Tag Archives: Big Arse Sunday


Preview: Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, April 29 to May 8, 2011

Mastaneh Nazarian

Mastaneh Nazarian barely contains her love for her Parker guitar

Yes, the image above is unashamedly a bid to attract attention to this preview of this year’s MJFF, but in my defence it is the picture guitarist Mastaneh Nazarian chose to be used on the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival website, which is where all the details of this festival can be found. Nazarian, who migrated from Teheran, Iran to the US and suffered “mild malnutrition” in Boston in the mid ’90s, will feature in a double bill with Jonathan Dimond‘s Loops and her group Kafka Pony, which she named after reading lots of Kafka, dreaming of a pink penguin and waking with the word “pony” on her lips.

Anyway, speaking of matters barely contained, my excitement is mounting about what’s on offer this year. Details are on the website, but here’s a quick glimpse of some highlights. First, because it is first, is the opening concert on Friday, April 29 at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon, which will give us a chance to hear a work so far aired at only in parts, at least in Melbourne and at Wangaratta. Andrea Keller Quartet, with two violins, viola and a cello, will perform Place, a 60-minute commissioned work in seven parts that draws inspiration from the area surrounding Bermagui NSW, and explores notions of belonging and identity. The quartet employs electronics, improvisation, preparations and acoustic instruments in the piece.

We’ve had two tantalising tastes of this work — at Uptown Jazz Cafe in August last year, when the quartet played Guluga and Belonging, and in the WPAC Theatre at Wangaratta Jazz 2010, when Belonging closed the set. I loved these tidbits and look forward to hearing the whole piece. The icing on the cake will be special guests Stephen Magnusson and Raj Jayaweera performing as a duo.

I have to keep this short and avoid mentioning every gig, tempting as that is. So, on Saturday, there’s a wild night in a warehouse opening with Ronny Ferella and Sam Price, who make up Peon, no doubt playing some similar material to what’s on their album Real Time, and ending in an iPhone mash-up — an app-created orgy of sounds under the watchful ear of Myles Mumford. You have to be there.

After Loops and Kafka Pony on Sunday, and Sam Bates Trio on Monday, a real highlight for me will be Band of Five Names on Tuesday, May 3, at Bennetts Lane. When this group (Phil Slater on trumpet and laptop, Matt McMahon on piano and Nord, Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Simon Barker on drums and percussion) performed at at Alpine MDF Theatre, Wangaratta in 2009, I thought of it as entering a musical space of light and shade, frenzy and reflection, and at times absolute simplicity. The ensemble was affective, slowly evolving and highly involving. I thought then, “How can a Nord sound so gentle?” and “Stillness can take root here”.

Zoe Scoglio‘s audio visual evening on Wednesday will be a treat for the ears, because Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Stephen Grant (cornet) and James McLean (drums) will accompany what Zoe has in store.

And in an unprecedented move, MJFF this year has some gigs out west, which is fantastic for those of us who believe more music should happen where so many of those who create it reside. The first performance at the Dancing Dog Cafe/Bar, on Thursday, May 5, features award-winning Peter Knight (trumpet and laptop electronics) and the irrepressible Motion. The second, on Saturday, May 7, features Nat Grant (solo percussion and electronics) and Kewti with “wild black metal experimental microtonal tropical jazz”. How can you resist that?

“What about the famous MJFF commission concert?”, you ask. Well, yes, it’s on at BMW Edge on Friday, May 6 and it must not be missed. That rascal Allan Browne will open with his “three turks and a wasp”. The drummer has a new piano-less quartet with Phillip Noy (alto sax), Sam Pankhurst (bass) and Stephen Grant (cornet) in dialogue, using new material written for the Fringe plus “compositions from the Duke and Jelly Roll”.

And for the main act, Fran Swinn, winner of this year’s APRA Composer Commission, has written Inform for jazz quartet and corde lisse (aerial circus act involving acrobatics on a vertically hanging rope). Circus Oz virtuoso acrobat/aerialist Rockie Stone (pictured below courtesy of Seth Gulob) will perform with the Fran Swinn Quartet (Swinn on guitar, Tamara Murphy on double bass, Ben Hendry on drums), and guest soloist Eugene Ball on trumpet.


Rockie Stone at Circus Oz (Picture by Seth Gulob)

Swinn’s work promises to “integrate the forms and structures inherent in Jazz and improvised music with the forms and structures integral to a circus act” and acknowledges influences from dance, theatre and clowning as well as the music of Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Bill Frisell.

