Category Archives: JAZZ FESTIVALS

Jazz festivals in and around Melbourne and Victoria

Great ways to escape a sack o’ woe

A fractal tree from Dan Tepfer’s “Natural Machines” at Melbourne’s planetarium. Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival
14-23 October 2022

Optimism flowed freely in the first Melbourne International Jazz Festival freed from covid-19 lockdowns, pouring into venues filled with animated crowds so gleeful to be waiting with others in anticipation of the live music in store.

Surely the musicians, festival organisers, sponsors, volunteers and even hard-working staff at venues must have felt this surge in excitement, the buzz of many collective success stories.

Yet as we revelled in the opportunities ahead, out there in the real world there was a sack o’ woe. Floods, climate, covid-19 (still taking lives), war, oppression, suffering … the sack was bulging, the list of woes seemingly endless.

The Ecosystem sextet of vocalists and saxophonists. Image: Roger Mitchell

It was surely apt, then, that the fourth leader of the festival’s Take Note gender equity initiative, Flora Carbo, in her opening night concert entitled “Ecosystem” at The Jazzlab, utilised three vocalists (Merinda Dias-Jayasinha, Mel Taylor and Hannah McKittrick)  along with three saxophonists (Carbo, Bernard Alexander and Zac O’Connell) to explore pop duo Sylvan Esso’s question, “How can I be moved when everything is moving?” This could have been a cry from a generation facing overwhelming change.

Drawing on field recordings of sounds gathered during 2021 city lockdowns, the commissioned work had the atypical sextet line-up take us on a texturally rich journey through soundscapes created by the pulsing and swelling of vocal and reed instruments and amplifying the clacking sounds of saxophone keys being released, along with fragmentary lyrics, such as the evocative query, “Why have I stopped looking?”

Amid the bustle and unrest, Ecosystem seemed to be inviting us to be present and possibly to escape the troubled treadmills in our lives.

Another, sobering, perspective on a sack o’ woe came on the festival’s final night in the intimate setting of The Salon at Melbourne Recital Centre in the Australian Art Orchestra’s First Nations Residency Commission.

In a profoundly evocative composition about whales (Moriyawa) and utilising Dhurga language, composer Brenda Gifford strongly voiced Indigenous hurts, speaking these stark words: “Colonisation. War. Loss. Massacres. Loss. Loss.” Her work featured the powerful presence of Joe Brown McLeod – in quietly spoken language, mouth whistles, on didjeridoo and clapsticks – tapping deeply into this country’s ancient past and First Nations peoples connections to Moriyawa.

This was an important message of truth-telling as the nation takes tentative steps towards an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and to treaty, as well as being an immersive experience of the Moriyawa world, ably conveyed by AAO members, in particular Reuben Lewis on trumpet and electronics, and Aviva Endean on bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and a simple length of black pipe.

In the main auditorium at MRC on 19 October, composer Jeremy Rose’s work “Disruption! The Voice of Drums” was ground-breaking in concept and monumental in scale, placing extraordinary drummers Chloe Kim and her mentor Simon Barker at the front of Earshift Orchestra members on stage to showcase “the power of the drum in disruption, protest, ceremony and healing”.

On three screens above the musicians, Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig delivered live feeds of images showing protesters, their banners, police responding with force and tear gas, candle-lit vigils and other global challenges of 2020.

It’s impossible to convey the breadth of this musical experience in a few words, but what stood out was the restraint – for the most part – in instruments usually given prominence, and the sheer brilliance of Kim and Barker in delivering drum kit work so varied, finessed and controlled. This was not crash and bash drumming.

Highlights from other orchestra members included the fat, warm trumpet notes of Tom Avgenicos, splendidly bent and raspy in the lower registers, and guitarist Hilary Geddes shredding an array of angular, exciting sounds.

Images were integral to two other MIJF outings demonstrating a welcome willingness by the festival to be adventurous. In both concerts audiences who were not necessarily lovers of jazz or improvisation were treated to exemplary music in unusual and enticing settings.

Dan Tepfer’s “Natural Machines”, aired at The Melbourne Planetarium, Scienceworks in four concerts over two nights, was an absolute standout. Tepfer programmed a Yamaha Disklavier grand piano to respond in real time to his improvisations, allowing us to watch fascinated as keys were played alongside those he was pressing. As well, he created algorithms that translated this jointly created music into visual art projected on the dome of the planetarium.

