Tag Archives: BMW Edge

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 6

FORUM ON IDENTITY AT THE WHEELER CENTRE

Paul Grabowsky was the consummate moderator for this discussion, which had in the panel Charles Lloyd, Martin Jackson, Theo Bleckmann and, at late notice, Gian Slater. It was a great success and I understand it was recorded for broadcast on the ABC. They covered a lot of ground, starting with how jazz is defined, how the local scene had changed, and the ways in which genres and demarcations in music are being broken down.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd

Lloyd related a story from Bernie Grundman, who masters Lloyd’s albums, about a friend who took a much younger girlfriend at Bennetts Beach. She came in to find him listening to Bill Evans and, surprised, commented: “You actually listen to music”. Lloyd said music was “healing” and could “change the molecules in the room”.

Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann looks for people who listen

Bleckmann asked the Wheeler Centre audience how many actually listened to music without doing anything else, and was surprised at how many hands went up. He was optimistic about how being part of the music scene, buying albums, going to gigs and talking about the music was valuable.

Lloyd called for wakefulness to avoid the sleepwalking that “is wanted by a certain society”.

Martin Jackson
Martin Jackson

Jackson said he was not pessimistic about the Melbourne sccene, only about state politicians. He thanked Sophie Brous for having done “a fantastic job with this festival” and, in a moving comment, recalled not having listened to any music for 3-4 days after his father died and splitting from a long-time partner. It was in Coltrane’s music that he eventually found solace.

These are only a few snippets from this forum. Forums are a great idea and there should be more of them. My only reservation in this instance was that Slater, who was given late notice that Allan Browne could not make it, and Bleckmann did not get a chance to say quite as much. Perhaps the number of panelists could be reduced, but probably it is just how things work out on the day.

Gian Slater
Gian Slater

DOUBLE BILL: JASON MORAN SOLO at BMW Edge

After the forum I hurried to BMW Edge for a short, but engrossing set by Jason Moran on piano. Opening with the words “This is a piano”, Moran let loose an assortment of sampled voices and sounds. This was clearly not going to be an ordinary piano recital. Among the words that flowed as Moran played were (I think) Edward VIII saying, “At long last I am able to say a few words of my own”, Nikita Khrushchev saying to Richard Nixon, “The time has passed when ideas scare us”, and Jelly Roll Morton saying, “Jazz is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm. When you have plenty rhythm with your plenty swing, it becomes beautiful.”

In a piece written by or for Moran’s former teacher Jaki Byard, there were tempo changes, a ragtime melody, strong chords followed by dancing notes, varied dynamics, plosive outbursts and beautiful runs up and down the keyboard before a fragment of familiar melody. Moran changed the mood on a dime, so to speak. He then played in sync with a talking woman’s voice as she prattled about breaking down barriers between the art world and the general public. Magic, inventive stuff.

Moran seemed to improvise to electronic static in his penultimate piece, which gradually assumed a hymn-like feel. His clearly defined notes were unhurried, rich in resonance and simple, with some sharp, dissonant attacks. He turned up the volume on sampling in his final number.

As Moran would say in his forum appearance on Saturday, the rich jazz tradition from which he has emerged is important to him, but that still leaves him the freedom to appreciate excursions away from that tradition. His solo appearance bears that out.

Jason Moran
Jason Moran

AHMAD JAMAL at Melbourne Recital Centre

Unwisely I left at the break and dashed to the Recital Centre for Ahmad Jamal, but was too unsettled there. Switching concerts is almost always a mistake, I find, because it is hard to approach the new gig in anything but a rushed frame of mind.
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I had wanted to hear the second set at the Edge, so I was not as receptive to Ahmad Jamal’s quartet — James Cammack on bass, Manolo Badrena on percussion and Herlin Riley on drums (replacing Kenny Washington) — as I should have been. The music seemed too lush and splendiforous, the piano playing too expansive and lacking the space.

Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I was forced to fend off Melbourne Recital Centre staff who thought I was filming video, and then (the last straw) I was asked to move out of the seat I had been told to sit in when I arrived. I left and returned to BMW Edge. An enduring image as I left was of Manolo Badrena surrounded by what seemed like a barricade of percussion devices, almost as though he was performing from a cage. In fact the ensemble seemed to have a lot of clutter on stage and that seemed to suit the extravagance and fussiness of their music. I longed for a piercing horn note or a single piano note to hang shimmering in the air.

