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Allan Browne’s The Poetry of Classic Jazz, Chapel Off Chapel, Sunday May 20

The Poetry of Classic Jazz

The Poetry of Classic Jazz

It was so upbeat that I’m sure we listened with smiles on our faces or deep inside. Yet this exploration of New Orleans-style jazz and drummer Allan Browne’s passion for poetry began with a blues that expressed loss and deep sorrow. As a tribute to “a deep and longtime friend of mine”, drummer Peter Jones, Browne decided to open the gig with W.H. Auden’s Stop All the Clocks, alternatively known as Funeral Blues. The Crowded House drummer died on May 18, aged 45.

It was powerful poetry, delivered with feeling. It did not dampen the spirits of either audience or the band.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

Geoff Bull

Geoff Bull

With Browne to celebrate word and note at Chapel Off Chapel was Sydney trumpeter and vocalist Geoff Bull, Dave Hetherington on clarinet, Margie Lou Dyer on piano and vocals and Mark Elton on bass.

The serious mood continued, with Browne reading a James Langston Hughes poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers, which the drummer said “makes me cry”.

Again, it was moving, and Bull treated us to some rich wah wah in the accompanying music.

Geoff Bull

Geoff Bull

Then, lest solemnity become the rule, we were treated to a preview of Browne’s yet-to-be-launched volume of poems, Conjuror (published by extempore), with the reading of He’s Not Much, But He’s All He Thinks About.

Mark Elton

Mark Elton

And then, with the promise of no more poems until the second set, the mood hotted up, with the James Scott tune Climax Rag, made famous on Blue Note in the 1940s by George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers. Racy, energetic stuff.

Geoff Bull

Geoff Bull

Next came Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor, with fine vocal work from Bull and a piano solo from Dyer, and nice jousting from clarinet (what a joy it is to hear this instrument) and horn. Down By the Riverside followed, then Don’t Go ‘way Nobody, which was heaps of fun, with Browne having a shot at vocals, some quicksilver-fluid clarinet and a great bass solo, and finally Bourbon Street Parade to end the set.

Hetherington and Bull

Dave Hetherington and Geoff Bull

Poetry began the second set, with Green Room recalling Browne’s “old days when you could actually make a living” playing at The Regent, when, he recalled, “you could put on a suit”, go downstairs and “you wouldn’t know you were in Melbourne — you could have been in Hong Kong or New York”.

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

I think it was about now that Browne unearthed a wasps’ nest, because there was quite a bit of buzzing going on. It was a hoot.

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Another change of pace had Browne reading the Frank O’Hara poem for Billie Holiday, The Day Lady Died. He drew our attention to the last line.

… and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

Mark Elton

Mark Elton

Geoff Bull treated us to some more vocals in Just Over in the Glory Land, and there was some lovely interplay between horn and clarinet.

Hetherington, Elton, Bull

Hetherington, Elton, Bull

This was a happy, exuberant rendition.

Hetherington, Elton, Bull

Hetherington, Elton, Bull

Then we had a couple of numbers featuring Dyer’s smoky vocals — Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, and My Old Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.

Browne, Dyer, Elton

Browne, Dyer, Elton

It was great to look across to the partnership of Browne and Dyer in action here, and to feel the rollicking, friendly and fun vibe coming from this ensemble as they captured the spirit of New Orleans jazz.

Browne, Dyer

Browne, Dyer

Announcing Panama Rag to close the gig, Al Browne said the piece was “synonymous with all this music”.

I reckon we were still smiling on the inside as we went outside, and that must have something to do with this style of jazz. But we were also, through the poetry, given the chance — or gently prodded — to reflect a little on life, and on friendship and loss.





Han Bennink
Han Bennink

… and again

Lots of gigs. Lots of noise, but some quiet moments as well. Music non-stop from 2pm Saturday until 8:30pm in four Melbourne Town Hall venues. Having emerged late the previous night from the finale of Melbourne’s jazz fringe festival, which has for years had its full day of music entitled Big Arse Sunday, I could not help but think the Overground concept seemed strikingly similar. Was MIJF making a bid to attract the fringe festival audience?

