Category Archives: MIJF 2014

Articles and images related to the 2014 Melbourne International Jazz Festival

FEATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

REFLECTION:

Jukka Perko Avara Trio (Finland), MIJF Club Session at Bennetts Lane 9.30pm Wednesday 4 June 2014

I hurried from Here and Now and the Larry Carlton Quartet to finish the night with a Finnish flourish. Having been impressed by Carlton’s facility with his instrument, but not too excited by the material he chose to play, I was ready for adventure.

Well, I missed the first piece, but pretty soon I found myself thrown into the deep end of what seemed a very strange pool indeed, eased in by the wry sense of humour of saxophonist and band leader Jukka Perko. I did quite know what had hit me, to tell the truth, and felt as if I was treading water amid some strange currents for quite a while.

Jukka Perko with his trio.

Jukka Perko with his trio.

The humour was an ice breaker. Perko explained that their second piece, He Left the Road, was about a man who walked off into a forest swamp and wandered about for some time before returning to pretty much the same point — which was they way he often felt about jazz. There was some heavy breathing into the sax in this fragmented piece.

Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar.

Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar.

All three members of the trio made extensive use of pedals for sustain, reverb and playback of samples on the run. At times it felt almost classical (from Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar), at others there was piercing soprano sax, then intricate electric guitar from Jarmo Saari. I felt during Guardian Angel that the music was so changeable that it was hard to keep up or adjust as it shifted in intensity and mood. The finish (no pun intended) was fast, loud and full of vigour.

After some humour directed at Swedish music being in a major key and the Finns requiring a switch to minor, there was a lyrical, folk-style piece with a dance feel before things turned darker.

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar

During Water of the Black Trench — a reference to the last waters from melting snow flowing into deep pools that made the clear water appear dark — I was mesmerised and totally engrossed. Saari’s vocals, emerging into the mic from beneath his long moustache, were uncanny, unsettling and evocative. His voice and his electric guitar, with reverb and sustain, conjured creepy, icy things that were in keeping with the gravelly static coming from someone in the trio. This wonderful piece finished with what could have been the cries of birds followed by a tiny echo of the sax notes.

Praise the Lord for He Is Good (an old French mediaeval song reworked) offered a series of musical vignettes, each quite different. The unpredictability of this trio had me convinced that in the encore, Summer Hymn, the light, airy, melodic and pleasant feel would surely give way to something darker, but that did not happen. The floating, flowing feel of summer remained until the end.

Departing from the deep traditions of jazz from the US always offers potential for something completely different. I’d like to hear more of the Jukka Perko Avara Trio, if only to be better prepared for the unexpected. But somewhere deep in the black trench I decided I was no longer out of my depth.

ROGER MITCHELL

FAR FLUNG — ALISTER SPENCE TRIO

Tonight (6 June) at Merlyn Theatre in The Malthouse at 9pm, the Alister Spence Trio will perform in an Australian premiere with Dawn of Midi. It seems appropriate for Ausjazz to dust off an album review before we have the chance to hear the trio live:

Far Flung cover

(OVERDUE) CD REVIEW

Rufus Records

3.5 stars

Occasionally I like to ask a friend or family member to give an opinion on a track from a new album, often a track that I imagine may be a little challenging. The response is usually blunt, honest and immediate, whether positive or not: “Yes, I love that” or “No, turn it off”.

If the reaction is negative, I like to try another, radically different, track from the same album. Most often the response is, “Yes, that’s much better. You can leave that on.” When I point out that both tracks came from the same album, it comes as a surprise.

It can take a while to broaden our tastes, so there is often a lingering expectation that tracks on an album will be be fairly consistent in style and approach, so that we’ll know quickly whether we like what’s on offer. Some albums provide that, but many take us to a gamut of musical places, including some that assail our senses and strain our tolerances. Far Flung is one of those.

Far Flung (2012) is the fifth release from the Alister Spence Trio after Three Is A Circle (2000), Flux (2003), Mercury (2006) and fit (2009). The double CD provides 19 tracks described as an “interweaving of jazz compositions, open improvisations, and re-composed post-production pieces” featuring Alister Spence on piano/trio samples/music box, Lloyd Swanton on double bass and Toby Hall on drums/glockenspiel.

