A VOICE TO PROPEL AND PUNCTUATE

Daniel Wilfred

Daniel Wilfred

REVIEW: CD launch, Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 — The Ghost Dances, Young Wägilak Group & Australian Art Orchestra, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Tuesday 27 May, 2014

This was a CD launch and a live music performance. It was also a challenging and moving personal experience that has stayed with me over the months since it took place — in the brief lull between two significant jazz festivals in Melbourne.

I had heard about Crossing Roper’s Bar, a musical collaboration over nine years in which the song men of Ngukurr have worked closely with the Australian Art Orchestra to explore in a contemporary way the manikay (song cycles) of the Yolŋu people of South East Arnhem Land. I had never heard the music, but had long wanted to.

I had expectations only that what the initiator of the project, Paul Grabowsky, had said was based on “an equal exchange of knowledge through a dialogue centred on music” would be fascinating and could take me anywhere. Grabowsky has a habit of not disappointing. But, of course, there were many other musicians involved in this rare live performance — many known to me through jazz, but two indigenous musicians who were an unknown quantity.

Looking back on this performance, I regret that it was sandwiched between periods of intense jazz festival activity at Stonnington Jazz and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. It deserved to have its own space in my head, time for reflection and for its depth to sink in. Yet, despite my need to move on in “festival review” mode, I find that this concert lingers. It will not go away.

An important element in that lasting impact came in the contributions of indigenous musicians of the Young Wägilak Group and traditional ceremony men from Ngukurr on the Roper River Daniel Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and dancer) and David Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and didgeridoo).

The AAO musicians were Paul Grabowsky (Musical Director and piano), Tony Hicks (saxophones), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Niko Schauble (drums). and Philip Rex (double bass).

It was an impressive line-up from the AAO, but this outing was indeed “an equal exchange”. Soon after Grabowsky spoke briefly about this music taking us to another place, outside time and yet about time as well as identity and creation, I found myself focusing especially on the voice and words of Daniel Wilfred. It was mesmerising and powerful.

The orchestra members began with minimalist contributions, at times explosive chatter and seemingly disconnected, so that Daniel’s voice and clap stick interventions were a sharp shock. But as the music progressed his voice became a unifying force as well as a form of punctuation, halting proceedings before the next “movement”. At times I found it had the propulsion of swing.

Grabowsky and Magnusson played together, the guitar producing sounds that were visceral, animal and alive, sometimes gobbling. Hicks, who was exquisitely expressive on his wide range of instruments throughout, delivered a long, moving clarinet solo before a vocal and clap stick cut-off. Then Rex and Schauble delivered strong stuff that led to a fiery finish of another segment.

Daniel and David Wilfred

Daniel and David Wilfred

There were many extremes and variations as each of two sets progressed, ranging from frenzy to tiny chirrups to what sounded like storm clouds bristling with distant thunder. The music became eerie or piercing or an onslaught. It was harsh, then it softened. It was unsettling, then it was evocative of much time passing — possibly eons.

But throughout this diversity, the powerful binding force was Daniel’s voice and presence. His vocals seemed disembodied, floating free in space and not emerging just from the mic and speakers. David’s didgeridoo was welcome, but the most impact came in his brother’s voice. I could have just listened and let the sounds fill everything.

At the end of the second set, Daniel spoke briefly about the effect of this project and its affect on his life. I did not catch all that he said, but his pride and strength was evident.

As this is a review, albeit belated, it should have a verdict, I suppose — though no star rating will be offered. So, did it work to bring creative jazz musicians together with musicians from Arnhem Land? Can these cultures find common ground?

From this one experience, and from listening to the album many times, I find that question to be somehow irrelevant. It’s a fair question and someone raised it with me, but I did not find disparity in the music and I did not find myself thinking in terms of the indigenous and non-indigenous parts of the whole.

