Tag Archives: Ches Smith

INDONESIA’S OVERGROUND INVASION

Overground, Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011
Sunday, June 12, 3pm-9pm, Melbourne Town Hall

Rully Shabara

Arresting: Rully Shabara on vocals

It was late in a solid afternoon of music when the Indonesians invaded. In a day of occasional confusion, with some patrons not quite sure who would be on next and which gigs were running late, musicians needed some drama to make their presence felt. A small but curious crowd had gathered to hear Rully Shabara (voice) and Wukir Suryadi (bamboo instruments) from Yogyakarta, but this soon became a large and intensely interested gathering which pressed forward as if forced by the ferocity of the vocal onslaught.

Rully Shabara

Ferocity: Rully Shabara

We had heard Chiri, in which Bae Il Dong had demonstrated the power and emotive impact of Korean p’ansori singing, so the idea of strong vocals was not new. But the forcefulness of this duo came as a surprise. Hearing Shabara at close range can be likened to having a steam train roaring towards you, though he did vary the dynamics and could move the audience as well as assail. But the main attribute of his voice seemed to be ferocity and the ability to deliver a sudden vocal onslaught that was awe-inspiring and even a little frightening.

According to a post by Marvin on Free Albums Galore,  Rully Shabara is a member of the Indonesian avant-rock/punk group Zoo and Wukir Suryadi is an innovative musician who experiments within the boundaries of the traditional music of Indonesia using a musical instrument he built.

Wukir Suryadi

Amazing: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Suryadi played two instruments. His primary one — a bambuwukir, constructed (as the name suggests) from bamboo and producing sounds like an electric guitar with built-in percussion — was capable of amazing variation in his skilled hands.

Suryadi

Virtuosic: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Between Shabara’s vocals, Suryadi erupted into a rock-star-like frenzy that was virtuosic and compelling. It was if he could just touch the instrument to produce a band’s worth of sound. The audience showed appreciation with whoops and wild applause. An excellent description of a Sydney gig by these two musicians is at Sydney Outsider — Java in Waterloo.

Wukir Suryadi

Wukir Suryadi on recorder-like flute

At the end of the set, Suryadi played a long recorder-style flute, which was ideal for the soulful lament delivered by Shabara. For Overground patrons who stayed, this gig must have been a highlight.

Rully Shabara

Soulful lament: Rully Shabara

Should it have been part of a jazz festival? I think so. In the lower town hall Will Guthrie & Cured Pink (if I’ve got the correct gig) had been doing some amazing things with a piece of meat, I’m told. And, Bae Il Dong was a big hit during the festival. Overground is meant to take us out of our comfort zones, which is also what the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival is meant to do. I say, bring it on.

That said, I think Overground needs to work on some improvements. Because there are late changes to the order of gigs, and because concerts inevitably run over time, there ought to be a way for patrons in the main entrance foyer to see at a glance exactly which gigs are on at any moment in each venue — upstairs, downstairs and in the main hall. And I don’t mean gigs scheduled, but those actually on at that time. This would be a challenge to update, but really helpful.

As well, it would be good to have more information available about each band, so that if you have never heard its music you’d be able to make a judgment about where to head if there was a clash. With the crowds that turn up to Overground, it is hard to get into the smaller venues, so some planning is necessary. I do realise the concept is meant to allow patrons to try whatever pops up, but this often leads to a fragmentary experience if you have no idea what to expect.

What else was a highlight on the day? Well, I missed Yoshida Tatsuya and Satoko Fuji, Charlemagne Palestine with Oren Ambarchi, and Tony Conrad with Chris Abrahams. I felt for Matt Mitchell on solo piano, who came on between the Indonesian invasion and Sean Baxter with Jerome Noetinger and Faust (at which time I had to go to catch Paul Grabowsky‘s gig at the Forum).

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

The combination of viola, sax and trumpet  worked well in the set by James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler, and it was a pleasure to hear Noriega again — I love his work. I also enjoyed hearing Anthony Pateras at the piano with Tim Berne on sax and Gareth Thompson on drums.

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

It’s not often that the program director — and principal mover and shaker — at a major international festival is also on the program as a performer, so Sophia Brous’s outing with Judith Hamann on cello, Chris Abrahams on piano and Tim O’Dwyer on sax was a must-see.

