Suite for a shy revolutionary

Ronan Guilfoyle

Ronan Guilfoyle                                  Image supplied

“In music you are allowed more elbow room to find your own way to whatever you interpret the music to be. So I think that’s a kind of interesting wrinkle in music, that because of its abstract nature it actually allows the listener to participate maybe a bit more with their own creativity and their own spontaneity … “


Ronan Guilfoyle talks about his suite, A Shy-Going Boy, to be presented at this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues

Irish acoustic bass guitarist Ronan Guilfoyle recalls his grandfather as a softly spoken, witty man, but Lt.-Col. Joseph Guilfoyle was also a revolutionary — a volunteer at age 17 in the 1916 Rising against British rule in Ireland.

As a member of Michael Collins’s group the Squad during the War of Independence, Joe took part in the killing of British magistrate Alan Bell, who was ordered off a tram in Ballsbridge in March 1920 and shot dead in the street.

Ronan has explored that ambiguity in an eight-part suite that will be performed on Saturday, October 29 as part of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. He will be joined by his son, Chris Guilfoyle, on guitar, Matthew Jacobson on drums and three Australian musicians, Jamie Oehlers on saxophone, Scott Tinkler on trumpet and Andrea Keller on piano.

Ronan chose A Shy-Going Boy as the suite’s title because Joe Guilfoyle described himself thus in a radio broadcast.

“It’s how he describes himself and I’ve never heard that expression before or since,” Ronan says in his recorded response to Ausjazz questions.

“He said, ‘I was always a shy-going boy’ and he talks about being shy in joining the volunteers. It really struck me that the idea of a shy boy volunteering to take part in an armed revolution was an interesting one and it was such an unusual phrase I thought it was perfect for the title.”

Ronan is no stranger to creating music related to family members, having composed a suite for string quartet and guitar trio, which John Abercrombie played on, for his father, who died when he was 17.

“The idea of going through my father’s biography was a very interesting experience for me and the same with my grandfather. I was less familiar with my grandfather, but I learnt more that I didn’t know about him or his life in researching the piece, so as a composer I really had wrestle with how to represent some of those things that I discovered.”

On the juxtaposition between “the quiet old man that I knew and the revolutionary who took part in assassinations”, Ronan says he learned “just how much duality and complexity there is in these situations”.

“On the one hand you have a young man, 17 years of age, who goes off to join the 1916 Rising and in this talk he gives, he talks about going to confession the night before the Rising. So him and his brother, these are two people in their late teens going off to confession because they know there’s a good chance they will be killed the next day.

“It’s extraordinary to think of that now, it seems such a long way from my experience for sure and I’m sure most teenagers in the world — the idea of knowing that you could be killed the next day and yet off you go and do it. It’s an extraordinary act of courage on their part and also belief. So you really have to admire that, or I do, the belief in it and the willingness to risk their lives for what they believed in.

“On the other hand, what he was involved with — taking a guy off a tram and shooting him in cold blood up against the railings — is, there’s no way around it, you’re shooting somebody dead, you’re murdering somebody, or assassinating them … a huge amount depends on your point of view,” Ronan says.

“What I found is that you can look at things from more than one point of view and I tried to reflect that in the music. It is quite ambiguous at times or it goes from dark to light and light to dark, sometimes within the one piece. So I did try to represent that kind of ambiguity in the music.”

Ronan says Joe Guilfoyle had an extraordinary life and took part in historical and hair-raising events. He was arrested by a British officer and found to have a letter in his pocket from a very well known associate of revolutionary leader Michael Collins.

“He was taken out to a golf course at 4 o’clock in the morning and had a gun put up to his head and the officer told him that he needed to understand that he, the officer, had been given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the course of his investigations and there would be no repercussions for anything he did. So basically he was telling him, ‘I can kill you right here and nothing’s gonna happen. So now I’m gonna ask you some questions’.

