NOSTALGIA LIVES: THE JAZZLAB OPENS

The Jazzlab

Michael Tortoni makes a call in his new music venue, The Jazzlab.

PREVIEW:

The Jazzlab, 27 Leslie Street, Brunswick

I have a soft spot for nostalgia. I cling on to the familiar. In the jazz scene this year there have been some momentous changes, and I find it all too easy to wish things could stay as they have been.

When Adrian Jackson parted ways with Stonnington’s annual festival of Australian jazz, handing the artistic direction to a committee, I felt the resulting program had lost focus and lacked that special frisson that had been there when performers were brought together in unexpected and exciting combinations.

This year Adrian announced that he would not be retaining that role with the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues. Along with many musicians and fans of this wonderful weekend gathering, I deeply regretted this change and pined for a return to the status quo — a return, if you like, to the security of knowing that whatever budget constraints would assail the festival, there would still be the excitement of the unexpected.

Yet, also along with many diehard fans and musicians I suspect, the dawning realisation that Wangaratta in 2017 would be minus AJ (at least in his artistic director role) was tempered by the news that the festival’s “Programming Team” would include Melbourne’s Adam Simmons and SIMA’s Zoe Hauptmann. They have big shoes to fill, but their creativity and dedication to improvised music is undeniable. The unexpected, we hope, can be expected.

The final night at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in February 2017.

The final night at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in February 2017.

In Melbourne, the Lazarus-like and, yes, iconic jazz venue Bennetts Lane closed its doors for the last time on February. When it closed for the first time I was overseas, but I heard that the farewell party then was a humdinger.

This year’s closure was a relatively quiet affair. As I left this wonderfully welcoming repository of live music, Megan Evans mentioned there were old posters by the door. I took home a large image of pianist Tim Stevens, which was a comfort.

My nostalgia and sense of loss was tempered by a few factors. Again change could not be arrested. And I was reminded of trumpah aficionado extraordinaire Scott Tinkler‘s blunt exhortation after Bennetts closed the first time: Get over it, there are many other venues for live, improvised music — Sonny’s Uptown Jazz Cafe, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green, Lebowskis, 303 Northcote, Bar Open’s Make It Up Club, Bella Union to name just a few.

As well, we knew that new venues were on the way. Meg would be carrying the Bennetts Lane torch forward into a new city venue owned by David Marriner, at a date to be announced, but not early enough for this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Michael Tortoni makes some final tweaks to The Jazzlab.

Michael Tortoni makes some final tweaks to The Jazzlab.

And — we finally get to the point of this post — Michael Tortoni would be opening a new haunt for music hangs in a well-tuned warehouse in Leslie Street, Brunswick. Conveniently for Michael, artistic director of the MIJF, The Jazzlab will open in time to be one of the festival venues.

Jeremy Jankie

Jeremy before the bar opens.

The icing on the cake — though he hardly fits that description — is that our much-loved Jeremy Jankie of Bennetts Lane fame will be behind the bar at The Jazzlab.

I had a preview of this venue this week and all the signs are auspicious. It has the feel of the small room at Bennetts Lane (great feel, great acoustics) only larger.

Better still, my nostalgia can have free rein. The chairs are familiar. The tables are familiar. The wall clock is familiar. The stools are familiar (although much more comfortable now that they have been reupholstered). And the format is familiar. Patrons will be able find the bar with ease.

And what of the staircase, a valuable haunt at Bennetts Lane for photographers who wanted an elevated vantage point in a crowded room? Well, The Jazzlab’s stairs are much nicer, but I’m sceptical about photographers using them — we’d be on centre stage and under lights.

Expect musicians to descend the stairs, but don’t ask what they were doing up there. It’s hush hush.

Outside Tortoni’s warehouse Jazzlab there are signs of what’s to come. An acoustic bass appears on a nearby corner and a violinist sits atop the building.

Inside, behind the familiar tables, chairs and stools, there will be standing room. And that’s where you come in.

It’s “Doors 8pm, Music 9pm” for Fem Belling‘s quartet on Friday 7 April, followed by The Rookies from midnight.

Roger Mitchell

CONFUCIUS SAY, GIVE MUSICIANS LIBERTY

Cara Taber Gideon Brazil

Cara Taber and Gideon Brazil fill the air with colour during Adam Simmons’ Concerto For Piano and Toy Band

PICTORIAL REVIEW

Concert 1: Concerto for Piano and Toy Band
Michael Kieran Harvey with Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble
Composed by Adam Simmons

Thursday 2 March 2017, fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

By the time this post appears the second performance of this concerto will be over, but there will be two more chances to join the audience — on Saturday at 7.30pm and on Sunday at 3pm.

I loved this work. One of the performers, alto saxophonist Cara Taber, described this as “beautiful, thought-provoking, and strong original music by Adam Simmons” and that fits.

The concerto, which has three parts surrounded by a prologue, two interludes and an epilogue, is at times frenzied and at others meditative. Bursts of sudden energy come from the powerful piano of classical musician Michael Kieran Harvey as well as from the Toy Band.

As is always the case with Simmons’ art, we are encouraged to enjoy as well as to reflect on what we are seeing and hearing, what the performers are bringing to us beyond their facility with a range of instruments.

