Tag Archives: Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

ISN’T IT GRAND, NORWEGIAN BAND

REVIEW

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

FESTIVAL TAKES TO THE SKIES

Hiromi

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

KRISTIN BERARDI MEETS THE JAZZGROOVE MOTHERSHIP ORCHESTRA

CD REVIEW

Kristin Berardi vocals; Aaron Flower guitar; Steven Barry piano; Brendan Clarke contrabass; Evan Mannell drums & cymbals; David Theak, Murray Jackson, Richard Maegraith, Matt Keegan, Nick Bowd saxophones, clarinet & flute; Simon Sweeney, Angus Gomm, Simon Ferenci, Andy Fiddes trumpets; Jeremy Borthwick, Dave Panichi, Lucian McGuiness, Justin Kearin trombones

Kristin Berardi Meets the JMO

4 stars

IT is testimony to the talents of six arrangers, 17 Mothership musicians and vocalist Berardi that her compositions are rendered so sensitively.

Under saxophonist David Theak’s direction the ensemble displays such subtlety, exquisite control and empathy that Berardi’s evocative and finely crafted vocals are given vital space.

The soloist is able to weave with fluidity and agility between layers of instrumentation, the sensibility and insight of her lyrics — exemplified in Ode to Oli and The Old Fashioned Way — never lost despite the ensemble’s size.

And vocal solos are not the only attraction of this outing. Given the improvisational room, Mothership players deliver in spades.

Download: Ode to Oli, Mr Jackson

File between: Mace Francis Orchestra, Johannes Luebbers Dectet

ROGER MITCHELL

This review also appeared in the Play liftout of the Sunday Herald Sun on October 2, 2011

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra at Stonnington Jazz 2011

SYDNEY’S MOTHERSHIP LANDS BRIEFLY IN MELBS

Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Chapel Off Chapel, Monday, May 23 as part of Stonnington Jazz, 2011

Carl Morgan guitar; Hugh Barrett piano; Brendan Clarke contrabass; Jamie Cameron drums & cymbals; David Theak, Murray Jackson, Richard Maegraith, Mike Rivett, James Loughnan saxophones; Darryl Carthew, Angus Gomm, Simon Frenci, Ken Allars trumpets; Jeremy Borthwick, Lucian McGuiness, Danny Carmichael, Justin Kearin trombones; Kristin Berardi guest vocalist

Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O'Connor conducts the Mothership in "Rationalisations".

An earlier post recorded Joseph O’Connor’s win in the 2011 National Big Band Composition Competition, with his piece Rationalisations. Runners up were (in no particular order) Cameron Earle and Alice Humphries. There were 22 entries, so making the finals was a significant achievement and conducting the JMO must have been a thrill. I arrived late (not following festival artistic director Adrian Jackson‘s advice to “read your program”), so I heard only part of Earle’s piece, Run Run. What I heard was vigorous and pretty full-on.

Alice Humphries conducts JMO in "The Mending"

Alice Humphries conducts JMO in "The Mending"

For the record, if I’d had to judge I would have favoured Humphries’ composition The Mending, which had a strong feeling from the beginning that it was heading somewhere as well as the light and shade evident also in Rationalisations. I love that feeling of tension and sense of momentum, especially from a big band. The Mothership Orchestra really delivered in all three competition pieces.

Band leader David Theak kept us in suspense during Mike Nock‘s piece Hadrian’s Wall, arranged by Murray Jackson, which began the second set. Then he announced the competition winner before the orchestra played Florian Ross‘s Teen Adventure, with solid solos from Mike Rivett and James Loughnan, and the trumpeter buried up the back on the right.

Kristin Berardi aboard the Mothership

Kristin Berardi aboard the Mothership

Then Kristin Berardi joined the band for Moonbeams (Berardi, arr. Florian Ross), Mr Jackson (Berardi, arr. Ross Irwin), My One and Only Love (Guy Wood, arr. Steve Newcomb) and Ode to Oli (Berardi, arr. Ross).

For a vocals skeptic, which I usually am, this was a valuable part of my education. Berardi’s gestures are compelling and her voice equally so, with depth, dynamic variation and range. I can’t write technically about vocalists, or much in music for that matter, but I found myself making a comparison (actually a contrast) between Berardi and Sarah McKenzie. They are, obviously, very different kettles of fish (do fish come in kettles?).

Berardi’s voice has something very distinctive and I warmed to that. I especially loved her song Mr Jackson, about a man in New York who had a lot to say. I felt it succeeded in conveying the feel of this man and could almost picture him rabbiting on. This piece was really swinging and highlights from the band included contributions by Hugh Barrett and Brendan Clarke, Jamie Cameron and a trombonist (not sure of his name).

Jazzhead has released an album entitled, predictably, Kristin Berardi Meets the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra.

