Tag Archives: Aaron Choulai


Yoshimoto Akihiro and Komano Itsumi

Independent: Yoshimoto Akihiro on tenor and Komano Itsumi on trombone.

GIG: WPAC Theatre, 3pm, October 30

Aaron Choulai piano, Yoshimoto Akihiro tenor sax, Komano Itsumi trombone, Sugawa Takashi bass, Tanaka Noritaka drums.

IT RARELY works to arrive late at a gig. And it is equally not a great idea to leave a concert halfway through in order to hear something else. But at festivals clashes often occur, so these less-than-ideal late arrivals and early departures are inevitable. In this case I was late because, to quote former police comissioner Christine Nixon, “I had to eat”. It was a pity because Sisia Natuna was into its third piece, Iriguchi, when I arrived, having missed Beer Gardener and Korema. After listening for a few minutes I was wishing I’d been there earlier.

Sugawa Takahashi on bass and Yoshimoto Yakihiro on tenor

Complexity: Sugawa Takahashi on bass and Yoshimoto Yakihiro on tenor.

The quintet’s playing was complex and had a relentless quality to it in the next piece, ATO 23:5. The sax and ‘bone contributions were strong and independent in what seemed to be a musical saga or journey. Choulai pointed out that Komano Itsumi was playing despite the pain she was experiencing from a slipped disk — a heroic effort.

Kitsamo Itsumi

Playing in pain: Kitsamo Itsumi

In the final piece, Yokka Yoi, which Choulai said could be roughly translated as a four-day hangover, there were powerful harmonies and rhythms and plenty of expression despite the limited variation in dynamics. I was trying to work out whether I could pick up distinctively Japanese aspects to this group’s playing, but if there were any they eluded me. Listeners familiar with Japanese music would have done better, no doubt. The empathy between Sugawa Takashi on bass and Tanaka Noritaka on drums was evident.

Tanaka Noritaka

Empathy: Tanaka Noritaka on drums.

I would have been happy for the set to be extended — it was full of interest.

Aaron Choulai

Flamboyant: Aaron Choulai

I first saw Aaron Choulai in the Commercial Hotel many years ago. He was playing keyboards with Blues Before Sunrise. Born in Papua New Guinea, the pianist/composer has always been an interesting, flamboyant character. He has spent the past two years in Japan, exploring the application of Japanese aesthetics to music. In this outing, clad in an informal sports shirt that seemed to contrast sharply with the more formal dress of the other band members, the pianist seemed at home among some of Japan’s talented young musicians.


Kurt Elling

Impish humour: Kurt Elling the showman.


ROGER MITCHELL attempts to sum up Australia’s major festival of improvised music in a few words

WHEN Mike Nock’s New Quintet opened the 21st annual jazz festival at Wangaratta on Friday, the pianist told the audience, “This is jazz. Things happen.”

It was good advice. The festival program had not seemed to promise as much as in recent years. But things happen.

By midnight Saturday, a damp but satisfied audience left Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre still reverberating from a fiery set by saxophonist Oliver Lake’s organ quartet – the festival’s first experience of a Hammond B3 organ.

Patrons did not know a rubber band applied by Melbourne saxophonist Adam Simmons had repaired Oliver Lake’s sax in time for the visiting US quartet to deliver ferocious and virtuosic swing – topping its Friday night outing.

And by midnight Sunday two full houses had been amazed and entranced by the vocal agility and showmanship of Kurt Elling, with his impish humour and homage to jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon.

Belgian pianist Jef Neve’s trio took the international honours with lyricism, excitement and daring, closely followed by Tokyo’s Sisia Natuna, who provided an engrossing set with former Melbourne pianist/composer Aaron Choulai.

It would have been good to hear New York-based Portuguese vocalese singer Sara Serpa exploring more diverse territory.

The inventiveness of Australian musicians was highlighted in pianist composer Stu Hunter’s suites The Muse and The Gathering, with trombonist James Greening’s primal solo a monument to brass.

From Perth, Johannes Luebbers conducted a superb dectet in entrancing and original compositions. The Ian Date Quartet delivered delightful hot jazz and the controlled dynamics of Joe Chindamo’s trio took Simon and Garfunkel’s beautiful song America to new heights.

Sunday’s treats included a nostalgic brass outing from Bob Barnard and his UK mate Roy Williams, a sublime Greg Coffin Trio set and an engaging performance by Andrea Keller’s quartet.

Mike Nock, whose quintet opened with energy and ended in glorious disarray, was correct. At Wangaratta Jazz, things happen.

An abridged version of this review appeared in Melbourne’s Herald Sun on Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Roger Mitchell will be posting more festival reviews on ausjazz.net soon.


GIG REVIEW: Sam Anning’s penultimate farewell gig before going to New York, NY.

Sam Anning

Sam Anning, bass
Eugene Ball, trumpet
Andrea Keller, piano
Rajiv Jayaweera, drums

SAM Anning is now in New York, studying for a Master’s at the Manhattan School of Music. Now that he’s gone, we can talk about him. Not that there’s much to say that’s negative about the lad, except that he was perhaps a spruiking a little loudly on behalf of _motion when he filled in for Nick Abbey at Bennetts Lane in July. Sam will be missed, not only because he was playing with some 50 bands (I heard that from reviewer and radio personality Jessica Nicholas), but also because he’s a top bloke. We wish him well and hope he does return, even when he is famous.

Sam Anning
Sam Anning

It was a lovely way for Anning to leave Bennetts. The previous night he had had another farewell of sorts — lots of fun I’m told — with Allan Browne‘s Monday nights mob. This time we heard Anning’s music and some of his favourites by others, beginning with the thoughtful Little Bay (Sean Wayland) and then a moving, slow ballad From The Cloud, written by Anning in response to Iceland’s volcanic eruption and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — a darker cloud. Eugene Ball was in fine form in this piece and all night.

Next came Coltrane’s Countdown — energetic, bustling and bristling — and Neil Young’s Tell Me Why, which Anning first heard on the Live at Massey Hall album. The first set closed with Swinging From A Hills Hoist, which Anning wrote when he could not sleep on a flight back from New York. I loved Ball’s twisting and bending horn and his shimmering vibrato on the last note.

Keller and Ball
Keller and Ball

Set two began with Abba, the “second debut” of a tune Anning confessed to have pinched or borrowed from a couple of sources — one may have been Aaron Choulai’s Silverland. Keller opened this piece with a jaunty little melody. It was great to hear her at the piano. The standard You Go To My Head was next, with what Ball described as “the silly changes”. Fantastic horn and bass in this.

Eugene Ball
Eugene Ball

Raj Jayaweeera
Raj Jayaweeera

Then Anning expressed the bassist’s lament of “never doing your own gig” with his composition I Am the Madam and the Whore, loosely based on the style of Ornette Coleman, with melody dictating harmony. (I think that’s what Sam said.) Ball played some whip-cracking notes which kicked up sharply, and worked the valves beautifully for some irridescent shimmer. Jayaweera displayed the talent and subtlety that is sometimes overshadowed when he’s hidden in larger ensembles. I don’t know whether the madam or the whore won, but this piece ended in a reflective, ruminative passage.

Keller and Ball
Keller and Ball

Anning’s tribute to the cloudy skies of Melbourne came in Overcastaway, which he kicked off robustly. Keller and Anning were great together in this piece, which was followed by the closing Or Not, which was inspired by Ornette Coleman. Ball began with some rasping pedal notes — lovely — and produced some wild squeals from the horn as Keller proceeded to fragment the universe with the keyboard.

Sam Anning had another gig on the Friday at Uptown Jazz Cafe — that was the final one. Hope it went well.