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Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, including 2013 APRA Composer Commission Concert, Sunday 5 May, 2-8pm at
 Northcote Town Hall

Steve Grant

Steve Grant

The Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival runs on a shoestring, but that doesn’t prevent it running like clockwork. There was a little “bracket creep” during the afternoon, but generally performances started pretty much on time. So, when I arrived about 15 minutes late — mainly because I set out later than planned — Steve Grant was already well into his allocated half hour at the grand piano.

Armed with a coffee generously given to me on the way in by Ronny Ferella — he had bought too many — I quietly moved to a seat closer to the front, then settled into listening mode. With Marc Hannaford playing next, this was a chance to indulge in my recent practice of trying to focus on the individual approaches of pianists and gain some clues as to why they sound so different or similar. I can definitely hear similarities and differences, but I lack the know-how to attempt a technical explanation.

This brief excerpt of Steve Grant’s performance seemed to provide welcome space, a sense of reflection or reverie, and great fluidity.

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford

Marc Hannaford also left plenty of space between his carefully selected notes, which were delivered with great precision. His improvisation gradually evolved, building in intensity as patterns emerged of immensely pleasing complexity. It became more percussive, with bold, emphatic statements, before slowing to take on a feel of solemnity. I had a sense of Hannaford listening intently, hearing pitches or tones or sounds and either repeating them or adjusting slightly.

I could not help but wonder what it would be like to be in Marc Hannaford’s brain — would there be joy, a sense of wonder at the discovery of what happened when he played these notes, or would it be delight in complexities or mathematically appealing combinations?

The piece became faster, with an insistent right hand, before a busy period. Then it was all over, too quickly for my liking, because I was really enjoying this as a journey of discovery. What a privilege we have, as audience members, to be able to share in these journeys when musicians of calibre (that one’s for Tony Abbott) are improvising.



Next up in this afternoon on the fringe was drummer Ronny Ferella’s band IshIsh, which has a fondness for the music of Ornette Coleman. That’s a big plus in my book.

Magnusson and Wilson

Magnusson and Wilson

The line-up varies, but on this occasion it was Jordan Murray trombone, Julien Wilson saxophone, Mark Shepherd bass and special guest Stephen Magnusson (recently a recipient of an Australian Jazz Bell Award for his Magnet album) on guitar.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson

IshIsh played four pieces, including Ferella’s What Should Be (the title track from the band’s 2000 album) and “a tribute to Joe Lovano’s tribute to Ornette Coleman”. I really liked the organic feel of this group and the absence of the cycle of solos.

Jordan Murray

Jordan Murray

 The music changes gradually within each piece, evolving rather than being more compartmental.  To me IshIsh has a European feel that escapes regimentation, with the musicians seeming to lose themselves in ebbs and flows as the pieces develop. The guitar, sax and ‘bone provided a rich array of textures and timbres.

Ronny Ferella

Ronny Ferella

Shepherd’s bass was more evident in the Lovano-Coleman tribute, which opened as a sharper, faster piece before evolving to a slower resolution with great resonance and depth. Magnusson produced some lovely high “scribblings” in this.

IshIsh was definitely a welcome inclusion in the day’s outings.

Ren Walters

Ren Walters

The next set was to be a trio, but saxophonist Scott McConnachie was too ill to join Erkki Veltheim on viola and Ren Walters on guitar. Before the final duet Ren Walters said that he and Eki would “dedicate the healing energy from our music to our friend Scott, who is going through a terrible time”. I’m sure the audience shared the hope that Scott’s health would improve.

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

In this totally improvised exchange, I was struck first by the extraordinary flexibility and fluidity of Veltheim’s playing, as well as his dexterity and the rapidity of his movements. He is amazingly virtuosic, though there is absolutely no hint of showmanship accompanying his ability. He is totally focused on the interaction with Walters.

Ren Walters

Ren Walters

Next I noticed the attentiveness of Walters, which is hardly surprising given that the nature of this exchange is utterly based on each player listening and responding. I don’t believe I was imagining it when I saw Walters’ face display signs of delight as he puzzled out responses to Veltheim.

