Tag Archives: Dave Beck


Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann

GIG: Benefit concert for Bernie McGann, 6.30pm to 9.30pm, Sunday, September 1, 2013, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, organised by Melbourne Jazz Co-operative

This post is intended to help pass on details already being publicised by the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, about a benefit concert for revered saxophonist Bernie McGann, who is recovering from illness in Sydney and needs our support. The gig is being held at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club on September 1 in conjunction with a silent auction. The word is that a similar benefit concert in Sydney recently raised about $11,000, so Melbourne has a job ahead if we are to hold out heads high.


Bidding is now open for Prizes donated for the Silent Auction in the Bernie McGann Benefit.

Bidding in the silent auction being held in conunction with the Bernie McGann Benefit Concert in Melbourne is now open. To make an online bid, send an email to the MJC at melbournejazzcooperative@gmail.com with the subject “McGann Silent Auction” and your full name, the item number and your bid in the body of the email. Live bids can also be made at the event on Sunday night until 9:30pm. Winners will be notified at the close of the event (if at the venue) and via email on the evening of September 2nd.

Melbourne Jazz Festival’s Golden Pass (value $1,000),
– 2 tickets to the Gala Opening
– 2 tickets to a Modern Masters of Jazz
– 2 tickers to a Explorations in Jazz show
– 2 tickets to a Club Session
– Priority entry into The Cave (MIJF late night program)
– Reserved seating at the MIJF Masterclass Series
– Reserved seating at the MIJF In Conversation Series

The value of this Golden Pass is worth over $1,000 in tickets and services.
The shows chosen in the above pass will be up to the discretion of MIJF

Day’s Recording Session at Pughouse Studios, Northcote (value $600)

Gold Pass for this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues (value $350)
The Gold Pass provides entry to all venues from Friday to Monday night PLUS: VIP seating at all WPAC shows, the Festival Launch Cocktail Party at the Gateway on Friday evening and the Cup Eve Concert on the Monday night.

Bundle of 10 McGann albums on Rufus Records, including Ugly Beauty, McGann McGann, Bundeena, Live at Side On, Playground, Kindred Spirits, Wending, Double Dutch, Solar, Blues for Pablo Too (value $250)

5 CD albums on JazzHead, including Andrea Keller Quartet and Sam Keever Nonet albums featuring McGann (value $130)

5 CD albums by Julian Wilson’s groups: Assumptions2, Departures by Assumptions, Festa, Trio-Live,
Kaleidoscopic (value $125)

Australian Jazz Real Book, edited by Dr. Tim Nikolsky (value $100)

Three framed photographs of Bernie McGann by Roger Mitchell (value $150 each)

Gold Pass for the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s 2014 season (value $75)

ITEM 10:
3 CD albums by Niko Schauble: Tibetan Dixie, Night Music, Red Earth/White Snow (value $75)

ITEM 11:
2 Victorian Jazz Archive albums of the JazzArt recordings: The Progressives 2 & 3 (value $50)

ITEM 12:
Stephen Magnusson’s Bell-winning “Magnet” LP (value $30)

Both Rufus Records (Bernie’s main label) and JazzHead will be selling stock on the night, with a good percentage of profits going to Bernie.

Copies of all 10 McGann albums on Rufus Records (including Ugly Beauty, McGann McGann, Bundeena, Live at Side On, Playground, Kindred Spirits, Wending, Double Dutch, Solar, Blues for Pablo Too) will be on sale at the special price of $20 each at the Benefit.

Additional copies of the Australian Jazz Real Book will also be sold for $100 each), as well as some other CDs and LPs by local artists.


 The line-up  for the Jazz Lab gig ($20 & $15 concession) now includes Paul Grabowsky (solo piano), Italian saxophonist Mirko Guerrini, and Wilbur Wilde.

They will join an impressive line-up of leading Melbourne jazz artists (plus Perth’s Jamie Oehlers) with the confirmed artists including Julien Wilson, Allan Browne, Ian Chaplin, David Rex, Ken Schroder, Jex Saarelaht Trio, Bopstretch, Phil Noy, Philip Rex, Niko Schauble, and Sam Bates, among others.

Allan Browne (drums), Phil Rex (bass) and Phil Noy (alto sax) will open the concert by playing some of Bernie’s tunes (as will Julien Wilson and Boplicity).


(using information provided by Melbourne Jazz Co-operative)


Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann

GIG: Benefit concert for Bernie McGann, Sunday 1 September, 2013, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, organised by Melbourne Jazz Co-operative

This is one of my favourite pictures of Bernie McGann. I have plenty of others in which he is blowing up a storm, his brow covered in sweat, or gently transporting us with a ballad. But this picture shows Bernie seated, as is his habit, listening while other members of the band carry the piece forward. He is at ease, yet engrossed.

The picture was taken in June 2012 at a Bennetts Lane gig for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. On the night, and in the review, I got carried away with what Bernie gave us, along with Marc Hannaford, Phillip Rex and Dave Beck.

This post is intended to help pass on details already being publicised by the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, about a benefit concert being held at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club on September 1, so that the word gets out to as many people as possible. Bernie is recovering from illness and needs our support.

