MJFF 2011 Opening night concert

Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival 2011 double bill, Melbourne Recital Centre Salon, Friday 29 April

If there was a buzz around Melbourne on Friday evening it was mostly coming from home television screens and the rustle of fabulous frocks. There was, apparently, a wedding in the air. But you’d know that if you happened to the read those groan-inducing Herald Sun and MX headlines: “Kiss me Kate” and “Hair comes the bride”. After the sub-editing high of “Smug as a mug in a rug” for Tony Mokbel a week or so back, those lines were a signal to stay well away from anything cliched. So I did, heading along St Kilda Rd on one of those blue bike share machines with my head encased in a $5 helmet subsidised so kindly by the city council. I was ready neither for pomp nor ceremony, but rather for the start of The Fringe.

Peter Knight

Peter Knight launches Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival 2011

Trumpeter and composer Peter Knight launched the festival on behalf of the MJFF organising committee, thanking sponsors and throwing in a mention of Miriam Zolin‘s extempore journal, which will celebrate the launch of writer John Clare’s book Take Me Higher at Readings in Carlton on Thursday, 19 May, hosted by Helen Garner. (The word is that jazz fans may have to duck out early to catch the opening night of Stonnington Jazz at Malvern Town Hall. But I digress.

MAG duo
Stephen Magnusson guitar, Rajiv Jayaweera drums

Magnusson & Jayaweera

MAG duo: Magnusson & Jayaweera

It had been a long while since I’d heard Stephen Magnusson, and his duo with Jayaweera was new to me. To be honest, I probably would have enjoyed anything that these two played, because I was overdue for live music. In the event Magnusson seemed more gentle and melodic in his approach than is sometimes the case, and I found myself warming to the duo as the players gathered momentum during the set.

Stephen Magnusson

Stephen Magnusson

I have often been seized and held mesmerised by Magnusson when he’s on fire, with his guitar seeming like a living thing, but on this occasion the musicians, their rapport and mutual enjoyment obvious, delivered a sprinkling of good spirits in what evolved into a fast-paced dance. It was lively, light and fun.

The duo was billed as performing “improvised pieces based on themes by Magnusson, Waits and Walker”, but I know only that they played a Tom Waits piece entitled Ruby’s Arms. I would think that most of the small audience in the Salon, few of them loyal monarchists, would have liked to hear more from MAG duo.

Raj Jayaweera

Raj Jayaweera

Andrea Keller Quartet with strings

Eugene Ball trumpet, Ian Whitehurst tenor saxophone, Andrea Keller piano, Niko Schauble drums & electronics
Richard Keuneman violin, Marianne Rothschild violin, Ceridwen Davies viola, Naomi Wileman cello

It’s worth noting that Niko Schauble was sitting in for Joe Talia, who is abroad, and that he utilised a laptop with some pre-recorded effects.

Andrea Keller's work "Place"

Andrea Keller's work "Place"

Keller’s commissioned work, Place, came into being after Genevieve Lacey, director of the Four Winds Festival held at Bermagui in NSW, asked the pianist/composer to write a larger work inspired by the concept of place. Some time after Keller had agreed, she was invited to spend a few days Bermagui in the hope that this would create a link to the work. Keller was offered the chance to utilise the string quartet.

Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller

Place has seven parts: From Nature’s Fabric, Guluga (the “main mother mountain” in the area), Drying Out, Black Swan, Wondrous Extravagance, Wave Rider, Belonging.

As Keller said in her introduction, the work had been performed before only at the festival and in Canberra, so this was Melbourne’s first taste of the whole work. Well, it did not disappoint. I was enthralled and captivated — so much so that I am not going to attempt to describe the piece. It was just wonderful to sit and experience what Keller’s quartet and then the string quartet offered.

Eugene Ball

Eugene Ball

Ian Whitehurst

Ian Whitehurst

To put Place in a context, it brought to mind the Allan Browne Quintet‘s The Drunken Boat and the works of Maria Schneider. There was an unfolding or evolving and many changes of mood signalled by the shifts in texture, timbre and pace. There were restive periods of spiky percussiveness, wonderfully breathy contributions from Ball (on pocket trumpet and silver-foil-wrapped trumpet) and Whitehurst and lots of space for expectation to build. The resonance of the cello was beautifully used. Schauble was, as always, able to intervene with finesse and never to intrude.

Richard Keuneman on violin

Richard Keuneman on violin

Ceridwen Davies on viola

Ceridwen Davies on viola

Naomi Wileman on cello

Naomi Wileman on cello

This does not do the work justice, but to be about as cliched as a royal wedding commentator in full flight, you had to be there. A recording was made and the Salon is a great space, so perhaps Place will be aired on radio. Eventually Keller plans to make a studio recording, so that’s something to look forward to.

So, on with the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival. There’s a lot to hear, so call past the festival website or pick up a program.

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