Sure to be a highlight: Jen Shyu Image: Steven Schreiber
Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, November 3 – 5, 2017
The 28th Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues will be the first without Adrian Jackson at the helm as artistic director. Instead, the programming team consists of Adam Simmons and Zoe Hauptmann for jazz, and Scott Solimo and Frank Davidson for blues.
This change led to some understandable concern on the part of regular patrons over the direction that this renowned festival may take, many worrying about whether efforts to overcome budget challenges by widening audience appeal would dilute the core elements in programming of jazz and blues. The result no doubt will be closely scrutinised. It will also, I’m convinced, be thoroughly enjoyed.
Adam Simmons introduces the Pugsley Buzzard Trio in Readings book shop at the Melbourne launch of Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2017.
A detailed dig into this year’s jazz (leaving the blues gigs to others) reveals plenty to get excited about — so much, in fact, that it will be hard to fit in breaks for meals or even coffee breaks in a jam-packed program. Don’t forget to download the festival app so you can plan ahead.
Has the festival taken a new direction? Will hard-core jazz fans be satisfied? Is there enough straight-ahead jazz? Are there sufficient “out there” gigs? Is the gender balance improving? Are there enough vocalists? Will the punters turn up? Judgments will be made on these and myriad other questions once the music begins, but unquestionably there is heaps of it on offer.
Overseas artists in the mix include Kari Ikonen Trio (Finland), Jon Cleary (US), Christian Scott and his sextet (US), Jen Shyu (US), James Shipp (US), Pascal Rollando and Philippe Guidat (France), and Aron Ottingnon Band (France), plus expatriate Australian Nadje Noordhuis on a visit from New York. There are many intriguing and alluring combinations, such as Jen Shyu with Simon Barker, Spiderbait’s Kram with James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky, Origami with Wang Zheng Ting, Digital Seed, and a gathering of old and new friends in Guidat/Rollando/Noordhuis/Shipp/Simmons/Hale.
The National Jazz Awards performances this year, featuring brass, will be held in WPAC Hall rather than St Patrick’s Hall before the finals in WPAC Theatre. The 10 semi-finalists are:
- Thomas Avgenicos trumpet, NSW
- Josh Bennier trombone, Victoria
- Niran Dasika trumpet, Victoria
- Simon Ferenci trumpet, NSW
- James Macaulay trombone, Victoria
- Ricki Malet trumpet, WA
- Eamon McNelis trumpet, Victoria
- Joe O’Connor trombone, Victoria
- Alex Taylor trombone, SA
- Patrick Thiele trumpet, Victoria
How great is it that pianist O’Connor has made it as a semi-finalist on ‘bone?
Friday night’s line-up will give hard-core patrons a chance to flex their concert-going muscles for the succeeding onslaughts on the next two days. Ease your way in at 6pm in WPAC Hall by joining Tony Gould, Mike Nock, Paul Williamson (on trumpet) and university students for the Monash Sessions. Then, at 7.30pm in WPAC Theatre there’ll be a welcome infusion of Scandinavian improvisation from Finland’s Kari Ikonen on piano, Olli Rantala on double bass, and Markku Ounaskari on drums. Expect many hues, innovative harmonies, strong melodies and striking rhythms, all played with lots of joy and passion.
New Orleans makes its presence felt in two concerts on Friday evening. At 8pm Jon Cleary will bring blues into the WPAC Theatre as he demonstrates his prowess at the piano emulating the likes of Tuts Washington, James Booker and Professor Longhair — the greats he found in his adopted home of New Orleans after migrating from Kent in 1980. At 10pm in that venue the strong New Orleans musical pedigree of Christian Scott will shine through as he demonstrates his trademark “whisper technique”, using warm air, which he perfected by emulating his mother’s singing voice.
In WPAC Hall earlier, at 9.30pm, My Name Is Nobody will feature Lucky Oceans, Ben Vanderwal and Tom O’Halloran in a set offering lush, cinematic and ambient sounds along with “a sonic break from a complicated, noisy world”. Bring it on.
Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo will be at the Pinsent Hotel until midnight.
