STANDING ROOM ONLY

Nubya Garcia Image: Adama Jalloh

Nubya Garcia                                   Image: Adama Jalloh

PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, 1-10 June, 2018

The 21st MIJF, which over 10 days in almost 100 events will feature almost 400 Australian, international and emerging artists, is only a day away.

Already many concerts — An Evening with Branford Marsalis and Sun Ra Arkestra at Melbourne Recital Centre, and the 7pm outing by Nubya Garcia at The Jazzlab — are sold out. A second outing for the Arkestra at The Night Cat has been added on 7 June.

Tickets for others concerts — Maceo Parker’s tribute to Ray Charles, Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Harry James Angus’s new project, Struggle With Glory — are selling fast.

Not such good news is that six club sessions scheduled for the Southside Jazz Room have been cancelled because construction work at the venue will not be completed in time. So patrons will miss the opportunity to hear Bopstretch, Fem Belling Quartet, Sam Keevers Trio featuring Michelle Nicole, Bob Sedergreen and Friends, Paul Williamson Quartet and Jamie Oehlers Quartet plays the music of John Coltrane. That’s a great pity.

As mentioned in an earlier post, there will be 25 venues across the city, from Hamer Hall to small clubs, as well as cafes in Melbourne’s west.

Clearly the festival programming has tackled the difficult task of broadening the appeal of the music on offer with a view to attracting younger fans. I say this is difficult because many potential patrons who may well love the styles of music on offer can be turned off by the festival’s “jazz” tag.

One way that MIJF Artistic Director, Michael Tortoni, and his programmers have tackled this is to utilise venues such as 170 Russell, known to many as Billboard, which offers standing-room-only space that could not be seen as fitting an image — albeit often wildly inaccurate — of staid music.

First up at 170 Russell the festival will present Knower on Tuesday 5 June. This Los Angeles group features Genevieve Artadi vocals, Louis Cole drums/vox, Thirsty Merc’s Rai Thistlewayte keys, Jacob Mann keys and Sam Wilkes bass. They promise “hard-hitting funk, cool chords, deep melodies and vocals creating an imaginative and out-of-this-world experience”.

Yemen

Yemeni Israeli Ravid Khalani                        Image supplied

Next, 170 Russell will host Yemen Blues on 6 June, featuring Yemenite Israeli Ravid Khalani on voice and gimbri, Brian Marsella (US) on keys, Shanir Blumenkranz (US) on bass and oud, Dan Mayo (Israel) on drums and Edo Gur (US) on trumpet. Drawing on Middle Eastern traditions, Yemen Blues offers hypnotic percussion beats and multi-layered sounds.

Chris Dave

Chris Dave with The Drumhedz in 2014.              Image: Roger Mitchell

And on Friday 8 June, 170 Russell will host Chris Dave and The Drumhedz. Back in 2014 at MIJF Chris Dave on augmented drum kit was an unexpected, but clear highlight for me at Bennetts Lane with Isaiah Sharkey on guitar, Nick McNack on bass and Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano sax. Their set held my interest from the word go and a lot of the appeal came from the watchfulness and interaction in this band. Dave’s line-up this time will be revealed on the night.

Continuing MIJF artistic director Michael Tortoni’s effort to “showcase some of the future directions of this vital and ever-evolving art form” in a much smaller yet much more inviting venue, The Jazzlab hosts UK saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia, described by Rolling Stone as “one jazz musician poised to break out in 2018”. Garcia cites musical influences from American jazz, blues, soul and roots to contemporary pop. She celebrates women in contemporary jazz, playing in an all-female septet Nérila. Tickets may still be available for her second concert at 9.30pm on Thursday 7 June.

Terri Lyne Carrington

Terri Lyne Carrington                         Image supplied

Also aiming to attract patrons from outside straight-ahead jazz, in four concerts at The Jazzlab (Saturday 2 June, Sunday 3 June) US percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington will address issues of freedom, racism, sexism, fluidity, and multiculturalism in her social consciousness project Social Science. The line-up will be Kassa Overall MC/turntable, Debo Ray vocals, Matthew Stevens guitar and Aaron Parks piano. Expect lush compositions, influenced by jazz, indie rock, contemporary classical and R&B.

