Category Archives: WANGARATTA JAZZ 2013

Posts about the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, Nov 1-4, 2013

WIZARDS OF OZ

Ronny Ferella

Ronny Ferella in Drumbling at WPAC Hall, Wangaratta

REVIEW: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, November 1–3, 2013

It’s not easy to sum up a weekend of music in a few words, but whatever else can be said about the 2013 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues festival, there was an abundance of imaginative playing and exemplary musicianship.

I made it to 22 concerts. None were in the blues marquee, but there was more than enough on the jazz program to keep me occupied.

Frank Sinatra used to sing, “regrets I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. I will mention a few regrets, because I left some concerts early or arrived late, reluctantly in each case, and therefore heard only a sample of what almost certainly would have proved a highlight.

Programming to avoid clashes is almost unavoidable, but overlapping gigs do make reviewing difficult. There is no obvious solution.

I think this festival is best summed up by three themes: Ubiquitous Julien Wilson, piano prowess and the wizardy of Australian musicians, including those now living abroad.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson in quartet mode at Wangaratta Jazz & Blues 2013

First, the weekend of gigs could have been re-named the Wangaratta Julien Festival in honour of the phenomenal playing by saxophonist Julien Wilson in so many line-ups. Julien recently had a close call during surgery in hospital, but recovered to play superbly.

He seemed omnipresent. I heard him in five ensembles. In each his playing displayed almost all the qualities you’d hope to hear from saxophone or bass clarinet, from fiery blasts to deeply resonant mining expeditions or subtle soliloquies.

As I write this I am conscious that at last year’s festival a standout concert featured Wilson with fellow reedsman David Ades, who is now seriously ill and in our thoughts. That concert stays with me.

Many of Julien Wilson’s solos this year will also remain in my memory, among them his freakily good explorations in Rebellious Bird, which he dedicated to Ades.

Among other highlights was his rendition, in his first outing in a quartet format, of Paul Desmond’s Wendy, performed in honour of the recently departed Bernie McGann, and a finely nuanced solo on Deep Night.

Another came with drummer Allan Browne and bassist Sam Anning (on loan from the US) at the launch of their recent album Sweethearts. Empathy, warmth and understanding were evident as the trio members demonstrated how well they work together. It was a joy to hear this, though I had to leave early.

The “high octane” Julien was on show in B For Chicken. And in the Jonathan Swartz Ensemble, Wilson — dubbed Lazarus by the bassist — excelled in Wait Until the Morning.

The second theme of this festival, piano prowess, was evident in finalists for the National Jazz Awards and, appropriately, in the programmed artists. Audiences had the opportunity to experience the different keyboard styles of headline artist Gerald Clayton with his trio and expatriate Australian Barney McAll, both from the US, and Jef Neve from Belgium, as well as established local pianists of international standing in Mike Nock and Paul Grabowsky.

Gerald Clayton

Gerald Clayton in WPAC Theatre, Wangaratta

In three concerts Clayton demonstrated poise and prowess along with a sense of ease and total immersion that possibly reflected his classical training from the age of six. Assisted ably by Joe Sanders on bass and Pete van Nostrand on drums, Clayton was able to hold the attention of his audience. Captivating with calmness and depth, rather than drama, he was at his most arresting in Bond: The Cast, which provided tension, energy and propulsion before an encore closed the trio’s Saturday night concert.

In his one festival outing, Neve gave a polished virtuoso solo performance that brought a standing ovation. His fingers almost never stopped as notes cascaded from the keyboard, conjuring creations that were engrossing and powerful, thunderously stormy or graceful and delicate. It felt like a well-rehearsed, classical performance.

By contrast, McAll’s piano — whether with his Non-Compliance Trio in WPAC Theatre on Saturday or solo in Holy Trinity Cathedral on Sunday — was exciting in its drama, power and potential to surprise. Always flamboyant and theatrical in the best tradition of the McAll brothers, Barney combined skill with inventiveness, creativity and flourish. I regret not hearing more than half of his solo outing.

