Category Archives: MIJF 2011

Posts about the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011


Overground, Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011
Sunday, June 12, 3pm-9pm, Melbourne Town Hall

Rully Shabara

Arresting: Rully Shabara on vocals

It was late in a solid afternoon of music when the Indonesians invaded. In a day of occasional confusion, with some patrons not quite sure who would be on next and which gigs were running late, musicians needed some drama to make their presence felt. A small but curious crowd had gathered to hear Rully Shabara (voice) and Wukir Suryadi (bamboo instruments) from Yogyakarta, but this soon became a large and intensely interested gathering which pressed forward as if forced by the ferocity of the vocal onslaught.

Rully Shabara

Ferocity: Rully Shabara

We had heard Chiri, in which Bae Il Dong had demonstrated the power and emotive impact of Korean p’ansori singing, so the idea of strong vocals was not new. But the forcefulness of this duo came as a surprise. Hearing Shabara at close range can be likened to having a steam train roaring towards you, though he did vary the dynamics and could move the audience as well as assail. But the main attribute of his voice seemed to be ferocity and the ability to deliver a sudden vocal onslaught that was awe-inspiring and even a little frightening.

According to a post by Marvin on Free Albums Galore,  Rully Shabara is a member of the Indonesian avant-rock/punk group Zoo and Wukir Suryadi is an innovative musician who experiments within the boundaries of the traditional music of Indonesia using a musical instrument he built.

Wukir Suryadi

Amazing: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Suryadi played two instruments. His primary one — a bambuwukir, constructed (as the name suggests) from bamboo and producing sounds like an electric guitar with built-in percussion — was capable of amazing variation in his skilled hands.


Virtuosic: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Between Shabara’s vocals, Suryadi erupted into a rock-star-like frenzy that was virtuosic and compelling. It was if he could just touch the instrument to produce a band’s worth of sound. The audience showed appreciation with whoops and wild applause. An excellent description of a Sydney gig by these two musicians is at Sydney Outsider — Java in Waterloo.

Wukir Suryadi

Wukir Suryadi on recorder-like flute

At the end of the set, Suryadi played a long recorder-style flute, which was ideal for the soulful lament delivered by Shabara. For Overground patrons who stayed, this gig must have been a highlight.

Rully Shabara

Soulful lament: Rully Shabara

Should it have been part of a jazz festival? I think so. In the lower town hall Will Guthrie & Cured Pink (if I’ve got the correct gig) had been doing some amazing things with a piece of meat, I’m told. And, Bae Il Dong was a big hit during the festival. Overground is meant to take us out of our comfort zones, which is also what the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival is meant to do. I say, bring it on.

That said, I think Overground needs to work on some improvements. Because there are late changes to the order of gigs, and because concerts inevitably run over time, there ought to be a way for patrons in the main entrance foyer to see at a glance exactly which gigs are on at any moment in each venue — upstairs, downstairs and in the main hall. And I don’t mean gigs scheduled, but those actually on at that time. This would be a challenge to update, but really helpful.

As well, it would be good to have more information available about each band, so that if you have never heard its music you’d be able to make a judgment about where to head if there was a clash. With the crowds that turn up to Overground, it is hard to get into the smaller venues, so some planning is necessary. I do realise the concept is meant to allow patrons to try whatever pops up, but this often leads to a fragmentary experience if you have no idea what to expect.

What else was a highlight on the day? Well, I missed Yoshida Tatsuya and Satoko Fuji, Charlemagne Palestine with Oren Ambarchi, and Tony Conrad with Chris Abrahams. I felt for Matt Mitchell on solo piano, who came on between the Indonesian invasion and Sean Baxter with Jerome Noetinger and Faust (at which time I had to go to catch Paul Grabowsky‘s gig at the Forum).

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

The combination of viola, sax and trumpet  worked well in the set by James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler, and it was a pleasure to hear Noriega again — I love his work. I also enjoyed hearing Anthony Pateras at the piano with Tim Berne on sax and Gareth Thompson on drums.

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

It’s not often that the program director — and principal mover and shaker — at a major international festival is also on the program as a performer, so Sophia Brous’s outing with Judith Hamann on cello, Chris Abrahams on piano and Tim O’Dwyer on sax was a must-see.

