Tag Archives: Bennetts Lane

NOSTALGIA LIVES: THE JAZZLAB OPENS

The Jazzlab

Michael Tortoni makes a call in his new music venue, The Jazzlab.

PREVIEW:

The Jazzlab, 27 Leslie Street, Brunswick

I have a soft spot for nostalgia. I cling on to the familiar. In the jazz scene this year there have been some momentous changes, and I find it all too easy to wish things could stay as they have been.

When Adrian Jackson parted ways with Stonnington’s annual festival of Australian jazz, handing the artistic direction to a committee, I felt the resulting program had lost focus and lacked that special frisson that had been there when performers were brought together in unexpected and exciting combinations.

This year Adrian announced that he would not be retaining that role with the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues. Along with many musicians and fans of this wonderful weekend gathering, I deeply regretted this change and pined for a return to the status quo — a return, if you like, to the security of knowing that whatever budget constraints would assail the festival, there would still be the excitement of the unexpected.

Yet, also along with many diehard fans and musicians I suspect, the dawning realisation that Wangaratta in 2017 would be minus AJ (at least in his artistic director role) was tempered by the news that the festival’s “Programming Team” would include Melbourne’s Adam Simmons and SIMA’s Zoe Hauptmann. They have big shoes to fill, but their creativity and dedication to improvised music is undeniable. The unexpected, we hope, can be expected.

The final night at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in February 2017.

The final night at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in February 2017.

In Melbourne, the Lazarus-like and, yes, iconic jazz venue Bennetts Lane closed its doors for the last time on February. When it closed for the first time I was overseas, but I heard that the farewell party then was a humdinger.

This year’s closure was a relatively quiet affair. As I left this wonderfully welcoming repository of live music, Megan Evans mentioned there were old posters by the door. I took home a large image of pianist Tim Stevens, which was a comfort.

My nostalgia and sense of loss was tempered by a few factors. Again change could not be arrested. And I was reminded of trumpah aficionado extraordinaire Scott Tinkler‘s blunt exhortation after Bennetts closed the first time: Get over it, there are many other venues for live, improvised music — Sonny’s Uptown Jazz Cafe, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green, Lebowskis, 303 Northcote, Bar Open’s Make It Up Club, Bella Union to name just a few.

As well, we knew that new venues were on the way. Meg would be carrying the Bennetts Lane torch forward into a new city venue owned by David Marriner, at a date to be announced, but not early enough for this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Michael Tortoni makes some final tweaks to The Jazzlab.

Michael Tortoni makes some final tweaks to The Jazzlab.

And — we finally get to the point of this post — Michael Tortoni would be opening a new haunt for music hangs in a well-tuned warehouse in Leslie Street, Brunswick. Conveniently for Michael, artistic director of the MIJF, The Jazzlab will open in time to be one of the festival venues.

Jeremy Jankie

Jeremy before the bar opens.

The icing on the cake — though he hardly fits that description — is that our much-loved Jeremy Jankie of Bennetts Lane fame will be behind the bar at The Jazzlab.

I had a preview of this venue this week and all the signs are auspicious. It has the feel of the small room at Bennetts Lane (great feel, great acoustics) only larger.

Better still, my nostalgia can have free rein. The chairs are familiar. The tables are familiar. The wall clock is familiar. The stools are familiar (although much more comfortable now that they have been reupholstered). And the format is familiar. Patrons will be able find the bar with ease.

And what of the staircase, a valuable haunt at Bennetts Lane for photographers who wanted an elevated vantage point in a crowded room? Well, The Jazzlab’s stairs are much nicer, but I’m sceptical about photographers using them — we’d be on centre stage and under lights.

Expect musicians to descend the stairs, but don’t ask what they were doing up there. It’s hush hush.

Outside Tortoni’s warehouse Jazzlab there are signs of what’s to come. An acoustic bass appears on a nearby corner and a violinist sits atop the building.

Inside, behind the familiar tables, chairs and stools, there will be standing room. And that’s where you come in.

It’s “Doors 8pm, Music 9pm” for Fem Belling‘s quartet on Friday 7 April, followed by The Rookies from midnight.

Roger Mitchell

Advertisements

OF JAZZ HEROES AND HIGHLIGHTS

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter at Hamer Hall … surely one of the jazz heroes.

REVIEW / RAVE

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, June 3 to June 12, 2016

One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had during this jazz festival — and I’ve had a few, before and after attending 15 concerts — was about the jazz hero.

The person I spoke to was a musician who said he wanted to move away from that approach or model in bands in which he played. In this context I recalled a wonderful concert in Melbourne in which a band gradually swapped players while the music continued, morphing into a new group as newcomers quietly joined in and then others moved off stage during the set.

On the second night of this festival, June 4, I went to The Reverence Hotel in Footscray to hear 30/70 Collective make “future soul and hip-hop meet in the middle via jaunty boom bap”, to quote the program. As they say in some news programs, more on that story later.

