Tag Archives: stephen magnusson


Paper Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s another take on this album:

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

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

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

And our ABC has this to say about the album:

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

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

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

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers


Daniel Wilfred

Daniel Wilfred

REVIEW: CD launch, Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 — The Ghost Dances, Young Wägilak Group & Australian Art Orchestra, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Tuesday 27 May, 2014

This was a CD launch and a live music performance. It was also a challenging and moving personal experience that has stayed with me over the months since it took place — in the brief lull between two significant jazz festivals in Melbourne.

I had heard about Crossing Roper’s Bar, a musical collaboration over nine years in which the song men of Ngukurr have worked closely with the Australian Art Orchestra to explore in a contemporary way the manikay (song cycles) of the Yolŋu people of South East Arnhem Land. I had never heard the music, but had long wanted to.

I had expectations only that what the initiator of the project, Paul Grabowsky, had said was based on “an equal exchange of knowledge through a dialogue centred on music” would be fascinating and could take me anywhere. Grabowsky has a habit of not disappointing. But, of course, there were many other musicians involved in this rare live performance — many known to me through jazz, but two indigenous musicians who were an unknown quantity.

Looking back on this performance, I regret that it was sandwiched between periods of intense jazz festival activity at Stonnington Jazz and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. It deserved to have its own space in my head, time for reflection and for its depth to sink in. Yet, despite my need to move on in “festival review” mode, I find that this concert lingers. It will not go away.

An important element in that lasting impact came in the contributions of indigenous musicians of the Young Wägilak Group and traditional ceremony men from Ngukurr on the Roper River Daniel Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and dancer) and David Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and didgeridoo).

The AAO musicians were Paul Grabowsky (Musical Director and piano), Tony Hicks (saxophones), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Niko Schauble (drums). and Philip Rex (double bass).

It was an impressive line-up from the AAO, but this outing was indeed “an equal exchange”. Soon after Grabowsky spoke briefly about this music taking us to another place, outside time and yet about time as well as identity and creation, I found myself focusing especially on the voice and words of Daniel Wilfred. It was mesmerising and powerful.

The orchestra members began with minimalist contributions, at times explosive chatter and seemingly disconnected, so that Daniel’s voice and clap stick interventions were a sharp shock. But as the music progressed his voice became a unifying force as well as a form of punctuation, halting proceedings before the next “movement”. At times I found it had the propulsion of swing.

Grabowsky and Magnusson played together, the guitar producing sounds that were visceral, animal and alive, sometimes gobbling. Hicks, who was exquisitely expressive on his wide range of instruments throughout, delivered a long, moving clarinet solo before a vocal and clap stick cut-off. Then Rex and Schauble delivered strong stuff that led to a fiery finish of another segment.

Daniel and David Wilfred

Daniel and David Wilfred

There were many extremes and variations as each of two sets progressed, ranging from frenzy to tiny chirrups to what sounded like storm clouds bristling with distant thunder. The music became eerie or piercing or an onslaught. It was harsh, then it softened. It was unsettling, then it was evocative of much time passing — possibly eons.

But throughout this diversity, the powerful binding force was Daniel’s voice and presence. His vocals seemed disembodied, floating free in space and not emerging just from the mic and speakers. David’s didgeridoo was welcome, but the most impact came in his brother’s voice. I could have just listened and let the sounds fill everything.

At the end of the second set, Daniel spoke briefly about the effect of this project and its affect on his life. I did not catch all that he said, but his pride and strength was evident.

As this is a review, albeit belated, it should have a verdict, I suppose — though no star rating will be offered. So, did it work to bring creative jazz musicians together with musicians from Arnhem Land? Can these cultures find common ground?

From this one experience, and from listening to the album many times, I find that question to be somehow irrelevant. It’s a fair question and someone raised it with me, but I did not find disparity in the music and I did not find myself thinking in terms of the indigenous and non-indigenous parts of the whole.

