Category Archives: MIJF 2011

Posts about the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011


Mary Halvorson Trio, Bennetts Lane, 11pm, June 10
Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011

Mary Halvorson guitar, John Hebert bass, Ches Smith drums

Megan Evans

War on mobiles: Megan Evans introduces Mary Halvorson Trio

It was late at night when Halvorson’s trio was setting up. Bennetts Lane Megan Evans introduced the trio and could have murdered “that man at the bar talking on his mobile phone” … but she didn’t.

Mary Halvorson

In a world of hair own: Mary Halvorson plays in her cocoon

It probably says something about my lack of it, but I admit to being distracted by the guitarist’s hair. I could see that when Halvorson settled down to play she was going to literally let her hair down — not in a musical sense, but that it was going to fall in a curtain all around her face, forming a sort of cocoon. She would be in a world of hair own, I posted later to Facebook.

Ches Smith

Talent: Ches Smith

I was also distracted, and really pleased, to discover that the drummer I had loved so much at the Forum upstairs earlier with Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, Ches Smith, was a member of Halvorson’s trio. Melbourne drummer extraordinaire Ronny Ferella alerted me to this fact — fairly obvious to everybody else given that Smith was sitting in front of us at the drum kit — while agreeing that this young drummer really has talent.

Ches Smith

Tired but true: Ches Smith

Smith looked pretty tired, and at times during the first set of three pieces he seemed to go on to automatic pilot. But for my money he was the standout performer of this gig. During the first few minutes of the trio’s first piece a significant cymbal went flying off its stand, though Smith does not strike me (get it?) as a smash & bash drummer. He does go at it hard at times, but he’s a lot more interesting than that. There is variation, responsiveness and a sense of complete involvement with the music that make him great to hear, and to watch.

John Hebert

Impressive: John Hebert

I had to leave to catch a train after the first set, wimping out (as Megan suggested), so this post relates to only the first half. John Hebert on bass was impressive.

Mary Halvorson

Gravelly: Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson has a strong feel to her work, but on this occasion there did not seem to be a lot of variation. From this half concert it seemed she was deliberate and considered rather than being at all showy in her playing. In fact, in these three pieces she seemed almost restrained. The sound was less about individual notes and had a more gravelly feel. Pedals were present, but not used flamboyantly.

Am I saying Halvorson was not exciting? Possibly, on this occasion, when I think about it, that sums it up. But neither her playing nor her trio was at all boring. I think there was a contained yet sustained feel, with plenty of tension and interest, but not the sort of virtuosic high points that you may get from a James Muller or John Scofield.

Another set would have been good. Hearing Smith again was the highlight for me.



Melbourne International Jazz Festival, Bennetts Lane, June 10, 2011
Pascal Schumacher Quartet (Belgium/Germany/Luxembourg)
Pascal Schumacher vibraphone, Franz von Chossy piano, Christophe Devisscher bass, Jens Duppe drums

There’s nothing like a fast uphill walk from the Forum to Bennetts Lane to get the pulse racing, but it does not necessarily encourage the right vibe for a concert featuring vibes. To make matters worse, I had to have sustenance, but instead chose fast “food” (no names, no pack drill). So I missed almost all of the quartet’s first gig, which was to start at 8pm.

Pascal Schumacher

Centre of attention: Pascal Schumacher

To continue the theme of focus (as in, which members of a band attract attention at a particular gig) from the previous post, it was evident that Pascal Schumacher is the focal point of this band. That’s understandable. He is certainly skilled and his magnificent vibraphone dominates the stage.

Impressive: Franz

Impressive: Franz von Chossy

The other band member to impress on the night was Franz von Chossy, especially in his composition Metamorphosis (which Schumacher said had been named Life line at one stage).

Pascal Schumacher

Skilled: Pascal Schumacher

In this set the quartet played some pieces from their albums Here We Gong and Bang My Can, starting with White Surface, followed by the classically influenced Seven Fountains, the moving Metamorphosis, the frenetic 30 Little Jelly Beans, Devisscher’s A Fisherman’s Tale — in which Schumacher effectively employed two bows with the vibraphone — and an interpretation of the Scottish band Travis’s song Sing.

Jens Duppe

Not too exciting on the night: Jens Duppe

I’d like to listen to more from this quartet, because I think some of the tracks on Bang My Can are darker, with more tension. And that’s the key to what often influences my response to music. When Anat Cohen played swinging clarinet at the Forum upstairs in the Aaron Goldberg/3 Cohens gig, I loved it. Extremes in music, including contrast and tension, along with dark moods and sometimes intense complexity, are elements that predispose me to like a performance or a composition. But I do associate the vibes with a free-flowing, but very light brand of music that often does not do much for me. In the case of this quartet, the darker they get and the more tension there is, the more I’ll like what they do.

