Wangaratta streaming

Allan Browne enjoying an outing with Sweethearts in 2013 at Wangaratta.

PREVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues,
Monday 26 October to Sunday 1 November, 2020

When venerated Melbourne drummer and composer Allan Browne died on 13 June 2015, I was deeply saddened, but feeling the loss from a distance while visiting family in Canada.

When jazz musicians gathered to celebrate Browne’s musical life and legacy in a memorial concert on Friday 23 September the following year at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre, I was again absent in Canada – international travel was possible then. So I missed this opportunity to hear musicians who had played with him over the years paying tribute in this event presented by the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative.

So I am looking forward to seeing and hearing the previously unreleased footage from the concert, provided by MJC and aired during the extended seven-day Wangaratta festival, presented digitally in its 30th year due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Of course it won’t be the same as being there in person, but the opportunity to experience excerpts from the memorial concert is welcomed indeed, beginning on Monday 26 October with a quartet featuring Barney McAll, Julien Wilson, Sam Anning and Dom Stitt.

On Tuesday we can tune in to hear a traditional jazz double header with the Margie Lou Dyer Quintet followed by Al’s Emotional Baggage Handlers. Thursday will bring Tim Stevens and Nick Haywood as well as Keller/Murphy/Ball. What a treat to hear all these musicians in such a moving tribute to Al Browne.

Vocalists have always been a hit at Wangaratta over the 29 years in which fans have gathered at that wonderful fulcrum of national and international jazz in regional Victoria. The annual National Jazz Awards this year feature vocalists and during the extended festival we have a chance to hear all 10 finalists – an opportunity not often taken up when there are competing concerts available.

The finalists are Harriett Allcroft (Vic), Briana Cowlishaw (NSW), Olivia Chindamo (Vic), Amelia Evans (Vic), Lucy Iffla (WA), Lauren Henderson (SA), Josh Kyle (Vic), Owen Measday (WA), Rita Satch (Vic) and Jessica Spina (Qld).  In two screenings each night, recordings of the finalists’ work made in their states under Covid-19 restrictions will be aired nightly from Monday 26 October to Friday 30 October, judged by Michelle Nicole, Kristin Berardi and Sam Keevers. Winners and runners up will be announced on Saturday 31 October. Prizes are $7000 and a recording session with Pughouse Studios for the winner, $4000 for the second place and $2000 for third.

Voice will also feature on Wednesday 28 October in a commissioned concert, I Heart Improvisation, of works by Maria Moles on drums, Scott Tinkler on trumpet and, in a co-presentation with the MJC, duo WOLFA, with Jenny Barnes (vocals) and Mick Meagher (electric bass). Expect the unexpected here, and if that’s a cliché (which it is) then bear in mind that afterwards you’ll undoubtedly say, along with a certain PM, “How good is that?”.

Providing the international contribution to this digital festival will be a 90-minute performance entitled The Amersfoot Connection featuring 2018 NJA winner Alex Hirlian’s new work for sextet Arcing Wires (math rock, progressive metal and jazz), Adam Simmons talking and playing in Broodje Hadi and Dutch saxophonist Kika in the Kika Sprangers Large Ensemble. Don’t ask me what math rock entails – we’ll find out.

The national aspect of the festival requires no flights or long drives for musicians or fans. Partnerships with COMA (Creative Original Music Adelaide), SIMA (Sydney Improvised Music Association), the MJC and Australian Jazz Museum in Melbourne have brought us the Jo Lawry Quartet and The New Cabal quartet from SA, Zela Margossian’s quintet from NSW and recently digitised footage from the 1986 Jazz Convention for traditional jazz fans.

Given the challenges 2020 has thrown the arts and entertainment industry, the festival has made provision for viewers to donate to artists while viewing their concerts, with 100 per cent of the donations going directly to that artist.

Musicians from Wangaratta featured include vocalists Emma Christie and Paris Zachariou, swing and band tunes from former festival chair Mark Bolsius and Soli’s Blues Group.

