8pm Friday 28 April 2023, The Jazzlab, 27 Leslie St, Brunswick, doors 7.30pm
The women who inspired lyricist and composer Ilaria Crociani’s recent album Connecting the Dots are remarkable and fascinating.
Marion Bell circumnavigated Australia in the early 1920s in her Oldsmobile accompanied by her 11-year-old daughter. Minnie Berrington, the first female opal prospector in South Australia, migrated from London to develop a profound sense of belonging to the Australian outback. Young Shirley Howard, with her pony Mary Lou, travelled the east coast of Australia looking for work during the Depression. Artist Veruschka turned her body into a canvas and redefined traditional ideals of beauty. Refugee Gina Sinozich discovered the healing power of art at age 70.
“The stories of these inspiring women offered me comfort in a moment of particular vulnerability, while reinvigorating my sense of hope and inner strength,” says Crociani, who has drawn on her experience of adjusting to a new life as an Italian migrant to Australia for this ABC Jazz commission.
The narratives conveyed in nine compositions by Crociani weave narratives of “hardship, vulnerability, resoluteness and redemption”, endeavouring to paint an uplifting picture of resilience and hope.
‘Believing yourself to be alone, misunderstood and helpless in enduring the pains of living is the biggest and most foolish mistake anyone can make,’ she says. ‘This album is the fruit of a journey of personal discovery and reflection that led me to fully appreciate the importance of looking at other people’s real-life experiences to build resilience in the face of adversity.’
The album, to be launched at The Jazzlab with a killer ensemble of Crociani on vocals, Paul Grabowsky piano, John Griffiths lute, Mirko Guerrini sax, clarinet and keyboards, Geoff Hughes guitars, Ben Robertson acoustic and electric bass, and Niko Schäuble drums and percussion, includes poignant and lyrical ballads along with more experimental pieces with a jazz-rock feel or a funky-reggae beat.
Crociani has collaborated with husband Mirko Guerrini and with Niko Schäuble in the composition of some tracks of Connecting the Dots.
Since arriving in Australian in 2013, Crociani has performed as leader of Radiosuccessi, a jazz quintet specialising in Italian jazz, collaborated with Australian jazz great Paul Grabowsky’s trio Torrio! at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, and been lead singer with Extasy Morricone, a septet showcasing Ennio Morricone’s psychedelic compositions from the 1970s.
In 2021 she featured as the reciting voice in Mobility of Mind – Sonic Cities, presented at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, and recorded two songs for the soundtrack of the Paula Ortiz movie Across the River and Into the Trees, to be released this year.
Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival 2022 Sunday 4 December – Sunday 11 December The Jazzlab
The Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival celebrated the determination by musicians, organisers and audiences to get back out to create, present and enjoy live music.
Nobody was under the illusion that Covid-19 had gone away – case numbers were rising – but there was a real sense that hearing music performed in person was important, levels of vaccination were relatively high and the artists were ready. Kudos to those wearing masks if that was possible – for example, Andrea Keller at the piano.
This festival delivered in so many ways. All 11 concerts over the eight days were at The Jazzlab in Brunswick, so there were no program clashes. (However, other commitments, and a wheel falling off a rented trailer in Wangaratta, prevented me from attending more than five gigs.)
Many of the outings were double bills and one was a triple, so there was plenty of bang for the proverbial buck.
International pianists appeared on the opening night (Sumire Kuribayashi, Japan) and the festival closer (Meg Morley, expatriate Australian now living in the UK).
Kuribayashi, who impressed audiences at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in 2018, appeared courtesy of the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative. Her MWIJF outing in a trio with Sam Anning double bass and Kyrie Anderson drums was a delight, as the Tokyo-based pianist and composer so clearly enjoyed her interaction in the band while sharing compositions of great beauty. In a sublime addition, Niran Dasika – who lived in Japan from 2016-2017 – sat in on trumpet for the last half hour, which included a performance of a piece Kuribayashi composed for him as a farewell after his departure from Tokyo.
Meg Morley was born in Melbourne, but has lived in London for 12 years. She performed a solo set as an opener on Sunday 11 December, thoughtfully introducing and fluidly delivering six pieces from her solo and trio albums. There was space, gentle propulsion and elegance in the chords and free-flowing note sequences, as well as appealing melodies, leaving many of us wanting a longer outing.
The festival drew deeply from the pool of Australian artists, both emerging and established. It was a treat to experience the energy and verve of the reunited Morgana – Lisa Young voice, Fiona Burnett soprano saxophone, Annette Yates double bass and Sonja Horbelt drums, joined on piano by Andrea Keller – back on stage 30 years after the band’s formation.
