BLUES IN AMERICA, TOM VINCENT

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CD REVIEW 

3.5 stars *

Blues in America: Tom Vincent piano, Branford Marsalis soprano and tenor sax, Leigh Barker & Matt Clohesy double bass, Alf Jackson drums

I have not reviewed albums for a long time, for a few reasons, but that may change. Let’s see how this turns out.

If I were a musician it’s fair bet that I’d be anxious about not being inventive enough and being caught out repeating phrases that I’d used in previous solos — worried that I may not be keeping the improvisations fresh and always different. That kind of concern is in the back of my mind whenever I write reviews of albums or live performances — my version of the goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty kick is the fear that I’ll keep repeating words and phrases, thereby revealing an inability to do more than trot out a standard set of reactions to the music. With that goes a worry about my lack of musical training or knowledge, and my limited knowledge of the American songbook and the deeply embedded lore of jazz.

When I read, for instance, Paul Grabowsky‘s words about music and musicians, I’m inclined to think that if the people who play so well and compose music so well can write about it so eloquently, why not leave it to them.

Another reason for avoiding CD reviews is that I slipped so far behind in delivering them that it became an obligation not met and therefore the joy of listening slipped away a little. Why was it hard to just pop out a review? Well, partly for the reasons expressed above, but also because music is, I believe, not easy to write about. I have long yearned for a feed from the brain to the screen (or paper) so that my experience can be delivered directly to the reader, without interference. In that way, when I’m in the moment listening at a live gig or to an album via headphones, the intensity of that experience could be delivered undiluted. It would still, of course, be one person’s experience, as is any reviewer’s.

So, with that palaver out of the way, what can I say about Tom Vincent‘s Blues in America? First, the mechanics. Blues in America was recorded in October 2015 at Sound Pure studio in Durham, North Carolina and at Big Orange Sheep in Brooklyn, New York City.  Vincent is joined on the Durham tracks — one, three and five — by Branford Marsalis on soprano and tenor saxophones and by Leigh Barker on double bass, and on the Brooklyn tracks —two and four — by Matt Clohesy, who has lived in New York for many years, on double bass. Hobart drummer Alf Jackson plays on all tracks.

The title track is a Tom Vincent original. The others are composer Donald Kahn’s classic A Beautiful Friendship, the Bernie, Pinkard & Casey standard Sweet Georgia Brown, Russian-born composer/songwriter Vernon Duke’s Autumn in New York and Jimmy Hanley’s hit (Back Home Again in) Indiana.

When Vincent launched his Pozible campaign to fund Blues in America, he said, “This is going to be a swingin’ album”. He’s not wrong. Swing and propulsion are evident throughout, and that’s not so common in a lot of improvised music these days. Much of the drive comes from Barker and Clohesy, of course, but the rhythmic thrust shown in Sweet Georgia Brown, along with varied dynamics and nice chordal contrasts, provides a great paradigm of a rhythm section in top form. This Georgia is one toe-tappin’ gal.

The opening A Beautiful Friendship — featuring wandering, exploratory and at times embroidered piano soloing followed by tenor musings and some interplay from Marsalis — is well laid back, yet ends with a heightened sense of swing.

Vincent’s original Blues in America is pretty jaunty for a blues and much faster, with lots of rapid and intricate repartee between piano and soprano sax, Marsalis being more agile than the nation Malcolm Turnbull once dreamed about. The exchanges make this a favourite for me.

Much slower is the Autumn in New York ballad and the mood change conjures images of leaves drifting down from the trees in Central Park, with maybe a sprinkling or two of drops after a shower. Put your feet up for this and let the thoughts drift past.

Indiana is bright and jaunty, Barker taking us on a fast walk as Vincent treats us to expansive vistas with gentle swing and Marsalis floats out easy tenor notes over the brush work of Jackson. The ending is tight and punchy, with a final “parp” from Marsalis.

Tom Vincent’s Blues in America is further confirmation — as if we needed it — that Australian jazz musicians can seamlessly team with those in the New York scene and produce a fine result. It also provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate just how good Vincent is at the keyboard, delivering fluidity and swing in a way that draws on what I think of as older traditions or roots of jazz.

ROGER MITCHELL

* Stars? I’m not so keen on the star ratings, mainly because they can be used so differently by reviewers. In the tradition I was taught by Kenny Weir at the Sunday Herald Sun, where 4.5 or 5 stars were reserved for albums that had survived the test of time and had probably been re-released, I’d say this is a 3.5 plus, which is a definite recommendation to buy. If you want to, go to Tom Vincent’s website.

 

DELIGHTS IN THE DETAIL: MIJF 2017

Pascal Schumacher

Pascal Schumacher from Luxembourg will collaborate with BFK to present a new suite at The Toff for MIJF. (Image: Ilan Weiss)

PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, June 2 to June 11, 2017

It’s always exciting to delve into the detail of a jazz festival program, looking in this case for the delights rather than the devil.

A couple of observations first on the venues. There’s no Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, of course (probably demolished by now) and no replacement venue in the city to carry on that name, or part thereof, which had been expected to open — that David Marriner project is still some time away, with Megan Evans at the helm.

