Tag Archives: Chris Dave

MANY HIGHLIGHTS, MANY FROM CLOSE TO HOME

Jamie Oehlers

Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers in a MIJF highlight for 2014.

WRAP-UP REVIEW: MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 2014, 30 May to 8 June

So far for this year’s MIJF I’ve posted previews, pictorial updates and reflections that have sometimes ended up as mini reviews. But the intention was to leave most of the reviewing until the festival was over. So, I can report that I went to 23 concerts, counting each set of two double bills and each set of three with brief support acts. The venues included Hamer Hall, the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Malthouse, Melbourne Town Hall and Bennetts Lane. I did not make it to club sessions at Uptown Jazz Cafe or Dizzy’s Jazz Club, but heard there were some great gigs there that I missed.

While on venues, it was good to have Uptown included this year and the Malthouse turned out well, attracting some good crowds to evenings that included, effectively, three concerts. The lighting there, as I have said elsewhere, was poor, but that comment also applies to the Footscray Community Arts Centre and to Bennetts Lane. (I’m told by Laki Sideris that I have to make the lighting work for me when taking photographs, and I’ve been trying to do that.)

The observation has been made elsewhere that this festival brought out international artists who’ve been before, rather than other musicians new to the festival who do not have the established names to draw crowds. It must always be a balancing act for any festival’s artistic and program directors, but Adrian Jackson has long had a reputation for bringing relative newcomers to the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, so it can be done.

I think a more important issue is what happened in the venues on the nights, and how audiences reacted. The other question is how are we to judge the success or otherwise of these festivals — is it about bums on seats, audience reaction or the opinions of assorted critics? That could open a large can of worms, but I think it is useful to report on gigs that electrify or engage the audience, as well as to comment on the performances.

I tried dividing the concerts I attended into highlights, worthy mentions and those not so hot. Of the highlights, only seven involved international artists and the remaining 12 were by Australian musicians. I found that interesting.

Jorge Pardo

Jorge Pardo

The “not so hot” category is a misnomer, because it was probably the type of music played that did not appeal to me so much. In each case there were plenty of happy patrons. But I was not among them when Jorge Pardo joined Josemi Cameron and Jose Manuel in Huellas. Pardo on tenor sax and flute, and Cameron on guitar were skilled musicians, but as the solos dragged on and the music rose and fell, I found that it did not go anywhere too interesting (too subtle for me?) and that there was insufficient variation in Jose Manuel’s percussion work.

Larry Carlton

Larry Carlton

The Larry Carlton Quartet also suffered from repetitive drumming by Gerry Pantazis and, while Phil Turcio on keys did his best to lift the intensity, I found this group’s material too fruity and easy listening for my taste — soft rock that lacked differentiation and space, failing to reach any heights or plumb any depths.

Israeli pair Daniel Zamir and Tomer Bar engaged the audience with melodies that seemed to draw more on Jewish tradition than jazz. There was some audience involvement that worked, but it just was not going to set my nerves jangling.

On to the worthy mentions, which is meant as a positive category without any rafters being lifted. The lightly cooked Omelette served up by Jordan Murray, Stephen Magnusson, Mark Shepherd and Ronny Ferella before Charles Lloyd’s Sky Trio took the MRC stage was muted, carefully crafted and perfect as a way into the main gig, although I found the guitar did not come through strongly.

Sky Trio was as anticipated, delivering fluidity, warmth, a sense of fun at times, beauty, musings and flights of fantasy. Being at a Lloyd concert is akin to a religious experience. Backed by the superb rhythm section of Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums, Lloyd showed he has the breath and finesse to deliver long, meditative solos on tenor sax, flute and tarogato. The encore of standard Where Are You and Lloyd’s Sweet Georgia Bright, including Harland’s controlled solo, ended the set on a high. A festival highlight? Not quite, possibly because it was so laid back.

Sean Foran and Julian Arguelles

Sean Foran and Julian Arguelles

This concert was great, but I went on to hear Brisbane’s Trichotomy at Bennetts Lane, with UK guest Julian Arguelles on sax, and discovered this night’s highlight. Formerly known as Misinterprotato, this trio featured Sean Foran on piano, Sam Vincent on bass and John Parker on drums. The set was full of inventiveness, interest, variation and effective provision of space.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

Back on the worthy mentions track, Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri’s The Greek Project, also featuring Rogers, Harland, Takis Farazis on piano and Socratis Sinopolous on politiki and pontiac lyras, was an exposition of the unity achieved when two individuals from different cultural roots and musical traditions discover much in common. In CL Blue, Lloyd seemed to lay his notes on the air and send them off and in Requiem his sax was ending Farantouri’s sentences. In Prayer, the lyra notes from Sinopolous were high, clear and plaintive, then entering a dance. Farantouri’s voice was fascinating — it had strength without great projection, emerging from deep in her throat and seeming to delve into history. This concert was a monumental event. But it lacked the focus and impetus of Lloyd’s Sangam concert of 2010, and in Greek Suite pieces it perhaps lacked the ability to hold attention.

