Category Archives: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2009

Stonnington — Day 10

Frock — Father, Son and Holy Ghost

I was looking forward to hearing Frock live, though this would be different — the energetic and original ensemble of Craig Beard on vibes, Anthony Schulz on piano and piano accordion, Simon Starr on acoustic bass, Adam Starr on guitar and Daniel Farrugia on drums was airing some covers of songs by Don Walker, Nick Cave and Neil Finn, which they are about to release on a new Frock album. Dan Farrugia was filling in for Dave Beck and will play on the coming album.

Frock
Members of Frock at Chapel Off Chapel

They began the set with some fun, the band waiting on Farrugia, who appeared late, and started things off by stamping a beat and jangling keys as he assumed the drumming position for Neil Finn’s One Step Ahead. Schulz moved to the piano for Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, allegedly “butchered” or arranged by Simon Starr. Beard said it was unusual for the band to play covers rather than original tracks, but the advantage was that they were “already hits”.

Beard and Adam Starr
Beard and Adam Starr

With Schulz back on accordion, Don Baker’s Breakfast at Sweethearts was proof of how well the vibes and piano accordion work together. Schulz played piano on Walker’s Saturday Night, followed by the well known (“Don Walker has a lot to answer for,” Beard said.) Khe Sanh, which had a rock feel.

Schulz and Beard
Schulz and Beard

Frequent allusions were made to Nick Cave as the Prince of Darkness (“If he was anywhere about here he would kill us”) before Beard’s arraangement of Cave’s Into My Arms. Neil Finn’s Message to My Girl followed, with Schulz on piano, then a long interaction between accordion and guitar for Schulz’s arrangement of the Tim and Neil Finn song Four Seasons in One Day. Then things turned serious. “We know where you live, Nick,” Frock announced before Mercy Seat — the opening was most effective, with drums, guitar and piano creating a sense of drama.

Daniel Farrugia
Daniel Farrugia

Daniel Farrugia
Daniel Farrugia

Frock closed with Simon Starr’s arrangement of Neil Finn’s History Never Repeats, which Beard suggested “suits this foggy New York evening”. The band’s move into covers was full of interest, though I would prefer its longer originals. The set showed me that Beard on vibes can make his presence felt in almost any musical situation, and that a few, sparing notes from guitar and piano work a treat. That said, I’d have liked to hear more from Adam Starr on guitar, but Frock departed on a high in a gentle frenzy of piano, drums and bass.

Craig Beard
Craig Beard in a reflective moment

Frock
Frock

Nichaud Fitzgibbon — Mood Swing

At times during Stonnington Jazz gigs at Chapel Off Chapel it has seemed hard for the audience to overcome a feeling of restraint when responding to the music, as if the venue is too formal. Perhaps it is because most members of the audience are seated as if for a play or concert, rather than a jazz gig. At other times the crowd has “woken up” and responded with vigour. From the moment Nichaud Fitzgibbon appeared onstage — with Phillip Rex on bass, James Sherlock on guitar, Dan Farrugia (again) on drums and Jex Saarelaht on piano — the mood was upbeat. Fitzgibbon was the consummate entertainer, projecting enough personality thorough her vocals to gee up the most sombre crowd.

Fitzgibbon and Sherlock
Nichaud Fitzgibbon and James Sherlock

As Fitzgibbon breezed through Don Walker’s How Many Times and the Tex Perkins and Spencer P. Jones number The World’s Got Everything, it was as if we were being caressed by her vocals, as well as by Sherlock’s guitar. Frequently paying tribute to her musicians, Fitzgibbon dubbed Rex “the king of bass” before launching into the Kylie Minogue song Two Hearts, and then Tom Springfield’s Seekers hit The Olive Tree, which featured Saarelaht’s exemplary skills.

Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Fitzgibbon was a sassy, saucy woman with vocals to match in the Paul Kelly song Be Careful What You Pray For, which she dedicated to “lots of greedy people”. Then we luxuriated in Saarelaht’s deep piano notes leading into Kelly/Ceberano’s tango Untouchable and Ross Wilson’s Mood Swing, the title track of the new CD.