What could top that? Well, after such high-flying aerial pursuits it has to be time to sit. So Big Arse Sunday is exactly what’s needed. This year it’s at Cafe 303, 303 High Street, Northcote, from 2pm until about 9pm and the line-up includes Collider, Make Up Sex, Tinkler/Pankhurst/McLean, and 12 Tone Diamonds. And if you need a break from the music, the musicians you’ve heard or will hear later will probably be selling some nibbles or sitting on the door, so there’s a chance to chat.

With all these highlights, you may as well give in and decide you’ll never make it home before midnight during the Melboune Jazz Fringe Festival. This is a real grass roots festival run by musicians who volunteer lots of time to make it happen. If you’ve never dipped your toe in, try it. You won’t regret it.




Han Bennink
Han Bennink

… and again

Lots of gigs. Lots of noise, but some quiet moments as well. Music non-stop from 2pm Saturday until 8:30pm in four Melbourne Town Hall venues. Having emerged late the previous night from the finale of Melbourne’s jazz fringe festival, which has for years had its full day of music entitled Big Arse Sunday, I could not help but think the Overground concept seemed strikingly similar. Was MIJF making a bid to attract the fringe festival audience?

A few observations: The idea of a lot of bands playing in the one place over many hours (as in The Big Day Out) is great and the town hall was humming. Great to see the crowds. But the program running sheet was initially only posted on the doorways and many of us spent valuable time writing it down, because once a gig finished (many lasted only 20 minutes) it was hard to know where to go next. And unless you knew a lot about say, The Deadnotes or Pure Evil Trio or Carolyn Connors — that demonstrates the diversity of what was on offer — it was hard to plot a route through the Overground. For a festival as big and sophisticated as MIJF now is, it seems this aspect could have been done better. Perhaps the MIJF website could carry links to each band/performer, with background info and samples of audio or video.

While on the basics, I had possibly the worst coffee in the universe at the MTH bar, at a time when I needed greeeaaaat coffee. Extempore journal editor Miriam Zolin would have suffered apoplexy. It was lukewarm and I think came out of a thermos. Also, when you are rushing from one concert to the next, there will come a time when you need sustenance. And you need it on the spot, not out along Swanston Street.

Han Bennink takes to the floor

Peter Brotzmann vies with Bennink

Enough whingeing. I made it to 14 sessions, some only for a quick taste. I loved the buzz, but concerts were happening a little too thick and fast, and often I did not know who would be a must-hear for me.

wall of noise
Pure Evil and Occult Blood make noise

Pure Evil and Occult Blood was a wall of noise, but I left with a smile. Greg Kingston (electric guitar and toys) and Tarquin Manek (of Bum Creek, on various instruments) had everyone smiling with their antics, but it had me asking — also after the opening Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann gig — when the showmanship interferes with the sound.

Greg Kingston
Kingston turns on the tricks

Dale Gorfinkel on contraptions

Bennink’s explosive virtuosity and sublime sense of humour are endearing — we love him — but when Cor Fuhler on prepared piano joined Dale Gorfinkel on sonic contraptions and Kym Myhr guitar and objects, I found it impossible to concentrate on the sound without closing my eyes. Gorfinkel’s device spinning polystyrene cups and a trumpet with tubing was fascinating, but I just wanted to hear the result.

Carolyn Connors

In certain contexts Carolyn Connors‘ extraordinary vocal talents would be OK, but I wanted to get away. And when classical met punk — Golden Fur with True Radical Miracle — I found it a momentarily interesting spectacle, then I wanted to get away.

Hoping Fur a Miracle

The vocal ensemble that included MIJF program director Sophie Brous sounded amazing, but I caught only the last few minutes. (Others in that group were Carolyn Connors, Nik Kennedy, Pete Hyde, Jessica Aszodi, Alex Vivian, Christopher L. G. Hill and Tarquin Manek.

Focused: Misterka and Chase

Two concerts deserved to have full attention, but I had to keep moving. These were Seth Misterka (CCM4) and Brian Chase (of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs) on sax and drums, which was minimalist but compelling, and Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion),
Eugene Ughetti (percussion) and Robin Fox (processing), which provided a period of slowly evolving relief from the mayhem elsewhere.

I missed Cor Fuhler with Scott Tinkler and Simon Barker with Bum Creek. I missed Kim Salmon (The Scientists, Surrealists) with David Brown (Bucketrider, Candlesnuffer, Western Grey, Pateras Baxter Brown). Pity.