I’m not sure that I fully grasped where the music took us on the night, but the experience will stay with me. I would urge anyone to take the opportunity to hear this collaboration in whatever form it takes in future — whether live or recorded, but preferably live.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: The album Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 – The Ghost Dances was recorded in 2012 and features the Young Wägilak Group from Arnhem Land led by Benjamin Wilfred and AAO musicians, Erkki Veltheim (violin), Paul Grabowsky (piano), Tony Hicks (saxophone/flute), Philip Rex (bass) and Niko Schäuble (drums).

From the AAO notes: “The Roper River is a magnificent waterway flowing from Mataranka, 100 kms south of Katherine, and out across the land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people. Before it reaches the Gulf of Carpentaria it passes the remote town of Ngukurr, which is isolated by the Wet for several months of each year (November to Easter) when the Roper engulfs all but the highest land. At other times, Roper Bar is the point where it’s possible to cross the river and go on to Ngukurr. The crossing over seems not only a poetic but also a fitting metaphor for our collaboration, Crossing Roper Bar.”

IT’S ANDY, SANDY AND ZAC — TONIGHT

Saxophonist Andy Sugg

Saxophonist Andy Sugg

PREVIEW: The Melbourne Jazz Cooperative presents a Coltrane tribute and book launch by Andy Sugg featuring Sandy Evans (Sydney) and Zac Hurren (Brisbane), Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 7.30pm Sunday 20 July 2014

We seldom have the pleasure of hearing the inspiring Sydney saxophonist Sandy Evans and the irrepressible fellow reeds player from Brisbane Zac Hurren in Melbourne. But tonight the MJC, with saxophonist Andy Sugg brings these two musicians to Melbourne for the launch of his new book The Influence of John Coltrane’s Music on Improvising Saxophonists, which was recently published in New York.

Before the concert, at 7.30 pm, Sugg will give a free-entry 45-minute presentation on the book, featuring Evans and Hurren.

The MJC says that Sugg’s book, which looks at jazz improvisation through the music of ’Trane, Dave Liebman and Jerry Bergonzi, has been enthusiastically received in America and Europe. Sugg has been invited to Paris and to New York to promote the book later this year.

After the book launch Sugg will join his reassembled group TTTenor to play music inspired by Trane, Lieb and Gonz. He is joined by Evans and Hurren, with Joe O’Connor on piano, Djuna Lee on bass and Chris Broomhead on drums.

Let’s turn up in force for this gig.

Tickets $20/15

ROGER MITCHELL

THE ONE THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY — ENRICO RAVA

Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava

BREAKING NEWS:

Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival line-up announced for its 25th year, Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November.

The embargo has just been lifted and Adrian Jackson‘s line-up for the four days and nights of the pre-Melbourne Cup Day long weekend of jazz and blues can be revealed, featuring more than 300 musicians in more than 80 concerts on the main program, and more than 30 concerts on the Main Street free stages.

There are also artist talks and master classes in town and at nearby wineries.

Heading the line-up of international artists will be a giant of European jazz, trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Enrico Rava (Italy), who was booked to come in 1996 but had to cancel because of archaic visa requirements. Artistic Director Adrian Jackson says Rava is “just about the only one who got away” in all his years at the helm, and that it is nice to be able to rectify that this year.

Other international jazz artists include Grammy Award winning drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (USA) with his band, which includes New York-based Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts; composer/trumpeter Laura Watts (USA) and New York-based saxophonist Lisa Parrot (Aus/USA) returning to the festival two decades after being runner-up in the National Jazz Awards (Saxophone) in 1994.

Another from the US will be Spoke (USA) and, from New Zealand these days, Roger Manins, winner of the 2002 National Jazz Awards (Saxophone), with his band Hip Flask.

Among the Australian musicians on the program will be the Australian Art Orchestra performing Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, a re-imagining of the legacy of Louis Armstrong. Paul Grabowsky and Steve Grant will each perform solo piano concerts in the Holy Trinity Cathedral; guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson will make a rare collaboration in a quartet format.

Jazz vocalists will include Emma Pask, Fem Belling (leading her quintet and contributing to the African jazz sounds of Royal Swazi Spa, led by her father Howard Belling) and Hetty Kate performing songs from her recent CD, Dim All The Lights. Now based in New York, Sarah McKenzie will return to Wangaratta as part of a tour to promote her forthcoming third CD and Julie O’Hara will perform with the gypsy swing-inspired combo Ultrafox.

