Tag Archives: Craig Simon

McALLS FAIR IN SIBLING RIVALRY

REVIEW: Stonnington Jazz 2012
John McAll’s Black Money/Barney McAll’s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project, Chapel Off Chapel, May 23, 2012

John McAll's Black Money at Chapel Off Chapel

John McAll’s Black Money at Chapel Off Chapel

The brothers McAll performing together in the one venue was always going to be something special — it had never happened before — and it proved to be a real highlight of this year’s festival. The elder brother, John, is in Australia these days and the younger, Barney, in New York.

John McAll

John McAll at the piano in Black Money, with Phillip Rex on bass.

The first set was also a CD launch for pianist, bandleader and composer John McAll‘s second Black Money album, Alter Ego, featuring David Rex on alto sax, Adam Simmons on tenor and contra alto clarinet, Jordan Murray on trombone, Sam Bates on drums and Phillip Rex on bass. With Simmons abroad, Julien Wilson stepped in on tenor at Chapel Off Chapel, but there was no one to fill in on the lower-range  clarinet, which was a pity.

David Rex on alto sax and Jordan Murray (at left).

David Rex on alto sax and Jordan Murray (at left).

John McAll’s eponymous first album Black Money. recorded in New Jersey in 2007 and released in 2009 with a different line-up, has long been a favourite of mine. The darkish allusions, black humour and perceptive inspirations behind John’s compositions are there again on Alter Ego.

Phillip Rex on bass and Sam Bates on drums.

Phillip Rex on bass and Sam Bates on drums.

The band began with I Love Black and I Hate Love, which confirmed that John’s compositions are always full of interest, followed by the robust, vigorous Standing Room, with great solos from McAll, Rex, Murray and Wilson.

John McAll

With feeling: John McAll

The solemn, even melancholy Mirrors followed, with Murray showing why the trombone is so easy to love and McAll’s piano expressive and fluid.

Julien Wilson on tenor sax, John McAll on piano

Julien Wilson on tenor sax, John McAll on piano.

Boogie Dragon, off the first album, came next, followed by ’40s movie-inspired Assassin, which saw McAll right into it and Wilson catching just the right flavour for a desert song. I could almost see “El Aurens” riding past on his camel.

Jordan Murray on trombone.

Jordan Murray on trombone.

Before Juggernaut, which intriguingly refers to the weight of all the responsibilities and troubles we all carry in life, John McAll appeared to take a call on his mobile. Scripted or not, it was in tune with the occasionally irreverent tone of the whole gig with the McAll brothers. The piano solo in Juggernaut was really swinging.

Sam Bates on drums.

Sam Bates on drums.

The set closed with Refugee, with top solos from Rex and Bates. The piece really built in intensity and had a spiky, staccato feel at times, as well some sweeping piano vistas. My only regret was that Black Money did not play Glitter and Dust from the first album, but the set demonstrated that this band, coupled with the elder McAll’s compositions, is — to repeat a cliche — on the money.

Barney McAll's Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project

Barney McAll’s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project.

For Barney McAll‘s Chaos Lento: A Guajira Project, the line-up was Barney on keyboards, Ben Hauptmann on guitar, Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums and Javier Fredes on percussion. According to Wikipedia, Guajira is “country music” in Cuban Spanish, and has a mixture of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms, but I’m not sure how well that applies to this outing.

With feeling: Barney McAll

With feeling: Barney McAll.

The set began with Barney paying tribute to Mooroolbark (for producing such musical luminaries as Doug de Vries, Rob Barnard and Len Barnard) and dad Jack McAll, before telling a tale about his elder sibling painting rocks gold. Then the band delivered the strongly accented beat of Non Compliance, with Barney making his presence felt with some emphatic piano passages.

Javier Fredes on percussion.

Javier Fredes on percussion.

Then followed the compelling, rhythmically driven pieces Untitled and Transform, the latter with Barney playing piano and keyboard. There was heaps of swing and groove in this, with a beautiful fade.

Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums.

Phillip Rex on bass, Craig Simon on drums.

Summer Lawn had Phil Rex deliver a potent solo. Piano was, with bass, the driving force in a sustained exploration of patterns with variations. Perhaps it went on a little long, but I found it mesmeric and felt that it was best described as “power meditation”. There was momentum and involvement here that I could not help but contrast with what I had felt was lacking to some degree in Barney’s performance of Graft at Wangaratta Jazz in 2011.

