Category Archives: MELBOURNE JAZZ FRINGE FESTIVAL 2011

Posts related to this exciting festival, which opens the jazz festival season each year by tapping into rich veins of experimental and adventurous music by Australian musicians.

THREE TURKS & A WASP / FRAN SWINN QUARTET & ROCKIE STONE: INFORM

Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival’s APRA Composer Commission Concert at BMW Edge, Friday May 6, 2011

Andrew Walker

Jazzhead's Andrew Walker introduces the gig.

Commission concerts are always a highlight of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, but by their nature they involve taking risks. Whether it is Ren Walters carefully placing a group of musicians in the Iwaki Auditorium and giving them minimal guidelines in a work that could go anywhere, or Gian Slater bringing 13 singers to BMW Edge in a work for voices designed to explore the notion of communication between and without words, the works commissioned are always going to venture into new territory. And it is worth keeping in mind that the winner of the commission has been chosen from among proposals that may have been more daring, or may have been less risky, but perhaps more likely to come into being with or without the help of APRA and the MJFF.

Fran Swinn‘s project, “inform” was a huge ask in a practical sense, calling for rehearsals in a much different space, last-minute rigging and a run-through in the relatively unknown conditions at BMW Edge, and all the safety precautions required for an acrobat / aerialist.

But to warm up the crowd, Andrew Walker introduced “three turks and a wasp” for a lively set. The crowd was smallish, but building.

First set: Allan Browne drums, Phil Noy alto sax, Steve Grant cornet, Sam Pankhurst bass

Al Browne's "three turks and a wasp"

Al Browne's "three turks and a wasp"

I’m not too sure where the “turks” and “wasp” originated, except that bassist Ben Robertson, guitarist Geoff Hughes and drummer Allan Browne used to play in the famous Melbourne restaurant Mietta’s in the 1990s. Apparently they were often known as “Two turks and a Wasp”. Why? I’m sure someone can enlighten me. Meanwhile this new incarnation got stuck straight in with I’m Not Much But I’m All I Think About, followed by the melodic bush epic The Magpie Stomp (Al Browne insisted the band members had studied Magpie language at the VCA). An improvisation on Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo followed and the set closed with a track I didn’t catch, but there was a great exchange between drums and bass towards the end. It was a lively, bright opening in what seemed sound-wise to be a lively, bright auditorium, though Steve Grant said there were some odd currents floating around which were a little hard to predict.

Phil Noy and Al Browne

Phil Noy and Al Browne

Second set: “Inform” by Fran Swinn, featuring Rockie Stone, with Fran Swinn guitar, Tamara Murphy bass, Ben Hendry drums, Eugene Ball trumpet

Rockie Stone and Fran Swinn Quartet

Rockie Stone and Fran Swinn Quartet

Now for the main event in the “big top”. We were on the edge of our seats. And what I was wondering, between distracting interludes in which I worried about why I could not seem to get even the band members in focus, was whether we would see a circus act accompanied by music or music accompanied by circus acrobatics. I must say that the task of taking pictures claimed enough of my attention to rule out proper judgement, but nevertheless I was from the beginning struck by the coherence of what we saw and heard.

I’ll let the pictures tell their story, leaving out many that were completely out of focus. But I felt tension and fluidity in the music, though I would say that the edgy aspect was most apparent to me. Rockie Stone performed amazing feats, but I’m fairly certain we could have seen similar skills on display at Circus Oz.

What I found enthralling about Rockie’s performance was the sense of poise and smoothness of transition. Movements were deliberate and careful, unhurried and definitely part of a continuum. I felt there was as much interest in the way that Rockie placed chairs or bottles; in the way she moved a row of chairs and the way she moved through chairs as there was in the more daring deeds. In other words, though the feats of exquisite balance and rope work were worthy of our admiration and applause, there was a clear commitment to this being much more than a collection of virtuosic actions.

Three chairs meeting Rockie Stone

Three chairs meeting Rockie Stone

Rockie Stone leads a meeting of chairs

Rockie Stone leads a meeting of chairs

Rockie Stone well balanced in her chairing

Rockie Stone well balanced in her chairing

For me, the music and the spectacle were inseparable. As for what deeper meanings or emotions could be drawn for this congruence, it is hard to say. To read what Fran Swinn had in mind, read Alice Body’s interview commissioned by extempore.

I think probably this was an experience in which music and actions fused into a continuum in which the audience could become totally engrossed, totally focused, without any need to seek interpretations, but simply to marvel at the human body in motion.

