Category Archives: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2012

Articles, interviews and reviews will appear here for this festival, which runs from May 17 to 27, 2012.

SURF’S UP, BUT I’M NOT

REVIEW: Jamie Oehlers Quartet featuring Robert Hurst  — Jamie Oehlers saxophone, Robert Hurst bass, Tal Cohen piano, Jacob Evans drums — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Friday, June 1 at 11pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012

Robert Hurst

Robert Hurst

For reasons I don’t need to go into here I have been attending some career transition courses at work. One tip the instructor gave — and this has nothing whatsoever to do with this MIJF gig — is that before looking for a job it is vital to remove all images of yourself from social media such as Facebook, because prospective employers may check your profile, take one look and decide “he’s too old” or “I can’t stand bald people” or some such. Interesting. But I digress. What is slightly connected to this review is that the instructor also warned that in job interviews it is important to avoid waffle. Well, I can feel some waffle coming on. Be warned.

To be honest, I suspect I’m tempted to indulge in palaver because I don’t have that much to say. How can that be, with players such as Jamie Oehlers and US bassist Robert Hurst performing in an intimate venue such as Bennetts Lane? I love Oehlers’ work and have waxed lyrical about it, especially with Paul Grabowsky and Dave Beck in the exciting and totally improvised playing of Lost and Found.

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

Well, the mundane realities were that this was my third gig for the night, that I’d just been blown away by Bernie McGann‘s two sets and that I had to miss the second set by the Oehlers quartet in order to make the last train home. Also, I was not really in the mood for the onslaught of sax power that Oehlers unleashed. My bad. Somehow, like a wave that you don’t quite catch, it came at me but failed to pick me up and carry me in.

Others loved this outing.  I can quote respected jazz writer Andra Jackson, herself a saxophonist, who commented on this gig via social media in these words: “PHEN-omenal unofficial opening gig for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival last night from saxophonist Jamie Oehlers. Can it get much better than that! Such seamless playing on Aisha. And in one extended passage he even sounded like he was playing two instruments, playing an insistent riff and bringing in a melody over it.”

And, according to Andra, saxophonist George Garzone was at Bennetts and said he’d never heard Oehlers in better form.

Jacob Evans

Jacob Evans

I was not familiar with Hurst, but his website mentions that he featured on 12 tracks from Paul McCartney‘s Kisses on the Bottom and on Chris Botti‘s Impressions, and toured the US with Diana Krall this year. His
Unrehurst Vol 2
and Bob Ya Head were critics’ picks for best albums of 2011.

In the first set at Bennetts, the quartet began with the energetic Hurst original Tiger’s on Venus, which was hard-driving stuff throughout. I felt Hurst’s work was exemplary and virtuosic, but lacked the warmth of a player like Charlie Hayden.

Hurst & Oehlers

Hurst & Oehlers

Next up was McCoy Tyner‘s Ballad for Aisha. Oehlers was doubly impressive in this, playing two very different solos during the piece — one intense and the other relatively laid back. Jacob Evans used his hands effectively on the skins. Hurst’s solo had space and dignity.

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

The final piece for the set was Hurst’s original Aycrigg, I think named for a street in which he once lived. This was a return to the faster pace and vigour of the opening and certainly gave us a chance to see Hurst’s nimble fingers at work at an incredible speed. If Tim Davies impressed with his drumming speed at Stonnington Jazz, Hurst certainly demonstrated his skill at speed on the bass.

Tal Cohen

Tal Cohen

I suspect that the second set delighted those in the audience who were up for a hard-driving quartet in the mood to take no prisoners.

On the last train home, my strongest memories were of Bernie McGann standing almost unmoving on stage as his playing moved us.

ROGER MITCHELL

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McALLS FAIR IN SIBLING RIVALRY

REVIEW: Stonnington Jazz 2012
John McAll’s Black Money/Barney McAll’s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project, Chapel Off Chapel, May 23, 2012

John McAll's Black Money at Chapel Off Chapel

John McAll’s Black Money at Chapel Off Chapel

The brothers McAll performing together in the one venue was always going to be something special — it had never happened before — and it proved to be a real highlight of this year’s festival. The elder brother, John, is in Australia these days and the younger, Barney, in New York.

