Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart performs at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in 2012

AUSTRALIAN TOUR: Alex Stuart Quintet

The title of this post will mean little to many, but it alludes to the first Lonely Planet guide that I ever used, South-East Asia on a Shoestring, which accompanied me on the trek up through the wilds of Java and Sumatra and beyond many, many years ago.

But I digress. We have come to expect — and look forward to — visits home by expatriate musician Alex Stuart from his adopted home in France.

The guitarist ( is back from Paris this month and joins some of Australia’s top jazz musicians to launch his new album Place to Be. Stuart moved to France in 2005 after graduating from the ANU School of Music in Canberra.

His Australian tour follows the album’s launch in May at Paris’s Sunset Jazz Club. The album, released by the French label Gaya / Abeille Musique, has received many enthusiastic critical responses there, including Nouvelle-Vague magazine’s “balanced to perfection … one of the best jazz albums of the year – 5 stars” and national radio station France Musique’s “an absolutely superb album … music that shimmers”.

In Australia, ABC Jazz made it a “feature album”, while The Australian’s John McBeath praised it and gave it 4 out 5 stars.

Stuart has been immersed in the rich and varied musical cultures of the Paris jazz scene and, through a residency in Kolkata, in the Hindustani classical tradition. He is well recognised in Europe, known for his 2010 album, Around, and winning the prestigious 2011 Révelation prize at the Jazz à Juan jazz festival. In 2012 he played at the Wangaratta Festival and in 2013 he was nominated for the Freedman Jazz Scholarship.

Stuart says he welcomes opportunities to return to Australia, the country that has influenced his music in many ways and “has also directly inspired several of my compositions, most recently the Place to Be track Cuttagee, Wapengo, which comes from fond memories of the NSW Far South Coast”.

Describing Place to Be as an “ode to cultural openness”, Stuart says he finds inspiration in many places, “including the jazz tradition, contemporary jazz, African and South American grooves, rock and post-rock, Indian and Balkan music, Australia, life in Paris’s 19th arrondissement and the sea and surfing”.

For his quintet on tour, Stuart Alex has three-time Bell Jazz Awards winner Julien Wilson on saxophone, ARIA award winner and founder of the band Wanderlust, Miroslav Bukovsky on trumpet, winner of several Bell and other jazz awards Jonathan Zwartz  on double bass, and on drums Tim Firth, who won the 2011 National Jazz Award at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart at Bennetts in 2012

Alex Stuart’s tour dates:

  • Tuesday 21 October: MJC / Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne
  • Wednesday 22 October: Venue 505, 280 Cleveland St Surry Hills, Sydney
  • Saturday 25 October: Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, Wollongong
  • Sunday 26 October: Zephyrs Jazz, Four Winds Windsong Pavilion, Barragga Bay, (near Bermagui) NSW
  • Monday 27 October: The Street Theatre, Canberra

 Alex will also play as a quartet at MONA and other venues in Tasmania between 30 October and 1 November.




Leo Dale

Leo Dale                                              (Image: James Boddington)

CD LAUNCH: Leo Dale’s From Now Om, Saturday 25 October 8pm Northcote Uniting Church, 251 High St, Northcote $20 / $10 conc (admission includes a CD)

Of all people, I would probably benefit most from this example by Leo Dale‘s diverse and continuing creativity. After a year in which I have spent most of my waking hours in front of a computer screen, working to deadlines or moving gradually forward on a long-term project that is now close to completion, I would benefit from being able to chill and to lose stress.

From now on, that’s a key aim for me, but at this stage I’m just trying to be aware of the stress and not to judge. That said, I am unfit, overweight and sedentary. And I need music.

Track one of From Now Om is almost five minutes long and I’d love to have a whole album of its fusion of saxophone and cello with chanted Om.

The remaining track consists of 40 minutes of  meditative chanting, with six voices singing Om together in a harmonic series that Leo describes as a “human tamboura that invokes deep peace”. Leo sings each Om as six notes of the harmonic series. He says each one of these voices is vibrating in sympathy with the lowest as well as with each other.