This ensemble forged a path for women in Australian improvised music yet had not played for 20 years until a recent Melbourne International Jazz Festival outing. In a 75-minute set at The Jazzlab, they clearly felt invigorated. It was especially good to see festival programmer Horbelt so comfortable at the drum kit in synch with Yates on double bass.
On the same night the MWIJF also brought together luminaries Andrea Keller on piano and Sandy Evans on tenor saxophone in a wonderful, but brief duo outing which included premieres of pieces they had composed for each other – two referencing Keller’s seemingly boundless workload and one Evans’ moving tribute to Archie Roach. This was an exquisite encounter deserving of a future recording session.
On Wednesday 7 December the festival gave Melburnians the opportunity to hear the 2022 Jann Rutherford Memorial Award winner, bassist Lucy Clifford, in a stellar band with Phil Noy tenor sax, Darryn Farrugia drums, Andrea Keller piano and Ashley Ballat trumpet. As promised, this spirited outing delivered raw grooves, explorations “beyond the fringes of genre” and memorable solos from Noy, Keller and Ballat.
On Monday 5 December Ballat featured in a totally different context in the opening set on trumpet and with Ollie Cox on synthesizer in LOOM, each with an array of electronic wizardry. The result was an organic mix of growls, rumbles and cries that evolved constantly, at times evocative of anguish and lamentation, at others delivering a shimmer over a pulsating drone.
The second set that night, Claire Cross’s suite “Sleep Cycle”, called for intense concentration on the part of the musicians as graphs of brain waves taken during the phases of sleep informed a score for an improvising ensemble of trumpet, voice, bass, drums, and synth. The ensemble – Cross on bass/effects, Merinda Dias-Jayasinha voice/effects, Reuben Lewis trumpet/synth/effects and Kyrie Anderson drums – created a detailed soundscape with minute variations culminating in an animated and powerful final phase.
The festival’s welcome determination to present emerging artists was a testament to the breadth of talent in our teaching institutions and those starting their performing lives. By giving young players the opportunity to be on stage in opening acts, MWIJF gave audiences insights into a bright future – that is, if the work is out there for so many youngsters. On opening night we heard a lively, engrossing set from the Gen Kuner Quartet – Kuner on alto saxophone, Abi Lee piano, Jack Dobson bass and Ollie Ledi Henane drums – who were announced later as winners of the festival’s recording prize for 2022.
Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s Take Note 2021 winner, trombonist, vocalist, composer and arranger Ellie Lamb was an energetic director and advocate for the Wednesday 7 December performance by the MWIJF Little Big Band in an outing that was doubly welcome. First, it brought together students from Monash, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and Melbourne Polytechnic, who had only a week and a half to get to know the music and each other. Second, it was wonderful that the ensemble played compositions by four Australian women – Nadje Noordhuis, Jenna Cave, Andrea Keller and Vanessa Perica. I particularly appreciated the rendition of Perica’s Saint Lazare.
Other emerging artists showcased by the festival included two ensembles from Monash University in Sounding Change on 6 December, and Mia in Motion on 10 December featuring Mia Rowland drums, Ashleigh Howell electric bass, Uyen-My Pham guitar, Adam Davidson piano, Jacobus Barnard tenor saxophone and Alice Mcdonald vocals.
Inclusivity was promoted in the MWIJF this year through Gender Defying Jazz – originally called Girls Do Jazz – a program of workshops run by Andrea Keller, Head of Jazz & Improvisation at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, culminating in a performance on Sunday afternoon 11 December with Sandy Evans. There was also the Jam & hang on 10 December, designed as an opportunity for female and non-binary musicians and vocalists to play or just hang out together.
The fortifying impact of female relationships was the inspiration for vocalist Louisa Rankin’s suite which closed this year’s festival on Sunday 11 December. What a superb band Rankin assembled for this project: Angela Davis alto saxophone, Paul Williamson trumpet, Andrea Keller piano, Fran Swinn guitar, Sam Anning sitting in on double bass for the injured Tom Lee and James McLean drums. Introducing The Lighthouse, which featured outstanding solos by Swinn and Williamson, Rankin paid tribute to the strong, amazing women who were guides and mentors to her during her time as a performer.
Including songs drawing on the experiences of working mothers, the routines of parenthood, the grind of everyday life and the support offered by girlfriends “who just know you”, this suite was a fitting outing to conclude a festival that celebrated the importance of women at work in improvised music.
