Tag Archives: Cafe 303

THE OUTER LIMITS

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

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

Advertisements

Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Day 7

Downstream Label Launch

It was a strong turnout at 3RRR for the three gigs marking the launch of Downstream Music, a label that’s really a collective aimed at selling some CDs and getting people out to hear some live music. The main movers and shakers are drummers Ronny Ferella and Sam Price, with help from guitarist Geoff Hughes’s new studio. The new albums include Mandala’s I’ll Stop When You Stop, Sam Price’s Rand, Ish Ish’s End of A Line, Casma’s Whist, Not This Not That’s All This For That, and Streamers’ Multiverse. All are available through Downstream Music.

The Gravikords

Gravikords

For the first set, Hughes and Ferella were joined by Ben Hauptmann on acoustic guitar and electric mandolin, and Sophie Dunn on violin to play Ferella’s Retreat ‘Til One, Hauptmann’s Congo, Ferella’s What Is This? (a tune he heard on radio, taped and transcribed, because he really liked it), and Hauptmann’s Ben’s Other Tune.

Ben Hauptmann

It was all fairly restrained, with Ferella and Hughes lost in their rhythms and patterns, Dunn adding contrast, plaintive notes at times and then wandering alongside the others in a folk style. Mandolin and guitar interracted well in What Is This?, and in Ben’s Other Tune Hauptmann on acoustic guitar was in a holding pattern with Ferella while Hughes and Dunn carried out their explorations.

Sophie Dunn

Sam Price solo

Sam Price

In this set it was just Sam Price and a laptop and a drum kit. It was billed as sounding “like organic machinery”. Whatever Price had programmed on the laptop was released in stages, demanding responses on the drums. Occasionally the drum kit sounds were fed into the laptop and that led to further responses on drums. Price said later that he had to learn a programming language to do this.

My responses were various, and included lots of questions. I was wondering: Are the laptop sounds randomly generated, with Price responding? Does he know what’s coming? Are the drum sounds feeding into the laptop and re-emerging? Does it matter how music is made or only what it is like to experience? What is sound and what is music?

I found the sudden changes initiated from the laptop a bit disconcerting. It seemed a little like a drumming class with tapes that demanded a response. I thought if I were a drummer (hardly likely) I would prefer to play with other musicians. Before the piece ended, Price built momentum and generated a lot of energy. The whole concept was challenging and intriguing.

Mandala

Hughes, Ferella

It had been a long week of music and I needed a wake-up. Mandala did the trick. The first 20-minute piece began gently enough, with Ferella using “bells” for percussion and Hughes adding some feedback effects. Then Ferella initiated some sudden, but muffled, attacks and Hughes allowed his input to swell. Hannaford injected single notes. There were strong, robust, spiky inputs from each member of the trio, with short, sharp bursts and a progression until guitar and drums were creating a physical response situation — that lovely state when the body of the listener responds physically to the sounds produced. They calmed it down near the end.

Marc Hannaford

Ferella said, “The only thing this band can do consistently is play for 20 minutes, so we’ll play for another 20.” And they did, though I certainly wasn’t thinking about the duration of the piece, which was gripping and great. The musicians seemed totally immersed, with no interaction obvious by looks or signs, yet it was there in the music. Hughes produced an engrossing solo, and later some “tweeting” and deep, resonant notes. Ferella contributed some top “cymbal-ic” moments. Hannaford was focused, making key interventions. This was a therapeutic, cathartic experience.

Geoff Hughes

Maybe these live moments can never be captured on recordings. Nothing beats being there. But the Downstream albums are a pointer to what’s out there if you just take the risk and leave the house for a live gig.

The rest of the Fringe

I had a Stonnington gig next evening that clashed with the Zoe Frater Quintet outing at Cafe 303 with vocals by Carl Panuzzo, and I could not make Short Arse Sunday with the Alcohotlicks. It was a pity not to be in at the finish of the Fringe Festival for 2009, but no doubt it finished on a high note. Once again the organisers, all of them musicians, made it a great festival.

Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Day 6

Frisell — Music inspired or written by Bill Frisell

Phil Bywater made a point after the first set at Uptown Jazz Cafe that the Fringe Festival had come up with the idea of having a Bill Frisell tribute before the Melbourne International Jazz Festival decided to invite him to Melbourne. When the Fringe organisers heard he was coming, the invited him to stay over for the Fringe gig, but he had other commitments. But it didn’t matter, because in the audience we decided Bill was with us in spirit.

Frank Di Sario and Luke Howard

A few years back I used to catch Frank Di Sario in a trio with Peter Knight on trumpet and Lucas Michailidis on guitar, and at one gig they added a cellist, at the Charles Street Bar in Seddon (it’s now a restaurant — popular, but not hosting live music). They were playing some pretty out there totally improvised and unrehearsed stuff that was just intense and wonderful.

Luke Howard

That’s not really relevant, except that Howard and Di Sario did rehearse three times for this set, which consisted of three pieces and was also wonderful. The feel of the set recalled the Andrea Keller/Geoff Hughes gig at Cafe 303 on the Monday (see Fringe, Day 4 in this blog). The instrumentation was different — though the Roland at Uptown Jazz Cafe did lean towards the fuzzy, thick sound of Keller’s Nord — but that didn’t prevent there being a similarity. Like Keller and Hughes, Di Sario and Howard produced music that was totally engrossing — introspective music in which it was easy to become totally absorbed.

Di Sario

They played Frisell’s Small Hands, from the Second Sight album by Bass Desires (a quartet of Frisell, with John Scofield also on guitar, Peter Erskine on drums and bassist Marc Johnson as band leader), and Probability Cloud, from the 2008 History, Mystery album Frisell released with an octet. Small Hands was in good hands with Di Sario and Howard, who created a dreamy surrealism helped by the soft, pink and blue lighting. Probability Cloud called for some faster, more complex bass, and quicker keyboard. Howard achieved some nice puddling in the mud of slightly dissonant chords before that signature of Frisell’s — the slowly repeating and developing motif — carried the piece to its conclusion. It was superb stuff.

Di Sario

Di Sario announced the final piece as a standard not often heard —My Old Flame, which I learned later was composed by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston and sung by Mae West in the film Belle of the Nineties. We heard “yeah” a few times as both players were getting into the groove and feeding off their enthusiasm in each other’s efforts. I think we could all have listened to more from these two.

Jacqueline Gawler with Fran Swinn and Tamara Murphy

Jacqueline Gawler

Instead of Fall 10X being on next, we were treated to vocals by composer, lyricist and percussionist Jacqueline Gawler, also appears with vocal quintet Coco’s Lunch, Stoneflower and the Jacqueline Gawler Band, accompanied by bassist Tamara Murphy and guitarist Fran Swinn, who is a member of the JGB.

Murphy and Swinn

I had to leave before the set was over, but heard the first three numbers — Frisell’s Strange Meeting, from the albums Live and This Land, another Frisell tune the name of which I did not catch, and a quirky Gawler original she said had its genesis on a flight to Canada while testing how long she could continue writing under the influence of sleeping pills. Apparently the writing began to tilt up the page until the song emerged: When passengers write poetry and flight attendants sing.

Gawler

I might as well own up to finding it difficult to write about vocals, or at least more difficult than about instrumental music. Gawler used her voice as more than merely a vehicle for words and was able to float her notes to form a rich texture over, within and around the bass and guitar. Under the influence of sleeping pills, she appeared to become sultry and possibly keen to wrap her arms around passing passsengers or singing attendants in full flight.

Murphy and Swinn

The guitar and bass — at times bowed — worked really effectively, creating a wonderful fluidity with the voice.

The spirit of Bill Frisell seemed to be hovering close to the bar as I stole away into the night.

Some more pictures from the gig:

Gawler

Gawler, Murphy, Swinn

Gawler