After the first set by members of the collective who formed A Brother Scratch, the 30/70 Collective band members did something I have never seen before at a gig — they went into a huddle.

30/70 Collective

30/70 Collective in a huddle before performing.

Already feeling the warm glow from the first set of music that was out of my familiarity zone, so to speak, I was quite taken by this musical group hug, which seemed designed to engender team spirit. It was not long before the packed room was moving to the hypnotic grooves — myself included.

By now you’ll have realised this is more of a rave than a hard-nosed review. But there is a point. The musician mentioned who wants to move away from dependence on heroes in jazz described 30/70 Collective as being like a family. That certainly fitted with my impression from the vibes in the pub.

I decided to try applying the idea of avoiding heroes to the reviewing of a festival. Bear with me.

Reviewers often mention their list of standout gigs or highlights during a festival. I have often done that. And I’ve often asked other patrons and other reviewers to name the bands they’ve most enjoyed. It’s a natural thing, especially if there is limited space in a review, to pick the standouts.

But what if a festival review was more like a collective of gigs? Then I could value each for its special qualities — what worked well and even what didn’t. That’s how I feel about the mix of very different MIJF concerts that I went to this year.

Children of the Light Trio

Children of the Light Trio at Bennetts Lane

On night eight of the MIJF I went to Bennetts Lane at 10pm to hear Children of the Light Trio consisting of Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums — Wayne Shorter‘s band without the hero, if you like.

That’s laughable, you’ll say, because each member of this trio is a hero in their own right. True, but — and I’m already breaking with the “no highlights” approach — that band’s performance without Shorter that night was the gig I’d have to say has stayed with me and will do so for a long time to come.

On the final night of the festival I did hear Wayne Shorter with the members of this band. Afterwards I heard snippets of opinion, including comments that he did not play for a great portion of the set, that some say he’s too comfortable with Perez, Patitucci and Blade, and, notwithstanding, that this hero of jazz is on a different plane from any of the great players still alive.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter plays Hamer Hall

Hearing Shorter at Hamer Hall was special. Getting relatively close to record some images was pretty special.

Hearing him in conversation with Jon Faine, Wilbur Wilde and Kristin Berardi on ABC radio 774 was also special — and at times hilarious. His refusal to get bogged down by labels and his wish to think so broadly about life made me wonder whether Wayne Shorter would want to be put on a pedestal.

I enjoyed his playing on this occasion a lot more than when I heard him some years ago at The Palais in St Kilda, which is perhaps a sign that I had then been uneducated in what to expect — frequent changes of direction and very short bursts of sax. This time he did not play for too long in the set, but what he contributed was considered and just right in the moment.

That said, after reflection, I took more away from his quartet members’ gig as a trio in the much smaller venue. Of course it would be far too exclusive to have Shorter perform to such a limited audience.

Anyway, my search for a hook or a story on which to hang reflections on this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival has ended — albeit in way too meandering a fashion — at that strong image of 30/70 Collective in a huddle. To that image I add some showing large ensembles featured at this festival at the ends of their concerts.

the migration

Stu Hunter and musicians after “the migration” at Malthouse Theatre.

We’ve seen some big projects come to fruition on stage this year — Stu Hunter‘s the migration, the Monash Art Ensemble‘s performance with Tomasz Stanko, the release of a new album by Peter Knight’s Way Out West.

Jordan Murray and Tomasz Stanko with Monash Art Ensemble

Jordan Murray and Tomasz Stanko with Monash Art Ensemble

All of these have involved a lot of work and huge collective effort.

Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life

Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life

And of course in smaller ensembles such as Andrea Keller’s Transients, the Allan Browne Quintet performing Ithaca Bound at Uptown Jazz Cafe, Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life, Shai Maestro Trio, the Tomasz Stanko Band and the Tribute to Allan Browne trio of Paul Grabowsky, Mirko Guerrini and Niko Schauble, we have heard the results of collective interaction.

Even in the solo gig by Paolo Angeli at the Bluestone Church in Footscray we saw how his instrument’s many parts worked together to produce different styles of music.

Interaction is what makes the diverse music that makes up jazz so engrossing, inventive and wonderful. And each musician brings to the stage the formative background that has shaped them — influences that interact and find expression in changing ways as they practise and play.

Some of us will love, like or not like some of the music we hear from improvising musicians, but at its core is that interaction. We see and delight in it as we watch the faces of the musicians at work.

End of rave. In the days ahead I will add a few, much shorter, separate posts — with pictures — to cover concerts I attended as part of this festival.

In the meantime, musicians will be playing live in lots of venues around Melbourne, so get out there. You won’t regret it.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

 

 

 

 

OF BIRD’S, BENNETTS AND BEYOND

Ravi Coltrane's quartet at Bird's Basement

Ravi Coltrane’s quartet at Bird’s Basement

REFLECTION

Ravi Coltrane at Bird’s Basement, Singers Lane, Melbourne on Sunday, March 6, 2016

IT HAS been said often in recent months, but there’s a lot of live music happening in Melbourne, plenty of it being jazz / improvised. That can’t be bad.