“Joe didn’t answer the questions and he was brought back to the cell. This story is actually told by another person in the war archives, not by Joe Guilfoyle, but by a guy who was with him, who tells the story about him being brought back from the golf course in the dead of night and being, and I quote, ‘None the worse for his adventure’, which is an extraordinary expression to use for a guy who’s just been forced to his knees and had a gun put to his head.”

Ronan says Joe was also in London as a bodyguard when Collins was negotiating the treaty that partitioned Ireland with Lloyd George, “which is extraordinary … if you think of the repercussions of what that treaty represented with the partition of Ireland and the bloodshed that flowed from that over the course of the years”.

And the shy-going boy was also in military intelligence during the second world war, which was known as “The Emergency” in Ireland, with the job of keeping an eye on the German members of visiting delegations, because the country was neutral.

“I was very young when he died, and I wish now that I had been able to question him about some of these things,” Ronan says. “To be honest I didn’t even know about them at that time.”

At last year’s Wangaratta Jazz Festival we heard two concerts that explored aspects of war — Lloyd Swanton’s monumental Ambon about his uncle as a prisoner of war, and Hope In My Pocket about letters soldiers sent home from war.

One piece entitled in the suite by Ronan Guilfoyle, A Dog With Two Tails, is a response to his grandfather marching proudly with a gun, which is an instrument of death. The composer acknowledges that music is a good vehicle to express the contradictions and contrasts of bitter conflict.

“I think it is, it’s very powerful,” Ronan says. “Unless you use lyrics, instrumental music is quite abstract and you can read many different things into it. Stravinsky famously said, ‘music is incapable of expressing anything other than itself’. In other words, the music just “is” and all of the interpretations of what it means are just placed on the music by us as we listen.

“Having said that, I think that the use of music in films and TV and all of that since the invention of the visual medium does show just how powerful music can be as an instigator of atmosphere and also emotion and all of those things.

“As to whether you can write a piece and it says this is such and such, doing such and such, and everyone will understand that just by hearing the music, I don’t think that is the case, but you can certainly express contradictions and contrasts in music very easily and very effectively I think.”

Asked what an audience can take away from a suite such as A Shy-Going Boy, when compared with a film that has dialogue to help convey its messages, Ronan it can’t be that explicit in music.

“A film like Michael Collins or The Wind that Shakes the Barley about the civil war, these are really great films, [that] show the issues that were going on at that time. I wouldn’t say my music, or anyone else’s for that matter, could be as explicit in conveying the events as a film or a book.

“Having said that, music can have a power and can allow the listener to have their own experience in a way that is maybe not as easy as when something is being told to you explicitly or you are being guided in a very specific direction.

“In music you are allowed more elbow room to find your own way to whatever you interpret the music to be. So I think that’s a kind of interesting wrinkle in music that because of its abstract nature — on the one hand it can’t be as explicit as a film, but on the other hand, it actually allows the listener to participate maybe a bit more with their own creativity and their own spontaneity than maybe the explicitness of the film would allow them to do.”

Ronan Guilfoyle says his view of the Rising changed as a result of his research for A Shy-Going Boy.

“Absolutely, totally changed. Not that I think it was an irredeemably bad thing, thinking, as a kid, that it was a glorious revolution. It was an extraordinary event and I really learnt a lot about it. I buried myself in research.

“The ambiguity of it all was what I learnt about it. I mean the first man to be shot in the Rising was an Irish-speaking father of six, an unarmed policeman, who was shot dead by the volunteers because he wouldn’t open the gate to Dublin castle. So there was an idea that they were fighting the British, but there were an awful lot of Irish people killed by Irish people in this conflict,” Ronan says.

“And in the same week that the Rising went on, I think over 600 Irishmen were killed on the Western Front in that same week, fighting in the British army. And there were more than 20,000 Irish people in the British army at that time, fighting for England, or for Britain.