John McAll

John McAll at the piano in Black Money, with Phillip Rex on bass.

The first set was also a CD launch for pianist, bandleader and composer John McAll‘s second Black Money album, Alter Ego, featuring David Rex on alto sax, Adam Simmons on tenor and contra alto clarinet, Jordan Murray on trombone, Sam Bates on drums and Phillip Rex on bass. With Simmons abroad, Julien Wilson stepped in on tenor at Chapel Off Chapel, but there was no one to fill in on the lower-range  clarinet, which was a pity.

David Rex on alto sax and Jordan Murray (at left).

David Rex on alto sax and Jordan Murray (at left).

John McAll’s eponymous first album Black Money. recorded in New Jersey in 2007 and released in 2009 with a different line-up, has long been a favourite of mine. The darkish allusions, black humour and perceptive inspirations behind John’s compositions are there again on Alter Ego.

Phillip Rex on bass and Sam Bates on drums.

Phillip Rex on bass and Sam Bates on drums.

The band began with I Love Black and I Hate Love, which confirmed that John’s compositions are always full of interest, followed by the robust, vigorous Standing Room, with great solos from McAll, Rex, Murray and Wilson.

John McAll

With feeling: John McAll

The solemn, even melancholy Mirrors followed, with Murray showing why the trombone is so easy to love and McAll’s piano expressive and fluid.

Julien Wilson on tenor sax, John McAll on piano

Julien Wilson on tenor sax, John McAll on piano.

Boogie Dragon, off the first album, came next, followed by ’40s movie-inspired Assassin, which saw McAll right into it and Wilson catching just the right flavour for a desert song. I could almost see “El Aurens” riding past on his camel.

Jordan Murray on trombone.

Jordan Murray on trombone.

Before Juggernaut, which intriguingly refers to the weight of all the responsibilities and troubles we all carry in life, John McAll appeared to take a call on his mobile. Scripted or not, it was in tune with the occasionally irreverent tone of the whole gig with the McAll brothers. The piano solo in Juggernaut was really swinging.

Sam Bates on drums.

Sam Bates on drums.

The set closed with Refugee, with top solos from Rex and Bates. The piece really built in intensity and had a spiky, staccato feel at times, as well some sweeping piano vistas. My only regret was that Black Money did not play Glitter and Dust from the first album, but the set demonstrated that this band, coupled with the elder McAll’s compositions, is — to repeat a cliche — on the money.

Barney McAll's Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project

Barney McAll’s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project.

For Barney McAll‘s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project, the line-up was Barney on keyboards, Ben Hauptmann on guitar, Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums and Javier Fredes on percussion. According to Wikipedia, Guajira is “country music” in Cuban Spanish, and has a mixture of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms, but I’m not sure how well that applies to this outing.

With feeling: Barney McAll

With feeling: Barney McAll.

The set began with Barney paying tribute to Mooroolbark (for producing such musical luminaries as Doug de Vries, Rob Barnard and Len Barnard) and dad Jack McAll, before telling a tale about his elder sibling painting rocks gold. Then the band delivered the strongly accented beat of Non Compliance, with Barney making his presence felt with some emphatic piano passages.

Javier Fredes on percussion.

Javier Fredes on percussion.

Then followed the compelling, rhythmically driven pieces Untitled and Transform, the latter with Barney playing piano and keyboard. There was heaps of swing and groove in this, with a beautiful fade.

Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums.

Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums.

Summer Lawn had Phil Rex deliver a potent solo. Piano was, with bass, the driving force in a sustained exploration of patterns with variations. Perhaps it went on a little long, but I found it mesmeric and felt that it was best described as “power meditation”. There was momentum and involvement here that I could not help but contrast with what I had felt was lacking to some degree in Barney’s performance of Graft at Wangaratta Jazz in 2011.

The final piece for this band, though not the set, was a superb debut of Feb, which was written for this gig. This piece canvassed a range of moods, with the piano opening with reflection and becoming expansive before some hot percussion from Fredes and drama in some “crash & bash” on the piano. I loved the changing colours of the piano in this — towards the end Barney produced a haunting feel with notes floating and short, high runs that had great beauty.

