Heavens above – it’s going to be a hell of a party

Dan Tepfer at the controls for Natural Machines. Image: Nicholas Joubard

PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2022
14-23 October

As we ponder life’s imponderables – such as, was Scott Morrison ever sworn in as arts minister? – the launch of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival draws our eyes to the heavens.

The festival is back in town for 10 days from Friday 14 October, freed from the onerous constraints of Covid-19 (still here, but largely being ignored) and sporting its first global line-up in three years.

That’s great, but what’s immediately intriguing is the prospect – over two nights – of gazing at the dome of Melbourne’s Planetarium at Scienceworks while algorithmically generated animated visual effects play out in response to US pianist Dan Tepfer’s programming of a Yamaha Disklavier to react to his improvisations in an outing dubbed Natural Machines.

That’s just one of the special concerts likely to lure crowds of music lovers out for an eclectic program with more than 400 artists from 13 countries in 85 events at 25 venues.

Festival artistic director, Michael Tortoni, is happy.

“Now, with borders open once more, I am absolutely thrilled to open the festival, and this city, back up to the world with the best jazz musicians and performers from across the country and around the globe set to converge here this October. It’s going to be a hell of a party,” he said.

Disruption! The voice of drums. Image: Prudence Upton

Another, delayed for a year by border closures, is Disruption! The Voice of Drums, in which saxophonist composer Jeremy Rose is joined by drummers Simon Barker and Chloe Kim, along with the Earshift Orchestra, to explore the power of the drum in disruption, protest, ceremony and healing. Video artists Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig will contribute images to this work at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

As the nation moves towards enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution, the festival brings two significantly relevant contributions. In a family-friendly premiere concert at Chapel Off Chapel, Emma Donovan will celebrate country, kids, community and language in Follow the Sun, including her childhood stories and some songs in Noongar and Gumbaynggirr languages.

At MRC, proud Yuin woman and saxophonist Brenda Gifford premieres her commissioned work about whales as First Nations Artist in residence, accompanied by nephew Joe Brown McLeod (didjeridoo, clapsticks) and Australian Art Orchestra members.

Flora Carbo will present her commissioned work: Ecosystem. Image: Roger Mitchell

At The Jazzlab on opening night, Freedman Fellowship Award finalist Flora Carbo – as leader of this year’s Take Note artist development and gender equity initiative – presents the second festival commission, Ecosystem, which will explore place, environmentalism and social change by drawing on sounds of the city.

Emma Donovan will perform at Big Saturday. Image: Michelle Grace Hunder

A day-long special event, Big Saturday at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, has been well publicised and will feature eight-piece New Zealand band Fat Freddy’s Drop along with funk and soul exponents The Bamboos, soul siren Emma Donovan and and The Putbacks, and Cat Empire’s Harry James Angus on horn and vocals in a duo with Freja Hooper on drums.

In a special event for fans of silent films, The Merry Frolics of Melieres will bring footage by Georges Melieres to the screen accompanied by Phillip Johnston (USA) scores played by an exceptional ensemble including Alister Spence, Daryl Pratt, Lloyd Swanton.

Morgana will revisit their beginnings. Image: Aurora Kuhn

There are two anniversary celebrations of note at Chapel Off Chapel. All-female quintet Morgana – Lisa Young, Fiona Burnett, Andrea Keller, Annette Yates and Sonja Horbelt – will reunite to revisit the brand of jazz they played 30 years earlier.

And The Shuffle Club of “rapscallion raconteurs” comprising Ashley Gaudion sax, Paul Griska double bass, Rodney Gilbert drums and Dannie Bourne keyboard – all also on vocals – will be joined by guests Nina Ferro and Julie O’Hara to recall 21 years of jazz, swing, blues and boogie.

With borders now open to international artists, the festival can welcome performers from abroad – most from the USA, but others with links to Chile, Italy, South Korea, Finland, Israel and Brazil.

Joining the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall for two nights on her first visit to Australia, five-time Grammy Award winner and ‘First Daughter of Soul’ Lalah Hathaway (USA) will honour her father Donny’s legacy as a singer, arranger and composer of soul music.

Another Grammy award winner, electric and acoustic guitar virtuoso and prolific recording artist Al Di Meola (USA) will fuse jazz with world styles at MRC.

Dwayne Thomas Jnr – MonoNeon – will perform at 170 Russell St.

Electric bassist Dywane Thomas Jnr, aka MonoNeon, promises a wild ride for audience members at 170 Russell St with a five-piece band playing southern soul, funk, jazz and blues.

Club sessions offer an opportunity to see international artists up close. Drummer Pheeroan akLaff (USA) will collaborate at The Jazzlab with Sunny Kim voice (South Korea), Mike Nock piano, Peter Farrar saxophone and Helen Svoboda bass.