Headlining the blues program will guitarist-singer and Blues Hall of Fame member Joe Louis Walker (USA), singer/songwriter Harper on harmonica and didgeridoo, who moved to the US a decade ago. Harper will bring his Detroit-based band.

Australian blues acts including Sydney’s Bondi Cigars, Blue Eyes Cry, guitar aces Ray Beadle and Darren Jack leading their bands and then teaming up as All The Kings Men — a celebration of the 4 Kings – B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl King and Albert King. Other blues artists include Fiona Boyes, Nick Charles and Doc Span.

The National Jazz Awards feature guitarists this year and an increased prize pool. As always, the top 10 finalists will compete at the festival, with the finals starting at 5pm on Sunday 2 November (broadcast live to air on ABC Classic FM). Mike Nock will again act as Chairman of the judging panel, joined by guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson, co-winners of the Awards in 2000. The winner will receive a $12,000 grand prize, the chance to record for ABC Classic FM’s Jazztrack with Mal Stanley and an invitation to perform at the 2015 Stonnington Jazz Festival. The runner-up will receive $6,000 and a recording session at Pughouse studios and the third placegetter will receive $3,000.

There’s much more to say, but this is a quick preview to whet the appetite.

ROGER MITCHELL

MANY HIGHLIGHTS, MANY FROM CLOSE TO HOME

Jamie Oehlers

Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers in a MIJF highlight for 2014.

WRAP-UP REVIEW: MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 2014, 30 May to 8 June

So far for this year’s MIJF I’ve posted previews, pictorial updates and reflections that have sometimes ended up as mini reviews. But the intention was to leave most of the reviewing until the festival was over. So, I can report that I went to 23 concerts, counting each set of two double bills and each set of three with brief support acts. The venues included Hamer Hall, the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Malthouse, Melbourne Town Hall and Bennetts Lane. I did not make it to club sessions at Uptown Jazz Cafe or Dizzy’s Jazz Club, but heard there were some great gigs there that I missed.

While on venues, it was good to have Uptown included this year and the Malthouse turned out well, attracting some good crowds to evenings that included, effectively, three concerts. The lighting there, as I have said elsewhere, was poor, but that comment also applies to the Footscray Community Arts Centre and to Bennetts Lane. (I’m told by Laki Sideris that I have to make the lighting work for me when taking photographs, and I’ve been trying to do that.)

The observation has been made elsewhere that this festival brought out international artists who’ve been before, rather than other musicians new to the festival who do not have the established names to draw crowds. It must always be a balancing act for any festival’s artistic and program directors, but Adrian Jackson has long had a reputation for bringing relative newcomers to the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, so it can be done.

I think a more important issue is what happened in the venues on the nights, and how audiences reacted. The other question is how are we to judge the success or otherwise of these festivals — is it about bums on seats, audience reaction or the opinions of assorted critics? That could open a large can of worms, but I think it is useful to report on gigs that electrify or engage the audience, as well as to comment on the performances.

I tried dividing the concerts I attended into highlights, worthy mentions and those not so hot. Of the highlights, only seven involved international artists and the remaining 12 were by Australian musicians. I found that interesting.

Jorge Pardo

Jorge Pardo

The “not so hot” category is a misnomer, because it was probably the type of music played that did not appeal to me so much. In each case there were plenty of happy patrons. But I was not among them when Jorge Pardo joined Josemi Cameron and Jose Manuel in Huellas. Pardo on tenor sax and flute, and Cameron on guitar were skilled musicians, but as the solos dragged on and the music rose and fell, I found that it did not go anywhere too interesting (too subtle for me?) and that there was insufficient variation in Jose Manuel’s percussion work.