It may seem heresy to some, but I have to be honest and say that one of my festival highlights followed The Greek Project. I’d been told by several people not to bother hearing Chris Dave and The Drumhedz, especially not after the Lloyd/Farantouri concert, because it would be such an abrupt change.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

I went to Bennetts Lane expecting to feel like a fish out of water at a gig that would have appeal to a younger audience into a mix of R&B, funk, hip-hop and electronica, with some rock and jazz thrown in. I had listened to some YouTube clips that had not turned me on. Well, Chris Dave on augmented drum kit — with two tall, corkscrew cymbals — Isaiah Sharkey on guitar, Nick McNack on bass and Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano sax produced a set that held my interest from the word go until almost the finish, when an encore piece went on a bit too long. Sharkey’s guitar playing was a work of art, with lots of variation and heaps of skill. Dave on drums was virtuosic, Strickland produced some excellent solos and McNack was solid on electric bass. But the appeal was in the watchfulness and interaction in this band. So much was going on and in this performance (out of three) it was evident that decisions were being made and fun was being had throughout. They were having a ball and so was the audience. This was an unexpected, but clear highlight.

Eminently worthy of mention was the Allan Browne Quintet‘s performance of The Drunken Boat suite the following night at Bennetts Lane, its often short pieces providing a feast of diverse moods and styles.

Livio Minafra

Livio Minafra

An unexpected festival highlight was Livio Minafra‘s entertaining and engaging gig at the same venue that night, which I have already reviewed.  OK, it was a stretch to call it jazz, but I found it most enjoyable and fun.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

Tuesday 3 June was a standout in my view, bringing two festival highlights in one night. At Footscray Community Arts Centre — see earlier postPeter Knight’s Way Out West played long-awaited new material that will soon emerge on a fourth album, as well as some pieces from earlier recordings. There was so much to like about this diverse ensemble’s outing, but I particularly appreciated the space and developing intensity of The Birds, which made excellent use of the clarity in  Satsuki Odamura‘s koto notes. In Music For April, muted koto notes were like drops of water and Lucas Michailidis’ guitar notes seemed to be propelled as if by springs. Laptop crackle, guitar and koto built an eerie feel to Nine Years Later, in which the ensemble took us to wonderful places. This was a considered and carefully crafted outing and I look forward to the new Way Out West album.

Eric Harland at Bennetts Lane

Eric Harland at Bennetts Lane

From way out west I rushed to Bennetts Lane for what was to be my top highlight of this festival for 2014, bringing Rogers and Harland from Lloyd’s Sky Trio together with Paul Grabowsky on piano and Jamie Oehlers on saxophone. As mentioned in an  earlier post, this concert was an excellent example of why many of us love jazz. Paper Tiger opened with all stops out and we heard some sharp attacks and searing solos during the set, but in Oehlers’ Innocent Dreamer and Grabowsky’s Angel we were surrounded by inexpressible beauty. This group is recording in January. Bring it on.

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Other festival highlights covered in earlier posts were the opening set at Melbourne Recital Centre by Here and Now, the fascinating outing by Finnish trio Jukka Perko Avara at Bennetts Lane and the double bill at The Malthouse featuring Alister Spence Trio and Dawn of Midi. The last of these three posts also covered Django Bates Beloved trio’s celebration of Charlie Parker, with help from Monash Art Ensemble, which I ranked as eminently worthy of mention, but not one of my highlights.

Another post, entitled a Sandwich of Food for the Soul, covered festival highlights at The Malthouse on Saturday 7 June: The Hunters & Pointers with Kristin Berardi, Mike Nock with Laurence Pike, and the Julien Wilson Quartet with Barney McAll.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

The final highlight for me of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2014 was the Hamer Hall outing of duets by Chick Corea on keys and Gary Burton on vibes. As they played I thought about what made this performance so successful; what was evident in their playing. It seemed to include mutual understanding and appreciation, subtlety, fun, finesse, dexterity, delicacy, intricacy, splendour, responsiveness, lightness of touch, rapidity, clarity, virtuosity, luminosity, melody, translucence (of vibes notes) and maybe even whimsy. As I posted elsewhere “there was plenty of pixie dust flying from the vibes”, especially in Crystal Silence, which seemed to be a contest to see who could play with the lightest touch.

