Tag Archives: Ceridwen Davies

WHEN KEITH JARRETT COMPLAINED

Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie

REVIEW

Sarah McKenzie Quartet and Silo String Quartet, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Friday 16 August 2013

Sarah McKenzie piano, vocals; Hugh Stuckey guitar; Hugh Harvey drums; Tamara Murphy bass

Aaron Barnden violin, Andrea Keeble violin, Ceridwen Davies viola, Caerwen Martin cello

There’s a story in every gig, and in this outing it came in the second set, when we learned that we would be treated to a song dedicated to Keith Jarrett. Not because he was such an inspiration, but because — surprise, surprise — Mr Jarrett made a complaint. More on this story later.

In May 2011, patrons at the opening night of Stonnington Jazz (see Ausjazz review) heard Sarah McKenzie as entertainer, engaging and captivating the audience with her evident love of performing music she loved.

A year later, McKenzie again opened the festival (see Ausjazz review), but this time as arranger, composer and musical director of a big band, Graeme Lyall’s impressive Generations in Jazz Big Band from Mount Gambier.

A lot of water had passed under the bridge since then. In 2012 McKenzie’s second album, Close Your Eyes, received the ARIA award for Best Jazz Album and after a visit to the Umbria Jazz Festival she was invited to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, US. She made a flying visit back to Melbourne in June to be musical director in Everybody Wants to Rule the World, a concert of jazz covers, pop and rock masterpieces on the opening night of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Sarah McKenzie Quartet, Silo String Quartet

Sarah McKenzie Quartet, Silo String Quartet

McKenzie came to Bennetts Lane with some significant firepower. Apart from her new quartet line-up with Hugh Harvey on drums and Tamara Murphy on bass, she had the considerable talent of the Silo String Quartet. McKenzie also brought arrangements for the string quartet by two of her Berklee colleagues, Saunder Choi (Philippines) and George Mathew Dylan Varner-Hartley (Canada).

McKenzie’s talent for and love of arranging was evident from the opening Bye Bye Blackbird, but first set highlights were her versions of Sting’s Fragile, the standard I Won’t Dance and, to close, Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary, which wowed the audience, showcased her skill on piano and demonstrated the appeal of her phrasing.

I’m far from an expert on vocals, but the full timbre, depth and power in McKenzie’s voice is often hinted at — albeit very gratifyingly — rather than given a real workout in the songs she chooses. Given edgier material I believe she could let loose and really challenge herself, with great results.

Silo String Quartet

Silo String Quartet

The Silo quartet added a smooth, rich feel to Little Girl Blue, I Remember You (arranged by Dylan Varner-Hartley) and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (arranged by Saunder Choi), which gave space to Mckenzie’s vocals over slow work in unison by the strings.

The night’s highlights came in the second set. There were many, but I felt the set went on a little too long, so that the sense of a slow build was lost. The final song, At Last, displayed the strength of McKenzie’s vocals, but it seemed a pity to close without the Silo String Quartet on stage.

The second last piece, Gershwin’s beautiful Embraceable You, was rendered superbly and showed excellent interaction between Stuckey’s guitar and the strings, yet perhaps could have been played earlier in the night.

Ceridwen Davies, Caerwen Martin

Ceridwen Davies, Caerwen Martin

That said, this set brought us great arrangements from Dylan Varner-Hartley (for You’ve Changed) and Tamara Murphy (for I’m Through With Love), the latter bringing a nice exchange between strings and voice. McKenzie’s treatment of Big Yellow Taxi was, as always, adept and carefully crafted.

Harvey’s drums fired up behind guitar in Come On Home to set the scene for McKenzie to show us how well she sings the blues, showing dynamic variation, power and the facility to bend notes. Nice work.

I felt it would have been good to have the Silo String Quartet let off the leash at times in this concert, but their skilful work in Little Fluffy Clouds and Falling Water, two of five pieces from their Cloud Suite, was a real highlight. How good is it to go to a jazz gig and enjoy a string quartet that can improvise so ably. 

Sarah McKenzie and Silo String Quartet

Sarah McKenzie and Silo String Quartet

But the standout for me came at the start of the second set, when McKenzie treated us to three of her original compositions. In the first, Letter to Lover, she split the audience into three and had us sing harmonies, which was a lot of fun.

Aaron Barnden, Sarah McKenzie

Aaron Barnden, Sarah McKenzie

Then came I Loves You Porgy, written a few days earlier in a beach shack on the Great Ocean Road and dedicated to Keith Jarrett, “who gave us a noise complaint at the Umbria Jazz Festival”. Apparently the “noise” from McKenzie’s band was reaching into another venue, annoying Mr Jarrett.

It was followed by an instrumental piece, There Were Three Ships, written in the Kimberley, featuring first violin Aaron Barnden with McKenzie and a lovely interlude by piano, bass and drums.

These three originals clearly showed that McKenzie could come up with an album of original material.

