Tag Archives: Fabian Almazan

ISN’T IT GRAND, NORWEGIAN BAND

REVIEW

Ausjazz blog picks some highlights from the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival:

Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif

A festival highlight: Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif from Norway.

All up, Ausjazz went to all or part of 15 MIJF gigs this year. This is an attempt to pick out some highlights, though there will be posts about individual concerts when time permits. A few explanatory notes: First, I chose not to review the Opening Gala: The Way You Look Tonight or the final evening’s Dee Dee Bridgewater Sings, because those concerts were not my cup of tea. That is not any reflection on the musicians involved.

Second, for reasons beyond my control I could not make any gigs from Monday, June 4 to Wednesday, June 6 inclusive. Again, that had nothing to do with the calibre of the music on offer. Third, I did not make it to any of the master classes, though I have heard from many who did that these were definite highlights.

Of the concerts I attended, there were none that I did not enjoy — perhaps I am easily pleased, but I believe this festival followed the usual rule by delivering more delights than may have been anticipated upon first glance at the program. It was not too adventurous — certainly not as “out there” as recent years under the direction of Sophie Brous. I did miss that aspect. The most experimental outings were Peter Knight‘s Fish Boast of Fishing and Andrea Keller‘s work with Genevieve Lacey and Joe Talia — both at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon and both involving Australian artists. From overseas, the Robert Glasper Experiment strayed from the conventional, as did the Norwegian quintet Motif, but the latter was the standout of these two for me.

Before I discuss highlights, it’s probably worth exploring the value or otherwise of reviews. Unlike reviews of opening night stage productions, with MIJF commentary there is in most cases no season ahead in which potential punters can decide to go or not go on the basis of what’s written. Most concerts are unrepeated or already sold out before reviews hit the airwaves, streets or online haunts. I see reviews as one way to build an archive or record of what a festival has succeeded in delivering. That record may provide some context to those who attended various concerts or merely arouse the interest of readers who may seek out that music in some form later, possibly even live if the artist or band returns.

So, in consecutive order by date rather than any (futile) rating, my highlights were as follows: I found Bernie McGann‘s quartet at Bennetts Lane on the opening Friday night deeply satisfying, not only because of McGann’s saxophone work, but because of what the other players in the band — Marc Hannaford, Phillip Rex and Dave Beck — contributed.

On the following night, at the same venue, Murphy’s Law impressed with Tamara Murphy‘s suite “Big Creatures Little Creatures”. At The Forum later that evening, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra showed its class with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter, but the standouts for me were the Andy Fiddes composition Gathering Momentum, some trumpet excellence from Phil Slater in the third piece (the name of which I did not catch) and Potter’s darker sax in the encore Rumination. Later still, back at Bennetts Lane, the Eli Degibri Quartet from Israel had a smooth fluidity and swing that definitely had me wanting more, especially from the 16-year-old pianist Gadi Lehavri.

What can I say about McCoy Tyner‘s concert on Sunday in the Melbourne Town Hall? The only basis I have for comparing the pianist now with his illustrious past playing is via recordings, and on that basis he is not quite in that league now. And I think Jose James could not act as a substitute for Johnny Hartman. I enjoyed the outing, and I don’t see much point in comparisons when you have a chance to hear a musician of Tyner’s stature. But this was not a festival highlight for me.

By contrast, Terence Blanchard‘s quintet on Thursday at Melbourne Recital Centre was a real standout. It’s definitely no criticism of Rob Burke, Tony Gould, Tony Floyd and Nick Haywood, who opened this gig, but I did think as Blanchard’s band opened with Derrick’s Choice that a band with a local trumpeter such as Scott Tinkler or Phil Slater would have been ideal.

In the quintet’s set I would have been satisfied just to hear Fabian Almazan‘s contribution on piano, but Blanchard’s playing was inventive, fluid and piercingly penetrating, with sampled audio from Dr Cornel West and some echo among the special effects. Blanchard’s tone did not really dig into the guttural until shortly before the inevitable encore and his sound was not as fat as I’d expected. Brice Winston on tenor sax was superb in the Almazan piece Pet Step Sitter’s Theme.

