Surprise Chef are Lachlan Stuckey (guitar), Jethro Curtin (keyboards), Carl Lindeberg (bass), Andrew Congues (drums) and Hudson Whitlock – the youngest member, who does everything from percussion to composing to producing. The self-proclaimed “moody shades of instrumental jazz-funk” have a little bit of everything: punchy drums, sweeping keys, rhythm guitars you could hear on a Studio One record, and flute melodies that could come from a Blue Note session. But when you take a step back and consider Sounds as a whole and their approach, you hear and see a band that is more than the sum of its parts.
In many ways, Surprise Chef embodies the phrase “the benefits of limits.” Their options were limited in that there weren’t many people in Southeast Australia making or talking about instrumental jazz/soul/funk, let alone putting out records. So they had to develop their sound and approach in a kind of creative isolation, where a small circle of friends and like-minded musicians cross-fertilized each other. “Being in Australia, being so far away, we only get glimpses and glances of this music’s origins”, Stuckey says. “But hearing a label like Big Crown was one of the first times we realized you could make fresh, new soul music that wasn’t super retro or just nostalgic.”
That approach can be heard clearly on their new album, “Education & Recreation”. Tracks like “Velodrome” combine massive drums with an earworm-worthy synth line that sounds like it would be on an Ultimate Breaks & Beats compilation, while numbers like “Iconoclasts” show they have a knack for using space tastefully. From the overwhelming intro of “Suburban Breeze” to the soaring, mellow bop of “Spring’s Theme”, Surprise Chef present an album that takes you through highs and lows of emotion, delivering an impressive soundtrack that catapults you deep into your imagination.
The wide scope of interpretation of instrumental music is beautiful, and with this new album they add a modern classic to the canon. Put the record on and enjoy the ride wherever it may take you.