I found the quartet of Mick Turner (of Dirty Three, on guitar), Francis Plagne (guitar), Evelyn Morris (of Pikelet and True Radical Miracle, on drums) and Erkki Veltheim (Twitch, Australian Art Orchestra on viola) OK, but not overwhelming, and why Plagne played with his back to the audience was a mystery. Maybe he found an audience made it hard to concentrate.

All stops out: Anthony Pateras

So to the standouts, for me. Bennink and Brotzmann were strong, relentless and cathartic. Bennink with Anthony Pateras on the grand organ was an amazing and beautiful thing. Great idea, executed flawlessly. The organ had the oomph to cope with Bennink’s madness.

Grabowsky prepares for piano

Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress
Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress

Sean Baxter on drums and percussion with Paul Grabowsky on piano was another superb combination. In the end Baxter stole the show, but they were perfect together.

Han Bennink in action at Melbourne Town Hall
Han Bennink returns …

Brotzmann and Bennink revisited was again something special, but what lifted it beyond that was their final collaboration with the Embers Big Band. Embers members Adam Simmons (various saxophones), Dave Brown (electric microtonal bass) and Sean Baxter (drum kit and junk) and Kris Wanders (tenor saxophone) joined Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio) on double bass. Greg Kingston‘s guitar seemed to be largely lost in the mayhem.

Kris Wanders
Kris Wanders

When Wanders joined Brotzmann and then Adam Simmons for a sax armageddon the audience was in raptures.

Sax armageddon
Sax armageddon

David Brown on guitar and pedals intervened at just the right moments, backed ably by Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio). And then there was the duel of sorts between Bennink and the drummer with the hair (Kram from Spiderbait). It was all beyond words, and beyond expectations. What a buzz for performers and for the rapt audience, who left exhausted, but fulfilled.

For more on Overground at Melbourne Town Hall, Mess and Noise has plenty.


Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke and the Black Jesus Experience

What a change of pace. All that noise and full-on duelling of the Embers Big Band subsided gradually in my head on the walk to The Forum as I mentally switched gears for Ethio-jazz. The Forum was an ideal venue for a spectacle and when The Black Jesus Experience came on stage with James Arben on sax there was all the atmosphere — and a smoke machine and coloured spotlights — of a big rock concert or stage spectacular.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

But amid all the fuss, Mulatu Astatke seemed to exude calm and generosity of spirit. This was not some rock star with an air of importance, but a man content to make his gentle contribution among the assembled musicians and, obviously, to delight in doing it. He was attentive to the other musicians and at other times seemed lost in reverie as he played.

I did not catch all the names of tunes played, but there were some from the film Broken Flowers, a Heliocentrics piece entitled Cha Cha, another called Chic Chica, one called The Dawn and “one composed for myself” entitled simply Mulatu.

I did not know what to expect, but probably something a lot more energetic and even hip-hop oriented — I don’t know why. As it turned out most of the concert seemed to be gentle and celebratory, with repetitive rhythms and subtle variations. I’d need to listen to more to be able to adequately describe the music. But it was pleasant without being get-out-of-your-seat-and-start-dancing music.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

There was some excellent musicianship from Souren Tchakerian on percussion, Peter Harper on alto sax, Ian Dixon on horn and Pat Kearney on drums, but I thought James Arben (Heliocentrics) on saxophone was fairly disappointing. A real standout was the keyboard playing of Thai Matus — he was quiet for most of the gig, then erupted with energy and fire, lit appropriately by a red spot. Great stuff.

Thai Matus
On fire: True Live keyboardist Thai Matus

All up, and perhaps I was suffering from the effects of Overground, this concert was not one to set the pulse racing or the blood flowing. It was a nice opportunity to chill in the club-like atmosphere of The Forum.

Mulatu and BJE

Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Big Arse Sunday

For a change, possibly because of an overlap with Stonnington’s festival, the Fringe decided to hold its Big Arse Sunday gigs on the first Sunday. There was enough music, but not quite enough bums on seats to make the day sizzle — Mother’s Day may have contributed — but the snags and vegie burgers were sizzling on the barbie at Fitzroy Bowling Club.

I missed the first set, by TIP — Ren Walters on guitar, Chris Bekker on electric bass and Niko Schauble on drums, but arrived in time to hear a deep sound from the back of the room.

