Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2022
As we ponder life’s imponderables – such as, was Scott Morrison ever sworn in as arts minister? – the launch of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival draws our eyes to the heavens.
The festival is back in town for 10 days from Friday 14 October, freed from the onerous constraints of Covid-19 (still here, but largely being ignored) and sporting its first global line-up in three years.
That’s great, but what’s immediately intriguing is the prospect – over two nights – of gazing at the dome of Melbourne’s Planetarium at Scienceworks while algorithmically generated animated visual effects play out in response to US pianist Dan Tepfer’s programming of a Yamaha Disklavier to react to his improvisations in an outing dubbed Natural Machines.
That’s just one of the special concerts likely to lure crowds of music lovers out for an eclectic program with more than 400 artists from 13 countries in 85 events at 25 venues.
Festival artistic director, Michael Tortoni, is happy.
“Now, with borders open once more, I am absolutely thrilled to open the festival, and this city, back up to the world with the best jazz musicians and performers from across the country and around the globe set to converge here this October. It’s going to be a hell of a party,” he said.
Another, delayed for a year by border closures, is Disruption! The Voice of Drums, in which saxophonist composer Jeremy Rose is joined by drummers Simon Barker and Chloe Kim, along with the Earshift Orchestra, to explore the power of the drum in disruption, protest, ceremony and healing. Video artists Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig will contribute images to this work at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
As the nation moves towards enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution, the festival brings two significantly relevant contributions. In a family-friendly premiere concert at Chapel Off Chapel, Emma Donovan will celebrate country, kids, community and language in Follow the Sun, including her childhood stories and some songs in Noongar and Gumbaynggirr languages.
At MRC, proud Yuin woman and saxophonist Brenda Gifford premieres her commissioned work about whales as First Nations Artist in residence, accompanied by nephew Joe Brown McLeod (didjeridoo, clapsticks) and Australian Art Orchestra members.
At The Jazzlab on opening night, Freedman Fellowship Award finalist Flora Carbo – as leader of this year’s Take Note artist development and gender equity initiative – presents the second festival commission, Ecosystem, which will explore place, environmentalism and social change by drawing on sounds of the city.
A day-long special event, Big Saturday at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, has been well publicised and will feature eight-piece New Zealand band Fat Freddy’s Drop along with funk and soul exponents The Bamboos, soul siren Emma Donovan and and The Putbacks, and Cat Empire’s Harry James Angus on horn and vocals in a duo with Freja Hooper on drums.
In a special event for fans of silent films, The Merry Frolics of Melieres will bring footage by Georges Melieres to the screen accompanied by Phillip Johnston (USA) scores played by an exceptional ensemble including Alister Spence, Daryl Pratt, Lloyd Swanton.
There are two anniversary celebrations of note at Chapel Off Chapel. All-female quintet Morgana – Lisa Young, Fiona Burnett, Andrea Keller, Annette Yates and Sonja Horbelt – will reunite to revisit the brand of jazz they played 30 years earlier.
And The Shuffle Club of “rapscallion raconteurs” comprising Ashley Gaudion sax, Paul Griska double bass, Rodney Gilbert drums and Dannie Bourne keyboard – all also on vocals – will be joined by guests Nina Ferro and Julie O’Hara to recall 21 years of jazz, swing, blues and boogie.
With borders now open to international artists, the festival can welcome performers from abroad – most from the USA, but others with links to Chile, Italy, South Korea, Finland, Israel and Brazil.
Joining the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall for two nights on her first visit to Australia, five-time Grammy Award winner and ‘First Daughter of Soul’ Lalah Hathaway (USA) will honour her father Donny’s legacy as a singer, arranger and composer of soul music.
Another Grammy award winner, electric and acoustic guitar virtuoso and prolific recording artist Al Di Meola (USA) will fuse jazz with world styles at MRC.
Electric bassist Dywane Thomas Jnr, aka MonoNeon, promises a wild ride for audience members at 170 Russell St with a five-piece band playing southern soul, funk, jazz and blues.
Club sessions offer an opportunity to see international artists up close. Drummer Pheeroan akLaff (USA) will collaborate at The Jazzlab with Sunny Kim voice (South Korea), Mike Nock piano, Peter Farrar saxophone and Helen Svoboda bass.
In another club outing, keyboardist Brett Williams (USA) will join Kate Kelsey-Sugg to deliver the blend of pop, R&B and soul that has made B+K well known in America.
Grammy nominee Melissa Aldana, a Brooklyn-based saxophonist from Chile, will bring her quartet – including Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund – to present compositions from her 2022 Blue Note album 12 Stars over two outings at The Jazzlab.
Well known to audiences in Western Australia, US-based pianist Tal Cohen (Israel) will perform two sets at The Jazzlab – a duo with long-time collaborator saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and a quartet adding in Alistair Peel on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums.
Drummer composer Francesca Remigi (Italy) will join Federico Calcagno on bass clarinet and Melbourne musicians in another club session to present her Archipelagos project, drawing on influences including modern jazz, prog rock, Indian Carnatic music, electronic and free jazz.
Also at The Jazzlab, acclaimed harpist Iro Haarla (Finland) will explore Nordic minimalism with bassist composer Jonathan Zwartz in a world premiere of Suite Suomi, a journey through remote landscapes of light and shade.
Renowned pianist/composer Mike Nock (New Zealand, but Australia claims him) will revisit his Ondas album in a trio club outing, joined by Chloe Kim (drums and percussion) and Jacques Emery (bass).
As well as welcoming overseas performers, Chapel Off Chapel is playing host to an “export series” of concerts intended to showcase Australian artists to the world and build on links with other festivals such as those in Tokyo and Wellington.
Emma Donovan’s Follow the Sun is one. Another is electric bassist Chris Hale’s airing of his new album Ritual Diamonds, in which his melodies are interwoven with complex rhythms from South Korea’s percussionist Minyoung Woo, who draws on shamanic drumming of that country’s Eastern seaboard.
Other bands MIJF is keen to spread word about who will perform at Chapel Off Chapel are NSW cinematic jazz rock group Brekky Boy, Zela Margossian Quintet from Sydney and pianist Andrea Keller’s original Transients trio with Julien Wilson and Sam Anning.
The full MIJF program is now available on the festival website, including details of free Jazz Westside gigs in the City of Moonee Valley and in Footscray, including Kidstruments Live! featuring I Hold the Lion’s Paw playing musical gadgets. There are free lunchtime concerts at St James and University Square, plus Close Encounters – intimate conversations including a session on the mental health of working musicians.
Best of all – apart from the return of such a full program with overseas and Australian artists – the late night, free jam sessions are back featuring The Rookies. How can the night not end on a high note when the jam is hosted by Greg Sher on alto saxophone, Tom Sly on trumpet, Joel Trigg on piano, Oscar Neyland on bass and Chris Cameron on drums?