Category Archives: MELBOURNE JAZZ FRINGE FESTIVAL 2012

Articles and reviews of Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival 2012

ISN’T IT GRAND, NORWEGIAN BAND

REVIEW

Ausjazz blog picks some highlights from the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival:

Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif

A festival highlight: Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif from Norway.

All up, Ausjazz went to all or part of 15 MIJF gigs this year. This is an attempt to pick out some highlights, though there will be posts about individual concerts when time permits. A few explanatory notes: First, I chose not to review the Opening Gala: The Way You Look Tonight or the final evening’s Dee Dee Bridgewater Sings, because those concerts were not my cup of tea. That is not any reflection on the musicians involved.

Second, for reasons beyond my control I could not make any gigs from Monday, June 4 to Wednesday, June 6 inclusive. Again, that had nothing to do with the calibre of the music on offer. Third, I did not make it to any of the master classes, though I have heard from many who did that these were definite highlights.

Of the concerts I attended, there were none that I did not enjoy — perhaps I am easily pleased, but I believe this festival followed the usual rule by delivering more delights than may have been anticipated upon first glance at the program. It was not too adventurous — certainly not as “out there” as recent years under the direction of Sophie Brous. I did miss that aspect. The most experimental outings were Peter Knight‘s Fish Boast of Fishing and Andrea Keller‘s work with Genevieve Lacey and Joe Talia — both at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon and both involving Australian artists. From overseas, the Robert Glasper Experiment strayed from the conventional, as did the Norwegian quintet Motif, but the latter was the standout of these two for me.

Before I discuss highlights, it’s probably worth exploring the value or otherwise of reviews. Unlike reviews of opening night stage productions, with MIJF commentary there is in most cases no season ahead in which potential punters can decide to go or not go on the basis of what’s written. Most concerts are unrepeated or already sold out before reviews hit the airwaves, streets or online haunts. I see reviews as one way to build an archive or record of what a festival has succeeded in delivering. That record may provide some context to those who attended various concerts or merely arouse the interest of readers who may seek out that music in some form later, possibly even live if the artist or band returns.

So, in consecutive order by date rather than any (futile) rating, my highlights were as follows: I found Bernie McGann‘s quartet at Bennetts Lane on the opening Friday night deeply satisfying, not only because of McGann’s saxophone work, but because of what the other players in the band — Marc Hannaford, Phillip Rex and Dave Beck — contributed.

On the following night, at the same venue, Murphy’s Law impressed with Tamara Murphy‘s suite “Big Creatures Little Creatures”. At The Forum later that evening, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra showed its class with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter, but the standouts for me were the Andy Fiddes composition Gathering Momentum, some trumpet excellence from Phil Slater in the third piece (the name of which I did not catch) and Potter’s darker sax in the encore Rumination. Later still, back at Bennetts Lane, the Eli Degibri Quartet from Israel had a smooth fluidity and swing that definitely had me wanting more, especially from the 16-year-old pianist Gadi Lehavri.

What can I say about McCoy Tyner‘s concert on Sunday in the Melbourne Town Hall? The only basis I have for comparing the pianist now with his illustrious past playing is via recordings, and on that basis he is not quite in that league now. And I think Jose James could not act as a substitute for Johnny Hartman. I enjoyed the outing, and I don’t see much point in comparisons when you have a chance to hear a musician of Tyner’s stature. But this was not a festival highlight for me.

By contrast, Terence Blanchard‘s quintet on Thursday at Melbourne Recital Centre was a real standout. It’s definitely no criticism of Rob Burke, Tony Gould, Tony Floyd and Nick Haywood, who opened this gig, but I did think as Blanchard’s band opened with Derrick’s Choice that a band with a local trumpeter such as Scott Tinkler or Phil Slater would have been ideal.