Manolo Badrena
Manolo Badrena

So I left and returned to the Edge. That was a great gig.

DOUBLE BILL:
OEHLERS, HARLAND, GRABOWSKY, ROGERS at BMW Edge

Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers
Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers

Somehow it was easy to reconnect to this gig, despite missing the start of the set. My feeling is that as the set progressed there was gradually more integration between these four highly skilled players. Of course that is just an impression, but it felt for a while we were feeling lots of energy, but that Oehlers was a little more muted than usual and that Grabowsky was able to hold his own (again, there’s that competitive metaphor) against Rogers and Harland.

Reuben Rogers
Reuben Rogers

But later in the set Oehlers let go in a long solo and that seemed to establish his presence, so that this robust quartet was able to drive towards an engrossing finish that helped obliterate my abortive bid earlier to switch venues. I doubt that many left the Edge unsatisfied with the Double Bill.

Harland and Oehlers
Harland and Oehlers

THE CLAUDIA QUINTET at Bennetts Lane.

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

Chris Speed and Drew Gress
Chris Speed and Drew Gress

Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman
Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman

Drew Gress
Drew Gress

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

More details and pics to come.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 4

CHARLES LLOYD NEW QUARTET
AT MELBOURNE RECITAL CENTRE
ANDREA KELLER QUARTET OPENING

It’s always exciting to hear an artist perform if you have interviewed them, and I had spent an hour and a half on the phone to Charles Lloyd. So I was ready for this concert — just not ready enough to be early, so the usual parking scramble ensued.

Andrea Keller Quartet
Andrea Keller Quartet

The opening, all-too-short set was exactly what was needed. Keller aired some beautifully crafted and melodic compositions with the help of Ian Whitehurst on tenor sax, Eugene Ball on trumpet and Simon Barker on drums. There was plenty of space in these pieces, suiting the venue, and the piano held sway (why do I say it that way if music is not a contest?). The horns were aptly understated and Barker displayed his usual finesse.

I always think it is a significant loss when patrons don’t bother to turn up until the main event, so to speak. The local support bands are almost always excellent. And this opening set was enticingly bewitching, so that Keller’s mob of Aussies could have played on and we wouldn’t have been too upset … well, a little, perhaps.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Charles Lloyd New Quartet

On Day 5 of this festival, at the Australian Art Orchestra’s tribute to Miles Davis, a member of the audience from Adelaide enthused about the Charles Lloyd New Quartet concert. He said there was something special about the performance, that Lloyd “had an aura about him”.

Often in interviews Lloyd describes himself as “a dreamer”. “I’m born into the world, but I don’t really fit into it,” he says. And there is a sense that, as the title of the quartet’s first encore piece on Tuesday night suggested, he is just Passin’ Thru. Other pieces played — Prayer, Dream Weaver: Meditation, Requiem, Booker’s Garden, The Water is Wide and the closing Silvio Rodriguez composition Rabo De Nube (tail of a cloud) — all point to Lloyd’s head space, to where he’s at, so to speak.

As the notes of Prayer floated across the auditorium, serenity seemed to settle on those assembled. When Lloyd spoke, it with his characteristic grace and humility. “We are honoured to be here. We don’t understand the planet or how they’ve worked the game out, but we still want to play this music,” he said.

Lloyd Quartet
Charles Lloyd plays, Reuben Rogers listens

Lloyd’s playing, on tenor sax and alto flute, was sublime. He is obviously in the moment and being guided by what wells up within him as well as what Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums were bringing — and that was plenty. But Lloyd may play a little in the way he talks, which is to be open to ideas that flow in and be ready to follow. Occasionally he loses his way. How would I really know if that happens when he plays, but on one instance in one piece — perhaps Booker’s Garden — I did think it was beautiful, but was drifting around for a while rather than going anywhere.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Reuben Rogers

One thing I liked particularly was the spring in Lloyd’s step when he returned to play after solos by Moran (absolutely outstanding) and Rogers. It was great to feel the swing creep in so gently to the music and to note how little it took for Lloyd to almost imperceptibly introduce that tiny swing feel that transformed the music. Harland helped, of course. As Lloyd mentioned in his BMW Edge Masterclass, Tommy Dorsey is famous for saying “Nice guys are a dime a dozen. Give me a prick who swings.”