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

My attitude to vocal gymnastics has already taken its toll on Norma Winstone (who, along with all other vocalists who indulge in a little scat, can sleep quite easily at night without my applause for that aspect of their work, I’m sure). But I am reliably informed that Brous is following a path well trod by Maggie Nichols and Julie Tippetts. Here’s a link to Maggie Nicols, Dave Fowler, Phil Minton in a Mopomoso Christmas Special 2009. And here’s a link to Keith and Julie Tippett live in Jazz à Luz in 2007. (I did not discover these links, but received them as an aid to my education.)

Sophia Brous

Mover, shaker and vocalist: Sophia Brous

So, being honest, I preferred this vocal experimentation, especially with the cello, to other instances of what I call “vocal gymnastics”. And, though it may be following an established path, it was stretching my comfort zone, which is always good. But it’s still not really my cup of tea (I don’t drink much tea).

Alex Garsden

Out there: Alex Garsden

The other gig of particular interest was US drummer Ches Smith‘s outing with Jim Denley on sax, Alex Garsden on guitar and Natasha Anderson on “recorder” (though it looked like a laptop to me). Garsden managed some pretty interesting sounds and did some pretty strange things to his guitar’s strings, and Denley had some amazing ways to play a sax and a wooden flute, but Smith’s input was not spectacular compared with his earlier work.

Jim Denley

All we needed to know about sax: Jim Denley

To sum up, Overground was definitely worth doing, and worth attending. But this year I felt that we were missing a Han Bennink or Peter Brotzmann (the stars in 2010) to give the day some focus. Palestine and Conrad are undoubtedly characters, but their performances lacked the action-packed feel of Bennink or Brotzmann’s gigs. That said, I’m certain many punters went away happy — or deaf and happy.

ROGER MITCHELL

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MARY HALVORSON LETS HER HAIR DOWN

Mary Halvorson Trio, Bennetts Lane, 11pm, June 10
Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011

Mary Halvorson guitar, John Hebert bass, Ches Smith drums

Megan Evans

War on mobiles: Megan Evans introduces Mary Halvorson Trio

It was late at night when Halvorson’s trio was setting up. Bennetts Lane Megan Evans introduced the trio and could have murdered “that man at the bar talking on his mobile phone” … but she didn’t.

Mary Halvorson

In a world of hair own: Mary Halvorson plays in her cocoon

It probably says something about my lack of it, but I admit to being distracted by the guitarist’s hair. I could see that when Halvorson settled down to play she was going to literally let her hair down — not in a musical sense, but that it was going to fall in a curtain all around her face, forming a sort of cocoon. She would be in a world of hair own, I posted later to Facebook.

Ches Smith

Talent: Ches Smith

I was also distracted, and really pleased, to discover that the drummer I had loved so much at the Forum upstairs earlier with Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, Ches Smith, was a member of Halvorson’s trio. Melbourne drummer extraordinaire Ronny Ferella alerted me to this fact — fairly obvious to everybody else given that Smith was sitting in front of us at the drum kit — while agreeing that this young drummer really has talent.

Ches Smith

Tired but true: Ches Smith

Smith looked pretty tired, and at times during the first set of three pieces he seemed to go on to automatic pilot. But for my money he was the standout performer of this gig. During the first few minutes of the trio’s first piece a significant cymbal went flying off its stand, though Smith does not strike me (get it?) as a smash & bash drummer. He does go at it hard at times, but he’s a lot more interesting than that. There is variation, responsiveness and a sense of complete involvement with the music that make him great to hear, and to watch.

John Hebert

Impressive: John Hebert

I had to leave to catch a train after the first set, wimping out (as Megan suggested), so this post relates to only the first half. John Hebert on bass was impressive.

Mary Halvorson

Gravelly: Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson has a strong feel to her work, but on this occasion there did not seem to be a lot of variation. From this half concert it seemed she was deliberate and considered rather than being at all showy in her playing. In fact, in these three pieces she seemed almost restrained. The sound was less about individual notes and had a more gravelly feel. Pedals were present, but not used flamboyantly.

Am I saying Halvorson was not exciting? Possibly, on this occasion, when I think about it, that sums it up. But neither her playing nor her trio was at all boring. I think there was a contained yet sustained feel, with plenty of tension and interest, but not the sort of virtuosic high points that you may get from a James Muller or John Scofield.

Another set would have been good. Hearing Smith again was the highlight for me.