Larry Carlton

Larry Carlton

The Larry Carlton Quartet also suffered from repetitive drumming by Gerry Pantazis and, while Phil Turcio on keys did his best to lift the intensity, I found this group’s material too fruity and easy listening for my taste — soft rock that lacked differentiation and space, failing to reach any heights or plumb any depths.

Israeli pair Daniel Zamir and Tomer Bar engaged the audience with melodies that seemed to draw more on Jewish tradition than jazz. There was some audience involvement that worked, but it just was not going to set my nerves jangling.

On to the worthy mentions, which is meant as a positive category without any rafters being lifted. The lightly cooked Omelette served up by Jordan Murray, Stephen Magnusson, Mark Shepherd and Ronny Ferella before Charles Lloyd’s Sky Trio took the MRC stage was muted, carefully crafted and perfect as a way into the main gig, although I found the guitar did not come through strongly.

Sky Trio was as anticipated, delivering fluidity, warmth, a sense of fun at times, beauty, musings and flights of fantasy. Being at a Lloyd concert is akin to a religious experience. Backed by the superb rhythm section of Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums, Lloyd showed he has the breath and finesse to deliver long, meditative solos on tenor sax, flute and tarogato. The encore of standard Where Are You and Lloyd’s Sweet Georgia Bright, including Harland’s controlled solo, ended the set on a high. A festival highlight? Not quite, possibly because it was so laid back.

Sean Foran and Julian Arguelles

Sean Foran and Julian Arguelles

This concert was great, but I went on to hear Brisbane’s Trichotomy at Bennetts Lane, with UK guest Julian Arguelles on sax, and discovered this night’s highlight. Formerly known as Misinterprotato, this trio featured Sean Foran on piano, Sam Vincent on bass and John Parker on drums. The set was full of inventiveness, interest, variation and effective provision of space.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

Back on the worthy mentions track, Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri’s The Greek Project, also featuring Rogers, Harland, Takis Farazis on piano and Socratis Sinopolous on politiki and pontiac lyras, was an exposition of the unity achieved when two individuals from different cultural roots and musical traditions discover much in common. In CL Blue, Lloyd seemed to lay his notes on the air and send them off and in Requiem his sax was ending Farantouri’s sentences. In Prayer, the lyra notes from Sinopolous were high, clear and plaintive, then entering a dance. Farantouri’s voice was fascinating — it had strength without great projection, emerging from deep in her throat and seeming to delve into history. This concert was a monumental event. But it lacked the focus and impetus of Lloyd’s Sangam concert of 2010, and in Greek Suite pieces it perhaps lacked the ability to hold attention.

It may seem heresy to some, but I have to be honest and say that one of my festival highlights followed The Greek Project. I’d been told by several people not to bother hearing Chris Dave and The Drumhedz, especially not after the Lloyd/Farantouri concert, because it would be such an abrupt change.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

I went to Bennetts Lane expecting to feel like a fish out of water at a gig that would have appeal to a younger audience into a mix of R&B, funk, hip-hop and electronica, with some rock and jazz thrown in. I had listened to some YouTube clips that had not turned me on. Well, Chris Dave on augmented drum kit — with two tall, corkscrew cymbals — Isaiah Sharkey on guitar, Nick McNack on bass and Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano sax produced a set that held my interest from the word go until almost the finish, when an encore piece went on a bit too long. Sharkey’s guitar playing was a work of art, with lots of variation and heaps of skill. Dave on drums was virtuosic, Strickland produced some excellent solos and McNack was solid on electric bass. But the appeal was in the watchfulness and interaction in this band. So much was going on and in this performance (out of three) it was evident that decisions were being made and fun was being had throughout. They were having a ball and so was the audience. This was an unexpected, but clear highlight.

Eminently worthy of mention was the Allan Browne Quintet‘s performance of The Drunken Boat suite the following night at Bennetts Lane, its often short pieces providing a feast of diverse moods and styles.