In terms of musicianship, Renaud Garcia-Fons on bass with the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC on Friday night stood out. I’d regretted having to miss the solo bass gig at Bennetts Lane mid week, but in a way this trio concert was a vehicle for Garcia-Fons to show his amazing talents. On his five-stringed instrument Garcia-Fons uses a range of techniques with and without bow, recalling Barre Phillips‘ solo performance at Wangaratta Jazz last year, but it’s a totally different experience. I could only marvel at Garcia-Fons’s skill, but, by contrast with Phillips, his music lacked the tension and resolution (or lack of it) that is so compelling in jazz improvisation. Also, I would have liked to hear more from Kiko Rulz on flamenco guitar, who in brief bursts only whetted my appetite to hear more. I could not help but wish that Pascal Rollando on percussion would contribute more fire and inventiveness. That said, this concert was a highlight.

Even more so was Dr Lonnie Smith in his trio with Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums at Bennetts Lane late on Friday. I love the Hammond B3 and Smith was enjoying every moment of his time on Tim Neal‘s beautiful instrument. This was a therapeutic experience and just what the Doctor ordered for me. Kreisberg’s playing was exciting and intense, and the organ was just a thrill and a joy to hear. The notes from a Hammond can be felt deep in the body and seem to free the spirit. I’ll be hanging out for Smith’s new album, Healer, due in a few weeks. But an album is not the same as being there and feeling the B3 vibrations at close quarters.

OK, I’m waxing too lyrical. On the second Saturday of the festival I made it to four gigs. Peter Knight and his ensemble’s Fish Boast of Fishing at the Salon, MRC, took me out of my comfort zone and into an emerging, growing, developing experience in which I felt there was a contradiction of sorts. There was definitely tension. There was complexity and coordination in the way sounds were produced, but when I closed my eyes the experience was of something organic, almost living and breathing. Perhaps that was the point.

Norwegian band Motif

Norwegian band Motif

Next came another real highlight for me and I would have missed it if I had not had a recommendation from ABC presenter Jessica Nicholas. The Norwegian outfit Motif was a standout. I always think European bands can be counted on to bring something significantly different to their music and Motif was no exception. This was intelligent, quirky and engrossing jazz, with extreme variations in dynamics and pretty well anything you could imagine. There was ferocity and solemnity. There was pandemonium and space. What a hoot! This was the night’s highlight. There was another great set to follow I’m sure. It was hard to leave.

But Tarbaby at the Comedy Theatre — with Oliver Lake on alto sax, Eric Revis on bass, Orrin Evans on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums — served up a set of take-no-prisoners hard-driving jazz. This was a top rhythm section that took me full circle back to the Bernie McGann concert at the festival’s start. Apart from Lake’s robust playing, what I loved most was Evans’s command of the piano in Paul Motian‘s Abacus. This set would have topped the night for me, but I still had Motif ringing in my consciousness and I wasn’t letting that go in a hurry.

I did queue up for a long, cold wait to hear some of the Robert Glasper Experiment, but it was too hi-tech for me. I just wanted to chill and listen to Glasper on piano, but the crowd at Bennetts Lane was all fired up. They probably had a highlight at this outing, but not me.

On Sunday, the final night, I caught the first set of Sandy Evans with Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton. It was the perfect wind-down.

All in all, there was plenty to get excited about in the MIJF 2012. The crowds were out listening to live music and many venues seemed to be full.

Next year? Well, maybe a few more European bands and a little more experimentation. But, after all, there is the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival for that.

ROGER MITCHELL

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FESTIVAL TAKES TO THE SKIES

Hiromi

Hiromi is among artists who will fly Qatar Airways to Melbourne. (All About Jazz image)

Ausjazz blog previews the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012, which was launched on March 13:

The hubbub on level 24 of The Langham in Melbourne gave way to attentive silence yesterday evening as Murphy’s Law treated the assembled multitude to about four minutes of Big Creatures & Little Creatures: The Modular Suite.