The line-up  for the Jazz Lab gig ($20 & $15 concession) now includes Paul Grabowsky (solo piano), Italian saxophonist Mirko Guerrini, and Wilbur Wilde.

They are joining an already impressive line-up of leading Melbourne jazz artists (plus Perth’s Jamie Oehlers) with the confirmed artists including Julien Wilson, Allan Browne, Ian Chaplin, David Rex, Ken Schroder, Jex Saarelaht Trio, Bopstretch, Phil Noy, Philip Rex, Niko Schauble, and Sam Bates, among others.

Allan Browne (drums), Phil Rex (bass) and Phil Noy (alto sax) will open the concert by playing some of Bernie’s tunes (as will Julien Wilson and Boplicity).

More prizes for the raffle and auction include a collection of five CD albums by Julian Wilson’s groups (Festa, Trio, Assumptions), and five copies of Stephen Magnusson’s Bell-winning Magnet LP.

Prizes donated for the Silent Raffle now include a Melbourne Jazz Festival’s Golden Pass (value $1,000), four copies of the Australian Jazz Real Book donated by editor Dr Tim Nikolsky (value $100 each), and a JazzHead CD pack (in addition to the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, which is donating a Gold Pass for this year’s festival to both benefit concerts in Melbourne and Sydney : value $350 each).

Both Rufus Records (Bernie’s main label) and JazzHead will be selling stock on the night, with a good percentage of profits going to Bernie.
We also hope to have some copies of the hard-to-find 1997 book Bernie McGann A life in Jazz by poet Geoff Page, as well as some photographs by Bruce Hart (who now resides in Canada).

Tax-deductible donations can be made via S.I.M.A. (just ask for details).


(using material provided by Melbourne Jazz Co-operative)


Reason 12



Ausjazz blog has not exhausted the myriad reasons why you should not miss the opportunity to be at all or part of Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival this year, but a dozen is clearly not enough, so I’ve grouped a few who absolutely deserve a mention.

Friday, November 2 at 10pm, WPAC Theatre: Paul Grabowsky and Bernie McGann will perform jazz standards and original compositions in a quartet with bassist Jonathan Zwartz and on drums 2011 National Jazz Awards winner Tim Firth.

Friday, November 2 at 9:45pm, WPAC Memorial Hall: Marc Hannaford with his trio with talented young bassist Sam Pankhust and drummer James McLean, as heard on Marc’s CD Sarcophile.

Saturday, November 3 at 4:30pm, WPAC Memorial Hall: Scott Tinkler Quartet with Marc Hannaford (piano), Sam Pankhurst (bass) and Simon Barker (drums)

Saturday. November 3 at 4pm, Holy Trinity Cathedral: Tim Stevens will perform solo on piano.

Saturday, November 3 at noon Holy Trinity Cathedral: Doug De Vries with bassist Frank Di Sario and drummer/percussionist Alastair Kerr will be playing Brazilian music.

Sunday, November 4 at 12:30pm WPAC Memorial Hall: Tim Stevens will also play in his trio with Ben Robertson on bass and Dave Beck on drums.

Saturday, November 3 at 2:30pm WPAC Memorial Hall: Allan Browne will lead his trio with Marc Hannaford and Sam Anning.

Sunday, November 4 at 6pm, St Patrick’s Hall
: Bob Barnard and Warwick Alder on trumpets.

Saturday, November 3 at 8pm, St Patrick’s Hall
: Hobart pianist Tom Vincent playing Wangaratta for the first time, joined by Sam Anning (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums).

Sunday, November 4 at 8pm, St Patrick’s Hall: Eminent pianist Tony Gould will feature in a quartet with Rob Burke on saxophone, Nick Haywood on bass and Tony Floyd on drums, as well as in the trio (Sunday, November 4 at 2pm, Holy Trinity Cathedral) he co-leads with Imogen Manins on cello and Gianni Marinucci on flugelhorn and trumpet.

Saturday, November 3 at 12:30pm, WPAC Memorial Hall: Sydney bassist/composer Hannah James, a graduate from the ANU School of Music in Canberra, will play in a trio with two members of her quintet, Casey Golden on piano and Ed Rodrigues on drums. Phil Slater on trumpet will be a guest soloist.

Monday, November 5, 1pm, WPAC: Youth jazz showcase concert added to the program on Monday afternoon. It’s separately ticketed, but covered by a festival pass. Generations in Jazz Academy Big Band from Mt Gambier directed by Graeme Lyall; the Monash University Big Band directed by Jordan Murray; and the National Youth Jazz Academy band, with young students aged 18 to 19, based in Wangaratta. This includes a trumpet player aged 13 who is precociously talented.

Hope to see some blog readers at Wangaratta.




Taking shape or taking off? Paul Grabowsky conducts Shapeshifter

GIG REVIEW: Shapeshifter, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Take two groups of musicians, add Paul Grabowsky and stir. The result is bound to be interesting.

In this case, Grabowsky as Musical Director has gathered six students from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and teamed them with seven members of the renowned Australian Art Orchestra to form Shapeshifter — “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st Century musicians”.


Shapeshifter: (from left) O’Connor, Mamrot, Rex, Klas and Beck

In the first set, the ensemble played Variations (2001), based on a melody from the Suite du’n Goût Étranger (Suite in a Foreign Style) by 17th Century viola-da-gamba virtuoso Marin Marais. As Grabowsky explained, the piece puts the melody through a series of costume changes, each paying homage to composers past and present: Ennio Morricone, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, J.S. Bach and Olivier Messiaen.


Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and Davidson

Described in publicity material as “a kind of chamber concerto showing off the virtuosity of the players”, Variations would probably send a shock wave or two through any audience used to classical chamber music. Opening with pre-recorded music over which trumpeter Eugene Ball introduced squeals, whistles, growls and farts, the piece was often frenetic and often displayed dissonance or even discordancy.


Onslaughts: Philip Rex

Philip Rex on bass, with and without bow, helped mightily in the onslaughts, assisted by the superb Dave Beck on drums and percussionist Shanie Klas beating a small tin as if her life depended on its bell-like sound. A dirge of saxes was overlaid by upper register horns from Scott Tinkler and Ball.


Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and O’Connor

Joe O’Connor (keyboards) delivered some fierce runs, the notes well dug into the ivories. Brendan Toohey on bass clarinet added to the chatter of saxes in some bursts of AHBL (all hell breaking loose). James Macaulay‘s trombone worked well with Beck’s ‘plosive’ attacks and Dan Mamrot on guitar added significantly to what was a rich repertoire of timbres.

Variations was amazing, though I am sure I did not catch anything like all of its allusions of homage to composers. I would have to say it left me more marvelling than moved, but there was more to come from Shapeshifter after the break.


Horny: Tony Hicks solos with Shapeshifter

The second set opened with Tall Tales, a three-movement suite Grabowsky wrote in honour of filmmaker Fred Schepisi on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The first movement, Ngukurr Mon Amour, is based on the structure of manikay, the traditional song cycle form of the Yolngu peoples of Arnhem Land. The second, …and a bier for young Arnie is informed by the music of the young Arnold Schoenberg, and includes a miniature alto saxophone concerto. The third movement is entitled Wacky, Zany, Madcap.


Shapeshifter at work

This piece quickly had me convinced it would be the standout of the night. From the first movement, which opened with Welsh’s violin acting as a drone to Rex’s vigorous bass, it was compelling, energy-filled and intense. To me, this was a better showcase for the ensemble than Variations, especially as epitomised in the work of Tinkler, Tony Hicks on tenor sax over the rhythms of Rex and Beck, Lachlan Davidson‘s alto saxophone when fired up, Macaulay’s classy ‘bone, which had Grabowsky clapping, and in some brass salvos fired as if by instruments of war.


Zestful: Paul Grabowsky

Grabowsky as conductor was lively, active, perky, vibrant, vital, zestful, not to mention eager, zealous and spirited. His hands darted into the air as he urged the players onwards and upwards to new heights, demonstrating the drive that will no doubt propel Shapeshifter as it develops and explores new material.


Serious business: Scott Tinkler

Unexpectedly, it was the closing composition, Grabowsky’s Tailfin, which left the strongest impression in this outing. This was a new arrangement of a piece composed in 1992 and released on the albums Viva Viva (1993) and Tales of Time and Space (2004). I was struck by the different feel of the piece in the hands of Shapeshifter — compared to the Time and Space version it was more weighty, with more depth and guts.

Beck led us into it with a long introduction effectively using brushes over the slow thump of the bass drum. When Tinkler got to the serious business of the key solo he drew applause and a call from Grabowsky to “play that again”.


Another place: Welsh and Tinkler

The other horns painted a slow, solemn picture behind Tinkler, before Welsh’s violin took us to another, primal place in tandem with Mamrot on guitar. O’Connor on piano released the tension, making way for Toohey to usher in some twists and turns against the backdrop of Rex, O’Connor and Beck.

This rendition of Tailfin was still spinning in my head long after I left the venue in a mad dash for the train. It remains the standout for me in an outing that showed Shapeshifter to be no mere will o’ the wisp.



Shapeshifter: Rex and Beck

Shapeshifter players: Paul Grabowsky, Musical Director

Australian Art Orchestra musicians: Dave Beck drums; Lachlan Davidson alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Tony Hicks tenor saxophone; Philip Rex double bass; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Eugene Ball trumpet; Lizzy Welsh violin.

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music students: James Macaulay trombone; Paul Cornelius saxophone; Brendan Toohey clarinet &amp bass clarinet; Shanie Klas percussion; Dan Mamrot guitar; Joe O’Connor keys.


Leading man: Grabowsky as musical director


Ren Walters, Steve Magnusson

Duelling guitars: Ren Walters and Steve Magnusson


Yes, it hasn’t happened yet, but there are already pictures circulating.

In a few hours, at 6.30pm on Saturday, October 6, 2012, Uptown Jazz Cafe will host a Lynch mob as guitarists Steve Magnusson and Ren Walters present a creative project which has been 12 months in the planning. With two musicians of such talent at work, the audience is guaranteed of twin peaks in this performance.

These fascinating and free guitarists will play acoustic guitars, with effects pedals, as selected images are screened of Eraserhead, David Lynch‘s seminal 1977 surrealist masterpiece. Uptown is the ideal venue for this adventurous outing.

