Tag Archives: 2022

Jazz women in the pocket – and loving it


Sumire Kuribayashi (Japan) on opening night of the MWIJF 2022

Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival 2022
Sunday 4 December – Sunday 11 December
The Jazzlab

The Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival celebrated the determination by musicians, organisers and audiences to get back out to create, present and enjoy live music.

Nobody was under the illusion that Covid-19 had gone away – case numbers were rising – but there was a real sense that hearing music performed in person was important, levels of vaccination were relatively high and the artists were ready. Kudos to those wearing masks if that was possible – for example, Andrea Keller at the piano.

This festival delivered in so many ways. All 11 concerts over the eight days were at The Jazzlab in Brunswick, so there were no program clashes. (However, other commitments, and a wheel falling off a rented trailer in Wangaratta, prevented me from attending more than five gigs.)

Many of the outings were double bills and one was a triple, so there was plenty of bang for the proverbial buck.

International pianists appeared on the opening night (Sumire Kuribayashi, Japan) and the festival closer (Meg Morley, expatriate Australian now living in the UK).

Kuribayashi, who impressed audiences at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in 2018, appeared courtesy of the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative. Her MWIJF outing in a trio with Sam Anning double bass and Kyrie Anderson drums was a delight, as the Tokyo-based pianist and composer so clearly enjoyed her interaction in the band while sharing compositions of great beauty. In a sublime addition, Niran Dasika – who lived in Japan from 2016-2017 – sat in on trumpet for the last half hour, which included a performance of a piece Kuribayashi composed for him as a farewell after his departure from Tokyo.

Meg Morley was born in Melbourne, but has lived in London for 12 years. She performed a solo set as an opener on Sunday 11 December, thoughtfully introducing and fluidly delivering six pieces from her solo and trio albums. There was space, gentle propulsion and elegance in the chords and free-flowing note sequences, as well as appealing melodies, leaving many of us wanting a longer outing.

The festival drew deeply from the pool of Australian artists, both emerging and established. It was a treat to experience the energy and verve of the reunited Morgana –  Lisa Young voice, Fiona Burnett soprano saxophone, Annette Yates double bass and Sonja Horbelt drums, joined on piano by Andrea Keller – back on stage 30 years after the band’s formation.

This ensemble forged a path for women in Australian improvised music yet had not played for 20 years until a recent Melbourne International Jazz Festival outing. In a 75-minute set at The Jazzlab, they clearly felt invigorated. It was especially good to see festival programmer Horbelt so comfortable at the drum kit in synch with Yates on double bass.

On the same night the MWIJF also brought together luminaries Andrea Keller on piano and Sandy Evans on tenor saxophone in a wonderful, but brief duo outing which included premieres of pieces they had composed for each other – two referencing Keller’s seemingly boundless workload and one Evans’ moving tribute to Archie Roach. This was an exquisite encounter deserving of a future recording session.

On Wednesday 7 December the festival gave Melburnians the opportunity to hear the 2022 Jann Rutherford Memorial Award winner, bassist Lucy Clifford, in a stellar band with Phil Noy tenor sax, Darryn Farrugia drums, Andrea Keller piano and Ashley Ballat trumpet. As promised, this spirited outing delivered raw grooves, explorations “beyond the fringes of genre” and memorable solos from Noy, Keller and Ballat.

On Monday 5 December Ballat featured in a totally different context in the opening set on trumpet and with Ollie Cox on synthesizer in LOOM, each with an array of electronic wizardry. The result was an organic mix of growls, rumbles and cries that evolved constantly, at times evocative of anguish and lamentation, at others delivering a shimmer over a pulsating drone.

The second set that night, Claire Cross’s suite “Sleep Cycle”, called for intense concentration on the part of the musicians as graphs of brain waves taken during the phases of sleep informed a score for an improvising ensemble of trumpet, voice, bass, drums, and synth. The ensemble – Cross on bass/effects, Merinda Dias-Jayasinha voice/effects, Reuben Lewis trumpet/synth/effects and Kyrie Anderson drums – created a detailed soundscape with minute variations culminating in an animated and powerful final phase.