Presentation of this festival against the odds must be applauded given the uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus roller-coaster ride this year. It must have been the worst possible situation in which to plan a festival. Co-artistic director Eugene Ball has admitted that, “in recent months, the format and program have been reimagined and rebuilt many times”.

“However, despite the hurdles that COVID-19 has presented, we have arrived at a program that celebrates the festival’s unique identity and its contribution to the Australian jazz and blues community over the last 30 years,” Ball has said.

And Co-artistic director Zoe Hauptmann adds that, “while this year’s festival differs wildly from the event we envisaged late last year, we are proud to have brought together such a rich and diverse program. We hope that there is something in it for every listener; lovers of contemporary jazz, blues, and traditional jazz.”

We may as well be honest and acknowledge that we’d all love to be up in Wangaratta for the usual Cup weekend feast of music, rubbing shoulders with musicians and other fans, soaking up the atmosphere of an esteemed and august festival in its 30th year.

But we can enjoy a week of digital offerings instead and hope that in 2021 we can return to the place we love for this great celebration of jazz and blues.

ROGER MITCHELL

PS: For a look back through some images of past festivals from the past 10-plus years, check out Stills in Motion – A Retrospective on Thursday 29 October.

JAZZ FESTIVAL TO GO VIRAL

Flora Carbo

Flora Carbo will perform with Theo Carbo and Sam Anning.    Image: Roger Mitchell

NEWS

These Digital Times
Presented by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Date: Saturday, 30 May 2020
Tickets: FREE
For details visit melbournejazz.com

For three Saturdays, starting next week, the MIJF will provide a series of live-streamed concerts for us to enjoy from home, given that in-the-flesh live gigs are not possible. Here’s what the MIJF has released about these digital outings:

Next week, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival was scheduled to present their 23rd festival featuring more than 500 Australian and international artists in over 25 venues across Melbourne.

Instead (due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions), MIJF has adapted quickly to present These Digital Times, an online music festival series featuring local and international artists on the last Saturday of May, June and July.

Completely free, These Digital Times will be live-streamed via the MIJF website direct to YouTube with programming from noon to 10.30pm, including music for kids, career development panels for artists and industry as well as performances from emerging artists and the big names in Australian and international jazz and contemporary music.

Broadcast and recorded in high definition from a Melbourne production studio, the live-stream program for These Digital Times has been shaped around some of the amazing artists who live and work in Melbourne.

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Craig Fermanis, Hugh Harvey, Julien Wilson and Chris Hale.       Image: Kym Schreiber

The May line-up includes multi-ARIA award-winning vocalist Kate Ceberano performing songs from her forays into jazz as well as the album launch for saxophonist Julien Wilson’s STOCK project that features Craig Fermanis (electric guitar), Chris Hale (bass guitar) and Hugh Harvey (drums).

In the early afternoon ABC Kids favourites, the Teeny Tiny Stevies, will jazz up their tunes for the whole family and ARIA award-winning neo-soul vocalist, Kaiit will close the night out with her honeyed vocals and fierce rhymes.

Mesmerising vocalist Gretchen Parlato will join her partner, internationally acclaimed drummer and composer Mark Guiliana, in a vocal and drum duo project recorded in isolation from their home studio in America.

While violin-wizard, Luca Ciarla, will transcend boundaries between music genres and stream a solo looping violin set direct from Italy.

MIJF CEO Hadley Agrez explains that These Digital Times provides a free and accessible experience for audiences direct to their homes as well as much-needed opportunities for musicians, artists and arts workers during COVID-19 restrictions.

These Digital Times has been conceived and developed in conjunction with The Vizard Foundation and is also supported by the Victorian government through Creative Victoria (as principal government partner) and the City of Melbourne (as major government partner).

“We are very grateful for the generous support provided by our partners, which allows us to pay our artists for their time and work in the same way we usually would for our annual festival,” said Agrez.

“These Digital Times will bring some of the best jazz and contemporary music from around Melbourne and the world direct to people’s homes in a format that ensures our artists, audiences and staff remain safe at all times,” highlighted Agrez.

