Category Archives: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010

STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010 — DAY 4

ALLAN BROWNE CELEBRATES 50 YEARS IN JAZZ
at Chapel Off Chapel

Two sets, two eras. Allan Browne took us back in time with his favourite in jazz combinations, the trio. Then, with his quintet and his usual devilry, he showed us the beauty of an interlude in hell. Or was it a glimpse of heaven?

Margie Lou Dyer, Allan Browne, Jo Stevenson
Margie Lou Dyer, Allan Browne, Jo Stevenson

The audiences at Stonnington Jazz seem to be more advanced in years than those at, say, Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival or Melbourne International Jazz Festival, though I have no hard data on that. So the first set of traditionally flavoured classics from Jelly Roll Morton, George Lewis and Duke Ellington may have been the main attraction of the afternoon. I met my wife, Debra, at the Lord Napier jazz pub in Thornton Heath, south of London years ago, but that was much more brassy, bold and full-on than what we heard from Al Browne, his wife Margie Lou Dyer on piano and vocals, and Jo Stevenson on clarinet and bass saxophone. This was light, bright and full of fun, zest and whimsy.

Allan Browne and Margie Lou Dyer
Allan Browne and Margie Lou Dyer

As always, Browne’s drum work was relaxed and reflected his obvious sense of enjoyment in the occasion and the music. Dyer’s smoky vocals carried us into a dimly lit nightclub and Stevenson’s lyrical clarinet streamed notes as fluid as quicksilver. There was plenty of energy, but no bid to blast us away or smash and crash. This was a delightfully sensitive interpretation of the music that Browne first loved, played by musicians steeped in that tradition and with a long history of playing together.

The trio — Al Browne said it was his favourite form — began with Bogalosa Stomp (Sam Morgan), then played Morton’s Buddy Bolden’s Blues (Morton), High Society, Sidewalk Blues (Morton) and Mood Indigo, a Duke Ellington tribute to clarinetist Barney Bigard.

Browne on washboard
Browne on washboard

For Oriental Man (referred to in earlier days as “Ornamental Pan”, the pride of the dunny, Browne related), the drummer took up the washboard, emulating his hero Baby Dodds, and it was a hoot. Stevenson played soprano sax on Dyer’s commissioned calypso Bechet, which she said was related to “people who took their clothes off to fast music”.

Stevenson
Vintage clarinet: Jo Stevenson

Stevenson’s clarinet was shining in George Lewis‘s Burgundy St Blues, before Dyer delivered a suitably gravelly rendition of Gimme a Pig Foot (Bessie Smith).

Trio joins quintet
Trio joins quintet

And in augmented finale, quintet members Geoff Hughes (guitar), Phil Noy (alto sax), Eugene Ball (trumpet) and Nick Haywood (bass) joined the trio, with Stevenson switching to bass saxophone, for the fun-filled, exuberant Magpie Stomp (Browne).

Jo Stevenson digs deep
Jo Stevenson digs deep

After our trip to toe-tapping, swinging New orleans, it was time to go to hell.

UNE SAISON EN ENFER (A SEASON IN HELL)
Allan Browne Quintet

Allan Browne

The quintet played this suite in the order replicated on the album. There are eight compositions, four each by Eugene Ball and Geoff Hughes. The only possible criticism, IMHO, is that if this represents hell, or the torment of Arthur Rimbaud as he fled across Europe with lover Paul Verlaine, it is more benign than I had imagined. That’s not meant to be flippant — before hearing this music (on CD) I had expected passages that would be hard to take because they were drawn from images of a harrowing, horrifying inferno. Instead, though this is undeniably dark music — as Browne said, “It’s very dark. We like it dark.” — it is often beautiful, reflective or wistful in mood rather than being in any way difficult to enjoy.

Allan Browne Quintet

That said, the suite is superb and a worthy successor to The Drunken Boat, which is also based on the verse of Rimbaud. And I must now read Une Saison en Enfer, to explore how it has inspired Ball and Hughes, and the quintet. For reasons known only to themselves, a number of patrons felt compelled to walk out during this set. They may have had commitments, or they may not have liked this style of music. But it is a pity the seating design at Chapel Off Chapel does not allow for people to leave without walking down through the audience and across in front of the musicians. This was a piece of music that deserved to be experienced without interruption.

Phil Noy et al

In Nuit de l’enfer, Hughes’s solo guitar was great, but seemed too pleasant for an inferno. Song from the Highest Tower opened regally and included an exquisite solo by Phil Noy. And Browne’s use of what looked like long springs to produce a sharp, metallic sound from the cymbals was effective over Hughes’s guitar. Embers of Silk was appropriately serene, with Ball in splendidly resonant flight.

Eugene Ball et al

A real highlight for me was I Dance the Sabbath and Chorale, with some fine interplay between the trumpet and sax. If anything, Ball seemed more constrained in his trumpet attacks than on the recording. Sleepwalker saw Noy move to baritone sax. Hughes’s solo was great in this piece. A Life Too Light brought the set to a close.

Allan Browne Quintet

I’m not sure whether it was the crowd or the venue or both, or my fertile imagination, but I did not feel there was a real buzz of appreciation for this set, which I thought was exquisite, despite the absence of any gnashing of teeth. But this was an afternoon of music that ideally suited the 50-year career of an unassuming musician who has the ability to make his presence felt through the lightest, most tender of touches and the greatest of poetic passions. And Allan Browne never takes himself too seriously.

