Category Archives: MIJF 2009

Melbourne International Jazz Festival — Day 4

Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe Melbourne

Scott Tinkler

In a contest of popularity, the Choir of Hard Knocks — at Hamer Hall with Kate Ceberano and Carl Riseley —  singing songs of Billie Holiday had to win by about the distance you’d put between yourself and a coughing Mexican, but I was ready for something with more of an edge. That said, feedback from the choir’s gig suggested there were deeply moving solos and that Ceberano captured the Holiday spirit superbly. The packed venue loved it, and what purists doubted was suitable for a jazz festival was instead a great success.

Over at Bennett’s Lane, the large room was packed to overflowing for US saxophonist Tim Berne with hometown accomplices Scott Tinkler on trumpet, Marc Hannaford on piano, Phillip Rex on bass, Simon Barker on drums and Stephen (yes, he was everywhere) Magnusson on guitar. The obscure reference to a software purveyor in the gig title remains a mystery, but there was nothing obscure about the resulting music. The first set had my nerve-endings jangling so excitedly that I went home convinced it would be the best of the festival for me. Nothing has upset that view.

Tim Berne told us the ensemble would play Duck, then a piece with no title yet “but it will have by the time we get to it” and a third piece called Whatever. “By now you’re impressed … I try to set the bar really low”, he added. Berne opened with piano, bass and drums, with the Duck being fattened and tenderised, possibly being chased about the yard and then on a wall-of-sound roller-coaster ride that seemed destined to end terminally. It was gripping, with Magnusson tending his pedals to produce exotic feedback and every so often Tinkler intruding on the frenzy with notes — or wailing sirens — so tangible they had only to be reached for to be seized. The blaring sounds were gradually, deliberately slowed, so that a regular beat emerged from the shambles. I doubt it was the duck’s heartbeat, because the duck was indubitably dead.

Untitled — Berne couldn’t come up with a title — had a much more gentle start. Was it a ballad? The mood was sombre, even ponderous. Rex was rivetting on bass, with Hannaford intervening, then Magnusson, each travelling at a different pace. Interwoven paths seemed to criss-cross and intersect, as if travellers occasionally came across each other, interacted, then proceeded with their own journeys. The ensuing frenzy had many distinct parts. As the pace slowed, the bass backed off and Tinkler’s horn lifted the piece to a sudden finish. If the band was breathless, so was the audience. No, it wasn’t a ballad.

Stephen Magnusson

Present tense interlude:
There is a muttered “all bets are off” from Berne as Whatever begins. Hannaford’s deep, resonant notes are left hanging, adding presence and atmosphere to the piece, while short, faster runs of notes dart between. Soon Tinkler is shooting out rounded globs of sound, before indulging in some virtuosic “exercises”, then delivering shimmering horn notes followed by tiny, thin wires of sound. After some rapid rhythmic chaos, an emerging slow beat ends in sudden quiet before Magnusson produces ghostly, almost human sounds and cries — glottal, like an awkward swallow, and primal. Drums come in like a spatter of rain, the guitar going into neutral chatter — desaturated sound — then becoming something alive. Squawks slow, then grow faster, with trumpet notes drifting over. Behind the insistent beat there is restless movement, a growing together that stops to let Berne’s sax in to play a series of disconnected notes, eschewing melody. Rapid, changing drum patterns appear tamed by the sax, then not tameable. There is a build-up to a mixed up mess of sound. It stops. The set ends. Beside me on the bench, two recently ex Sydneysiders are transfixed.

The second set consisted entirely of Berne’s piece Adobe Probe. In general it seemed a little less cohesive and might have gone on too long. Yet it began with a glorious miscellany of sounds — you could drown in it and enjoy the process. Hannaford and Rex had a conversation that was engrossing, though not necessarily harmonious, then Tinkler and Berne took a smoother, sonorous journey. The end came after frantic drums and bass fought gentle piano, all stopping for the guitar to insert some sparse sound “glitches”. The Adobe Probe had landed.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival — Day 3

Magnusson/Ball/Talia

Magnusson Ball Talia

Stephen Magnusson, Eugene Ball and Joe Talia made only one announcement on Tuesday at the Melbourne Recital centre — they played. There was no talk. Their instruments said all they wished to say.

And from the opening notes from Magnusson’s guitar, through Ball’s solemn trumpet and Talia’s filigree drum work, it was evident that we would feel this music rather than merely hear or observe it. There was a dreamy quality to their first offering and a sense of serenity to their second. Ball, who closed the first with a big note, which hung in the air full of all the expression and tonal depth of which he is capable, played more expansively in the second, venturing into a more melodic and yet wistful feel.

Things heated up slightly in the third offering (noted blogger Miriam Zolin identifies it as Lush Life) , Ball introducing the piece energetically and Talia indulging in some frenzied playing leading to some discord.  In what developed into a battle between guitar and trumpet, surges in Ball’s sound were echoed gently by Magnusson. The understanding between all three musicians ruled out  hesitation. They held our close attention to build attacks, before allowing Ball to smooth things over, with Magnusson’s guitar slipping in behind —  behaving as a “perfect couple”.

The applause came, like the music, with feeling.

Charlie Haden’s Quartet West

Quartet West

As usual Charlie Haden was not backward in spruiking, complimenting the beautiful theatre (Melbourne Recital Centre) and “the best band in the world” — Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Larry Goldings on piano and Rodney Green on drums — while mentioning the collective Old and New Dreams (tenor saxophone player Dewey Redman , bassist Charlie Haden, trumpet player Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell with which he toured Australia in 1981-82. And Haden plugged the Quartet’s records.

They played Passport, Hello My Lovely, Child’s Song, First Song, Lonely Woman (recorded in 1958 with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins on The Shape of Jazz to Come) and one other piece — was it Segment? — before an encore. After the first three, some natives at the back became restless, shouting that they were unable to hear the bass. One patron seemed to puzzle Haden by adding, “We can’t hear the vocals.” But the objections  made sense — what was the point of hearing Quartet West without hearing its famed bass player? The mix was rectified.

Watts started like a motor in Passport and Haden was so smooth and melodic — though not loud — in Hello My Lovely. Child’s Song showed plenty of virtuosity, but I wondered whether the quartet had the emotion of Magnusson/Ball/Talia in the first set. But a dreamy solo from Watts to open First Song, followed by great bass and piano solos, moved me to believe that this slow ballad could be expressing everybody in the audience’s finest moments in song. The couple in front leaned together as the notes of the saxophone drifted the melody across our heads, ending with what could have been the dance of a bird.

The emotion level remained high in Lonely Woman, with shimmering sax and some rapid-fire fingering from Haden, then fluidity with feeling from Watts. A Goldings solo was mesmerising, speaking to our hearts. Obviously virtuosity can deliver affect.

The final piece — possibly Segment — before the encore broke the mould of sequential soloing. There was dialogue, conversation, interaction along with swing and a driving rhythm. The encore, Body and Soul, began with Haden,  Goldings and Green on stage, but Watts came in during the piece, perhaps to satisfy audience calls for the “sexy sax”.

Quartet West’s second appearance in Australia must have awakened some old dreams and sparked some new dreams.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival — Day 2

IT was a dilemma: the hardly ever serious Actis Dato at BMW Edge or the seriously promoted and popular Katie Noonan’s Blackbird Project at Hamer Hall, along with the boys from FGHR (drummer Daniel Farrugia, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan, pianist Luke Howard and bassist Ben Robertson) in the supporting role. As usual, I timed things badly, dropping in to hear the Italian antics, but leaving in a bid to catch FGHR. Bad move, because the half-hour interval at Hamer Hall began soon after I arrived.

Actis Dato perform at BMW Edge

Actis Dato (Carlo Actis Dato, sax and bass clarinet, Beppe Di Filippo, alto saxophone, Daniele Bertone, drums, Matteo Ravizza, electric bass) launched energetically into what might have been titled “Pantas del Fuego” (suggesting visions of flaming trousers, but billed as a northern Italian political song), which was loads of fun. With verve and vitality they set feet tapping, repeating rhythmic patterns and indulging in lots of pointing, jumping and hip shaking. Was there a screaming blowfly on stage?

A face-off began Perestroika, with the horn players folding their arms as they eyed each other in mock aggression. It seemed so full-on that I wondered whether they would ever vary the pace. In what might have been titled Che Guevara, the horns were in unison, the drummer did some pa rum pum pum pum, al la the Little Drummer Boy, and the guitarist finally made his presence felt.

Actis Dato seemed to be drawing on folk, gypsy and African influences, but the categories are irrelevant. It was racy and often raucous, but also beautifully melodic and engagingly rhythmic.

Katie Noonan and friends perform at Hamer Hall

So, off to the Hamer Hall, where the interval was uneventful. Then, Katie Noonan’s Blackbird Project — the songs of Lennon McCartney — brought us 12 songs plus an encore, with Zac Hurren on tenor sax, Sam Keevers (who wrote the charts) on piano, Stephen Magnusson (is he everywhere?) on guitar, Brett Hirst on bass and Simon Barker on drums. They were all in suits — except Katie.

To put my cards on the table, and no discredit to Katie Noonan, but I’m not a fan of her voice, though many people seem to love its purity. The audience reaction seemed positive, but I wondered how fans of the original songs reacted to these interpretations. In Yesterday, Noonan’s voice was the only source of melody, which might have challenged some. And in the instrumental Norwegian Wood, Hurren seemed too abrasive and the arrangement too “out there” for such a beautiful song.

I began to warm to the project by the seventh song, Across the Universe, when Magnusson was (as always) magnificent and Noonan’s voice soared up with the special-effects smoke for the line “nothing’s gonna change my world”. And in Lennon’s In My Life, there was more guts and feeling to Noonan’s vocals, backed by great guitar.

When Noonan sang her favourite lyric — “Each one believing that love never dies, Watching her eyes and hoping I’m always there” — in Here There and Everywhere, accompanied by only guitar and bass, the result was most effective. What was happening? Some great solos in Fool on the Hill were followed by Noonan showing much more of the depth and power of her voice in The Long and Winding Road, ending with great expression in the line “lead me to your door”. Was I being won over?

In Eleanor Rigby there was heaps of energy, with variations in the timing and rhythm, Hurren going for it on sax and Magnusson standing for a solo before Noonan delivered some rapid-fire v0cals and sustained notes. The audience called for more and Katie Noonan returned to the stage with Brett Hirst for some vocal improvisation in I Will.

Can I say the concert ended on a high note? (Sorry). But I concede that I was more impressed than I expected. Let’s hear more of Noonan digging deeper into her vocal range.