There’s also no gigs at Malthouse Theatre, which is a pity. That was a great venue close to the city centre with a space for convivial company and drinks between concerts — usually double bills.

The good news is that The Toff in Town at 252 Swanston Street will host some gigs and the Lido Jazz Room at 675 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn has eight club sessions ideal for patrons out that way.

 

Jeremy Jankie introduces Daniel Hunter in a concert soon after the opening of The Jazzlab. Tom Lee is on bass.

Jeremy Jankie introduces Daniel Hunter’s band at The Jazzlab. Tom Lee is on bass.

And even better news is that MIJF artistic director Michael Tortoni has adroitly managed to open his slightly larger version of the acoustically esteemed small room at Bennetts Lane, The Jazzlab, at 27 Leslie St, Brunswick — just in time for the festival. It looks good, sounds great and sports some familiar fixtures from Bennetts Lane — chairs, tables, stools … and, yes, much-loved host Jeremy Jankie!

Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Recital Centre will also feature, of course, and Jazz Out West continues to offer free concerts at a wider variety of venues in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Club sessions will also be held at Uptown Jazz Cafe and Dizzy’s Jazz Club.

Most patrons don’t rush from one concert to another in one night, but the spread of venues this year will make such mid-evening attempts to get around any overlaps between concerts that bit more difficult.

The idea of this annual preview is to act as a guide to go with the program for those considering trying a few festival gigs. Most hard core fans of jazz will have made their choices already.

For a change, rather than beginning with the big name international artists, I’d like to mention up front the excellent musical fare on offer at Sonny Rehe‘s Uptown Jazz Cafe.  There will be 12 gigs at this welcoming upstairs hideaway, each certain to provide many original compositions delivered by quality ensembles who often play to much smaller audiences than they deserve.

Andrea Keller plays Uptown Jazz Cafe

Andrea Keller plays Uptown Jazz Cafe

It’s impossible to mention all the bands or musicians, but find time if you can to hear Andrea Keller‘s three-set Clash of the Transients (June 6), Scott Tinkler‘s anything but standard Standards Quartet (June 2), Sydney’s Carl Morgan on guitar (June 8), internationally renowned saxophonist Dale Barlow (June 9, twice), the exquisite Julien Wilson on tenor (June 10) and Dave Beck on drums in three gigs, one with Stephen Magnusson on guitar, another with Sam Keevers on piano.

I’ve left plenty of names out, but you get the picture. The Kavita Shah Quartet on June 5 did not make the printed program, but more of that concert in a later post.

At Dizzy’s Jazz Club there’ll be six concerts. I must mention Unspoken Rule, “a swingin’ new project reflecting the ups and downs of romantic love” featuring Jennifer Salisbury on vocals, because otherwise James Mustafa (trumpet and arrangements) would not let me hear the end of it. That also has Hiroki Hoshino on bass and is on June 10.

Now to mention the big guns, so to speak. That often means big venues, which I don’t think are ideal for many ensembles, preferring as I do to get up close and personal. A trombone slide inches from the face ensures total immersion in the music, I find.

Grammy award winning US singer Patti Austin will join Australia’s best known trumpeter James Morrison at Hamer Hall over two nights (June 2 and 3) to celebrate the collaboration between Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, assisted by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Go for it if that’s your cup of tea.

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell (Image supplied)

Revered US guitarist Bill Frisell is back in town for two concerts. At the MRC on June 2 he’ll join vocalist Petra Haden (daughter of wonderful bassist the late Charlie Haden) in When You Wish Upon a Star, interpreting American cinema music. Unfortunately violist and composer Eyvind Kang won’t join the quartet on this occasion. Be prepared for fairly sweet, slow and gentle treatments.

A better opportunity to enjoy the mastery of Frisell may come on June 4 at The Jazzlab in his trio with Thomas Morgan (Tomasz Stanko) on bass and Rudy Royston (Mingus Big Band) on drums. And fans of Bill Frisell will not want to miss hearing him introduce the Australian premiere of Emma Franz‘s documentary film Bill Frisell, A Portrait, screened at ACMI on June 4 at 2pm.

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Carla Bley (Image supplied)

Carla Bley is one of the artists I most want to hear at this year’s MIJF. The US composer and pianist will play in her “chamber trio” with Steve Swallow (electric bass) and Andy Sheppard (sax) at MRC on June 8. So many will want to hear Bley that a large venue is necessary, but for a more intimate experience this trio will also join members of Monash Art Ensemble at The Jazzlab (June 7) to play music from the 2008 live album Appearing Nightly, drawn from and interpreting swing era standards. Listen for subtle references to these fifties tunes if you know them. (I’m willing to bet that I’ll miss most of these.)

To digress for a moment, there is an unfortunate irony in the clash between the Jazzlab performance by Bley — surely one of the most formidable of female artists — and the 6pm panel discussion at The White House (not Donald’s) in St Kilda entitled “Addressing the under representation of women in jazz”.  Speakers are Professor Cat Hope from Monash University, bassist Tamara Murphy, pianist Satoko Fujii and vocalist/festival director Chelsea Wilson. This is an important topic. Let’s hope some useful strategies emerge.