Corea and Burton had been here before, but that did not detract from the enjoyment of this outing. Their concert seemed a fitting end to a festival, which artistic director Michael Tortoni described as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

So, there were plenty of highlights at the MIJF 2014. Two innovations — the excursion to Melbourne’s west and the use of The Malthouse — were a great success. Artists visiting from overseas did not dominate the highlights, in my view. It’s fair to say that the mix was eclectic, taking in The Drumhedz and Bates’ take on Charlie Parker, but clearly the MIJF under Tortoni allows plenty of scope for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival to reclaim some of the “out there” ground if funding becomes available in future years.

ROGER MITCHELL

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FROM CROWD TO CROWD

Crowds stream up the stairs at Melbourne Town Hall to hear The Greek Project.

Crowds climb the stairs at Melbourne Town Hall to hear The Greek Project.

PICTORIAL UPDATE: Sunday 1 June, 2014

Ausjazz visits two very different Melbourne International Jazz gigs that attracted large audiences:

Crowds about to take their seats for The Greek Project.

Crowds about to take their seats for The Greek Project.

How different can two concerts be? Hardly more so, it seemed, than The Greek Project at Melbourne’s town hall and Chris Dave with The Drumhedz at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.

I had the chance to go to both. This is not a review (that’s for later), but a reflection on how it can work to leap from music melding the traditions of Greece with compositions of seeker and dreamer Charles Lloyd to the eclectic adventures of drum virtuoso Chris Dave and members of the rotating line-up in The Drumhedz. I had my doubts, but it worked.

It seemed most of Melbourne’s Greek community came out to hear Lloyd with “the voice of resistance”, revered singer Maria Farantouri. They left buzzing about the event.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

I was given a ride to Bennetts Lane (thanks Debra), wondering — if truth be known — whether I was going to be a fish out of water at this fourth sold-out gig by Chris Dave and band over two nights. People were being turned away at the door as I entered.

Jeremy introduces Chris Dave and Drumhedz to a packed house at Bennetts Lane.

Jeremy introduces Chris Dave and Drumhedz to a packed house at Bennetts Lane.

Well, what a blast this turned out to be. I’ll say more in a festival review later, but this gig taught me two worthwhile lessons: don’t accept all the advice you are given about what will be good, don’t use YouTube clips as a guide to a live set of music.

Chris Dave

Chris Dave

Chris Dave and The Drumhedz played til late — so late the trains had run out when the music faded. There was an encore that, for me at the end of a busy day, went on a bit long. But this outing was definitely not dull.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

I tried to get a decent snap of the crowded house at Bennetts, but pretty much failed. The image below does have people in it if you look closely.

I would like to hear the opinions of anyone who was at either of these two concerts on Sunday evening. Leave a comment. Especially I’d like to know what the many drummers and other musicians in the crowd thought about The Drumhedz.

ROGER MITCHELL

Around midnight and Bennetts Lane is jam-packed for the fourth Drumhedz gig.

Around midnight and Bennetts Lane is jam-packed for the fourth Drumhedz gig.

SLIP OUT OF THOSE COMFORT ZONES

PREVIEW PART 2: Melbourne International Jazz Festival, May 30 to June 8, 2014

An earlier post mentioned some of the gigs that will attract the big crowds at this year’s festival, which artistic director Michael Tortoni has described it as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

Before mentioning some concerts that are a little less mainstream, it’s important to highlight the successor to a major hit of last year’s festival, which is sure to again fill Melbourne Town Hall with dancers having the time of their lives.

Swing Noir

774’s Swing Noir will be a hoot                            (Image supplied)

This year, 774’s Swing Noir concert will offer gypsy swing and hot club jazz as Swing Patrol dancers provide the inspiration and help with classic steps of the Charleston, and two bands — Ultrafox and Swingville — delve into the world of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. The festival invites the energetic to “slip on your dancing shoes, dress to kill and join us at the dawn of European jazz”. And for fans of ABC radio’s 774, the host will be Hilary Harper, who will apparently be “dazzlingly bohemian” on the night.

STRETCH YOURSELVES

It’s been said many times before, but festivals are one way to tempt music lovers to dip their toes into unfamiliar waters. Sometimes this means “jazz” becomes less of a perceived obstacle; sometimes devotees of jazz try moving outside their comfort zones.