On the night, in one set, I was not too excited by either Christophe Devisscher on bass or Jens Duppe on drums. But one set is hardly enough, so my task now is to listen some more.


Melbourne International Jazz Festival double bill at the Forum Upstairs, Friday, June 10, 6pm
First set: Los Totopos
Tim Berne alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell piano, Ches Smith drums

Second set: Jason Moran piano, keys, drums; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Simon Barker drums, percussion

It seems a funny place to start blogging a festival, but there’s been so much music and so little time. Posts about earlier gigs will come in time, but on a cool but dry Melbourne Friday evening (balmy in contrast to chilly Canberra, where I was during the week) the Forum upstairs was a cosy prospect.

My mind went back to Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe Melbourne at Bennetts Lane on May 3, 2009, when a few locals (Tinkler, Magnusson, Barker, Hannaford) joined Berne to take us on an unforgettable ride which killed off a duck and left me redefining the term “ballad”. But this Berne outing was much more restrained.

Tim Berne

Restrained: Tim Berne with Los Totopos

To cut to the chase, two things stood out for me from this double bill. First, the music of Los Totopos seemed quite structured and, though of course there was group improvisation, there never seemed to be any lack of direction throughout. The pieces (Simple City, Yield, Scanners, Spare Parts) felt as if they were carefully crafted. By contrast, the Moran/Tinkler/Barker set that followed had an extra edge to it because there was a feeling that anything could happen. There did not seem to be a plan, or at least not a highly prescriptive one, so it was happening on the run.

Second, in both sets the limelight seemed to be stolen by band members other than the “big names”. I’m not at all suggesting that Tim Berne or Jason Moran are out to take the kudos or that they are not collaborative. I mean merely that Berne and Moran are movers and shakers, yet on the night the focus was on Smith and Noriega in the first set, and on Barker and Tinkler in the second. And these four musicians were, I reckon, the ones that stood out.

Ches Smith

Fantastic: Ches Smith

In Los Totopos, I thought Ches Smith was fantastic throughout the set. Sitting behind an array of gongs and microphone stands, he commanded attention because of his inventiveness, energy and timely interventions.

Oscar Noriega

Tension and beauty: Oscar Noriega

Noriega — whether on clarinet or bass clarinet — contributed to the building of tension (in Scanners, Spare Parts) yet produced some periods of delicate beauty. This has been a festival in which the clarinet has excelled, through Noriega and Anat Cohen (see post to come).

Matt Mitchell

Integral: Matt Mitchell

Of course the contributions of Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne were integral to the four pieces, which were each like a journey. Simple City was gestational; Yield was more emphatic and insistent, with all four players following interwoven pathways; Scanners was much more abrasive, with short runs and a bit of helter skelter, much tension and not too much melody; and Spare Parts again provided a gradual development of tension, but did not follow a linear path from A to B.

In a corner of my brain I was disappointed that Berne had not fired up. But Smith and Noriega had, and the whole band presented us with a cohesive set full of interest. I wanted to hear more of Ches Smith, and, as it turned out, I would — that night.

Now for the much less structured set. I had to miss Moran’s concert on Wednesday (the icy winds of Canberra beckoned) so I was keen to see what he’d do with Tinkler and Barker. Well, I think Moran was really appreciative of what the other two gave him to work with, but I think they were the stars on the night. Moran played piano, keyboard, a small drum set and used a laptop and a bell at times.

Simon Barker

Intense as always: Simon Barker plays, Jason Moran wanders

As mentioned, this set seemed to be a seat-of-the-pants outing, and there some spectacular highlights. Barker’s intensity and propulsion is, if anything, growing stronger as this festival goes on. He is fascinating to watch and amazing to hear, his playing full of drama and the output drawn from deep within as he responds to the other musicians.

Scott Tinkler

Top form: Scott Tinkler

Tinkler, also, is in top form and can be subtly musing one minute and pouring fluid sound into the heavens the next. The test, I think, is how well other musicians can react to Tinkler’s input so that it integrates into the whole.

Jason Moran

Loving it: Jason Moran

Some of Moran’s keyboard work and percussion was great, but he certainly did not stand out as the main driving force. It was collaborative, largely unscripted (it seemed to me) and had that uncertainty and expectancy that kept the audience in thrall. But it did not work all the time. It did not always hang together, so in the end it seemed to have been an experiment of considerable interest, but one that did not always succeed.

So, we saw Tim Berne and Jason Moran quite happy not to hog the limelight, and others in these bands who became the focus of attention because of their playing. That’s a good result, surely.