Stu Hunter

Sweet suite: Stu Hunter

GIG: WPAC theatre, 1pm, Sat, October 30

Stu Hunter piano, Matt Keegan tenor sax, Jonathan Zwartz acoustic bass, Simon Barker drums, Julien Wilson tenor sax, James Greening trombone and pocket trumpet

THIS suite won Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year at the Bell Awards and Best Independent Jazz album in the Independent Music Awards. I loved the album (see Ausjazz review), but had not heard the music live.

Live it was … is. Alive. Inventive. In the moment. After Hunter and Keegan solos, Greening exudes rich blurts of sound. A heart-stopping solo from Wilson and you can feel the intensity of feeling in the room. Barker slowly covers his drum kit with an orange cloth, then plays over the covering.

Simon Barker

Under cover: Simon Barker

Wilson’s tenor shimmies higher, Keegan’s goes lower. There is no piano, no bass, no ‘bone. The saxes have the floor, their notes slowly swelling and left hanging.

Barker removes the cloth from his drums. Keegan plays with expression. The jocularity displayed earlier has gone. This is serious music. Hunter’s notes are gently answered by the horns. From Zwartz comes a tiny infusion of lament, delivered with the bow. Reverting to plucked strings, he grimaces as the notes are squeezed from the bass.

Jonathan Swartz

Squeezed notes: Jonathan Zwartz

There is a horn outburst. Greening’s pocket trumpet sounds brighter and sharper. The piano chatters. Drums and bass are in devilish dialogue. That tiny trumpet squeals before being discarded in favour of the trombone. There is a piano soliloquy — deep, solemn, hymn-like chords reverberate before saxes and bowed bass join in.

James Greening

Primal: James Greening on 'bone.

Then there is a change. Barker inserts a definite beat and the saxes glide in over the piano’s reverence. Barker has a chain draped over the kit. He is lost in the rattling percussion he creates. Zwartz adds depth. The saxes bid us ta ta while the trombone adds some wah-wah. This is physical sound, visceral, alive, animal. The beat is building momentum. Greening gives us guttural gravel sounds, his ‘bone crying out, wailing and shaking as if driven from within. Suddenly his playing is soft for a moment, then it blares forth. It is primal, earthy, from the beginnings of life. This is what brass is all about — twisted, bent, tortured and throat-clearing.

The saxes join in. Meanwhile bass, piano and drums have kept up a relentless background pattern. Tension is building. Barker goes beserk. He is having an episode, a plosive fit, a sudden and unpredictable outburst that scatters all before it.

Simon Barker

Beserk: Simon Barker on drums.

What will come next? Piano is delivered in staccato bursts, in little forays out of the trenches. Then Hunter, by contrast, is left alone to skit across the keyboard, his left hand delivering a dramatic rhythm. He builds and holds the tension. He skips across the keys. Then the others jump in. Wilson growls his way in, followed by Keegan, then the solo trombone — each is playing over a structure underpinned by piano, bass and drums. Keegan embarks on an escapade. Gradually volume and expectation are heightened. It is like a volcano about to erupt.  Then one tiny note ends it.

This was a gathering not to have missed. Surely no one left without being entranced and engrossed.

Stu Hunter ensemble

The Gathering ensemble: Hunter, Wilson, Keegan, Zwartz, Barker and Greening.


  1. Hi Roger,
    I saw you in the distance at lots of the gigs at Wang, my partner Des knows you from many Melbourne Jazz gigs, I think I met you at one too. It was my first Wangaratta Jazz fest and it was pretty amazing, particularly Stu Hunter. I was completely blown away by these performances, I bought the albums and have been playing them constantly. To see a suite of music played through like that was so awsome. I had never heard of Stu until that moment, and what a moment! Good to see someone is doing a blog and trying to spread the word, the Jazz thing is pretty light on out there!

    • Stu Hunter’s suites were really something. I heard only the start of The Muse, then had to duck out. I think The Gathering really benefited from the addition of Julien Wilson and James Greening. As you say, we need to get the jazz message out because there is lots out there crying out for an audience. Did you get to Mike Nock’s quintet? His double CD An Accumulation of Subtleties is excellent.

  2. Oh, meant to say, great photos. I took a few nice ones, but not in the main hall.

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