Gen Kuner Quartet, winner of the MWIJF recording prize for 2022. Image: Roger Mitchell

The festival’s welcome determination to present emerging artists was a testament to the breadth of talent in our teaching institutions and those starting their performing lives. By giving young players the opportunity to be on stage in opening acts, MWIJF gave audiences insights into a bright future – that is, if the work is out there for so many youngsters. On opening night we heard a lively, engrossing set from the Gen Kuner Quartet – Kuner on alto saxophone, Abi Lee piano, Jack Dobson bass and Ollie Ledi Henane drums – who were announced later as winners of the festival’s recording prize for 2022.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s Take Note 2021 winner, trombonist, vocalist, composer and arranger Ellie Lamb was an energetic director and advocate for the Wednesday 7 December performance by the MWIJF Little Big Band in an outing that was doubly welcome. First, it brought together students from Monash, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and Melbourne Polytechnic, who had only a week and a half to get to know the music and each other.  Second, it was wonderful that the ensemble played compositions by four Australian women – Nadje Noordhuis, Jenna Cave, Andrea Keller and Vanessa Perica. I particularly appreciated the rendition of Perica’s Saint Lazare.

Other emerging artists showcased by the festival included two ensembles from Monash University in Sounding Change on 6 December, and Mia in Motion on 10 December featuring Mia Rowland drums, Ashleigh Howell electric bass, Uyen-My Pham guitar, Adam Davidson piano, Jacobus Barnard tenor saxophone and Alice Mcdonald vocals.

Inclusivity was promoted in the MWIJF this year through Gender Defying Jazz – originally called Girls Do Jazz – a program of workshops run by Andrea Keller, Head of Jazz & Improvisation at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, culminating in a performance on Sunday afternoon 11 December with Sandy Evans. There was also the Jam & hang on 10 December, designed as an opportunity for female and non-binary musicians and vocalists to play or just hang out together.

The fortifying impact of female relationships was the inspiration for vocalist Louisa Rankin’s suite which closed this year’s festival on Sunday 11 December. What a superb band Rankin assembled for this project: Angela Davis alto saxophone, Paul Williamson trumpet, Andrea Keller piano, Fran Swinn guitar, Sam Anning sitting in on double bass for the injured Tom Lee and James McLean drums. Introducing The Lighthouse, which featured outstanding solos by Swinn and Williamson, Rankin paid tribute to the strong, amazing women who were guides and mentors to her during her time as a performer.

Including songs drawing on the experiences of working mothers, the routines of parenthood, the grind of everyday life and the support offered by girlfriends “who just know you”, this suite was a fitting outing to conclude a festival that celebrated the importance of women at work in improvised music.


PS: Gigs I missed included Stella: The Miles Franklin Story, Nat Bartsch’s Lullabies,  StAT, Anita Wardell (UK) and Dave McEvoy, Sunny Reyne, and Rebecca Barnard’s launch of her single from new album The Night We Called it a Day

No Mildlife crisis for women’s festival


Sumire Kuribayashi on piano at Wangaratta during her visit to Australia in 2018. Image: Roger Mitchell

Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival 2022
Sunday 4 December – to Sunday 11 December
The Jazzlab, Leslie St, Brunswick

Kudos to Sonja Horbelt and Lynette Irwin for presenting what the founder of the MWIJF, Martin Jackson, has described as “one of the strongest programs in the festival’s 24-year history”, starting today for a week.

There’s a lot of music on offer, including international talent including pianist and composer from Japan, Sumire Kuribayashi, lots of gigs with opening sets and the opportunity to hear emerging musicians along with established players such as Sandy Evans and Morgana.

What’s more, there’s not much chance that ARIA-award-winning Mildlife will be doing a live concert on the coast to confuse everybody about what really is jazz.

Details are available on the MWIJF website and also via The Jazzlab, but it may be useful to mention some highlights.

The fun begins at 3pm today when well known pianist/composer Monique diMattina presents STELLA, which draws on the extraordinary life story of Australian writer Miles Franklin and features an impressive line-up of musicians.

Then, at 7.30pm Sumire Kuribayashi will be joined by Sam Anning double bass and Kyrie Anderson drums after an opening set by saxophonist Gen Kuner’s quartet.