There is a lot to Sarah McKenzie. Yes, she is a natural entertainer who loves to play with standards and can work with a big band or string quartet. But I think the three original songs in this outing proved that the vocalist and pianist can not only extend herself with edgier, more challenging works, but also has a bright future as a songwriter.

ROGER MITCHELL

Sarah McKenzie Quartet and Silo String Quartet, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Friday 23 August, 9pm

Picture gallery: Some additional images

Advertisements

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

MELBOURNE JAZZ FRINGE 2009 — COMMISSION CONCERT

Gian Slater

Gian Slater and the Silo String Quartet

THE Melbourne Jazz Fringe opened at the Iwaki Auditorium hard on the heels of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and will overlap Stonnington Jazz by a day or two. It’s great to have all this live music, but perhaps it would be better if they were spaced a little apart on the calendar. It makes it hard for popular media to sustain interest when they are bombarded with all this jazz. Still, bring on the music.

Before this moving set, Gian Slater paid tribute to Will Poskitt — the pianist who worked with her on the soon-to-be released album Creatures at the Crossroads and who has since died. Slater said this was her chance to keep the music alive and also to honour her “very dear friend”.

She sang four songs from the album: Mrs Stalwart, Fall and Trust, Love and Hard Work (shared on the album by singer songwriter Lior) and Predators. Despite the control and clarity of Slater’s voice, my imperfect ears were unable at times to pick up the words, which I was sorry about, because they seemed to be worth pondering. It was Slater’s “first go” at writing for strings, but voice and strings seemed almost always to be perfectly complementary. Only when the voice was its most fragile was it overtaken as the strings blended, then moved gently away, leaving Slater to soar and dip — at times suddenly, with emotion.

Indeed, so seamless was the symbiosis between voice and strings that it seemed hard to see the Quartet members as other than the intended or original backing players — in other words, Slater’s writing worked, due to the sensitivity of the Silo players, Aaron Barnden (first violin), Andrea Keeble (second violin),
Ceridwen Davies (viola) and Caerwen Martin (cello).

Slater conveyed vulnerability and strength, coupled with lyrics that prompted reflection. In Love and Hard Work, she sang, “Love is a burden, it softens my shield … it could be a weapon against me.” In Predators her lyrics and vocal delivery captured the fears and susceptibility of children to harm.

The set was over all too soon.

Ren Walters — Surrounded by C

Carolyn Connors

Ren Walters won the APRA commission, but sat in the audience, having surrendered control to his musicians. They were: voice artist Carolyn Connors, percussionist Dur-e Dara, trombonists Adrian Sherriff, Shannon Barnett and James Wilkinson, bass clarinettists Adam Simmons, Brigid Burke and Karen Heath, and Ray Luckhurst on sound.

The setting was arranged so the audience, surrounded by speakers, sat around a ring of alternating trombones and clarinets, with Luckhurst off to one side and Dur-e Dara and Connors fairly central. The auditorium was darkened, but the players were still visible.

Walters concert

Expectations influence how we perceive performances, of course, but in this case — when Walters had guided the players, but left it up to them to go with the flow — one question was whether we would have a sound narrative or journey, or whether it would be sounds that seemed to be disparate or hardly related. Would it be a conversation, a dialogue, or a crowd who were not listening to each other? Would it evoke emotion or would we listen with distance, or analysis of what was happening and how it was occurring?

There is no answer that can hope to meet some ideal of group perception. That’s enough sitting on the fence. I’ll dive in with my reactions.

I found it hard to be completely lost in the sounds or entirely unconscious of how they were being created. But I found that, with eyes closed, I could at times indulge in a rich feast of sound, even to the extent of finding some of the offerings physically annoying — a bit like the fingernail on the blackboard (kids these days will not know what that is … a marker on a whiteboard is fairly inoffensive). The sounds — especially those from the percussion bench of Dur-e Dara — were so tangible that they seemed the epitome or paradigm of their type. So, metals sounded like metals, utterly metallic. Tin was tin in some intrinsic sense. Rasping and scraping was irritatingly rasp and scrape.

Connors

Connors’ vocals were amazing, incredible. Explosions of breath, guttural extrusions of air and then piercing whistles. Earlier there had been organic vocals, some form of life, then chattering — perhaps of animal, perhaps bird. There was a touch of scat, which unfortunately served only to bring me back to observer status, noting that this was a woman performing with her voice. But that was momentary. Connors was often arresting in her vocal power and versatility.

As a chance to hear unadulterated, pure (in some sense) sounds, the work succeeded for me. We don’t often get the chance to focus in this way and too often sounds are lost amid too many competitors. This was a chance to listen.

But I was not taken on a journey by Surrounded by C. I did not feel there was a lot of growth and development, yet it would be absolutely wrong to suggest any insensibility of the musicians involved. They were alive to possibilities. Perhaps they did not quite become caught up in a group dynamic that would have given the sounds more cohesion and taken them somewhere uncharted.

Others will have had different experiences. Ren Walters commented at the end that he wished they had gone on for longer. And there would have been no objection to that from most of those present, I expect.

Another commission concert worth the effort this performance undoubtedly took.

Dur-e Dara