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

This absorbing work was full of contrasts, switches of direction, sharp and edgy attacks followed by passages of great fluidity. Veltheim seemed to be plucking strings while bowing, and at other times he dragged his bow abrasively across the strings. For a while Walters was changing the tunings constantly as he played.

Erkki Veltheim

Erkki Veltheim

The rapidity, lightness and almost spindly nature of the sounds in the final piece were striking. At one point I visualised mice on a skating rink. In the whole outing I greatly appreciated the beauty and clarity of notes played, the occasional gentleness and the abundant space.

Again it struck me how privileged we are to hear this music being created. The other day I heard Kavisha Mazzella on ABC 774 telling how she was attracted to Melbourne because of the city’s vibrant music (or words similar). We are indeed lucky to have many hard-working musicians, but their work too often slips by unnoticed.


Pat Thiele, Gideon Brazil, Luke Moller and Julien Wilson perform in Howl.

Now we come to the big event of the festival, the APRA Composer Commission, which this year was awarded to pianist composer Darrin Archer. He chose to focus on Allen Ginsberg‘s poem Howl, using modern composition and improvisation to explore the sex, drugs and spirituality of the beatnik as a sonic landscape.

The work was titled Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality: Howl to music.


Sam Zerna bass, Maxine Beneba Clarke voice, Danny Fischer drums in Howl.

I was not familiar with Ginsberg’s epic poem, so probably ought to have done my homework before this performance by reading it with care and attention in order to be properly prepared. As it was, during the longish sound check I called up the text on my phone and scanned through it, wondering whether we would hear excerpts or the whole poem. It also seemed highly likely, given the blasts from the band during the check, that I may not be able to hear the words, so I was taking belated precautions.

Darrin Archer

Darrin Archer

When the music began, and Maxine Beneba Clarke began to read from her long paper roll containing the text, I realised my fears were well founded. It may have been different in other parts of the auditorium, but I could only hear the words clearly when the volume dropped at various points in the piece. So I followed the text on the phone screen while listening to the musical drama unfold.


Maxine Beneba Clarke reads Howl.

Archer’s composition certainly had the appropriate dramatic force and complexity to match Ginsberg’s words, which were articulated clearly and with feeling by Beneba Clarke. This was dark music to match dark imagery.

The poem opens thus:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix, 

It does not shrink from bleakness or harshness. Archer’s music undeniably had to be robust, strident at times.


Maxine Beneba Clarke

My issue with this work is that I felt torn between wanting to hear the poem being read (or at least read the words as they were delivered) and on the other hand giving up on Ginsberg’s imagery so that I could concentrate on the musical imagery unfolding under Archer’s direction. It seemed that, with the exception of some quieter passages, that was impossible. The spoken word and music were too often competing.


Pat Thiele in Howl.

Beneba Clarke’s delivery was excellent, particularly in the oft-repeated “Moloch”, which was audible and effective as a way to communicate all the evil that Ginsberg meant by this name. Repetition of “Rockland” towards the end of the poem was also a chance for the voice to come to fore and achieve more of a balance with the ensemble.


Sam Zerna in Howl.

I hope that this work is revisited, as have been other works commissioned for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival. But I think either the words of the poem need to be audible over the music, or they should be projected somehow so that the audience can ponder and appreciate them at the same time as the music. It also would not hurt to remind patrons to be familiar with the poem before the performance. Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality has the potential to be a powerful interpretation of Howl, but in this debut outing it did not quite succeed.


Maxine Beneba Clarke nears the end of Howl.

After the commissioned work, in Chris Port’s Mixer at about 7pm, Port on drums and laptop joined James Gilligan on bass/tape machine/effects and Marty Hicks on piano and Nintendo DS to explore Beat and hip-hop culture through improvisation.

I was only able to hear the very beginning of this outing before having to leave.

In terms of bums on seats, the MJFF did not score spectacularly, which is a great pity. A lot of creativity and inventiveness was on display at an excellent venue. I’d definitely rate the afternoon as a success, but in an ideal world more people would be there to share.