Late on Sunday afternoon, a packed house at WPAC Theatre had a chance to hear the three finalists in the National Jazz Awards, now with a first prize of $10,000. As Steve Barry, Daniel Gassin and Joseph O’Connor each played three pieces, it was evident that judges Nock, Grabowsky and McAll had an incredibly difficult task and that Australia is blessed with a great deal of young talent on this instrument. Choosing the three from 10 finalists during the festival had been hard enough.

O’Connor, from Melbourne, took a risk by deciding to play his composition Sotto Voce solo, but it paid off. He took first prize, followed closely by Barry (Sydney) and Gassin (Melbourne, now living in Paris). All three performances were of such high quality that it is easy to envisage the winners making an impact on world stages.

The piano prowess theme was fittingly rounded out by judges Nock and Grabowsky — the former confirming his power and presence with a solo in Acceptance during his Sunday outing with Wilson and guitarist Steve Magnusson; the latter in his moving solo in Black Saffron with his fiery sextet in the festival’s closing gig.

And that is an ideal segue to the third theme of this year’s festival, which could be summed up as the wizards of Oz. Australian musicians — including many who returned from overseas to play — shone.

That’s not meant to write off international artists. Trumpeter Eric Vloeimans’ misleadingly named Gatecrash, from the Netherlands, was tight and occasionally lively, but ultimately too warm, fuzzy and muffled for my taste, with no sharp edges. Norway’s Froy Aagre Electric demonstrated how well sonorous amplified soprano sax could work with electronic keyboard, well executed by Australian Sean Foran in his first try at bass foot pedals.

But the excitement and adventure came from musicians whose careers developed in this country.

Niko Schauble

Niko Schauble in Drumbling

A prime example was the spectacularly successful Drumbling, in which drummers Niko Schauble and Ronny Ferella, along with accordionist Anthony Schulz and vocalists Carl Panuzzo, Michelle Nicole and Gian Slater, paid homage to the drums in a new work of exquisite subtlety, virtuosity and concentration. It deserves a separate review.

Another was Acquacheta, in which Magnusson on guitar, Mirko Guerrini on sax and piano, Frank Di Sario on bass and Schauble on drums made it almost impossible to leave (though I did, reluctantly).

Trombonist Shannon Barnett, on loan from New York, was iridescent with her quartet and groundbreaking with Slater in U.nlock. In Holy Trinity Cathedral, fans of the adventurous would have reveled in Expose with David Tolley, Tony Hicks and Brett Thompson, or the Callum G’Froerer Ensemble. I heard only fragments of these.

Peter Knight’s Way Out West weaved its magic with a new line-up, but has not had time to develop the new material it needs to head in a direction tailored to koto player Satsuki Odamura and guitarist Lucas Michailidis.

Tight Corners, in which pianist Jex Saarelaht and saxophonist Phillip Johnston played works of Monk, Nichols and Lacy, was developing nicely when I made the (retrospectively unwise) decision to leave for another gig.

Other standout gigs featuring Australian artists were the Jonathan Zwartz Ensemble (much more compelling live than on the most recent album) and the classy Nock/Magnusson/Wilson.

I want to end on a high note, so I’ll digress to say that the Jazz Futures concert in which gracious Gerald Clayton ushered in a stream of capable young performers from Monash University was not such a great choice for a prime spot on the final night of the festival. This would have been better scheduled earlier, or on the Monday. There were some great compositions, such as Joe McEvilly’s Siberia and Jessica Carlton’s Not Alone, but the “talent quest” format was cumbersome.

Luckily, and I return to the wizards of Oz theme, the Paul Grabowsky Sextet delivered such a robust, challenging, exhilarating and exciting final festival gig with The Bitter Suite that all moths were driven from the mind and WPAC Theatre.

