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PIANIST Jeremy Woolhouse wisely welcomes the “deliciously fresh slant” that Lucas Michailidis (guitars) and Ben Robertson (bass) bring to his compositions in their debut album.

The serene, flowing piano benefits from their gentle improvisational exchanges, the bass adding strength and Charlie Haden-like melodic warmth, the guitar subtle inventiveness.

Woolhouse’s approach is rounded, never sharp, and smooth rather than cutting, favouring continuity over space and not given to variations in dynamics.

Gaisy has Michailidis interpolating delightfully and in Going Away all three instruments weave intricate magic. The result is pleasing and the mood calming, as would befit a Sunday afternoon of relaxation. Yet it may call for a big night out.

Download: Gaisy, Going Away
File between: Alister Spence, Magnolia


This review also appeared in Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun liftout Play on April 3, 2011

Melbourne International Jazz Festival — Day 6

Paul Grabowsky: Shirley Avenue — Grand Organ Commission

The picture below shows the wilds of Shirley Avenue, Glen Waverley, the place that inspired Paul Grabowsky’s composition for the Melbourne Town Hall grand organ or, as he put it, “the street where I grew up”. The Google Maps version lacks historic integrity, but I was inspired to place it here by a post on Miriam Zolin’s blog stating that, “If it (Shirley Avenue) is as this music describes, it is a street in a dark forest, a road to where the wild things are.”

Shirley Avenue

Of course I am being silly, because the relationship between the street of Grabowsky’s youth and the music he played with Scott Tinkler (trumpet, bucket and water), Genevieve Lacey (recorders) and Niko Schauble (drums) must be much more complex. But it might indeed have been, as Miriam Zolan suggests, a dark forest with wild creatures in the mind of a boy. I certainly recall inventing large and varied landscapes in the wilds of yet-to-be-developed Clayton, and even imagining hiding places in the long grass beside unmade roads.

Grabowsky comission concert

But what of the music played on the instrument with 8000 pipes on Friday evening? I don’t believe I can do justice to the piece, mainly for the banal reason that I was sucking assorted cough suppressants in a desperate bid to quell that noisy urge, and feeling pretty awful. Despite having looked forward greatly to hearing what Grabowsky would do with the organ, I was not able to let it sink in and came away wishing I could hear the composition again.

That is of so little help to anyone unable to be there that I will make a few observations. Grabowsky showed how talented he is on all style of keyboards, energetically using the foot pedals and letting nimble fingers roam the keys of the organ. Lacey’s use of the contrabass recorder was intriguing, and also how much she seemed joined to her instruments as she played — almost as if there was an organic connection. But I did not always pick up the sound of the recorders over the other instruments.

Tinkler / Lacey

Tinkler’s trumpet in a bucket, whether with bubbling or without, inevitably caused some merriment among those who had not witnessed it previously. I recall a Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival concert in the Atrium at Fed Square, when Tinkler played to an enthusiastic audience of about half a dozen on a weekday night as most people were heading home. And his solo album Backwards features some of this, and it was not bucketed by critics.

The highlight of Shirley Avenue for me was how well the grand organ and a grand drummer worked together. These musicians have a long history, and at times I thought Grabowsky’s score made use of the organ as if it were a grander version of a Hammond B3, which it is — though much grander. At other times, Grabowsky had the instrument perform more as a generator of pure sounds. But whenever drums and organ came together, it seemed a perfect fit, and this might have been largely due to the understanding between Grabowsky and Schauble, who are world class performers — or at least pretty damn good, because what does “world class” mean?

It was a dark piece at times, and complex. It did not thrill by using the immense power of the organ, which I had probably hoped to hear, or feel. But, and this is not giving the commission its due, I would like to hear it performed again — without the urge to cough.

Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, Ethan Iverson Trio

Haden, Frisell, Iverson

It may seem strange to begin with the end, which is what the image above shows. Actually it was taken before the encore. But it is the dynamic between these players that interests me. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Bill Frisell had played together previously only at last year’s Newport Jazz Festival, and that might have influenced the Melbourne Town Hall gig. Accorded respect by Iverson and Frisell, Haden seemed not to be fully involved. Perhaps he was merely concentrating.

It’s unwise to read too much into one image, but Haden in thumbs-up mode (above) seems to be almost on automatic pilot, while Iverson and Frisell are sharing the moment. And Haden’s lack of engagement seemed to be evident during this concert.