In the quintet’s set I would have been satisfied just to hear Fabian Almazan‘s contribution on piano, but Blanchard’s playing was inventive, fluid and piercingly penetrating, with sampled audio from Dr Cornel West and some echo among the special effects. Blanchard’s tone did not really dig into the guttural until shortly before the inevitable encore and his sound was not as fat as I’d expected. Brice Winston on tenor sax was superb in the Almazan piece Pet Step Sitter’s Theme.

In terms of musicianship, Renaud Garcia-Fons on bass with the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC on Friday night stood out. I’d regretted having to miss the solo bass gig at Bennetts Lane mid week, but in a way this trio concert was a vehicle for Garcia-Fons to show his amazing talents. On his five-stringed instrument Garcia-Fons uses a range of techniques with and without bow, recalling Barre Phillips‘ solo performance at Wangaratta Jazz last year, but it’s a totally different experience. I could only marvel at Garcia-Fons’s skill, but, by contrast with Phillips, his music lacked the tension and resolution (or lack of it) that is so compelling in jazz improvisation. Also, I would have liked to hear more from Kiko Rulz on flamenco guitar, who in brief bursts only whetted my appetite to hear more. I could not help but wish that Pascal Rollando on percussion would contribute more fire and inventiveness. That said, this concert was a highlight.

Even more so was Dr Lonnie Smith in his trio with Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums at Bennetts Lane late on Friday. I love the Hammond B3 and Smith was enjoying every moment of his time on Tim Neal‘s beautiful instrument. This was a therapeutic experience and just what the Doctor ordered for me. Kreisberg’s playing was exciting and intense, and the organ was just a thrill and a joy to hear. The notes from a Hammond can be felt deep in the body and seem to free the spirit. I’ll be hanging out for Smith’s new album, Healer, due in a few weeks. But an album is not the same as being there and feeling the B3 vibrations at close quarters.

OK, I’m waxing too lyrical. On the second Saturday of the festival I made it to four gigs. Peter Knight and his ensemble’s Fish Boast of Fishing at the Salon, MRC, took me out of my comfort zone and into an emerging, growing, developing experience in which I felt there was a contradiction of sorts. There was definitely tension. There was complexity and coordination in the way sounds were produced, but when I closed my eyes the experience was of something organic, almost living and breathing. Perhaps that was the point.

Norwegian band Motif

Norwegian band Motif

Next came another real highlight for me and I would have missed it if I had not had a recommendation from ABC presenter Jessica Nicholas. The Norwegian outfit Motif was a standout. I always think European bands can be counted on to bring something significantly different to their music and Motif was no exception. This was intelligent, quirky and engrossing jazz, with extreme variations in dynamics and pretty well anything you could imagine. There was ferocity and solemnity. There was pandemonium and space. What a hoot! This was the night’s highlight. There was another great set to follow I’m sure. It was hard to leave.

But Tarbaby at the Comedy Theatre — with Oliver Lake on alto sax, Eric Revis on bass, Orrin Evans on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums — served up a set of take-no-prisoners hard-driving jazz. This was a top rhythm section that took me full circle back to the Bernie McGann concert at the festival’s start. Apart from Lake’s robust playing, what I loved most was Evans’s command of the piano in Paul Motian‘s Abacus. This set would have topped the night for me, but I still had Motif ringing in my consciousness and I wasn’t letting that go in a hurry.

I did queue up for a long, cold wait to hear some of the Robert Glasper Experiment, but it was too hi-tech for me. I just wanted to chill and listen to Glasper on piano, but the crowd at Bennetts Lane was all fired up. They probably had a highlight at this outing, but not me.

On Sunday, the final night, I caught the first set of Sandy Evans with Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton. It was the perfect wind-down.

All in all, there was plenty to get excited about in the MIJF 2012. The crowds were out listening to live music and many venues seemed to be full.

Next year? Well, maybe a few more European bands and a little more experimentation. But, after all, there is the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival for that.