Following each monthly These Digital Times program, content will be available for another four weeks on the MIJF website.

MIJF will announce the July line-up for These Digital Times soon via the MIJF website and social media channels.

May 30 program:
Noon  Career Development Panel: Surviving & Thriving
1.30pm  Teeny Tiny Stevies (Australia)
3pm  Flora Carbo with Theo Carbo and Sam Anning (Australia)
4pm  Luca Ciarla (Italy)
5pm  Julien Wilson’s STOCK (Australia – album launch)
7pm  Kate Ceberano (Australia)
8.30pm  Gretchen Parlato & Mark Guiliana (USA)
9.30pm  Kaiit (Australia)

June 27 program:

10.30am Nat Bartsch’s Lullaby Project (Australia)
11am Career Development Panel: Old Media, New Media
12pm Kathleen Halloran Trio (Australia)
1.30pm Solomon Sisay (Australia)
3.30pm Federico Casagrande (Italy)
5pm Andrea Keller’s Five Below – Life is Brut[if]al (Australia – album launch)
7pm Joe Chindamo & Olivia Chindamo (Australia)
8pm Joey DeFrancesco (USA)
9.15pm The Sugarfoot Ramblers (Australia)

IS INTENSE … IS GOOD?

Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki plays Monk on solo guitar.   Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW
2019 Melbourne International Jazz Festival – May 30 to June 9

“If music’s not intense, it’s not good.” That throwaway line by a wonderful Melbourne musician came as an instant response to my summation of the Vijay Iyer Trio’s outing at The Jazzlab on Sunday, June 2 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

In the trio’s fourth outing at the festival, US pianist Iyer, with Stephan Crump on acoustic bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums delivered a mostly high octane performance that revelled in complex, recurring patterns and delivered propulsion plus. In long and powerful yet intricate pieces, all three trio members seemed to embody their music, tapping into a rhythmic sense deep within them and feeling it so strongly that it erupted out of them.

This outstanding concert was at times mesmeric, yet demanded concentration. Elements within the music were always changing as the trio members’ interplay built tension, held it and then relented, only to build again. As icing on the cake, late in the set Iyer invited two US musicians – rapper Kokayi and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire – to join in briefly before he urged the audience to “do everything we can to stop this tide of fascism” in the world and “keep fighting, keep listening”. The room was won over, without question.

Intensity surely is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for good music, but this year’s eclectic MIJF offered many potent and passion-evoking concerts that brought jazz lovers out of the woodwork, possibly prompting our ad guru Prime Minister Scott Morrison to have Lara ask the perennial question: Where the bloody hell are you (for the rest of the year)?

Small, crowded venues definitely help deliver intensity. But often it is down to who’s on stage and the sheer enormity of what they do there. On Tuesday, June 4, Miles Okazaki (USA) in The Jazzlab gave us a taste of his devotion to Thelonious Monk as exemplified in his six-volume album Work, recording 70 Monk compositions on solo guitar.

A better knowledge of Monk would have helped in appreciating subtle nuances, I’m sure, yet this was a truly virtuosic performance offering complexity, dynamic variation, space and swing. With only his foot tapping at times to keep the beat, Okazaki used his guitar as melody maker, rhythm driver and percussion instrument, playing almost continuously for an hour and 20 minutes without charts. Highlights were Crepescule with Nellie and the encore, a Monk arrangement of Tea for Two. The concentration, focus and memory required for this solo effort was amazing.

At this year’s festival, work commitments meant I missed significant Saturday concerts –Gershwin Reimagined, Linda May Han Oh’s Adventurine, the PBS Young Elder of Jazz commissioned work Displacement, Elio Villafranca, and Marginal Consort – many of these in larger venues.

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Herbie Hancock in full flight with his keytar at Hamer Hall.   Image: Roger Mitchell

But I did hear Herbie Hancock, Vinnie Colaiuta, James Genus and Lionel Loueke in the second of their two sold-out concerts at Hamer Hall, which seats almost 2500 people. This felt like a rock concert, albeit in a fairly sedate setting, and the massed fans came ready to express their adoration.