Magnusson is ubiquitous these days. He played at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club on Thursday with Nick Haywood, Colin Hopkins and Allan Browne (it was a hoot), then joined Frank Di Sario and Dave Beck at Uptown on Friday night (sorry I missed this).

Cost: $15/10

And moving from the surreal to the sublime, Uptown follows at 9pm with the Paul Williamson Quartet, with this Williamson on trumpet, birthday boy Marc Hannaford on piano, Sam Pankhurst on double bass and Tony Floyd on drums (very sorry I can’t make this).

Cost: $15/10




Ausjazz blog picks some highlights from the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival:

Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif

A festival highlight: Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif from Norway.

All up, Ausjazz went to all or part of 15 MIJF gigs this year. This is an attempt to pick out some highlights, though there will be posts about individual concerts when time permits. A few explanatory notes: First, I chose not to review the Opening Gala: The Way You Look Tonight or the final evening’s Dee Dee Bridgewater Sings, because those concerts were not my cup of tea. That is not any reflection on the musicians involved.

Second, for reasons beyond my control I could not make any gigs from Monday, June 4 to Wednesday, June 6 inclusive. Again, that had nothing to do with the calibre of the music on offer. Third, I did not make it to any of the master classes, though I have heard from many who did that these were definite highlights.

Of the concerts I attended, there were none that I did not enjoy — perhaps I am easily pleased, but I believe this festival followed the usual rule by delivering more delights than may have been anticipated upon first glance at the program. It was not too adventurous — certainly not as “out there” as recent years under the direction of Sophie Brous. I did miss that aspect. The most experimental outings were Peter Knight‘s Fish Boast of Fishing and Andrea Keller‘s work with Genevieve Lacey and Joe Talia — both at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon and both involving Australian artists. From overseas, the Robert Glasper Experiment strayed from the conventional, as did the Norwegian quintet Motif, but the latter was the standout of these two for me.

Before I discuss highlights, it’s probably worth exploring the value or otherwise of reviews. Unlike reviews of opening night stage productions, with MIJF commentary there is in most cases no season ahead in which potential punters can decide to go or not go on the basis of what’s written. Most concerts are unrepeated or already sold out before reviews hit the airwaves, streets or online haunts. I see reviews as one way to build an archive or record of what a festival has succeeded in delivering. That record may provide some context to those who attended various concerts or merely arouse the interest of readers who may seek out that music in some form later, possibly even live if the artist or band returns.

So, in consecutive order by date rather than any (futile) rating, my highlights were as follows: I found Bernie McGann‘s quartet at Bennetts Lane on the opening Friday night deeply satisfying, not only because of McGann’s saxophone work, but because of what the other players in the band — Marc Hannaford, Phillip Rex and Dave Beck — contributed.

On the following night, at the same venue, Murphy’s Law impressed with Tamara Murphy‘s suite “Big Creatures Little Creatures”. At The Forum later that evening, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra showed its class with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter, but the standouts for me were the Andy Fiddes composition Gathering Momentum, some trumpet excellence from Phil Slater in the third piece (the name of which I did not catch) and Potter’s darker sax in the encore Rumination. Later still, back at Bennetts Lane, the Eli Degibri Quartet from Israel had a smooth fluidity and swing that definitely had me wanting more, especially from the 16-year-old pianist Gadi Lehavri.

What can I say about McCoy Tyner‘s concert on Sunday in the Melbourne Town Hall? The only basis I have for comparing the pianist now with his illustrious past playing is via recordings, and on that basis he is not quite in that league now. And I think Jose James could not act as a substitute for Johnny Hartman. I enjoyed the outing, and I don’t see much point in comparisons when you have a chance to hear a musician of Tyner’s stature. But this was not a festival highlight for me.

By contrast, Terence Blanchard‘s quintet on Thursday at Melbourne Recital Centre was a real standout. It’s definitely no criticism of Rob Burke, Tony Gould, Tony Floyd and Nick Haywood, who opened this gig, but I did think as Blanchard’s band opened with Derrick’s Choice that a band with a local trumpeter such as Scott Tinkler or Phil Slater would have been ideal.

In the quintet’s set I would have been satisfied just to hear Fabian Almazan‘s contribution on piano, but Blanchard’s playing was inventive, fluid and piercingly penetrating, with sampled audio from Dr Cornel West and some echo among the special effects. Blanchard’s tone did not really dig into the guttural until shortly before the inevitable encore and his sound was not as fat as I’d expected. Brice Winston on tenor sax was superb in the Almazan piece Pet Step Sitter’s Theme.

In terms of musicianship, Renaud Garcia-Fons on bass with the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC on Friday night stood out. I’d regretted having to miss the solo bass gig at Bennetts Lane mid week, but in a way this trio concert was a vehicle for Garcia-Fons to show his amazing talents. On his five-stringed instrument Garcia-Fons uses a range of techniques with and without bow, recalling Barre Phillips‘ solo performance at Wangaratta Jazz last year, but it’s a totally different experience. I could only marvel at Garcia-Fons’s skill, but, by contrast with Phillips, his music lacked the tension and resolution (or lack of it) that is so compelling in jazz improvisation. Also, I would have liked to hear more from Kiko Rulz on flamenco guitar, who in brief bursts only whetted my appetite to hear more. I could not help but wish that Pascal Rollando on percussion would contribute more fire and inventiveness. That said, this concert was a highlight.