Men In Suits

Men In Suits

It was a dreadful error, but somehow a large group of case workers from an intergalactic welfare agency — chosen because of their ability to blend in — had been booked for this eight-hour jazz gig. On a mission to probe the strange behaviour of Earth’s suit-clad males who regularly are drawn inexorably to the city each day, Men in Suits streamed through the Fringe audience singing, “I’ve got very important things to do, I’ve got very important things to do, Let me through, Let me through…”

Directed by Stephen Taberner, they assembled before the stage — which had been piled with beautifully restored instrument cases — to amuse and entertain with vocally rich dissertations upon the lives of office-bound males. “One day I will break free,” they sang. “Just because I work 9 to 5, doesn’t mean my fantasies won’t come alive.”

Apparently men in suits (as opposed to our visiting choristers) just need “a good cuddle”, but “we won’t be giving them one”. Instead, we were treated to a Georgian lullaby, Waiting for the Lift and a De-lilah-tful explanation of why men grow beards (to the tune of Tom Jones’s Delilah), with such gems as: “Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t shave any more” and “I stroked my beard with my hand, and she laughed no more”.

Their encore was a Georgian song of welcome that “we forgot to sing earlier”, apparently written during an intergalactic visit much earlier. The vocal ensemble of 23 plus Taberner as playing coach and choirmaster was a treat, not only because they were unexpected and could sing unaccompanied with great ability, but also because they were highly amusing.

It is worth taking a look at the antics of Men In Suits as recorded online.

Men in Suits

Form X

It was about when Form X appeared on stage that the lights shooting across the floor from the disco ball entered my consciousness. It seemed so not Fringe, and yet entirely appropriate amid the honour boards and bowling paraphenalia. Form X has been around for 4-5 months and consists of Lachlan McLean on sax, Eugene Ball trumpet, Mac Hannaford piano (Roland), Mike Story double bass and Aaron Mcoullough drums.

Marc Hannaford

The quintet seemed to work really well, with each musician attentive and responsive. There was a lot to like, many mood changes, always a sense of involvement and many passages in which a journey to a destination — the process — was as engrossing as the end to which they were heading. They played McLean’s compositions Chimera, Finding Our Way Around, You’re All There and Morphobic.

Ball and McLean

In Finding Our Way Around the rich tone and searing, soaring notes from Ball were deeply satisfying, and Hannaford showed intense focus and concentration that continued throughout the set, so that he often seemed a linchpin for the group.

McLean and Story

Story began You’re All There with a solo full of feeling and McLean soon introduced a swing feel, which, when Hannaford got into fully it, had the band really humming. Solemn piano slowed things, then the pace quickened again and Hannaford was really going for it with Mcoullough and Story. Ball really fired with some piercing attacks before the piece ended.

In Morphobic, some slow, regal horns surrrendered to such an easy, roaming sax that you could sink back into it and lie there, fully supported. The ending was all soaring strength and majesty.


Tom Fryer

The origin of Kewti — the trio of Tom Fryer on fretless guitar, Adrian Sherriff on bass trombone and Adam King on drums and percussion — is unknown to me, but after hearing their “quarter tone and other microtonal” music I doubt the name is a take on “cutie”.

Fryer explained after they had opened with Addis Ababa that “those with good ears will notice that we’ve been playing the notes between the frets, so if it sounds a bit unusual, that’s why”. My ears had detected a fair bit of crash and bash from King, some good rattling and rasping from Sherriff and a fairly muddled, distorted and muddied sound from Fryer’s guitar. It was not at all pretty, and that’s OK. It was rhythmically strong, but I was not being drawn into the music.


The second piece, called Cheesy Pete (or something remotely like that) began with slow guitar, metal-disc percussion and some eerie, wandering notes from Sherriff. The tempo picked up and the meandering, mournful guitar took me to somewhere in the Middle East, with Sherriff echoing the sorrowful tones. This was more my cup of sour grapes and I was totally absorbed by the shimmering and growling notes, and muffled blaring of the bass trombone, with drums behind. The technicalities of playing between the frets were beyond me, but at least we were able to sample the effects.

I did not catch the title of the third piece, but the fourth — Dreaming of Ornette — used an “equidistant octatonic scale”, Fryer said. The result was interesting, but not that enticing. It seemed to produce a flat sound, or desaturated if that makes any sense. At one stage Fryer did a pretty good imitation of a rocket taking off — it was pretty hot stuff from him on guitar before the sudden finish.