Kenny Baron Trio

Kenny Baron Trio (Image: Philippe Levy Stab)

Returning to gigs in larger venues, Kenny Barron Trio will perform at MRC on June 3. Barron has been described by presenter of Dizzy Atmosphere on PBS Gerry Koster — whose opinion I value highly — as “one of my favourite pianists of that generation”. With him will be Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums. Their set from the most recent album Book of Intuition should be well worth hearing.

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Dianne Reeves (Image: Jerris Madison)

Crowds will no doubt gather at Hamer Hall on the festival’s closing night June 11) to hear the much acclaimed and awarded Dianne Reeves in a quintet, returning to bring Melbourne her soulful vocals and a range of musical styles.

And the previous night fans of Brazilian composer, singer and songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim will be in for a treat at MRC as musical director and guitarist extraordinaire Doug de Vries leads an all-Australian orchestra with vocalist Vince Jones in a tribute entitled From Ipanema to the World. I expect this to be as much of a success as 2016’s Van Morrison’s Masterpieces, also featuring Jones.

Also on June 10, the Melbourne Town Hall is the venue for Swing City, a night of music and dancing led by expatriate Australian “Professor” Adrian Cunningham, his “flaming” big band and Swing Patrol to show dancers all the right moves.

Donny McCaslin Group

Donny McCaslin Group (Image: Jimmy King)

So, moving to smaller venues, things start getting pretty interesting. I’m keen to hear saxophonist Donny McCaslin in the group featured on David Bowie‘s final album, Blackstar. McCaslin is also a member of Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, so that raises expectations for me. At The Toff (June 2 & 3), Jason Lindner on keyboards, Jonathan Maron on bass and Zach Danziger on drums will join the dynamic McCaslin to present pieces from their latest project, Beyond Now. I don’t expect these gigs to be a calming experience.

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Tigran Hamasyan (Image supplied)

Another on my must-hear list for this festival is Armenian pianist, soloist and songwriter Tigran Hamasyan (The Jazzlab, June 5 & 6), performing works from his solo and ninth album An Ancient Observer. That is closely followed — on the list and sequentially — by the world premiere of Kira Kira (The Jazzlab, June 8), in which Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and Australia’s Alister Spence (Fender Rhodes, effects pedal) present a commissioned work exploring links between improvisation in Australian and Japanese music. This will be fascinating.

Out of earshot

Out of Earshot (Image supplied)

While on concerts that offer a distinctly different perspective, I’m hoping to be at (rather than hear) one performance of Out of Earshot at Chunky Move for KAGE‘s exploration of non-verbal language and intense physical prowess via profoundly deaf dancer Anna Seymour and percussionist Myele Manzanza (for dates see the festival program).

And on June 10 at The Jazzlab, Hue Blanes will employ voice, piano and laptop to premiere his 2017 PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission drawing on some of history’s most famous speeches. I have a dream that this will be inspiring.

Kristen Berardi, Sean Foran and Rafael Karlen

BFK — Kristen Berardi, Sean Foran and Rafael Karlen     (Image supplied)

Many of us are familiar with the BFG, courtesy of Roald Dahl. Well, BFK is an award-winning trio from Sydney comprising Kristin Berardi voice, Sean Foran piano and Rafael Karlen saxophone. Add Pascal Schumacher from Luxembourg on vibes and you have an opportunity to explore “new sonic territory” at The Toff on June 6. Bring it on, I say.

NAK Trio

NAK Trio (Image: Yelda Yilmaz)

Club sessions at The Jazzlab not so far mentioned offer much of great interest. US saxophonist Greg Osby will join Tal Cohen‘s talented quintet on June 2; Poland’s NAK Trio will attempt “a trio of four instruments” featuring the forceful, expressive left and right hands of pianist Dominik Wania on June 9; the MaxMantis Clan from Switzerland promise to take us into “the infinite abyss” (without help from Donald Trump, apparently) later on June 9; Paul Grabowsky in a sextet will deliver the monumental and powerful Moons of Jupiter on June 10; and if you missed Andrea Keller’s Still Night: Music in Poetry at the MRC Salon then try to make it on June 11 at Jazzlab for a meditation on grief and loss that is deeply moving. Speedball will reunite to perform on closing night, June 11, for those of us not at Hamer Hall to hear Dianne Reeves.

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Luke Howard Trio (Image supplied)

An alternative to NAK Trio on June 9 is definitely worth considering: Luke Howard Trio will perform pieces from their album The Electric Night Descends at Darebin Arts & Entertainment Centre. Chill out to this.

That’s a heap of music to consider. Consult the program for gigs I’ve missed mentioning. And there are also Close Encounters — conversations such as that between Carla Bley and Paul Grabowsky on June 4 — as well as artist workshops, a conference on Agency in Jazz and Improvisation (June 2 to 4), Sound Walks, Sound Portraits (go Mirko Guerrini!) and a panel discussion on the rise of English in popular music.

That’s the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2017 as I see it. Now you can choose to hear it.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

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