Saarelaht, Rex and Dan Farrugia
Saarelaht, Rex and Dan Farrugia

The link to Australian songwriters lapsed for Billie Holiday’s I Want More, “dedicated to all the ladies in the audience”, then Fitzgibbon harked back to her earlier album for Dave Fishbery’s I Don’t Believe You. Her voice was engaging and seductive, but the feeling conveyed was that of a woman who could immediately make you feel comfortable and who probably would give you credit for having more get up and go than was necessarily the case. This may seem an odd way to put it, but Fitzgibbon’s personality flowed out as if she was emanating a relaxed sense of confidence that would easily rub off on her audience. I could not help contrast her performance with younger vocalists Megan Washington and Gian Slater.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Nick Cave’s Bless was followed by Anthony Newly’s Feeling Good before the sustained applause brought Fitzgibbon back to stand beside the piano for an encore.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Then the sensuality and cheeky charm was turned full-on in the vivaciously sung You Turn Me On, Baby (Cy Coleman). We were left to reflect on the value of experience in a singer and on the consummate ease with which she could captivate an audience and enliven a venue.

Perhaps the main event for the last night of Stonnington Jazz had been over at the Malvern Town Hall for the second Sculthorpe Songbook concert, but at Chapel Off Chapel it had been an evening of fine music to end another fine festival.

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Stonnington Jazz — Day 9

The Sculthorpe Songbook

It was a great pity that Peter Sculthorpe, who inspired Phil Slater and Matt McMahon as students and later as the accomplished jazz musicians who brought us this incarnation of the Sculthorpe Songbook, was at the last moment, due to illness, unable to travel to Melbourne for this concert.

It was a fitting tribute to one of Australia’s living treasures soon after his 80th birthday. The reinterpretations of Sculthorpe pieces reflected the diversity of his music, as well as his commitment to compositions that drew on influences from this country and the region, rather than hanging on the coat tails of Europe. Phil Slater said Sculthorpe had placed great importance on “finding your place and representing that place in music”, on conveying “the feel of places”, so it was the intent of the jazz musicians, with Silo String Quartet, “to play the feelings of Peter’s music”.

Phil Slater
Phil Slater

With Simon Barker on drums and percussion, Carl Dewhurst (hidden behind the grand piano) on guitar and Steve Elphick on double bass, the ensemble began by linking adaptations of Singing Sun (a Sculthorpe melody), From Nourlangie (1993), and the Calmo movement from a piano concerto (first recorded on the album Paths and Streams). Katie Noonan joined the group to sing Maranoa Lullaby (Aboriginal plainsong based on an east Arnhem Land melody, 1996), which was followed by Pemungkah (a version of a melody by Balinese composer Lotring, originally aired in Sun Music 3). Tim Freedman (The Whitlams) took the microphone for It’ll Rise Again (from rock opera Love 200).

Katie Noonan
Katie Noonan

I can’t wait to digress about a discovery that was a highlight for me after the concert, in the early hours. When Freedman sang the words of It’ll Rise Again (“Sun down, it’ll rise again, Ice melt, it’ll ice again, Drowning boat, she can float again … Sun down, boat rise … Judas chose, and he chose again, Christ died, and he rose again, … ) I recalled that Jeannie Lewis sang this with great power on Free Fall Through Featherless Flight in the 1970s. I had never known it was a Sculthorpe song, with lyrics by Tony Morphett, and it was exciting to make that connection. I wanted to listen to Lewis’s version and, after some fossicking, found it on a blog. Yeh!

That was a digression, but I should say that, while Freedman sang competently, his voice seemed to lack the depth that the song needed — it has such a beautiful melody and moving lyrics, which refer to Captain James Cook’s need to repair damage to a boat in what was to be the north of Queensland. Earlier, when Noonan (and I am not a big fan of her voice, or of the material she has been singing recently) performed Maranoa Lullaby, I was captivated and moved.

Phil Slater and Katie Noonan
Phil Slater and Katie Noonan

From the shimmering sound of guitar and percussion that opened Singing Sun, interrupted momentarily by an ambulance siren from beyond our world, the Malvern Town Hall audience was embraced by a sense of stillness. The gentle vibrato seemed to suggest a didgeridoo, and, later, gamelan influence. Slater’s amplified trumpet spoke in fiery terms, then blew out the flames over gentle piano. The breathy infusion of horn notes occurred often during the evening, setting me off in search of tips on how to achieve this manifestation of an incredibly versatile and atmospheric instrument.

Permungkah began with static and chatter from Dewhurst and Barker, with a beat gradually forming and the tempo increasing. The melody was catchy, but sad. In trumpet sorties over the rhythm, Slater darted in and climbed a few trees (the image worked for me) in what became a journey in rhythm overlaid by some melody. It seemed to be quite different from classical or what I expected of Balinese influenced music. The piece ended slowly, with only guitar to close. In It’ll Rise Again, guitar and horn solos were compelling.