“So on the one hand the army that they were attacking in Dublin was comprised of a very big contingent of Irish soldiers, and the revolutionaries were considered to be really traitorous, especially by people whose husbands were in the army, because their husbands were fighting and sending home money to keep them alive and these guys were attacking the institution that was helping to keep those fellows alive, so it was very ambiguous.
“And of course more civilians were killed in the revolution than either volunteers or British soldiers, so I really did learn there was a huge amount of ambiguity about this and it was a very complex event … as are all of these events, of course, nothing is ever very simple.”

Ronan has used an excerpt from a talk given by Joe Guilfoyle to open the suite.

“The piece opens with my grandfather talking about his time in the Rising. People in the audience will hear him speak. It was recorded about 1960. It’s funny, he keeps it very light and you don’t really get a sense of the danger and the horror there must have been as well. He was very funny as a person and he’s very funny on this as well. He tells very funny stories about his experiences as a young man in the volunteers.

“And then I’ve got an actor to read some of his memoirs … he wrote about 12 pages of his memoirs, didn’t finish them, so I got an actor to read and record those and also to read the story of him being taken out to the golf club.

“And there’s a little bit from [Irish nationalist] Padraig Pearse where he’s saying that a nation that has lost its taste for blood has lost its manhood, I mean, real hair-raising stuff from the man, as I said, who was considered a saint when I was a kid. But this stuff sounds really like zealotry. He says we might shoot the wrong people, but there’s a price we have to pay or they have to pay. So I used some of that and it weaves in and out of the music.”

Ronan has sent the charts for A Shy-Going Boy in advance, but will have two rehearsals with Jamie Oehlers, Scott Tinkler and Andrea Keller once in Australia.

“There’s a lot of written music in it and a lot of improvisation. It’s probably evenly balanced, but it’s definitely going to take some work for us to put it together. Myself and Chris and Matt have played this many times and that helps a lot I think. And the other three are such great musicians, I’ve worked with all of them in different contexts before, so I’m very confident that we’ll give a good performance.”

Ronan is hoping A Shy-Going Boy can be recorded next year.

“It’s difficult to get funding these days, especially as recordings don’t sell anything any more, but for me personally it’s a nice thing to document.”


(My thanks to Ronan Guilfoyle for so comprehensively answering my questions at short notice.)


Allan Browne

Allan Browne at the drum kit.


Allan Browne Memorial Concert, 8pm Friday, September 23, Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne.
A benefit concert for the family of Margie Lou Dyer and Allan Browne presented by the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative

When family, friends and fans of drummer Allan Browne mourned his loss and celebrated his rich life and considerable contribution to the  Melbourne jazz scene, I was overseas.

There was a huge outpouring of grief at his passing, culminating in a New Orleans-style street music procession that accompanied his hearse up Collins Street after his funeral.

I felt his loss from afar, remembering with deep appreciation the times when I had the opportunity to enjoy his company and his music.

I now deeply regret that I will be en route to Australia from Canada when a stellar line-up including Paul Grabowsky OAM, Barney McAll, Bob Sedergreen (Onaje), Andrea Keller, Tim Stevens, Julien Wilson, Brett Iggulden (The Red Onion Jazz Band) and Margie Lou Dyer takes to the stage at the Athenaeum Theatre for this memorial concert celebrating the musical life and legacy of Allan Browne, OAM — drummer/bandleader/composer and poet, who passed away, just short of his 71st birthday in June 2015.


Allan Browne

Allan Browne


This one-off concert will feature some of Melbourne’s finest contemporary musicians, almost all of whom performed with Al Browne over his long career. Between them the line-up of artists are the recipients of a six ARIAs, three National Jazz Awards, a Melbourne Music Prize, Don Banks Award and many “Bell” Australian Jazz Awards for album or artist of the year.

The list of pianists includes Paul Grabowsky, Barney McAll, Bob Sedergreen,
Tim Stevens and Andrea Keller, all of who recorded with Browne.

Saxophonist Julien Wilson, bassist Sam Anning and Barney McAll (all National Jazz Award and Australian Jazz Award recipients) performed on some of Al Browne’s last recordings will pay homage to these works.