MIJF CEO and program director Hadley Agrez said this project had taken three years to develop. It was worth the wait.

This concert was a musical as well as a visual delight. Tepfer took us on a journey through counterpoint, canon and fugue, frequencies, fractals, harmonies, intervals (just rhythms – the building blocks of music) and pitches, as well as the ratios of orbiting bodies in space. Meanwhile, lying almost horizontal in our seats, we smiled (well, I did) as abstract and beautiful images slid across our sky, at times streaming towards an image of Tepfer’s hands on the piano keyboard.

Screened images and live music were combined superbly at Darebin Arts Centre on 21 October in a celebration of iconic silent films by Georges Melies. Entitled “The Merry Frolics of Melies”, this outing paired a perfect band with eight short films – including the well known Trip to the Moon – full of magic, fun, slapstick and satirical humour, and the wistful sadness that melodrama does so well.

Composer/saxophonist Phillip Johnston wrote the scores played live to a packed auditorium by this ensemble with Alister Spence piano, Daryl Pratt vibraphone and Lloyd Swanton double bass. Not only were the films appealing and instructive about early cinematic inventiveness, but the variations in styles of music, tempos and use of instruments to sync with the rapid changes on screen were wonderful.

Francesca Remigi at the drum kit. Image: Roger Mitchell

There were no visuals other than those conjured in our minds when drummer Francesca Remigi (Italy) unleashed her compositions on The Jazzlab audience on 15 October with the help of Federico Calcagno (Italy, bass clarinet and clarinet) and three Australian musicians she had met in workshops at Banff, Canada in 2019 – Niran Dasika (trumpet, pocket trumpet), Andrew Saragossi (saxophones) and Helen Svoboda (double bass).

In pieces drawn from two of her albums – Il Labirinto Dei Topi (The Rat’s Labyrinth) and The Human Web – and inspired by thought-provoking explorations of social dysfunction and decadence, along with the negative effects of social media, Remigi led the quintet in an intense and utterly engrossing set that was a clear festival highlight.

Voice-overs and sound grabs added to mayhem that evoked conflict, anguish and pain, yet also some eventual relief. Horns were percussive, the double bass tapping higher and then deeply resonant lower chords, and drama mingled with gentle chaos. In the closing Gomorra, Remigi’s drums melded seamlessly with Dasika’s horn. It was a brilliant set.

It was probably not ideal to hear Sydney quartet Tangents so soon afterwards as they aired material from their 2021 release Timeslips & Chimeras, because they delivered slow growth, evolution and a sense of timelessness in their pieces. Evan Dorrian was excellent on drums and percussion, while Peter Hollo’s cello added depth as the music ebbed and flowed, yet never built tension.

Changes were key to the music aired the following night at The Jazzlab in which award-winning Sydney guitarist Hilary Geddes led a quartet with Matthew Harris piano, Helen Svoboda (omnipresent in this festival) bass and Alexander Inman-Hislop drums to play compositions from her debut album Parkside (ABC Jazz).

This outing was a definite festival highlight, in part because of the band’s ability to adjust tempo, dynamics and mood within songs and also because these musicians were having so much fun while performing. Their mood was infectious. Geddes entranced the crowd with a solo in an unusual, but beautiful ending to a fabulous concert.

Later, at 9.30pm, forceful drummer Pheroan akLaff (USA) was teamed with Sunny Kim (South Korea) on vocals, Mike Nock on piano, Peter Farrar on saxophone and Helen Svoboda on bass in what seemed an unequal battle. The clear, pure Kim vocals were often lost amid the onslaught of akLaff’s ferocity at the kit and the result was at times more akin to a spectator sport. Many in the audience no doubt loved such full-on playing from the virtuosic akLaff and Farrar’s matching reed retorts, and Nock’s energy was amazing, but full tilt is best in small doses (my view only).

The most enjoyable piece in the set was the closing Andrew Hill composition Gone to Say Goodnight.

Mike Nock returned to the piano – tuning troubles notwithstanding – the following night to revisit his much-loved 1982 album Ondas (ECM) recorded in Oslo with Eddie Gomex on bass and Jon Christensen drums. In two concerts at The Jazzlab he was joined by emerging talents Jacques Emery and Chloe Kim.