Browne reminded us a few times about his residency at Bennetts Lane on Mondays, and that on August 1 at Uptown Jazz Cafe in the afternoon there will be a launch of the album Une Season en Enfer. And on August 8 at Bennetts Lane at 2pm the Red Onions Jazz Band will hold an informal reunion to mark its 50th anniversary.

STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010 — OPENING NIGHT

VINCE JONES: THE AUSTRALIAN SONGBOOK at Malvern Town Hall

Vince Jones
Heartfelt: Vince Jones

Yes Stonnington Jazz is off and running. Vince Jones sang his heart out in the opening concert, adding lyrics to original compositions by Australian musicians. The emotion was written all over Vince’s face and he sang with conviction, even tackling political issues to a degree that had Stonnington’s young mayor, Tim Smith, convinced the songs came from Mao’s Little Red Book.

Artistic director of the festival, Adrian Jackson, reminded us it was Stonnington Jazz’s fifth year before Jones came on stage with Aaron Flower on guitar, Simon Barker on drums, Ben Waples on bass and musical director for the evening Matt McMahon on piano. As usual in one of Jackson’s festivals, it was an interesting concept, with Jones adding lyrics to “absolutely beautiful songs” by Australian musicians.

So how did it work? Well, I may as well be up front about my general preference for music without words, though that’s an individual thing. I just find most often that I love the music between the vocals more than the words, which bring an obligation to worry about the meaning. But that’s irrelevant to how Jones and guests performed at Malvern Town Hall.

Vince Jones
Vince Jones

Some longstanding fans of Vince Jones — and there are plenty — told me he did more singing at this concert than at earlier gigs. It was, after all, his opportunity to create a songbook. I’m not sure Jones’s voice is all that strong, particularly in the higher registers, so I found him most impressive in his conviction and presence. It’s a hackneyed phrase to say someone wears their heart on their sleeve, but Jones can definitely move an audience. And I am always impressed by a singer who makes no apology for taking on controversial issues in their lyrics — it’s honest and it’s unashamedly a bid to challenge the audience with the power of the ideas.

Julien Wilson
Julien Wilson

Jones opened with The Three Sisters (Jones/Barney McAll), which was about three women he met during a uranium mining protest in Arnhem Land. It worked well enough, but This Is The Woman (Jones/McMahon), written about his mother, seemed to have some twee lines in the lyrics. The Doug De Vries classic The Nature of Power, with Julien Wilson joining in on saxophone, seemed once again to suit Jones, and his question about the absence of a modern Tolstoy, Martin Luther King or Gandhi was poignant. A stab at George W. Bush came in Luncheon with The President, and again this worked well. Jones has a naivety and sincerity that allows him to sing “hate is the absence of love” and “lies are the absence of truth” in a way that resists cynicism.

Mike Nock
Mike Nock, Dale Barlow and Vince Jones

Mike Nock on piano and Dale Barlow on flute joined in for The Rainbow Cake (Grabowsky/Jones). Then came a first-set highlight — Nock’s composition from the album Dark and Curious, Embracing You, with Nock on piano. This was a moving piece and suited Jones’s empathetic vocals, as did the final song before the break, Blue — which followed Coloured Strands featuring a solo by Flower. There is something frank and earnest (and this is not a reference to the radio show) about Vince Jones and it comes across best in a ballad.

Vince Jones on flugelhorn
Vince Jones on flugelhorn

I’ve rabbited on too long, but the second set began with the global environment song Jettison, with the message that we are the captains of this green pearl we call Earth and we can stave off the inevitable. I liked the emotion, but thought Jones’s voice was not quite strong enough to carry the message. Reconciled, including a great piano solo from Matt McMahon, was a ballad ideal for Jones’s vocals.

Ben Waples
Ben Waples

We Let Them Do It (McMahon/Jones) was inspired by Nigerian poet and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who with nine others was hanged by Nigerian dictator General Abacha in 1995 for fighting against oil companies Mobil, Chevron, Texaco and Shell. The rhythmic strength of McMahon, Waples and Barker was ideally suited to the message, and Flower contributed a strong solo over Barker’s drums.

Dale Barlow
Dale Barlow and, behind, Aaron Flower

Dale Barlow soloed on his composition The Glass House, and then Julien Wilson returned for a solo in his piece The Rebellious Bird, with Jones’s lyrics effective: “… deride me, displace me, still I will rise”.

Swingin': Mike Nock
Swingin’: Mike Nock

Mike Nock led a lesson in swing, helped by Dale Barlow on sax, in Can’t Afford to Lose (Jones/B. McAll), leaving few across the crowded town hall who were not moving some part of their anatomy to the beat.

Nock, Jones
Jones on Nock watch

Then Jones, after listing a host of musicians he has valued greatly, including bassist the late Gary Costello, sang My Baby Comes To Me, inspired by musician Russell Smith, who I think suffered the loss of a daughter in an accident. To me this was the most beautiful song of the night, with Waples’ bass giving strength while McMahon’s piano allowed for sadness.

It was a great close to the Australian Songbook.

The audience seemed a little reluctant to call the musicians back, but Jones and McMahon responded with the simply powerful Call Me (Jones/Mcmahon) as an encore.

Stonnington Jazz started well. Ausjazz blog will cover many of the gigs at this festival, which runs until May 30. For details of concerts, visit the festival website.

Jones et al
Jones et al