Artists from many of Browne’s long-standing bands will perform, including the Allan Browne Quintet with Eugene Ball, Phil Noy, Geoff Hughes, Nick Haywood and emerging drummer Maddison Carter; and Onaje, one of Browne’s first ‘modern’ bands which features Richard Miller, Bob Sedergreen and Geoff Kluke. Other artists performing include Tamara Murphy, James McLean, Howard Cairns and Cam Robbins.

In the traditional jazz style, well-known trumpeter Brett Iggulden, OAM, from Browne’s first band, The Red Onion Jazz Band, will be guest artist with Virus, which features John Scurry – another Red Onion, Andy Ross and Lyn Wallis. Vocalist Shelley Scown will perform one of Grabowsky’s most beautiful compositions, Angel.

Browne’s widow, Margie Lou Dyer (daughter of late jazz great, ‘Wocka’ Dyer) will deliver some classic jazz and blues piano and vocals to conclude the performance in rousing New Orleans style.

Allan Browne

Allan Browne plays Uptown Jazz Cafe

Allan was a pivotal figure in Melbourne’s jazz scene, regarded by many as the personification of Melbourne jazz; a living repository for the history of jazz, possessed of an unquenchable creative spirit.  Conjuror, a collection of Browne’s poetry (including an accompanying CD) was co-released by extemporé and Jazzhead in 2012.

Profits from the concert will go Allan’s second wife, pianist Margie Lou Dyer, and five offspring who are all musical performers.

I urge everyone who can be there to come out and enjoy this wonderful opportunity to celebrate such a warm and wise man with the music that he loved.

Roger Mitchell


Date:                          Friday, September 23

Time:                          8pm

Venue:                       The Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street Melbourne

Tickets:                      $40 / $30 concessions / $20 Student Rush at the Door

Bookings:                  Ticketek or phone bookings on 03 9650 1500

More information:


Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne



Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

The dust has settled, my particularly nasty post-festival toothache — during which I utilised a sleepless night to write a long and meandering rave on the MIJFand subsequent never-ending plague of coughs, colds and sinus pain are fading from memory. It’s finally time to reflect on the remaining concerts I had the opportunity to attend during this year’s festival.

Paolo Angeli

Paolo Angeli

Paolo Angeli (Sardinia), prepared guitar, Sunday 5 June 2016

I was unable to hear Voyage to Sardinia on June 3, at which Sardinian Paolo Angeli and Australian musicians launched Sardinian Liturgy (Jazzhead), recorded late last year  in Prato, Italy. But at the Bluestone Church in Footscray on Sunday afternoon a full house heard Angeli solo, playing his unique guitar built with 18 strings — six normal, eight transverse and four suspended — incorporating hammers, pedals, motors and pick ups.

Just as it was hard to categorise Angeli’s music (not such a bad thing), it was hard to resist the temptation to focus on his amazing guitar in an effort to work out how the sounds were produced and marvel at his adept familiarity with such a complex instrument. Not until he was well into the set could I properly listen rather than stare at the man before me using his bare toes to press “piano” pedals or crinkle a plastic bag, adjusting the tuning on the fly, artfully inserting the bow to play the lower set of strings without touching the elevated set, or activating the internal motors to produce vibrations before reminding us his instrument was “a work in progress”.

Angeli said he spent 10 years learning about traditional Sardinian music “and then I don’t play it”. He likes Bjork and his eclectic output includes “the ‘canto a chitarra’ tradition (singing with guitar), tasgia choirs, free jazz, punk noise, drum & bass, avant pop”. MIJF tagged Angeli’s music as “free jazz, post folk and minimal pop”.

I liked the fact that Angeli at times used his intricate instrument to create simple sounds, as when he played only two piano pedals. I was most taken by his distinctive throat singing — far less intense, but reminiscent of Korean artist  Bae Il Dong‘s vocals — and his third piece in the set, which was traditional. But his penultimate “athletic piece” — before the packed house demanded an encore — really took us into Sun Ra territory, flying through space aboard Angeli’s prepared guitar mothership orchestra. Needless to say, the crowd loved it all.