From the long and engrossing opening piece Forgotten Love, Nock was unsurprisingly superb, while uncharacteristically referring to charts due to the passing of time since the album’s release. There is such clarity, space and sense of unhurried propulsion in this album, so it was a delight to hear the master deliver it live.

I am happy to be contradicted, but there didn’t always seem to be complete understanding early on by Emery and Kim about when it was best to intervene. Perhaps I was longing for a repeat of interactions on the recording that seemed so perfect. But as the set progressed the trio seemed better integrated. This outing was a treat.

Another was in store the following night. Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz introduced his work, Suite Suomi, written for harpist and pianist Iro Haarla (Finland), with a quotation from her compatriot, poet Eeva Kilpi, entitled Even Nature Gives You No Choice:

“When you have seen a cloud in the lap of a pond;
and the moon between the waterlilies;
inevitably you are at the mercy of your own soul.”

We were asked not to clap until the end of this compelling collaboration featuring Haarla, Zwartz, Julien Wilson on tenor sax, Phil Slater on trumpet, Ben Hauptmann on guitar and Hamish Stuart on drums. This often sombre suite contained so much – a pulse seeming to emulate the heartbeat of the Earth, a slow piano meditation by Haarla, a unity of strings between concert harp and Hauptmann’s instrument, a bass solo in which Zwartz took us to beautiful places, his final note lingering in the stillness.

After much that was solemn, Hauptmann’s catchy infusion of country-style guitar near the end was welcome.

This concert was a moving testament to a love of the natural world shared by Haarla and Zwartz.

The penultimate night of the festival featured two distinctly different outings. Brooklyn-based Chilean tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, in the third of her MIJF concerts at The Jazzlab, delivered a dispassionate set of material from her album 12 Stars, with quartet members Lage Lund guitar, Pablo Menares double bass and Kush Abady drums.

The influence of Aldana’s 12 years in New York showed in the cool feel of this music, with Lund’s guitar mostly subdued and Abady’s efforts at the kit not resulting in much propulsion until the final Los Ojos de Chile, which primed the audience to seek an encore – not possible as the players had to fly, literally.

By contrast, The What Ifs at 9.30pm launched their new digital album Keep It Simple in a manner characteristic of this lively and beautifully balanced Melbourne quintet bristling with talent. The band – Paul Williamson trumpet, Scott McConnachie saxophones, Miro Lauritz vibraphone, Helen Svoboda (again) bass and Dylan Van Der Schiff drums – builds immersive tension through carefully incorporating complexity, adding in blistering horn solos, texturally rich bowed bass and exquisite vibrato dances. This is a group to watch … and hear.

The final of 14 concerts for me was at 9.30pm on 23 October, featuring New York-based guitarist Quentin Angus in a quintet with Jo Lawry vocals, Steve Barry piano, Sam Anning electric bass and Ben Vanderwal drums playing mostly tunes from the expatriate’s 2022 album The State of Things.

These were diverse, jumping from the lightness of Pure Imagination and Somewhere Over the Rainbow to the title track, which took us to dark moments in recent history. The most moving piece, Mila, was a piano and guitar duet reflecting the struggle and happiness that followed the traumatic premature birth of Angus’s daughter, Mila, played over a recording of her heartbeat.

It remains only to conclude with a tribute to The Rookies, who ably hosted Late Night Jams throughout the festival. Many antics resulted, I’m told, but one of the craziest must have surely been the invasion of The Jazzlab jam on the final night by a band and guests from a Jewish wedding, leading to wild music and manic dancing that was indeed a fitting end to a fantastic festival.

ROGER MITCHELL

PS: Thanks to festival and venue staff for assistance throughout.

Heavens above – it’s going to be a hell of a party

Dan Tepfer at the controls for Natural Machines. Image: Nicholas Joubard

PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2022
14-23 October

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.

Disruption! The voice of drums. Image: Prudence Upton

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.

Flora Carbo will present her commissioned work: Ecosystem. Image: Roger Mitchell

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.

Emma Donovan will perform at Big Saturday. Image: Michelle Grace Hunder

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.

Morgana will revisit their beginnings. Image: Aurora Kuhn

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.

Dwayne Thomas Jnr – MonoNeon – will perform at 170 Russell St.

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.

Melissa Aldana will bring her quartet. Image: Eduardo Pavez Goye

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.

Mike Nock will revisit his album Ondas. Image: Roger Mitchell

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?

ROGER MITCHELL

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