Livio Minafra

Livio Minafra

An unexpected festival highlight was Livio Minafra‘s entertaining and engaging gig at the same venue that night, which I have already reviewed.  OK, it was a stretch to call it jazz, but I found it most enjoyable and fun.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

Tuesday 3 June was a standout in my view, bringing two festival highlights in one night. At Footscray Community Arts Centre — see earlier postPeter Knight’s Way Out West played long-awaited new material that will soon emerge on a fourth album, as well as some pieces from earlier recordings. There was so much to like about this diverse ensemble’s outing, but I particularly appreciated the space and developing intensity of The Birds, which made excellent use of the clarity in  Satsuki Odamura‘s koto notes. In Music For April, muted koto notes were like drops of water and Lucas Michailidis’ guitar notes seemed to be propelled as if by springs. Laptop crackle, guitar and koto built an eerie feel to Nine Years Later, in which the ensemble took us to wonderful places. This was a considered and carefully crafted outing and I look forward to the new Way Out West album.

Eric Harland at Bennetts Lane

Eric Harland at Bennetts Lane

From way out west I rushed to Bennetts Lane for what was to be my top highlight of this festival for 2014, bringing Rogers and Harland from Lloyd’s Sky Trio together with Paul Grabowsky on piano and Jamie Oehlers on saxophone. As mentioned in an  earlier post, this concert was an excellent example of why many of us love jazz. Paper Tiger opened with all stops out and we heard some sharp attacks and searing solos during the set, but in Oehlers’ Innocent Dreamer and Grabowsky’s Angel we were surrounded by inexpressible beauty. This group is recording in January. Bring it on.

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Other festival highlights covered in earlier posts were the opening set at Melbourne Recital Centre by Here and Now, the fascinating outing by Finnish trio Jukka Perko Avara at Bennetts Lane and the double bill at The Malthouse featuring Alister Spence Trio and Dawn of Midi. The last of these three posts also covered Django Bates Beloved trio’s celebration of Charlie Parker, with help from Monash Art Ensemble, which I ranked as eminently worthy of mention, but not one of my highlights.

Another post, entitled a Sandwich of Food for the Soul, covered festival highlights at The Malthouse on Saturday 7 June: The Hunters & Pointers with Kristin Berardi, Mike Nock with Laurence Pike, and the Julien Wilson Quartet with Barney McAll.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

The final highlight for me of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2014 was the Hamer Hall outing of duets by Chick Corea on keys and Gary Burton on vibes. As they played I thought about what made this performance so successful; what was evident in their playing. It seemed to include mutual understanding and appreciation, subtlety, fun, finesse, dexterity, delicacy, intricacy, splendour, responsiveness, lightness of touch, rapidity, clarity, virtuosity, luminosity, melody, translucence (of vibes notes) and maybe even whimsy. As I posted elsewhere “there was plenty of pixie dust flying from the vibes”, especially in Crystal Silence, which seemed to be a contest to see who could play with the lightest touch.

Corea and Burton had been here before, but that did not detract from the enjoyment of this outing. Their concert seemed a fitting end to a festival, which artistic director Michael Tortoni described as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

So, there were plenty of highlights at the MIJF 2014. Two innovations — the excursion to Melbourne’s west and the use of The Malthouse — were a great success. Artists visiting from overseas did not dominate the highlights, in my view. It’s fair to say that the mix was eclectic, taking in The Drumhedz and Bates’ take on Charlie Parker, but clearly the MIJF under Tortoni allows plenty of scope for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival to reclaim some of the “out there” ground if funding becomes available in future years.

ROGER MITCHELL

A SANDWICH OF FOOD FOR THE SOUL

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

REFLECTION:

A Conversation at The Wheeler Centre and three concerts at The Malthouse on Saturday 7 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

1pm: A Conversation with Mike Nock

Improvising musicians are always listening to the others in the band, on the lookout for something they can pick up on and take somewhere. Journalists are always on the lookout for the angle — the unifying aspect that can help make a collection of events into a story.

Mike Nock handed me the angle to this post about his Wheeler Centre conversation and the three gigs to come later, although I did not pick up on how it would work until the evening. He spoke about a lot of aspects of music in this hour, including the fact that he once sang at the London Palladium, but more about these topics later if time permits.

