SYDNEY’S MOTHERSHIP LANDS BRIEFLY IN MELBS

Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, Chapel Off Chapel, Monday, May 23 as part of Stonnington Jazz, 2011

Carl Morgan guitar; Hugh Barrett piano; Brendan Clarke contrabass; Jamie Cameron drums & cymbals; David Theak, Murray Jackson, Richard Maegraith, Mike Rivett, James Loughnan saxophones; Darryl Carthew, Angus Gomm, Simon Frenci, Ken Allars trumpets; Jeremy Borthwick, Lucian McGuiness, Danny Carmichael, Justin Kearin trombones; Kristin Berardi guest vocalist

Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O'Connor conducts the Mothership in "Rationalisations".

An earlier post recorded Joseph O’Connor’s win in the 2011 National Big Band Composition Competition, with his piece Rationalisations. Runners up were (in no particular order) Cameron Earle and Alice Humphries. There were 22 entries, so making the finals was a significant achievement and conducting the JMO must have been a thrill. I arrived late (not following festival artistic director Adrian Jackson‘s advice to “read your program”), so I heard only part of Earle’s piece, Run Run. What I heard was vigorous and pretty full-on.

Alice Humphries conducts JMO in "The Mending"

Alice Humphries conducts JMO in "The Mending"

For the record, if I’d had to judge I would have favoured Humphries’ composition The Mending, which had a strong feeling from the beginning that it was heading somewhere as well as the light and shade evident also in Rationalisations. I love that feeling of tension and sense of momentum, especially from a big band. The Mothership Orchestra really delivered in all three competition pieces.

Band leader David Theak kept us in suspense during Mike Nock‘s piece Hadrian’s Wall, arranged by Murray Jackson, which began the second set. Then he announced the competition winner before the orchestra played Florian Ross‘s Teen Adventure, with solid solos from Mike Rivett and James Loughnan, and the trumpeter buried up the back on the right.

Kristin Berardi aboard the Mothership

Kristin Berardi aboard the Mothership

Then Kristin Berardi joined the band for Moonbeams (Berardi, arr. Florian Ross), Mr Jackson (Berardi, arr. Ross Irwin), My One and Only Love (Guy Wood, arr. Steve Newcomb) and Ode to Oli (Berardi, arr. Ross).

For a vocals skeptic, which I usually am, this was a valuable part of my education. Berardi’s gestures are compelling and her voice equally so, with depth, dynamic variation and range. I can’t write technically about vocalists, or much in music for that matter, but I found myself making a comparison (actually a contrast) between Berardi and Sarah McKenzie. They are, obviously, very different kettles of fish (do fish come in kettles?).

Berardi’s voice has something very distinctive and I warmed to that. I especially loved her song Mr Jackson, about a man in New York who had a lot to say. I felt it succeeded in conveying the feel of this man and could almost picture him rabbiting on. This piece was really swinging and highlights from the band included contributions by Hugh Barrett and Brendan Clarke, Jamie Cameron and a trombonist (not sure of his name).

Jazzhead has released an album entitled, predictably, Kristin Berardi Meets the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra.

Exciting trumpet: Ken Allars with Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

Exciting trumpet: Ken Allars with Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

The JMO finished the set with a premiere of Jackson’s composition Who Do You Think Of Now — in which his solo included some fantastic gobbledegook, squeaky, all-over-the-place stuff that can give you goosebumps, and Lucian McGuiness and Hugh Barrett made strong contributions — and Mr Dodo (Bert Joris), which began with some exciting horn from Ken Allars and followed with a tenor solo from Richard Maegraith before a really tight interlude leading back to Allars’ trumpet.

Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra

Murray Jackson on sax, Richard Maegraith on flute with the Mothership Orchestra

I thought the audience could have scored an encore, but it wasn’t to be. Pity. The whole gig seemed to pass very quickly, but, when you take into account the work involved in rehearsing the competition compositions, this was a busy night for a big band that always seems to shine.

I really enjoyed what the band and conductors did with the three pieces in the first set. Second set highlights were Berardi’s Mr Jackson and the playing of Allars on trumpet.

I should get out to hear more big bands, such as Bennetts Lane Big Band and ATM15, but the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra can land in Melbs any time.

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