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

My attitude to vocal gymnastics has already taken its toll on Norma Winstone (who, along with all other vocalists who indulge in a little scat, can sleep quite easily at night without my applause for that aspect of their work, I’m sure). But I am reliably informed that Brous is following a path well trod by Maggie Nichols and Julie Tippetts. Here’s a link to Maggie Nicols, Dave Fowler, Phil Minton in a Mopomoso Christmas Special 2009. And here’s a link to Keith and Julie Tippett live in Jazz à Luz in 2007. (I did not discover these links, but received them as an aid to my education.)

Sophia Brous

Mover, shaker and vocalist: Sophia Brous

So, being honest, I preferred this vocal experimentation, especially with the cello, to other instances of what I call “vocal gymnastics”. And, though it may be following an established path, it was stretching my comfort zone, which is always good. But it’s still not really my cup of tea (I don’t drink much tea).

Alex Garsden

Out there: Alex Garsden

The other gig of particular interest was US drummer Ches Smith‘s outing with Jim Denley on sax, Alex Garsden on guitar and Natasha Anderson on “recorder” (though it looked like a laptop to me). Garsden managed some pretty interesting sounds and did some pretty strange things to his guitar’s strings, and Denley had some amazing ways to play a sax and a wooden flute, but Smith’s input was not spectacular compared with his earlier work.

Jim Denley

All we needed to know about sax: Jim Denley

To sum up, Overground was definitely worth doing, and worth attending. But this year I felt that we were missing a Han Bennink or Peter Brotzmann (the stars in 2010) to give the day some focus. Palestine and Conrad are undoubtedly characters, but their performances lacked the action-packed feel of Bennink or Brotzmann’s gigs. That said, I’m certain many punters went away happy — or deaf and happy.



Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011, June 11, 9pm, Melbourne Town Hall
Durations: Charlemagne Palestine organ, piano, voice eletronics; Tony Conrad violin, electronics

It began at 9pm, but I did not make it there until about 11.30pm. From outside, the town hall appeared quiet. But as I climbed the stairs, I became aware of a sustained sound emanating from the main hall. It was the sound of the grand organ — the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. As I was ushered into the darkened auditorium, the volume swelled.


Durations: patrons in the town hall

I became aware of other people — some seated, some standing and others on the floor, comfortable on cushions and in sleeping bags. The pipes of the grand organ were lit in bluish purple. The only other source of light came from the organ console.

Durations: Charlemagne Palestine at the grand organ, Melbourne Town Hall

Durations: Charlemagne Palestine at the grand organ, Melbourne Town Hall

The organ’s drone continued as I wandered among the assembled listeners, picking my path carefully to avoid treading on any prone figures. At the keyboards of this magnificent instrument, which was festooned with small stuffed animals, Charlemagne Palestine sat motionless.

Charlemagne Palestine

Still: Charlemagne Palestine motionless at the grand organ.

I watched. I listened. I waited. Palestine remained motionless. The drone of the organ chord continued. This was long-form improvisation, I thought, minimalism at its most minimal. There was no need for movement, no need for action, no need for change. Perhaps the meditative mood was maximised by the absence of movement, by the absence of action, by the persistence of permutation.

A sloth of bears

A sloth of teddy bears

In the middle of the dimly lit space was a chair. On it appeared to sit a sloth of small teddy bears. They may have been meditating.

Movement: Charlemagne Palestine

Movement: Charlemagne Palestine makes a minimalist move.

After about 20 minutes, something caught my attention. Was it a movement? The organ’s drone continued. There had been no variation in volume, no discernible chord changes. But there it was again. Palestine had moved, but not into the occupied territories. He had begun to take objects from the keyboards and place objects into the keyboards. The organ volume remained static. Presumably there was a slight change in the chord being played. But I had not detected anything, being perhaps already in a meditative state.

Palestine & Conrad

Charlemagne Palestine plays; Tony Conrad waits.

Ten minutes or so later, the figure sitting  still and silent in a chair not far from the organ console stood, catching the attention of a ray of purple light. As he slowly became active, I detected a change from the organ. Not new notes, not a change in tempo, but — yes — a hint of diminished volume. I waited. The finely wrought wane continued. The grand organ’s wail was dying away. The sense of expectation was palpable. What would happen next? But I recognised this thought and let it pass like a leaf in the stream. In a meditative, minimalist state, one worries not about what will be, only what is.