Exciting trumpet: Ken Allars with Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

Exciting trumpet: Ken Allars with Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

The JMO finished the set with a premiere of Jackson’s composition Who Do You Think Of Now — in which his solo included some fantastic gobbledegook, squeaky, all-over-the-place stuff that can give you goosebumps, and Lucian McGuiness and Hugh Barrett made strong contributions — and Mr Dodo (Bert Joris), which began with some exciting horn from Ken Allars and followed with a tenor solo from Richard Maegraith before a really tight interlude leading back to Allars’ trumpet.

Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

Murray Jackson on sax, Richard Maegraith on flute with the Mothership Orchestra

I thought the audience could have scored an encore, but it wasn’t to be. Pity. The whole gig seemed to pass very quickly, but, when you take into account the work involved in rehearsing the competition compositions, this was a busy night for a big band that always seems to shine.

I really enjoyed what the band and conductors did with the three pieces in the first set. Second set highlights were Berardi’s Mr Jackson and the playing of Allars on trumpet.

I should get out to hear more big bands, such as Bennetts Lane Big Band and ATM15, but the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra can land in Melbs any time.

NATIONAL BIG BAND COMPOSITION WINNER

Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Chapel Off Chapel, Monday, May 23 as part of Stonnington Jazz, 2011

Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O'Connor conducts the Mothership in "Rationalisations".

Breaking news:

Joseph O’Connor from Queensland has won the 2011 National Big Band Composition Competition in a play-off hosted by Stonnington Jazz. He wins $3500 for his piece Rationalisations, which was performed by Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra as part of its national tour.

The other two finalists were Cameron Earl, who composed Run Run, and Alice Humphries, whose piece was titled The Mending.

The Orchestra performed the three pieces in their first set for the festival, following it with a set of some of the band members’ compositions and some by vocalist Kristin Berardi, who joined the band for four numbers.

Cameron Earl conducts JMO in "Run Run".

Cameron Earl conducts JMO in "Run Run".

The Finalists travelled to Melbourne to rehearse and conduct the JMO at the concert. All finalists receive music composition and notation software Finale 2011. The cash prize is provided courtesy of APRA.

There was stiff competition this year, with 22 compositions received. Cam MacCallister (now in Sydney) and Elliot Hughes from WA were given a special commendation, missing out by the narrowest of margins on being finalists.

JMO runs the big band composition competition in conjunction with APRA, ABC Classic FM, Intelliware (Finale) and JozzBeat.

More on the Mothership gig with Kristin Berardi soon.

ROGER MITCHELL

Alice Humphries conducts JMO in "The Mending"

Alice Humphries conducts JMO in "The Mending"

WYNTON MARSALIS SENDS HIS APOLOGIES

Ausjazz blog previews Stonnington Jazz 2011 — May 19 to May 29

The days are suddenly much colder and the nights have that stay-at-home chill. Many of us are suffering from sore throats, persistent coughs and similar energy-sapping afflictions. So what’s the incentive to venture out to hear live music? During the past few nights I’ve had some of the worst coughing bouts in years, so I sympathise with anyone wanting to hunker down at home. But there are some real spirit-lifting performances coming up at Stonnington Jazz (May 19 to 29) and that’s exactly what we need as winter sets in. So, why not decide to catch one or two of these gigs over the 10 days of this festival? Go on, (to use an expression doing the rounds at our house), you know you want to.

The full program is online at the Stonnington Jazz website, so this preview is merely picking out some highlights — essentially what Ausjazz blog fancies as the gigs not to miss.

One thing to keep in mind about Stonnington Jazz. This is all home-grown talent and there is plenty of it. International artists can be a thrill, but this festival’s strength is that these musicians are ours — inventive and able and with the freedom that comes from being so far from the big names in the United States.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie at Stonnington Jazz 2010

The artists who are likely to feature in print media publicity for the festival are probably pianist and vocalist Sarah McKenzie, who will open the festival on Thursday and Friday nights (May 19 and 20) with her sextet; vocalist Katie Noonan, who will perform on May 22 with Elixir (Zac Hurren on sax and Stephen Magnusson on guitar); and Vince Jones & Band plus guests (May 21).

McKenzie is an engaging performer who delivers swinging standards and originals in a forthright and spirited manner that recognises the long history of jazz vocalists. She wowed crowds at Chapel Off Chapel during this festival last year and will return — this time at the Malvern Town Hall — with award-winning Eamon McNelis on trumpet (replacing Pat Thiele) and Alex Boneham on bass (replacing Sam Anning). Julien Wilson will be a special guest on sax. This venue will be larger and acoustically tougher, but McKenzie has the power to fill the hall. She will be launching her new album Don’t Tempt Me (ABC Jazz).

Allan Browne

Festival hopping: Allan Browne performs at Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.