Paul Grabowsky introduces A Tribute to Allan Browne with Mirko Guerrini and Niko Schauble.

Paul Grabowsky, with Mirko Guerrini and Niko Schauble, pays tribute to Allan Browne.

A Tribute to Allan Browne, Monday 6 June, Bennetts Lane
Ithaca Bound, Monday 6 June, Uptown Jazz Club

For years on Mondays in the small room at Bennetts Lane,  drummer, philosopher and poet Allan Browne was at the drum kit with a changing group of musicians, bringing us some of the most rewarding and fun explorations into live music. Two gigs at this year’s MIJF  counted as tributes to Al, one named as such and the other a performance of the Allan Browne Quintet‘s suite Ithaca Bound. Both were moving and deeply satisfying experiences.

At Bennetts, Paul Grabowsky on piano, Mirko Guerrini on reeds and Niko Schauble on drums took us on a musical journey that kept touching base with Allan Browne. Another much-missed Melbourne musician who was especially close to Al Browne, bassist Gary Costello, who died suddenly in 2006, was also prominent as Grabowsky  spoke of freedom of expression, paying tribute to a tradition, musicians finding a place for their own voice and a dialogue with like-minded people. He mentioned Browne’s love of the unexpected, raves between songs and his roles as raconteur and stand-up comedian.

There was plenty of warmth and humour, but of course this was a tribute rather than any attempt to emulate an Al Browne gig. I found myself missing his whimsy, his flights of fantasy and his light touch. Yet Grabowsky, Guerrini and Schauble provided us with wonderful music that was in turn exhilarating, robust, swinging and spectacularly beautiful. When they played an all-time favourite of mine, Angel, I was in ecstasy that called to mind Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.


Geoff Hughes, Nick Haywood, Eugene Ball, Phil Noy and Lewis Pierre at Uptown.

I floated to Uptown Jazz Cafe in time to hear all of Ithaca Bound, featuring Eugene Ball on trumpet, Phil Noy on alto sax, Geoff Hughes on guitar, Nick Haywood on bass and — in the Al Browne chair at the drum kit — Lewis Pierre, who was to my mind an ideal fit.

Hughes introduced this suite, which celebrates Allan Browne’s favourite poem, Homer’s Odyssey, by saying there would have been no music from this group without Al’s input, inspiration and urgings to explore the road less travelled. And then we explored some of that road in eight compositions by band members. As always from this ensemble, we were taken to some dark and even weird places as well as some of great beauty. I particularly liked Haywood’s The Suitors, which set up a series of duets with the drums, but the whole of Ithaca Bound was superb.

Shai Maestro Trio (Israel, Peru), Tuesday 7 June, Bennetts Lane

Often at festival time I look to musicians from Europe to offer something distinctively different from the established American jazz tradition. This year I was hanging out to hear Tomasz Stanko, but the trio of Shai Maestro on piano, Jorge Roeder (Peru) on bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums came highly recommended by Fairfax reviewer and ABC radio identity Jessica Nicholas. She was not wrong.

I loved this trio for many reasons. From the beginning I welcomed what I’d term “the enjoyment of the involvement” of these three players. Throughout there was a really strong sense of these players being engaged with each other and in the moment. They had no charts and each piece was a moveable feast or a non-linear progression, with changes building, developing and evolving as layers were added and subtracted. There was also lots of variation in the dynamics as well as rapid acceleration and deceleration.

Maestro allowed plenty of space and at times left notes hanging in stillness, while at others there were low barrages of sound or intricate, rapid runs of notes. I kept puzzling over which other pianists his playing brought to mind — Andrea Keller, Paul Grabowsky and the McAll brothers Barney and John were my guesses, but I find it hard to say why.

A standout for me was Maestro’s composition When You Stop Seeing (Other Human Beings as Human Beings), which he wrote out of frustration at the never-ending violence between Israel and Palestine and at the nationalistic voices calling for that violence. This was an enthralling, totally engrossing piece.