Adam King

I probably have not done Kewti justice. There was some enthusiastic applause. Until I catch them again, I’ll study my intervals and scales.

Aunty Richard

Joel Woolf

Melburnites may know of Aunty Richard through their album Leaf Blower, released last year. It seemed a pity that we could not roll out a bigger crowd to welcome this Sydney quartet after their long drive, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The tall, lean one on sax (above) was Joel Woolf, accompanied by Franco Raggart on guitar, Trent Prees on electric bass and Tim Firth on drums.

Aunty Richard seemed to be pretty sprightly — the sort of energetic, vivacious aunt who might take you to the circus and leave with one of the jugglers. They played some pieces from Leaf BlowerI Don’t Know Yet, Los Angeles, Jellyfish and the title track — plus Anyway, which they said was inspired by Joy Division, and another piece I thought was titled “Kiki”.

Trent Prees

They played jazz infused with rock and funk, including some great sax and guitar solos. Oddly, none of us clapped after a low, breathy solo by Woolf in “Kiki”. Los Angeles included some melodic sax up high, backed by appealing harmonies from Raggatt, and Prees’s bass teamed well with the guitar before a jaunty, syncopated interlude and the return of the guitar harmonies. The audience (or some of us) didn’t quite know when the piece was finished.

Franco Raggatt

After a lyrical opening, Anyway took on a rock vibe, but it was momentary — the players reveled in changes of pace and mood. In time Raggart treated us to some guitar playing that brought to mind John Scofield and James Muller from Wangaratta Festival of Jazz ’08. This was definitely a jazz quartet that would have broad appeal. Jellyfish included a long drum solo and Leaf Blower had heaps of energy and drive, with the sax going high and strong, and guitar, bass and drums burning.

It’s a pity the Aunty could not hang about and visit a few of Melbourne’s plentiful jazz haunts.

Ball Magnusson Talia

Magnusson Ball Talia

And now, Phil Bywater said, for the “delicate textures” of Eugene Ball, Stephen Magnusson and Joe Talia. They were recently on stage together at the Melbourne Recital Centre immediately before Charlie Haden’s Quartet West during the Melbourne International Jazz Festival — in the pale blue lighting and otherwise darkened auditorium they performed a moving set. Here at the Fitzroy Bowling Club it was going to be harder to achieve the same atmosphere.

Eugene Ball

They opened with P is for Pumpkin, followed by Never Let Me Go. And I drifted into a reflection on the ease of Ball’s trumpet notes: It’s not just that they soar; sometimes they are twisted, bent and at other times they seem bent on capturing the essence of beauty, a richness, a “thick” sound that is retained even at higher registers.

Still musing: This solo is not hurried, it has pauses. It flows along, but seems to lack any pressure. Then there is some vibrato, then a long note that can take you away on a mystic journey. To applaud would be to disturb the mood.

Stephen Magnusson

Still in Never Let Me Know, Magnusson adds punctuation, punching in some notes before backing off to let Ball shilly-shally, then oh-so-lightly burble along before sudden attacks from the guitar, with Talia heating things up on drums. “Plucked” is too weak a term to describe these Magnusson notes, which soon become a city of sounds — a sea would be too calm. Talia intervenes only when necessary as they work towards a discordant, sudden finish.

Joe Talia

After that the lads played Goggles, Lush Life — with a jaunty, precocious rhythm — and the faster Splendid, in which Magnusson and Ball seemed to follow different paths for a while before Talia gathered them in with the beat, and Magnusson played a great solo. In a closing piece, TM, at the request of the organisers, Ball sent out a light, fluttering vibrato that must have flown away into the night streets to do mischief.

Another great set to whet our appetites for a recording from Ball, Magnusson, Talia … or is it Magnusson, Talia, Ball … or …

The Vanguards

It was late at night and time for “Muddy Waters meets Kraftwerk” in the form of the Vanguards: Dale Lindrea (vocals and electric bass), Dai “Jukebox” Jones (vocals and guitar), Dean Hilson (saxophone) and Mark Grunden (drums). What a pity the raucous crowd ready to hit the dance floor had not developed, leaving two hardy enthusiasts to do all the moves as the Vanguards treated us to some toe-tapping, rockin’ numbers.


Towards the end of the set, Dai took up the bass and Dale unpacked his guitar and cranked up the knobs and pedals. If there had been a crowded dance floor, it would have lit up for Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which capped off another memorable Big Arse Sunday in style.