Ausjazz blog’s list of anticipated highlights begins with drummer and Stonnington Jazz Patron Allan Browne, who on May 22 at 2pm presents a program of musical portraits and poems inspired by some of the great jazz artists he has played with, including Johnny Griffin, Milt Jackson, Art Hodes, Wild Bill Davison, Emily Remler, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Mal Waldron and Jay McShann. Joining Allan will be members of his quintet — trumpeter Eugene Ball, saxophonist Phil Noy, guitarist Geoff Hughes, bassist Nick Haywood — and trio (Haywood and pianist Marc Hannaford). All those names may look like a laundry list, but Al Browne and his crew have been trying out this new material at some Bennetts Lane gigs on Mondays and, though I have not made it to these gigs, I am certain the result will be moving as well as lots of fun. Jazz and poetry may not always work, but the Browne Quintet suites The Drunken Boat and Une Saison En Enfer are evidence enough that these guys know what they’re doing.

Any opportunity to hear Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra is to be valued. You may be surprised at how a big band can do much more than merely blast away. Under the direction of saxophonist David Theak, JMO is a sensitive, expressive beast. And the finals of the National Big Band Composition Competition will add interest to this outing at Chapel Off Chapel at 7.30pm on Monday, May 23.

Anyone who heard Lost and Found at Wangaratta Jazz some years back, when Paul Grabowsky, Jamie Oehlers and Dave Beck played a standout set of unscripted improvisation, will value the chance to hear Grabowsky and Oehlers. Their 2010 album On A Clear Day explored their take on some standards. These two musicians will show the depth of their musical understanding in a Chapel Off Chapel double bill with Nat Bartsch Trio on May 24.

Stu Hunter

Sweet suite: Stu Hunter at Wangaratta

How suite it is that pianist / composer Stu Hunter‘s two magnificent suites — The Muse and The Gathering — will be played at Chapel Off Chapel on succeeding nights (May 25 and 26). The second work won Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year at the Bell Awards and Best Independent Jazz album in the Independent Music Awards in 2010. Both were huge hits at Wangaratta. I marginally prefer The Gathering, with the larger ensemble adding Phil Slater on trumpet and James Greening on trombone and pocket trumpet to quartet members Julien Wilson (on sax rather than Matt Keegan this time), Cameron Undy (instead of Jonathan Swartz on bass) and Simon Barker (drums).

But the deal is so good it’s hard to believe, because each gig has a substantial other half. Along with The Muse, tenor saxophonist Andy Sugg will fuel controversy over whether jazz stays tied to its apron strings or is let off the leash to explore (apologies for the mixed metaphors). Sugg, with help from Shannon Barnett on trombone, Natalia Mann on harp, Steve Magnusson on guitar, Kate Kelsey-Sugg on piano, Ben Robertson on bass and James McLean on drums, will endeavour to link John Coltrane‘s music with British punk, and use some technologically up-to-date devices to give Coltrane’s later music “radically new contexts”. I understand Wynton Marsalis has sent his apologies.

Scott Tinkler on fire at MJFF Big Arse Sunday 2011

Scott Tinkler on fire at MJFF Big Arse Sunday 2011

The other half of the The Gathering gig will feature four names to strike terror into their instruments and evoke frenzied adulation from their fans: Ian Chaplin, Scott Tinkler, Philip Rex and Simon Barker. On sax, trumpet, bass and drums respectively, these “daring and potent improvisers” (as the program notes put it) will be fathering children … no, sorry, creating a storm of fiery improvisation that will delight body and soul. (I know this because I heard Tinkler with bass and drums on the final night of Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival this year — he’s in great form.)

That this list of highlights is growing too long and in danger of leaving out little is testament to the quality of the programming by artistic director (and trophy-winning golfer) Adrian Jackson. So I’ll gloss over some gigs (Tina Harrod; Bloodlines: Dave Macrae, Joy Yates & Jade Macrae; Joe Chindamo Trio and guests) to mention three more.

Bassist Leigh Barker and The New Sheiks, flush with Jazz Bell Awards success (and cash), will keep things swinging at Chapel Off Chapel on Friday, May 27, giving patrons a chance to catch Eamon McNelis on trumpet. And sharing the stage for another set will be the collectively led Bopstretch, with McNelis, Rajiv Jayaweera (is there anywhere he’s not playing?) on drums, Ben Hauptmann on guitar and Mark Elton on bass. This band will play classic 1950s BeBop era material, with tunes from some famous names.

On the festival’s second Saturday, May 28, Chapel Off Chapel patrons will be treated to a top double bill. Paul Williamson (the saxophonist version) will add to his Hammond Combo guests Geoff Achison (blues fans will be there) on guitar and vocals, James Greening on trombone, Gil Askey on trumpet and vocals, and Bob Sedergreen on keyboards. Get ready for jazz with an R&B flavour. At the same gig, trombonist Shannon Barnett will perform with the quartet that released the album Country in 2010 and toured nationally after being awarded a contemporary music touring program grant.