I want to highlight a couple of Nock’s statements about jazz. He said jazz is “about connecting with people emotionally”. Later he said, “It is food for the soul — that’s what jazz is.”

I was happy to hear a musician of Nock’s stature say this, because I am at times moved to write food-for-the-soul-type comments about the music that moves me, although I am wary of slipping into sentimentality and aware of reactions to what’s played being subjective. If I do write thus about a musical experience I seem to be nagged by an inner voice wanting to dismiss this sort of talk as emotional claptrap and asking what it really means to say something “feeds” the “soul”.

That’s a topic for later, perhaps, but as it turned out, the Malthouse gigs later that evening — ironically, perhaps, the two before and after Nock’s gig with Laurence Pike — prompted me to want to use that emotive description.

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

7pm: Hunters & Pointers

First on stage were members of Hunters & Pointers, who had not performed together for 21 years. They were John Hoffman on flugelhorn, Graeme Lyall on saxophone, Tony Gould on piano, Ben Robertson on double bass and Tony Floyd on drums. How much talent can you fit on one stage?

From the opening notes I just wanted to find better words than smooth to describe this quintet’s work. Like a well-oiled trombone slide these luminaries of Australian jazz just let the notes slip into the auditorium and hang there in space.

I often prefer tension-filled music that’s prickly and sharp-edged. But this was sublime stuff that I knew would draw out that stuff about “food for the soul”. Luckily, I had Mike Nock’s words to provide support.

After Just Friends, my favourite vocalist Kristin Berardi joined Gould for Body and Soul, then the band for a vivacious rendering of Tea For Two. In I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Lyall delivered some super smooth alto sax that was fat and furry, Floyd’s work on brushes and mallets was superb, and Gould’s solo was a treat. This piece drew a loud “Yes” from the audience and justifiably so.

In mid concert there was some horseplay and even a joke, before the set’s highlight, for me — Berardi’s performance in Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most. Her vocals in this were eloquent, sensitive and yet not sentimental at all. The audience forced an encore, It Could Happen to You, that featured a solo with Robertson really jumping and evolved into a really swinging number.

This was food for the soul part one.

Tony Floyd and John Hoffman

Tony Floyd and John Hoffman

Kristin Berardi with Hunters and Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters & Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters and Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters & Pointers

Graeme Lyall

Graeme Lyall

Tony Gould

Tony Gould

Tony Floyd

Tony Floyd

Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson

John Hoffman

John Hoffman

9pm: Mike Nock and Laurence Pike

As mentioned, this set had a different sort of appeal. Immediately I was struck again by Nock’s ability to create an air of reverence that is totally engrossing, yet does not require many notes to be played.

Pike was extremely busy at times on drums and percussion, playing almost as if possessed — but in a muted fashion. (What is conveyed comes as much from what he holds back as by what he actually does, if that makes any sense. An example is the vigour with which he goes to hit with brushes, yet hardly any sound emerges.) I was reminded of a Cannonball Adderley live gig in which you can hear the audience respond to what’s hinted at by the rhythm section.

Nock built tension and focus, commanding attention. As the set progressed, both Pike and Nock were tinkering at sounds, producing electronic static along with rattles and the shaking of bells, plus short flurries of piano notes between pauses. I thought there was a lot in common with the Alister Spence Trio‘s set of the previous evening.

I was not moved to describe this as food for the soul. My appreciation of the set was more dispassionate. The appeal lay in the fascination of a changing landscape.

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

11.20pm: Julien Wilson Quartet

The finish of this narrative is probably fairly obvious by now. Julien Wilson on clarinet and tenor sax joined Barney McAll (over from New York) on piano, Jonathan Zwartz on acoustic bass and Allan Browne on drums and cymbals to complete a dream line-up.

I had lost any urge to dash off to Bennetts Lane to hear Django Bates Beloved play Charlie Parker. Another time. I wanted — wait for it — food for the soul, and this was the quartet to provide exactly that.