Saturday, of course, will be another kettle of fish, with music beginning at 10.30am (National Jazz Awards, WPAC Hall) and running through until 1.30am Sunday (Jam session with Virus, Pinsent Hotel).
Be prepared for some full-on, head-to-head clashes — these are not merely overlapping concerts, so you’ll have some hard choices. Kari Ikonen Trio begins at 11am in WPAC Theatre for those who missed it or loved it on Friday. But at noon Nick Haywood Trio (St Pat’s Hall) is up against Mike Nock’s solo e-coustic set (Holy Trinity Cathedral).
Barney McAll’s much-loved ASIO are sure to be in Hi-Vis at 1pm in WPAC Theatre. Expect much talent and humour.
Then comes a seriously upsetting clash at 2pm. Experimental vocalist, dancer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu will join the intense and brilliant Simon Barker at Holy Trinity — this has to be a highlight — while guitarist Robbie Melville’s five-piece, two-saxy ensemble plus visuals delivers inviting, eclectic contrasts in WPAC Hall as Cleverhorse. As if that choice isn’t tough enough, St Pat’s Hall features sextet Slipper, with Gemma Horbury on trumpet and Belinda Woods on flute, playing bassist Alastair Watts compositions. It’s all on from 2pm to 3pm.
There’s no clash at 3pm when Nadje Noordhuis reunites with James Shipp (vibes), Gian Slater (vocals) and Chris Hale (bass), joined by young guitarist Theo Carbo (not to be missed) in a WPAC Theatre concert backed by Martin Jackson’s Melbourne Jazz Co-operative.
But at 4pm the clashes are back. Choose Robbie Melville with reedsmen Gideon Brazil and Monty Mackenzie for “chamber jazz and contemporary classical” as Antelodic at Holy Trinity, or the muscular DRUB (Scott Tinkler, Simon Barker, Philip Rex, Carl Dewhurst). That’s a real tough one. Blues and boogie woogie pianist Bridie King is the third option at this time slot, in St Pat’s Hall.
There’s time for a quick bite now — must keep the energy levels up — before bassist Nick Tsiavos and his Liminal ensemble bring us brilliant discordance as the ancient becomes modern in a hypnotic synthesis of new minimalism (6pm, Holy Trinity). Many may stay at this, but others will be lured away to WPAC Theatre by 6.30pm, intrigued by the spectacle of Spiderbait’s Kram joining James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky. Anything could happen.
If you love Hammond organ — and who doesn’t if Tim Neal is at the keyboards — Jim Kelly’s Thrillseekers will perform at St Pat’s Hall at 7.15pm. And in WPAC Hall at 8pm Digital Seed includes last year’s National Jazz Awards winner Mike Rivett in a sextet that includes Matilda Abraham on vocals and utilises electronics and synthesisers.
New Zealand-born pianist Aron Ottignon, now a Parisian, has a fantasy in which each of his fingertips is a drumstick. He joins Samuel Dubois on steel pan and Kuba Gudz on drums in WPAC Theatre at 8.30pm, producing music that “combines the ambition of jazz with pop melodies, echoes of world music and electronic effects”. This trio will also close the festival — jam session aside — so this is a chance to decide whether it’s your cup of tea.
Virus will draw some patrons off to the Pinsent at 9pm. But at 9.15pm in St Pat’s Hall Philippe Guidat (guitar) and Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet), who met at an upstate New York Music Omi Artist Residency when Adam Simmons (woodwinds) was guest mentor, will join Pascal Rollando (percussion), James Shipp (vibes/percussion) and Chris Hale (bass). I reckon this could go in a few directions, all of them with great promise and possibly a little humour.
This festival has many not-so-hidden gems. One is DRUB (already mentioned) and another is the 10pm WPAC Hall encounter between Gian Slater, Barney McAll and Simon Barker.
But many will be drawn away to WPAC Theatre at 10pm to hear more of Christian Scott, along with extraordinary flautist Elena Pinderhughes, Shea Pierre on piano and Rhodes, Kris Funn on bass, Corey Fonville on drums and Logan Richardson on sax.
Pinsent Hotel jam session anyone? As mentioned, there is a lot of music on offer at this festival. And Sunday is another day.