A few observations: The idea of a lot of bands playing in the one place over many hours (as in The Big Day Out) is great and the town hall was humming. Great to see the crowds. But the program running sheet was initially only posted on the doorways and many of us spent valuable time writing it down, because once a gig finished (many lasted only 20 minutes) it was hard to know where to go next. And unless you knew a lot about say, The Deadnotes or Pure Evil Trio or Carolyn Connors — that demonstrates the diversity of what was on offer — it was hard to plot a route through the Overground. For a festival as big and sophisticated as MIJF now is, it seems this aspect could have been done better. Perhaps the MIJF website could carry links to each band/performer, with background info and samples of audio or video.

While on the basics, I had possibly the worst coffee in the universe at the MTH bar, at a time when I needed greeeaaaat coffee. Extempore journal editor Miriam Zolin would have suffered apoplexy. It was lukewarm and I think came out of a thermos. Also, when you are rushing from one concert to the next, there will come a time when you need sustenance. And you need it on the spot, not out along Swanston Street.

Han Bennink takes to the floor

Peter Brotzmann vies with Bennink

Enough whingeing. I made it to 14 sessions, some only for a quick taste. I loved the buzz, but concerts were happening a little too thick and fast, and often I did not know who would be a must-hear for me.

wall of noise
Pure Evil and Occult Blood make noise

Pure Evil and Occult Blood was a wall of noise, but I left with a smile. Greg Kingston (electric guitar and toys) and Tarquin Manek (of Bum Creek, on various instruments) had everyone smiling with their antics, but it had me asking — also after the opening Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann gig — when the showmanship interferes with the sound.

Greg Kingston
Kingston turns on the tricks

Dale Gorfinkel on contraptions

Bennink’s explosive virtuosity and sublime sense of humour are endearing — we love him — but when Cor Fuhler on prepared piano joined Dale Gorfinkel on sonic contraptions and Kym Myhr guitar and objects, I found it impossible to concentrate on the sound without closing my eyes. Gorfinkel’s device spinning polystyrene cups and a trumpet with tubing was fascinating, but I just wanted to hear the result.

Carolyn Connors

In certain contexts Carolyn Connors‘ extraordinary vocal talents would be OK, but I wanted to get away. And when classical met punk — Golden Fur with True Radical Miracle — I found it a momentarily interesting spectacle, then I wanted to get away.

Hoping Fur a Miracle

The vocal ensemble that included MIJF program director Sophie Brous sounded amazing, but I caught only the last few minutes. (Others in that group were Carolyn Connors, Nik Kennedy, Pete Hyde, Jessica Aszodi, Alex Vivian, Christopher L. G. Hill and Tarquin Manek.

Focused: Misterka and Chase

Two concerts deserved to have full attention, but I had to keep moving. These were Seth Misterka (CCM4) and Brian Chase (of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs) on sax and drums, which was minimalist but compelling, and Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion),
Eugene Ughetti (percussion) and Robin Fox (processing), which provided a period of slowly evolving relief from the mayhem elsewhere.

I missed Cor Fuhler with Scott Tinkler and Simon Barker with Bum Creek. I missed Kim Salmon (The Scientists, Surrealists) with David Brown (Bucketrider, Candlesnuffer, Western Grey, Pateras Baxter Brown). Pity.

I found the quartet of Mick Turner (of Dirty Three, on guitar), Francis Plagne (guitar), Evelyn Morris (of Pikelet and True Radical Miracle, on drums) and Erkki Veltheim (Twitch, Australian Art Orchestra on viola) OK, but not overwhelming, and why Plagne played with his back to the audience was a mystery. Maybe he found an audience made it hard to concentrate.

All stops out: Anthony Pateras

So to the standouts, for me. Bennink and Brotzmann were strong, relentless and cathartic. Bennink with Anthony Pateras on the grand organ was an amazing and beautiful thing. Great idea, executed flawlessly. The organ had the oomph to cope with Bennink’s madness.