Confucius, a great lover of music, is part of this work, introduced in lines spoken by Simmons as he turns the handles on music boxes, propelling paper tapes into which the words are punched as holes. My googling suggests that Confucius gave ideas on how music should follow the ideal of the ancient pattern and then allow for improvisation while maintaining harmony.

This is the context for the brief spoken passages in Simmons’ concerto, in that Confucius, when talking to the Grand Master of Lu (who had been given the task of teaching music) about the Ancients’ Music, said, “Their music began with a strict unison. Soon the musicians were given more liberty; but the tone remained harmonious, brilliant, consistent, right on ’til the close.”

The spoken passages provide a framework in which the musicians work. The whole work — Simmons’ first long-form composition — is part of his exploration this year of The Usefulness of Art, inspired by French Impressionist sculptor Auguste Rodin‘s view that “I call useful anything that gives us happiness”. Simmons wants us to reflect on art as connection, sharing experience and encouraging understanding between people.

The influences he cites for this effort to highlight the contrast between soloist and ensemble include the words of Confucius, Werner Herzog films he watched when composing the piece in Wye River some years back and John Zorn’s books of interviews, essays and commentaries by musicians.

All this, while interesting as a background to the performance, is not required as a prelude to its enjoyment. There are startling moments in the concerto, there are periods in which Harvey thrills at the piano and there is a time when Taber’s saxophone solo is accompanied by musicians moving quietly and percussively through the audience and performance space.

It is best not to tell that story beforehand, but to experience it. I would thoroughly recommend that you find the time to catch the remaining two performances of Concerto for Piano and Toy Band.

ROGER MITCHELL

The Toy Band: Adam Simmons sopranino, baritone saxophones, shakuhachi; Cara Taber alto saxophone; Gideon Brazil tenor saxophone; Gemma Horbury trumpet; Gavin Cornish trumpet; Bryn Hills trombone; Howard Cairns double bass; Hugh Harvey drums

Below are some images, which are in black and white. The performance certainly is not.

JAMES JAMES MORRISON MUSTAFA …

Kate Ceberano

Kate Ceberano

PREVIEW

JAZZ GREATS WEEKEND AT MONASH

Saturday 25 March, 7.30pm: James Morrison & The James Mustafa Jazz Orchestra, $15 – $45

Sunday 26 March, 7.30pm: The Bob Dylan Song Book featuring Kate Ceberano, Joe Camilleri and Paul Grabowsky, $15 – $45

James James
Morrison Mustafa
Kate, Joe and Paul

Apologies to A.A. Milne for messing with his words from Disobedience, but it seemed appropriate. The mother of Milne’s James Morrison, one suspects, would have thrown caution to the winds and headed out to Monash University next month, even if she had no hope whatsoever of being “back in time for tea”.

On that Saturday and Sunday next month, Monash Academy of Performing Arts will put some well known names in Australian music — James Morrison, Kate Ceberano, Joe Camilleri and Paul Grabowsky —on stage at Robert Blackwood Hall along with talented musicians including  Morrison’s quintet and 20-piece ensemble The James Mustafa Jazz Orchestra.

A highlight of the Saturday program will be MAPA’s newly commissioned composition from James Mustafa featuring his outstanding jazz orchestra with world-acclaimed James Morrison as soloist.

The James Mustafa Jazz Orchestra is comprised of some of the country’s finest and most respected musicians.  Their debut album The Last Sanctuary, released under the Jazzhead record label has been a best seller and they have performed many sellout shows across Victoria.

Paul Grabowsky Joe Camilleri

Paul Grabowsky                                                                      Joe Camilleri

In the second Jazz Greats concert, two of Australia’s most popular and celebrated contemporary vocalists, Kate Ceberano and Joe Camilleri, join six-time Aria award winner Paul Grabowsky and the Paul Grabowsky Quartet.

Together they will reimagine and transform some of the finest songs in the songbook of one of the 20th century’s greatest song-writers and poets – Bob Dylan.

“The songs of Bob Dylan have become part of the inner fabric of our lives, and his creative journey has recently brought him around to the Great American Songbook, which has traditionally formed the basis for many extraordinary jazz performances,” says Paul Grabowsky.

“Now we return the favour, with an investigation from a jazz perspective of his masterpieces, interpreted by two of our greatest vocalists, Joe Camilleri, himself a deep Dylan devotee, and Kate Ceberano, whose song choices will surprise and delight.”

Musical Director for this concert, Grabowsky will be on piano, Luke Andresen on drums, Rob Burke on saxophone and Jonathan Zion on double bass.

Tickets can be purchased online or by phone on (03) 9905 1111.

Ticket Prices
Standard: $45
Senior/Pensioner/Healthcare Card: $35
Student (Non Monash) / Children 15: $20
Monash Staff: $35
Monash Student: $15
If you are booking Monash Staff or Monash Student tickets, you can book by calling the Box Office on 9905 1111

Children
Children aged two years and under are complimentary when not occupying a seat.

Running Time
Approximately two hours including a twenty minute interval.

Images supplied. Information adapted from material supplied by Prue Basset Publicity.

ROGER MITCHELL