The Washington Grabowsky Project
On April 25, 2008, the audience at BMW Edge during the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival warmed to the endearing exuberance of Megan Washington, accompanied on piano by Paul Grabowsky. She was a real entertainer from the word go. And here she is:
Then, at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz on November 1, 2008, Washington again wowed the crowds, this time accompanied by Grabowsky, Niko Schauble on drums, Sam Anning on acoustic bass, Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Jamie Oehlers on sax and Shannon Barnett on trombone. Here she is during that performance:
So we come to Stonnington Jazz 2009, when the same group of musicians assembled at Malvern Town Hall. The description I wrote in the Herald Sun after Wangaratta could have applied again on Saturday night: “When Megan Washington is breathless and excited, dancing a little jig, her voice rising and falling as if on a whim, you know she’s under the influence (of music).
The signs are unmistakable — and irresistible.”
Her arms, indeed her whole body, help to express emotions. At times she sits on the stage to listen, or stands with her hands clasped, as if in silent prayer, or her head bowed in admiration of the music being played. Vocally she seems at times to be so fragile, then suddenly moves so effectively from the delicate to the robust, from innocent to saucy. There is an impish sense of humour always lurking close to the surface, and she tells her Portugal bookstore story with the skill of a consummate performer.
Washington seemed to captivate the audience from her opening number, Write Me A Song, performed with only Grabowsky onstage. Then the ensemble emerged (“We had the whole gradual rock entrance thing planned, but I think I just messed it up”, Washington said.) and Schauble took us solidly and swiftly into The End.
After the perceptive and intelligent lyrics of The Opposite of Love, dedicated to George W. Bush, Washington took a vote on applause during solos — the musicians won. Oehlers and Grabowsky had solos in Take What You Need, which finished with exquisite vocals.
After ensuring the patrons were connected, Washington sang Are You On My Side, which was a highlight of the night, from the Magnusson intro, through Barnett’s solo to the beautiful ending, with that question hanging in the air before Grabowsky closed the piece alone.
For The Custom of the Sea Washington took over the piano, leaving Grabowsky to sojourn briefly with the horns and guitar before he stood beside the piano and joined in the song. At the break we were left to reflect on just how well the ensemble worked and how well the musicians conveyed so much through controlled dynamics. Magnusson could make a minimal contribution so significant.
Curios and Cutaways opened the second set, which featured Barnett in some vigorous, swinging stuff, with Grabowsky carrying foward the insistent beat and Schauble using plenty of muscle. Washington’s vocals were high and breathy. Oehlers, who seemed not to be all that prominent during the evening, had a solo in Peaches Bones, and in the “creepy” Spiders and Silkworms Grabowsky and Washington were each plucking at the piano strings.
Poetry was a saucy number and a drama, with flashing lights, raucous horns and Washington dancing away amid the frenetic playing. The musicians undoubtedly had fun. In The Fisherman’s Daughter, Grabowsky’s hint of dissonance was a highlight, along with the harmonies from horns and guitar. Especially effective were Magnusson’s looping notes, at times played back in reverse and sounding like a pursuing echo. Washington seemed utterly possessed, or transported by the music, which must be a significant part of her appeal.
The encore was inevitable. It was Telepathy, “written when I thought I was in love with my best friend’s boyfriend — and he knew, but we never talked about it” — with only Grabowsky and Washington onstage. They had plenty of it.
There is no album of Washington with this ensemble, but it is in the works. Recording took place early this year, so keep your ears open.