Preview: Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, including 2013 APRA Composer Commission Concert, Sunday 5 May, 2-8pm at
 Northcote Town Hall

Lovers of popular music, including fans of classical and opera, may regard many incarnations of jazz as being on “the fringe”. Purely in terms of bums on seats at concerts, that is probably a reasonable view. But anyone familiar with the improvised music on offer in Australia knows there are gigs that sit on the fringe within the broad genre.

It’s not worth wasting energy on where to draw the line between more mainstream jazz and material that’s “out there”. But some context can be helpful. Martin Jackson, who runs the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, has suggested that patrons of gigs sponsored by the co-op should keep in mind that the diversity of music on offer means they may find some outings a challenge.

I can recall a few occasions on which people looking for some live music after dinner have lobbed at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club not knowing what to expect, then discovered that what’s on offer on the night does not appeal to them. On the other hand, anyone who finds the way to the Make It Up Club at Bar Open in Fitzroy is likely to expect performances that stretch the boundaries of music.

Organisers of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival have had to do some hard thinking in recent years about the challenges of staging a festival with limited resources, declining patronage and arguably some encroachment on its turf by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. If anything the MIJF is now leaning to the more accessible side of the spectrum, but under Sophie Brous it ventured into experimental music with the hugely popular day-long multi-stage Overground at Melbourne Town Hall, which was similar in concept to the MJFF’s previous Big Arse Sundays.

That’s hardly a comprehensive summary of the issues facing the hard-working MJFF organisers, but the upshot is that this year’s festival will consist of one afternoon of concerts grouped around the 2013 APRA Commission Concert, which has become a significant landmark for the festival and in Melbourne’s annual jazz calendar. For anyone unfamiliar with this concert, it’s worth saying that each year APRA funding enables MJFF to invite proposals for a commissioned work that breaks new ground. The chosen work is given its debut airing during the festival. These are always innovative and interesting.

This year Darrin Archer has chosen to focus on Allen Ginsberg‘s poem Howl, using modern composition and improvisation to explore the sex, drugs and spirituality of the beatnik as a sonic landscape. If that sounds weird, it probably will be, but surely that’s what we want from a MJFF concert. The work, titled Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality: Howl to music, will debut at 5.30pm.

But the music begins at 2pm with solo piano performances by Steve Grant (a multi-instrumentalist who is often playing cornet or accordion) and Marc Hannaford (who will soon leave for New York to take up a fellowship at Columbia for a PhD in music theory). It will be a treat to hear these pianists at work solo.

At 3pm drummer Ronny Ferella will usher on his band IshIsh, which has its roots in the music of drummers Eddie Moore and Ed Blackwell’s groups, and the music of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. The line-up has varied since the ensemble’s first album, but for the latest CD End of a Line it featured Eugene Ball trumpet, Jordan Murray trombone, Julien Wilson saxophone, Mark Shepherd bass and Javier Fredes percussion. A special guest for this outing will be Stephen Magnusson on guitar.

At 4pm, expect things to move a little further out there as Scott McConnachie on sax joins Erkki Veltheim on viola and Ren Walters on guitars in a trio that emphasises process of creation rather than any planned result.

After the commissioned work, at 6.30pm Chris Port on drums and laptop will join James Gilligan on bass/tape machine/effects and Marty Hicks on piano and Nintendo DS in exploring Beat and hip-hop culture through improvisation. Titled “Mixer”, this will draw inspiration from Kanye West, Ableton Live, Drake, Pro Guitar Shop videos, Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Aphex Twin, and the Boston Celtics.

Tickets for this biggish arse Sunday cost $35/$25 and are available at the door or online or via Northcote Town Hall website.

Don’t let your fringe down. Be there.



MAGNET: Eugene Ball, Sergio Beresovsky, Stephen Magnusson, Carl Pannuzzo

MAGNET: Eugene Ball, Sergio Beresovsky, Stephen Magnusson, Carl Pannuzzo


The attraction of MAGNET lies in the collaboration of kindred spirits. As Roger Mitchell discovers, the quartet’s vocalist
can play a right-handed drum kit the wrong way around,
and its guitarist was dumped by text message during a
recording session.