For those who have stayed up late or arisen early for sporting events questionably staged in Qatar, Claire Cross’s score entitled Sleep Cycle (Monday 5 December at 7.30pm), informed by graphs of brain waves recorded during phases of sleep, may be restorative. It’s exploring “the radical act of self-care in an age of hyper-productivity”. The opening set will feature ethereal soundscapes created by Ashley Ballat trumpet and Ollie Cox drums and percussion.

Sumire Kuribayashi returns on Tuesday 6 December at 7.30pm with two ensembles of Monash University students.

In a family-friendly matinee at 11.30am Wednesday, babies and toddlers will be welcome at the hugely successful Nat Bartsch’s concert Lullabies, which blends neoclassical piano and melodic improvisation with music therapy research.

Tertiary students from Monash university, Melbourne Polytechnic, and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music will feature in the opener at 7.30pm, celebrating the music of Australian composers Vanessa Perica, Jenna Cave, Andrea Keller and Nadje Noordhuis. They will be followed on stage by Lucy Clifford on electric bass for some “symbiotic rhythms and pulses that interlock with all things motion, stillness and freedom”, ably aided by Phil Noy tenor sax, Andrea Keller piano and Darryn Farrugia drums.

On Thursday 8 December at 7.30pm, UK vocalist Anita Wardell joins Australian pianist Dave McEvoy to launch their duo album Star, which explores “love and loss, the vulnerability of human experience and the vast expanse of sky”. The opening set of jazz/blues grooves will feature StAT, comprising Stella Anning guitar, Claire Cross bass and Joshua Barber drums.

The stage will be richly laden with well-known names on Friday 9 December at 7.30pm when Rebecca Barnard and The d’Affinois (nothing cheesy here) launch of her fourth solo album The Night we Called it a Day of jazz standards, by artists such as Hoagy Charmichael, dating back to 1933. The luminous line-up will comprise Monique diMattina piano, Sam Lemann guitar, Ben Robertson bass, Paul Williamson sax and Mat Jodrell on trumpet. The opening set will feature Sunny Reyne’s lush vocals, synth-laden sounds and disjointed grooves.

For those, like me, who missed the opportunity to hear the re-formed incarnation of quintet Morgana during the Melbourne International Jazz festival, they’ll perform on Saturday 10 December after opening sets from 7.30pm by Mia in Motion and then the amazing saxophonist Sandy Evans in a duo with the spectacular Andrea Keller. In Morgana, Keller will join four of the five original members – Lisa Young voice, Fiona Burnett soprano saxophone, Annette Yates double bass and Sonja Horbelt drums.

From 11pm there’ll be an opportunity for female and non-binary musicians and vocalists to play in the session dubbed “Jam & hang”.

Gender will also be front of mind at 4pm on the final Sunday of the MWIJF when Andrea Keller, Head of Jazz & Improvisation at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, brings us Gender Defying Jazz, previously known as Girls Do Jazz. This live performance with saxophonist Sandy Evans will showcase the outcomes of six term 4 workshops.

The fortifying impact of significant female relationships will be explored in a suite premiered on the Sunday night by vocalist Louisa Rankin along with an impressive line-up of Angela Davis alto saxophone, Paul Williamson trumpet, Andrea Keller piano, Fran Swinn guitar, Tom Lee double bass and James McLean drums. This outing will be preceded by an opening set at 7.30pm in which UK-based pianist Meg Morley performs new music from her trio albums and also revisits her debut piano release from 2018, Through the Hours.

It’s great to have the MWIJF back on the stage with such a feast of music.


Top Marks and thanks for all the memories

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2022
Friday 28 October to Sunday 30 October


Full marks to this festival – not because everything was perfect (it wasn’t), but because it returned, against the odds.

Also because of Mark, Mark and Marc, who, in the front row of the Wangaratta Performing Arts & Convention Centre on Friday evening, helped remind me of what this festival with such an august history is all about: experiences. Rich, memorable ones.

One Marc lives in Wang and has expertly photographed this festival over the years.

Mark and Mark are regulars who drove from Adelaide to hear and enjoy this feast of music, along with the company of those sharing it. We reminisced. We enthused. We were glad to be back. We kept running into each other at gigs, and ultimately at a well known cheese factory in Milawa on Sunday.

