Category Archives: MWIJF 2015

Articles and images related to Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival 2015.


Xani Kolac

Xani Kolac performs at Bennetts Lane in her MWIJF project.


Xani Kolac Project, Bennetts Lane, Sunday 6 December, 8pm
Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Dec 3 — 13, 2015

Line-up: Xani Kolac electric violin/vocals, Arlene Fletcher double bass, Nat Grant percussion/vibraphone, Leah Zweck viola and guest Mark Leahy on drum kit

I first encountered Xani Kolac back in April 2010 when she played her electric violin solo from a tiny, elevated “secret space” in the Brood Box Gallery during one of the best of Melbourne’s Jazz Fringe festivals. She made a strong impression, performing four original compositions in her debut with a laptop, sending soaring surges of sound sashaying into the room below. Her closing number ended with the words, “I’ll play whatever I like because I choose to die happy”.

Kolac, who many will know from her work in The Twoks with Mark Leahy, is an exhilarating, volatile artist who exudes excitement and invites expectations of the unexpected. This ensemble, formed especially for the MWIJF, promised “a musical exploration of the tension between the asymmetry in loneliness and the symmetry of coming home”.

Perhaps that’s what we were given,  but at evening’s end I came away with a lingering and sustaining sense of uplift that arose from diversity and virtuosity provided by these musicians, who, as was pointed out at the beginning, were chosen “not just because they [Mark excepted] are women, but because they are awesome musicians”.

Zweck’s viola brought depth and resonance to the opening Adagio, Grant’s vibes were exquisite in Little Green Ball and her intricate, nuanced solo that followed. The ensemble’s version of The Twoks’ brand new song Christmas Time  was a hoot.

Opening the second set, Fletcher provided a solid foundation for the ensemble’s rendition of her composition Timing, then followed with an all-too-brief solo. Then followed a spectacular achievement — Kolac’s arrangement of Chopin’s Prelude No.4 in E Minor. For a group so newly formed to perform this so well speaks volumes about the calibre of these musicians.

Zweck treated us to a Telemann piece for her solo before Forbidden Fruit (with Grant on drums)  and a wild solo improvisation by Kolac that had a Perfect vocal ending. For First Light, a Twoks piece, Fletcher joined in on vocals in a trio of violin, bass and drums. Our spirits were lifted so far that the closing Scalpel failed to slice into our joy.

If the asymmetry Kolac has found in loneliness found expression in this ensemble’s outing then she should be invited to be “coming home” more often and in this august company.

It was a hoot.


Here’s a few pictures from the concert:



Xani Kolac Project is warm and very fuzzy

Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival 2015

Last night, Sunday 6 December, the Xani Kolac Project delighted the audience in the small room at Bennetts Lane. Before long lots of clear pictures will be added to a gig review  (more likely a rave), but in the meantime it seemed worthwhile to add a gallery, in colour, of some very blurry images that nevertheless capture the spirit of the violinist and bandleader in action. Behind the fuzzy movement there is clearly joy in performing and that seems to make up for the camera’s (or its operator’s) inability to keep pace. So here goes. Enjoy the vibe.




Kaisa Siirala

Kaisa Siirala with Kokko Quartet (Finland) at Bennetts Lane for MWIJF 2015


Kokko Quartet (Finland), Bennetts Lane, Thursday 3 December
Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Dec 3 — 13, 2015

Line-up: Kaisa Siirala saxophones and flutes, Johanna Pitkänen piano and keys, Timo Tuppurainen bass, Risto Takala drums

It is always welcome when we get a chance to hear jazz bands from Europe, because they offer a perspective that differs from the traditions imbued in the American lexicon. Promoter Henk Van Leeuwen is always urging festivals to include Scandinavian bands and this year he succeeded in arranging an Australian tour by Kokko Quartet that included two visits to Melbourne — at the opening gig of the MWIJF and on Wednesday 9 December at Paris Cat.

Publicity material explains that this quartet’s music has many forms and the group is appropriately named because in Finnish Kalevala mythology kokko refers to a mythical, gigantic eagle that has many forms. The Helsinki group was established in 2010 and plays “recognisably Scandinavian jazz with influences from Indian and Arabic music as well as Cuban rhythms”.

Album notes to the quartet’s album Like A River provide this background: “The group, led by pianist and composer Johanna Pitkänen, brings together four experienced musicians: Pitkänen, a pianist and composer who has played with groups performing Arabic music as well as flamenco and performed at festivals in Finland and in Estonia; saxophone player Kaisa Siirala who has played with bands ranging from trios to a big band and performed in India, Japan, Namibia, Peru, South Africa and many European countries; bass player Timo Tuppurainen, who has played with bands such as U-Street All Stars and Lenni-Kalle Taipale Trio and toured in USA, India, Russia and many times in Europe; and drummer Risto Takala, who has played with many Finnish bands representing different styles from pop to jazz.”

At Bennetts Lane the quartet performed songs written by Pitkänen, Siirala and Tuppurainen.

In the first set the influence of Indian carnatic music was evident in Siirala’s Indy and Gokulam, as well as Pitkänen’s Like A River. Cuban rhythms were there too, but the pieces were more reflective and at times melancholic. After the more lively Southern Dance, the set closed with the wistful At Land. It was pleasant rather than arresting work from the quartet, but I felt that they hit their straps in the following set.

There was definitely more oomph to the opening Young and Foolish, and some fire in the next piece, Camel Road. Pitkänen on piano excelled in her engaging composition Havis before the sounds of train horns, wild dogs and rickshaws were evoked by Siirala’s energetic Orient Express. All these pieces showed the quartet as cohesive unit well driven by Pitkänen as leader. The dreamy ballad Keppikerjäläinen (Beggar) featured a brief bass solo and some effective brush work by Takala. Cheat and Disappointment followed by Letters rounded off a set that had the audience applauding enthusiastically.

Perhaps appropriately given its opening role in a women’s festival, the focus in Kokko Quartet seemed to be more on the contributions of Pitkänen and Siirala, but the ensemble evidently does not act as a solo showcase and that’s fine with me. On this occasion patrons seemed to be wooed rather than wowed, but few would have left dissatisfied after a strong second set.