3.5 stars

Yum Yum Tree Records

The story of this collaboration and the album it produced is as interesting as the music thereon. After travel in India, Sydney saxophonist Matt Keegan (Matt Keegan Trio, Steve Hunter Band, Phil Slater’s Sun Songbook project, Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra) was awarded the 2011 Freedman Fellowship for the idea of transforming Piramal Haveli — a stunning Italian inspired structure at the tiny town of Bagar deep in the Rajasthan desert — into a recording studio for an eclectic ensemble with links to India, Australia and New Zealand to make music.

Keegan describes the journey thus: “Bagar was a bugger to get to as no one seemed to know where it was. The group travelled for five hours from Delhi in two SUVs that were packed to the hilt with musicians and equipment.” Challenges included “power cuts and a barrage of extraneous sounds like hooting peacocks, crickets at night, car horns, thunderclaps, distant gunfire and obscenely loud party music! Some of these sounds found their way on to the takes”.

The Three Seas line-up includes young Indian folk singer Raju Das Baul, expatriate New Zealander guitarist/composer and now Indian resident Cameron Deyell (Lior, Katie Noonan), multi-instrumentalist and singer from Darjeeling Deoashish Mothey on dotora (Bengali banjo), makta (clay pot) and esraj (bowed, fretted harp), drummer Gaurab ‘Gaboo’ Chatterjee from Kolkata on drum kit and dubki (a tambourine-like hand drum). Matt Keegan on alto clarinet and tenor sax, and Tim Keegan on electric bass and vocals complete the ensemble.

Recording engineer Richard Belkner (PVT, Thirsty Merc) utilised various locations in the building, employing the deep resonance of the merchants’ hall, reverb from the tiled washrooms, the peace of the courtyard and the “eerie calm” of the chambers at night.

The most interesting aspect of what emerges from this brief collaboration is that genre is forgotten and traditions, while evident, are subsumed into a soundscape that is varied and unpredictable. Voices — individual and grouped — are given equal status to the (other) instruments, which are employed with diversity of rhythm and  timbre.

The listener can be caught up in the clear sound of strings, then find voices changing the mood. Yet the compositions — by various members of the ensemble — allow for instrumental soliloquies and mesmerising vocals. Deyell’s Godfather offers a more focused, minimal feel as a break from the variety and eclecticism.

Haveli is a journey that will, like the incredibly diverse country in which it was created, reward revisiting.


Haveli is available also via Bandcamp

The Three Seas

The Three Seas                                               (Image supplied)




4 stars


Liminal opens with a closing. Saarelaht sums up Closing, written for a surgeon to whom he sent the piece, but from whom he never heard back, with the succinct subtitle “having dealt with a point infarct”. I had to look that up, but this piece feels more substantial than the eradication of “a small localised area of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply”.

Strength comes to mind. Its engrossing, compelling nature is fitting to open an album of Saarelaht originals that is often robust and — even in its understated parts — retains a certain directness and brawn. The composer regards it as a snapshot of the trio, formed 20 years earlier, in transition.

As in his 2010 quartet album Fiveways, with Niko Schauble on drums, Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Julien Wilson on sax, Saarelaht honours the departed. Five-nineteen is revisited for bassist Stuart Speed, Liminal is for drummer Peter Jones and Ivory Cutlery is for Scottish poet, comic author and songwriter Ivor Cutler. The album notes also mention Gil Askey, who died in April.

Liminal was also a live recording, this time at Bennetts Lane in October 2013 at the Esto-Cubist Jazz Festival and this time with Philip Rex on double bass joining Schauble and Saarelaht, the trio responsible for Fridays, Late.

This is a superb line-up. Rex’s inventive excellence is on display especially in the title track and alone in the opening of Five-nineteen, which develops swing powerful enough to qualify as a form of renewable energy. Trio members demonstrate empathy, yet preserve their independence, but the result is always cohesive.

Then Again, inspired by Andrea Keller‘s take on a Bela Bartok composition, allows Saarelaht room for expansive, yet intricate and light reflections. Splendidly laid back Ivory Cutlery again exhibits delicate finery on the keyboard followed by spacious, strong bass.

The final, and longest, track on an album that seems to end too soon, is Fiveways. It gathers intensity on a slow burn before exemplary stick work by Schauble that understandably draws applause, fades back and then gathers force again as this trio grabs and holds us in thrall until the end.

During a couple of long drives recently in remote Western Australia, Liminal was played repeatedly on the rental car stereo. It was sustaining and kept me from succumbing to sleep on the long, straight roads.