In another club outing, keyboardist Brett Williams (USA) will join Kate Kelsey-Sugg to deliver the blend of pop, R&B and soul that has made B+K well known in America.

Melissa Aldana will bring her quartet. Image: Eduardo Pavez Goye

Grammy nominee Melissa Aldana, a Brooklyn-based saxophonist from Chile, will bring her quartet – including Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund – to present compositions from her 2022 Blue Note album 12 Stars over two outings at The Jazzlab.

Well known to audiences in Western Australia, US-based pianist Tal Cohen (Israel) will perform two sets at The Jazzlab – a duo with long-time collaborator saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and a quartet adding in Alistair Peel on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums.

Drummer composer Francesca Remigi (Italy) will join Federico Calcagno on bass clarinet and Melbourne musicians in another club session to present her Archipelagos project, drawing on influences including modern jazz, prog rock, Indian Carnatic music, electronic and free jazz.

Also at The Jazzlab, acclaimed harpist Iro Haarla (Finland) will explore Nordic minimalism with bassist composer Jonathan Zwartz in a world premiere of Suite Suomi, a journey through remote landscapes of light and shade.

Mike Nock will revisit his album Ondas. Image: Roger Mitchell

Renowned pianist/composer Mike Nock (New Zealand, but Australia claims him) will revisit his Ondas album in a trio club outing, joined by Chloe Kim (drums and percussion) and Jacques Emery (bass).

As well as welcoming overseas performers, Chapel Off Chapel is playing host to an “export series” of concerts intended to showcase Australian artists to the world and build on links with other festivals such as those in Tokyo and Wellington.

Emma Donovan’s Follow the Sun is one. Another is electric bassist Chris Hale’s airing of his new album Ritual Diamonds, in which his melodies are interwoven with complex rhythms from South Korea’s percussionist Minyoung Woo, who draws on shamanic drumming of that country’s Eastern seaboard.

Other bands MIJF is keen to spread word about who will perform at Chapel Off Chapel are NSW cinematic jazz rock group Brekky Boy, Zela Margossian Quintet from Sydney and pianist Andrea Keller’s original Transients trio with Julien Wilson and Sam Anning.

The full MIJF program is now available on the festival website, including details of free Jazz Westside gigs in the City of Moonee Valley and in Footscray, including Kidstruments Live! featuring I Hold the Lion’s Paw playing musical gadgets. There are free lunchtime concerts at St James and University Square, plus Close Encounters – intimate conversations including a session on the mental health of working musicians.

Best of all – apart from the return of such a full program with overseas and Australian artists – the late night, free jam sessions are back featuring The Rookies. How can the night not end on a high note when the jam is hosted by Greg Sher on alto saxophone, Tom Sly on trumpet, Joel Trigg on piano, Oscar Neyland on bass and Chris Cameron on drums?

ROGER MITCHELL

Dingo loose in Melbourne

Jazz in the Square
The Main Stage, Fed Square, Melbourne
Saturday 30 April 2022

Australian jazz journal Dingo is keen to support and promote the activities of the jazz community nationally, whether that means involving renowned artists in international concert halls or those starting out in their first jam-sessions.

So there will be free music from noon until 8pm today at Fed Square in Melbourne to celebrate International Jazz Day 2022. The event will also be live streamed via www.dingojazz.com.

The day’s line-up is as follows:

Noon Aviana – with Gian Slater 
12:20pm Hoodoo Mayhem – roving
12:40pm Shirazz
1:40pm  Small Ensemble 2/3G
1:45pm  Hoodoo Mayhem – roving
2:25pm  The Pearly Shells, with Julie O’Hara
3:40pm  Blakely McLean-Davies Trio
4:30pm  XANI
5:45pm  Master and Apprentices, with Ross Irwin 

The Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble performs in March 2017 at 45 Downstairs. Image: Roger Mitchell

6:25pm  Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble
7:30pm  That Gold Street Sound

According to Dingo editor Adam Simmons, “We’ll be hearing from other artists and organisations from all around Australia and the globe, sharing their International Jazz Day messages. We also have musical contributions from World Jazz Network, SIMA, Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Perth International Jazz Festival and Australian Music Centre.”

ROGER MITCHELL

Is jazz winning an Aria? … Sounds jazzy to me.

Ellie Lamb conducts during the performance of Between Worlds. Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival

December 2-5 2021

Stories. That’s what music is about, whether those stories are conveyed via a festival, a concert, a suite, a song or a solo.

Words, whether explanatory or in songs, can help tell stories. Other stories are passed on without words, conveyed powerfully in notes and passages that stir emotions and provoke responses.