In the live performance of this work, Leo will sit on a large rug with a laptop and looping software. A cello loop will play and then one by one he will layers six voices on top of each other, singing Om. For the technically minded, he describes it as “the intervals are the same as the harmonic series, the fundamental note One octave above one octave and a fifth two octaves Two octaves and a third Two octave and a fifth”. That was confusing to me, but I am sure it is not necessary to understand that to appreciate the result.

Leo visits India every year and he had the idea for this album in 2011 while singing overtone harmonies to the sound of priests chanting in the temple in Ganeshpuri. As he explains it, “Every note, every string, every horn, every voice is made from sound vibrations. Each sound is made from one main pitch (the fundamental) and mixed in, some other notes at lower volumes (harmonics). If you think of a skipping rope in the schoolyard, the rope is like a big vibrating string. That big loop is the fundamental, the main note you can hear in a guitar string. If you then put some extra energy into the skipping rope, you can get two loops going. Each loop is half the length of the rope and in a vibrating guitar string this harmonic is up one octave. Similarly that string is also vibrating with three loops, four loops etc. These notes exist in lower volumes in all music, speech and sounds in general. This is the harmonic series.”

CDs available here –
Buy the album on iTunes –
Read more about the music here:

And Leo posts:

The album sounds like this


Paper Tiger

CD LAUNCH: Paper Tiger, featuring Oehlers/Magnusson/Vanderwal at Uptown Jazz Cafe, 8.30pm (two sets)

To give a taste of what’s in store, here is Uptown’s take on proceedings:

“Jamie Oehlers (tenor and soprano saxophones), Stephen Magnusson (guitar) and Ben Vanderwal (drums) are three widely recognised and acclaimed Australian jazz artists, who came together in 2013 to perform each others’ original material in Perth and Melbourne.

“The results were undeniably strong – so much so that they are getting back together again in Melbourne to record a new album over this week, with this performance being a prequel to that recording.

“With distinctly different writing styles, the material will be diverse, drawn together by the always clear and unique voices of these three exceptional musicians.”

And here’s another take on this album:

“In 2013 these three fine musicians got together to perform and enjoyed the results so much they coaxed each other to go into the studio and record an album. Once in there, with the red light on they couldn’t stop, they tied the sound engineer to his chair and proceeded to record 15 songs (all available on their new release, Paper Tiger.

“The resulting music is a diverse range of colours, grooves and timbres. Each member has a very distinct writing style but the compositions are approached as a collective. You can hear the band revelling in the freedom of the bass less trio format and revelling in the knowledge they do not have to check in a double bass at the oversize counter the next day.”

Paper Tiger features five compositions by Oehlers, three each by Magnusson and Vanderwal, as well as pieces by each of Keith Jarrett, Frank Loesser, Ornette Coleman and Stephen Foster.

And our ABC has this to say about the album:

“Audacious but approachable, eclectic yet focused, Paper Tiger presents a new instrumental trio. No stranger to each other, each member is a highly regarded improvising Australian: guitarist Stephen Magnusson, saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and drummer Ben Vanderwal.

Paper Tiger has compositions by each member of the trio, plus very fresh explorations of other composers’ work – from Ornette Coleman to Stephen Foster.

“So limber is this trio that a casual listener may be surprised to discover it ‘lacks’ a bass player. Good humour, lyricism and surprise are abundant.”

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers


Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky at work.


Monash Art Ensemble Friday 3 October 7:30pm at the Iwaki Auditorium, free

There’s a lot on in Melbourne tonight. First up, at 7.30pm, the always exciting Monash Art Ensemble presents its third and final project for 2014, featuring the world premiere of three new compositions and one classic work.

From 8.30pm, at Uptown Jazz Cafe, there will be two sets to launch Paper Tiger, a new album from Stephen Magnusson, Jamie Oehlers and Ben Vanderwal. But more of that in a separate post.