ROGER MITCHELL

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Now, more than ever, seems it fit to have a Melbourne jazz fringe

RANT

Anzac Day seems a good opportunity for reflection. A week or so back I was gearing up to post about the coming season of jazz festivals in Melbourne and the need for us to get off our couches and venture into the wintry nights to hear live music, prodded or encouraged perhaps by a surge in publicity about the delights of improvised music. I reckoned that the first cab off the rank — before Stonnington Jazz (May 17 to 27) and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (June 1 to 11) — would be the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.

MJFF

Fond memories of Fringe: A man called Miles makes pancakes on an electric frypan while a patron of the Captain's Bar requests a libation.

Fond thoughts came to mind about favourite Fringe moments … the sausage sizzle at Fitzroy Bowling Club where your snag is handed over by one of your favourite musicians; the ache in the bum that you notice only at the end of Big Arse Sunday when you’ve listened to eight hours or so of music; the challenge of staying in the room long enough to appreciate the subtleties of what seems like noise; the growing sense of anticipation and excitement as the APRA Commission work by Fran Swinn, Gian Slater, Erik Griswold or Ren Walters is about to unfold; the fun of following fellow patrons through city streets from a performance in an art gallery to another in which a violinist appears on a balcony and an orchestra of laptops plays below; the adventure of heading along a dark light industrial street to a dimly lit warehouse where a man called Miles makes pancakes on an electric frypan, the tiny Captain’s Bar serves enticing libations and there’s an iPhone mash-up making “music” at night’s end; the thrill of discovering Sandy Evans playing in a band that sets the pulse racing … Need I go on? Anyone who has been at these gigs will identify with the vibe.

Xani Kolac

Fond memories of Fringe: Zani Kolac plays violin from city gallery balcony.

With these thoughts in my head I was gently salivating as I looked up my calendar and saw the listing, gleaned from a useful jazz gig guide, showing that MJFF would run from April 23 to May 2, 2012. Then it dawned on my feeble brain that there had been no mention of the program for this year’s Fringe.

A word with drummer and festival administrator Sonja Horbelt revealed there was reason for concern. Sonja said Fringe is “re-evaluating and quite sponsorless this year”.

“Over the past year in particular we’ve felt the impact of Melbourne being “festival-ed out” and of the Melbourne Jazz festival drifting closer to what we believe to be the intrinsic identity of the Jazz Fringe Festival. It is flattering to think the main festival is drifting closer to what the Fringe is, but on the other hand it has left us searching for a definition of Fringe and a more focused purpose for the festival,” Sonja said.

“The Board has decided to use 2012 to take stock of the essential fabric of what is happening on the Melbourne scene and to re-evaluate the true purpose of the Jazz Fringe and its meaning for our community. We don’t have any major funding sponsors this year, aside from APRA for the composer award, so the Commission event will be the only event we stage.”

The news that the Commission concert would go ahead was good. The rest was a disappointment, not only because there would be less of the adventurous music for which this festival is known, but because there would be, essentially, no MJFF this year. I lament the loss of sponsorship and I lament the loss of a much-loved and vital part of Melbourne’s jazz and improvised music scene.

The irony is that Sophie Brous, who expanded Melbourne’s international festival into areas that had been Fringe territory, is no longer at the helm of MIJF, so in a year that could have seen Fringe filling in where the popular multi-stage experimental extravaganzas at Melbourne Town Hall left off — albeit on a necessarily smaller scale due to budget constraints — there is just one event rather than a full-on festival.

I am not saying the Fringe organising committee had any choice. Nor do I think it is a bad thing for the MJFF to re-evaluate its purpose. But I am hoping that this vital and valuable festival emerges phoenix-like from the ashes in 2013, because it is worth far more than just a collection of gigs on a calendar. MJFF can provide the special, quirky experiences mentioned above, which more formal festivals may not find so easy. It is surely also the ideal place for emerging exponents of new approaches to music to try them on audiences willing to be shocked, even horrified, but often exhilarated. And established artists can try new line-ups or alternative approaches.

That’s about it for the rant. The message: Keep the fringe in Melbourne jazz in the years ahead. May sponsors everywhere — apart from APRA, extempore, Melbourne Jazz Cooperative and Northcote Town Hall — hear and heed that message.