The music was a welcome relief from the necessary formalities of the official launch of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which will run from June 1 to June 10.

If the fragment of this commissioned work by Tamara Murphy was any indication, its full performance at Bennetts Lane as part of the festival’s Club Sessions will be compelling.

And if the question on everybody’s lips as program details emerged was how the festival’s focus under artistic director Michael Tortoni would differ from its direction under Sophie Brous, the real story of the night was about a key sponsorship.

As Melbourne’s music glitterati watched a promotional video about the delights of the Middle East state of Qatar, it was dawning on us all what a coup it was to bag Qatar Airways as a festival sponsor. The benefit is obvious — it will be much cheaper to fly in international artists, thus countering to some extent the isolation of Australia from the jazz hotspots of the United States and Europe.

So who are the big names and what is the flavour of this festival? Tortoni described the focus as “jazz royalty alongside the voice of a rising generation” and said MIJF 2012 was “all about what jazz is when the talking stops and the music starts”. Well, every festival has to have its catchphrases, but to take up his theme with another well-worn phrase, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

An initial glance at the program shows it is not overly adventurous, and represents less of a challenge — or an enticement — to audience groups on the fringes of more straight ahead jazz. The very popular multi-stage day of music madness and mayhem at Melbourne Town Hall will not take place this year, due to an absence of sponsorship and most likely of Sophie Brous. That’s a pity, because that gave the recent festivals a welcome edge that it must now fall to the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival to fill.

The main international artists include pianist McCoy Tyner revisiting the 1963 John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, this time with vocalist Jose James and saxophonist Chris Potter.

Potter will also perform some of his own material with Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra as well as some commissioned Australian material. This should be exciting.

James will also feature in the Robert Glasper Experiment, “an Australian premiere event that smashes stylistic boundaries to reshape the future directions of jazz” by “taking hip-hop, R&B, soul and post-modern jazz to never-before-seen places”.

For lovers of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, US vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater will visit Melbourne for the first time, and also from the ‘States’, Patti Austin will perform a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with one matinee and one evening performance.

The familiar vocal extravaganza at the Palais this year is entitled “The Way You Look Tonight” featuring Katie Noonan, Vince Jones and Kristin Berardi in an opening night gala.

Likely to attract a much younger audience will be keyboardist-composer Hiromi (Japan/USA) who blends jazz with progressive rock and classical styles. Her first concert will open with US bassist Robert Hurst joining locals Jamie Oehlers and Dave Beck.

Hiromi’s second gig will be a double bill with the Israeli Eli Degibri Quartet, featuring 16-year-old prodigy Gadi Lehavi on piano.

A film-themed package will feature five-time Grammy Award winner and cinematic composer Terence Blanchard on trumpet (in a quartet with Brice Winston on tenor, Fabian Almazan on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums), Australia’s Joe Chindamo performing his arrangements of Coen Brothers film music and an ACMI Jazz on Film program.

The Salon at MRC will host three concerts with Monash University under the Jazz Futures banner featuring the Terence Blanchard Quintet, The Fringe (with George Garzone on sax) and Tarbaby (with Oliver Lake on alto sax).

The Fringe and Tarbaby will also perform at a new venue for this festival, the Comedy Theatre. These outings should keep us awake.
From Europe will come bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, appearing in the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC after a real highlight opener of pianist Luke Howard with Janos Bruneel (Belgium) on bass.

Samuel Yirga Quartet from Ethiopia will feature the piano prodigy at the Comedy Theatre, opened by locals The Black Jesus Experience.
For lovers of the Hammond B3 (and I’m one), Dr Lonnie Smith (USA) will perform at Bennetts Lane.