Julien Wilson, David Rex, Jordan Murray

Julien Wilson, David Rex, Jordan Murray

In the final piece for the night, Insight, it all came together — well, the bands did. The brothers McAll sat at piano (John) and keyboard (Barney), while the remaining four from Black Money joined Barney’s band onstage.

Grand larceny: Barney removes brother John from the piano.

Grand larceny: Barney removes brother John from the piano.

It did not take long for the sibling rivalry to surface. Hamming it up awards could have been handed out to the brothers as Barney grabbed John and hauled him off the piano. Of course the elder brother returned on keyboard and the two put their heads together to cap off this extraordinary collaboration with their bands.

First time performing together: The brothers McAll.

First time performing together: The brothers McAll.

The brothers McAll gig was a hoot, but also had plenty of great musicianship to go with the fun and games.

ROGER MITCHELL

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING SHUTTER

REVIEW: Stonnington Jazz 2012
Tim Davies Big Band, Chapel Off Chapel, May 23, 2012

Tim Davies Big Band

Tim Davies Big Band performs at Chapel Off Chapel.

From the outset it was always going to be a contest between stick and shutter, between the man at the drum kit and the finger on the camera button. For a long while I thought the lightning-fast hands of Tim Davies would win — that it might not be possible to catch those sticks in mid flight.

Tim Davies

Faster than a speeding shutter: Tim Davies

OK, so eventually I fluked a few shots. But a concert is about being there and hearing the music, not about recording moments in time to view later. One word sums up this outing at Chapel Off Chapel — big. It was a big band, making a big sound, led by a virtuosic showman who had a big personality and wielded his sticks like an army wields weapons. The Grammy-nominated film and television composer, arranger and band leader had a 19-piece band to deliver his onslaught, if you count vocalist Zac Teichmann, who also had a big sound.

Tim Davies

Tim Davies with his big band.

Davies, who formed a big band in Melbourne before moving to Los Angeles in 1998, could have been channeling the flamboyant Gene Krupa in his solo during the opening swing favourite Sing, Sing, Sing made famous by Benny Goodman. Tony Hicks featured, as Davies put it, “on torture tube”.

Tony Hicks on tenor sax, Tim Wilson on alto.

Tony Hicks goes solo on tenor sax.

I had to leave after the first set, but it was ringing in my ears all the way home. Davies peppered his pieces with stories, beginning with the excruciating tale behind his composition Black Nail, involving a finger in the door and the pulling out of the damaged nail.

Eugene Ball solos in Tim Davies Big Band

Eugene Ball on trumpet up the back of Tim Davies Big Band

Hicks on tenor sax again featured in Davies’ Elegy for My Unborn House, before Goon Juice, with Eugene Ball soloing on trumpet from the back of the band and Tim Wilson on alto sax from the front.

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson on alto sax.

A highlight of the big band outing was the unexpected addition of vocalist Zac Teichmann, who has obviously worked with Davies previously. I would have been keen to hear more from Teichmann, but he sang only the one number, Board Game. I don’t know which gave a richer, more resonant sound, Stuart Byrne on baritone sax or Teichmann.

Zac Teichmann

Zac Teichmann

The first set closed with the Grammy-nominated Counting to Infinity, which Davies said was a trilogy in four movements. He said it had emerged from his “morning-mares” (as opposed to the night ones), which is what he enjoyed often because he had a rich wife who works for Sony, which allows him to sleep late.

Pianist with Tim Davies Big Band

Pianist with Tim Davies Big Band

The energy in this big band performance was amazing. These would have been difficult charts to master in the short rehearsal time available, so full marks to the band. It was exciting playing and full of verve.

Guitarist with Tim Davies Big Band

Guitarist with Tim Davies Big Band

Tim Davies Big Band

Is this Stuart Byrne with Tim Davies Big Band? (Not sure)

Having said that, Davies style of big band music is not quite my ideal (and that’s immaterial except to me), so I’d rather hear Bennetts Lane Big Band or the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra. But seeing and hearing Davies at the helm was an unforgettable experience. And it was fun trying to catch his sticks in mid air, occasionally.

ROGER MITCHELL