Yet I found this outing by four undoubtedly superb musicians to have an unremitting, electronically enhanced intensity that allowed for few subtleties and too few departures from full throttle. It seemed to me a little like a showcase for boys with their toys, but of course the packed auditorium loved it.

Colaiuta’s contribution didn’t need extra bells and whistles – his work at the drum kit seemed to have one speed (flat out) and one volume (loud). Hancock mostly played furiously, switching between piano and Korg Kronos keyboard (billed as “the most powerful synthesizer on the planet”) as he vied with Colaiuta to be heard. His vocals were distorted via an electronic processor which I concede did fit alongside the similarly altered vocals and synthesizer-style sounds (via a Digitech Whammy pedal?) from the accomplished Loueke in addition to some glottal clicks that reflected his West African roots.

On bass, Genus was classy and less cluttered, his few solos a standout. This outing was at its most entertaining towards the end, and when Hancock wowed the auditorium with his fancy keytar, leading the quartet to an encore, Chameleon, that brought his fans to their feet.

It’s an odd contrast to draw, perhaps, between Hancock and Billy Childs, who performed in the Melbourne Recital Centre on festival opening night, May 31. Hancock had nothing to prove and yet he seemed keen to prove he is still up with the latest.

Childs, who in bringing us many compositions from his album Rebirth – described by Vijay Iyer as “a reminder that Billy Childs can burn” – seemed to be signalling a return to the power and energy of more straight ahead, small group jazz, but nevertheless needed no high-tech gadgetry. This outing, featuring expatriate Australian Alex Boneham on bass, Christian Euman on drums and Dayna Stephens on saxophone, exemplified the huge appeal of a great rhythm section and varied, evocative compositions.

Childs did burn, but with a different kind of fire, his keyboard work in Horace Silver’s Peace including emphatic chords, muted strums of the piano strings and delicate, high trills. There was nothing dreamy about Starry Night, just exquisitely crisp clarity and forays into the abstract. Above all, this set was full of interest because there was so much variation.

As with Childs, the appeal of the Florian Hoefner Group concert on Tuesday, June 4 at The Jazzlab was not in relentless intensity. Its allure came in more nuanced and lyrical compositions, drawn mostly from the 2016 album Luminosity, along with the obvious enjoyment of interaction among reuniting musicians.

Canadian pianist Hoefner welcomed this opportunity to play again with drummer Peter Kroneif (an expatriate Austrian now in New York) and Australians bassist Sam Anning and tenor saxophonist Michael Rivett, all of whom he’d met outside their home countries a decade ago. Two standouts not from that album were Black is the Color, based on a Scottish folk song, and the energetic Newfound Jig.

The most exquisite concert of this festival for me would fail on an intensity meter. And it came a little unexpectedly.

Unable to get to the long improvisation by Marginal Consort (Japan) when that was rescheduled to a Saturday slot at The Substation, on Friday, June 7, I set out to hear Ross James Irwin’s 60 Years of Kind of Blue at 170 Russell Street before catching the second of two concerts at The Jazzlab.

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When the lighting’s so Kind of Blue that colour is permissible.    Image: Roger Mitchell

As it turned out, the recasting of the Miles Davis classic came on stage later than I had anticipated, after the well received pizzazz and exuberance of Fem Belling (vocals, violin) and the band ZEDSIX at the former Billboard venue, so I had time to hear only three tracks off the Davis album as reinterpreted by Irwin’s superb 11-piece ensemble before leaving. It was enough to know that I want to hear this tribute concert again. Mat Jodrell on trumpet, Phil Noy on alto sax and Julien Wilson on tenor sax were sounding spectacular as I left this updated Kind of Blue.