More than one musician has likened improvisation to conversation, pointing out the ease with which we talk among friends, listening and speaking without planning much in advance.

In conversation, Stephen Magnusson and Sergio Beresovsky are at ease with each other. Ideas and recollections flow; laughter and passion for invention follow.

The relaxed nature of their interaction may help explain how guitarist Magnusson’s quartet MAGNET was able to record an album at Sing Sing Studios in June last year before having played a gig.

With Magnusson and Argentinian drummer Beresovsky were trumpeter Eugene Ball and vocalist Carl Pannuzzo.

“We rehearsed a little bit, then we went into a studio and recorded,” Magnusson recalls.

Magnet cover

The eponymous MAGNET album

“In the studio we found each other, said ‘Hi, how are you?’, found the tunes and came up with some road maps of how to develop the compositions. So that was that and then we went and did a gig afterwards.”

Not that it was all plain sailing initially.

“For the first couple of hours it wasn’t much fun,” Magnusson says. “We couldn’t get the sound and we were all a bit nervous. At the end of first day we were starting to get it.

“Then, after a day and a half of recording, I took the tracks to Niko’s [Niko Schauble’s studio Pughouse] and I sculpted it a little bit — added a few instruments, pulled a few things out, shaped it. I really wanted to turn it into a bit of a sonic thing rather than a jazz record.“

What emerged on the eponymous album is definitely not straight-ahead jazz. It’s not bebop.

But Magnusson says the forms of many MAGNET tunes are the same as in standards because “you make a melodic statement and then you improvise — sometimes on changes, sometimes on a groove, sometimes just with each other on material”.

“The content might be different. We don’t play the stylistic lines of some of the great jazz masters, the particular patterns and melodic statements, and we don’t play the rhythmic swing pattern. We don’t follow that, and there’s no walking bass line.”


Magnusson with MAGNET in trio format at the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.

To Magnusson bebop isn’t a style, but a context.

“These people lived in that period and that’s how they spoke. The players didn’t call it that. It was Minton’s [Playhouse in New York] and Charlie Christian and Thelonious Monk just having a ball, off their faces smokin’ joints and playing music all night. They were just working on their craft and trying to get good at material and finding new ways of creating melodies.”

Beresovsky agrees: “MAGNET’s not a bebop record. We can’t play bebop. The jazz word is a bit of a negative thing for our days because it locks things up into what it should be like and then what do you play? Music. We play sounds, and some rhythms eventually.”

Magnusson’s favourite definition of jazz is as a verb, not a noun.
“It’s a way you see the world. And jazz has always been about being yourself and doing what you do. And it’s over 100 years of change, and this is what we do. We are not reinventing the pie or anything. We are just doing what we do.”

Beresovsky applies this to tango and new music in Argentina: “The people trying to play new tango, it’s pretty lame because you can’t do that again. Only a few people can do it and most of the time they are old people, the originals.

“I consider we are playing jazz because we have the spirit of it, but we don’t sound like Charlie Parker.”


Magnusson and Beresovsky say they weren’t “busking busking” but they enjoyed the hippie lifestyle in Zurich. (Picture: Rough Guides)


MAGNET did not have its beginnings at Minton’s, but the seeds were sown with Beresovsky and Magnusson having a ball while busking beside the lake in Zurich in 1994.

“I was busking before Sergio got to Zurich and we were making 150, 200 bucks a day,” Magnusson recalls.

“We’d play, move, play somewhere else, move — 10 hours. It would be a big day. Then you’d get gigs from that. It was quite a lucrative business for a month and a half. Then we were all burnt out, but we made thousands of dollars. It was cool.”

In June, at a jam session, he met Beresovsky, who had left Argentina at age 25 to live in Brazil and then wandered “where the wind blew me” in Europe. They spent two years “just hanging out on the street” in Zurich.

