Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Big Arse Sunday

For a change, possibly because of an overlap with Stonnington’s festival, the Fringe decided to hold its Big Arse Sunday gigs on the first Sunday. There was enough music, but not quite enough bums on seats to make the day sizzle — Mother’s Day may have contributed — but the snags and vegie burgers were sizzling on the barbie at Fitzroy Bowling Club.

I missed the first set, by TIP — Ren Walters on guitar, Chris Bekker on electric bass and Niko Schauble on drums, but arrived in time to hear a deep sound from the back of the room.

Men In Suits

Men In Suits

It was a dreadful error, but somehow a large group of case workers from an intergalactic welfare agency — chosen because of their ability to blend in — had been booked for this eight-hour jazz gig. On a mission to probe the strange behaviour of Earth’s suit-clad males who regularly are drawn inexorably to the city each day, Men in Suits streamed through the Fringe audience singing, “I’ve got very important things to do, I’ve got very important things to do, Let me through, Let me through…”

Directed by Stephen Taberner, they assembled before the stage — which had been piled with beautifully restored instrument cases — to amuse and entertain with vocally rich dissertations upon the lives of office-bound males. “One day I will break free,” they sang. “Just because I work 9 to 5, doesn’t mean my fantasies won’t come alive.”

Apparently men in suits (as opposed to our visiting choristers) just need “a good cuddle”, but “we won’t be giving them one”. Instead, we were treated to a Georgian lullaby, Waiting for the Lift and a De-lilah-tful explanation of why men grow beards (to the tune of Tom Jones’s Delilah), with such gems as: “Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t shave any more” and “I stroked my beard with my hand, and she laughed no more”.

Their encore was a Georgian song of welcome that “we forgot to sing earlier”, apparently written during an intergalactic visit much earlier. The vocal ensemble of 23 plus Taberner as playing coach and choirmaster was a treat, not only because they were unexpected and could sing unaccompanied with great ability, but also because they were highly amusing.

It is worth taking a look at the antics of Men In Suits as recorded online.

Men in Suits

Form X

It was about when Form X appeared on stage that the lights shooting across the floor from the disco ball entered my consciousness. It seemed so not Fringe, and yet entirely appropriate amid the honour boards and bowling paraphenalia. Form X has been around for 4-5 months and consists of Lachlan McLean on sax, Eugene Ball trumpet, Mac Hannaford piano (Roland), Mike Story double bass and Aaron Mcoullough drums.

Marc Hannaford

The quintet seemed to work really well, with each musician attentive and responsive. There was a lot to like, many mood changes, always a sense of involvement and many passages in which a journey to a destination — the process — was as engrossing as the end to which they were heading. They played McLean’s compositions Chimera, Finding Our Way Around, You’re All There and Morphobic.

Ball and McLean

In Finding Our Way Around the rich tone and searing, soaring notes from Ball were deeply satisfying, and Hannaford showed intense focus and concentration that continued throughout the set, so that he often seemed a linchpin for the group.

McLean and Story

Story began You’re All There with a solo full of feeling and McLean soon introduced a swing feel, which, when Hannaford got into fully it, had the band really humming. Solemn piano slowed things, then the pace quickened again and Hannaford was really going for it with Mcoullough and Story. Ball really fired with some piercing attacks before the piece ended.

In Morphobic, some slow, regal horns surrrendered to such an easy, roaming sax that you could sink back into it and lie there, fully supported. The ending was all soaring strength and majesty.

Kewti

Tom Fryer

The origin of Kewti — the trio of Tom Fryer on fretless guitar, Adrian Sherriff on bass trombone and Adam King on drums and percussion — is unknown to me, but after hearing their “quarter tone and other microtonal” music I doubt the name is a take on “cutie”.

Fryer explained after they had opened with Addis Ababa that “those with good ears will notice that we’ve been playing the notes between the frets, so if it sounds a bit unusual, that’s why”. My ears had detected a fair bit of crash and bash from King, some good rattling and rasping from Sherriff and a fairly muddled, distorted and muddied sound from Fryer’s guitar. It was not at all pretty, and that’s OK. It was rhythmically strong, but I was not being drawn into the music.

Sherriff

The second piece, called Cheesy Pete (or something remotely like that) began with slow guitar, metal-disc percussion and some eerie, wandering notes from Sherriff. The tempo picked up and the meandering, mournful guitar took me to somewhere in the Middle East, with Sherriff echoing the sorrowful tones. This was more my cup of sour grapes and I was totally absorbed by the shimmering and growling notes, and muffled blaring of the bass trombone, with drums behind. The technicalities of playing between the frets were beyond me, but at least we were able to sample the effects.