PS: Gigs I missed included Stella: The Miles Franklin Story, Nat Bartsch’s Lullabies, StAT, Anita Wardell (UK) and Dave McEvoy, Sunny Reyne, and Rebecca Barnard’s launch of her single from new album The Night We Called it a Day
Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival 2022 Sunday 4 December – to Sunday 11 December The Jazzlab, Leslie St, Brunswick
Kudos to Sonja Horbelt and Lynette Irwin for presenting what the founder of the MWIJF, Martin Jackson, has described as “one of the strongest programs in the festival’s 24-year history”, starting today for a week.
There’s a lot of music on offer, including international talent including pianist and composer from Japan, Sumire Kuribayashi, lots of gigs with opening sets and the opportunity to hear emerging musicians along with established players such as Sandy Evans and Morgana.
What’s more, there’s not much chance that ARIA-award-winning Mildlife will be doing a live concert on the coast to confuse everybody about what really is jazz.
The fun begins at 3pm today when well known pianist/composer Monique diMattina presents STELLA, which draws on the extraordinary life story of Australian writer Miles Franklin and features an impressive line-up of musicians.
Then, at 7.30pm Sumire Kuribayashi will be joined by Sam Anning double bass and Kyrie Anderson drums after an opening set by saxophonist Gen Kuner’s quartet.
For those who have stayed up late or arisen early for sporting events questionably staged in Qatar, Claire Cross’s score entitled Sleep Cycle (Monday 5 December at 7.30pm), informed by graphs of brain waves recorded during phases of sleep, may be restorative. It’s exploring “the radical act of self-care in an age of hyper-productivity”. The opening set will feature ethereal soundscapes created by Ashley Ballat trumpet and Ollie Cox drums and percussion.
Sumire Kuribayashi returns on Tuesday 6 December at 7.30pm with two ensembles of Monash University students.
In a family-friendly matinee at 11.30am Wednesday, babies and toddlers will be welcome at the hugely successful Nat Bartsch’s concert Lullabies, which blends neoclassical piano and melodic improvisation with music therapy research.
Tertiary students from Monash university, Melbourne Polytechnic, and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music will feature in the opener at 7.30pm, celebrating the music of Australian composers Vanessa Perica, Jenna Cave, Andrea Keller and Nadje Noordhuis. They will be followed on stage by Lucy Clifford on electric bass for some “symbiotic rhythms and pulses that interlock with all things motion, stillness and freedom”, ably aided by Phil Noy tenor sax, Andrea Keller piano and Darryn Farrugia drums.
On Thursday 8 December at 7.30pm, UK vocalist Anita Wardell joins Australian pianist Dave McEvoy to launch their duo album Star, which explores “love and loss, the vulnerability of human experience and the vast expanse of sky”. The opening set of jazz/blues grooves will feature StAT, comprising Stella Anning guitar, Claire Cross bass and Joshua Barber drums.
The stage will be richly laden with well-known names on Friday 9 December at 7.30pm when Rebecca Barnard and The d’Affinois (nothing cheesy here) launch of her fourth solo album The Night we Called it a Day of jazz standards, by artists such as Hoagy Charmichael, dating back to 1933. The luminous line-up will comprise Monique diMattina piano, Sam Lemann guitar, Ben Robertson bass, Paul Williamson sax and Mat Jodrell on trumpet. The opening set will feature Sunny Reyne’s lush vocals, synth-laden sounds and disjointed grooves.
For those, like me, who missed the opportunity to hear the re-formed incarnation of quintet Morgana during the Melbourne International Jazz festival, they’ll perform on Saturday 10 December after opening sets from 7.30pm by Mia in Motion and then the amazing saxophonist Sandy Evans in a duo with the spectacular Andrea Keller. In Morgana, Keller will join four of the five original members – Lisa Young voice, Fiona Burnett soprano saxophone, Annette Yates double bass and Sonja Horbelt drums.
From 11pm there’ll be an opportunity for female and non-binary musicians and vocalists to play in the session dubbed “Jam & hang”.
Gender will also be front of mind at 4pm on the final Sunday of the MWIJF when Andrea Keller, Head of Jazz & Improvisation at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, brings us Gender Defying Jazz, previously known as Girls Do Jazz. This live performance with saxophonist Sandy Evans will showcase the outcomes of six term 4 workshops.
The fortifying impact of significant female relationships will be explored in a suite premiered on the Sunday night by vocalist Louisa Rankin along with an impressive line-up of Angela Davis alto saxophone, Paul Williamson trumpet, Andrea Keller piano, Fran Swinn guitar, Tom Lee double bass and James McLean drums. This outing will be preceded by an opening set at 7.30pm in which UK-based pianist Meg Morley performs new music from her trio albums and also revisits her debut piano release from 2018, Through the Hours.
It’s great to have the MWIJF back on the stage with such a feast of music.