ROGER MITCHELL

OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT — TIM BERNE & JASON MORAN

Melbourne International Jazz Festival double bill at the Forum Upstairs, Friday, June 10, 6pm
First set: Los Totopos
Tim Berne alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell piano, Ches Smith drums

Second set: Jason Moran piano, keys, drums; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Simon Barker drums, percussion

It seems a funny place to start blogging a festival, but there’s been so much music and so little time. Posts about earlier gigs will come in time, but on a cool but dry Melbourne Friday evening (balmy in contrast to chilly Canberra, where I was during the week) the Forum upstairs was a cosy prospect.

My mind went back to Tim Berne’s Adobe Probe Melbourne at Bennetts Lane on May 3, 2009, when a few locals (Tinkler, Magnusson, Barker, Hannaford) joined Berne to take us on an unforgettable ride which killed off a duck and left me redefining the term “ballad”. But this Berne outing was much more restrained.

Tim Berne

Restrained: Tim Berne with Los Totopos

To cut to the chase, two things stood out for me from this double bill. First, the music of Los Totopos seemed quite structured and, though of course there was group improvisation, there never seemed to be any lack of direction throughout. The pieces (Simple City, Yield, Scanners, Spare Parts) felt as if they were carefully crafted. By contrast, the Moran/Tinkler/Barker set that followed had an extra edge to it because there was a feeling that anything could happen. There did not seem to be a plan, or at least not a highly prescriptive one, so it was happening on the run.

Second, in both sets the limelight seemed to be stolen by band members other than the “big names”. I’m not at all suggesting that Tim Berne or Jason Moran are out to take the kudos or that they are not collaborative. I mean merely that Berne and Moran are movers and shakers, yet on the night the focus was on Smith and Noriega in the first set, and on Barker and Tinkler in the second. And these four musicians were, I reckon, the ones that stood out.

Ches Smith

Fantastic: Ches Smith

In Los Totopos, I thought Ches Smith was fantastic throughout the set. Sitting behind an array of gongs and microphone stands, he commanded attention because of his inventiveness, energy and timely interventions.

Oscar Noriega

Tension and beauty: Oscar Noriega

Noriega — whether on clarinet or bass clarinet — contributed to the building of tension (in Scanners, Spare Parts) yet produced some periods of delicate beauty. This has been a festival in which the clarinet has excelled, through Noriega and Anat Cohen (see post to come).

Matt Mitchell

Integral: Matt Mitchell

Of course the contributions of Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne were integral to the four pieces, which were each like a journey. Simple City was gestational; Yield was more emphatic and insistent, with all four players following interwoven pathways; Scanners was much more abrasive, with short runs and a bit of helter skelter, much tension and not too much melody; and Spare Parts again provided a gradual development of tension, but did not follow a linear path from A to B.

In a corner of my brain I was disappointed that Berne had not fired up. But Smith and Noriega had, and the whole band presented us with a cohesive set full of interest. I wanted to hear more of Ches Smith, and, as it turned out, I would — that night.

Now for the much less structured set. I had to miss Moran’s concert on Wednesday (the icy winds of Canberra beckoned) so I was keen to see what he’d do with Tinkler and Barker. Well, I think Moran was really appreciative of what the other two gave him to work with, but I think they were the stars on the night. Moran played piano, keyboard, a small drum set and used a laptop and a bell at times.

Simon Barker

Intense as always: Simon Barker plays, Jason Moran wanders

As mentioned, this set seemed to be a seat-of-the-pants outing, and there some spectacular highlights. Barker’s intensity and propulsion is, if anything, growing stronger as this festival goes on. He is fascinating to watch and amazing to hear, his playing full of drama and the output drawn from deep within as he responds to the other musicians.

Scott Tinkler

Top form: Scott Tinkler

Tinkler, also, is in top form and can be subtly musing one minute and pouring fluid sound into the heavens the next. The test, I think, is how well other musicians can react to Tinkler’s input so that it integrates into the whole.

Jason Moran

Loving it: Jason Moran

Some of Moran’s keyboard work and percussion was great, but he certainly did not stand out as the main driving force. It was collaborative, largely unscripted (it seemed to me) and had that uncertainty and expectancy that kept the audience in thrall. But it did not work all the time. It did not always hang together, so in the end it seemed to have been an experiment of considerable interest, but one that did not always succeed.

So, we saw Tim Berne and Jason Moran quite happy not to hog the limelight, and others in these bands who became the focus of attention because of their playing. That’s a good result, surely.

ROGER MITCHELL