Xani Kolac Project, Bennetts Lane, Sunday 6 December, 8pm
Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Dec 3 — 13, 2015
Line-up: Xani Kolac electric violin/vocals, Arlene Fletcher double bass, Nat Grant percussion/vibraphone, Leah Zweck viola and guest Mark Leahy on drum kit
I first encountered Xani Kolac back in April 2010 when she played her electric violin solo from a tiny, elevated “secret space” in the Brood Box Gallery during one of the best of Melbourne’s Jazz Fringe festivals. She made a strong impression, performing four original compositions in her debut with a laptop, sending soaring surges of sound sashaying into the room below. Her closing number ended with the words, “I’ll play whatever I like because I choose to die happy”.
Kolac, who many will know from her work in The Twoks with Mark Leahy, is an exhilarating, volatile artist who exudes excitement and invites expectations of the unexpected. This ensemble, formed especially for the MWIJF, promised “a musical exploration of the tension between the asymmetry in loneliness and the symmetry of coming home”.
Perhaps that’s what we were given, but at evening’s end I came away with a lingering and sustaining sense of uplift that arose from diversity and virtuosity provided by these musicians, who, as was pointed out at the beginning, were chosen “not just because they [Mark excepted] are women, but because they are awesome musicians”.
Zweck’s viola brought depth and resonance to the opening Adagio, Grant’s vibes were exquisite in Little Green Ball and her intricate, nuanced solo that followed. The ensemble’s version of The Twoks’ brand new song Christmas Time was a hoot.
Opening the second set, Fletcher provided a solid foundation for the ensemble’s rendition of her composition Timing, then followed with an all-too-brief solo. Then followed a spectacular achievement — Kolac’s arrangement of Chopin’s Prelude No.4 in E Minor. For a group so newly formed to perform this so well speaks volumes about the calibre of these musicians.
Zweck treated us to a Telemann piece for her solo before Forbidden Fruit (with Grant on drums) and a wild solo improvisation by Kolac that had a Perfect vocal ending. For First Light, a Twoks piece, Fletcher joined in on vocals in a trio of violin, bass and drums. Our spirits were lifted so far that the closing Scalpel failed to slice into our joy.
If the asymmetry Kolac has found in loneliness found expression in this ensemble’s outing then she should be invited to be “coming home” more often and in this august company.
It was a hoot.
Here’s a few pictures from the concert: