Category Archives: MIJF 2010

Melbourne International Jazz Festival

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 7

THEO BLECKMANN: SONGS FOR VOICE, LOOPS AND TOYS at The Forum, Upstairs
with GIAN SLATER, STEPHEN MAGNUSSON AND JOHN HOLLENBECK

Post to come

DOUBLE BILL at the Melbourne Recital Centre
NOAH PREMINGER TRIO

Post to come

JOHN ABERCROMBIE QUARTET

Post to come

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 6

FORUM ON IDENTITY AT THE WHEELER CENTRE

Paul Grabowsky was the consummate moderator for this discussion, which had in the panel Charles Lloyd, Martin Jackson, Theo Bleckmann and, at late notice, Gian Slater. It was a great success and I understand it was recorded for broadcast on the ABC. They covered a lot of ground, starting with how jazz is defined, how the local scene had changed, and the ways in which genres and demarcations in music are being broken down.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd

Lloyd related a story from Bernie Grundman, who masters Lloyd’s albums, about a friend who took a much younger girlfriend at Bennetts Beach. She came in to find him listening to Bill Evans and, surprised, commented: “You actually listen to music”. Lloyd said music was “healing” and could “change the molecules in the room”.

Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann looks for people who listen

Bleckmann asked the Wheeler Centre audience how many actually listened to music without doing anything else, and was surprised at how many hands went up. He was optimistic about how being part of the music scene, buying albums, going to gigs and talking about the music was valuable.

Lloyd called for wakefulness to avoid the sleepwalking that “is wanted by a certain society”.

Martin Jackson
Martin Jackson

Jackson said he was not pessimistic about the Melbourne sccene, only about state politicians. He thanked Sophie Brous for having done “a fantastic job with this festival” and, in a moving comment, recalled not having listened to any music for 3-4 days after his father died and splitting from a long-time partner. It was in Coltrane’s music that he eventually found solace.

These are only a few snippets from this forum. Forums are a great idea and there should be more of them. My only reservation in this instance was that Slater, who was given late notice that Allan Browne could not make it, and Bleckmann did not get a chance to say quite as much. Perhaps the number of panelists could be reduced, but probably it is just how things work out on the day.

Gian Slater
Gian Slater

DOUBLE BILL: JASON MORAN SOLO at BMW Edge

After the forum I hurried to BMW Edge for a short, but engrossing set by Jason Moran on piano. Opening with the words “This is a piano”, Moran let loose an assortment of sampled voices and sounds. This was clearly not going to be an ordinary piano recital. Among the words that flowed as Moran played were (I think) Edward VIII saying, “At long last I am able to say a few words of my own”, Nikita Khrushchev saying to Richard Nixon, “The time has passed when ideas scare us”, and Jelly Roll Morton saying, “Jazz is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm. When you have plenty rhythm with your plenty swing, it becomes beautiful.”

In a piece written by or for Moran’s former teacher Jaki Byard, there were tempo changes, a ragtime melody, strong chords followed by dancing notes, varied dynamics, plosive outbursts and beautiful runs up and down the keyboard before a fragment of familiar melody. Moran changed the mood on a dime, so to speak. He then played in sync with a talking woman’s voice as she prattled about breaking down barriers between the art world and the general public. Magic, inventive stuff.

Moran seemed to improvise to electronic static in his penultimate piece, which gradually assumed a hymn-like feel. His clearly defined notes were unhurried, rich in resonance and simple, with some sharp, dissonant attacks. He turned up the volume on sampling in his final number.

As Moran would say in his forum appearance on Saturday, the rich jazz tradition from which he has emerged is important to him, but that still leaves him the freedom to appreciate excursions away from that tradition. His solo appearance bears that out.

Jason Moran
Jason Moran

AHMAD JAMAL at Melbourne Recital Centre

Unwisely I left at the break and dashed to the Recital Centre for Ahmad Jamal, but was too unsettled there. Switching concerts is almost always a mistake, I find, because it is hard to approach the new gig in anything but a rushed frame of mind.
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I had wanted to hear the second set at the Edge, so I was not as receptive to Ahmad Jamal’s quartet — James Cammack on bass, Manolo Badrena on percussion and Herlin Riley on drums (replacing Kenny Washington) — as I should have been. The music seemed too lush and splendiforous, the piano playing too expansive and lacking the space.

Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I was forced to fend off Melbourne Recital Centre staff who thought I was filming video, and then (the last straw) I was asked to move out of the seat I had been told to sit in when I arrived. I left and returned to BMW Edge. An enduring image as I left was of Manolo Badrena surrounded by what seemed like a barricade of percussion devices, almost as though he was performing from a cage. In fact the ensemble seemed to have a lot of clutter on stage and that seemed to suit the extravagance and fussiness of their music. I longed for a piercing horn note or a single piano note to hang shimmering in the air.

Manolo Badrena
Manolo Badrena

So I left and returned to the Edge. That was a great gig.

DOUBLE BILL:
OEHLERS, HARLAND, GRABOWSKY, ROGERS at BMW Edge

Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers
Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers

Somehow it was easy to reconnect to this gig, despite missing the start of the set. My feeling is that as the set progressed there was gradually more integration between these four highly skilled players. Of course that is just an impression, but it felt for a while we were feeling lots of energy, but that Oehlers was a little more muted than usual and that Grabowsky was able to hold his own (again, there’s that competitive metaphor) against Rogers and Harland.

Reuben Rogers
Reuben Rogers

But later in the set Oehlers let go in a long solo and that seemed to establish his presence, so that this robust quartet was able to drive towards an engrossing finish that helped obliterate my abortive bid earlier to switch venues. I doubt that many left the Edge unsatisfied with the Double Bill.

Harland and Oehlers
Harland and Oehlers

THE CLAUDIA QUINTET at Bennetts Lane.

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

Chris Speed and Drew Gress
Chris Speed and Drew Gress

Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman
Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman

Drew Gress
Drew Gress

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

More details and pics to come.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 5

CHARLES LLOYD MASTERCLASS

Charles Lloyd

What a joy it was to spend a peaceful hour in a small group at BMW Edge for Charles Lloyd‘s masterclass. A few times Lloyd asked whether anyone wanted to play something, but no one volunteered and he talked about life, his life and mentors, and music. I had intended to take a few notes, but instead it seemed right to relax, listen and take many photos. Lloyd’s face is lively and changeable. When a topic really takes his fancy, his face glows with enthusiasm.

It was a privilege to meet Charles Lloyd, shake his hand and chat for a while.

Here’s another picture, but the colour balance is a bit odd:

Charles Lloyd

MILES DAVIS: PRINCE OF DARKNESS
A tribute by Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra

ON Wednesday night Miles Davis returned, but The Prince of Darkness did a quick costume change at Melbourne Town Hall, emerging after interval a changed musician. Grabowsky and the AAO were never going to offer a pedestrian tribute to Davis, but adventurous compositions by Anthony Pateras and Phillip Rex must have sent some fans home clutching at remnants of their comfort zones.

Grabowsky, always the consummate host, ushered us into three pieces from 1949 arranged for Davis by Gil Evans and played on this occasion by a Birth of Cool nonette. They opened with Boplicity, then Eugene Ball sounded iridescent in the luminous Moonbeams, followed by the sharp, electric Move, on which James Greening‘s trombone was spot-on.

Phil Slater plays Miles
Phil Slater plays Miles

Then came a festival highlight that was a rival to the Charles Lloyd New Quartet experience. Grabowsky conducted the talent-laden AAO in the first part of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto De Arunjuez from Sketches of Spain, arranged by Gil Evans and orchestrated by Eugene Ball. Percussion and a sweeping orchestral passage ushered in soloist Phil Slater as Miles in a beautifully measured performance. Adrian Sherriff on bass trombone provided fantastic depth, Scott Tinkler and Paul Williamson joined Ball on trumpets and Stephen Magnusson on guitar seemed to find just the right time to play a few significant chords. The orchestra created magnificently sweeping vistas, and Ball’s muted horn was light and ethereal.

