VINCE JONES: THE AUSTRALIAN SONGBOOK at Malvern Town Hall
Heartfelt: Vince Jones
Yes Stonnington Jazz is off and running. Vince Jones sang his heart out in the opening concert, adding lyrics to original compositions by Australian musicians. The emotion was written all over Vince’s face and he sang with conviction, even tackling political issues to a degree that had Stonnington’s young mayor, Tim Smith, convinced the songs came from Mao’s Little Red Book.
Artistic director of the festival, Adrian Jackson, reminded us it was Stonnington Jazz’s fifth year before Jones came on stage with Aaron Flower on guitar, Simon Barker on drums, Ben Waples on bass and musical director for the evening Matt McMahon on piano. As usual in one of Jackson’s festivals, it was an interesting concept, with Jones adding lyrics to “absolutely beautiful songs” by Australian musicians.
So how did it work? Well, I may as well be up front about my general preference for music without words, though that’s an individual thing. I just find most often that I love the music between the vocals more than the words, which bring an obligation to worry about the meaning. But that’s irrelevant to how Jones and guests performed at Malvern Town Hall.
Some longstanding fans of Vince Jones — and there are plenty — told me he did more singing at this concert than at earlier gigs. It was, after all, his opportunity to create a songbook. I’m not sure Jones’s voice is all that strong, particularly in the higher registers, so I found him most impressive in his conviction and presence. It’s a hackneyed phrase to say someone wears their heart on their sleeve, but Jones can definitely move an audience. And I am always impressed by a singer who makes no apology for taking on controversial issues in their lyrics — it’s honest and it’s unashamedly a bid to challenge the audience with the power of the ideas.
Jones opened with The Three Sisters (Jones/Barney McAll), which was about three women he met during a uranium mining protest in Arnhem Land. It worked well enough, but This Is The Woman (Jones/McMahon), written about his mother, seemed to have some twee lines in the lyrics. The Doug De Vries classic The Nature of Power, with Julien Wilson joining in on saxophone, seemed once again to suit Jones, and his question about the absence of a modern Tolstoy, Martin Luther King or Gandhi was poignant. A stab at George W. Bush came in Luncheon with The President, and again this worked well. Jones has a naivety and sincerity that allows him to sing “hate is the absence of love” and “lies are the absence of truth” in a way that resists cynicism.
Mike Nock, Dale Barlow and Vince Jones
Mike Nock on piano and Dale Barlow on flute joined in for The Rainbow Cake (Grabowsky/Jones). Then came a first-set highlight — Nock’s composition from the album Dark and Curious, Embracing You, with Nock on piano. This was a moving piece and suited Jones’s empathetic vocals, as did the final song before the break, Blue — which followed Coloured Strands featuring a solo by Flower. There is something frank and earnest (and this is not a reference to the radio show) about Vince Jones and it comes across best in a ballad.
Vince Jones on flugelhorn
I’ve rabbited on too long, but the second set began with the global environment song Jettison, with the message that we are the captains of this green pearl we call Earth and we can stave off the inevitable. I liked the emotion, but thought Jones’s voice was not quite strong enough to carry the message. Reconciled, including a great piano solo from Matt McMahon, was a ballad ideal for Jones’s vocals.
We Let Them Do It (McMahon/Jones) was inspired by Nigerian poet and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who with nine others was hanged by Nigerian dictator General Abacha in 1995 for fighting against oil companies Mobil, Chevron, Texaco and Shell. The rhythmic strength of McMahon, Waples and Barker was ideally suited to the message, and Flower contributed a strong solo over Barker’s drums.
Dale Barlow and, behind, Aaron Flower
Dale Barlow soloed on his composition The Glass House, and then Julien Wilson returned for a solo in his piece The Rebellious Bird, with Jones’s lyrics effective: “… deride me, displace me, still I will rise”.
Swingin’: Mike Nock
Mike Nock led a lesson in swing, helped by Dale Barlow on sax, in Can’t Afford to Lose (Jones/B. McAll), leaving few across the crowded town hall who were not moving some part of their anatomy to the beat.
Jones on Nock watch
Then Jones, after listing a host of musicians he has valued greatly, including bassist the late Gary Costello, sang My Baby Comes To Me, inspired by musician Russell Smith, who I think suffered the loss of a daughter in an accident. To me this was the most beautiful song of the night, with Waples’ bass giving strength while McMahon’s piano allowed for sadness.
It was a great close to the Australian Songbook.
The audience seemed a little reluctant to call the musicians back, but Jones and McMahon responded with the simply powerful Call Me (Jones/Mcmahon) as an encore.
Stonnington Jazz started well. Ausjazz blog will cover many of the gigs at this festival, which runs until May 30. For details of concerts, visit the festival website.
Jones et al