That happy-to-be-here feeling was shared by musicians as well as by patrons, whether they were returning after the postponement of the 30th anniversary festival in 2019 followed by an enforced two-year Covid-19 break, or coming to it for the first time. Yes, it was closely preceded by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, heavy rain and falling trees prompted late venue changes, numbers were down and the program truncated, but on the plus side there were no queues.

Saxophonist Julien Wilson clearly felt elated in Holy Trinity Cathedral on Saturday morning when, in his first solo concert, he eschewed the use of pedals or effects, which are used in his two new albums Meditations and Mutations (see Bandcamp), saying “the room is enough” and choosing to play “some of mine and some standards”.

We delighted in hearing his expressive reedsmanship in this spectacular setting, demonstrating the versatility of his tenor and soprano instruments, the notes floating freely upwards, often well cushioned by air and intermittently percussive.

The lofty cathedral heights were also host to Scott Tinkler’s 7pm Friday concert with guitarist and fellow Tasmanian Julius Schwing, the shimmering horn notes soaring heavenwards like fluid spaghetti or rasping viscerally against the busy plunking, chattering sounds from the strings.

Late on Saturday afternoon, audience members in Holy Trinity experienced the deep growl of Helen Svoboda’s bowed bass together with the expressive, powerful playing of Kari Ikonen (Finland) on piano. Two pieces using Arabic scales called for microtonal adjustments to the grand piano – Taqsim in Maqam Saba and the dramatic, intense Rasthof Sieben in Maqam Rast. Solo pieces brought us the freneticism of Svoboda’s Happy Storm and Ikonen’s deeply evocative Toccatina. It was the perfect setting for such an engrossing duo encounter.

Also fascinating in the cathedral was the unusual pairing of classically trained Natasha Fearnside on bass clarinet with her partner in life Sam Anning on acoustic and electric bass. They played a suite, written during Melbourne’s Covid-19 lockdown, entitled She Gathered Strength in Her Skin. Inspired by the resilience of the city, plus ensuing regeneration and healing, this exploration of timbres felt liturgical, especially so because Anning’s vocal contribution was akin to a chant. The set refreshingly broke new ground.

Wanderlust, however, felt like putting on a pair of most comfortable slippers as this accomplished ensemble took to the WPACC Theatre stage on Saturday afternoon to celebrate their 30th anniversary. The septet led by Miroslav Bukovsky on trumpet treated us to a series of masterful solos in Delicatessence, Bronte Café and Mambo Gumbo before I had to leave, but there was time enough to share in the obvious merriment of irrepressible ’bone player James Greening.   

At noon that day in WPAC Theatre, Stephen Magnusson on guitar was gleeful as he joined Sam Anning bass and Dave Beck drums in a series of smooth segues from tune to tune, ending with pieces by Tom Waits and Archie Roach. There was plenty of swing and few sharp edges to a set palpably as much fun to play as to hear.

The fun with vocalist Jess Hitchcock’s concert at 8pm on Saturday came possibly from guessing who she’d be playing with – the line-up wasn’t in the two-page festival program or even on the website. The smiles came when we realised her band on this occasion comprised Andrea Keller piano, Tamara Murphy bass, Eugene Ball trumpet, James Macaulay trombone and Dave Beck drums. What a band!

Hitchcock, known for her work with Archie Roach, Paul Kelly, Deborah Cheetham and Kate Miller-Heidke, has had a love for jazz since the age of 17. She delivered songs including Taking a Chance on Love and Get Happy, using Ball’s arrangements, with power and ease.

An hour later, also in WPAC Theatre, it was a blast to watch and hear the four Antripodean Collective musicians given the freedom to do anything and take us anywhere with no restrictions other than the time limit. Scott Tinkler led this band of intense improvisers – Erkki Veltheim on five-string electric violin, Ren Walters guitar and percussion, and Simon Barker on drums – in a take-no-prisoners outing that displayed ferocity and vehemence, yet also some quietude between explosive attacks and extended volleys.

In a few instances Walters lifted his guitar and yelled into it, to powerful effect. This was a thrilling event.

Two opening night performances in the theatre provided totally different musical experiences that I’m certain were memorable and rewarding for the audiences as well as performers.