Even more so was Dr Lonnie Smith in his trio with Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums at Bennetts Lane late on Friday. I love the Hammond B3 and Smith was enjoying every moment of his time on Tim Neal‘s beautiful instrument. This was a therapeutic experience and just what the Doctor ordered for me. Kreisberg’s playing was exciting and intense, and the organ was just a thrill and a joy to hear. The notes from a Hammond can be felt deep in the body and seem to free the spirit. I’ll be hanging out for Smith’s new album, Healer, due in a few weeks. But an album is not the same as being there and feeling the B3 vibrations at close quarters.

OK, I’m waxing too lyrical. On the second Saturday of the festival I made it to four gigs. Peter Knight and his ensemble’s Fish Boast of Fishing at the Salon, MRC, took me out of my comfort zone and into an emerging, growing, developing experience in which I felt there was a contradiction of sorts. There was definitely tension. There was complexity and coordination in the way sounds were produced, but when I closed my eyes the experience was of something organic, almost living and breathing. Perhaps that was the point.

Norwegian band Motif

Norwegian band Motif

Next came another real highlight for me and I would have missed it if I had not had a recommendation from ABC presenter Jessica Nicholas. The Norwegian outfit Motif was a standout. I always think European bands can be counted on to bring something significantly different to their music and Motif was no exception. This was intelligent, quirky and engrossing jazz, with extreme variations in dynamics and pretty well anything you could imagine. There was ferocity and solemnity. There was pandemonium and space. What a hoot! This was the night’s highlight. There was another great set to follow I’m sure. It was hard to leave.

But Tarbaby at the Comedy Theatre — with Oliver Lake on alto sax, Eric Revis on bass, Orrin Evans on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums — served up a set of take-no-prisoners hard-driving jazz. This was a top rhythm section that took me full circle back to the Bernie McGann concert at the festival’s start. Apart from Lake’s robust playing, what I loved most was Evans’s command of the piano in Paul Motian‘s Abacus. This set would have topped the night for me, but I still had Motif ringing in my consciousness and I wasn’t letting that go in a hurry.

I did queue up for a long, cold wait to hear some of the Robert Glasper Experiment, but it was too hi-tech for me. I just wanted to chill and listen to Glasper on piano, but the crowd at Bennetts Lane was all fired up. They probably had a highlight at this outing, but not me.

On Sunday, the final night, I caught the first set of Sandy Evans with Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton. It was the perfect wind-down.

All in all, there was plenty to get excited about in the MIJF 2012. The crowds were out listening to live music and many venues seemed to be full.

Next year? Well, maybe a few more European bands and a little more experimentation. But, after all, there is the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival for that.



REVIEW: Jamie Oehlers Quartet featuring Robert Hurst  — Jamie Oehlers saxophone, Robert Hurst bass, Tal Cohen piano, Jacob Evans drums — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Friday, June 1 at 11pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012

Robert Hurst

Robert Hurst

For reasons I don’t need to go into here I have been attending some career transition courses at work. One tip the instructor gave — and this has nothing whatsoever to do with this MIJF gig — is that before looking for a job it is vital to remove all images of yourself from social media such as Facebook, because prospective employers may check your profile, take one look and decide “he’s too old” or “I can’t stand bald people” or some such. Interesting. But I digress. What is slightly connected to this review is that the instructor also warned that in job interviews it is important to avoid waffle. Well, I can feel some waffle coming on. Be warned.

To be honest, I suspect I’m tempted to indulge in palaver because I don’t have that much to say. How can that be, with players such as Jamie Oehlers and US bassist Robert Hurst performing in an intimate venue such as Bennetts Lane? I love Oehlers’ work and have waxed lyrical about it, especially with Paul Grabowsky and Dave Beck in the exciting and totally improvised playing of Lost and Found.

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

Well, the mundane realities were that this was my third gig for the night, that I’d just been blown away by Bernie McGann‘s two sets and that I had to miss the second set by the Oehlers quartet in order to make the last train home. Also, I was not really in the mood for the onslaught of sax power that Oehlers unleashed. My bad. Somehow, like a wave that you don’t quite catch, it came at me but failed to pick me up and carry me in.

Others loved this outing.  I can quote respected jazz writer Andra Jackson, herself a saxophonist, who commented on this gig via social media in these words: “PHEN-omenal unofficial opening gig for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival last night from saxophonist Jamie Oehlers. Can it get much better than that! Such seamless playing on Aisha. And in one extended passage he even sounded like he was playing two instruments, playing an insistent riff and bringing in a melody over it.”

And, according to Andra, saxophonist George Garzone was at Bennetts and said he’d never heard Oehlers in better form.

Jacob Evans

Jacob Evans

I was not familiar with Hurst, but his website mentions that he featured on 12 tracks from Paul McCartney‘s Kisses on the Bottom and on Chris Botti‘s Impressions, and toured the US with Diana Krall this year. His
Unrehurst Vol 2
and Bob Ya Head were critics’ picks for best albums of 2011.

