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Out of Earshot                       Image: Jeff Busby

REVIEW: Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2017

KAGE: Out of Earshot, 7.30pm, June 1, 2017 at Chunky Move, 111 Sturt Street, South Melbourne

What a change to review a performance that is not a one-off. The dance group KAGE, which was established in 1997 by Victorian College of the Arts dance graduates Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck, will present this dance theatre  many times during the jazz festival (see MIJF program for details), so there will be more opportunities to hear, or feel, what’s presented.

I would strongly suggest that you take those opportunities, because this is a thrilling, compelling and challenging work. Having experienced it once, I immediately felt I’d like to do so again.

But before turning up I’d urge you to keep in mind the words of American Deaf Visual Artist Christine Sun Kim: “In Deaf culture, movement is equivalent to sound. Sound doesn’t have to be … only felt through the ears, it can be felt tactually or experienced as a visual or even as an idea.”

One of the artists in Out Of Earshot, Melbourne dancer Anna Seymour, was born profoundly deaf. At one point in the performance she lies across the lap of drummer Myele Manzanza — who jazz fans may know through his work with Ross McHenry or Marcus Strickland — with her ear to the skin of a drum. It is a powerful image.

This work is not meant especially for people who are deaf or whose hearing is impaired. Rather it aims to shift an audience’s perception of sound. Many in the audience on opening night were signing beforehand, and at the end delivered their applause by drumming feet and raising hands while rapidly twisting wrists. That suggested they were appreciative, but I can’t say what it was like to experience this without hearing or with limited hearing.

Out of Earshot Image: Jeff Busby

Out of Earshot                      Image: Jeff Busby

The mechanics of Out of Earshot are simple to explain, undeniably not easy to execute. Four dancers react to Manzanza’s rhythms, which he creates using bodies, the floor and a drum kit that the dancers move and rotate. Panels of light on three walls change colour and reflect the beat visually. The dancers also tell stories in their interactions with each other and the drummer. It is physically demanding and calls for taut responses as well as slow rolls and grapplings. Body contact is integral. All five performers are superb.

Program notes explain that Out of Earshot focuses on passion, empathy, exhilaration and intimacy; that it treats silence not as a lack of sound but a state that can convey emotion and feeling; and that it offers us glimpses of many global experiences, learned and from research.

So does it deliver? There is no doubt about that, although I may not have noticed or understood all that was being communicated.

This performance begins and ends with body percussion that conveys and reflects the heartbeats within us. In between I felt the dancers explored many things: the acceptance of closeness; trust, mutual or one-way; struggle and support; connectedness and distance; silence and separation (via protective earmuffs); the attraction and power of rhythm; a beat as initiating action; agitation (perhaps with being separated from sound); touch as a life-giving force; sound as a controlling mechanism; sound as absence (exemplified in silent drumming, silent singing); initiation and submission in relationships; and delightful humour (when Elle Evangelista channels Nicki Minaj’s rap song Super Bass with its entirely apt line “you’ve got my heartbeat running away”).

Out of Earshot Image: Jeff Busby

Out of Earshot                           Image: Jeff Busby

I was blown away by Manzanza’s work with his drumsticks while seated on the floor. I was puzzled by dancers’ grappling with and clinging to the drummer, possibly to distract him, curb his volume or cool his fire. I was intrigued by how much body contact could occur without necessarily conveying intimacy and how little eye contact there seemed to be in many of these interactions — perhaps reflecting our society’s separateness. And I was moved and mystified by powerful coupling almost at the end, when Anna Seymour’s hand over Timothy Ohl‘s eyes was a constant amid their closeness.

Out of Earshot

Out of Earshot                       Image: Jeff Busby

It is hard not to feel the connectedness of humanity when all performers gather at the end, linked by the simple heartbeats created from their bodies.

There was much skill on show in Out of Earshot and many provocative and stimulating thoughts arising from the interactions and movements that an audience could take away to ponder. It is worth seeing and hearing this work — not only via the ears. Its reverberations will be felt long after you leave.




KAGE creates performances that “relate and respond to current social thinking”.