The final piece for this band, though not the set, was a superb debut of Feb, which was written for this gig. This piece canvassed a range of moods, with the piano opening with reflection and becoming expansive before some hot percussion from Fredes and drama in some “crash & bash” on the piano. I loved the changing colours of the piano in this — towards the end Barney produced a haunting feel with notes floating and short, high runs that had great beauty.

Julien Wilson, David Rex, Jordan Murray

Julien Wilson, David Rex, Jordan Murray

In the final piece for the night, Insight, it all came together — well, the bands did. The brothers McAll sat at piano (John) and keyboard (Barney), while the remaining four from Black Money joined Barney’s band onstage.

Grand larceny: Barney removes brother John from the piano.

Grand larceny: Barney removes brother John from the piano.

It did not take long for the sibling rivalry to surface. Hamming it up awards could have been handed out to the brothers as Barney grabbed John and hauled him off the piano. Of course the elder brother returned on keyboard and the two put their heads together to cap off this extraordinary collaboration with their bands.

First time performing together: The brothers McAll.

First time performing together: The brothers McAll.

The brothers McAll gig was a hoot, but also had plenty of great musicianship to go with the fun and games.

ROGER MITCHELL

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HEY, HEY IT’S YOUNG TALENT TIME

Ausjazz blog reviews the opening of Stonnington Jazz 2012

Sarah McKenzie

Alex Boneham and an attentive Sarah McKenzie at Stonnington Jazz opening night.

It was a perfect setting for deja vu. It was the opening night of Stonnington Jazz, the venue was Malvern Town Hall, patrons were seated nightclub-style at tables across the dimly, but beautifully lit auditorium, and festival director Adrian Jackson was at the microphone. Sarah McKenzie was soon seated at the piano. It could easily have been a year earlier when the young singer opened Stonnington Jazz for 2011. But somehow the deja vu never arrived. This was different.

Generations in Jazz Big Band

Generations in Jazz Big Band

The big difference, of course, was a big band — the Generations in Jazz Big Band composed of talented young musicians nurtured by the esteemed saxophonist Graeme Lyall at Mount Gambier in South Australia. This band made a substantial difference not only because of their excellent musicianship, but because they altered the dynamic. Right from the start McKenzie was not just the performer on piano and vocals with her quartet of Hugh Stuckey on guitar, Alex Boneham on bass and Craig Simon on drums. She was now McKenzie the arranger and composer and musical director of a band, albeit in close collusion with Lyall. And from the start of this gig McKenzie was alert and attentive to what the band was doing — doing very well indeed.

Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie

With quartet and band, McKenzie performed The Wind Cries Mary (Hendrix) and At Last (Gordon/Warren), before giving us two numbers with the quartet and vibes — her take on Big Yellow Taxi (Mitchell) and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Ellington). But the highlight of the first set gave us a chance to see McKenzie sans piano and sans vocals in the role of composer and band leader.

Sarah McKenzie conducts the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Sarah McKenzie conducts the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Two things made this number special for me. First, Song for Maria was McKenzie’s tribute to American arranger, composer and big band leader Maria Schneider, of whom I’m a huge fan. This composition really worked well and really blew away any cobwebs of deja vu — we were seeing and hearing a new dimension to McKenzie as composer. Second, McKenzie handed the piano keys to Shea Martin (I hope that name is correct), who did credit to her work in a considered and compelling performance.

Shea Martin with the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Shea Martin with the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Graeme Lyall appeared to lead the band as the second set opened with Look For the Silver Lining (Kern/DeSylva).

Generations in Jazz Big Band

Generations in Jazz Big Band

It was obvious that Lyall has these young players well rehearsed and responsive. But, hey hey, some antics were about to begin.

Generations in Jazz Big Band

Generations in Jazz Big Band

There was no sign of an ostrich, but who should suddenly pop up but the inimitable showman Daryl Somers, who is a patron of the Generations in Jazz Program. He put the audience through its paces with some singalong.

Daryl Somers

No ostrich: Daryl Somers pops in to Stonnington Jazz.

McKenzie returned with the quartet for her version (“I can’t play a standard in a standard way”) of Nat King Cole’s Too Young, followed by Don’t Tempt Me, an original and the title track from her first album. The second album, Close Your Eyes, will be released soon. It should be said that the work of Stuckey, Boneham and Simon was exemplary, and Stuckey’s contribution on guitar in particular was appreciated by the crowd.