In the first set at Bennetts, the quartet began with the energetic Hurst original Tiger’s on Venus, which was hard-driving stuff throughout. I felt Hurst’s work was exemplary and virtuosic, but lacked the warmth of a player like Charlie Hayden.

Hurst & Oehlers

Hurst & Oehlers

Next up was McCoy Tyner‘s Ballad for Aisha. Oehlers was doubly impressive in this, playing two very different solos during the piece — one intense and the other relatively laid back. Jacob Evans used his hands effectively on the skins. Hurst’s solo had space and dignity.

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

The final piece for the set was Hurst’s original Aycrigg, I think named for a street in which he once lived. This was a return to the faster pace and vigour of the opening and certainly gave us a chance to see Hurst’s nimble fingers at work at an incredible speed. If Tim Davies impressed with his drumming speed at Stonnington Jazz, Hurst certainly demonstrated his skill at speed on the bass.

Tal Cohen

Tal Cohen

I suspect that the second set delighted those in the audience who were up for a hard-driving quartet in the mood to take no prisoners.

On the last train home, my strongest memories were of Bernie McGann standing almost unmoving on stage as his playing moved us.



REVIEW: Bernie McGann Quartet — Marc Hannaford piano, Bernie McGann alto sax, Phillip Rex bass, Dave Beck drums — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Friday, June 1 at 8pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012

Bernie McGann celebrates his 75th birthday at Bennetts Lane

Bernie McGann celebrates his 75th birthday at Bennetts Lane.

When you think about it, there’s a hell of a lot of saxophonists in this year’s MIJF. The revered Bernie McGann‘s 75th birthday celebration was the first of the Club Sessions at Bennetts Lane jazz club, followed by Jamie Oehlers in a quartet with US bassist Robert Hurst. The following night the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra would have the talents of tenor player Chris Potter on display, and back at Bennetts later there would be Eli Degibri from Israel in a quartet. As things turned out, I caught all of these players. It’s fascinating to see and hear the different approaches and styles.

I’ll be honest. Bernie McGann’s outing was the standout for me. On the other saxophonist’s performances, as they used to say on ABC radio, more on that story later.

Bernie McGann enjoys his band at work.

Bernie McGann gets into the swing of Hannaford, Rex and Beck.

I’ve never been so entranced by McGann’s playing as I was in these two sets. Of course appreciation of any gig is subjective and has a lot to do with what mood you’re in, the type of music played and whether the two gel. But I reckon there was some special magic happening from McGann on the night. Right from the opening rendition of Ellington’s What Am I Here For?, he seemed to produce that magic  so simply, without fuss. He stands, immobile, and delivers. Then he sits and listens, getting into the swing of the work being done by his fellow musicians.

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford

And what a class band McGann had to help him celebrate. Paul Grabowsky was listed on the program, but Marc Hannaford was at the piano instead. Think about it … Phil Rex on bass, Hannaford on piano and Dave Beck on drums. A few minutes of listening was enough to show that these guys were on fire. Well, that’s a cliche. More specifically they were attentive, responsive and absolutely integrated, so that when McGann sat out for a time in each piece, no one missed the saxophone.

Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann

But we didn’t have to miss out on the sax. McGann’s interpretation of Monk’s In Walked Bud was something special. Sonny Rehe from Uptown Jazz Cafe has heard McGann perform many, many times and at the break he mentioned that the saxophonist had contributed something exceptional in Bud. I concurred.  All members of the band had superb solos in this, with Hannaford making deft touches. McGann played with a such ease throughout the piece, yet there was clearly focus and concentration. Beck was awesome.

Dave Beck

Dave Beck

I didn’t know all the pieces played on the night, but in the second set the second had McGann making minimalist, but effective contributions (I was reminded a little of Wayne Shorter at the Palais a few years ago, but this was much better), Hannaford contributing complexity and McGann finishing unaccompanied in spectacular fashion.

Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann

During each piece, McGann — possibly in a concession to his advancing years — took a breather on a chair on stage and seemed to just absorb the music.

Phillip Rex

Phillip Rex

The closing piece was faster and we were treated to great solos. The band was on fire (there’s that cliche again) and I swear the audience was bathed in sweat from just listening. It’s odd to say that, in hindsight, because the following session with Oehlers and Hurst was to be more full-on than McGann’s quartet. But the fire in Bernie’s belly was the smouldering sort that had really hot coals — no need for flames, but plenty of heat. I loved it.

Dave Beck

Dave Beck

I confess to being insular and biased, but every time I hear overseas jazz greats perform, particularly in larger venues, I think that our local performers stack up pretty well. OK, so in time we do lose many of our own to New York or other overseas jazz hot spots, and we reap rewards when they return on visits, but there is an originality here that is to be valued. I reckon Hannaford, Rex and Beck, not to mention McGann, are hard to beat.

Happy birthday Bernie McGann.



Ausjazz blog interviews Tim Stevens before the launch of his new solo album, Life’s Undertow, at 8pm in South Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday, May 26.