In the Club Sessions, Motif from Norway will feature along with Robert Hurst and the Luca Ciaria Quartet from Italy.
Allan Browne Sextet will celebrate the launch of Conjuror — a collection of his jazz poetry — in two sets which should be a festival standout. Sandy Evans will join Lloyd Swanton and Toby Hall for a special closing night celebration presented with the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative.

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival opens on June 1.

ROGER MITCHELL

WANGARATTA OPENS WARM & A LITTLE WACKY

Ausjazz blog catches the flavour of Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival on Friday, October 28, 2011

Linda Oh

Linda Oh

It was balmy, warm and threatening rain when festival artistic director Adrian Jackson welcomed patrons to the first gig of this festival, the Linda Oh Quartet. This group, with Sam Sadisgursky on tenor sax, Fabian Almazan on piano and Rhodes and Kendrick Scott on drums, played with zest, energy and interaction. Oh, who moved from Malaysia to Perth when she was two and now lives in New York, was a hit on her previous visit to Wangaratta, but her approach to the music then was cooler and less relaxed.

This quartet really works well, and the focus is less on Oh as a skilled young female bassist who has made it to New York (quite an achievement) and more on the creative work of the ensemble. The quartet included some tracks from its forthcoming album Initial Here, due out next year. They played The Ultimate Persona, Something’s Coming (West Side Story), Deeper Than Happy, Little House and No. 1 Hit.

On tenor sax: Sam Sadigursky

On tenor sax: Sam Sadigursky

There was a very enticing, warm feel to this ensemble. It was polished, with fluid transitions and no jagged edges, exhibiting a group dynamic without any hint that players were seeking the limelight. The band expertly explored a range of moods and emotions.

Kendrick Scott

On drum kit: Kendrick Scott

Kendrick Scott on drums was skilled and subtle, not resorting to any smash and bash. Sadigursky contributed some beautiful tenor sax passages and the combination of Almazan on Rhodes with Oh on electric bass guitar worked really well in Deeper Than Happy and Little House. Some who admire Oh’s upright bass skills may have preferred that she stay on that instrument throughout, but the change seemed to allow Almazan more prominence on the weatherbeaten Rhodes and that was no bad thing.

On keyboards: Fabian Almazan

On keyboards: Fabian Almazan

Next up, in the WPAC Hall, was pianist/composer Walter Lampe, an expatriate now living in Amsterdam, with Dale Barlow on sax and flute.

Walter Lampe

Walter Lampe

This was but a brief glimpse of this concert, hardly enough to justify any broad observations. Lampe was alone on stage when I entered, playing sumptious chords. When Barlow returned, he introduced their take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which he said would “take all sorts of liberties” with the original, though paying it great respect.

Dale Barlow

Dale Barlow

Barlow’s sax sound for this delightful deconstruction of the favourite tune was fat, air-filled and luscious as it drifted languidly over Lampe’s piano. Lampe dug out some strong, rumbling chords before some more delicate work in his solo. It was a beautifully laid-back interpretation (what else would you expect). Barlow took up the flute for the next tune. I had to leave, heading to
St Patrick’s Hall to catch James Muller Trio.

James Muller Trio at St Patrick's Hall

James Muller Trio at St Patrick's Hall

Again, this was a brief sojourn just to see what was afoot. Muller on guitar was with Alex Boneham (fresh from his engaging and compelling accompaniment of Geoff Page reading his poetry at the launch of extempore‘s volume of Page’s jazz poems entitled A Sudden Sentence in the Air) and Ben Vanderwal on drums. Apologies for that convoluted parenthesis.

These musicians are brimful of talent and this was, I imagine, a set with plenty to offer for fans of robust jazz with some rock influence thrown in. It is a treat to hear Muller in full flight, ably backed by Boneham and Vanderwal, but this was to be a treat for others. I had to catch Josh Roseman with the Australian Art Orchestra.