“It was hard to get gigs,” Magnusson says. “You have to have the CD and the profile and we didn’t, so we were just hanging out, riding mountain bikes and playing music. It was a pretty easy life, swimming in the lake and watching beautiful women and eating good food — a bohemian, hippie lifestyle.”

A lot of international musicians came to play. Magnusson says he heard all his heroes.

“Pick a jazz musician and they’ve played in Zurich. I remember one night there were four really heavy gigs on and you get really blasé. Al Foster was in one joint, Tribal Tech were in another gig … at the end of it we’d say, oh let’s just go home.”

“We’d always try to get in for free, to try to sneak in, say to the Kongresshaus, which is like the Sydney Opera House, to see [Norwegian saxophonist] Jan Garbarek. I’d pay 100 bucks to see Pat Metheny because I wanted a good spot, but other things we’d chisel our way in. [American saxophonist] Michael Brecker would be playing at the school where I taught, so we’d get to see some amazing stuff.”


MAGNET minus one: Magnusson and Pannuzzo in trio format.

But, as the seeds of MAGNET took root through the association of Magnusson and Beresovsky, more amazing music awaited in Australia in the person of Carl Pannuzzo, a multi-instrumentalist who’d play drums and sing with his band, Checkerboard Lounge.

“Carl was like the Grateful Dead of blues in Melbourne,” recalls Magnusson, who had with him a solo record, called Blisters, which Pannuzzo had made years earlier.

“It’s one of my favourite records of all time. It touches me and it has beautiful songs. It reminds me of all our song-writing heroes, from Joni Mitchell to James Taylor — he has that poetry and that beauty, and it’s crusty and everything, but you can still put it on now and go OMG, wow. It’s a winner.”

In Melbourne in 1996, Magnusson and Beresovsky went into a club where Pannuzzo was playing a right-handed drum kit the wrong way around.

“I was really blown away,” Magnusson says. “I was like, what is this? The guy was like in a trance, losing it completely. It was so wild I couldn’t believe it. Amazing music. It looked very weird.”

Three years later, Magnusson and Beresovsky recorded one track on Pannuzzo’s Passing Eye of the Sun.

Magnusson can laugh now: “That was a bit of a disaster for me, because I got dumped by my girlfriend during the recording session. At the count-in of the tune, a text message came in. She dumped me, she was in Boston. I was just devastated and then, ‘two, three, four…’.

Beresovsky: “I was laughing.”

Magnusson: “It was very funny. You fell off the kit almost when I showed you.“

Beresovsky: “It can’t be funnier. This was the best.”

Pannuzzo then sang on a SNAG album recorded at the ABC, but never released. It was the beginning of the relationship.

Magnusson likens Pannuzzo’s vocals to those of Faith No More singer Mike Patton, who in one concert at the Rote Fabrik (Red Factory) in Zurich “went from screaming to singing like a soul singer to making ‘mi mi mi’ sounds, so it was funny, you’d laugh your head off, but you’d also go, wow. In a way that’s what I feel Carl offers — humour and also the beauty and the wackiness.”

Agreeing that Pannuzzo does really stretch his voice, Beresovsky says the vocalist “uses all of it, that’s the thing — the whole instrument, he doesn’t just do one thing. He can be screaming here and next thing he can be talking about something into the microphone.”


MAGNET minus one: Eugene Ball and Steve Magnusson in trio format.

Eugene Ball had not played with Pannuzzo before MAGNET was formed, but he has performed a lot with Magnusson and was in a trio with the guitarist and Beresovsky.

Like their conversations, this musical association seems a natural development between close friends.

“And it’s still finding its way,” Magnusson says. “It’s still in flux. It feels like it’s still stage one and we’re still on our way and we’ll see what happens. We haven’t played a lot and we’re still playing. A couple of plays before Wang and off we go.

Reversing the record-then-play order of the first album, MAGNET will record again at the end of November.

“It will be fun to do something after we’ve had a chance to play and we’ve got some new material. Sergio’s a really fine guitarist, so I want him to play guitar on the album as well, if he wants to, that is.

“Also Carl Pannuzzo is a fantastic drummer, so we may have Sergio playing guitar and Carl playing drums, while I go and make a cup of tea. I may not play at all, just make cups of tea and peel oranges.”