Any Miles fans would have been convinced of his return, on this night, in this place.

Tony Williams — drummer with Miles Davis Quartet from the mid to late sixties — composed Black Comedy (from Miles in the Sky), which Grabowsky, who was the arranger for this outing, said “changes meter constantly”. This was a change to punchy, spiky music. Erkki Veltheim on violin and Sandy Evans were featured, and there were solos from Paul Cutlan on sax and Simon Barker on drums. Energetic stuff, but no real preparation for what was to come after interval.

Tomlinson, Tinkler and Veltheim
Tomlinson, Tinkler and Veltheim

First up was a world premiere of Anthony Pateras’ composition Ontetradecagon, which he said arose from the idea that at the time of On the Corner being released in 1971, Miles was exposed to electronic pieces by Stockhausen. Pateras saw the album as having “the sound of someone going outside their comfort zone”, so he set out to feel “as unsafe as possible” in this project. He cut sections of On the Corner tracks to make 70 loops on a Revox B77 tape machine, considering these “plunderphonic” and drawing on James Tenney’s Blue Suede, which also used tape.

(The term plunderphonic had been new to me until last week, during the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, when the NMIT Laptop Orchestra played Adrian Sherriff’s Study No. 2 (For Jan Stole Who), the title an anagram of John Oswald, of Plunderphonic fame, whose work it plundered.)

Pateras worked the loops into a 20-minute tape, then made sure the pitches from the loops matched what he was calling on the ensemble to produce, so that both live music and tape input were of equal importance. Pateras had six sub-groups of players, so that some were playing from the sides and back of the space.

So how did it work in practice? Vanessa Tomlinson, Scott Tinkler and Erkki Veltheim launched the piece in almost complete darkness, offering subdued growls, blaring notes and high-pitched spikes. Later reeds came in from the right, and tuba with trombones from the left. The reeds and ‘bones echoed Tinkler’s high spikes, and Veltheim contributed a similarly high-pitched shimmer. I was wishing for lower pitches.

At one stage the hall seemed to be full of chattering monkeys, agitated insects. A bass clarinet started munching before more lush chatter and then machinegun runs of sound. There was agitation, wailing, sirens or mournful wails — a sense of urgency before some slow, sweeping brass took over. Clearly conveyed in the dark came a sound akin to masticating for us to chew on. The agitation continued. There was bustle and unrest and mayhem.

The piece finished. Was Miles still in the audience, or had he left the building?

Phillip Rex as DJ Davis
Phillip Rex as DJ Davis

Maybe he had slipped out to a rave party, or to find some drugs. That would have suited the final contribution for the night, Phillip Rex’s work Black Satin, which he led from his laptop in centre stage. He had the facility to bring in instruments at will and vary their input from the laptop live as the musicians on stage made their contribution. Rex acknowledged after the gig that this piece would probably work better in a setting where people could dance or move freely to the music.

Paul Williamson and Elliott Dalgleish
Paul Williamson and Elliott Dalgleish

There did not seem to be a direct or indirect connection to Miles, but Grabowsky did say it was appropriate to ask “If he were alive, what would Miles Davis be doing now?” Maybe hip-hop and rave parties would be his scene.

I like to be stretched and these works after interval did that. I found Pateras’s work easier to warm to than Rex’s piece, mainly because more happened and it never lacked interest. But my pick of the night by far was the music from Sketches of Spain.

A final comment: What a fantastic array of talent was on stage for this gig. Everywhere you looked in the rows of musicians were the faces of great musicians — not imported musos, but locals. We should value them more, whatever occasional pain they cause us on the stretching rack.