MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 6

FORUM ON IDENTITY AT THE WHEELER CENTRE

Paul Grabowsky was the consummate moderator for this discussion, which had in the panel Charles Lloyd, Martin Jackson, Theo Bleckmann and, at late notice, Gian Slater. It was a great success and I understand it was recorded for broadcast on the ABC. They covered a lot of ground, starting with how jazz is defined, how the local scene had changed, and the ways in which genres and demarcations in music are being broken down.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd

Lloyd related a story from Bernie Grundman, who masters Lloyd’s albums, about a friend who took a much younger girlfriend at Bennetts Beach. She came in to find him listening to Bill Evans and, surprised, commented: “You actually listen to music”. Lloyd said music was “healing” and could “change the molecules in the room”.

Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann looks for people who listen

Bleckmann asked the Wheeler Centre audience how many actually listened to music without doing anything else, and was surprised at how many hands went up. He was optimistic about how being part of the music scene, buying albums, going to gigs and talking about the music was valuable.

Lloyd called for wakefulness to avoid the sleepwalking that “is wanted by a certain society”.

Martin Jackson
Martin Jackson

Jackson said he was not pessimistic about the Melbourne sccene, only about state politicians. He thanked Sophie Brous for having done “a fantastic job with this festival” and, in a moving comment, recalled not having listened to any music for 3-4 days after his father died and splitting from a long-time partner. It was in Coltrane’s music that he eventually found solace.

These are only a few snippets from this forum. Forums are a great idea and there should be more of them. My only reservation in this instance was that Slater, who was given late notice that Allan Browne could not make it, and Bleckmann did not get a chance to say quite as much. Perhaps the number of panelists could be reduced, but probably it is just how things work out on the day.

Gian Slater
Gian Slater

DOUBLE BILL: JASON MORAN SOLO at BMW Edge

After the forum I hurried to BMW Edge for a short, but engrossing set by Jason Moran on piano. Opening with the words “This is a piano”, Moran let loose an assortment of sampled voices and sounds. This was clearly not going to be an ordinary piano recital. Among the words that flowed as Moran played were (I think) Edward VIII saying, “At long last I am able to say a few words of my own”, Nikita Khrushchev saying to Richard Nixon, “The time has passed when ideas scare us”, and Jelly Roll Morton saying, “Jazz is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm. When you have plenty rhythm with your plenty swing, it becomes beautiful.”

In a piece written by or for Moran’s former teacher Jaki Byard, there were tempo changes, a ragtime melody, strong chords followed by dancing notes, varied dynamics, plosive outbursts and beautiful runs up and down the keyboard before a fragment of familiar melody. Moran changed the mood on a dime, so to speak. He then played in sync with a talking woman’s voice as she prattled about breaking down barriers between the art world and the general public. Magic, inventive stuff.

Moran seemed to improvise to electronic static in his penultimate piece, which gradually assumed a hymn-like feel. His clearly defined notes were unhurried, rich in resonance and simple, with some sharp, dissonant attacks. He turned up the volume on sampling in his final number.

As Moran would say in his forum appearance on Saturday, the rich jazz tradition from which he has emerged is important to him, but that still leaves him the freedom to appreciate excursions away from that tradition. His solo appearance bears that out.

Jason Moran
Jason Moran

AHMAD JAMAL at Melbourne Recital Centre

Unwisely I left at the break and dashed to the Recital Centre for Ahmad Jamal, but was too unsettled there. Switching concerts is almost always a mistake, I find, because it is hard to approach the new gig in anything but a rushed frame of mind.
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I had wanted to hear the second set at the Edge, so I was not as receptive to Ahmad Jamal’s quartet — James Cammack on bass, Manolo Badrena on percussion and Herlin Riley on drums (replacing Kenny Washington) — as I should have been. The music seemed too lush and splendiforous, the piano playing too expansive and lacking the space.

Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I was forced to fend off Melbourne Recital Centre staff who thought I was filming video, and then (the last straw) I was asked to move out of the seat I had been told to sit in when I arrived. I left and returned to BMW Edge. An enduring image as I left was of Manolo Badrena surrounded by what seemed like a barricade of percussion devices, almost as though he was performing from a cage. In fact the ensemble seemed to have a lot of clutter on stage and that seemed to suit the extravagance and fussiness of their music. I longed for a piercing horn note or a single piano note to hang shimmering in the air.

Manolo Badrena
Manolo Badrena

So I left and returned to the Edge. That was a great gig.

DOUBLE BILL:
OEHLERS, HARLAND, GRABOWSKY, ROGERS at BMW Edge

Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers
Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers

Somehow it was easy to reconnect to this gig, despite missing the start of the set. My feeling is that as the set progressed there was gradually more integration between these four highly skilled players. Of course that is just an impression, but it felt for a while we were feeling lots of energy, but that Oehlers was a little more muted than usual and that Grabowsky was able to hold his own (again, there’s that competitive metaphor) against Rogers and Harland.

Reuben Rogers
Reuben Rogers

But later in the set Oehlers let go in a long solo and that seemed to establish his presence, so that this robust quartet was able to drive towards an engrossing finish that helped obliterate my abortive bid earlier to switch venues. I doubt that many left the Edge unsatisfied with the Double Bill.

Harland and Oehlers
Harland and Oehlers

THE CLAUDIA QUINTET at Bennetts Lane.

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

Chris Speed and Drew Gress
Chris Speed and Drew Gress

Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman
Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman

Drew Gress
Drew Gress

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

More details and pics to come.

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