I’m not sure that I fully grasped where the music took us on the night, but the experience will stay with me. I would urge anyone to take the opportunity to hear this collaboration in whatever form it takes in future — whether live or recorded, but preferably live.


Note: The album Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 – The Ghost Dances was recorded in 2012 and features the Young Wägilak Group from Arnhem Land led by Benjamin Wilfred and AAO musicians, Erkki Veltheim (violin), Paul Grabowsky (piano), Tony Hicks (saxophone/flute), Philip Rex (bass) and Niko Schäuble (drums).

From the AAO notes: “The Roper River is a magnificent waterway flowing from Mataranka, 100 kms south of Katherine, and out across the land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people. Before it reaches the Gulf of Carpentaria it passes the remote town of Ngukurr, which is isolated by the Wet for several months of each year (November to Easter) when the Roper engulfs all but the highest land. At other times, Roper Bar is the point where it’s possible to cross the river and go on to Ngukurr. The crossing over seems not only a poetic but also a fitting metaphor for our collaboration, Crossing Roper Bar.”


Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava


Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival line-up announced for its 25th year, Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November.

The embargo has just been lifted and Adrian Jackson‘s line-up for the four days and nights of the pre-Melbourne Cup Day long weekend of jazz and blues can be revealed, featuring more than 300 musicians in more than 80 concerts on the main program, and more than 30 concerts on the Main Street free stages.

There are also artist talks and master classes in town and at nearby wineries.

Heading the line-up of international artists will be a giant of European jazz, trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Enrico Rava (Italy), who was booked to come in 1996 but had to cancel because of archaic visa requirements. Artistic Director Adrian Jackson says Rava is “just about the only one who got away” in all his years at the helm, and that it is nice to be able to rectify that this year.

Other international jazz artists include Grammy Award winning drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (USA) with his band, which includes New York-based Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts; composer/trumpeter Laura Watts (USA) and New York-based saxophonist Lisa Parrot (Aus/USA) returning to the festival two decades after being runner-up in the National Jazz Awards (Saxophone) in 1994.

Another from the US will be Spoke (USA) and, from New Zealand these days, Roger Manins, winner of the 2002 National Jazz Awards (Saxophone), with his band Hip Flask.

Among the Australian musicians on the program will be the Australian Art Orchestra performing Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, a re-imagining of the legacy of Louis Armstrong. Paul Grabowsky and Steve Grant will each perform solo piano concerts in the Holy Trinity Cathedral; guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson will make a rare collaboration in a quartet format.

Jazz vocalists will include Emma Pask, Fem Belling (leading her quintet and contributing to the African jazz sounds of Royal Swazi Spa, led by her father Howard Belling) and Hetty Kate performing songs from her recent CD, Dim All The Lights. Now based in New York, Sarah McKenzie will return to Wangaratta as part of a tour to promote her forthcoming third CD and Julie O’Hara will perform with the gypsy swing-inspired combo Ultrafox.

Headlining the blues program will guitarist-singer and Blues Hall of Fame member Joe Louis Walker (USA), singer/songwriter Harper on harmonica and didgeridoo, who moved to the US a decade ago. Harper will bring his Detroit-based band.

Australian blues acts including Sydney’s Bondi Cigars, Blue Eyes Cry, guitar aces Ray Beadle and Darren Jack leading their bands and then teaming up as All The Kings Men — a celebration of the 4 Kings – B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl King and Albert King. Other blues artists include Fiona Boyes, Nick Charles and Doc Span.

The National Jazz Awards feature guitarists this year and an increased prize pool. As always, the top 10 finalists will compete at the festival, with the finals starting at 5pm on Sunday 2 November (broadcast live to air on ABC Classic FM). Mike Nock will again act as Chairman of the judging panel, joined by guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson, co-winners of the Awards in 2000. The winner will receive a $12,000 grand prize, the chance to record for ABC Classic FM’s Jazztrack with Mal Stanley and an invitation to perform at the 2015 Stonnington Jazz Festival. The runner-up will receive $6,000 and a recording session at Pughouse studios and the third placegetter will receive $3,000.