Life's Undertow

Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens
(Picture Lindsay Edwards)

In music and in art, indeed in life, the act of creating is surely marvelous. It is a cause for great wonder, at least to the unschooled observer.

But what I find so awesome in a musical performance may not be so fascinating to the musicians, because they understand the process of creation so much better — including all the hours of hard work that prepares them to make that music in the moment. It is similar, I suppose, to the thrill and bafflement of an audience watching a magician perform, as opposed to the dialogue about techniques of magic that may occur between magicians backstage.

Improvisation is one key ingredient of excitement in music, but, like a magician’s trick, it is often well rehearsed — either the parameters are well known to the players beforehand or they know each other’s playing so well that their responses can find some ease in familiarity.

But what about “spontaneous improvisation”, in which the player does not prepare or plan at all, but just trusts that in the performance or the studio the creative process will happen and the result will work.

It seems a risky enterprise, but that is what pianist Tim Stevens has done with his second solo album, Life’s Undertow, which he will launch at 8pm tomorrow at South Melbourne town hall. Stevens cannot replicate the pieces on the album, which he recorded in one day in a Sydney studio in November last year, though he will play a version of the final piece, Synapse.

Stevens is loath to claim the album is all that original or daring, as composer Andrew Ford suggested recently in an Inside Story article.

“I don’t know that there’s a lot of that stuff happening here [in Australia]. The music that I make is just a mixture of the stuff that I know and like. It’s not that jazzy. I listen to a whole range of things and I don’t confine myself to a jazz tradition,” Stevens says.

Asked about how the album came about, he is practical. The APRA Professional Development Award he received last year included a day in a Sydney studio. Stevens had done one solo album and decided it was time for another. And, with no trio, he had only to get himself to Sydney.

The Tim Stevens Trio, with Ben Robertson on bass and Dave Beck on drum kit, had been doing a lot of spontaneous improvisation, so he decided to go in that direction with Undertow.

“I had no plans at all about the music other than I was going to improvise it on the day. So I spent the whole day in the studio and would play three or four improvised pieces and then I might play a tune or a standard just to break it up, or take my mind somewhere else, and then come back to improvising. Then I picked the pieces I thought worked best and put them on the record,” Stevens says.

It sounds so simple. Just pop into a studio and play, then pop out a record.

But Stevens concedes it makes him nervous now to think about what he will play on Saturday for the launch.

“I’ve no confidence of what I’m going to do [at the launch]. Some of the pieces on Undertow, you could say they’re just familiar chordal language or a structural thing, but it wasn’t as though I planned it beforehand. Say it’s a waltz or whatever, a waltz is a well known thing, but I just made up that waltz at that particular point.”

Stevens, who studied classical piano at school, says growing up in the church ensured he was familiar with improvisation in his childhood.

“I would know people were improvising in the course of a service and that was part of what they did.”

Stevens’ father was an Anglican priest at St. Peter’s, Eastern Hill, where John O’Donnell was organist in the mid 1970s.

“He’s an exceptional improviser and a phenomenal musician. I always knew that music was what I wanted to be doing and it fascinated me all along. So I would hear John play the hymns in a figure eight procession and, of course, if the hymn wasn’t long enough he had to improvise bits. And I remember hearing him do that and just being amazed,” Stevens says.

So, it seems I’m in tune with Stevens at the age of eight: amazed. But surely all spontaneous improvisations don’t succeed?

“Often I think it hasn’t and then I listen to it later and it’s better than I thought it was. I’m not all that good at telling what’s good while I’m actually doing it, but I try to follow the idea,” Stevens says.

“There is a piece on the album called First Things Fourth and that’s because it was the first one recorded on the session, but the fourth on the album. I feel that it was quite well organised, but I don’t know that I was aware of all those things while I was actually playing it. I was just following a particular little idea that I’d started with and trying to work it out different sorts of ways. It’s difficult to be sure as you go how good things are.”

Stevens says when he finished playing Synapse, the last piece on the album, he thought, “Oh, well, I tried, it’s not quite there. But when I heard it later I thought it hangs together rather well. There’s really good structural integrity to it.”

In The Line’s Tension, Stevens says he began by putting his left hand on notes at the deep end of the piano, “so that’s why there’s all that resonance, and part the way in I put the middle pedal down so just those strings were still open, and I used my left and right hand as well. It was really to do with that sense of resonance you get when … the sustain pedal is not opening up the whole instrument, but just some of it. I like the way the colours change, the notes I play vary and the sympathetic resonation is different as you go along.

“That piece has a walking bass line, so it’s probably the jazziest piece on the album.”

Comparing Undertow with Freehand, his first solo album, Stevens says he knows a bit more now than he did then.

“I think the playing is probably a bit better. I like it [Life's Undertow] because it is all improvised. I’m pleased with that.”

Doing Undertow changed some of Stevens’ ideas for the trio.

“I want to write a larger scale piece for the trio — something that has more composition and re-imagines how to work the improvisation in with that. We’ve been doing the head/solo/head thing for a few years now and it works, but I want to move on from that and integrate the composition and improvisation in a different way,” he says.

Stevens has been described as “uncompromising” and his work as “unsentimental”.  Are those terms accurate?