Silo String Quartet
Silo String Quartet

I did feel that the strings seemed a little forlorn, with not that much to do in the first set.

The second set brought us interpretations of Kakadu (written before Sculthorpe had visited there), The Stars Turn (from Love 200), Jakily (unsure of name) and Music From Japan, Out the Back (by Freedman, arranged by Sculthorpe in 2002), Love (from Love 200), and Bone Epilogue.

Katie Noonan
Katie Noonan

In Kakadu, horn floated serenely over ceaseless, muted percussion that behaved with quiet busyness. Then, while trumpet screamed, the ensemble built drama — a lot of this music was about layering.

Noonan’s voice seemed again entirely appropriate for The Stars Turn, and the cello intro was superb. In the third piece, combining two, I fell in love with the trumpet intro, and continued the affair throughout.

Katie Noonan and Tim Freedman
Katie Noonan and Tim Freedman

Sculthorpe called Out the Back “some of the prettiest music I’ve written”, Freedman told us, and also said after composing the piece he felt like Duke Ellington, with whom he shares a birth date. The audience was wowed by Freedman’s rendition of lines such as “I’m not surfin’, I’m sittin’ out the back” — his light and laid back vocals suited the song. But Noonan had moved me, and when the two sang Love, it was the quality in her voice that stood out. (What am I saying? Have I been converted?)

Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden
Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden

Bone Epilogue began with bowed bass sounding much like a didgeridoo and Elphick’s long solo was superb. Some beautiful horn playing recalled Slater’s comment (see Press Articles) that playing trumpet for Anzac ceremonies was one of the most moving occasions for a musician playing this instrument. McMahon, who contributed a lot but seemed to avoid the limelight throughout the evening, burst in with a tinkle jumble of notes that had virtuosic flourish and added a cinematic feel. I scribbled: The piece is expanding, as wide as this country, a journey in sound, an exploration of the land.” OK, so I was carried away, but I believe many others were also.

Phil Slater and Matt McMahon
Phil Slater and Matt McMahon

Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden
Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden

McMahon, Elphick, Slater and Aaron Barnden
Matt McMahon, Steve Elphick, Phil Slater and Aaron Barnden

Stonnington — Day 8

All these posts full of pictures are turning this blog into an image fest, which is OK for the moment, I guess. But the real intent is to provide some reflections on or reactions to the music. So if you are dropping in for a look at the images, you’re welcome back in a day or so when I catch up with the other task associated with this blog — writing.

Tony Gould Trio

I headed for Chapel Off Chapel anticipating that Stephen Magnusson’s quartet would be up first and at the break I would scoot across to the Malvern Town Hall for Old and New Dreams with Don Burrows and Allan Browne. But, as seems inevitable, I had it wrong again. Magnusson’s mob was on second, so I stayed where I was and enjoyed this performance by three people who are lovers of — and among the finest exponents of — beautiful music.

Two notes of note: Overheard at the end of the set by Tony Gould on piano, Imogen Manins on cello and Gianni Marinucci on flugelhorn were these words: “Well, that was very restful jazz music. I was almost asleep.” Another comment, in the form of a question, in the foyer: “Was that jazz? Did it include improvisation?” (My answer, was “yes” to the second query and “it does not matter” to the first.)

But I don’t always like beautiful music. Or, more accurately, I find that absolutely beautiful music is absolutely wonderful to experience, but not always satisfying for that long. That’s a personal thing. If I’m in the mood, it can be sublime, but I often want at least some, and often quite a lot of, music that is spiky, jarring, challenging, dissonant, provocative … the list could go on.

Enough palaver. There was a great deal to appreciate in the Gould/Manins/Marinucci set. But more of that later. For the moment I will add a few images, so they can be borrowed for use by Miriam Zolin, if she is still blogging in the small hours.

Gould/Manins/Marinucci
Tony Gould, Imogen Manins and Gianni Marinucci

Imogen Manins
Imogen Manins

Imogen Manins
Imogen Manins

Stephen Magnusson Quartet

I will be waxing lyrical about this set, which had some real highlights.

Frank Di Sario
Frank Di Sario

Dave Beck
Dave Beck

Eugene Ball
Eugene Ball

Stephen Magnusson
Stephen Magnusson

That’s enough for now. More soon…