Here’s a YouTube link to this piece as played with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Avishai Cohen at Jazz in Marciac 2015.

Every festival has a story. This concert went a long way to building a narrative — this MIJF was gathering intensity and going to go places.

Keyon Harrold featuring Twi-Life (USA), Wednesday 8 June, Bennetts Lane

Given that in the Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead, the only trumpet player we hear, apart from Miles Davis, is Keyon Harrold, it would be reasonable to expect that the highlight of his gig with Twi-Life would be his facility with the horn.

This was saxophonist Marcus Strickland‘s band Twi-LifeMitch Henry on piano, Kyle Miles on bass and Charles Haynes on drums — playing mainly Harrold’s music. In the strength of his horn and in other ways, Harrold’s work invited comparison with Australia’s Scott Tinkler. The opening piece, Lullaby, started strong and got so muscular that babies were bailing out of windows everywhere.

But Harrold showed his serious side with MB Lament, a robust but beautiful composition recalling the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in St Louis, Missouri in 2015. The horn solo at the end provided one of the all-too-short bursts of wonderfully bent notes by Harrold, who mostly in this concert seemed to stay pretty much on the straight and narrow path, albeit with excellent execution. Another spell of twisted trumpet came at the end of Miles Davis’s Spanish Key.

The totally unexpected highlight of this gig came in Harrold’s Pictures, when he moved to the mic and showed his spectacular vocal skills in this evidently deeply personal lament for lost love (“Everyone can tell when they’ve f—ed up”). This trumpet player can sing. His talent at the mic was confirmed briefly later in the closing Her Beauty Through My Eyes, which also featured the only prominent bass solo.

So, surprisingly, I left this uplifted not so much by Harrold’s trumpet, although that was great, but by his vocal prowess.

Tomasz Stanko Band (Poland/Finland), Thursday 9 June, Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse

Tomasz Stanko Band

Tomasz Stanko Band plays Coopers Malthouse

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko was one of the key attractions for me to this year’s MIJF and he did not disappoint. This concert featured two Finns from his Scandinavian quintet, pianist Alexi Tuomarila and drummer Olavi Louhivuori, along with Polish bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz from Stanko’s “old” quartet.

Stanko now lives in New York, where he has another quartet and has, according to the New York Times’s Ben Ratliff, shifted a little from “beautiful dirges, rubato soul-ache ballads” and “dark emotions”. That observation interests me because I found the tone of the Malthouse gig much brighter than anticipated. Energy and interplay was evident throughout the nine pieces played as Stanko roamed the stage, ripping it up or chipping in fiery horn bursts (for example in Yankiels Lid) or longer, characteristically air-cushioned passages that seemed to exude emotion (Ballad No.7). As an older musician who obviously thrives on working with younger players, Stanko brought to mind the great Mike Nock as he led this quartet in which it would be great to be a bass player, or pianist, or drummer, given the space and scope for exploratory excursions that the leader obviously welcomed.

In the closing Polin, the trumpeter’s body swayed as he responded to the beat in this fast piece. Stanko’s band may not have plumbed the darkest of his compositions, but this was a vigorous and deeply satisfying concert.

Angus / Anning / Hoenig (Australia / USA), Thursday 9 June, Bennetts Lane

Quentin Angus, Sam Anning and Ari Hoenig play Bennetts Lane.

Quentin Angus, Sam Anning and Ari Hoenig play Bennetts Lane.

New York may have been the connection that helped bring about this world premiere outing. It featured expatriate Australian guitarist Quentin Angus, now living in that city, in a trio with 2015 National Jazz Award winner for bass, Sam Anning, who returned not so long ago from there and Brooklyn-based American drummer Ari Hoenig.

Aside from Angus’s compositions, the trio interpreted songs by Goo Goo Dolls, Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery. Angus won an ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Young Jazz Composer award and a Downbeat Magazine Best Composition Award for his piece Happy, which seems appropriate for a young man whose smile never seems to leave his face as he shows mastery of his instrument.