There’s much more to say, but this is a quick preview to whet the appetite.



The musicians in Crossing Roper's Bar

The musicians in Crossing Roper’s Bar

PREVIEW: CD launch, Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 — The Ghost Dances, Young Wägilak Group & Australian Art Orchestra, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Tuesday 27 May, 2014

This is a last-minute post (there’s been a few concerts on at somwhere called Stonnington recently), but this is a chance not to be missed.

In a rare live performance, indigenous musicians David and Daniel Wilfred from Arnhem Land will join distinguished Australian pianist and composer Paul Grabowsky and the acclaimed Australian Art Orchestra to launch their new album, Crossing Roper Bar Volume 2 – The Ghost Dances.

Crossing Roper Bar journeys into jazz and the music traditions of Australia’s first people. The result of regular exchanges that began in 2005, this work brings together two diverse cultures “in a very contemporary and yet spiritual musical fusion”.

It is based on the Yolngu song cycle Wild Blackfella and will feature indigenous musicians of the Young Wägilak Group and traditional ceremony men from Ngukurr on the Roper River — Daniel Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and dancer) and David Wilfred (Wägilak Songman and didgeridoo), Paul Grabowsky (Musical Director and piano), Tony Hicks (saxophones), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Niko Schauble (drums).
and Philip Rex (double bass).

And at 7pm on Thursday 29 May at Moreland City Band Hall, 22 Cross Street, Brunswick, there will be a free workshop with Daniel and David Wilfred covering the storytelling, ceremony and musical traditions of Arnhem Land. Participants can take part in bunggul (dance) workshops, and enjoy live performance of beautiful songs and virtuoso yidaki (didjeridu) playing.

The following material is taken from the media release:

The manikay (song cycles) of the Yolŋu of South East Arnhem Land represent one of the oldest and most affecting musical traditions on the planet and the song men of Ngukurr have worked closely with the AAO to create a contemporary rendering of these precious cultural artefacts — performing songs that many of their Yolŋu kin further north had thought were lost forever.

Paul Grabowsky, who initiated the project, said the collaboration was based on an equal exchange of knowledge through a dialogue centred on music. “The resulting intersection of jazz and traditional Indigenous music is an electrifying marriage of the very old with the very new, and a celebration of country, ceremony, and the power of music to build enduring bridges across cultures, time and space.

“Music is integral to Aboriginal ceremony, culture and to their whole social system and the ancient song cycles of the Manikay are in real danger of being lost unless they are picked up and preserved by future generations,” Grabowsky said.

“Over the past nine years the Crossing Roper Bar project has reinvigorated the Ngukkur community, which has for many decades lived with the threat of losing its cultural traditions. It has re-engaged the young people and shown a way forward.”

The Roper River is a magnificent waterway flowing from Mataranka, 100 kms south of Katherine, and out across the land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people. Before it reaches the Gulf of Carpentaria it passes the remote town of Ngukurr, which is isolated by the Wet for several months of each year (November to Easter) when the Roper engulfs all but the highest land. At other times, Roper Bar is the point where it’s possible to cross the river and go on to Ngukurr. The crossing over seems not only a poetic but also a fitting metaphor for our collaboration, Crossing Roper Bar.

Ngukurr is an ideal place to learn about Aboriginal music because it is the gathering point for outlying peoples of the Wägilak, Ngalmi, Murrungun, Nunthirrbala, Mungurra, Lalara and Wurramurra nations, who come together under the name Yugul Mangi.

The CD was recorded in 2012 and features the Young Wägilak Group from Arnhem Land led byBenjamin Wilfred and AAO musicians, Erkki Veltheim (violin), Paul Grabowsky (piano), Tony Hicks (saxophone/flute), Philip Rex (bass) and Niko Schäuble (drums).