They began with Ellington’s The Feeling of Jazz, then Deep Night followed by a new ballad, Bernie, in honour of the late great Bernie McGann. Weeping Willow followed as a tribute to recently departed Gil Askey. There were great solos by Browne and McAll in this. In particular I loved how the quartet ended this and the previous piece, allowing them to gradually slip away. It was appropriate, I thought, to have such peaceful departures for these two characters of jazz.

From the opener, Wilson showed again that he continues to play with assurance and to draw on deep inspiration that is clearly a sustaining force.

They played another new piece, Rain Man, and ended with Farewell off the album This Is Always as an encore.

McAll seemed attentive rather than flamboyant on the night. He later said how much he appreciated Browne being so zen at the drum kit.

This concert was good for the soul. It was the perfect ending to the penultimate day of MIJF 2014.

ROGER MITCHELL

Jonathan Zwartz

Jonathan Zwartz

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

Barney McAll and Julien Wilson

Barney McAll and Julien Wilson

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz

Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

 

TURNING UNKNOWNS INTO KNOWNS

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

REFLECTION:

Three concerts at The Malthouse on Friday 6 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

7pm: Django Bates Beloved with Monash Art Ensemble celebrate Charlie Parker

It was going to be an evening of new experiences — I was familiar with only two of the four ensembles and had heard only one musical performance in the Merlyn Theatre at The Malthouse. It is a similar format to Chapel Off Chapel, but much wider, so that it is a much longer walk to move from one side of the elevated seating to the other to gain a different perspective for photographs. The sound seemed excellent, but the lighting lacked direction, so that by the final concert it was almost lights out as far as the action on stage was concerned.

I don’t believe that the music of Charlie Parker can be easy to play, and the opening concert confirmed this. Django Bates, at the piano and keyboard, was joined by Peter Eldh on double bass and Peter Bruun on drum kit, with Bates taking a conducting role either from the piano with gestures or by walking over to the Monash Art Ensemble, which included students and seasoned players.

If anything this outing was a demonstration to me that, first, I did not know Parker’s music well enough to make any assessment of how Bates had departed from the original Parker arrangements, and, second, it was complex music that called for skill and attention to detail by the musicians.

I particularly enjoyed Bates’ We Are Not Lost We Are Simply Finding Our Way (that’s how I felt), which featured Scott Tinkler on trumpet. I loved the interplay between bass and piano, as well as some deep, growling notes and mingling of sounds from the ensemble in Star Eyes. The orchestra seemed to have excellent control of dynamics in Confirmation, flaring up suddenly in what became a hard-driving piece. The Study of Touch was full of interest, with ensemble solos from Tony Hicks on flute, Rob Burke on soprano sax and a young sax player who may have struggled a little at higher registers. My Little Suede Shoes showcased some deft work by the trio before Bates conducted the ensemble in.

Audience reaction is often a useful guide, not necessarily to the musicianship, but to how well the music succeeds in being engaging. In this concert I felt as if the appreciation was muted, with the ABC’s Gerry Koster having to suggest that with extra clapping “we may get an encore”.

But I was inspired to seek out more of Bates’ work and to get to know Parker much better.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Django Bates, Peter Brunn and Peter Eldh with members of Monash Art Ensemble.

9pm: Alister Spence Trio

This was the trio with which I was acquainted, but the outing was another clear demonstration that hearing a group live will always have far more impact than hearing them on an album.

As soon as the early distraction of taking some photographs in the allocated time and the parsimonious and nasty red light was over, I was immediately engrossed in this set, which was music I felt could be touched or felt as a physical sensation. Propulsion is often a key factor for me, and Spence‘s trio — Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and percussion — had it in spades. Brave Ghost featured some lovely, deep, resonant bass and delivered intensity plus. With excellent dynamics from Hall and some hot piano by Spence, this was going places. The piece was a ripper.

