Category Archives: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010

STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010 — DAY 10

SARAH McKENZIE SEXTET at Chapel Off Chapel

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

The first set was my last for this year’s Stonnington Jazz. A family commitment meant I had to leave before Paul Williamson and Friends, and could not make it to the Sunday gig with David Jones and Friends. I was not all that happy with my photographic efforts for this “last” gig. I was probably already switching out of festival mode and into family mode for my dad’s 90th birthday bash next day.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie Sextet

The sextet line-up was Sarah McKenzie on piano and vocals, Pat Thiele on trumpet, Carlo Barbaro on tenor sax, Hugh Stuckey on guitar, Sam Anning on bass and Craig Simon on drums.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Hugh Stuckey and Sam Anning

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Pat Thiele

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Hugh Stuckey and Carlo Barbaro

They played McKenzie originals Blues for Monty, Don’t tempt me and I got the blues tonight, as well as Cole Porter’s You’d be so nice to come home to, Sammy Fain’s That old feeling, and Duke Ellington’s Solitude.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

McKenzie graduated from WAAPA with a Bachelor of Jazz (Composition) and has won a string of awards — the Jack Bendat Scholarship, the Hawaiian Award for “Most Outstanding Jazz Graduate”, the Perth Jazz Societies Award for the “Most Outstanding Group of the Year for 2008” and the 2009 James Morrison Scholarship for vocals (after being a finalist in the scholarship for six years).

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Pat Thiele and Sarah McKenzie

As I’ve said previously, vocals are not my first preference when it comes to improvised music, but I regard each vocalist I hear as an opportunity to be educated. So what can I say about McKenzie’s performance? I think it is a big plus that her renditions of her original pieces had the same feel as the Cole Porter and Ellington classics, because the heritage of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday do seem important to this 22-year-old singer. Close your eyes and listen to McKenzie and it could be a much older woman singing, there is such power, depth and maturity in the voice. There is also warmth and conviction — when McKenzie sings “You’d be so nice to come home to”, she sings as if she has someone in mind. You know it’s not you, but you wish, in that moment, that it could be. That is a sign of how well the singer is projecting the feeling. And clearly McKenzie, as was evident when she sang In My Solitude, is not scared of emotion. She seems to be quite an open person, at least in her stage persona, and that is engaging.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

McKenzie’s style of piano is expressive but forceful and that goes well with the hard-driving energy of the sextet. This is robust jazz and it will appeal to audiences who like strong grooves and a swingin’ vibe. McKenzie has the appeal — often people make a point of saying that she has the talent to match her looks — to be an ambassador for jazz. But should that burden be placed on a young musician who simply loves to perform?

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
New York Bound: Sam Anning

McKenzie announced after her first song that Sam Anning — who was not playing at quite all the Stonnington Jazz concerts — has won a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in New York, NY. Congratulations to Sam. His departure will leave a huge gap in Melbourne and many bands will miss him. The Sarah McKenzie Sextet will be one of those.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

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STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010 — DAY 9

ZAC HURREN TRIO at Chapel Off Chapel

 Zac Hurren Trio
Hurren, Anning and Bates

It would have been a great way to end a festival, but on Friday night there was still one night to go. I chose to break the rule about not switching gigs midstream. Usually it’s hard to acclimatise to a change of venue and leaving in a rush to catch another band can be a big mistake. This time it worked out. But it left me with a burning question: How could Sam Anning have played bass with Zac Hurren (saxophone) and Sam Bates (drums) at the Chapel, and then dash to Malvern Town Hall for a complete change of mood, playing with Joe Chindamo‘s ensemble? I’d have liked to ask him what went on inside his head as he moved from one gig to the next.

 Zac Hurren Trio
Hurren, Anning and Bates

Anyway, I have no time to beat about the bush, so this is the gist of it: Zac and the two Sams were faaannnnntastic! Absolutely on fire. Brilliant. Hurren said he usually stands by the trees and plays by himself, and that was how he wanted to start. It was a short warm-up solo and then the trio was off and running.

 Zac Hurren Trio
Hurren and Anning

What was so good about it? It’s still in my head, but I’m not sure I can easily explain. It was cathartic. It was a physical experience. But I don’t want to give the idea that Hurren just blasted away and filled the Chapel with noise, or that Bates smashed and crashed on the drums, or that Anning drove his bass notes remorselessly through the audience. There was an element of that, but all three displayed much more sensitivity than that. They played as a unit and were totally cohesive. The result was primal and managed to penetrate deep into the body and into the soul. Bates displayed great finesse and sensitivity, Hurren and Anning were a tangible force brimming with emotion.

 Zac Hurren Trio
Hurren, Anning and Bates

They played Hurren’s compositions Joffra, Conveyance (written the night before the funeral of saxophonist and teacher Tony Hobbs ), a newish track the name of which I did not catch, and Mark’s Mansion (written to represent saxophonist Mark Simmonds‘s defence of jazz against the forces of evil). They wanted to play more, but had to stop. I wanted more but had to go. And of course Sam Anning had to slip into the Stonnington stretch limo and wind down for a few minutes before joining Joe Chindamo on stage for the second set at Malvern Town Hall.

