Tag Archives: Bar 303


Russell Holmes Trio

Karl Florrison on bass and Mike Perkins on drums in the Russell Holmes Trio.

GIG: Russell Holmes Trio, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, October 16, 2012, presented by Melbourne Jazz Cooperative

It’s not news that, when it comes to improvised music, good things happen in Perth. Lots of names come to mind, including the WA Academy of Performing Arts, Johannes Luebbers and Jamie Oehlers.

A week ago, exciting young pianist Tal Cohen was at Bennetts Lane with fellow Perth musicians Oehlers on tenor sax, Chris Tarr on drums and Pete Jeavons on bass, playing material from his album Yellow Sticker. I regret not having made it to this outing.

Russell Holmes plays Bennetts Lane.

Russell Holmes plays Bennetts Lane.

This week Melbourne has a chance in three gigs to hear from Russell Holmes on piano and keyboards, as well the talented young trio members Mike Perkins on drums and Karl Florrison on double bass.

The first outing, at the Lane, delighted an appreciative audience and confirmed again that what is happening out west is worth hearing.

Tonight, at Bar 303, the trio will open at 8pm before Stephen Magnusson and the Julien Wilson Quartet.

On Thursday he will play at Paris Cat along with his daughter Sarah Holmes, who plays bass and her compositions with The Outfit.

The Outfit is a Melbourne group playing songs about coffee, knitting and tumbleweeds. Band members are Daniel Brates on  drums, Diego Villalta on guitar, Rob Simone on saxophone and Louise Goh on vocals.

The Holmes family musical connection stretches way back. Russell’s father was a prominent Perth jazz guitarist and vocalist. Russell started playing as a toddler and has been playing piano for more than four decades.

Since 1989 Russell has lectured at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, specialising in theory and rhythm studies, harmony, arranging and individual tutoring in contemporary and jazz piano.

Karl Florrison

Karl Florrison

In two sets on Tuesday at the Lane, the Russell Holmes Trio served up some originals from its current released EP-length CD Restless, as well as a Troy Roberts arrangement of Bye Bye Blackbird and some Thelonious Monk.

Russell Holmes Trio

Mike Perkins on drums

There were some excellent solos, but what stood out on the night was that this trio is cohesive, well practised and brimful of energy. Lots of drive comes from Holmes on piano working extremely well with Perkins, who is constantly attentive and responsive. Florrison showed strength, warmth and space in his work.

I had previously heard only the Fire and Rain album featuring arrangements of James Taylor songs, on which Holmes has a different line-up. The music delivered by his latest trio was compelling, often powered by tension and with deeply embedded swing. This trio has plans to tour nationally and in Europe. It is a band confirming that it is definitely not all quiet on the western front.


Karl Florrison

Karl Florrison




(To hear the band live see gig details below)

The Mango Balloon

3 stars

GUITARIST Julian Curwin borrows six members of The Tango Saloon to float liltingly aloft on this whimsical flight through tango, gypsy swing and spaghetti western to klezmer, helped by Eddie Bronson on clarinets.

In 13 Curwin originals the mood is light and airy, yet varied. Sam Golding adds melodrama on tuba and some delightful upper-register bends on trumpet. Curwin’s strings ripple, twang and indulge in a little wah-wah.

Marcello Maio’s accordion buzzes and undulates; his piano is simple and delicate. With Mark Harris (double bass), Danny Heifetz (drums) and Jess Ciampa (percussion), the Balloon breezes along on a carefully crafted, carefree adventure to any Shangri-La we fancy.

CD launch: May 10, Bar 303, Northcote.

File between: Skazz, Klezmania

Download: Scene Change, Dog Day Night


This review was published in the Play liftout of the Sunday Herald Sun on May 8, 2011

Coming performances:

May 10th @ 303, w/The Porch Dwellers
Bar 303, High St Northcote
(03) 9482 4577

May 11 w/Umlaut
The Toff In Town, 252 Swanston St Melbourne
(03) 9639 8770

May 12 at The Evelyn Hotel, w/Sex On Toast + Eucalyptus
The Evelyn Hotel, 351 Brunswick St Fitzroy
(03) 9419 5500



Star ratings

Should reviewers have a starring role?

At a Bennetts Lane gig recently I was chatting to a musician about, among other things, the number of stars given to an album I’d reviewed. I was gently chided for handing out half a star fewer than other reviewers. I said I did not like the concept of star ratings, but a record label publicist who had joined the conversation happily confessed to loving stars because “stars sell records”.

I defended the paucity of stars on my review by explaining the view of some fellow reviewers at the Sunday Herald Sun, people who I believed knew their music far better than me. Their belief, I said, was that for ratings out of five, awarding 4.5 or 5 ought not be done lightly because those ratings ought be kept for albums that had stood the test of time.

A new album, according to this argument (with which I agree), has been listened to attentively by a serious reviewer, but not for long. Editors of review pages are always keen to stay ahead of the pack, so often albums are reviewed soon after they arrive, especially those from established artists with an established name. So there is not much time to really get to know an album and discover how much it will stick in the mind or demand to be revisited.

An album that has been released a long time ago, but which remains a favourite for the reviewer and is eventually re-released, may be deemed to rate the ultimate five-star rating because its worth has been enhanced since its release.

I understand that record publicists appreciate high ratings and positive reviews, because their job of promoting the music is much easier. But I do believe that reviewers, like newspaper editors, need to keep something in reserve — to avoid going overboard and leaving no room to move. There always needs to be a bigger headline reserved for World War III.

I confess that I do get a little aggravated when I see reviewers handing out four or 4.5 stars on a regular basis, because it exerts a subtle pressure on me. I start to wonder whether I’ve been too harsh. But really, on a five-star scale, an album that scores three stars is getting a very high rating and is considered an album well worth buying or downloading.

Awarding stars is often not easy. I have reviewed some albums, picked the star rating and then later regretted that I did not go a little higher or, occasionally, a half star lower. But it is all so subjective and so likely to be influenced by the reviewer’s circumstances at the time, that star ratings can only be a rough guide. There is much that cannot be said in a short review. There is also tension between the personal tastes of the reviewer and the effort made to be disinterested (as opposed to uninterested) and to review for a wider audience.

Also, the temptation is always there for reviewers, who are lovers of the music after all, to take on a promotional role because they sincerely want to get more people to hear live music and to buy albums by the many excellent musicians about. This applies in particular to jazz and improvised music in Australia, because there are few resources available to push the music, yet the quality of the musicians is often spectacular. Regular patrons of Bennetts Lane, Uptown Jazz Cafe, Bar 303, Paris Cat and other venues (and that’s merely in Melbourne) often find themselves in small crowds listening to music that requires great skill and a lot of hard work. Yet the cost of admission is much lower than for more high profile music such as classical or operatic works.

So, the temptation to say nice things in reviews is real. And it is also possible that reviewers will offer too much description of the music rather than an assessment of it. But I think there is a role for reviews to give readers an idea of what to expect. In practice it is unlikely that reviewers with little space available will waste it on condemning aspects that don’t work, provided there are positives to be mentioned.

All this has wandered about and away from star ratings. It would be interesting to hear from patrons and musicians about how important star ratings are from their perspectives.