REVIEW: Melbourne Jazz Co-operative 30th Anniversary Concert — Sunday, January 27 at The Edge, Federation Square at 2pm
The music spoke most eloquently at The Edge on Sunday, but some perceptive words accompanied it. Paul Grabowsky, one of three musicians to perform at the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s first concert, held at RMIT’s Glasshouse Theatre on the Sunday afternoon of January 30, 1983, was obviously struggling to plumb the mystery of Arts Victoria‘s decision to cut the purse strings.
Before joining the other original MJC artist, Allan Browne, in a trio with Frank Di Sario — who in a way was sitting in for esteemed bassist, the late Gary Costello — Grabowsky said that, after listening to the earlier two sets, he could only wonder why any arts funding body would choose to cut support for music such as this.
He also reminded us that the development of music is as important as the playing of it, so the role of this co-operative is integral to the individual styles and works of Australian musicians.
Other words that added to the music commemorating this anniversary came from reedsman Julien Wilson, who has campaigned vigorously on behalf of the MJC. He said that, despite the significant loss being faced by professional musicians, ever since the halt in funding “every time I play it feels like a celebration”.
This concert to honour 30 years of achievement was bitter sweet. Arts Victoria’s timing was so bad. Yet Wilson spoke for the audience and the other musicians: this felt like a celebration.
Any one of the three sets could have served as musical sustenance enough. This was inspired programming by the MJC’s Martin Jackson — there was sufficient difference in approach from each trio, yet not such a radical change as to make any in the audience uncomfortable.
Pianist Andrea Keller joined bassist Tamara Murphy and Browne at the drum kit in a first set that was beguilingly beautiful, delivered by Keller with compelling strength and presence, and by Browne with his characteristic ability to let his body freely express feelings with stick, brush or hands. Murphy seems to play better each time she performs.
The trio played Keller’s compositions All Colours Grey (Parts 1 and 2) and That Day, Murphy’s Travellers and Lullaby and Browne’s Cyclosporin.
Before the set ended, Keller played two pieces from an unreleased solo recording, Family Portraits, in which she used a loop pedal. This technique, which had the pianist’s head disconcertingly disappearing as she bent to adjust settings, was especially effective in Without Voice, a tribute to the three grandparents she had never met.
Opening the second set with three solo pieces, expatriate pianist/composer Barney McAll displayed his flair, virtuosity and engaging humour, though he did not bring along his zombie clown puppet Feral Junior as he did recently to performances at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. Now residing in New York, McAll is an example of how the MJC can nurture an artist of talent and originality.
Saxophonist Wilson, forced to improvise without his usual trio, joined McAll and Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz in their debut outing together. It was fascinating to watch McAll and Zwarts observe, adjust and make this trio work.
Wilson, who admitted to possibly channelling the Mingus tune Goodbye Pork Pie Hat towards the end of his unnamed composition, played with iridescent beauty throughout the set.
Highlights were the Wilson and McAll solos in Hermeto Pascoal‘s Desencentro Certo (Certain Disencounter), Zwartz’s work in Wilson’s tribute piece entitled H and Wilson’s move to clarinet in Farewell (“a celebration for those who are no longer with us”), which was enlivened by Browne sitting in on drums.
Another farewell, Grabowsky’s tribute to Gary Costello entitled Abschied, opened the final set with Di Sario and Browne. This dark, compelling piece was followed by Last King of Poland and the energetic Cryptostatic, with a segue into Psalm.
Di Sario and Browne gave Grabowsky space in this set, but were ready to intervene spiritedly.
It felt as if the auditorium was concentrating as one as the trio began the world premiere of Grabowsky’s Love Like A Curse. There was an encore, but I would have preferred to have this concert end with the consummate profundity of that composition.
Out beside the microphone from which 3PBS-FM program manager Owen McKern so capably hosted this MJC gig was an empty chair. The idea, previously tried without much success by Clint Eastwood at the US Republican National Convention, was that the vacant seat was for Victoria’s Premier, Ted Baillieu.
Eastwood has probably killed off any hope of the empty chair as a potent symbol, but if only the MJC could get Mr Baillieu to come to a concert such as this, I suspect the battle for funding would have some hope of success. Perhaps, to attract him to a gig, fans of jazz and improvised music ought to send him strong vibes of Love Like A Curse.