MAGNET is playing the following gigs:

Saturday, November 3 at 8pm, WPAC Memorial Hall
Sunday, November 4 at 4:30pm, WPAC Memorial Hall

On tour:
November 11 & 12: COMA, Adelaide
November 18: MONA, Hobart
November 22: Bennetts Lane, Melbourne
November 23: Live at the Village, Blue Mountains
November 24: 505, Sydney


Fifth reason


The duo encounter between pianist Mike Nock and guitarist Stephen Magnusson is  Ausjazz blog’s fifth highlight of the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival in 2012, and definitely a reason not to miss the festival.

Nock is one of the most experienced and accomplished musicians on the Australian jazz scene. Originally from New Zealand, he spent time in Australia in the early 1960s, then spent two decades in the USA, before returning to Australia to teach and continue performing.

The beauty of Nock’s appearances at Wangaratta is that, though he is always there, he is never predictable — except in the sense that he will always take you somewhere refreshingly inventive and spectacular.

In 2011, on Saturday in the WPAC Theatre, bassist Barre Phillips reunited with Nock, with whom he had played years ago in New York. To me, this captured the essence of jazz’s essential appeal: the excitement of what might happen next, always present in any improvisation, but more purely expressed in these totally unscripted encounters. It was a symphony, if at times an agitated one, with the players prompting the audience to wonder “What will each intervention produce?” and “Will it completely change the mood?”

This year will see the first-time duo encounter between Nock and guitarist Stephen Magnusson.

Magnusson is acclaimed as a distinctive and imaginative guitarist who has worked extensively as a sideman, and in various bands as leader or co-leader. He has performed with Nock as a member of the ensemble heard on the Meeting of the Waters album and more recently in a trio that included saxophonist Julien Wilson.

I often recall Magnusson’s performance during Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe Melbourne outing at Bennetts Lane some years ago during the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. The guitarist recalls that he realised during the gig that one of the festival drawcards, guitarist Bill Frisell, was sitting in the audience watching, so he just decided to go for it. Magnusson’s talent shone out then, and he continues to explore new ground with his group MAGNET.

I am looking forward to this encounter. I expect it to be unscripted and to take us somewhere very special. The joy is that we will not know what to expect and won’t find out until, moment by moment, it happens.



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



BENEFIT GIG: For saxophonist Dave Ades, at Uptown Jazz Cafe, Melbourne, from 5.30pm Sunday, 26 August

Dave Ades

Dave Ades (Picture courtesy of whoever took it.)

The word has spread far and wide, so Uptown Jazz Cafe in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy will be bulging at the seams this evening as Sonny plays host to a benefit concert for Dave Ades, who has been diagnosed with level 3 inoperable lung cancer.

Scott Tinkler has said Dave is taking on the challenge and exploring his options of treatment. According to Uptown’s website, Dave is in Germany at present.

The benefit is a bid to raise money towards helping Dave with his treatment. Those performing will include Allan Browne, Simon Barker, Julien Wilson, Scott Tinkler, Stephen Magnusson, Marc Hannaford, Sam Pankhurst and others.

All proceeds will go directly to Dave and donations at door will be gratefully accepted. Please join the gathering if you are free.

Uptown Jazz Cafe is at 177 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. Telephone: (03) 9416 4546


Now, more than ever, seems it fit to have a Melbourne jazz fringe


Anzac Day seems a good opportunity for reflection. A week or so back I was gearing up to post about the coming season of jazz festivals in Melbourne and the need for us to get off our couches and venture into the wintry nights to hear live music, prodded or encouraged perhaps by a surge in publicity about the delights of improvised music. I reckoned that the first cab off the rank — before Stonnington Jazz (May 17 to 27) and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (June 1 to 11) — would be the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.


Fond memories of Fringe: A man called Miles makes pancakes on an electric frypan while a patron of the Captain's Bar requests a libation.