What a line-up: Grabowsky on piano, Andrew Robson on alto, Jamie Oehlers on tenor, James Greening on trombone, Cameron Undy on bass and Simon Barker on drums. These were the wizards of Oz and they carried this festival into the stratosphere.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: Images of the festival will be posted as time permits. Later posts may cover a gig or two in more detail.

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MUSICIANS WHO MOVE

Gerald Clayton

Gerald Clayton                          Picture: Ben Wolf

Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, November 1-4, 2013

This preview covers a lot of ground, with the aim of letting people know what is on offer. The joy of a festival such as Wangaratta is that patrons can take risks and dip into unfamiliar territory.

JAZZ PROGRAM PREVIEW

Music moves us, musicians move us and musicians move. So many times when we read the biographies of favourite musicians, we find they have made leaps to new places and new music communities — sometimes returning home eventually, sometimes not.

On a recent Sunday night at Melbourne’s Uptown Jazz Café, pianist Marc Hannaford played two sets at a farewell gig before leaving for at least five years in New York. He invited musician friends and colleagues to sit in. It was a great way to celebrate a big move in his life and career.

This year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues brings us many artists who have made significant moves to new places as their music developed.

As in previous years, many of the musicians are expatriate Australians. The line-up, carefully crafted by artistic director Adrian Jackson, raises the (admittedly immaterial) question of how long a local musician has to be living overseas before being classified as an international artist.

In a year when piano is the chosen instrument for the National Jazz Awards, it is fitting that the headline artist will be thrice Grammy-nominated young US pianist Gerald Clayton, who has attracted attention as a rising star in a trio with Joe Sanders on bass and Justin Brown on drums. On this visit Pete Van Nostrand  will be at the drum kit.

Clayton was born in Amsterdam, grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in New York. His trio’s third album, Life Forum, was due for release in Australia by Universal on September 2.

Clayton will spend some time working with Monash University music students before the festival, so a few students could well end up with the trio on stage for one concert. Here is a sample.

Chris McNulty

Chris McNulty      (Picture supplied)

Among the expatriate internationals making the trip to Wangaratta will be vocalist Chris McNulty, who has been based in New York since 1988, and this year won Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album for The Song That Sings You Here.

McNulty, who was in Melbourne for the Jazz Bell Awards, will perform with her partner, guitarist/composer Paul Bollenback, and bassist Ugonna Okegwo, both from New York, in The Magic Trio, a drumless collaboration they have shared since 2000. Bollenback will also lead a trio with Okegwo and Perth-based drummer Daniel Susnjar, who played with Paul when he was in the USA last year.

McNulty will also re-establish a link from her early days in a band with pianist/composer Paul Grabowsky, joined by Frank Di Sario on bass and Mike Jordan on drums.

Expatriate international Barney McAll is no stranger to Wangaratta. In 2011 he brought a choir and large ensemble to the festival stage for Graft, but this year he will appear solo and in a trio.

In what promises to be real treat, McAll will take to the Holy Trinity Cathedral stage to explore some of the gospel music he regularly performs on Sundays at a church in Brooklyn. Anyone who heard McAll’s three solo pieces during the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative 30th Anniversary Concert on January 27 this year at The Edge, Federation Square, will look forward to hearing more.

McAll, who described the Wangaratta festival as “the bohemian grove of Australian jazz”, told organisers he would be playing some spirituals and new solo pieces, including a preview “of my first solo piano recording, which will be called Every Piano Needs A House In It”.

Joining McAll in his Non-Compliance Trio will be friends Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Hamish Stuart on drums.

Another Australian export, guitarist/composer Peter O’Mara left Sydney for New York in 1981, moved to Munich the following year and has lived in Germany and, more recently, Austria for 30 years. Last at Wangaratta in 2002, O’Mara will lead his quartet from Vienna in what Jackson describes as music “on the jazz side of jazz-rock fusion, very electronic, funky and pretty exciting”. Expect a mix of what O’Mara describes as “modern jazz, odd-metre fusion and groove”, in which expat American Tim Collins on vibes shares melodies with the guitar. Here is a sample.