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.



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.






Lloyd and Farantouri

Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri       (Image supplied)

PREVIEW: Melbourne International Jazz Festival, May 30 to June 8, 2014

The best time to judge the worth of any music festival is when it’s all over, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that there is a good vibe about this year’s Melbourne dip of the collective toe into the diverse waters that link to jazz.

In a preview to the 2013 festival, I wrote that, “For a number of years now the MIJF has set out to broaden its appeal. This year’s program is no exception …” That trend continues in the 2014 program, with artistic director Michael Tortoni describing it as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

Some have commented favourably on Tortoni’s willingness to venture farther than is usual into the realms of world music this year. I would say that there is an unashamed willingness by the MIJF to provide a broad spectrum and, it is fair to assume, to let some of the popular events in large venues help pay for smaller gigs that may have much more appeal to dedicated followers of the rich jazz tapestry that is always on show in this town.

It’s important that this bid to attract a wider audience does not water down what’s on offer in order to put bums on seats, but it seems there is still plenty for hard core fans, albeit not such rich pickings on the fringe as when Sophie Brous had a role in programming. The 2014 program seems to reflect a festival comfortable with bring popular artists and also musicians who will be sought out and valued by smaller numbers of patrons.

Among the big changes this year are the advent of concerts in the Malthouse — two gigs a night with the second a double bill — and the inclusion of Uptown Jazz Café as a club venue for the first time, hosting some quality trios, quartets and a sextet. It’s great to have Sonny Rehe and the Uptown staff aboard.

The other significant change is that for the first time there will be some musical events in Melbourne’s west, an area with which Tortoni is familiar.

As always, full details of the program are available on the festival website. Ausjazz provides the following pointers to likely highlights.


Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

Anyone who heard Charles Lloyd in 2010 will want to tap into his spiritual quality as performer or in conversation. The saxophonist, flautist and taragato player will perform at Melbourne Town Hall in The Greek Project with vocalist Maria Farantouri, presenting works by Lloyd, Theodorakis and the Greek Suite.

Lloyd will also bring his Sky Trio (Reuben Rogers bass, Eric Harland drums) to the Melbourne Recital Centre in an Australian premiere. This concert, opening with local group Omelette, is not to be missed, although I will be torn because it clashes with an exciting world premiere of PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission winner Tilman Robinson’s The Agony of Knowledge at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. Lloyd also joins Monash University music students in a gig at the MRC Salon.

Hamer Hall is the venue for the celebrated collaboration of keyboardist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton.

It’s hard to know whether the Palais Theatre audience will comprise fans of Hollywood tough guys or Frank Sinatra when they flock to hear Robert Davi provide a portrait of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Davi appeared with Sinatra in the 1977 film Contract on Cherry Street, so he knows how to swagger.

The news is already out there, but if you fancy big bands, nothing comes bigger than Glenn Miller Orchestra, which will fill the Hamer Hall Stage with no fewer than 38 musicians, singers and dancers to perform hits such as Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood and Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Soul will come to the MRC when Mary Stallings — who toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley and Count Basie — returns to the city she visited in 1959. Expect swinging standards and moving ballads.

Flamenco will have plenty of fans when Jorge Pardo on tenor sax and flute performs at MRC in the trio Huellas, after the superb Sylvan Coda by Chris Hale and other Australian artists, including the foot-stamping Johnny Tedesco, who has been a hit with audiences at Bennetts Lane and Stonnington Jazz.

Wistful romanticism will be the feature when jazz vocalist Fem Belling brings to life the late Blossom Dearie in a concert at The Malthouse.

Rolling Stone described Larry Carlton’s work on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne as one of the greatest rock guitar solos of all time. The “Titan of Tone” will perform with a quartet at MRC and hold workshops at VCA, one of which will be open to the public. Five-piece Here and Now will open.

A regular in Australia, saxophonist Joshua Redman will perform his ever-changing repertoire in a quartet at MRC, after the Joe Chindamo Trio.

This is turning into a long post, but now it’s time to move on to some MIJF gigs that are a little less mainstream. Watch this space.