Fond thoughts came to mind about favourite Fringe moments … the sausage sizzle at Fitzroy Bowling Club where your snag is handed over by one of your favourite musicians; the ache in the bum that you notice only at the end of Big Arse Sunday when you’ve listened to eight hours or so of music; the challenge of staying in the room long enough to appreciate the subtleties of what seems like noise; the growing sense of anticipation and excitement as the APRA Commission work by Fran Swinn, Gian Slater, Erik Griswold or Ren Walters is about to unfold; the fun of following fellow patrons through city streets from a performance in an art gallery to another in which a violinist appears on a balcony and an orchestra of laptops plays below; the adventure of heading along a dark light industrial street to a dimly lit warehouse where a man called Miles makes pancakes on an electric frypan, the tiny Captain’s Bar serves enticing libations and there’s an iPhone mash-up making “music” at night’s end; the thrill of discovering Sandy Evans playing in a band that sets the pulse racing … Need I go on? Anyone who has been at these gigs will identify with the vibe.

Xani Kolac

Fond memories of Fringe: Zani Kolac plays violin from city gallery balcony.

With these thoughts in my head I was gently salivating as I looked up my calendar and saw the listing, gleaned from a useful jazz gig guide, showing that MJFF would run from April 23 to May 2, 2012. Then it dawned on my feeble brain that there had been no mention of the program for this year’s Fringe.

A word with drummer and festival administrator Sonja Horbelt revealed there was reason for concern. Sonja said Fringe is “re-evaluating and quite sponsorless this year”.

“Over the past year in particular we’ve felt the impact of Melbourne being “festival-ed out” and of the Melbourne Jazz festival drifting closer to what we believe to be the intrinsic identity of the Jazz Fringe Festival. It is flattering to think the main festival is drifting closer to what the Fringe is, but on the other hand it has left us searching for a definition of Fringe and a more focused purpose for the festival,” Sonja said.

“The Board has decided to use 2012 to take stock of the essential fabric of what is happening on the Melbourne scene and to re-evaluate the true purpose of the Jazz Fringe and its meaning for our community. We don’t have any major funding sponsors this year, aside from APRA for the composer award, so the Commission event will be the only event we stage.”

The news that the Commission concert would go ahead was good. The rest was a disappointment, not only because there would be less of the adventurous music for which this festival is known, but because there would be, essentially, no MJFF this year. I lament the loss of sponsorship and I lament the loss of a much-loved and vital part of Melbourne’s jazz and improvised music scene.

The irony is that Sophie Brous, who expanded Melbourne’s international festival into areas that had been Fringe territory, is no longer at the helm of MIJF, so in a year that could have seen Fringe filling in where the popular multi-stage experimental extravaganzas at Melbourne Town Hall left off — albeit on a necessarily smaller scale due to budget constraints — there is just one event rather than a full-on festival.

I am not saying the Fringe organising committee had any choice. Nor do I think it is a bad thing for the MJFF to re-evaluate its purpose. But I am hoping that this vital and valuable festival emerges phoenix-like from the ashes in 2013, because it is worth far more than just a collection of gigs on a calendar. MJFF can provide the special, quirky experiences mentioned above, which more formal festivals may not find so easy. It is surely also the ideal place for emerging exponents of new approaches to music to try them on audiences willing to be shocked, even horrified, but often exhilarated. And established artists can try new line-ups or alternative approaches.

That’s about it for the rant. The message: Keep the fringe in Melbourne jazz in the years ahead. May sponsors everywhere — apart from APRA, extempore, Melbourne Jazz Cooperative and Northcote Town Hall — hear and heed that message.


Tilman Robinson

APRA Commission winner: Tilman Robinson

Sunday, May 13 from 5pm at Northcote Town Hall

Network of Lines premieres ‘If On A Winter’s Night a Traveller’

Tilman Robinson, composition/trombone/processing; Peter Knight, trumpet/processing; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Xani Kolac, violin; Melanie Robinson, cello; Brett Thompson, guitar/banjo; Berish Bilander, piano/accordion; Samuel Pankhurst, double bass; and Hugh Harvey, drums.