The Bennetts Lane doors open tonight at 8.30pm. For details visit the Bennetts Lane website.



Virna Sanzone and Niko Schauble

Virna Sanzone and Niko Schauble in The Italian Project

REVIEW: Acquacheta / Paul Grabowsky & Virna Sanzone: The Italian Project, Chapel Off Chapel, Friday 23 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

In all my travels abroad, I have not been to Italy. Now I want to go. Yet the musicians who have inspired this wish are close to home.

This concert was billed as “jazz with an alluring Italian accent”. It might also have been promoted as two sets by superb musicians, some with Italian connections. Saxophonist and pianist Mirko Guerrini moved to Melbourne last year to take up a teaching position at Monash University. At Wangaratta last year he teamed with guitarist Stephen Magnusson, bassist Frank Di Sario and drummer Niko Schauble as Acquacheta, but I heard only part of that concert.

It was a treat to hear a whole set from this quartet as they reinterpreted songs by John Lennon and George Harrison, some originals by Magnusson, Di Sario and Guerrini, movie theme Prima della Pioggia (Before the Rain), plus En la Orilla del Mundo (At the Edge of the World, possibly by Arturo Castro).

Mirko Guerrini

Mirko Guerrini

What a rich tapestry this was. I particularly liked the sharp-edged and abrasive Mag-Pie (Magnusson), the piano’s clarity and scant guitar in Before the Rain, the developing intensity of Javier (Di Sario), which included a great guitar solo over drums and bass, and ruminative reeds with rapid vibrato and rasping “parps”. In the closing Here Comes the Sun, Guerrini built his solo so beautifully to a climax of squeaks and squawks that I decided it would be the best sax solo of the night. I spoke too soon.

The second set ditched the guitar and bass (sorry Steve and Frank) and added pianist-composer-arranger Paul Grabowsky and Sydney vocalist Virna Sanzone for a collaboration titled The Italian Project — interpretations of traditional Italian and Sicilian folk songs, and more recent songs from Fellini and other modern Italian composers.

Virna Sanzone

Virna Sanzone

The program notes said Sanzone’s delivery of the lyrics “often provides a dramatic contrast to the imaginative improvisations of her colleagues” and that was indeed the case. As someone who at times needs convincing (or education) on the value of vocals — I often enjoy other instruments more — this set was a revelation, perhaps precisely because I loved the disparity between the expressive vocals and the riveting work of the other musicians.

It probably helped that I could not understand the words being sung, because that left the voice unadorned, except by the emotions conjured by my mind from the description given by Sanzone about the songs.

Two things stood out in this set. First, Virna Sanzone conveyed so much emotion in vocals that were powerful yet often caressing, the degree of care taken giving the impressions that the sounds were being nurtured as they emerged. I especially loved the vocals in Mi Votu E Mi Rivotu and the yearning in Sanzone’s voice in Mi Piace, as well as the way she entered so unobtrusively during the piece.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky

Second, the accompanying musicians were just superb, as well as being sensitive to their vocalist. Highlights included Guerrini’s beautiful solo in La Pampura Di L’Aiva (at times he seemed just to breathe into the sax),  Grabowsky’s powerful swinging solo and Schauble in full flight in Tu Si’ Na Cosa Grande, another fantastic Guerrini solo in Ma L’Amore, No, and his droning buzz in Mi Votu E Mi Rivotu accompanied by deliberate, spaced chords from Grabowsky. Mi Piace brought subtlety on piano and drums, and wondrously variable dynamics along with mewlings from Guerrini before the piece gathered intensity.

I could go on raving, but you get the message. The imaginative work by Guerrini, Grabowsky and Schauble throughout this set would have been a joy to behold, but offset against Sanzone’s vocals it was a perfect fit. Not surprisingly there was an encore.

This was an ideal way to see and hear Italy.


There are more images to come, when time permits.

Mirko Guerrini

Paul Grabowsky

Virna Sanzone



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.