Inversion therapy  — Rockie Stone

Inversion therapy — Rockie Stone

Eugene Ball observes Rockie Stone in the chair

Eugene Ball observes Rockie Stone in the chair.

There were moments of stricture, of enclosure and of escape. But there seemed always to be a smooth progression from restriction to freedom.

Rockie Stone emerges from the chair

Rockie Stone leaves the chair

Rockie Stone in a hands-on chairing role.

Rockie Stone in a hands-on chairing role.

I found the walking on bottles one of the most elegant and potentially catastrophic of Stone’s feats, not because there was the prospect of falling from a great height (though that may have been a possibility), but because at every step there was a tiny test that had to be passed. In the event, Stone did appear to lose balance once or twice, but simply resumed her bottle-top walk. Apparently she was finding the reflections of herself in the glass walls disconcerting, but we did not know that then. There was gentle humour when Ben Hendry walked behind her, knocking over the bottles, leaving only one, which Stone casually nudged aside with her foot.

Rockie Stone walks on wine (bottles).

Rockie Stone walks on wine (bottles).

Rockie Stone sets up a few bottles.

Rockie Stone sets up a few bottles.

Stone seemed studious in the placement of the four bottles on which she would mount her monument to meetings — the tower of chairs. I thought momentarily of meeting-lovers everywhere, especially those who aspire to be in the chair.

Rockie Stone on the edge of her chair

Rockie Stone on the edge of her chair.

The high point of Rockie's chairing.

The high point of Rockie's chairing.

Time to vacate the chairs.

Time to vacate the chairs.

Of course I was changing lenses when Hendry took one of the bottles away, but there was no change to the stability of Stone. She descended, with care, and took to the rope.

How did I get roped into this?

How did I get roped into this?

Hanging around for a little longer.

Hanging around for a little longer.

All that needs to be said now that this commissioned work has been exposed to an audience is that it must be performed again — preferably before a larger crowd, but one that will give it the attention it was given on this occasion. Full marks to Fran Swinn, Rockie Stone and the quartet, and also to those who took a risk with this concert. Commission accomplished.

Commission accomplished.

Commission accomplished.

ROGER MITCHELL

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PETER KNIGHT SOLO / MOTION

Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival heads west for a double bill at Dancing Dog Cafe/Bar, Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two MJFF festival outings this year were unprecedented — not because of their content but rather their location. Instead of being held in the central city area or to the north, in Brunswick or Northcote, these gigs were in Footscray, at the popular Dancing Dog Cafe and Bar. It is a great space for small ensemble performances, so it was a pity that not too many of the people who often bemoan the absence of live music venues out west managed to make it out on the night. Clearly some work needs to be done via the local networks.

(The second way out west gig was on Saturday, with percussionist Nat Grant and Kewti, but more of that when time permits.)

Peter Knight Solo — “Allotrope”

Peter Knight solo, with laptop

Peter Knight solo, with laptop

Some chemical elements can exist in two or more different forms, known as allotropes. I’m assuming this ability to assume varied forms is the reason for trumpeter and composer Peter Knight — best known for his role in the popular and creative band Way Out West — chose to name his solo performances with that term. He uses a program on his laptop called Ableton Live, which he uses to process live input — as he puts it, for “live sampling and processing of micro sound worlds created using the trumpet”.

As can be imagined, it is a totally different performance each time and quite another thing altogether from hearing PK on trumpet in a band. Yet there are echoes of the gigs at the Charles Street Bar (now Touks restaurant) in Seddon many years ago, when PK played some mesmerising small group improvisations with Lucas Michailidis on guitar and Frank Di Sario on bass.

Knight’s set was fairly short and consisted of an evolving soundscape best listened to, IMHO, with eyes closed.

Motion: Andrew Brooks saxophones, Berish Bilander Nord, Sam Zerna bass, Hugh Harvey drums, Brett Thompson guitar

Motion at the Dancing Dog

Motion at the Dancing Dog

This set was a real highlight of the MJFF for me and it is a great pity that a larger audience was not there to hear these pieces. The quintet played some new material and definitely whet my appetite for the album that will emerge from a week’s recording session at Allan Eaton Studios in St Kilda.

Andrew Brooks

Andrew Brooks

They played Liberty Stole My Shoes, Morsel, Both Hands, Blank (ie unnamed), New Nuts (they were eating cashews and almonds at the recording session), Jigsaw and Little Things. Peter Knight on trumpet and laptop sat in for the last two, making a contribution that seemed to suit admirably.

