Tag Archives: Terence Blanchard

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

TIME TO BONE UP ON WANGARATTA JAZZ 2011

PREVIEW

Wangaratta Jazz & Blues 2011

Launched: Wangaratta Jazz & Blues festival 2011

Well, Wangaratta Jazz & Blues is being launched tonight in Wangaratta, but Ausjazz can bring you the bones of the program as artistic director Adrian Jackson is telling the event’s home town denizens what’s in store.

As predicted by Ausjazz blog, American trombonist Josh Roseman is the headline international artist, performing in two concerts with New York band members Australian expatriate pianist Barney McAll, drummer Ted Poor and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax, keyboard and percussion. The Josh Roseman Unit has explored “progressive funk, electro and jazz”, and the composer has been described as having “vision” and someone who “plays ideas”.

At a media briefing, Jackson revealed that Australian pianist, composer and festival director Paul Grabowsky heard Roseman in New York last year and said he’d like to do something with the young trombonist/composer and the Australian Art Orchestra. That will happen, with Roseman bringing some of his compositions for a 14-piece AAO to explore.

Leak on Josh Roseman

Breaking news: How Ausjazz spilled the beans in the first Wangileak.

As well, Barney McAll will unveil a new suite in a premiere performance with two pianos (B. McAll and Andrea Keller), vibraphone and a 16-voice choir led by Gian Slater, who Melburnians will recall for her brilliant commission concert at BMW Edge for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival. This should be a real highlight.

Apfelbaum will also perform a solo piano concert.

Ready to duo: Linda Oh will team with Gian Slater

Keeping the expatriate spirit going, Malaysian-born bassist Linda Oh, who grew up in Perth and has since moved to New York, will bring a quartet to Wangaratta to celebrate the launch of her second album. Her line-up has Fabian Almazan on piano, but differs from that on the album, with Sam Sadigursky on tenor sax and Kendrick Scott on drums. Linda Oh featured in April’s DownBeat magazine.

Another expatriate, pianist composer Walter Lampe, will travel from Amsterdam — his home of 20 years — to perform in a trio. I believe Lampe was in Sydney early this year, playing at 505 with Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz and former Melburnian, drummer Danny Fischer, but the line-up for Wangaratta will be Zwartz and James Hauptmann on drums.

Linda Oh & Gian Slater

Bright idea: Gian Slater joins Linda Oh in the duet at Bennetts Lane.

In a demonstration of just how good Adrian Jackson is at picking up on interesting new combinations, Oh will perform with Gian Slater in a concert of duets for bass and vocals. Jackson had the idea when he heard them together at Bennetts Lane during a recent concert with another expatriate, saxophonist Jacam Manricks.

Cuban pianist Almazan, now living in America, has toured the US, South America, Asia and Europe with Terence Blanchard and will come to Wangaratta direct from the release of his first album at the Village Vanguard. Almazan will play with Linda Oh on bass and Rodney Kendrick on drums.

Denis Colin (bass clarinet) from France and Adam Simmons (saxophones etc.) from Australia will join Benjamin Moussay on keyboards and Chander Sardjoe on drums to celebrate their collaboration as La Societe des Antipodes.

Headline artist for the blues marquee will be American singer/guitarist Jimmy D Lane, son of Chicago blues great Jimmy Rogers (it’s a stage name). Adrian Jackson said Jimmy D., who grew up with Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf as regular guests in his house, and listening to Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, is making his first visit to Australia.

Others on the blues stage will include the consistently and quietly brilliant Collard Greens & Gravy, Jim Conway’s Big Wheel and Blue Heat. But a blues gig bound to be a huge hit will be saxophonist Paul Williamson’s Hammond Blues Revue, in which Williamson’s usual Hammond Combo line-up will be joined by guests Chris Wilson, Shannon Bourne, vocalist Ella Thompson (who sang at Wangaratta when she was 15) and James Black. Thompson has emerged through the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society’s Youth in Blues program, which helps young artists.

Luckily for anyone who has heard Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo at Stonnington Jazz (or the Rainbow Hotel), with brilliant Hammond B3 organist Tim Neal and drummer Mike Jordan, the combo will also play a concert in the jazz program. Don’t confuse this with trumpeter Paul Williamson‘s Inside Out (with Marc Hannaford on piano, Sam Zerna on double bass and James McLean on drums), which will be very different. Both gigs are sure to be hits.

Sandy Evans

Highlight: James Greening's 'bone frames Sandy Evans at Stonnington Jazz 2011

A later post will cover other festival highlights, such as a new Sandy Evans suite and her duets with Paul Grabowsky, what Allan Browne will get up to with Elliott Dalgleish, and who’s going to judge the National Jazz Awards.

ROGER MITCHELL

Jazz steps lively into future

INTERVIEW

Robert Glasper
Doesn’t hold back: Robert Glasper

Roger Mitchell speaks to producer of the documentary Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, which will be screened on May 2, at 4pm at ACMI, Fed Square, Melbourne.

WOULD Charlie Parker turn in his grave? Probably not. The language is a bit strong, but Bird would surely have heard worse in his day.

Pianist Robert Glasper is talking about jazz and he doesn’t hold back: “Charlie Parker wouldn’t want some motherf—– playing the same sh– he was playing. He’d say, ‘Why are you playing this sh–? I already played that.’ ”

In Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense, a 93-minute documentary which has its Australian premiere next Sunday as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Glasper succinctly puts the case for musicians to move on from the past.

As avant-garde jazz pianist Matthew Shipp puts it more gently in the film, “You can’t seek the living among the dead.”

Producer John W. Comerford and co-directors Michael Rivoira, Lars Larson and Peter J. Vogt recorded 130 hours of interviews with more than 75 jazz musicians and 30 hours of super 16mm filmed performance over seven years for Icons Among Us in venues across the US and Europe.

The result is a riveting feature film and a longer, four-part series that is being rolled out worldwide.

When Icons premiered last year at New York’s Lincoln Center, home of the Wynton Marsalis’s “Young Lions” group of neo-traditionalist post-boppers — who see future jazz sounding a lot like its past — it was criticised for not taking a stance.

Comerford disagrees: “Our strategy was to listen as deeply as possible to each of the musicians interviewed. And in making the film we have learned that the essential element to furthering jazz development is to create dialogue, and in that friction is where the energy and the life of it resides.

“The film speaks very clearly, particularly through (trumpeter/composer) Terence Blanchard, who has the last word. He says that we’ve moved on and changed and we’re never, ever going back.

“Pete Vogt is in China right now with the film and apparently the Chinese are apparently bonkers over jazz. What happens with Chinese artists and jazz, given thousands of years of traditional Chinese music, I can’t wait to hear what comes out of that country in the next five years. It may even influence artists from New Orleans.”

The producer also takes issue with jazz writer Paul de Barros, who argues on camera that the problem of jazz today is that it does not connect with modern culture in the way that Parker or John Coltrane did with black freedom or jazz in the 1950s did with immigration and the civil rights movement in America.

De Barros says, “We do not understand the connection between (guitarist) Bill Frisell and the society.”

Comerford says one of the film’s counterpoints is that while De Barros is talking, Frisell is improvising on Bob Dylan’s Masters of War.

“I was in the room when we filmed that cut and that was during a time of intense conflict in Iraq. Frisell was commenting and expressing emotion artistically. The feeling in the room was just extraordinary. People were just locked in.”

Icons Among Us screens as part of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image “Future Traditions: Jazz on Film” program.

Details available from Melbourne International Jazz Festival
or Australian Centre for the Moving Image

An abridged version of this article was published in the Sunday Herald Sun Play liftout on Sunday, April 25.