 Zac Hurren Trio
Hurren, Anning and Bates

A quick note: The gigs I missed — Ted Vining‘s Impressions and Tina Harrod — deserve mention, but I could not make it. And I’d heard Tina Harrod at Bennetts Lane recently. She was great there, so I’m sure her set was enjoyed by all. On to the town hall …

JOE CHINDAMO’S COEN BROTHERS PROJECT
at Malvern Town Hall

 Chindamo
Joe Chindamo

I can’t do this concert justice either, but a few sentences for now. It was the inaugural performance of the Coen Brothers material, and an album launch for Another Place, Some Other Time. Chindamo has assembled Lucky Oceans on pedal steel guitar, Geoff Hughes on guitars, Kristian Winther on violin, Sam Anning (again) on (yes) acoustic bass, Raj Jayaweera buried behind on drums and Alex Pertout also in the back on percussion.

 Winther
Kristian Winther

 Geoff Hughes
Geoff Hughes

Winther was exquisite on violin, Oceans added something special on pedal steel and Hughes was, as always, most expressive. Chindamo’s piano has the presence and sense of space, as well as a classical feel, to capture and hold us in a moment (or many) of beauty.

 Chindamo, Oceans
Joe Chindamo and Lucky Oceans

 Lucky Oceans
Lucky Oceans

In the seconds before I fall into a coma from lack of sleep, the standouts for me were the theme from Fargo (as interpreted by Chindamo, of course), Man of Constant Sorrow (from O’ Brother Where Art Thou?), Lujon from The Big Lebowski, and the theme from Miller’s Crossing. Later, You Are My Sunshine was divine, with Chindamo on accordion and Oceans on pedal steel. Earlier Oceans played slide guitar on Hotel California (The Big Lebowski), but you had to wait for the familiar melody to drift through.

 Winther
Kristian Winther

After the theme from Blood Simple, Joe played a solo piano encore, Goodnight Sweetheart (I should have known, but had to be told).

 Anning, Winther
Sam Anning and Kristian Winther

It was not my favourite Stonnington venue, but this was a beautiful concert and a fitting tribute to films in which music plays a big part. Chindamo’s take on the Coen Brothers’ film music was entrancing. There was no need for any moving images.

STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010 — DAY 6

BERNIE McGANN TRIO
AND GUESTS MARK FITZGIBBON AND JULIEN WILSON

at Chapel Off Chapel

Bernie Mcgann in the groove
In the groove: Bernie Mcgann

As usual, Adrian Jackson creates added interest by nudging artists into new situations — e.g. Vince Jones adding lyrics to Australian instrumental compositions — or facilitating meetings of musicians that ought to have occurred, but have not so far.

McGann and Wilson
New combo: McGann and Wilson

I was convinced that I had seen alto saxophonist Bernie McGann play with Julien Wilson at Stonnington Jazz previously, but of course it was McGann with Jamie Oehlers in May 2008, also at Stonnington and also at Chapel Off Chapel, that was niggling at the edge of my failing memory.

McGann and guests
Fitzgibbon, Anning, Wilson and McGann

One of the larger-than-life figures of Australian jazz, McGann had not played with Wilson until Tuesday night. The program suggested Wilson would be invited to join McGann and the ensemble — Sam Anning on acoustic bass, Allan Browne on drums and Mark Fitzgibbon on piano — for the second set, but Wilson came on for the second piece of the night, the ballad Wendy by “late, great sax player Paul Desmond“, as McGann put it.

Allan Browne
On fire: Allan Browne

In a short set — it seemed so — that began with Monk and ended with McGann’s Spirit Song, the trio and guests treated us to a no-frills exposition of energetic and elegant, rhythmically rich grooves that were an ideal way to showcase the two saxophonists. There was no fuss, just accomplished playing that carried each piece forward in a way that was totally engrossing.

Anning and Browne
Anning and Browne

Browne seemed to be on fire from the start, if that can describe his apparent ease — he denies it — and evident joy. Add Fitzgibbon’s drive and Anning’s warmth and you have music that is deeply satisfying.

McGann and Wilson
McGann and Wilson

And what of the saxes? They are quite different stylistically. McGann does not move much as he plays, managing nonetheless to break out in those moments we all wait for in any solo, but without much more than a twitch or a slight incline of the instrument to show what the sound is saying so clearly. Wilson’s emotional input is more overt, which I like in any musician, but when listening is paramount — closing the eyes helps — the difference is inconsequential. Both players can express so much, but they don’t fuss about it. Here is Wilson, playing with a fellow saxophonist who he has long regarded as an inspiration, and he is just getting on with it. Playing with Bernie McGann seems to rule out anything overly dramatic.

McGann and Wilson
Together at last: McGann and Wilson

The second set began with Tin Tin Deo, by Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban Chano Pozo, with Browne and Fitzgibbon driving forward to meet melodic contributions later from McGann and Wilson, followed by two ballads, The Talk of the Town (featuring McGann) and Laura (featuring Wilson). Browne was full-on in McGann’s Brownsville, which was exciting, and the set closed with another McGann composition, D. Day.

This may have been just another night for a musician with the experience of McGann, but surely it must have been uplifting for him to play with a younger saxophonist of Wilson’s calibre. It was for the audience.