Category Archives: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2014

Stonnington Jazz is a popular festival featuring Australian jazz and improvising musicians. It is an annual event with a program devised by artistic director Adrian Jackson, who also fulfils that role for the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival.

IN SPACE, EVERYONE MAY HEAR YOU DREAM

Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O’Connor

REVIEW: Joseph O’Connor Trio / McDougall-Noy-Murphy, Chapel Off Chapel, Thursday 22 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

As Sun Ra may have put it, space is the place, and both sets at the Chapel had plenty of that highly prized attribute in improvised music — space. OK, so in space no one can hear you scream, but when you listen to music that is open and airy, there may be room to dream.

James Macauley

James McLean

It was evident throughout the Joseph O’Connor trio’s set. There was an acceptance of space in Sotto Vocce in the way the three instruments — O’Connor on piano, Marty Holoubek on bass and James McLean on drums — acted cooperatively yet independently, intervening and then withdrawing as the piece developed. McLean’s sparse work on the drum kit had plenty of it.

Marty Holoubek

Marty Holoubek

In the standard Solitude, Holoubek’s bass was open, airy, relaxed and unhurried, with room to move. And the ballad Fractured Symmetry had notes splaying and spilling everywhere, with fragments, short runs and again that welcome space.

Originally from Brisbane, pianist Joseph O’Connor is completing a PhD course at Monash University. He won first prize in the National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta Jazz last year.

This outing demonstrated his delicacy of touch, expression (in Paul Bley’s Carla), his ability to enter a piece so lightly and convey just the right feel (in Ellington’s Solitude) and his gentle swing (in Noy’s Lady Lachs Schinken). Possibly it may have been good for O’Connor also to play some pieces allowing stronger, more emphatic work at the keys, with greater drive and dynamic variation. In other words, a taste of O’Connor let off the leash and a little more out there would have been nice. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of that in concerts to come.

That said, this was definitely a set of therapeutic or healing music that was good for the soul. It confirmed that the judges at Wangaratta chose well from a highly talented group of finalists in the National Jazz Awards.

And speaking of therapeutic music with plenty of space, the second set delivered more of both.

One of the greats (and great guys) of Australian jazz, Stonnington Jazz patron and drummer-bandleader Allan Browne, was unable to make this gig for health reasons. We wish him a quick return to the stage. Rory McDougall, who plays with Aaron Choulai, Sam Zerna and The Putbacks, stepped in.

According to bassist Tamara Murphy, pianist Andrea Keller had been in the line-up, but was away touring, so saxophonist Phil Noy stepped in. This trio began and ended the set with Bernie McGann — the recently departed saxophonist’s Brownsville to start and Murphy’s moving tribute Bernie to close. McDougall’s solo in this was assured and he engaged in some nice exchanges with Noy, who opened with a solo full of subtleties. Murphy’s playing is always interesting in the best sense — imaginative and never predictable.

Phil Noy

Phil Noy

In a beautifully controlled solo in The Opposite of Afar, Noy reached some distinctive high notes that I find it hard to describe, but they a had a special quality, being penetrating yet not at all forced.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

Murphy’s solo in this seemed considered, deliberate and crafted with a lot of care — I’m not sure whether that will mean anything because I appreciate that much of what musicians perform ought to fit that description. But in this case that aspect seemed particularly evident.

During The Two Bears (Noy) I reflected that Noy was delivering a soft, yet full sound on reeds that was often floating as if on a cushion of air. There were no squawks and no sharp edges. His solo in Stablemates (Benny Golson) had just the right amount of swing. Great piece. Hoo Hoo, a ballad Noy wrote in Tasmania, had some more of those intriguing  higher notes plus a tiny vibrato, and Murphy produced a slow solo with enough space to let the light of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem lyric get in.

Rory McDougall

Rory McDougall

Maybe the Allan Browne vibe hung around for this concert despite his absence because this trio worked really well. McDougall’s brief solo in Staples (Noy) was great, and during the closing Bernie I was musing on the way in which the timbres of all three instruments were on out there to be enjoyed.