Berish Bilander

Berish Bilander

I reviewed Motion’s album Presence in August 2010, referring to “expressive ballads … augmented by passages of quiet strength and slow-built tension, unexpected turns and robust, piano-driven rhythm. At the Dancing Dog I felt variously that the music was surreal, mesmerising and trance-like, with the transitions having that prized fluidity that avoids any feeling of obligatory soloing or virtuosic excursions.

Sam Zerna

Sam Zerna

In particular I loved the level of concentration in the band, evident throughout but particularly striking in the final piece, Little Things, when the interaction between Sam Zerna on bass and Berish Bilander on Nord was tangible and captivating.

Hugh Harvey

Hugh Harvey

I think these pictures help to tell the story of this ensemble and this outing. The musicians, all of them displaying excellent musicianship, seemed to be utterly immersed in their journey. Motion is a band to catch up with when you can, particularly as Brooks is heading to Berlin in the months ahead.

I look forward to the new recording.

Plaudits to Peter Knight for pushing the cause of live music  from the Fringe out west. May it continue.

Brett Thompson

Brett Thompson

BAND OF FIVE NAMES

MJFF/MJC Transitions Series, Tuesday, May 3, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club

Simon Barker drums, Carl Dewhurst guitar, Matt McMahon piano, Phil Slater trumpet

Megg Evans welcomes the Five foursome

Megg Evans welcomes the Five foursome to Bennetts Lane

Bringing the Band of Five Names to Melbourne was a coup for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival and bound to be a highlight of a program that included the premiere local performance of Andrea Keller‘s Place and a commission work by Fran Swinn featuring aerialist Rockie Stone. But what is the attraction of this band? What is the nature of its appeal?

Carl Dewhurst

Carl Dewhurst

I welcome suggestions, because answers will differ depending on the listener. To me it has to do with an unfolding story, a sense of development, and the exciting prospect of not knowing what will emerge. That could be said of a lot of improvised music, but in the case of this band there is a real feeling of it being evolutionary in a gestational way. It’s not quite the same as listening to The Necks, perhaps because there is an absence of expectation of any climactic outcome. Audiences love that anticipation in a Necks gig that what may start slowly will heat up and provide that carthartic pleasure or relief that comes from tension slowly building and inviting release.

Simon Barker and Phil Slater

Simon Barker and Phil Slater

The Band of Five Names seems to put us right into the moment by taking away the “what if” factor and inviting acceptance of what will be. We care not whether it is planned or unplanned, whether there will be catharsis or not. The band draws us into what is happening, what is emerging, and keeps us there because it is so interesting. And that’s the key second factor in the appeal. Without any apparent stress, the musicians are watchful — not unusual at all, of course, in any improvised music — and responsive, but relaxed about that. Maybe they know where they are going because they’ve been there, or somewhere similar, a hundred times before; maybe they don’t know what is going to happen until a series of notes from one member of the band sets them on a new track. I don’t care. It’s interesting because you can watch that responsiveness at work. If it’s like anything it is maybe akin to hearing Lost and Found, with Paul Grabowsky, Jamie Ohelers and Dave Beck. Or GEST8.

Three of the Band of Five Names

Three of the Band of Five Names

So what sorts of musical moments made up the first set, which was titled Curtain? A fragmentary account would recall Dewhurst nursing or coaxing notes from his guitar, notes that evolve into a high, sustained ringing. Slater breathes through his horn into the mic, removing slides at times to adjust the air flow. McMahon is plucking at the piano strings, sending twangs into the room. Slater lets his note gradually develop intensity, force and penetration, with Barker gentle at the back. There is a trumpet break-out, a flaring up of trumpet. There is a guitar break-out, a fiery surge of strings. McMahon mumbles gently on the keys. The trumpet again exudes breaths. McMahon is so careful with his notes, as if he’s tiptoeing. Momentarily the drums and cymbals swell and die away. There is a period of what feels like reverie.

McMahon and Dewhurst

McMahon and Dewhurst

I was only able to stay for the first set, which I therefore believe was far too short — probably not much more than 30 minutes. That was a great pity, but I was sure the second set would be longer and most likely even more fulfilling that the first.

Carl Dewhurst

Carl Dewhurst

There was a reasonable crowd at Bennetts Lane in the big room, but the Band of Five Names deserves more. Let’s hear them in “Melbs” (scare quotes used courtesy of Tim Stevens) very soon. Well done MJFF, the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative and, to be fair, the band.

Matt McMahon

Matt McMahon

Barker and Slater

Barker and Slater