Harry James Angus

Harry James Angus             Image supplied

The Jazzlab is also bound to attract new faces among patrons keen to hear The Cat Empire’s trumpet-playing vocalist Harry James Angus who, in Struggle With Glory, will endeavour to transport classic Greco-Roman myths into a surreal world of old-time jazz and gospel music. Angus will be joined by Ben Gillespie trombone, Monique Di Mattina piano, Freyja Hooper drums, Tamara Murphy bass and Lachlan Mitchell guitar, along with a gospel choir. There are still tickets available for the 9.30pm concert on Tuesday 5 June.

And fans of Spiderbait will be drawn to Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday 9 June to hear Kram on drums join pianist/composer Paul Grabowsky AO and multi-instrumentalist James Morrison reprise their audience-wowing outing as The Others at the 2017 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues. Expect fireworks and much joy from the participants.

A further bid to broaden interest will be Jazz Massive, a participatory mass-music-making event on Sunday 3 June at 11am, situated on the lawns of State Library Victoria. Musicians of all calibres are invited to bring along their instruments and join a massive jam session. But beforehand those wanting to be involved can follow helpful videos by Tamil Rogeon.

For the much younger music fans, and their significant adults, Lah-Lah’s Big Jazz Adventure at Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday 2 June will feature singer Lah-Lah and her friends Mister Saxophone, Squeezy Squeezy on accordion, Tom Tom on drums, Buzz the Bandleader and Lola the Dancing Double Bass, as seen on ABC Kids. Children under 2 are free.

Tony Malaby

Tony Malaby                               Image supplied

For the hard core of fans familiar with jazz, the concerts with most appeal this year will include the retrospective Novela (Wednesday 6 June, The Jazzlab) featuring US saxophonist Tony Malaby with Canadian pianist/arranger Kris Davis and the Monash Art Ensemble under the direction of Paul Grabowsky. I’m looking forward to that, along with the outing on Monday 4 June at The Jazzlab bringing Malaby together with Davis and the extraordinary Sydney drummer Simon Barker for “fearless improvisation”. Bring it on.

And on the opening night of the festival, a highlight is sure to be The Gravity Project (The Jazzlab) in which Grabowsky on piano and Rob Burke on saxophone join shakuhachi master Masaki Nakamura, koto virtuoso Kuniko Obina and Tokyo-based Aaron Choulai on laptop and electronics in a world premiere cross-cultural exchange with Tokyo Jazz Festival. The ensemble also features Niran Dasika on trumpet, Marty Holoubek on bass and James McLean on drums.

Kim-Myhr

Kim-Myhr                                         Image: Orfee-Schuijt

The adventurous are sure to seek out two concerts at The Substation in Newport (Friday 8 June, Saturday 9 June) featuring Norwegian master of the 12-string guitar, Kim Myhr, whose long form drones, slow melodic arcs and moments of psychedelic intensity draw on rock music, minimalism and jazz.

The first outing, Three Solos, will feature Myhr on guitar, well known member of The Necks, Tony Buck on drums and guitar and Australian Art Orchestra Artistic Director Peter Knight in the premiere of a new work for processed trumpet. The following night Myhr joins the AAO in a performance of a world premiere of a work created for the 10-piece orchestra, featuring two violinists, two drummers, bass, hammered dulcimer, electronics, bass clarinet, Revox reel-to-reel tape machine. Buck and Knight will be on stage along with bass clarinet virtuoso Aviva Endean and incendiary violinist Erkki Veltheim.

Experimentation will continue back at The Jazzlab when pianist/composer Brenton Foster presents Love, As We Know It, his PBS Young Elder of Jazz commission in collaboration with with US poet Christopher Pointdexter. Foster (vocals, piano) will be joined by Gideon Brazil (sax, flute, clarinet), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Tamara Murphy (bass) and Aaron McCullough (drums).

And audiences will be familiar with US bassist Christian McBride, who returns in four concerts over two nights (Saturday 9 June, Sunday 10 June) at The Jazzlab. His fresh quartet, New Jawn, comprises Marcus Strickland saxophone, Josh Evans trumpet and Nasheet Waits drums. Saxophonist Francesco Cafiso (Italy) will perform two concerts at The Jazzlab on Friday 8 June.