Apart from Angus’s ease in executing intricate finger work, what struck me was how well the guitar integrated with Hoenig’s vigorous and surely unpredictable and at times explosive work at the drum kit — this connection was most exemplified in Kinship (Angus). Anning, who has often demonstrated his ability to link with other players at short notice, seemed to find the closest congruity with Hoenig in Sunday Blues (Angus), but at other times was a little apart from the vibe between guitar and drums.

Quentin Angus is certainly a name we will hear more of in future.

Stu Hunter: the migration, Friday 10 June, Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse

Stu Hunter's the migration

Stu Hunter’s the migration

Just as I found the Tomasz Stanko Band performance in Merlyn Theatre much brighter than anticipated, the live rendition of Stu Hunter‘s third suite — after the gathering and the muse — seemed to be more vibrant and less dark in its feel than the recorded version. Driven by the stellar line-up Hunter had assembled — many of Australia’s finest Sydney musicians not heard often enough by Melburnians, along with Julien Wilson — this was a substantial work. I came out of the theatre with words such as “monumental” or “colossus” in my head and making comparisons with Lloyd Swanton‘s war-themed work Ambon. Yet they are quite different. Ambon had a readily identifiable narrative that gave it cohesion, whereas the migration seemed to be a collection of disparate pieces, each capable of holding us spellbound.

Hunter describes this work as “a response to modern life, love, family, cultural complexity and the blurring of cultural identity within the global diaspora”. It is probably simplistic to say this, but because the gathering reflected a coming together and the migration a global breaking apart, perhaps the narrative in the latter suite was its fragmentation.

Despite the power of Tina Harrod‘s vocals, I found it hard to pick up the lyrics on the night. Reading them since, I realise it would be difficult to grasp their full import in one performance.

Hunter’s the migration is powerful, has playing of great beauty, yet is also unsettling.

Children of the Light Trio, Friday 10 June, Bennetts Lane

Children of the Light Trio

Children of the Light Trio

From 10 musicians at Malthouse to three at Bennetts Lane was a large leap, but somehow three members of Wayne Shorter‘s quartet took me from the complexity and intricacy of the migration to what turned out to be complete involvement and total immersion.

This was one of those rare concerts that is so immediately and sustainingly captivating that all effort to be anything other than in the moment — so as to record impressions for future use in a review, for example — go out the window.

Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums began playing — or should that be interacting — and I was hooked on the vibe. They listened, they responded, they celebrated this opportunity to work together “with imagination, precision and fearlessness”, to quote the MIJF program. And they had fun.

I can’t say what pieces they played. I can’t provide any details of their work. Yet I can still feel this concert bubbling away deep inside, like a spring filled with life. Surely that’s saying enough.

Monash Art Ensemble featuring Tomasz Stanko, Saturday 11 June, Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse

Tomasz Stanko and Monash Art Ensemble, conducted by Jordan Murray.

Tomasz Stanko and Monash Art Ensemble, conducted by Jordan Murray.

Out of Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music and the Australian Art Orchestra has grown the Monash Art Ensemble, which has become a feature of MIJF in recent years as students and teachers combine to present works with guest artists. On this occasion Jordan Murray took up the baton as the ensemble presented his arrangements of music created by Tomasz Stanko on the album Litania as a tribute to Polish film composer Krzysztof Komeda.

Murray not only transformed music written for a septet so that it would work exceptionally well with this ensemble, but in so doing he changed its feel significantly, drawing on the undeniable talent in the MAO. There were too many solos of excellence to mention individuals, but in this collaborative endeavour Stanko was one among many whose solos drew applause. Murray deserves special praise, but so do all members of this ensemble. Monash Art Ensemble surely provides the best of learning environments and yet delivers music that is always, to us in the audience, the best of teaching about how it’s to be done well.

Peter Knight’s Way Out West, Saturday 11 June, Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse

Peter Knight's Way Out West

Peter Knight’s Way Out West

I should say two things straight up: First, I love this band and have followed it since its inception.