Day 3 will separate the sheep from the goats, the climate change deniers from the realists. This is when serious patrons awake, stretch, inhale deeply and head for double shots of coffee before another full day, and night, of live music. Keep in mind that it’s the musicians who are doing the heavy lifting here.
If you’re extra keen be at Holy Trinity at 10am for Bridie King & Gospel Belles. Brass fans will be in WPAC Hall for the National Jazz Awards playoffs from 10.30am, picking their three finalists before the judges get a say.
There are seriously great musicians at work in Wangaratta on Sunday, many of them home-grown artists.
After ensuring my hair is suitably coiffed I’ll be in WPAC Theatre with bells on at 11am to hear the Phil Slater Quintet play new compositions (how could anyone pass up Simon Barker, Matt McMahon, Matt Keegan, Brett Hirst?) and in St Pat’s Hall at noon for the Angela Davis Quartet. The talent just keeps coming at 1pm in WPAC Theatre when bassist Jonathan Swartz is joined by Barney McAll piano, Hamish Stuart drums, Julien Wilson sax, Phil Slater trumpet, James Greening trombone, Fabian Hevia percussion and Steve Magnusson guitar. And at 1.30pm multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff may be weaving his magic at Holy Trinity, but there are no details on the festival website.
At 2pm don’t miss a chance to look into the future in St Pat’s Hall when bassist Isaac Gunnoo, drummer Maddison Carter and siblings Flora (saxophone) and Theo Carbo (guitar) demonstrate the talent on the scene from younger jazz musicians. And for a hit of vocals — there are not so many singers this year — Matilda Abraham will bring vulnerability and warmth to WPAC Hall at 2.30pm.
It’s relentless — wall to wall music with overlaps. At 3pm composer and bassist extraordinaire Sam Anning brings a feast of musicians to the WPAC Theatre stage: Andrea Keller piano, Mat Jodrell trumpet, Carl Mackey sax, Julien Wilson sax and Danny Fischer drums. In Holy Trinity Cathedral from 3.30pm James Shipp on vibes and Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet will celebrate the release of their Indigo album with help from Theo Carbo, Chris Hale and Gian Slater. And at 4pm in St Pat’s Hall, Belinda Woods on flutes will present compositional elements ranging from free improvisation to highly intricate structural forms in a sextet.
Tension is mounting at this point as the NJA finalists prepare to do battle at 5pm in WPAC Theatre, but If you have not yet caught a glimpse of Adam Simmons as performer rather than program team member, here’s your chance. From 4.30pm in WPAC Hall, Origami will present “Wu-Xing – The Five Elements” a new work by Adam inspired by the Ancient Chinese elements Wood (木 mù), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water (水 shuǐ). This will feature Simmons on alto sax and bass clarinet, Howard Cairns on bass, Hugh Harvey on drums and Wang Zheng-Ting on sheng (Chinese mouth organ). It is a great pity this overlaps with the the NJA finals. Let’s hope it is performed elsewhere soon.
Around about 6pm there will be a NJA winner, so it’s time for a shot or three of coffee before Virus begins in St Pat’s Hall, followed at 7pm in WPAC Hall by Philippe Guidat on guitar and Pascal Rollando on percussion, who will draw on flamenco, Andalusian and Arabic music, Indian music in an acoustic set.
Then, at 8pm in WPAC Theatre, prepare to be mesmerised as multilingual vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Jen Shyu (US) opens her performance of Jade Tongue with Mother Cow’s Companion, one of three traditional folk songs in this work. She will be accompanied by Simon Barker drums, James Shipp vibraphone and Veronique Serret six-string violin for this outing, which is certain to be arresting.
In St Pat’s Hall Zac Hurren will be firing on all keys in a trio format from 8.30pm if you need an energy boost. At 9pm in WPAC Hall Lucky Oceans will head a quintet with Paul Williamson sax, Nick Haywood bass, Claire Anne Taylor voice and Konrad Park drums.
The final WPAC Theatre gig at 10pm will be the Aron Ottingon Trio, but if you are still firing on all cylinders and brim full of the buzz, the annual jam session at the Pinsent Hotel will be the place to put this Wang festival to bed. You can relax and savour the memories — all that hard listening has paid off.