Concerts at the 40-seat Lido Jazz Room, which is curated by Uptown Jazz Café’s Sonny Rehe, could be regarded as this festival’s homage to the importance of women musicians in the Melbourne scene. Over four nights, each with two concerts, the artists comprise Margie Lou Dyer Quintet and Natasha Weatherill Quartet (Friday 1 June), Emma Gilmartin Quartet (Saturday 2 June), Jackie Bornstein Quartet and Julie O’Hara La Grande Soiree (Friday 8 June), and Andrea Keller Trio along with Connie Lansberg  featuring Mark Fitzgibbon Trio (Saturday 9 June).

In Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday 2 June fans of jazz vocalists can enjoy Gretchen Parlato (US) with Marcel Camargo on guitar, Artyom Manukian on cello and Leo Costa on percussion. Expect undertones of African and Brazilian beats. The superb Sam Anning Sextet will open.

And on the final night, Hamer Hall will host French-American singer Madeleine Peyroux interpreting jazz standards, with an opening set that’s sure to entrance by the Angela Davis Quartet.

Barney McAll

Barney McAll                                 Image supplied

Melbourne-based Barney McAll will premiere two works: Trilogy of Cycles at Birrarung Marr’s Federation Bells and Sweet Sweet Spirit featuring music by the great gospel composer Doris Akers at Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre. Both of these are sure to be outstanding.

Jazz Out West returns with local DJ, radio broadcaster and music personality Mz Rizk as guest programmer, focusing on experiences not usually found in a jazz festival, including a cross-genre tribute to high priestess of soul, Nina Simone, and emerging crossover artists Thando, Cool Out Sun, KillaHertz and Kalala & The Round Midnights. All concerts are free.

Free events will also include the return of Sound Walks throughout the city, lunchtime concerts at St James and the long-running artist workshops and Close Encounters series, which has expanded to include career development workshops led by industry experts and practitioners including Chelsea Wilson (Brunswick Music Festival), Fem Belling (The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra), and Marcus Strickland (Christian McBride’s New Jawn / Twi-life).

Family-friendly festival events include the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir at Southern Cross Lane.

There’s plenty more music on offer, so check out the full program details  at the MIJF website.

ROGER MITCHELL

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WELCOME TO COUNTRY

Adam Simmons and Vikram Iyengar

Adam Simmons and Vikram Iyengar in The Calling.

REVIEW

The Calling — Adam Simmons, Concert 4 in The Usefulness of Art series, 7.30pm 4 May 2018, fortyfive downstairs

Coming to a performance without baggage is impossible, just as leaving that behind when writing a review can’t be done. But one way to judge any work of art is surely to ask whether and where it has taken us; down which paths, if any, has it prompted us to explore.

I came to The Calling having watched all except one of Adam Simmons’ short, explanatory videos prefacing this concert he describes as being “in four parts, with little bits in between”. As these videos explain, in this work he— with significant help from his Creative Music Ensemble and the Afrolankan Drumming System duo — explores themes of identity and belonging by drawing on his first visit to his mother’s homeland, Sri Lanka.

My parents were not born overseas. But I can identify a little with Simmons’ search for identity — he was born in Chelsea and grew up in a mix of Ballarat, Upwey and Westall before making Melbourne his home; I was born in Bairnsdale and grew up in Clayton, Orbost, Berwick and Horsham before moving to the city. It is quite a different experience from living only in one place. You tear up roots and move on, from security briefly fashioned to its absence.

Simmons clearly felt a more profound absence that drew him to Sri Lanka in 2016, a connection that he felt drawn to make with part of his cultural heritage.

The most affecting part of these prefatory videos, I felt, came in Simmons’ account of his experience at the temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Amid the populous bustle and noise of this place where people queued to see the site of the tooth of Buddha, he found a connection with his mother’s birthplace — a gentle smile that conveyed love, acceptance and welcome.

That experience inspired Part 4 of The Calling, entitled Connection: The Tooth of Buddha.