I’d recommend approaching this eclectic feast of sound via the sixth track on Disc One, Sleep Under Water, as opposed to via the opening textures of Tumbler or faster Flight Plan. Why? Because, like so many tracks on this album, it takes us on a journey that can serve to acclimatise us to the rich, submersive experience that awaits.

Track four, Felt, begins with vigorous piano chords and percussive chatter, ushers in contemplative tinklings before expansive and then emphatic piano, ending back at the chordal pattern.

That’s enough description to whet the appetite. I find that once we are stretched a little we become more flexible and open to new possibilities.

These days (as opposed to back in the day), it is easy to download individual tracks rather than whole albums, or to pick out the tracks we like using a playlist. But that may mean we don’t challenge ourselves quite so much, which is a pity.

Far Flung is a journey with many twists and turns, but it will reward the traveller prepared to savour new experiences.

ROGER MITCHELL

Alister Spence’s notes on Far Flung are available on his website.

Rufus Records

IN SUPPORT OF SUPPORT ACTS

Johnny Tedesco

Johnny Tedesco and Chris Hale perform Sylvan Coda

REFLECTION:

Christopher Hale’s Sylvan Coda opens for Jorge Pardo “Huellas” at Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday 31 May at 7.30pm

Here and Now opens for Larry Carlton Quartet at Melbourne Recital Centre, Wednesday 4 June at 7.30pm

In any international festival the established practice is for the visiting performers, as the main drawcards, to be on stage for much longer and to be preceded by support bands from Australia. This is a good way for our home-grown musicians to share in the festival limelight and potentially gain a following from the larger audiences who appear out of the woodwork.

I am always disappointed to notice how many seats that are vacant during the opening set and yet are filled when the main performers come on stage. It is a pity not only because it shows disrespect for Australian musicians, but also because the patrons who arrive late are likely to miss hearing some very talented and inventive artists.

The opening sets at MRC this year seem to be way too short. I have not heard any complaints from our “local” musicians — possibly they are glad to have even such limited exposure in such a large festival — but the balance does seem to have swung too much towards the main acts on the bill.

In the case of Christopher Hale’s Sylvan Coda, which opened for Jorge Pardo‘s flamenco jazz, what the audience heard and saw was a tiny taste or fragment of the original suite. I’m sure Johnny Tedesco‘s fantastic flamenco footwork was a highlight for many in the audience — I was struck by how his feet called to mind the fluttering of butterfly wings and the feather-light, incredibly rapid work by some drummers I’ve heard — but it would have been impossible to convey the way in which the original suite changed and developed.

Anyone who liked the snippet provided in this opener should watch for another performance of the full Sylvan Coda.

Sylvan Coda

Johnny Tedesco, Chris Hale, Nathan Slater and Ben Vanderwal in Sylvan Coda at Melbourne Recital Centre

Sylvan Coda

Jacq Gawler, Hannah Cameron, Gian Slater and Julian Banks

Chris Hale

Chris Hale

The other short opening set deserving special mention at MRC so far this year was the performance by Here and Now before the Larry Carlton Quartet.

I left a little early from Carlton’s set — to get to another festival gig and also because the music being played did not excite me. But a clear standout for me was the work of Andrea Keller on piano, Nilusha Dassenaike on vocals, Alex Pertout on percussion, Evripides Evripidou on bass and David Jones on drums.

I should confess that on this rainy evening I was tempted to arrive at 8.15pm to catch the main act, but decided I should respect the artists performing first. I am so glad I did.

Although this set was short, I felt that it took us to quite a special place. Each member of the ensemble contributed significantly, but Evripidou on bass was inventive and I found Keller’s solo, without needing to be loud, filling the auditorium as well as my being. I believed it would be one of the best piano solos of the festival. Her notes seemed to be drawing the audience into a state of total absorption. Dassenaike’s voice was integral to this meditative set.

Here and Now plays Melbourne Recital Centre

Here and Now plays Melbourne Recital Centre

Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller

Alex Pertout, Nilusha Dassenaike and Evripides Evripidou

Alex Pertout, Nilusha Dassenaike and Evripides Evripidou

Here and Now musicians take a bow.

Here and Now musicians take a bow.

I’d like to see opening acts given a fairer allocation of time in future festivals. But one thing is certain — it is never wise to come late and miss out on what comes first. It could well be what you appreciate most.

ROGER MITCHELL