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Colin Hopkins, Eugene Ball, Nick Haywood, James McLean and Stephen Magnusson have fun with Petra Haden.    Image: Roger Mitchell

At The Jazzlab, Petra Haden – daughter of much-loved US bassist the late Charlie Haden – was teamed with what turned out to be the perfect band of Australian musicians for her Songs From My Father. Haden’s musical heritage pours forth in her fluid, unfettered vocals – her voice so relaxed that it transmits this vibe to the audience in classics such as Shenandoah, The Fields of Athenry and the superb Jimmy Webb song The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress.

But what took this concert to another level was what Colin Hopkins (piano) Eugene Ball (trumpet), Nick Haywood (bass), James McLean (drums) and Stephen Magnusson (guitar) did to give the songs an edge, to add abrasive accents or sharp spears of sound that Haden may not have always expected but seemed to welcome. This superb, adventurous concert closed with Haden singing the David Bowie/Pat Metheny song This Is Not America, written for the film The Falcon and the Snowman, Haden poignantly delivering the enigmatic words that seemed so apt in these times: “A little piece of me will die because this is not America.”

Other concerts deserve mention, despite the length of this review.

Belgian pianist Jef Neve is a familiar face for jazz festival patrons, but his outing on Thursday, June 6 at The Jazzlab was more tempered than when, at the 2013 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, his virtuoso solo performance – at times thunderously stormy – brought a standing ovation. On this occasion, with Teus Nobel (Netherlands) on trumpet and flugelhorn, Neve showed restraint that suited this duo with Nobel, whose flugelhorn playing had an uncharacteristic edge for that mellow instrument.

After Neve and Nobel came a multi-cultural extravaganza directed ably by Michael Pigneguy from the drum kit, except when he lost the mic to powerful vocalist Alemay Fernandez, who demanded “Melbourne, make some noise” before telling the audience “That was pathetic”. This nine-piece ensemble (Australia/Malaysia/Singapore/USA) played for 10 minutes less than two hours, with fine work in solos from Pigneguy, Marques “Q Sound” Young on trombone, Craig Fermanis on guitar, Toby Bender buried behind the band on percussion and Lachlan Davidson in the dark on saxophone. Fernandez and Evelyn Feroza were appropriately forceful among the guys. The set may have gone on a little too long, but it was a big undertaking done really well. I particularly appreciated two Middle Eastern influenced compositions by Pigneguy – Street Dance and West Bank Moon.

I had to leave 170 Russell Street before the end of Ambrose Akinmusire’s challenging Origami Harvest – which brought us soundscapes created with the Silo String Quartet, rapper Kokayi and modern jazz, funk and soul to confront and explore important issues in society. It seemed a big shift from the album to bring in Kokayi rather than Kool A.D. (Das Racist), but the words spoken no doubt addressed related issues. I was told Akinmusire would have been happy to create and produce this work – an effort to tackle opposites in society – without necessarily playing in it, but the absolute highlight on the night for me was one spirited and spiritual solo from his trumpet, his notes soaring heavenwards and lingering in the air. In saying that, Origami Harvest was striving to focus on much more than such purity of sound. It was important that we heard it. That’s why this festival has Explorations in Jazz.

I heard other important explorations in jazz – the launch of a new album, Night Music, by Jamie Oehlers, Claire Cross’s work with Tomorrow is My Turn. I would like to have heard Bill Frisell.

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Ian Chang on drums in the half light.

And after the highly charged Herbie Hancock outing I saw out the festival in the deep red glow of Rafiq Bhatia (USA) on guitar, with Jack Hill on electric bass and Ian Chang on drums. They amped it up and we all basked in the glow and cried out for more.

Intensity? Yes, there was some, but it was warming us like coals rather than egging us into a frenzy.

Well done once again Melbourne International Jazz Festival. And well done The Rookies in the nightly jam sessions.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: This review has appeared so late because since the festival’s end I have been laid low by one of the worst colds (not flu) that I’ve ever had, with irrepressible coughing and nasty conjunctivitis.

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The final jam session at The Jazzlab, hosted by The Rookies. Image: Roger Mitchell