More of the European input so vital to any festival will come from Dutch trumpet player Eric Vloeimans, who uses an electronic attachment on his instrument and, with his quartet Gatecrash, will also bring a fusion and funk emphasis. Expect a range from jazz to world, electro-funk and “contemplative soundscapes that are punctuated by a touch of wackiness”.

Jef Neve

Jef Neve

Belgian pianist Jef Neve was most recently at Wangaratta in 2010 with his trio (see Ausjazz’s rave review), but this time will play solo piano as part of a world tour. Neve regards the piano as an orchestral instrument — “Everything is present: choir, strings, woodwinds, brass and, of course, percussion” — and says the “soul and sound of the instrument” is his main source of inspiration in his classically influenced playing.

Froy Aagre

Froy Aagre         (Picture supplied)

Norwegian saxophonist Froy Aagre performed at Wangaratta in 2009 with members of the Brisbane band Misinterprotato, now known as Trichotomy, who she met at Canada’s Banff Jazz Workshop in 2005. Sean Foran (electric piano) and John Parker (drums) from Trichotomy will join Aagre to present her new electric repertoire, which she says “fuses new electronic sounds into melodic, groove-based jazz” and is “a way to communicate joy to the audience”.

AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS

That pretty much covers the FIFO (fly in fly out) jazz and improvised music performers, but the line-up of Australians at Wangaratta this year is so extensive and exciting that it is arguable they could carry the festival.

Sydney pianist and composer Mike Nock will join reedsman Julien Wilson, whose playing recently has been outstanding, and guitarist Steve Magnusson will re-visit the trio that was so successful in May at Stonnington Jazz.

Barney McAll’s presence will enable two CD launches. Bassist Jonathan Zwartz will bring his nine-piece band together for the first time since the recording of The Remembering and Forgetting of the Air, which features McAll, Magnusson, Phil Slater on trumpet, Wilson on tenor, James Greening on trombone and sousaphone, Richard Maegraith on tenor and bass clarinet, Hamish Stuart on drums and Fabian Hevia on percussion. With this material and this line-up, no one should miss this.

McAll will also join Zwartz, Allan Browne on drums and Wilson — Julien recording for the first time in a classic tenor sax quartet — to launch their album of mostly standards, mostly ballads entitled This Is Always.

Julien Wilson, Sam Anning, Allan Browne

Julien Wilson, Sam Anning, Allan Browne

In another launch not to be missed (I know this because there was a recent preview at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club), expatriate bassist Sam Anning will join Wilson and Browne to celebrate Sweethearts, an absolutely entrancing album that serendipitously was recorded when Anning, over from New York, was delayed in Melbourne by a US visa problem, for which we all should be eternally grateful.

Expat drummer Raj Jayaweera, also be back from New York for the festival, will form the house band with Anning for the National Jazz Awards piano recitals.

The plethora of Australian jazz musicians in New York will be further depleted by the departure to Wangaratta of trombonist Shannon Barnett, who will reconvene her quartet — Nash Lee guitar, Chris Hale bass guitar and Hugh Harvey drums — and also launch a new band, U.nlock, with vocalist Gian Slater, Sam Anning and Raj Jayaweera with material the four worked on in New York recently. A key feature of U.nlock will be “voice and trombone sharing both the lead and accompanying roles”, Slater says.

Barnett will also perform as part of clarinettist and vocalist Barry Wratten’s New Orleans Pelicans with Michael McQuaid on trumpet and reeds, Steve Grant on piano, John Scurry on guitar and banjo, Howard Cairns or Leigh Barker (Saturday morning) on bass and Lynn Wallis on drums.

