Biophilia Records
Gian Slater
From the first bars of Gian Slater’s new album Grey is Ground, there is an unexpected serenity to the vocal melodies – given the restless, complex grooves underneath. Slater’s crystalline voice is unhurried as the accompanying rhythms boil and shift. The juxtaposition is deliberate. Musically and lyrically, Grey Is Ground welcomes ambiguity; patiently waiting for beauty, empathy and comfort to be revealed.
Vocalist / composer / multi-instrumentalist Gian Slater is well-known in jazz and contemporary music circles both internationally and in her native Australia. She has long been a singer’s singer: an individualist whose vocal artistry and sophisticated songwriting have forged a creatively adventurous career. As director of the acclaimed improvising vocal ensemble Invenio, Slater has pushed the envelope of choral music in Australia through a series of acclaimed albums, commissions, theatre and dance works, working with pop, classical, jazz and electronic artists (including Biophilia Records stablemate Linda May Han Oh’s Aventurine). As an improviser she has collaborated with Ben Monder, Theo Bleckmann, Will Vinson and many others in the US, as well as  Australian music luminaries Paul Grabowsky, Lior, Andrea Keller and the Australian Art Orchestra.
The musical world found in Grey Is Ground was sparked by a performance Slater gave with two old friends at the famed Sydney Opera House. The singer convened pianist, producer and spiritual guide of the Australian jazz scene Barney McAll with master drummer Simon Barker, forming an Australian contemporary music ‘superband’. The success of the concert prompted the singer to write an album of music for the new trio. Slater began composing the material during her first pregnancy, a life-change that prompted an emotional theme for the work. “I was pregnant with my first child as I wrote the title song ‘Grey Is Ground’, which started the whole project,” Slater recalls, “bringing a child into the world helped me to embrace uncertainty, and to recognize the unknown as essential.” 
With this feeling, Slater was compelled to explore a new mode of songwriting, deliberately seeking uncharted creative territory. Inspiration came from the complex rhythmic language of drummer Barker. “My music has always been led by harmony, followed by melody,” she explains. “Rhythm has been an intuitive ‘addition’ to these elements, maybe even an afterthought. With this album, rhythm began the writing process for every song. I used rhythmic patterns and cycles that were unfamiliar; I was finding melodies that could float amidst the uncertainty.” Slater leaned into the ambiguity, seeing it as a starting point not just for the songs, but for everything.

On this title track “Grey is Ground”, Slater is setting out the mission statement for the album. Accompanied by the emotive drum programming of another rhythmic adventurer, IDM savant Emefern, Slater implores herself to hold on to the question, or remain in the ambiguity. “I am reminding myself, and maybe you, that abiding with doubt is ok,’ says the singer, “It is ok to not have the answer, or an opinion, or a stance. In fact, it is the place we all begin, the ground to all our thoughts. Uncertainty and curiosity are so often linked with empathy and kindness.” The track opens with a Dave Smith Prophet’s warm, nostalgic synth chords pillowing Slater’s unadorned melody like a Kate Bush ballad. Drum machines tumble into the field, eventually offering a backbeat for Slater’s chorus, a resolution for the album: I know where there is mystery there is love all around. The song folds into a heavenly coda Sufjan Stevens would relish, where Slater paints a milky way of celestial vocals over Emefern’s softly scattered breakbeat polyrhythms.
Slater’s relationship with producer Barney McAll goes back over 10 years. Their first collaboration was 2009’s Sylent Running, a triumphant avant-pop record which became a cult favorite for its songcraft and kinetic beats. Over drummer Simon Barker’s churning grooves, McAll and Slater construct layers of synths and Brian Wilson-like choirs of stacked vocals. Slater’s voice is serene and buoyant on the waves of sound; beautiful but not precious; vulnerable but potent, high and breathy but full of maturity and knowing. It sounds as if each pure note of her astounding 3-octave range is syphoned from a hidden torrent of emotional power and self-possession. Most remarkable is what is missing - Slater’s voice is entirely free of cliche or affectation. With none of the hammed sultriness or squeezed vowels of the ingenue, no cheap melisma or cloying vibrato, Slater’s directness of sound is rare and disarming. She seems to have transcended any trappings of vocal style or fashion. Hers is a clean channel from heart to sound.
Grey Is Ground is at once fizzing, technicolor synth-epic and poignant singer-songwriter confessional. In Slater’s beautiful, complicated world, optimism and realism cohabitate, uncertainty and resolve blur. Slater can make the everyday appear galactic, or the sublime handheld. And amid the complex rhythms and catchy choruses, Slater is trying, in her words, to “hold on to the question”, to see if doubt might be a doorway to love. “The unfamiliar rhythms feel like the ground in this music – earthy, complex, and mysterious,” says the singer, “and my voice walks across this ground – trying to understand what I’m walking on. And to me this ground – the starting place and the returning place – is ambiguous, or grey.”

Gian is a prolific vocalist and composer with an approach that incorporates wordless singing and improvisation, songwriting; electronics and extended vocal techniques; new music and contemporary composition and collaborations with theatre and dance practitioners.

She has released eight albums of her original music – In My Head (2004), Our Galaxy (2006), Creatures at the Crossroads (2009), The Differences (2012), Still Still (2014), Empathy Chip– Sylent Running (2008), Gone without Saying– Invenio (2011) and Clarion/Whisper – Invenio (2014). She has featured on many projects and recordings for acclaimed artists including Australian artists Barney McAll, Andrea Keller, Paul Grabowksy, Kate Neal, Vince Jones, Ben Hauptmann, Christopher Hale, Sam Anning, Lior, Luke Howard, Nat Bartsch, Emma Stephenson, Sam Keevers, The Australian Art Orchestra, The Monash Art Ensemble and American based artists Kate McGarry, Ben Monder, Matthew Sheens, Linda May Han Oh, Theo Bleckmann, Nadje Noordhuis and Jo Lawry.

She has been a multiple finalist in the prestigious Freedman Fellowship, Melbourne Music Prize and Bell Awards. She was the recipient of the MJFF Apra Composers Commission, Creative Australia Fellowship and the PBS Young Elder of Jazz.
Gian formed her own vocal ensemble Invenio in 2010 after receiving a composer’s commission through APRA and The Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival. Gian’s first work for the group, Gone Without Saying, was an hour-long a-cappella work for 14 singers. Since its inception, Invenio have performed seven of Gian’s major works – Gone, without saying (2010), Us and Others (2011), Self Echo (2012), Clarion/Whisper (2013) and Luminesce (2014 with video projection artist Robert Jarvis), M?y? (2015 feat. Andrea Keller and Simon Barker) and Ever Bright (2015 feat. Brass Quartet). Gian has also composed and arranged works for Lior, The Black Arm Band (with Ricki Lee Jones, Mavis Staples, Archie Roach and Joss Stone) and New York based pianist/composer Barney McAll for the albums Graft (2012) and Graft II (2016) among many others.
Gian and Invenio were cast and collaborators in two major theatre shows –Chamber Made Opera’s Permission to Speak, By Tamara Saulwick and Kate Neal (2016) and Rawcus Theatre’s Song For a Weary Throat by Rawcus, with music by Gian Slater, Jethro Woodward and Invenio (2017).
Gian is also a long-time passionate educator and lecturer in Voice, Jazz and Improvisation at Melbourne and Monash Universities.

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