PREVIEW

Tilman Robinson

APRA Commission winner: Tilman Robinson

Sunday, May 13 from 5pm at Northcote Town Hall

Network of Lines premieres ‘If On A Winter’s Night a Traveller’

Tilman Robinson, composition/trombone/processing; Peter Knight, trumpet/processing; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Xani Kolac, violin; Melanie Robinson, cello; Brett Thompson, guitar/banjo; Berish Bilander, piano/accordion; Samuel Pankhurst, double bass; and Hugh Harvey, drums.

Robinson’s new work is inspired by Italo Calvino’s 1979 postmodern novel of that name. Robinson is a composer, arranger, trombonist and sound artist whose works are not easily categorised. He graduated from West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2009. He has received commissions from such jazz and classical ensembles as the Australian Brass Quintet, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, Fused and the Arundo Reed Quintet. He has been an arranger for Sinead O’Connor and was commissioned to write for Orchestra Victoria’s Seven Songs to Leave Behind. His music has been performed by the Bennetts Lane Big Band, Canada’s Frontier Justice Big Band and EMO (Enthusiastic Musicians Orchestra).

Ren Walters

Ren Walters plays Cafe 303, Northcote

Close Conversation

David Tolley bass violin, Ren Walters acoustic guitar

Tolley and Walters have a long, close musical connection. As Tolley puts it in his High 5 for Jazz and Beyond, “Hardly a month has passed in 18 years without some creative interaction [from Walters] which translates into a permanent place at my ‘table’ as my adopted son.”

Tolley gave up the bass violin in 2005 because of Parkinson’s Disease, but his recovery was “fed by intensive studio work with computer-generated electronic sounding and sporadic painting and drawing”. Late last year he organised RRaPP — a Reunion Retreat and Performance Project concerned with the “discovery through the process of composing and performing simultaneously, in real-time, interactively, without preconception but drawing upon the vast collective creativity, skill and experience of the protagonists.” This project facilitated Tolley’s return to bass violin.

Ren Walters is known to Fringe patrons for, among many other outings, his APRA Commission work performed at Iwaki Auditorium in 2009.

Stephen Magnusson

Steve Magnusson in a MJFF festival gig at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

MAGNET Trio: Stephen Magnusson guitar, Eugene Ball trumpet, Carl Pannuzzo voice

MAGNET is a new project for guitarist/composer Stephen Magnusson as a creative collaboration with Ball, Pannuzzo and Argentinian drummer, Sergio Beresovsky, who is in Argentina. Beresovsky’s absence offers the trio version of the group a way to re-interpret their repertoire, as they do every time they perform, starting with simple melodies and building it “from their ears up”.

We can expect interaction and harmony at the deepest level of collective improvisation, with “the moments made as pure as if they had been composed over crystal”.

ROGER MITCHELL

NETWORKING WINS FRINGE COMMISSION

BREAKING NEWS: Tilman Robinson wins the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival APRA Composer Commission for 2012

Tilman Robinson

Tilman Robinson’s ensemble Network of Lines will perform the the premiere of his commissioned work If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller on Sunday, May 13 at Northcote Town Hall.

Robinson’s work attempts to replicate its the structure of Italo Calvino’s 1979 postmodern novel. Employing elements of through-composition and free improvisation, the work aims to present a cohesive musical narrative while allowing the musicians to speak directly to the audience.

The line-up for the concert will be Tilman Robinson, composition/trombone/processing; Peter Knight, trumpet/processing; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Xani Kolac, violin; Melanie Robinson, cello; Brett Thompson, guitar/banjo; Berish Bilander, piano/accordion; Samuel Pankhurst, double bass; and Hugh Harvey, drums.

Opening the gig at 5pm will be David Tolley with Ren Walters, followed by Carl Panuzzo Trio featuring Stephen Magnusson and Eugene Ball.

More details to come.

ROGER MITCHELL