Grabowsky prepares for piano

Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress
Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress

Sean Baxter on drums and percussion with Paul Grabowsky on piano was another superb combination. In the end Baxter stole the show, but they were perfect together.

Han Bennink in action at Melbourne Town Hall
Han Bennink returns …

Brotzmann and Bennink revisited was again something special, but what lifted it beyond that was their final collaboration with the Embers Big Band. Embers members Adam Simmons (various saxophones), Dave Brown (electric microtonal bass) and Sean Baxter (drum kit and junk) and Kris Wanders (tenor saxophone) joined Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio) on double bass. Greg Kingston‘s guitar seemed to be largely lost in the mayhem.

Kris Wanders
Kris Wanders

When Wanders joined Brotzmann and then Adam Simmons for a sax armageddon the audience was in raptures.

Sax armageddon
Sax armageddon

David Brown on guitar and pedals intervened at just the right moments, backed ably by Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio). And then there was the duel of sorts between Bennink and the drummer with the hair (Kram from Spiderbait). It was all beyond words, and beyond expectations. What a buzz for performers and for the rapt audience, who left exhausted, but fulfilled.

For more on Overground at Melbourne Town Hall, Mess and Noise has plenty.


Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke and the Black Jesus Experience

What a change of pace. All that noise and full-on duelling of the Embers Big Band subsided gradually in my head on the walk to The Forum as I mentally switched gears for Ethio-jazz. The Forum was an ideal venue for a spectacle and when The Black Jesus Experience came on stage with James Arben on sax there was all the atmosphere — and a smoke machine and coloured spotlights — of a big rock concert or stage spectacular.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

But amid all the fuss, Mulatu Astatke seemed to exude calm and generosity of spirit. This was not some rock star with an air of importance, but a man content to make his gentle contribution among the assembled musicians and, obviously, to delight in doing it. He was attentive to the other musicians and at other times seemed lost in reverie as he played.

I did not catch all the names of tunes played, but there were some from the film Broken Flowers, a Heliocentrics piece entitled Cha Cha, another called Chic Chica, one called The Dawn and “one composed for myself” entitled simply Mulatu.

I did not know what to expect, but probably something a lot more energetic and even hip-hop oriented — I don’t know why. As it turned out most of the concert seemed to be gentle and celebratory, with repetitive rhythms and subtle variations. I’d need to listen to more to be able to adequately describe the music. But it was pleasant without being get-out-of-your-seat-and-start-dancing music.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

There was some excellent musicianship from Souren Tchakerian on percussion, Peter Harper on alto sax, Ian Dixon on horn and Pat Kearney on drums, but I thought James Arben (Heliocentrics) on saxophone was fairly disappointing. A real standout was the keyboard playing of Thai Matus — he was quiet for most of the gig, then erupted with energy and fire, lit appropriately by a red spot. Great stuff.

Thai Matus
On fire: True Live keyboardist Thai Matus

All up, and perhaps I was suffering from the effects of Overground, this concert was not one to set the pulse racing or the blood flowing. It was a nice opportunity to chill in the club-like atmosphere of The Forum.

Mulatu and BJE




John Clare
John Clare, print embedded on his features, delivers his work.

Amid the flurry of festivals happening in Melbourne, extempore editor Miriam Zolin hosted a most pleasant launch at Uptown Jazz Cafe, with finger food and Baddaginnie Run wines. Contributors who read extracts from their published work were Merv Collins, who wrote A Fine Romance about his love for the singing of Kerrie Biddell, P.S. Cottier, who wrote the story Noddy rather than her usual poetry, and John Clare, who has a tongue-in-cheek look at John Lennon in his contribution.

It was a great evening, followed by music from Andrea Keller’s ensemble, including the Stonnington Jazz Festival patron and poetry lover Allan Browne, for those who could stay.

Keep up the hard work Miriam. This is a quality journal and deserves support — from subscribers and from government.