Space is indeed the place and there was plenty in the Chapel on this occasion.

ROGER MITCHELL

CHANTAL FIRES A CANNONBALL INTO A TOUGH CROWD

Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal Mitvalsky and Darrin Archer in Cannonball

REVIEW: David Rex Quartet / Cannonball, Chapel Off Chapel, Tuesday 20 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

Vocalist, DJ and PBS broadcaster Chelsea Wilson introduced this two-set gig with lively enthusiasm, and there was every reason to look forward to what was in store from the brothers Rex. Alto saxophonist David, described by expatriate New York pianist composer Barney McAll as “the finest alto saxophonist in Australia today” was joining his sibling, acoustic bass powerhouse Philip. David Allardice was at the piano and Sam Bates was sitting in on drums in the absence of Danny Farrugia.

David Rex

David Rex plays Stonnington Jazz

The quartet played eight pieces, opening with John Coltrane’s Straight Street and closing with the catchy, upbeat Mr Hyde, in which we heard Allardice thoroughly warmed up on the keyboard, an absolute ripper of a bass solo and a strong alto solo to finish.

There was a lot to like in the set — the highlights for me were Philip Rex‘s solos — but either the audience was unresponsive or some interplay was missing between the players, because the vibe did not seem to be there on the night. We heard some super smooth, dreamy sax in David Rex‘s ballad Shades of Colour and some slightly bent alto notes in the classic Body and Soul (“a quick ballad to show how slow we can play”), plus tougher and faster bop in Slap It. But Hammond Song seemed to lack a real buzz and in general the quartet seemed to be finding it hard to fire up the small crowd.

Philip Rex

Philip Rex

I felt that a pianist such as John McAll may have added the pizzazz and flamboyance to arouse the audience on the night. Yet there was no denying the individual talents of the Rex boys on alto sax and double bass.

Tom Lee on bass and David Wilson on alto sax

Tom Lee on bass and David Wilson on alto sax

The second set brought on another alto saxophonist, Tim Wilson, who formed Cannonball to explore the joyous, soulful, grooving music of the great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. He was joined by Paul Williamson (trumpet), Darrin Archer (piano), Tom Lee (bass), Sam Bates (drums) and Chantal Mitvalsky (vocals).

To be honest, I was hoping to hear this band play pieces such as One for Daddy-O; Sack O’ Woe; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Limehouse Blues or Walk Tall, but I had to be content with Work Song among my Adderley favourites.

Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal Mitvalsky

That said, we were treated to a great trip down memory lane, beginning with the bright opening track The Chant, featuring top solos by Wilson and Williamson. We were not long without vocals and as soon as Mitvalsky came on for Ten Years of Tears — which included great bass work by Lee — the songstress became the focal point of the band. I think it was a tough audience, but Mitvalsky gradually roused them and won them over with the power of her personality and vocal range.

David Williamson

David Williamson

A restrained Williamson solo in If You Never Fall in Love With Me was a treat, as was Wilson’s alto in the bluesey Since I Fell For You, in which Mitvalsky’s vocals were expressive and powerful. In Work Song her forceful vocals carried conviction.The trumpet was another highlight in this piece.

Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal Mitvalsky

Cannonball delivered the goods and no doubt reminded some in the audience of the Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley association. As a lover of the instrumental Adderley, I had to quell a wish to hear more of the band unadorned, but that’s a personal preference. I reckon Mitvalsky’s presence made the night for many at Chapel Off Chapel.

