Charles Tolliver takes a solo.
CHARLES TOLLIVER / JAZZGROOVE MOTHERSHIP ORCHESTRA
What is the one sentence that can sum up this opening concert in the new Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre to open the 20th of these jazz festivals staged here?
The phrase that comes to mind is “the utmost control mixed with the confidence of a conductor who knows he can let go”. That describes Tolliver. The Mothership Orchestra musicians seemed to be at home with and inspired by Tolliver’s hands-on direction, playing as a tight, responsive unit. But it did not end there. Soloists clearly felt free to let fly and did so – indeed they probably felt directed to by the “go-to guy” for big bands, to use one of the New York musician’s expressions.
An example would be in Mournin’ Variations, from the album With Love, Tolliver took a solo after Richard Maegraith opened on flute. Then Matt Keegan took over on sax. Tolliver left the stage. Keegan played on. Tolliver still did not reappear. Keegan played on, with verve and gusto, before handing over to Hugh Barrett on piano. The big band had gone from directed to … well, certainly not directionless. The band played as one would expect. But in a sense Tolliver had, by leaving the stage, given a message that he had confidence in this ensemble to take his music where they wanted.
I doubt that he was disappointed.
The band played On the Nile, then Mournin’ Variations, Emperor March and Suspicion. Tolliver’s conducting was expert and it made sense to watch. He seemed to position himself as one of the big band players. There was mutual respect.
It was a great start to the 2009 festival.