We heard Seventh Song, Threading the Maze and “a quick version” of Sleeping Under Water, each demonstrating this group’s ability to gain and hold our attention, building and releasing tension as changes occurred. This was a riveting set by a focused, energetic and engrossing trio. And I believe they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

11.30pm: Dawn of Midi

Sometimes we need spoiler alerts. I often think that if I read a film review before seeing it, it is impossible to wipe out the memory of a single remark that may skew how I will view the movie. In the case of this outing by Dawn of Midi, I happened to read a brief comment by someone who had been at the previous night’s performance. In summary, this person thought Dawn of Midi’s set was similar to a performance by The Necks, but less interesting.

I could not erase that idea as I listened to Amino Belyamani on piano, Askaash Israni on double bass and Qasim Naqri on percussion. The set seemed very controlled and to be all about incremental change. A lot of alterations were made to the rhythmic patterns, but the changes were gradual and required concentration to pick up.

In a strange twist, a conversation after the performance altered my view. Curious about what those familiar with Dawn of Midi had thought, I asked some fans of the group. The explained that this was not improvised at all, as is The Necks’ music, but totally scripted — and in detail, down to the last note, so to speak. They assured me that the set as played live was very close to the album Dysnomia and that I should get it and listen before passing judgement.

So I dutifully obtained the album and have played it a few times while writing these “review-style” pieces. I find that my view has changed. Whereas on the night I did not think there was enough to keep me interested and hanging out for more, I can appreciate now that there is a compelling element to this incrementally changing landscape.

So tonight I learned about little-known unknowns (Parker) and even lesser-known unknowns (Dawn of Midi), but learnt more about unknowns I would like to become better-knowns.

ROGER MITCHELL

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

FEATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

REFLECTION:

Jukka Perko Avara Trio (Finland), MIJF Club Session at Bennetts Lane 9.30pm Wednesday 4 June 2014

I hurried from Here and Now and the Larry Carlton Quartet to finish the night with a Finnish flourish. Having been impressed by Carlton’s facility with his instrument, but not too excited by the material he chose to play, I was ready for adventure.

Well, I missed the first piece, but pretty soon I found myself thrown into the deep end of what seemed a very strange pool indeed, eased in by the wry sense of humour of saxophonist and band leader Jukka Perko. I did quite know what had hit me, to tell the truth, and felt as if I was treading water amid some strange currents for quite a while.

Jukka Perko with his trio.

Jukka Perko with his trio.

The humour was an ice breaker. Perko explained that their second piece, He Left the Road, was about a man who walked off into a forest swamp and wandered about for some time before returning to pretty much the same point — which was they way he often felt about jazz. There was some heavy breathing into the sax in this fragmented piece.

Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar.

Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar.

All three members of the trio made extensive use of pedals for sustain, reverb and playback of samples on the run. At times it felt almost classical (from Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar), at others there was piercing soprano sax, then intricate electric guitar from Jarmo Saari. I felt during Guardian Angel that the music was so changeable that it was hard to keep up or adjust as it shifted in intensity and mood. The finish (no pun intended) was fast, loud and full of vigour.

After some humour directed at Swedish music being in a major key and the Finns requiring a switch to minor, there was a lyrical, folk-style piece with a dance feel before things turned darker.

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar

During Water of the Black Trench — a reference to the last waters from melting snow flowing into deep pools that made the clear water appear dark — I was mesmerised and totally engrossed. Saari’s vocals, emerging into the mic from beneath his long moustache, were uncanny, unsettling and evocative. His voice and his electric guitar, with reverb and sustain, conjured creepy, icy things that were in keeping with the gravelly static coming from someone in the trio. This wonderful piece finished with what could have been the cries of birds followed by a tiny echo of the sax notes.

Praise the Lord for He Is Good (an old French mediaeval song reworked) offered a series of musical vignettes, each quite different. The unpredictability of this trio had me convinced that in the encore, Summer Hymn, the light, airy, melodic and pleasant feel would surely give way to something darker, but that did not happen. The floating, flowing feel of summer remained until the end.

Departing from the deep traditions of jazz from the US always offers potential for something completely different. I’d like to hear more of the Jukka Perko Avara Trio, if only to be better prepared for the unexpected. But somewhere deep in the black trench I decided I was no longer out of my depth.

ROGER MITCHELL