‘Education & Recreation’: Surprise Chef’s most ambitious and delicately curated piece of work to date

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‘Education & Recreation’: Surprise Chef’s most ambitious and delicately curated piece of work to date

Credit: Izzie Austin
Words by Alex Callan

At this point, Surprise Chef are primed to become one of Australia’s most revered acts.

Starting in an esoteric market, the last few years have seen the alt-jazz outfit cut their teeth amongst Australia’s boutique festival scene, transcending the niche aspects of the emerging nü jazz scene to win over a wide array of adorning fans. 

In more recent months, the Melbourne/Naarm-based group have taken it to the next step, tackling their first-ever European tour and impressively earning themselves a string of notable festival slots and an appearance on the esteemed BBC Radio show “Live at Maida Vale” as a result. It makes for the perfect time for the group to drop their highly sought-after third release Education & Recreation, with a coinciding Australian tour in support. 

Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

Maintaining the jazz and funk vibes that helped the group initially garner attention, Education & Recreation finds its sound somewhere in between the realm of jazz elements, providing an immersive combination of contemporary, traditional and avant-garde soundscapes that only further carve out the group’s distinctive sound. 

Pushing the boundaries of instrumental soul and funk, Education & Recreation see Surprise Chef dazzle through their signature use of syncopated rhythms; staccato picking and mesmerizingly meandering key arrangements; incorporating the free-flowing nature of jazz whilst maintaining clear-cut song structures. 

Whilst these are aspects prominent throughout the entirety of the release, ‘Grinners Circle’ stands out due to its impressive tempo changes and dissonant key patterns. The angular nature of the rhythms in ‘Suburban Breeze’ does the same, perfectly encapsulating the irregular time signatures and erratic reprises that the group have honed as their own. 

With modern jazz/neo-soul contemporaries such as BADBADNOTGOOD being an obvious point of reference to the band’s sound, Surprise Chef’s output has an accessibility that differentiates itself by leaning more into the realm of 90’s hip-hop. Many of the group’s instrumentals feel reminiscent of the work of jazz-inspired producers like J Dilla, Q-Tip or Prince Paul (De La Soul). This makes aspects like the jangly keys and melodic inclusion of flute in ‘Conversation Piece’, or the attention-grabbing bassline of ‘Money Music’ prime to be cut, sampled and reused by producers for years to come.

With a sound that blends elements of jazz, funk and hip-hop and an evocative sensibility that pulls influences from the work of film scorers such as Jean Michel-Jarre and Amon Düül II, Education & Recreation stands up as Surprise Chef’s most ambitious and delicately curated piece of work to date, proving yet again why the group are one of Australia’s most exciting alternative acts.  

Turn on the record and enjoy the ride, wherever it may take you.

Surprise Chef Education & Recreation Australian tour 2022

Friday, October 28 | Coorabell Hall | Coorabell, NSW
Saturday, October 29 | Tomas Surfboards | Noosa, QLD
Sunday, October 30 | Black Bear Lodge | Brisbane, QLD
Friday, November 4 | Torquay Hotel | Torquay, VIC
Saturday, November 5 | Venue TBA | Melbourne, VIC
Friday, 18 November | Theatre Royale | Castlemaine, VIC
Friday, 25 November | The Estonian Hall | Adelaide, SA
Saturday, 26 November | Freo.Social | Perth, WA
Saturday, 3 December | Oxford Art Factory | Sydney, NSW

Listen to Education & Recreation here. Purchase tickets to the Torquay show here, and Castlemaine here