Second, when I heard that this concert was to be a launch of Way Out West‘s fourth album — after Footscray Station, Old Grooves for New Streets and The Effects of Weather — and the first with its changed line-up, I hoped to hear material that I had not heard. That was not the case, as it turned out.

As recorded in my “rave with pics rather than a review” of Way Out West’s 2014 concert for MIJF, four new compositions — Latest and Breaking, The Birds, Nine Years Later (dedicated to Peter Knight’s son Quinn) and Anthony Blaise — were aired for the first time to an audience back then. On that occasion the band, in its present line-up that includes Satsuki Odamura on kotos and Lucas Michailidis on guitar as well as guest Sri Lankan drummer Kanchana Karunaratna, played Music For April and In the Moon from previous albums and treated us to a jaw-dropping rapid-fire Afro-Lankan drumming duo.

So, two years later the band, with James McLean at the drum kit, played exactly the same pieces. I have to be honest in saying I had hoped for some new material. But what these eclectic and highly inventive musicians create is carefully crafted so that the band’s myriad influences are woven together in a way that honours the various traditions and yet fashions something new. It’s a painstaking process and this band does not often perform together — each member has many commitments and Odamura lives in Sydney.

On the night my favourite piece from the eponymous new album was the atmospheric Nine Years Later.

The Merlyn Theatre outing this year simply confirmed how great it would be if Way Out West could gather more often, play more often and keep the magic happening. If they could find the resources to tour together nationally, that would be superb.

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Sunday 12 June, Hamer Hall

Wayne Shorter and John Patitucci

Wayne Shorter and John Patitucci

The vibe was good at Hamer Hall on the final night of the festival. People were excited to again — or for the first time — be hearing the great Wayne Shorter. After finding my seat high above the stage I thought that a pair of binoculars would have been a good idea. It occurred to me that I had my camera with a long lens, but had not obtained permission to photograph this gig. Perhaps I could use the camera merely as a telescope. In the end I decided to ask for permission to do that, but Hamer Hall staff were in on the good vibe. They arranged last-minute permission for me to shoot and, as the set began, I hurried down to take some photographs from up fairly close. That was pretty special.

As mentioned in the long, rambling post earlier, I enjoyed Shorter’s playing this time a lot more than when I heard him some years ago at The Palais in St Kilda, which is perhaps a sign that I had then been uneducated in what to expect — frequent changes of direction and very short bursts of sax. This time he did not play for too long in the set, but what he contributed was considered and just right in the moment.

And the Children of the Light guys, now playing as integral members of Shorter’s quartet — pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade — were as energetic and responsive as in their outing as a trio earlier in the festival. It was like watching an organism full of life rather than separate musicians.

If only the quartet could have performed at a smaller venue, that would have been mind-blowing. But far too exclusive to justify, of course.

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life, Sunday 12 June, Bennetts Lane

Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life at Bennetts Lane

I was fading a little, but ending the 2016 MIJF outside Hamer Hall seemed way too tame.

My festival ended at Bennetts Lane with saxophonist Marcus Strickland‘s band Twi-LifeMitch Henry on keys, Kyle Miles on bass and Charles Haynes on drums, along with Keyon Harrold on trumpet. There was some pretty fiery stuff, including hot work on the Nord by Henry, some crash and bash from Haynes and big sax from Strickland. Harrold delivered passages of full-on trumpet as well as vocals and more muted passages. Haynes featured a little more than in the gig playing Harrold’s pieces, but I’d have liked more from him.

Strickland capped off the concert  by assuring us, “Yes, we will not be voting for Trump.”

It was a reassuring, if not too surprising, statement to wrap up the night and the festival. Roll on Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2017.


Mirko Guerrini and Niran Dasika create sound portraits for MIJF patrons outside Hamer Hall

Mirko Guerrini and Niran Dasika create sound portraits for MIJF patrons outside Hamer Hall