MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 5

CHARLES LLOYD MASTERCLASS

Charles Lloyd

What a joy it was to spend a peaceful hour in a small group at BMW Edge for Charles Lloyd‘s masterclass. A few times Lloyd asked whether anyone wanted to play something, but no one volunteered and he talked about life, his life and mentors, and music. I had intended to take a few notes, but instead it seemed right to relax, listen and take many photos. Lloyd’s face is lively and changeable. When a topic really takes his fancy, his face glows with enthusiasm.

It was a privilege to meet Charles Lloyd, shake his hand and chat for a while.

Here’s another picture, but the colour balance is a bit odd:

Charles Lloyd

MILES DAVIS: PRINCE OF DARKNESS
A tribute by Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra

ON Wednesday night Miles Davis returned, but The Prince of Darkness did a quick costume change at Melbourne Town Hall, emerging after interval a changed musician. Grabowsky and the AAO were never going to offer a pedestrian tribute to Davis, but adventurous compositions by Anthony Pateras and Phillip Rex must have sent some fans home clutching at remnants of their comfort zones.

Grabowsky, always the consummate host, ushered us into three pieces from 1949 arranged for Davis by Gil Evans and played on this occasion by a Birth of Cool nonette. They opened with Boplicity, then Eugene Ball sounded iridescent in the luminous Moonbeams, followed by the sharp, electric Move, on which James Greening‘s trombone was spot-on.

Phil Slater plays Miles
Phil Slater plays Miles

Then came a festival highlight that was a rival to the Charles Lloyd New Quartet experience. Grabowsky conducted the talent-laden AAO in the first part of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto De Arunjuez from Sketches of Spain, arranged by Gil Evans and orchestrated by Eugene Ball. Percussion and a sweeping orchestral passage ushered in soloist Phil Slater as Miles in a beautifully measured performance. Adrian Sherriff on bass trombone provided fantastic depth, Scott Tinkler and Paul Williamson joined Ball on trumpets and Stephen Magnusson on guitar seemed to find just the right time to play a few significant chords. The orchestra created magnificently sweeping vistas, and Ball’s muted horn was light and ethereal.

Any Miles fans would have been convinced of his return, on this night, in this place.

Tony Williams — drummer with Miles Davis Quartet from the mid to late sixties — composed Black Comedy (from Miles in the Sky), which Grabowsky, who was the arranger for this outing, said “changes meter constantly”. This was a change to punchy, spiky music. Erkki Veltheim on violin and Sandy Evans were featured, and there were solos from Paul Cutlan on sax and Simon Barker on drums. Energetic stuff, but no real preparation for what was to come after interval.

Tomlinson, Tinkler and Veltheim
Tomlinson, Tinkler and Veltheim

First up was a world premiere of Anthony Pateras’ composition Ontetradecagon, which he said arose from the idea that at the time of On the Corner being released in 1971, Miles was exposed to electronic pieces by Stockhausen. Pateras saw the album as having “the sound of someone going outside their comfort zone”, so he set out to feel “as unsafe as possible” in this project. He cut sections of On the Corner tracks to make 70 loops on a Revox B77 tape machine, considering these “plunderphonic” and drawing on James Tenney’s Blue Suede, which also used tape.

(The term plunderphonic had been new to me until last week, during the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, when the NMIT Laptop Orchestra played Adrian Sherriff’s Study No. 2 (For Jan Stole Who), the title an anagram of John Oswald, of Plunderphonic fame, whose work it plundered.)

Pateras worked the loops into a 20-minute tape, then made sure the pitches from the loops matched what he was calling on the ensemble to produce, so that both live music and tape input were of equal importance. Pateras had six sub-groups of players, so that some were playing from the sides and back of the space.

So how did it work in practice? Vanessa Tomlinson, Scott Tinkler and Erkki Veltheim launched the piece in almost complete darkness, offering subdued growls, blaring notes and high-pitched spikes. Later reeds came in from the right, and tuba with trombones from the left. The reeds and ‘bones echoed Tinkler’s high spikes, and Veltheim contributed a similarly high-pitched shimmer. I was wishing for lower pitches.

At one stage the hall seemed to be full of chattering monkeys, agitated insects. A bass clarinet started munching before more lush chatter and then machinegun runs of sound. There was agitation, wailing, sirens or mournful wails — a sense of urgency before some slow, sweeping brass took over. Clearly conveyed in the dark came a sound akin to masticating for us to chew on. The agitation continued. There was bustle and unrest and mayhem.

The piece finished. Was Miles still in the audience, or had he left the building?

Phillip Rex as DJ Davis
Phillip Rex as DJ Davis

Maybe he had slipped out to a rave party, or to find some drugs. That would have suited the final contribution for the night, Phillip Rex’s work Black Satin, which he led from his laptop in centre stage. He had the facility to bring in instruments at will and vary their input from the laptop live as the musicians on stage made their contribution. Rex acknowledged after the gig that this piece would probably work better in a setting where people could dance or move freely to the music.

Paul Williamson and Elliott Dalgleish
Paul Williamson and Elliott Dalgleish

There did not seem to be a direct or indirect connection to Miles, but Grabowsky did say it was appropriate to ask “If he were alive, what would Miles Davis be doing now?” Maybe hip-hop and rave parties would be his scene.

I like to be stretched and these works after interval did that. I found Pateras’s work easier to warm to than Rex’s piece, mainly because more happened and it never lacked interest. But my pick of the night by far was the music from Sketches of Spain.

A final comment: What a fantastic array of talent was on stage for this gig. Everywhere you looked in the rows of musicians were the faces of great musicians — not imported musos, but locals. We should value them more, whatever occasional pain they cause us on the stretching rack.

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One response to “MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 5

  1. David Anthony

    Roger – good summary of the evening although , for me, Anthony Pateras’ piece was more an enjoyable piece of musical theatre than just a piece of music. Did enjoy Phillip Rex’ take on Black Satin – an innovative approach to how Miles might have progressed. The Anthony Pateras composition made me think of some lively discussions on another blog “Jazzblog.ca – Ottawa Citizen” – more tolerance maybe needed by all views and we might each of us try to concede and not worry that you can’t like or understand everything – keep an open mind and keep looking forward without completely ignoring the past.
    Also enjoyed our brief talk at interval at the Town Hall.
    Keep up the good work – love the blog

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