ROGER MITCHELL

Stonnington Jazz 

Tim Wilson

David Rex

WELL MAY CHARLES MINGUS SAY AMEN TO THAT

 Mingus Amongst Us

Trumpeter Ray Cassar mimes flute behind the flute-players Steve Fitzmaurice, Tim Wilson and Carlo Barbaro in Mingus Amongst Us

REVIEW: Mingus Amongst Us, Chapel Off Chapel, Monday 19 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

Possibly it’s a little flippant to ask this, but how many flautists does it take to unhinge a trumpet player? The answer, it seems, is three. So, in the second — and spectacular — set invoking the spirit of Charles Mingus, three of the nonet’s reeds players put down their saxes and picked up flutes. And in a clear case of flute envy, horn player Ray Cassar turned his instrument horizontal and began miming a flautist behind the other three.

This amusing moment reflected how much fun the nine band members were having as they played Steve Fitzmaurice‘s arrangements of music by great bass player and composer Charles Mingus, which has been described as “earthy, passionate and sophisticated, blues and gospel-inspired jazz”.

Mingus Amongst Us

Mingus Amongst Us

The line-up of this ensemble, which performs regularly in Sydney, varies a little according to who’s available in the city where they are playing, but at Chapel Off Chapel we heard Fitzmaurice (baritone sax) with Cassar (trumpet), Jordan Murray (trombone), Nick Mulder (trombone), Carlo Barbaro (tenor sax), Tim Wilson (alto sax), Joe Chindamo (piano), Tom Lee (bass) and Hugh Harvey (drums).

Steve Fitzmaurice

Steve Fitzmaurice solos in Mingus Amongst Us

I freely admit to loving this group’s work and these Mingus arrangements so much that it’s been hard to remain dispassionate (if that’s called for) or to think too deeply about what I like about the Mingus Amongst Us gigs I’ve heard at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. I find myself just getting into the music and soaking it up as it pours forth from these superb musicians.

Reviewers are supposed to have their critical antennae up, I think, so can I find a quibble? If I have to, it would be that Cassar on trumpet — as opposed to on flugelhorn — was at times so intensely piercing that some notes seemed to upset the balance slightly. But I loved his swinging horn in Fables of Faubus and his flugelhorn work amid the sweeping vistas of Alice’s Wonderland (originally Diane), which was an absolutely splendid piece. My only other regret was that Tom Lee’s solos on bass were too brief.

Joe Chindamo

Joe Chindamo solos in Mingus Amongst Us

So what was so appealing and so clearly had the audience — not quite as many as I’d hoped, but it was a Monday night — enthralled? Mingus Amongst Us serves up a rich feast of sound that is full of momentum. From the start of the first set, when Harvey was able to “stick it to us” with a long solo, we heard a band that was tight and punchy, with full-on pieces as well as ballads. We heard sharp splinters of sound and fiery bursts in Jump Monk, tension and crescendoes in Gunslinging Bird (originally If Charlie Parker Were a Gunslinger There’d Be a Whole Lot of Copycats), shimmering horn volleys in Fight Song and enough forward momentum in Tijuana Gift Shop to justify Julia Gillard‘s phrase “going forward” (and don’t we miss Julia).

Carlo Barbaro

Carlo Barbaro solos in Mingus Amongst Us

We heard ripper solos from Barbaro in Gunslinging Bird and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (how deep can a tenor sax go?), from Wilson in Fight Song and the closing Better Get Hit in Your Soul, from Fitzmaurice in Alice’s Wonderland and amid the wonderful chaos of Moanin’, from Mulder in Fight Song, from Chindamo in Tijuana Gift Shop and, along with Murray, in Us is Two, plus many more.

Tim Wilson Solos in Mingus Amongst Us

Tim Wilson Solos in Mingus Amongst Us

There is so much energy in Mingus. So much of it is released by this ensemble. And there is wonder and beauty there in ballads such as Self Portrait in Three Colors.

So, great arrangements, great musicians and a great vibe. Ages ago I wrote that after a Mingus Amongst Us concert that I almost expected to hear Charles Mingus say “Amen” at gig’s end. That’s not far off, I reckon.

ROGER MITCHELL

IMAGE GALLERY

Mingus Amongst Us

Stonnington Jazz