Iro Haarla shows her appreciation after a beautiful outing with Tamara Murphy and James McLean at Wang 2022.

In their first trio outing, Iro Haarla (Finland) on piano teamed with Tamara Murphy on bass and James McLean on drums in a performance brimming with space and interest. Haarla evidently loved the work of the two Australians – saying “Tam and James rock” – as they played five of her pieces plus Kindness Not Courtesy (Murphy) and M31 (McLean).

Haarla, who had alternated between concert harp and piano at the Melbourne jazz festival, was entrancing at the keyboard, dedicating her piece With Thanksgiving to “everything beautiful in this world” and the “good in my life”. McLean was superb throughout at the kit, and in the abstract Waterworn Rocks all three players energetically wove independent yet interlocking paths.

Light in the Sadness closed a beautiful concert that was good for the soul.

An hour later, the super group This World – Mike Nock piano, Jonathan Zwartz bass, Julien Wilson tenor saxophone and Hamish Stuart drums – treated us to an example of why jazz or improvised music offers so much.

They delivered attentiveness, mutual understanding, responsiveness and excellence in execution throughout, playing four pieces off their new album Another Dance, plus the title track from their first album This World and an encore, Riverside, featuring Wilson in a glorious gospel-imbued solo. It was an outstanding gig and a great way finish Friday night.

The decision to hold a program of free concerts in the WPACC Theatre on Sunday no doubt upset some who had paid for weekend festival passes. It also meant that, with five National Jazz Awards finalists competing in the WPACC Hall on Saturday, anyone wanting to hear them play had to miss other concerts over a period of three hours, including judging.

Also, to quibble further, the judges’ presentation to the winners took place in a private area, with results going out via social media, which seemed a pity for those who’d been in the audience to hear all contestants.

I chose the NJA option, unfortunately missing Ball Hanlon & Schulz, the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s drumming event “Indivisible” and Andrea Keller’s group PATsy.

Congratulations are due to Peter Koopman, Joshua Meader and Julius Schwing, who won – respectively – $7000 and a Pughouse Studio recording session, $4000 and $2000. As always it was undeniably a tough task for the judges – this year Stephen Magnusson, Fran Swinn and Carl Dewhurst. The band accompanying the contestants – Jo Lawry vocals, Brett Hirst bass, James McLean drums – were excellent.

I’m no judge. But I thought Harry Tinney from Canberra showed sensitivity and expression, as well as giving us some interesting information about his well chosen pieces, including Ambrose Akinmusire’s Henya. Theo Carbo also selected wisely and blew me away (almost literally in the front row) with his high volume shredding in A Short Film. I haven’t heard much since, but loved it.

The lean Sunday program meant I could attend my first ever jazz mass in the cathedral. Tim Neal played piano, his own Hammond and the newly restored Willis pipe organ – it’s a ripper. Rebecca Barnard sang with gusto and the sermon referenced slavery and the blues. The real star for me, other than the skull on Tim Neal’s shirt, was that pipe organ. I’d love to hear Anthony Pateras or a similarly inclined artist give it a whirl next year in a separate festival gig.

An engaging set by Merinda Dias-Jayasinha in her quartet at Merriwa Cheese Factory was warmly received after lunch on Sunday.

Back in town the WPACC Theatre was crowded later for two large ensemble outings. Many were up dancing during the laid back Public Opinion Afro Orchestra performance that closed the festival – much earlier than in previous years – at 6.15pm. There would be no late-night jam session at the Pinsent Hotel this year.

My best final festival moments came earlier, when Travis Woods and the Horns of Leroy welcomed musicians from Jazzaratta on stage, along with energetic vocalist Thando, to bring us Fat’s Domino’s I’m Walkin’, in which young percussionists Henry and Hamish stole the limelight.

It was a fun way to finish.


PS: I popped in for a few minutes to hear the Fran Swinn Quartet – look for her new album Old Idea/New Idea on Lionsharecords. Sources close to me said the Angela Davis Quartet was great, as was Showa 44, and Michelle Nicolle Quartet’s Bach project. Clashes were inevitable in such a tight program. I felt for Jiem, the quintet from Sydney who had a half-hour slot.

PPS: More images to be added in due course.