It resonated with me before I heard the music. Many years back when visiting that temple in Kandy I had a totally different, yet moving experience. Early on a still, cool morning, I wandered in those spaces free of people, absorbing the place in a kind of meditative exploration. My reverie then was broken only when a resident monk offered me a leaf-wrapped packet of sticky rice. The warmth and kindness of that simple act has remained with me.

There is not so much of a quietly meditative nature in the performance of The Calling. This work bristles with percussive variety, conveying the vibrancy, life and vitality found often in Sri Lanka.

Three transitional interludes employ imaginatively different approaches to bring train journeys into sharp relief, conveying via sounds and visuals the urgency of getting somewhere, the insistent patterns of wheels in motion, resonant whistles wailing into the distance and the colour and busyness of passenger interactions.

Of the four main compositional offerings, three offer a richly percussive mix of energy and intensity — the rhythms of life writ large. In the opening piece, The Calling, Ray Pereira (djembe, conga, dundun) and Kanchana Karuntaratna (gata bera, thammattama) provide a virtuosic spectacle that varies in tempo and intensity, competition and congruence. These two musicians who form The Afro-Lankan Drumming System are serious and exuberant as they converse via their instruments, displaying lightness and rapidity, dexterity and finesse. It is hard not to be mesmerised.

Eventually Niko Schauble and Hugh Harvey add their drums to the mix before wailing horns build the feel of a street parade or the madness of traffic. It develops into an occasionally discordant melee of resplendent mayhem.

In Part 3, Living: The Dance of Kottu Roti, an array of instruments combines to convey an unsettling but glorious cacophony of hammering, knocking and tinkling —bustle and chatter, colour and movement. So much is happening that we can only let it wash over us like a carnival, tasting and savouring flavours and smells.

Part 4 brings us to that Kandi temple, drums and cymbals signalling drama, helped by horns. On soprano saxophone, Simmons becomes the focus in a riveting solo, grabbing deep gasps of air to power sighs, wails and sonorous, almost plaintive notes. It is as if making a connection to deep cultural roots is not easy. It may require effort, perhaps anguish.

Gradually we become aware that only one instrument is playing, that the mayhem has subsided. A dancer, Vikram Iyengar, moves slowly and purposefully among the musicians to connect with and ultimately support Simmons in his soliloquy. Yet this is a relationship of mutuality — the player and the dancer lean on, and gain support from, each other. Almost too starkly lit, it is a most powerful image.

Three sharp drum beats bring us back to what must be the crowded, noise-filled temple.

The only portion of this work that offers a less frenetic perspective is Part 2 – Place: The Pearl. Here Nat Grant and Carmen Chan on vibes draw us deep into the landscape, into ancient history and into the luxuriant humidity of a fecund rainforest. Eventually a slow melody delivered by the horns takes on a hymn-like feel, solemn and a little wistful. Deep notes draw us to the earth. There is a feeling that we are touching the heart of this land.

The strongest image of The Calling, for me, was that of Simmons supported wholly by Iyengar, symbolising his finding of a connection. The richest listening experience I found in Part 2, when place was tangible.

It is impossible, and unnecessary, to compare The Calling with other concerts in The Usefulness of Art series. But this work of art well and truly passed the test of taking us somewhere, of prompting exploration.

A few days after the performance I was reading Khaleed Hosseini’s novel And the Mountains Echoed. A remark by one of the characters seemed to fit Simmons’ mission:
“You are lucky to know where you came from. It is important to know this, to know your roots. … If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle. Like you have missed the beginning of a story …”

In The Calling, Adam Simmons shows that he found a significant part of his story. Yet, as he said while introducing the performance, it is worth asking how the treatment of disconnected people who have come to this nation may have been affected by our own displacements.

ROGER MITCHELL

SO WHO DID RESCUE MELBOURNE’ S JAZZ?

Tortoni

Michael Tortoni on bass at the launch of World’s Best Jazz Club: The Story of Bennetts Lane by David James.        Image: Roger Mitchell

FOR THE RECORD

On April 19 I posted the news that musical entrepreneur and property developer Albert Dadon — who owns Bird’s Basement in Melbourne — had acquired the name and assets of Sydney’s jazz club The Basement and planned to reopen it as soon as possible.