And speaking of breaking boundaries, one significant change of this year’s MIJF is Jazz Out West, which for the first time will bring some musical events to Melbourne’s west. That’s especially exciting for Ausjazz, because there are many musicians living in this part of the city, but live music is not as prolific and does not attract the crowds of suburbs such as Northcote — yet.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

The big drawcard will undoubtedly be cross-cultural sextet Peter Knight’s Way Out West at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Many will know the albums released by an earlier incarnation of this award-winning ensemble, but this outing will air new compositions written since Sydney’s koto virtuoso Satsuki Odamura and Lucas Michailidis on guitar came onboard.

Led by Peter Knight, their fascinating new project features the seamlessly combining Asian instrumentation and approaches with irresistible influenced grooves and jazz-inflected melodies. Others in this top line-up include Knight on trumpet and laptop, Howard Cairns on bass and button accordion, Paul Williamson on saxophones, Ray Pereira on percussion and Rajiv Jayaweera (rejoining the group from New York) on drums. I can’t wait to hear the new material and let’s hope there’s room for a few Westies to fit into a packed venue.

Other western offerings include Horns of Leroy — a funky brass band — at the Reverence Hotel, Hey Frankie at The Dancing Dog, Afro Beat — with an Ethiopian meal — at African Town Café Bar, and Soundwalk, in which Aboriginal elder Uncle Larry and others will lead a walking and listening tour of the streets, waterways and secret spaces of Footscray.

At last year’s MIJF crowds of younger fans crammed in to catch Snarky Puppy, and Tortoni expects similar enthusiasm for bassist Derrick Hodge and vocalist Chris Turner, who perform at The Forum.

In this “festival exclusive” billed as “exciting, cutting edge stuff on the razor’s edge of new generation jazz”, Hodge — who performed with The Robert Glasper Experiment in 2012 — and Turner — who many will recall from ERIMAJ last year — will be joined by Federico Pena and Michael Aaberg on keys, Paul Bender on bass and Mark Colenburg on drums. The combination of Hodge with Turner could take this concert in many directions.

In four gigs at Bennetts Lane, the man dubbed “probably the most dangerous drummer alive” — Chris Dave — will defy all attempts at categorisation, bringing elements of R&B, funk, rock, jazz, hip-hop and electronica via his band The Drumhedz. Expect hypnotic beats.

Serious fans of music that ventures into exciting territory must mark their digital diaries for a Malthouse double bill from Australia — Alister Spence Trio — and the USA — Dawn of Midi. Spence’s trio is well known here and accurately described as “endlessly surprising”. Brooklyn trio Dawn of Midi — Amino Belyamani piano, Aakassh Israni double bass and Qasim Naqri percussion — has been lauded for the album Dysnomia. Expect the unexpected from both trios in a concert not to be missed.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi

Also at the Malthouse, significant figures in Australian jazz — John Hoffman, Graeme Lyall, Tony Gould, Ben Robertson and Tony Floyd — get together for the first time in 20 years to form The Hunters and Pointers. Joined by award-winning vocalist Kristin Berardi, they will celebrate the release of a collection of unheard live recordings that originally featured Christine Sullivan on vocals.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson

Another Malthouse double bill will be a musical treat. In one set, the winner of this year’s Don Banks Music Award and member of the Jazz Bell Awards hall of fame, Mike Nock, will join his former student, drummer Laurence Pike. In the other one set, saxophonist Julien Wilson — who was a star of the 2013 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival — will again visit the quartet format with New York-based pianist Barney McAll, Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Melbourne drummer Allan Browne. This double bill will not disappoint.

The Monash Art Ensemble, led by Paul Grabowsky, never disappoints, so seat belts may need to be fastened when this exciting ensemble of students and seasoned players teams with British jazz maverick, pianist and composer Django Bates and his piano trio, Belovèd. Together they will explore the music of Charlie Parker as well as Bates’ compositions.

As mentioned in the earlier preview post, Charles Lloyd’s The Greek Project clashes with an exciting world premiere of PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission winner Tilman Robinson’s The Agony of Knowledge at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. Robinson has demonstrated his facility for composition, so his musical exploration of the Icelandic epic poem Volsungasaga promises to be a festival highlight. The work will draw on Norse legends that have influenced music and literature for centuries, as exemplified in Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Sydney musicians at Deakin Edge, Fed Square will explore jazz and film in The Wires Project, a collaborative multi-media work in which vocalist Briana Cowlishaw, Gavin Ahearn on piano, Peter Koopman on guitar and Nic Cecire on drums improvise a musical response to a video by Aymeric De Meautis based on photographs by Singapore’s Chia Ming Chien. The bonus is that this experience is free.

Ausjazz had hoped to preview the intimate club sessions at MIJF 2014, which are the meat and potatoes of this festival and my favourites. Time has ruled that out, so stay tuned for further festival posts and reviews.

ROGER MITCHELL