Sarah McKenzie

Hitting her straps: Sarah McKenzie

It was about now that it seemed McKenzie really started to hit her straps. I had the feeling she was just getting into her stride. Saying that she always tried to “do one dangerous thing every day”, she again handed the piano to young Martin and took the mic to perform only vocals in Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies.

Shea Martin on piano at Stonnington Jazz.

Shea Martin on piano at Stonnington Jazz.

I loved the work of the band, the pianist and Boneham’s bass in this piece, and again it was excellent to see McKenzie being a little dangerous.

One dangerous thing: Sarah McKenzie without piano.

One dangerous thing: Sarah McKenzie without piano.

But the singer returned to the piano for her most powerful number all night, an original blues titled Living Room Blues. I think McKenzie really felt relaxed at this point and could have gone on. She seemed to be just warming up. But the night ended with her alone at the piano for the ballad I Should Care.

It was a great festival launch, but more importantly it was a chance for McKenzie — with a huge dollop of help from Graeme Lyall and the big band — to show her potential as an arranger and composer. And there is much hope for the future of Australian jazz with young musicians being given such a great start.

At the opening of Stonnington Jazz 2012, the deja vu that might have happened was never missed.

ROGER MITCHELL

THE DRUM ON NATIONAL JAZZ AWARDS FINALISTS

Craig Simon

Craig Simon, one of the 2011 National Jazz Awards finalists, at Bennetts Lane.

Duties related to a certain annual report have delayed this post, but if you haven’t heard the latest on the national jazz awards at this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues then read on.

Ten drummers will perform in competition during the festival, which runs from Friday, October 28 to Monday, October 31 October, competing for a first prize of $8000 and a studio recording session.

For those who are yet to become regulars at Wang, each year the awards focus on a different instrument, and this year finalists will be drumming up a storm accompanied by saxophonist Dale Barlow, previous 1999 National Jazz Awards winner pianist Matt McMahon and 2008 runner-up Ben Waples. The finalists will compete with pieces composed by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Dale Barlow and Paul Grabowsky, as well as their original compositions.

The best three will then play in the final round at 5pm on the festival, in a performance broadcast live-to-air on ‘Jazztrack with Mal Stanley’ on ABC Classic FM (from 5pm-7pm).

Entries received from across Australia, New Zealand and Japan were judged by that most poetic and versatile of drummers, Allan Browne, a recipient of the Australia Council’s Don Banks Award; pianist extraordinaire Mike Nock (whose album An Accumulation of Subtleties was given four stars by Ausjazz blog when it should have received more, given that I’ve enjoyed it so much); and veteran drummer Ted Vining who has been leading bands for over four decades.

The National Jazz Awards have been presented at the festival since it began in 1990 and were designed to contribute to the development and recognition of young jazz and blues musicians up to the age 35. The awards are a highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.

So, after all that palaver, here are the top ten finalists:

Ben Falle, 25, Perth
Graham Hunt, 27, Sydney
James Waples, 28, Sydney
Tim Firth, 29, Sydney
Hugh Harvey, 30, Melbourne
Evan Mannell, 32, Sydney
Sam Bates, 33, Melbourne
Craig Simon, 34, Melbourne
Dave Goodman, 34, Sydney
Cameron Reid, 34, Sydney

The prizes at these awards are worth playing for. The first prize winner will receive $8000, a studio recording session for ABC Classic FM’s ‘Jazztrack with Mal Stanley’ and an invitation to perform at the Stonnington Jazz Festival in May 2012. The runner-up will receive $5000 and the third finalist will receive $2000.

Past winners include pianist and 2007 Grammy award nominee Barney McAll (1990 winner) who joins the festival from the US, saxophonist and improviser Elliott Dalgeish (1995 winner), guitarist James Muller (2000 winner) and Thirsty Merc bassist Phil Stack (2008 winner) who have all been invited to perform at the festival this year.

DISCOUNTED EARLY BIRD TICKETS AVAILABLE ONLY UNTIL END OF SEPTEMBER. Check website to save!

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues
Dates: Friday October 28 to Monday October 31
Festival Passes: On sale now. Passes allow access to all venues or blues venues only and range from $65 to $220, or from $45 to $170 for earlybird and concession.
Early bird: Purchase before 30 September to save! Full details on the website
Program & bookings: www.wangarattajazz.com
Accommodation: Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre 1800 801 06 / www.visitwangaratta.com.au

ROGER MITCHELL (with help from the festival press release)