The short story of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival is how successfully an October program involving more than 400 artists in 120 events at 30 venues was improvised at short notice into an intensive four days of exhilarating live music in December, albeit with unavoidable clashes and an initial scramble for tickets.

The longer account can begin with a contrast in communication. The Melbourne Recital Centre concert featuring the festival’s inaugural Artist in Residence, Paul Grabowsky, and vocalist Emma Donovan on Saturday night was a triumph in many ways – one being the connections evident between Donovan’s musical grounding in family. There was power in her voice, but just as much in her stories of how grandparents Aileen Bradshaw Quinlan and Micko Donovan, who had “music in their bodies”, had shaped her own love of this gospel-infused music, delivered under the title of The Old Rugged Cross.

Paul Grabowsky, Emma Donovan and Philip Rex in The Old Rugged Cross. Image: Screen grab

As Grabowsky’s lively arrangements gave members of the superb accompanying septet a chance to shine – especially the pianist, Audrey Powne on trumpet, Stephen Magnusson on guitar and Mirko Guerrini on saxophone – Donovan tapped into deep emotions when delivering grandfather Micko’s songs Miracle Man and The Promised Land.

Maria Moles, Stephen Magnusson and Adrian Sherriff acknowledge Amos Roach. Image: RM

Earlier that evening, when the Australian Art Orchestra’s First Nations Artist in Residence Amos Roach joined AAO musicians Magnusson, Adrian Sherriff and Maria Moles, and the Murrundaya Yepengna dancers, for Six Seasons, this introduction to Indigenous story telling through song cycles was often mesmerising. Roach, deeply expressive on the droning, pulsating yidaki, underpinned this dramatic presentation, but his words of explanation about what we were witnessing in the dancers’ movements came late in the performance, before four short illustrative dances that seemed almost an afterthought. I felt that the appreciative audience could have gained greater understanding of these important ancestral stories with a little more guidance. Clearly, however, the story of the AAO working with First Nations performers is only beginning.

Niran Dasika and Ellie Lamb in full flight during Between Worlds. Image: Roger Mitchell

Also on Saturday, but in The Jazzlab, trombonist Ellie Lamb’s suite Between Worlds, commissioned for the MIJF Take Note program, boldly explored identity and the experience of living between genres and genders. Lamb left their talented octet to tell this story without interruption and without announcing the expressive titles of the six pieces: Flying, Falling; Dreaming; Sinking; Drowning; Breaking; and Being.

This non-verbal approach reflected their view, as expressed to ABC radio’s Andrew Ford on The Music Show, that “music is an abstract way of storytelling” and improvised music can convey emotions “in a more tangible way than simply saying words”.

Lamb’s suite was complex and powerful, evoking tension through dissonance that movingly and disturbingly conveyed the confusion, anxiety and dysphoria associated with not necessarily conforming to rigid gender boundaries. The release of tension was evoked by contrasting moods, but most evident in the tumultuous finish. Niran Dasika on trumpet, Madison Carter on drums and Shaun Rammers on tenor sax and clarinet deserve special mention in this compelling musical narrative, as does Lamb on trombone.

Audrey Powne and Flora Carbo perform with Aura at The Salon, MRC. Image: Roger Mitchell

A much gentler musical story emerged in the acoustically rich Primrose Potter Salon at the MRC on Thursday December 2 when quartet Aura treated us to a set of thoughtful and beautifully crafted pieces, some originating when band members met in 2019 while at the Banff Centre’s Workshop in Jazz and Improvised Music in Canada directed by Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey. Tamara Murphy stepped in for Helen Svoboda on bass, joining Audrey Powne trumpet, Flora Carbo alto saxophone and South Australia’s Kyrie Anderson drums. These compositions seemed to reflect the ensemble’s beginnings in the crisp air and open spaces of Banff, as well as wanderings and explorations into new territory. Highlights were Anderson’s Dissociation Daze, with eerie horns building tension and intrigue, and Carbo’s The Ultimate Premiere, featuring unhurried bass work and independent horn journeys with bent trumpet musings and breathy sax.

Delightful ease and fluidity along with seamless mood changes were the hallmarks of a Sunday afternoon outing by the unassuming John Scurry’s Reverse Swing at The Jazzlab. But not only was this superb septet – Scurry guitar, Brennan Hamilton-Smith clarinet, Stephen Grant piano, James Macaulay trombone, Eugene Ball trumpet, Howard Cairns bass, Danny Fischer drums – so musically enticing, but every song played had a story – a history behind it. So from I Live In A House (from a loved Allan Browne poem), through My Cat Moves Like Putin (a mincing walk in an “Elizabethan collar”) to the pre-encore Splendidly Over the Moon (a friend: I’ve met someone) we were treated to brief anecdotes to accompany accomplished musicality. This was a treat.