Haden and Frisell

Perhaps the trio’s lack of experience together had an effect, or perhaps Haden was festival-lagged. But it often seemed that Haden was looking down, concentrating, or looking at the chart, while Frisell was characteristically facing away from his audience and open to what Haden was doing. Frisell was physically separated, and that seemed also to reduce the interaction. Of course, such superb musicians can play great music in most circumstances, so this is not a claim that their performances were poor.

The whole gig had a much lighter feel than I had expected, and Frisell probably had much to do with that. They played the bebop number What (light, bouncy, muted guitar), Haden’s First Song (in which Frisell and Iverson seemed to accord Haden great respect), and Ornette Coleman’s Humpty Dumpty (faster, with some great solos). The followed a sequence of three duos. Frisell’s intro to Bill’s Song, played with Haden, was beautiful.

Ethan Iverson

Paul Motian’s The Storyteller on piano and guitar brought a welcome change from the sweetness, with some distortion, contrasting tempos and notes that clashed and jarred — great stuff. Haden and Iverson played Broken Shadows with simplicity, but the piano was a little lost behind the bass until Iverson took off on a solo journey. Then there was a swinging trio piece (name unknown) in which I became more aware of Frisell being attentive to Haden, but the bassist concentrating on the chart or looking into space. In the encore, Frisell’s guitar was melodic, lyrical and delicate.

Perhaps I had wrongly expected more fireworks, more interaction and more spark from these three, given their musical pedigrees. After all, Haden played with Ornette Coleman and Iverson with the Bad Plus. But it was still fine music.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival — Day 3


Magnusson Ball Talia

Stephen Magnusson, Eugene Ball and Joe Talia made only one announcement on Tuesday at the Melbourne Recital centre — they played. There was no talk. Their instruments said all they wished to say.

And from the opening notes from Magnusson’s guitar, through Ball’s solemn trumpet and Talia’s filigree drum work, it was evident that we would feel this music rather than merely hear or observe it. There was a dreamy quality to their first offering and a sense of serenity to their second. Ball, who closed the first with a big note, which hung in the air full of all the expression and tonal depth of which he is capable, played more expansively in the second, venturing into a more melodic and yet wistful feel.

Things heated up slightly in the third offering (noted blogger Miriam Zolin identifies it as Lush Life) , Ball introducing the piece energetically and Talia indulging in some frenzied playing leading to some discord.  In what developed into a battle between guitar and trumpet, surges in Ball’s sound were echoed gently by Magnusson. The understanding between all three musicians ruled out  hesitation. They held our close attention to build attacks, before allowing Ball to smooth things over, with Magnusson’s guitar slipping in behind —  behaving as a “perfect couple”.

The applause came, like the music, with feeling.

Charlie Haden’s Quartet West

Quartet West

As usual Charlie Haden was not backward in spruiking, complimenting the beautiful theatre (Melbourne Recital Centre) and “the best band in the world” — Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Larry Goldings on piano and Rodney Green on drums — while mentioning the collective Old and New Dreams (tenor saxophone player Dewey Redman , bassist Charlie Haden, trumpet player Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell with which he toured Australia in 1981-82. And Haden plugged the Quartet’s records.

They played Passport, Hello My Lovely, Child’s Song, First Song, Lonely Woman (recorded in 1958 with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins on The Shape of Jazz to Come) and one other piece — was it Segment? — before an encore. After the first three, some natives at the back became restless, shouting that they were unable to hear the bass. One patron seemed to puzzle Haden by adding, “We can’t hear the vocals.” But the objections  made sense — what was the point of hearing Quartet West without hearing its famed bass player? The mix was rectified.

Watts started like a motor in Passport and Haden was so smooth and melodic — though not loud — in Hello My Lovely. Child’s Song showed plenty of virtuosity, but I wondered whether the quartet had the emotion of Magnusson/Ball/Talia in the first set. But a dreamy solo from Watts to open First Song, followed by great bass and piano solos, moved me to believe that this slow ballad could be expressing everybody in the audience’s finest moments in song. The couple in front leaned together as the notes of the saxophone drifted the melody across our heads, ending with what could have been the dance of a bird.

The emotion level remained high in Lonely Woman, with shimmering sax and some rapid-fire fingering from Haden, then fluidity with feeling from Watts. A Goldings solo was mesmerising, speaking to our hearts. Obviously virtuosity can deliver affect.

The final piece — possibly Segment — before the encore broke the mould of sequential soloing. There was dialogue, conversation, interaction along with swing and a driving rhythm. The encore, Body and Soul, began with Haden,  Goldings and Green on stage, but Watts came in during the piece, perhaps to satisfy audience calls for the “sexy sax”.

Quartet West’s second appearance in Australia must have awakened some old dreams and sparked some new dreams.