I did not catch the title of the third piece, but the fourth — Dreaming of Ornette — used an “equidistant octatonic scale”, Fryer said. The result was interesting, but not that enticing. It seemed to produce a flat sound, or desaturated if that makes any sense. At one stage Fryer did a pretty good imitation of a rocket taking off — it was pretty hot stuff from him on guitar before the sudden finish.

Adam King

I probably have not done Kewti justice. There was some enthusiastic applause. Until I catch them again, I’ll study my intervals and scales.

Aunty Richard

Joel Woolf

Melburnites may know of Aunty Richard through their album Leaf Blower, released last year. It seemed a pity that we could not roll out a bigger crowd to welcome this Sydney quartet after their long drive, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The tall, lean one on sax (above) was Joel Woolf, accompanied by Franco Raggart on guitar, Trent Prees on electric bass and Tim Firth on drums.

Aunty Richard seemed to be pretty sprightly — the sort of energetic, vivacious aunt who might take you to the circus and leave with one of the jugglers. They played some pieces from Leaf BlowerI Don’t Know Yet, Los Angeles, Jellyfish and the title track — plus Anyway, which they said was inspired by Joy Division, and another piece I thought was titled “Kiki”.

Trent Prees

They played jazz infused with rock and funk, including some great sax and guitar solos. Oddly, none of us clapped after a low, breathy solo by Woolf in “Kiki”. Los Angeles included some melodic sax up high, backed by appealing harmonies from Raggatt, and Prees’s bass teamed well with the guitar before a jaunty, syncopated interlude and the return of the guitar harmonies. The audience (or some of us) didn’t quite know when the piece was finished.

Franco Raggatt

After a lyrical opening, Anyway took on a rock vibe, but it was momentary — the players reveled in changes of pace and mood. In time Raggart treated us to some guitar playing that brought to mind John Scofield and James Muller from Wangaratta Festival of Jazz ’08. This was definitely a jazz quartet that would have broad appeal. Jellyfish included a long drum solo and Leaf Blower had heaps of energy and drive, with the sax going high and strong, and guitar, bass and drums burning.

It’s a pity the Aunty could not hang about and visit a few of Melbourne’s plentiful jazz haunts.

Ball Magnusson Talia

Magnusson Ball Talia

And now, Phil Bywater said, for the “delicate textures” of Eugene Ball, Stephen Magnusson and Joe Talia. They were recently on stage together at the Melbourne Recital Centre immediately before Charlie Haden’s Quartet West during the Melbourne International Jazz Festival — in the pale blue lighting and otherwise darkened auditorium they performed a moving set. Here at the Fitzroy Bowling Club it was going to be harder to achieve the same atmosphere.

Eugene Ball

They opened with P is for Pumpkin, followed by Never Let Me Go. And I drifted into a reflection on the ease of Ball’s trumpet notes: It’s not just that they soar; sometimes they are twisted, bent and at other times they seem bent on capturing the essence of beauty, a richness, a “thick” sound that is retained even at higher registers.

Still musing: This solo is not hurried, it has pauses. It flows along, but seems to lack any pressure. Then there is some vibrato, then a long note that can take you away on a mystic journey. To applaud would be to disturb the mood.

Stephen Magnusson

Still in Never Let Me Know, Magnusson adds punctuation, punching in some notes before backing off to let Ball shilly-shally, then oh-so-lightly burble along before sudden attacks from the guitar, with Talia heating things up on drums. “Plucked” is too weak a term to describe these Magnusson notes, which soon become a city of sounds — a sea would be too calm. Talia intervenes only when necessary as they work towards a discordant, sudden finish.

Joe Talia

After that the lads played Goggles, Lush Life — with a jaunty, precocious rhythm — and the faster Splendid, in which Magnusson and Ball seemed to follow different paths for a while before Talia gathered them in with the beat, and Magnusson played a great solo. In a closing piece, TM, at the request of the organisers, Ball sent out a light, fluttering vibrato that must have flown away into the night streets to do mischief.

Another great set to whet our appetites for a recording from Ball, Magnusson, Talia … or is it Magnusson, Talia, Ball … or …

The Vanguards

It was late at night and time for “Muddy Waters meets Kraftwerk” in the form of the Vanguards: Dale Lindrea (vocals and electric bass), Dai “Jukebox” Jones (vocals and guitar), Dean Hilson (saxophone) and Mark Grunden (drums). What a pity the raucous crowd ready to hit the dance floor had not developed, leaving two hardy enthusiasts to do all the moves as the Vanguards treated us to some toe-tapping, rockin’ numbers.

Vanguards

Towards the end of the set, Dai took up the bass and Dale unpacked his guitar and cranked up the knobs and pedals. If there had been a crowded dance floor, it would have lit up for Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which capped off another memorable Big Arse Sunday in style.

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