But as venues proliferate, the challenge remains to really get more Melburnians — and visitors to town — off their couches and out there listening, hopefully on a regular basis.

Change has been in the air for Melbourne’s jazz scene since the closing of Bennetts Lane Jazz Club after last year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the shift of regular Melbourne Jazz Co-operative gigs to Sonny Rehe’s Uptown Jazz Cafe in Fitzroy. Then Bennetts staged its most convincing Lazarus-like recovery pending the advent of developer David Marriner’s planned incarnation of the iconic venue in Flinders Lane  at a date to be fixed.

Patrons file into Bird's Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Patrons file into Bird’s Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Early this month (March 2016) Albert Dadon launched his Bird’s Basement club in the appropriately named Singers Lane close to Flagstaff Station, opening with seven nights of “jazz royalty” as reedsman Ravi Coltrane played two concerts a night in the slick, custom-built basement.

There had been much talk in jazz circles about whether the Bird’s Basement model of an early dinner show and a separate supper show would work, and how long the extensive resources of Dadon could sustain the new venue if he built it and crowds did not come. Ironically, that question came up recently in the small venue Conduit Arts in Fitzroy, host to many creative and superb performances over recent years. Now, it seems, Conduit Arts will be closing.

In this context, it was with great interest that I took my camera to Bird’s Basement for the supper show on the final night of Ravi Coltrane’s stint with Glenn Zaleski on piano, Kush Abadey on drums, Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass. Coltrane played tenor and sopranino sax. (The names of Coltrane’s band members were not listed on printed material at the club, as far as I could see. I am indebted to John McBeath for letting me know that I had two members of the line-up wrong in this post earlier.)

Bird's Basement has a blue note

The ambience at Bird’s Basement has a blue note

A few remarks about the venue. After years of feeling familiar and comfortable in the two rooms at Bennetts Lane, at which patrons find their own way to tables or single seats, I felt strangely formal in having Bird’s staff conducting patrons to seats.

I can say without reservation that all of the many staff at Bird’s were unfailingly friendly, welcoming and helpful. Ordering and delivery of drinks was smooth and payment at or shortly before the gig ended did not disrupt the music.

Being on my own, I was initially taken to a seat at the bar, but a more suitable vantage point for taking photographs was soon found.

Ticket purchase and seat allocation are no doubt still evolving, but I found the Ticketek process awkward and unsatisfactory. In the process of registering I ended up with two tickets in my checkout basket with no obvious way to remove one. Also, seat allocation was impossible without knowing the seating plan at Bird’s, which apparently changes according to numbers booked.

As for ambience, it’s all very blue and a little shiny. It seems a pity that patrons and waiting staff have to cross in front of tables to get to the far side tables, and there is no standing area at the back where the press of punters can build the sort of excitement often felt, for instance, in the small room at Bennetts. Bird’s Basement has a refined feel that may appeal more to those used to dinner with their music.

But musicians and patrons seem to agree that the acoustics are good, as may be expected in a purpose-built space.

Johnathan Blake

Kush Abadey enthuses from the drum kit

Now for a mention of the music. Given that this was the final night of seven paired performances, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of this quartet was pleasing. I was mightily impressed with Kush Abadey at the drum kit and Glenn Zaleski at the piano.

With Coltrane on tenor for his originals Coincide and Candlewood Path, Ralph Alessi’s Who Wants Ice Cream, and another brief piece, the quartet delivered compelling, intelligent jazz in which the leader left plenty of space for his young rhythm section to show its undoubted prowess. Abadey often seemed to drive proceedings.

Coltrane’s tenor forays included brief statements that said a lot without any attempt to dominate, leaving us wanting more. He closed the concert on sopranino, firing up on Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life and John Coltrane’s Equinox, appropriately resisting any temptation to announce the latter with a paternal reference.

Bird’s debut week must rate as a success, but the real tests will come when international artists are not on the bill. And it will be interesting to see whether this venue linked loosely to New York’s Birdland will attract new patrons to live music or tap into the numbers already turning up to Bennetts Lane, Uptown, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green and other Melbourne venues.

Bird’s Basement has a long way to go before it develops the rich history that adds significantly to a well-established and much-loved venue. But the music is what counts and nostalgia should not be overrated.

Rightly or wrongly, I felt that I ought to dress up for Bird’s — that it possibly was a bit flash for my taste and may attract a different crowd. If so, that could work and would help provide work for local musicians as well as imports. But let’s see.

Meanwhile, the following night I sat in a familiar chair in the small room at Bennetts Lane to hear Tim Stevens deliver 13 brand new and unnamed compositions with help from Dave Beck and Ben Robertson. It had a different feel.

ROGER MITCHELL