“When Ashleigh Wilson in The Australian described Freehand as ‘unsentimental yet emotionally arresting’ that was the best thing that anyone’s ever said and I wanted to give him a hug, because that’s exactly what I’m going for,” Stevens says.

“I do not want the music to be sentimental, but I do have an emotional investment in it when I play it and I’m thrilled when that comes across. I don’t want to be playing that easy path of sentimentality.

“But there’s lots of sentiment. The distinction is very important to me. There’s emotion, but it’s a responsible reflection on emotion rather than just wallowing in it.”

Tim Stevens is responsible for Life’s Undertow, which he will launch in an uncompromising and emotionally arresting concert on Saturday, May 26 at 8pm in South Melbourne Town Hall, 210 Bank Street, South Melbourne. $20, children under 12 free.




Hiromi is among artists who will fly Qatar Airways to Melbourne. (All About Jazz image)

Ausjazz blog previews the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012, which was launched on March 13:

The hubbub on level 24 of The Langham in Melbourne gave way to attentive silence yesterday evening as Murphy’s Law treated the assembled multitude to about four minutes of Big Creatures & Little Creatures: The Modular Suite.

The music was a welcome relief from the necessary formalities of the official launch of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which will run from June 1 to June 10.

If the fragment of this commissioned work by Tamara Murphy was any indication, its full performance at Bennetts Lane as part of the festival’s Club Sessions will be compelling.

And if the question on everybody’s lips as program details emerged was how the festival’s focus under artistic director Michael Tortoni would differ from its direction under Sophie Brous, the real story of the night was about a key sponsorship.

As Melbourne’s music glitterati watched a promotional video about the delights of the Middle East state of Qatar, it was dawning on us all what a coup it was to bag Qatar Airways as a festival sponsor. The benefit is obvious — it will be much cheaper to fly in international artists, thus countering to some extent the isolation of Australia from the jazz hotspots of the United States and Europe.

So who are the big names and what is the flavour of this festival? Tortoni described the focus as “jazz royalty alongside the voice of a rising generation” and said MIJF 2012 was “all about what jazz is when the talking stops and the music starts”. Well, every festival has to have its catchphrases, but to take up his theme with another well-worn phrase, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

An initial glance at the program shows it is not overly adventurous, and represents less of a challenge — or an enticement — to audience groups on the fringes of more straight ahead jazz. The very popular multi-stage day of music madness and mayhem at Melbourne Town Hall will not take place this year, due to an absence of sponsorship and most likely of Sophie Brous. That’s a pity, because that gave the recent festivals a welcome edge that it must now fall to the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival to fill.

The main international artists include pianist McCoy Tyner revisiting the 1963 John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, this time with vocalist Jose James and saxophonist Chris Potter.

Potter will also perform some of his own material with Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra as well as some commissioned Australian material. This should be exciting.

James will also feature in the Robert Glasper Experiment, “an Australian premiere event that smashes stylistic boundaries to reshape the future directions of jazz” by “taking hip-hop, R&B, soul and post-modern jazz to never-before-seen places”.

For lovers of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, US vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater will visit Melbourne for the first time, and also from the ‘States’, Patti Austin will perform a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with one matinee and one evening performance.

The familiar vocal extravaganza at the Palais this year is entitled “The Way You Look Tonight” featuring Katie Noonan, Vince Jones and Kristin Berardi in an opening night gala.

Likely to attract a much younger audience will be keyboardist-composer Hiromi (Japan/USA) who blends jazz with progressive rock and classical styles. Her first concert will open with US bassist Robert Hurst joining locals Jamie Oehlers and Dave Beck.

Hiromi’s second gig will be a double bill with the Israeli Eli Degibri Quartet, featuring 16-year-old prodigy Gadi Lehavi on piano.

A film-themed package will feature five-time Grammy Award winner and cinematic composer Terence Blanchard on trumpet (in a quartet with Brice Winston on tenor, Fabian Almazan on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums), Australia’s Joe Chindamo performing his arrangements of Coen Brothers film music and an ACMI Jazz on Film program.

The Salon at MRC will host three concerts with Monash University under the Jazz Futures banner featuring the Terence Blanchard Quintet, The Fringe (with George Garzone on sax) and Tarbaby (with Oliver Lake on alto sax).

The Fringe and Tarbaby will also perform at a new venue for this festival, the Comedy Theatre. These outings should keep us awake.
From Europe will come bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, appearing in the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC after a real highlight opener of pianist Luke Howard with Janos Bruneel (Belgium) on bass.

Samuel Yirga Quartet from Ethiopia will feature the piano prodigy at the Comedy Theatre, opened by locals The Black Jesus Experience.
For lovers of the Hammond B3 (and I’m one), Dr Lonnie Smith (USA) will perform at Bennetts Lane.

In the Club Sessions, Motif from Norway will feature along with Robert Hurst and the Luca Ciaria Quartet from Italy.
Allan Browne Sextet will celebrate the launch of Conjuror — a collection of his jazz poetry — in two sets which should be a festival standout. Sandy Evans will join Lloyd Swanton and Toby Hall for a special closing night celebration presented with the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative.

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival opens on June 1.