This was significant news, especially for Sydney fans of improvised music. That post included material provided in a media release by Dadon, including a paragraph stating that “he rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000″.

The release went on to say that under Dadon’s leadership  the festival became “a Major with appropriate funding” and “grew from 5000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009”.

Reactions to the news about The Basement varied, but it probably surprises few that parts of Dadon’s media release have been questioned — these days “fact checked” is the usual term — and that alternative versions of history have been added to the mix.

Michael Tortoni, who is artistic director the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and runs The Jazzlab venue in Brunswick, was concerned that Mr Dadon’s version of events did not tally with his recollection.

KM2070071_1500xHe passed on an article by Robin Usher published in The Age on December 22, 2001 following the cancellation of Melbourne’s fifth international jazz festival due to the withdrawal of a $50,000 grant by Melbourne City Council.

Usher quotes Tortoni, then owner of the city’s main jazz venue, Bennetts Lane, as saying there was a need to maintain the tradition of the then summer festival and that “We decided to roll up our sleeves and work to get people through the door” to what was called the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival.

Usher quotes that Adrian Jackson, director of the cancelled festival, as applauding Tortoni for “trying to make the best of a bad situation” in promoting the January events. But Jackson does add that international stars wouldn’t necessarily be coming in a year’s time “unless there is a properly funded festival organisation to promote their performances”.

Tortoni is quoted as saying, “I’m using my infrastructure and staff to get the information out because I felt something had to be done to replace the festival organisation that we lost so suddenly.”

Interestingly, given that my post based on Dadon’s media release was headed “Dadon plans The Basement rescue”, Usher’s article had the headline “Jazz club owner rescues festival”.

The caption on Marina Oliphant‘s image of Tortoni at Bennetts Lane was: “Beat goes on: Michael Tortoni has stepped in after funding for the MIJF was cancelled.”

It is also interesting from a historical perspective that venues included in the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival in 2001 were Dizzy’s, the Corner Hotel, Manchester Lane, the 9th Ward, the Night Cat and Bar Open — a wide range indeed.

Owners of rival jazz clubs in Melbourne — albeit very different styles of venues — may well never agree on who rescued what at that difficult time in the history of jazz in Melbourne. But it is good to keep in mind just how tough it has been over the years for those arranging funding, promotion and funding for our jazz festivals.

After Dadon’s announcement about The Basement and his media release, it wasn’t long before a Facebook page emerged entitled Australian Jazz Fact Checker. It isn’t hard to imagine who may have set that up.

For those not on Facebook (Zuckerberg and Cambridge-Analytica eat your heart out) here are some responses to parts of Albert Dadon’s media release:

“He rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000.”

Fact Check: False
Albare Dadon wasn’t even part of the festival in 2000, let alone ‘saving it’. An article about it can be found in The Age on December 22, 2001.

“Under his leadership the festival grew from 5,000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009.”

Fact Check: Partially True
Albare Dadon did leave the festival, however the circumstances behind why he did so are sealed behind a confidentiality agreement.

“Mr Dadon opened Bird’s Basement, below his Jazz Corner Hotel at 350 William St. in Melbourne’s CBD in March 2016 and committed himself to make it one of the world’s most renowned. Today, the club, a sister venue of Manhattan’s Birdland, regularly features world class musicians and is recognised internationally as Australia’s premier jazz venue.

Fact Check: Maybe?
I’m not sure who recognises it as the premier Australian jazz venue, but I’m sure he could find someone to quote.

“As Albare, he often performed at the Sydney Basement.”

Fact Check:
Depends on your definition of ‘often’
Albare and Urbanity performed at the venue twice in 5 years

“their album Urban Soul, this year enjoyed Billboard chart and critical success in the United States.”

Fact Check: False
I could only find one review by an independent journalist who rated the album 3.5/5 stars. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as a critical success.

The identity of the fact checker is not stated, but will readily come to mind, I’m sure. Albert Dadon is welcome to respond to Michael Tortoni’s interpretation of events.

ROGER MITCHELL

IMG_2050_mono_1500x

Michael Tortoni takes a bow. Image: Roger Mitchell