Josh Roseman

Quirky: Josh Roseman

This is where the “wacky” part of the heading of this post starts to make sense. The Australian Art Orchestra can always be expected to come up with something out of the ordinary, so this concert was always likely to be a little different, given Roseman’s taste for similarly thinking outside the square. He is one interesting cat, as they say in jazz milieu. And of course there was expatriate Barney McAll, brother of John McAll of Black Money fame, who is also “out there” in the nicest way.

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

So, who was there and what happened? Well, the laundry list of players was, for the AAO, Tim Wilson and Jamie Oehlers on saxophones, Eugene Ball and Paul Williamson on trumpets, Jordan Murray and James Greening on trombones, Geoff Hughes on guitar, Phillip Rex on double bass and “Mr Grabowsky” (as Roseman always addresses him, with obvious respect) on piano. For the Josh Roseman Unit, Barney McAll played Rhodes, clavinet (electrophonic keyboard instrument manufactured by Hohner, according to Wikipedia), laptop, piano, Chucky (a homemade musical instrument he describes as being “for textural enterprise and underwater landscapes as metaphor”) and maybe another device or two, Ted Poor was on drums and Peter Apfelbaum on drums, keyboards and saxophone.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky

What happened? Well, it is hard to describe, but quite amazing. At one point Roseman told the audience that he and Barney had been “ploughing a path through absurdity” for many years, though this was “the first time we have set foot together on a stage in his motherland/fatherland”. Roseman added (and this seems to sum up the night): “He is truly out of a tree and we are going to shake a tree”. And shake a tree they did.

Josh Roseman

On vocals: Josh Roseman

But how to describe the result is a challenge. I admit to having been quietly laughing inside on many occasions during the set, because there seemed to be so much absurdist humour built into the performance. Tungsten Mothra (an allusion to a fictional moth monster who is pitted against Godzilla in many Japanese movies) was “dedicated to a lady — a whole lot of them” and was intended (I think) to conjure up visions of cheer leaders. Unspeakable (these were all Roseman compositions), which included a solo by Apfelbaum on melodica, segued into The Execution Tune in an extraordinary multi-layered display, with histrionics, which I was sure featured a fantastic guitar solo by Hughes, but maybe it was produced on the clavinet.  It was hard to grasp exactly from whence the sounds originated. McAll pulled enough expressive faces to rival Jim Carrey, as well as leaping about behind his instruments to produce effects or overcome technical difficulties.

Bold as brass: Josh Roseman

Bold as brass: Josh Roseman

Manifest Density followed, before Invocation, a work commissioned by the SFJAZZ Collective. This was epic but episodic music, with the structure not that easy to uncover amidst the short interventions by many players and combinations thereof. Contributions were often brief and the overall effect often a busy marketplace of rhythms, textures, patterns and incursions.

The set closed with what Roseman described as the King Froopy All Stars theme song, a reference to his 11 or 12-piece big band. This was a sonic feast, with a rich, resonant solo from the bandleader, spiced with some effects. There was a strange, but appealing feel to this piece, with flamboyant piano and keyboards and some piercing “whistles” from Ball’s horn. The musicians were all serious concentration, but the music was laughing. McAll had some fun with effects, producing sounds reminiscent of bird calls. At the end the band went into hymn-like Salvation Army band mode, with Grabowsky really getting into it on piano.

Grabowsky and Oehlers

Hey, Paul, we could try that in Lost and Found tomorrow morning.

I have little doubt that this was challenging music even for these talented musicians, though often lots of fun to play. But it was also challenging for the listeners, because there was little to latch on to before the constantly changing and evolving music moved on. That’s no bad thing, especially in a festival where “really out there” music was not so prevalent in the program. But this fun night did not leave me feeling it was one of the AAO’s highlight performances or that I could walk out with the tag “memorable” embedded in my deteriorating memory bank. It was more music for the intellect than the soul.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: For those who made it this far and intend to return for more on this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, I intend posting one overview of Saturday’s concerts, and one of Sunday’s, rather than attempting to review individual performances. These will be posted in the next few days. Please re-visit the blog, because pictures will be added gradually as time permits.