The Iwaki concert will comprise American modernist composer Milton Babbitt’s All Set, which is a rarely performed work of third stream music, a synthesis of classical music and jazz; Andrew Harrison’s Gassed Shell (Severe) explores his grandfather’s WW1 experiences; Confluence by lauded pianist and composer Joseph O’Connor was written specifically for the Monash Art Ensemble, and a new work, for e.e. cummings, by the ensemble’s director Paul Grabowsky completes the program.

Andrew Harrison has written for theatre, film and the concert hall. His signature compositional style draws upon the art music and jazz traditions, challenging the boundaries between improvisation and conventional music notation.

Gassed Shell (Severe) continues his musical exploration of his family’s battlefield experiences in World War I. Commissioned by Paul Grabowsky and the Monash Art Ensemble, Gassed Shell (Severe) draws on the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, where his grandfather was wounded in action by mustard gas. Harrison’s composition interweaves excerpts from his grandfather’s war record with Wilfred Owen’s profound anti­war poem Dulce Et Decorum Est. The title of the work comes from his grandfather’s casualty report.

Joseph O’Connor took out the 2013 National Jazz Award and the 2014 Bell Jazz prize for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year. His new composition Confluence is written specifically for the Monash Art Ensemble and celebrates the thorny atonality and rhythmic volatility of American modernism composers in sequences of detailed notation. Each member of the ensemble will bring their personal histories to the work through improvisation in the central movements.

Milton Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist and teacher noted for his serial and electronic music. All Set was commissioned in 1957 and is seen as the definitive melding of jazz and serial music. As Paul Grabowsky puts it, “His compositional and intellectual wisdom has influenced a wide range of contemporary musicians and is a groundbreaker in the kind of new music that the Monash Art Ensemble is championing.”

Paul Grabowsky is composing a brand new ensemble piece for this concert.  for e.e. cummings will build on his already extensive record of award-winning works.




It’s another beautiful day for a drive, so consider catching the last day of the incredibly comprehensive Festival of Slow Music in Ballarat.

Many wonderful performances have taken place already, but for those able to make it today there are plenty still to come, including a finale that will involve many of the musicians involved earlier.

Don’t be misled by the “slow music” title — it does not meant there will be no rapidity or fast-paced musical offerings. The philosophy behind this festival is explained below.

The best way to find out what’s on today is to visit the Festival of Slow Music website. (That’s not only because the website is fantastic, but because I could not extract text from the PDF media release, though I did try.)

Here is a link to the festival program in PDF form.

Meantime, if you are not familiar with this festival, here is some background taken from that website:

“I want to create an annual festival where people can take time to listen and engage with the music and the artists, where new collaborations can grow, and where people will experience the ability that music has to refresh, inspire and astonish.”

Adam Simmons — Artistic Director

The Festival of Slow Music is an opportunity to experience music of all genres in intimate spaces and to learn more about the musicians behind the sounds.

The Festival of Slow Music reflects the philosophy of the Slow Food movement but with the focus on the sensation of hearing, with all of the concerts being totally acoustic. The idea of Slow Music is to promote a more direct connection to the musical experience through meeting the musicians, learning about their musical aspirations, listening to natural, unamplified sounds and taking the time to hear a performance in full.
The Festival of Slow Music is about an approach to listening and experiencing music – it is not a description of the music, which will range from slow to fast, soft to loud, beautiful to ugly, old to new. It is not the music that will be slow, but the listening – the audience will be encouraged to slow down and enjoy the experience.

The Festival of Slow Music comes out of the Portraits Concert Series at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, also curated by Adam Simmons over several years, and aims to highlight the region’s rich artistic heritage and the strong contemporary music and arts scene.

This second festival year builds on its 2013 debut, presenting an exciting and ambitious program. It is not about a label or genre but rather the experience across the festival period that will develop and define the concept of “slow music”.




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