Jason Moran
Sound seeker: Lloyd listens, Jason Moran plays

Space is vital in music, and this quartet demonstrated that so well. A pause can say so much. It can create such expectation that it makes you will the music to continue and that gives energy and drive. This band was so great. They worked together so well, demonstrating that Lloyd being a few years more advanced in age was no impediment.

And they took us away to a higher plane for a sweet while. Rabo De Nube, Lloyd said in my interview, “translates as ‘I wish I could be the tail of a cloud and come down to wash away your tears.’”

They did.

[My thanks to intrepid music writer and broadcaster Jessica Nicholas for passing on the set list]

Melbourne International Jazz Festival — Day 2

IT was a dilemma: the hardly ever serious Actis Dato at BMW Edge or the seriously promoted and popular Katie Noonan’s Blackbird Project at Hamer Hall, along with the boys from FGHR (drummer Daniel Farrugia, guitarist Leonard Grigoryan, pianist Luke Howard and bassist Ben Robertson) in the supporting role. As usual, I timed things badly, dropping in to hear the Italian antics, but leaving in a bid to catch FGHR. Bad move, because the half-hour interval at Hamer Hall began soon after I arrived.

Actis Dato perform at BMW Edge

Actis Dato (Carlo Actis Dato, sax and bass clarinet, Beppe Di Filippo, alto saxophone, Daniele Bertone, drums, Matteo Ravizza, electric bass) launched energetically into what might have been titled “Pantas del Fuego” (suggesting visions of flaming trousers, but billed as a northern Italian political song), which was loads of fun. With verve and vitality they set feet tapping, repeating rhythmic patterns and indulging in lots of pointing, jumping and hip shaking. Was there a screaming blowfly on stage?

A face-off began Perestroika, with the horn players folding their arms as they eyed each other in mock aggression. It seemed so full-on that I wondered whether they would ever vary the pace. In what might have been titled Che Guevara, the horns were in unison, the drummer did some pa rum pum pum pum, al la the Little Drummer Boy, and the guitarist finally made his presence felt.

Actis Dato seemed to be drawing on folk, gypsy and African influences, but the categories are irrelevant. It was racy and often raucous, but also beautifully melodic and engagingly rhythmic.

Katie Noonan and friends perform at Hamer Hall

So, off to the Hamer Hall, where the interval was uneventful. Then, Katie Noonan’s Blackbird Project — the songs of Lennon McCartney — brought us 12 songs plus an encore, with Zac Hurren on tenor sax, Sam Keevers (who wrote the charts) on piano, Stephen Magnusson (is he everywhere?) on guitar, Brett Hirst on bass and Simon Barker on drums. They were all in suits — except Katie.

To put my cards on the table, and no discredit to Katie Noonan, but I’m not a fan of her voice, though many people seem to love its purity. The audience reaction seemed positive, but I wondered how fans of the original songs reacted to these interpretations. In Yesterday, Noonan’s voice was the only source of melody, which might have challenged some. And in the instrumental Norwegian Wood, Hurren seemed too abrasive and the arrangement too “out there” for such a beautiful song.

I began to warm to the project by the seventh song, Across the Universe, when Magnusson was (as always) magnificent and Noonan’s voice soared up with the special-effects smoke for the line “nothing’s gonna change my world”. And in Lennon’s In My Life, there was more guts and feeling to Noonan’s vocals, backed by great guitar.

When Noonan sang her favourite lyric — “Each one believing that love never dies, Watching her eyes and hoping I’m always there” — in Here There and Everywhere, accompanied by only guitar and bass, the result was most effective. What was happening? Some great solos in Fool on the Hill were followed by Noonan showing much more of the depth and power of her voice in The Long and Winding Road, ending with great expression in the line “lead me to your door”. Was I being won over?

In Eleanor Rigby there was heaps of energy, with variations in the timing and rhythm, Hurren going for it on sax and Magnusson standing for a solo before Noonan delivered some rapid-fire v0cals and sustained notes. The audience called for more and Katie Noonan returned to the stage with Brett Hirst for some vocal improvisation in I Will.

Can I say the concert ended on a high note? (Sorry). But I concede that I was more impressed than I expected. Let’s hear more of Noonan digging deeper into her vocal range.