Johannes Luebbers conducts his dectet in A Tapestry in 10 Pieces. Image: Roger Mitchell

Another delight came from a rich vein of stories tapped by composer/conductor Johannes Luebbers from members of his dectet as part of A Tapestry in 10 Pieces – a project in which he created 10 works in 10 years, one for each of the 10 players, after engaging each in conversation to ascertain their listening habits, musical loves and technical interests of the featured soloist. At The Jazzlab on Sunday evening the dectet, with Tamara Murphy sitting in for Hiroki Hoshino on bass, played seven of the pieces with such responsiveness and attention to Luebbers’ nuanced direction that each was sublime. Hosh Posh afforded the players a bit more freedom, but other more tightly scripted compositions brought such a broad palette of colours, harmonies and timbres that nothing felt at all constrained. This performance was ultimately the festival highlight for me as well as a demonstration of a composer drawing inspiration and limitations from musicians’ stories.

Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the MRC was a fitting setting for the Sam Anning Septet to launch their recent album Oatchapai, with atmospheric lighting and haze effects ushering us into a slowly unfolding world of mystery. Julien Wilson on bass clarinet set the sombre mood early in the opening Tjurunga and the ensemble added majesty. A break in the sobriety came in Stretchroactivities, which had an old time feel. Spoken word soundscapes delivered by Anning were enigmatic, defying easy interpretation amid the instrumental musical stories, but it was hard to escape the sense of deep questions being asked or matters explored. Ultimately the most compelling stories in this outing came in the integrated and labrinthian musical contributions by the players.

In a much smaller setting, The Jazzlab, on Thursday December 2, trumpeter Mat Jodrell led another great group to launch Grateful, which seemed in its intent “to uplift and keep us headed on the right path” to be so apposite to our pandemic predicament, yet was recorded in February 2019 – a year before the world became much more uncertain. The liner notes said, “In this ever-changing, uncertain world in which we live, to be grateful is one of the most powerful tools we have to bring joy to ourselves and others.”

Jimmy Macbride on drums and Miki Yamanaka and piano were replaced in this outing by Dave Beck and Andrea Keller. The latter was compelling and captivating at the piano, as always, and the former demonstrated clarity, focus and depth of eager involvement throughout. For brevity’s sake let’s revive the old school sports report line that “all players played well”, but in this case really mean that in spades. This was a hugely uplifting concert with which to start four days of festival.

Another launch at The Jazzlab – the Angela Davis Quartet’s Maximilian Project – on Sunday demonstrated saxophonist Davis’s commitment to bring a project to fruition despite pandemic constraints. She was ably supported by Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Frank Di Sario on bass and Patrick Danao on drums. These smooth compositions, drawing on Davis’s experiences of motherhood and raising a newborn child during Covid time, suggest that calmness and strength can be mustered in the face of such challenges.

Emily Bennett: ready to be “a jazz woman”. Image: Roger Mitchell

Last in place, but not least, was the launch of Lost in Place by Reuben Lewis’s I Hold the Lion’s Paw at The Jazzlab on Thursday night, December 2. In the words of reviewer Des Cowley, this album can be summed up as “stripped-down trumpet utterances, electronic soundscapes, and weird vibrations”. Cowley’s comprehensive liner notes conclude that “Lewis has given us a timely meditation on our growing need to navigate a path through overwhelming social, economic and global turmoil, as we seek a place – even if temporarily – to land.”

I arrived late, temporarily lost on the freeway and then heading in the opposite direction to the venue. I found a space and settled in for serious listening, focused on the solemn features of Ronny Ferella at the drum kit. After a while voice artist Emily Bennett launched a totally improvised, slightly distorted monologue that was highly amusing and yet quite pointed in the context of recent social media debates.

I quote some of her words not to suggest they are all that Lost in Place is about, but because it was a significant part of this gig on this night:

“What is jazz really? Is jazz winning an Aria? Is it playing in a jazz festival? Is it saying, ‘I like jazz’? Is it watching jazz? Is it saying ‘I like jazz’? I like it a lot. It sounds jazzy to me and … I’m ready to be … a jazz woman. I’m ready to be the poster girl of the band that’s not mine. I’m ready to have my photo taken. I’m ready to take the sauce bottle and have a fair shake of it…”

These questions can be left without comment. But they added to the Lost in Place story.

And so must the stories of the many gigs at this year’s MIJF that I missed be added to the individual stories behind all the notes played and notes unplayed. And to the stories of each listener at each concert. These are all stories worth hearing.

ROGER MITCHELL