Jex Saarelaht

Jex Saarelaht at the Bennetts Lane launch of Liminal in July 2014



Hard core: Scott Tinkler

Hard core: Scott Tinkler

PREVIEW: Hard Core on the Fly, Australian Art Orchestra,
7, 14, 21 and 28 August at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 8.30pm

Hecklers can gird their loins and other lovers of improvised music can get ready to strap themselves in and take the ride of their lives.

Tonight (7 August 2014) at 8.30pm at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne, and for the following three Thursdays, curator Scott Tinkler and the Australian Art Orchestra will unleash utterly unrehearsed music, created on the fly. Of course no one’s suggesting that anyone should heckle in the style of the curator, but anyone who decides to be there needs to hang on to their hat.

Hard Core on the Fly features  some of Australia’s most exciting musicians and, for two concerts only, special guest George Garzone (USA) will join the line-up.

Each week a different combination of players will feature. They will meet, sometimes for the first time, one hour directly before the gig.

George Garzone

George Garzone

Garzone will play in Melbourne on 21 August and also in Perth on 28 August during this third series of Hard Core on the Fly. 

According to series curator Scott Tinkler these performances are intended to “broaden the musician base of the AAO and introduce new energy and ideas into the improvising culture of AAO members, creating new musical relationships and recognising established ones”.

“Each of the established artists involved have very strong ideas about improvisation and varied, but well practised approaches. Each week will see some well established musical relationships with the added excitement of brand new ones lurking,” he said in a statement to eager media representatives.

 “It is my hope that in the course of collaboration through performance that every one involved is challenged to find ways to relate and communicate with the other artists. My ultimate hope is that each week the joy of exploring music through improvisation is experienced by the artists. Audiences in past years have delighted in witnessing and sharing this experience and we look forward to welcoming them again.”

As well as the gigs, for the first time the AAO will conduct private workshops on improvisation at WAAPA (Perth), the Western Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra (Perth), and Southern Cross University (Lismore). Facilitators include  Tinkler, Stephen Magnusson, James Greening, Gian Slater and Carl Dewhurst.

Peter Knight

Peter Knight fires up during the 2014 MIJF

The line-ups for each Bennetts Lane concert are as follows:

7 August

Peter Knight trumpet, electronics, Adrian Sherriff trombone, Adam King drums, Brett Thompson guitar, Matthias Schack-Arnott percussion, James Macaulay trombone

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

14 August

Scott Tinkler trumpet, Anthony Burr clarinet, Erkki Veltheim violin, Ren Walters guitar, Dave Beck drums, Jenny Barnes vocals

Ren Walters

Ren Walters

21 August

George Garzone (USA) saxophone, Simon Barker drums, Scott Tinkler trumpet, Samuel Pankhurst bass, Stephen Magnusson guitar, Scott McConnachie saxophone

Geoff Hughes

Geoff Hughes

28 August

Geoff Hughes guitar, Eugene Ball trumpet, Harry Shaw-Reynolds drums, Joseph O’Connor piano, Marty Holoubek bass, James Macaulay trombone



Dates: Thursday 7, 14, 21 and 28 August

Times: Doors open 8:30pm at each concert

Venue: Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne

Cost: $20 / $15 + booking fee for each concert

Bookings: www.bennettslane.com

Website: www.aao.com.au


CD launch flyer for Liminal

CD launch flyer for Liminal

LATE CALL: Jex Saarelaht Trio launches the album Liminal at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Thursday 31 July 2014 at 8.30pm

Tonight there is still time to hear a live rendition of the new release by the Jex Saarelaht Trio, an album that comprises a set of six original pieces recorded live at the Esto-Cubist Jazz Festival, Bennetts Lane, in October last year.

Formed over 20 years ago, the trio, consisting of pianist/composer Jex Saarelaht, double bassist Philip Rex and drummer Niko Schäuble, has an association going back as far with the jazz club, which is also the location of their debut recording Fridays, Late.

On the title, Liminal, the trio’s notes explain it thus: “At the risk of undermining its significance, Jex was thinking of the idea in terms of transition, musically in relation to ambiguity and disorientation, and the development of the written piece through the input/improvisation of the musicians involved, not just in one performance, but over time. The choice of title for the piece in particular was also prompted by friend and drummer Peter Jones’s situation after his diagnosis with brain cancer in early 2011, when he entered a liminal state for quite a while. Ultimately the music here is a snapshot of the trio in a transitional moment, in between everything that has come before in their 20-years-plus together, and whatever may transpire and develop into the future.”

It’s late notice and it’s cold, but this launch will warm the cockles.


Liminal is available from Jazzhead


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.


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.”


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



Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava


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.