The much-missed trombonist will also assemble Dixie Jack, a local version of Ragstretch, a band with whom she has played in Denmark consisting of Copenhagen-based expat clarinet player and vocalist Chris Tanner, known for his classic jazz work with Julien Wilson in the band Virus, and guitarist Craig Fermanis, Sam Anning and Raj Jayaweera. Dixie Jack, consisting of Barnett, Wilson, Anning and Jayaweera, will play traditional jazz.

Classic jazz is well represented this year. Melbourne band the Sugarfoot Ramblers is led by Travis Woods on trumpet, with Jason Downes on reeds and graduates or current students of the jazz course at Monash University who share a fondness for New Orleans Jazz. Others in the line-up are James Macaulay trombone, Brett Thompson banjo and guitar, Marty Holoubek bass and Daniel Berry drums. From Sydney, The Cope Street Parade and The Finer Cuts, who have recorded with experienced trumpeter Geoff Bull, will also add their traditional jazz sounds. Allan Browne will join the Finer Cuts, who usually don’t perform with a drummer, for one session.

The Wangaratta festival always draws musicians from across the country, providing a relatively rare opportunity for them to share the stage. The exciting sextet led by Melbourne’s Paul Grabowsky will feature Jamie Oehlers from Perth on tenor and Sydney musicians James Greening on trombone, Andrew Robson on alto, Cameron Undy on bass and Simon Barker on drums. This band has recorded an album it hopes to release at the festival.

Satsuki Odamara

Satsuki Odamura, Paul Williamson and Peter Knight.

Another certain hit, Peter Knight’s band Way Out West, now features Sydney-based koto player, Satsuki Odamura, along with Melburnians Lucas Michailidis on guitar and Hugh Harvey on drums as well as founding members, Peter Knight on trumpet, flugelhorn, Paul Williamson on saxophones, Howard Cairns on bass and Ray Pereira on percussion.

And Melbourne vocalist Gian Slater will team with Perth saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and Melburnians Paul Grabowsky on piano, Ben Robertson on bass and Dave Beck on drums in The Differences to play material from the album of that name.

Two concerts enjoyed by patrons of Stonnington Jazz in May will also be on the Wangaratta program. Red Fish Blue is an alliance of two musicians from Melbourne, pianist Sam Keevers and percussionist Javier Fredes, with two from Sydney, bassist Brett Hirst and drummer Simon Barker. And vocalist Josh Kyle and Keevers will perform Songs of Friends, which are their interpretations of songs by Australian singers/composers.

The Cup Eve Concert will feature Joe Chindamo with his trio and Monique Di Mattina performing music from her recent album Nola’s Ark, which is a jazz blues hybrid.

AUSJAZZ RECOMMENDATIONS

This preview covers a lot of ground, with the aim of letting people know what is on offer. The joy of a festival such as Wangaratta is that patrons can take risks and dip into unfamiliar territory.

In case it helps, the following are the concerts that I’d be keen not to miss:

  • Barney McAll’s solo piano in Holy Trinity on Sunday, November 3 at 3pm
  • Jef Neve solo piano, WPAC Theatre, Sunday, Nov 3 at 1pm
  • Launch of Jonathan Zwartz album The Remembering and Forgetting of the Air, Friday, Nov 1, WPAC Theatre
  • Launch of McAll/Wilson/Zwartz/Browne album This Is Always, WPAC Memorial Hall, Saturday, Nov 2 at 2.30pm
  • Launch of Wilson/Anning/Browne album Sweethearts, WPAC Memorial Hall, Saturday, November 2 at 4.30pm
  • Barnett and Slater’s U.nlock, WPAC Memorial Hall, Sunday, Nov 3 at 2.30pm
  • Paul Grabowsky Sextet, WPAC Theatre, Sunday, Nov 3 at 10.30pm
  • Way Out West, WPAC Theatre, Saturday, Nov 2, 11am

ROGER MITCHELL

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues