Category Archives: WANGARATTA JAZZ 2014

Posts about the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, 31 October to 3 November 2014

JAZZ STRIPPED NAKED — WELL, ALMOST

Stripper

Was Wangaratta the Naked City? The scene early Monday at a jam session of interest. (Face of performance artist pixelated)

REVIEW: Wangaratta Jazz 2014

Ausjazz samples 25 concerts in the 25th year of the Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival and finds many expectations fulfilled and many unexpected moments of magic

The 1948 film entitled The Naked City closed with the line, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City and this has been one of them.” Well, one story to come out of the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival in its 25th year was about a young man, possibly a guitarist, who it is alleged was close to naked on stage at the Sunday night jam session in a local pub of some interest to jazz fans.

That’s one story, and there will be a lot more — if not quite eight million, at least as many as there were patrons at this long weekend feast of great music. Artistic director Adrian Jackson is not revealing that number yet, but the queues seemed long and most venues were well filled.

This review has to be just one of those stories — it is a personal account, after all — but each festival seems to offer up its own take on the concerts, hinting at a theme, riff or melody that can be picked up and taken somewhere in the way that improvising musicians are doing all the time.

My story this year is about expectations. It can be good to have them — they ensure interest and build excitement. If they are met, it makes us happy. If not, of course, we may be disappointed. We can be locked in by expectations and be less likely to adapt and go with the flow. Best of all, perhaps, is when we are unexpectedly pleased — that’s when serendipity strikes.

So, being a glass half full kind of guy (that’s not really true, but let’s run with it), let me start with the gigs that fulfilled, or surpassed, expectations. There were plenty.

Roger Manins

Roger Manins tackles plastic recorder … what key is it in?

On Friday night, New Zealander Roger Manins’ band Hip Flask (Manins on tenor, Stu Hunter organ, Adam Ponting piano, Brendan Clarke bass and Toby Hall drums) was a ripping set by top musicians who also had a lot of fun. From 9.42 Mayday (Mannins) through Revolution (Hunter), Droop Blues (Ponting) and beyond, they held the packed WPAC Hall audience in thrall, adding some fun to the mix when Manins took a brand new plastic recorder from its packaging on stage and began to play — with some success. I found it hard to leave as the band played a ballad, Manins’ tenor being so captivating.

On Saturday, a necessarily brief visit to hear trumpet maestro Scott Tinkler’s Drub, with Carl Dewhurst guitar and Simon Barker drums, was fierce balm for the soul and I revelled in it — as did the players. They blew away cobwebs and filled me with warmth.

Later, drummer Danny Fischer’s band from his New York days, Spoke, with his talented friends Andy Hunter on trombone, Justin Wood on saxophone/flute and Dan Loomis on bass, provided collegiate inventiveness, seamless transitions and a feast of timbres as well as humour and pieces that were carefully nurtured to the last note. This band was up against tough competition, so I caught two half gigs rather than one complete concert. Both outings, on the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, confirmed their worth. Let’s hope Spoke returns soon.

James Greening

James Greening wrapped up in his music.

On Sunday afternoon, Greening from Ear to Ear, featuring luminaries gathered by the inimitable James Greening, this time adding sousaphone to his trombone and pocket trumpet, had to be a festival highlight and it was.  What a wonderful choice of musicians and instruments. With baritone sax, bass clarinet and accordion in the mix and texturally rich layers wafting gently over each other or gathering momentum and swing, this was thoughtful, intelligent jazz spiced with humour and a dash or two of serious reflection.

Pianist Sam Keevers paid tribute to the late Bernie McGann in a quintet that lived up to all expectations. They played Sweet Lucy, Mail and Second Wind before I had to leave, reluctantly, but Bernie would have surely been happy with the result.

Who says jazz can’t rock? My high hopes of Steve Magnusson’s new band Kinfolk were based on the line-up and instrumentation. These guys did not disappoint, their foray into rock-infused material featuring a Hammond organ and the compositions having a bit of an edge.

And in Holy Trinity Cathedral immediately after that, master of many instruments Adam Simmons joined esteemed pianist Tony Gould on an adventure that prompted a fan beside me to ask, “Is this a highlight of the festival? It’s perfect. Top.” Whether whisper-quiet on shakuhachi or going wild on tenor sax, Simmons seemed to have music dancing within him, welling up and spilling out. Gould seemed like an anchor, a haven of peace and reassurance.

Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava with Papa Carlo

Finally, in outings that fulfilled or exceeded expectations, visiting Italian trumpet maestro Enrico Rava reunited with drummer Niko Schauble’s band Papa Carlo in a breathtaking rendition — and exploration beyond — Sleep My Child, a track from their album Night Music of 1994. It called to my mind Keats’s immortal line on the nightingale’s song, “Now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain…” It’s not that I particularly wanted to go just yet, but in the serene phosphorescence or staccato rumblings or guttural grumblings or occasionally soaring horn notes of this superbly layered and at times eerie improvisation, it seemed the world was transcended.

Rava, with three concerts, was the international headline artist. I thought that in his enjoyable Friday evening gig the standout performers were the Monash University contingent. I liked the way the format allowed them to shine in small groups, with Rava as a gracious host who listened attentively and did not try to grab the limelight. Monash is known for joining students with their teachers in ensembles and it works. But credits for some excellent solos extended beyond mentors Paul Grabowsky, Rob Burke, Jordan Murray, Stephen Magnusson and Mirko Guerrini, with entrancing work at the piano by Joel Trigg and on tenor sax by Paul Cornelius.

On Saturday Rava could not have asked for a better band than Grabowsky, Guerrini, Schauble and bassist Frank Di Sario. It was a little disappointing that Rava chose a set of standards, but we began to see his facility with the instrument, especially the sudden variations in volume, his love of brief, explosive interventions and at times a Tomasz Stanko-like air cushion. There were sparks and spears from the horn, but not sustained tension. As was evident in Rava’s talk with Miriam Zolin during the National Jazz Awards judging, he is a warm and engaging fellow, and that fits with his music.

Jeff "Tain" Watts

Jeff “Tain” Watts plays WPAC Theatre on Sunday night.

But what of the other major international drawcard, judged by some to be the “world’s best drummer” Jeff “Tain” Watts? Surely he and his high-powered quartet, featuring expatriate Australian Troy Roberts on tenor saxophone, Osmany Paredes on piano and Chris Smith on bass, exceeded expectations. Well, yes and no. Watts seemed a different player in the festival’s closing concert on Sunday night than on the previous night, when he seemed distant and uninvolved, leaving the amazingly talented Roberts and virtuosic Paredes to take the honours.

Troy Roberts

Troy Roberts

In closing the festival, Watts certainly lived up to his reputation as an extraordinary practitioner of the complex mathematics involved in virtuosic, rapid-fire drumming that can set hearts pumping and bring patrons to their feet. As expected, the packed WPAC Theatre crowd loved it and most fans’ expectations would have been well met. But Watts’ drumming is more about speed, flourish and dexterity, and the quartet — with the exception of the undeniably beautiful ballad Reverie in both sets — runs mostly at full throttle. In Watts’ drumming there is often little or no space and not a lot of apparent variation, at least to the uninitiated in the finer points of the art.

The other Watts contribution to this festival came on Saturday afternoon when Tain’s wife Laura brought her pocket trumpet to a quartet with her husband, Smith, Roberts and guests Zac Hurren on tenor and her old friend James Sherlock on guitar. They played pieces from Laura’s suite Elicit Inquest, inspired by Ellington’s book Music Is My Mistress. This was a cool rather than an overly engaging set, with any real fire coming from Roberts and Hurren.

Ngaire

Ngaire

Among home-grown gigs that did not quite live up to expectations, the Australian Art Orchestra’s second airing of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue suffered somewhat from its billing as a contemporary response to the music and life of Louis Armstrong, using his letters as a way into the story of his life. The suite composed and arranged by Eugene Ball did not quite succeed in providing that, in part because the words delivered so spectacularly by pop vocalist Ngaire were not entirely clear and the visual component was highly abstract.

Without that expectation I would have been much happier, because this was inventive in its instrumentation and took us on an at times fascinating journey with many spectacular sights and sounds. In the end I freely admit I did not fully grasp all there was to see and hear, and found the work sporadically engaging rather than cohesive.

Mike Nock

The dude abides: Mike Nock

Mike Nock always comes with incredibly high expectations and his Trio Plus definitely ended on a high with the lively, energetic composition The Dude Abides. But earlier the band seemed to favour the solo-follows-solo model rather than ensemble work with more interaction. Nock, as always, was compelling on piano and Brett Hirst was strong on bass, but there seemed to be a little too much sameness in some solos and not quite enough to hold our interest. Guest musicians Karl Laskowsky on tenor and National Jazz Awards winner this year Carl Morgan on guitar certainly did not lack skill or technique, but perhaps inventiveness. That said, Nock could well be dubbed The Dude, and he abides.

Without mentioning all of the 25 concerts I attended, there are some for which I had no expectations in particular, but which delivered serendipitous moments in spades.

Lisa Parrott

Lisa Parrott

These included expatriate Australian Lisa Parrott’s reunion on Saturday with mates Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Cameron Undy on bass and Simon Barker on drums. There are already way too many words in this review, but this band’s rendition of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman was spectacular, brim full of interest, texture and timbre. The rapport among these players was evident throughout this standout set.

Ben Gillespie

Ben Gillespie in Holy Trinity Cathedral

On a whim I ducked into Holy Trinity Cathedral on Saturday to catch the unusual match of Tony Gould with Hoodangers trombonist Ben Gillespie. If only I had gone there earlier. While Gould played a Benjamin Britten arrangement of the folk song Down by the Salley Gardens, Gillespie sang the lyrics in falsetto. This was absolute magic. Then his trombone produced notes of burnished gold so soft and light that they floated off to melt away in the lofty cathedral vaults. Gould was glowing as he played and delighted in Gillespie’s vocal rendition of My Journey to the Sky, “dedicated to anyone who has lost someone recently”.

Earlier that day at the cathedral, Steve Grant treated us to early stride and ragtime pieces, among them that Scott Joplin classic Solace, which he played sublimely.

And on Sunday morning, Gillespie was joined by the Hoodangers crew in a set that included Eugene Ball’s composition Trumpet, which had a minor feel and featured a major solo (in its impact) by Phil Noy on alto sax. It was another set full of serendipitous delights and a great way to start the day.

And that’s a great point at which to halt this review of Wangaratta Jazz 2014. It’s just one story. Please send me yours.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

 

 

Advertisements

BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE — WANGARATTA

James Greening

The inimitable James Greening, leader of Greening From Ear to Ear

A FESTIVAL GUIDE:

Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival, Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November.

It’s that time of year when excitement and an air of expectation begin to override all the mundane matters of life, necessary as they are, and the longing rises to be on the road again to Wangaratta.

Once the bags are packed and the journey has begun, there is that delicious interlude when speculation can occur on what unexpected delights may arise — what special moments in a concert will take you out of the straight-line world and into total absorption.

There will always be the appeal of the international artists, who bring a different perspective and virtuosic skills. But the special moments — or whole sets — may come when they, along with Australian jazz players, join old friends or musicians new to them and go in an unexpected direction. These are the serendipitous moments that will be remembered.

The challenge for patrons, then, is to be in the right place at the right time.

As posted back in July, Artistic Director Adrian Jackson‘s line-up for the long weekend of jazz and blues features more than 300 musicians in more than 80 concerts on the main program, and more than 30 concerts on the Main Street free stages. So there is plenty of potential for magic moments.

Jeff 'Tain" Watts

Jeff ‘Tain” Watts        (Image supplied)

International artists include European jazz, trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Enrico Rava (Italy); Grammy Award winning drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (USA) with his band, which includes New York-based expatriate Australian saxophonist out of Perth, Troy Roberts; and composer/trumpeter Laura Watts (USA), who spent time in Brisbane years ago.

Lisa Parrot

Lisa Parrot                              (Image supplied)

Also, New York-based saxophonist, formerly of Sydney, Lisa Parrot, returns to the festival two decades after being runner-up in the National Jazz Awards (Saxophone) in 1994.

Anyone looking for a serendipitous moment should be in WPAC Theatre at 8.30pm Sunday 2 November when Rava will reunite with drum maestro Niko Schauble‘s Papa Carlo in the line-up that recorded their album Night Music in 1995.

Another reunion to watch will come in two gigs by  Spoke (USA), in which drummer Danny Fischer will get together with the band, including Andy Hunter on trombone, formed when Fischer was living in New York in 2006.

And keep an ear out for  Roger Manins, who will slip over from New Zealand to re-form his band Hip Flask, featuring Stu Hunter on organ.

Australian musicians are certain to contribute distinctive and inventive highlights on the program, among them being the Australian Art Orchestra’s Louis Armstrong-inspired work Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, conceived and composed/arranged by Eugene Ball and AAO Artistic Director Peter Knight, which uses Armstrong’s letters to reframe the smiling entertainer’s facade and reveal his pain. Guest performers for this Friday evening gig will be drummer Allan Browne, Sydney turntablist Martin Ng and PNG-born pop artist Ngaire. Expect the unexpected in this work, premiered at MONA in Tasmania and described thus: “If Louis Armstrong went to the moon instead of Neil Armstrong it would have sounded like this.”

Issho

Jessica Carlton’s band Issho   (Image supplied)

Good things come out of Perth, I always say of jazz talent, but they also come out of Monash University, which is a kernel of creativity. Young trumpeter-composer Jessica Carlton won the Monash Jazz Prize with a piece played by Issho, the band she formed in 2012. The sextet includes Tim Willis, leader of The End. Expect to be delighted.

And, though I’ve never heard them play, I’m already grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of enjoying Greening From Ear to Ear, a septet formed by the inimitable James Greening (adding tuba and sousaphone to his trombone and to-die-for pocket trumpet) including Andrew Robson on alto and baritone sax. If this is not a festival highlight then I’m a fan of Scott Morrison.

In the National Jazz Awards year of guitar, judges James Muller and Stephen Magnusson will make a rare collaboration in a quartet format with Danny Fischer and Frank Di Sario on bass. Expect them to explore the works of John Scofield and Pat Metheny.

Already I can feel the pressure of festival clashes building, but for lovers of the elegant and uplifting venue Holy Trinity Cathedral, pianist and composer Tony Gould will perform in duo concerts with multi-instrumentalist Adam Simmons and, a little surprisingly, with Hoodangers trombonist Ben Gillespie. Hard to resist these if you’re looking for memorable gigs.

And in that listening space, Paul Grabowsky AO and Steve Grant will each perform solo piano concerts on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, this year’s Don Banks Award winner Mike Nock, who has provided many memorable moments at Wangaratta, nationally and internationally, will play in a Trio Plus Two at WPAC Theatre.

Put Tim Neal on the WPAC Theatre stage with his Hammond B3, add Dave Beck on drums and I’m already in the front row. But Stephen Magnusson’s Kinfolk also has Frank Di Sario, so expect seats to be hard to find for this Sunday arvo outing.

A quintet led by pianist Sam Keevers will play compositions by the late great Bernie McGann, ensuring his inspirational work stays with us.

And The Hoodangers may shock visiting New Zealanders, given that the Gulf News reportedly described their performance in that country in this way: “The egotistical performers …their names are not worth mentioning…..should not be invited to spread their ‘smut’ on our beautiful island and attract such ‘slutty’ behaviour from our young!!”

Many more bands deserve mention, but for serendipitous moments and memorable gigs those mentioned are likely candidates. But who knows what will be the highlights for the many patrons now looking forward to Friday.  Being in the right place is the key, and Wangaratta is the right place this Cup weekend.

ROGER MITCHELL

The National Jazz Awards feature guitarists this year and top 10 finalists will compete for the increased prize pool of $12,000. The 10 finalists are:

  • Michael Anderson, 32, from Sydney
  • Quentin Angus, 27, from New York (originally from Adelaide)
  • David Gooey, 30, from Melbourne
  • Ryan Griffith, 34, from Melbourne
  • Peter Koopman, 25, from Sydney
  • Paul Mason, 23, from Sydney
  • Carl Morgan, 26, from Sydney (originally from Canberra)
  • Hugh Stuckey, 29, from Melbourne (originally from Adelaide)
  • Jeremy Thomson, 22, from Perth
  • Oliver Thorpe, 22, from Sydney

For the usual excellent profiles of the finalists, visit Miriam Zolin’s jazz publishing website.

THE ONE THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY — ENRICO RAVA

Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava

BREAKING NEWS:

Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival line-up announced for its 25th year, Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November.

The embargo has just been lifted and Adrian Jackson‘s line-up for the four days and nights of the pre-Melbourne Cup Day long weekend of jazz and blues can be revealed, featuring more than 300 musicians in more than 80 concerts on the main program, and more than 30 concerts on the Main Street free stages.

There are also artist talks and master classes in town and at nearby wineries.

Heading the line-up of international artists will be a giant of European jazz, trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Enrico Rava (Italy), who was booked to come in 1996 but had to cancel because of archaic visa requirements. Artistic Director Adrian Jackson says Rava is “just about the only one who got away” in all his years at the helm, and that it is nice to be able to rectify that this year.

Other international jazz artists include Grammy Award winning drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (USA) with his band, which includes New York-based Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts; composer/trumpeter Laura Watts (USA) and New York-based saxophonist Lisa Parrot (Aus/USA) returning to the festival two decades after being runner-up in the National Jazz Awards (Saxophone) in 1994.

Another from the US will be Spoke (USA) and, from New Zealand these days, Roger Manins, winner of the 2002 National Jazz Awards (Saxophone), with his band Hip Flask.

Among the Australian musicians on the program will be the Australian Art Orchestra performing Struttin’ With Some Barbecue, a re-imagining of the legacy of Louis Armstrong. Paul Grabowsky and Steve Grant will each perform solo piano concerts in the Holy Trinity Cathedral; guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson will make a rare collaboration in a quartet format.

Jazz vocalists will include Emma Pask, Fem Belling (leading her quintet and contributing to the African jazz sounds of Royal Swazi Spa, led by her father Howard Belling) and Hetty Kate performing songs from her recent CD, Dim All The Lights. Now based in New York, Sarah McKenzie will return to Wangaratta as part of a tour to promote her forthcoming third CD and Julie O’Hara will perform with the gypsy swing-inspired combo Ultrafox.

Headlining the blues program will guitarist-singer and Blues Hall of Fame member Joe Louis Walker (USA), singer/songwriter Harper on harmonica and didgeridoo, who moved to the US a decade ago. Harper will bring his Detroit-based band.

Australian blues acts including Sydney’s Bondi Cigars, Blue Eyes Cry, guitar aces Ray Beadle and Darren Jack leading their bands and then teaming up as All The Kings Men — a celebration of the 4 Kings – B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl King and Albert King. Other blues artists include Fiona Boyes, Nick Charles and Doc Span.

The National Jazz Awards feature guitarists this year and an increased prize pool. As always, the top 10 finalists will compete at the festival, with the finals starting at 5pm on Sunday 2 November (broadcast live to air on ABC Classic FM). Mike Nock will again act as Chairman of the judging panel, joined by guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson, co-winners of the Awards in 2000. The winner will receive a $12,000 grand prize, the chance to record for ABC Classic FM’s Jazztrack with Mal Stanley and an invitation to perform at the 2015 Stonnington Jazz Festival. The runner-up will receive $6,000 and a recording session at Pughouse studios and the third placegetter will receive $3,000.

There’s much more to say, but this is a quick preview to whet the appetite.

ROGER MITCHELL