Time does pass, however, and so did Palestine’s long lament. The organ drone ceased. I flicked aside the thought that another musician — Thomas Heywood perhaps — may have done a little more with the town hall’s magnificent instrument.

Tony Conrad

Minimalism of note: Tony Conrad

The hatted figure, Tony Conrad, slowly bent to retrieve his electrified violin from the floor, lifted it into position, took a bow and began to play. Oh, how he played. The note — note that it was one note — poured forth from his instrument as pure and unadulterated as the organ’s chordal wail had been. The note went on. And on. And on. The meditative state returned. The prone figures may not have registered a change of instrument. They lay back, meditated and lost themselves.

As if in a trance, I moved towards the door. Outside in the foyer, where time had not stood still, it was after midnight. One of the festival staff, returning from a break, remarked to another that there had been no change. Wrong, was the reply. It’s a different instrument now.



Melbourne International Jazz Festival double bill, Melbourne Recital Centre, June 11, 2011
Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards Trio (not reviewed)
Norma Winstone with Klaus Gesing, Glauco Venier

The first set in this double bill was still showing on the small television screens in the MRC foyer when I arrived about 9pm. As I listened and watched the very poor quality video image, I decided this set would have been a trial. Kurt Rosenwinkel‘s trio seemed to playing without much variation and playing on and on. Then I heard a prominent musician in the foyer comment that this band ought not to be going on this long because “they’re not that good”. And, as patrons flooded into the foyer at set’s end, there were plenty who agreed that quantity was no substitute for quality. I decided it had been a good idea to take the call from Europe and arrive late.

Norma Winstone

Impressive: Norma Winstone

Now for the second set. Norma Winstone came highly recommended, and since this concert I have heard only positive feedback from those patrons I’ve met who heard the set. But I have had to respond that, while Winstone as a package with Gesing and Venier worked well, her vocals did not set the world on fire as far as I was concerned.

Let me digress. On John Mayall‘s fantastic drum-less album The Turning Point, a track called Room To Move featured Mayall making rhythmic, percussive sounds with his mouth close to the microphone. I always recall his words, on the recording, saying, “There’s a bit of chicka chicka on this one.” I loved that track. But that’s as far as my love affair with mouth percussion extended. Since then, I find myself reaching for the forward button when a vocalist moves into scat mode.

Norma Winstone

Straying into scat: Norma Winstone

That’s a personal foible, but, as I listened to Norma Winstone, it was her lyrics and singing of words that moved me more than her wordless contributions. Winstone began with a 13th century ballad, moving seamlessly into Hoy Nazam’s Cradle Song. Then came Giant’s Gentle Stride, dedicated to John Coltrane, in which Gesing’s soprano sax was exquisite with Winstone’s vocals. Gesing’s bass clarinet was so smooth to enter Just Sometimes, an Argentinian composition to which Winstone added moving lyrics. But in Everybody’s Talking At Me, Winstone introduced what I dub “voice gymnastics” — I remained to be convinced that it helped the song.

Klaus Gesing

Smooth entry: Klaus Gentry

Next, Gesing charmingly introduced Sound of Bells, based on a melody by French composer and pianist Erik Satie. It was very effective, and Winstone had great presence. In Rush, Gesing introduced some “popping” on bass clarinet, and Winstone indulged in more voice gymnastics. Winstone’s vocals in Among the Clouds called to mind Australia’s Gian Slater — and that is a compliment. This flowed into the Tom Waits song San Diego Serenade, which was my favourite of the set. Gesing initially played in a high register on the bass clarinet, before a great solo with some deep, raspy notes that were underscored with subtlety by Venier on piano. Winstone’s voice was agile in an exchange with Gesing on soprano sax, while the piano drummed beneath. This was a highlight, but I still wondered why there was a need for Winstone to stray into scat.

Glauco Venier

Subtlety: Glauco Venier

The encore was Slow Fox, in which Winstone’s lyrics told of a heartbreaking scene in which an elderly couple dance in the street.

Winstone and Gesing

Winstone and Gesing

I think Winstone was warmly appreciated by her audience, and it is silly for me to let my issue with “voice gymnastics” colour my appreciation of this vocalist. However, though I believe Winstone, Gesing and Venier are an ideal musical combination, the vocalist impressed but did not excite.