James Greening

James Greening at Wangaratta in 2010

Finally, Ausjazz blog’s highlights list ends with a combination I would not miss for quids. On Sunday, May 29 at 2pm, in a quartet of revered musicians (Sandy Evans saxophones, James Greening trombone & pocket trumpet, Steve Elphick bass), saxophonist Andrew Robson will perform his arrangements of hymns by Thomas Tallis. And Greening, forming The World According to James with Elphick, Robson and Toby Hall on drums, will perform original compositions. What a way to finish a festival.

As these highlights demonstrate, there is a lot of class to this festival. Because the program revisits some bands and works aired previously either at Stonnington or Wangaratta, I was initially inclined to think there was less breaking of new ground than in past years. Perhaps so, but for anyone who has not had an opportunity to hear these musicians before, and for all those who have heard and want to listen again, Stonnington Jazz has a power of Australian music in store.

ROGER MITCHELL

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 8

Please scroll down for Sangam review

CONVERSATIONS: ON TRADITION AND PROGRESS at The Wheeler Centre
with ADRIAN JACKSON, JASON MORAN, SOPHIE BROUS, JOHN McBEATH, SCOTT TINKLER

Post to come

THE CLAUDIA QUINTET at BMW Edge

Post to come

THE MUSIC OF JOHN HOLLENBECK: JOYS AND DESIRES at BMW Edge
with Theo Bleckmann and the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

Post to come

SANGAM: CHARLES LLOYD WITH ZAKIR HUSSAIN AND ERIC HARLAND at Melbourne Town Hall

Opening set: STEPHEN MAGNUSSON / EUGENE BALL DUO

Post to come

SANGAM: CHARLES LLOYD WITH ZAKIR HUSSAIN, ERIC HARLAND and guests

Zakir Hussain
Zakir Hussain

THE final concert of Melbourne International Jazz Festival was announced as a confluence of three artists, but it ended as much more.

Sangam — the name that saxophone, flute and tarogato player Charles Lloyd, drummer Eric Harland and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain have given their musical collaboration — is Sanskrit for confluence.

But in the spirit of India’s revered meeting near Allahabad of three rivers, one of which — the Saraswati — is hidden, this musical meeting had much to reveal.
It began unpredictably enough, with Lloyd playing elegant, beautiful piano notes to open Hussain’s composition, Guman. Harland joined him at the piano, freeing his drum kit to be occupied by Lloyd on gentle percussion before he took up his alto flute, Hussain responding vocally and on tabla as the piece built in intensity.

Zakir Hussain
Virtuosity: Zakir Hussain

As they moved through Dancing on One Foot, Sangam and Tales of Rumi, all Lloyd’s compositions, virtuosity was paramount. Hussain brought his tablas to life in a dizzying display of dissonant pitches. This was music to feed the body.

Deep emotional fulfilment came during Kuti, when Lloyd’s quartet members Jason Moran and Reuben Rogers joined the confluence unexpectedly, but on cue, to inject new life.

Hussain, Moran and Lloyd
Hussain, Moran and Lloyd

Moran played sensitively on piano as Lloyd spoke excerpts from Lord Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad-Gita on the manner in which an illumined soul lives in the world.

He knows bliss in the Atman
And wants nothing else.
Cravings torment the heart:
He renounces cravings.
I call him illumined.

Not shaken by adversity,
Not hankering after happiness:
Free from fear, free from anger,
Free from the things of desire.
I call him a seer, and illumined.

The bonds of his flesh are broken.
He is lucky, and does not rejoice:
He is unlucky, and does not weep
I call him illumined.

The tortoise can draw in its legs:
The seer can draw in his senses.
I call him illumined.

The abstinent run away from what they desire
But carry their desires with them:
When a man enters Reality,
He leaves his desires behind him.

Reuben Rogers
Reuben Rogers

Hymn to the Mother brought a gradual evolution in mood and pace, beginning with Moran’s eloquent piano, Rogers’ bowed bass and Hussain’s quiet vocals illuminating Lloyd’s fluent sax.

Lloyd illumined as Moran plays.
Lloyd illumined as Moran plays.

The encore, The Blessing, saw Lloyd attain new heights in his standout solo for the evening. Moran’s piano was exquisite and Harland, with one stick and a tambourine, showed great sensitivity.

Charles Lloyd
Standout solo: Charles Lloyd

This was a fitting end to a festival with many highlights. The only thing to do after such a sangam was to go home and replay the experience deep within the soul. It was akin to discovering the Saraswati River.