incredible musicians with their own unique and wonderful original projects, but much of their music doesn’t get to be heard as they don’t have the means to record”

Zodiac’s album The Wild Wild East was released on 12 April and is available through all streaming channels. CDs will be available through Bandcamp, and other outlets.

By Keith Pettigrew.