Robinson’s new work is inspired by Italo Calvino’s 1979 postmodern novel of that name. Robinson is a composer, arranger, trombonist and sound artist whose works are not easily categorised. He graduated from West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2009. He has received commissions from such jazz and classical ensembles as the Australian Brass Quintet, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, Fused and the Arundo Reed Quintet. He has been an arranger for Sinead O’Connor and was commissioned to write for Orchestra Victoria’s Seven Songs to Leave Behind. His music has been performed by the Bennetts Lane Big Band, Canada’s Frontier Justice Big Band and EMO (Enthusiastic Musicians Orchestra).

Ren Walters

Ren Walters plays Cafe 303, Northcote

Close Conversation

David Tolley bass violin, Ren Walters acoustic guitar

Tolley and Walters have a long, close musical connection. As Tolley puts it in his High 5 for Jazz and Beyond, “Hardly a month has passed in 18 years without some creative interaction [from Walters] which translates into a permanent place at my ‘table’ as my adopted son.”

Tolley gave up the bass violin in 2005 because of Parkinson’s Disease, but his recovery was “fed by intensive studio work with computer-generated electronic sounding and sporadic painting and drawing”. Late last year he organised RRaPP — a Reunion Retreat and Performance Project concerned with the “discovery through the process of composing and performing simultaneously, in real-time, interactively, without preconception but drawing upon the vast collective creativity, skill and experience of the protagonists.” This project facilitated Tolley’s return to bass violin.

Ren Walters is known to Fringe patrons for, among many other outings, his APRA Commission work performed at Iwaki Auditorium in 2009.

Stephen Magnusson

Steve Magnusson in a MJFF festival gig at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

MAGNET Trio: Stephen Magnusson guitar, Eugene Ball trumpet, Carl Pannuzzo voice

MAGNET is a new project for guitarist/composer Stephen Magnusson as a creative collaboration with Ball, Pannuzzo and Argentinian drummer, Sergio Beresovsky, who is in Argentina. Beresovsky’s absence offers the trio version of the group a way to re-interpret their repertoire, as they do every time they perform, starting with simple melodies and building it “from their ears up”.

We can expect interaction and harmony at the deepest level of collective improvisation, with “the moments made as pure as if they had been composed over crystal”.



BREAKING NEWS: Tilman Robinson wins the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival APRA Composer Commission for 2012

Tilman Robinson

Tilman Robinson’s ensemble Network of Lines will perform the the premiere of his commissioned work If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller on Sunday, May 13 at Northcote Town Hall.

Robinson’s work attempts to replicate its the structure of Italo Calvino’s 1979 postmodern novel. Employing elements of through-composition and free improvisation, the work aims to present a cohesive musical narrative while allowing the musicians to speak directly to the audience.

The line-up for the concert will be Tilman Robinson, composition/trombone/processing; Peter Knight, trumpet/processing; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Xani Kolac, violin; Melanie Robinson, cello; Brett Thompson, guitar/banjo; Berish Bilander, piano/accordion; Samuel Pankhurst, double bass; and Hugh Harvey, drums.

Opening the gig at 5pm will be David Tolley with Ren Walters, followed by Carl Panuzzo Trio featuring Stephen Magnusson and Eugene Ball.

More details to come.




1234 cover

3.5 stars (but it’s really a 3.8 or 3.9)

Bassist Nick Haywood leads this superb quartet from behind, with a clear commitment to collaboration and spontaneity.

The group is well chosen. Guitarist Stephen Magnusson’s spare interventions intersect artfully with Colin Hopkins’ dynamically rich piano contributions, and Allan Browne’s drumming is always apt.

As Haywood intended, simple tunes develop complexity in the hands of this quartet, with exquisite renditions of The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress and Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain sure to test anyone’s addiction to vocals.

From the dreamy Tahdon to the ebullient Round Trip, this outing is testament to what can be achieved by giving capable musicians a push and seeing where they take us.

Count 1234 as a success.

Download: Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain

File between: Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny


This review appeared also in the Play section of the Sunday Herald Sun newspaper, Melbourne, on November 20, 2011.


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.