Tag Archives: Gian Slater

FINDING CONSOLATION IN SADNESS

Still Night: Music in Poetry

Still Night: Music in Poetry                                      Image: Natasha Blankfield

REVIEW

Still Night: Music in Poetry, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, Friday 25 November 2016, 7pm

There is a gradually growing section in our hallway book shelves that contains poetry, yet it is all too rarely visited. In that respect it is like death, which we too often avoid confronting until it is thrust upon us.

So much can be conveyed in poetry if we give it the time to reflect upon it that it deserves. So much can be conveyed in music if we give it the attention it deserves, by listening.

In Still Night composer and pianist Andrea Keller gave us the opportunity to hear the music in poetry as well as the time to reflect on the many strands of thought expressed in 10 carefully chosen and very different poems that deal with death, grief and loss.

Keller (piano) joined Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Stephen Magnusson (guitars) and vocalists Gian Slater and Vince Jones in an hour-long set in the acoustically rich Salon space that was totally absorbing.

Keller’s program notes explain that this project arose out of a realisation that her isolated experiences of death, grief and loss, as well as the inadequacy of Anglo-Australian culture to deal with the emotions of such realities, differed sharply from the life evident in a Copenhagen cemetery she visited in 2007, where people enjoyed picnics, admired the beauty of the gardens and paid respect to loved ones.

Still Night: Music in Poetry

Still Night: Music in Poetry                             Image: Natasha Blankfield

This concert worked on many levels, but I found myself slipping easily between momentary explorations of the ideas conveyed by the words and the pure joy of experiencing voice and other instruments.

From the opening poem, Listen, Listen by Izumi Shikibu, it was clear we would be given time to reflect on the words and to feel their meanings conveyed on surges of sound, as if ocean waves washed them to us.

In E.E. Cummings’ Finis, the power of piano contrasted with the fragility and purity of the voices, which were undulating, rocking, ebbing and flowing, Slater’s notes bending with great agility.

One of the most effective of the night’s poems was Proust’s bleak So Tired of Having Suffered, Slater’s voice beginning as a whisper and gaining strength, drama coming from Keller and Wilson, and Jones adding a kind of mantra with a jazz feel.

The chemistry between Wilson and Slater in Yeats’ Where My Books Go was given additional synergy by Magnusson and Keller.

Anyone familiar with Jeannie Lewis’s rendition of Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night will understand that I have long associated those lyrics with power, but Jones’s gentle vocals made this more of an appeal than an exhortation. Magnusson’s guitar journey in this was superb.

The words of Richard James Allen’s poem Hamlet’s Reply convey loss and emptiness in a powerful way, especially the last lines: “Alone, with nothing but the night. Alone. And soon, just the night.” I thought that Jones’s voice was vying with the sax in this, so those lyrics were a little lost at a crucial point.

Slater’s voice — ethereal and boundless — was eminently suited to Whitman’s Darest Thou O Soul, floating over the strong piano patterns created by Keller. And Magnusson’s spindly, fine tendrils of sound were ideal for Teasdale’s optimistic If Death is Kind, in which the vocalists blended and crossed beautifully.

Julien Wilson’s work on tenor sax and bass clarinet was an absolute delight during this concert.

In considering how Still Night: Music in Poetry might contribute to our responses to death, Andrea Keller quotes Robert White that “meditating on a beautiful expression of sadness can help to provide a thoroughly uplifting sense of consolation”.

Each member of the sold-out Salon audience will know whether this work succeeded, but I can say that to me it was a journey to places that I needed to explore.

ROGER MITCHELL

PS: Ode to a Nightingale is my favourite Keats poem, and I love these lines:

Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller performs at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2016

IN SUPPORT OF SUPPORT ACTS

Johnny Tedesco

Johnny Tedesco and Chris Hale perform Sylvan Coda

REFLECTION:

Christopher Hale’s Sylvan Coda opens for Jorge Pardo “Huellas” at Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday 31 May at 7.30pm

Here and Now opens for Larry Carlton Quartet at Melbourne Recital Centre, Wednesday 4 June at 7.30pm

In any international festival the established practice is for the visiting performers, as the main drawcards, to be on stage for much longer and to be preceded by support bands from Australia. This is a good way for our home-grown musicians to share in the festival limelight and potentially gain a following from the larger audiences who appear out of the woodwork.

I am always disappointed to notice how many seats that are vacant during the opening set and yet are filled when the main performers come on stage. It is a pity not only because it shows disrespect for Australian musicians, but also because the patrons who arrive late are likely to miss hearing some very talented and inventive artists.

The opening sets at MRC this year seem to be way too short. I have not heard any complaints from our “local” musicians — possibly they are glad to have even such limited exposure in such a large festival — but the balance does seem to have swung too much towards the main acts on the bill.

In the case of Christopher Hale’s Sylvan Coda, which opened for Jorge Pardo‘s flamenco jazz, what the audience heard and saw was a tiny taste or fragment of the original suite. I’m sure Johnny Tedesco‘s fantastic flamenco footwork was a highlight for many in the audience — I was struck by how his feet called to mind the fluttering of butterfly wings and the feather-light, incredibly rapid work by some drummers I’ve heard — but it would have been impossible to convey the way in which the original suite changed and developed.

Anyone who liked the snippet provided in this opener should watch for another performance of the full Sylvan Coda.

Sylvan Coda

Johnny Tedesco, Chris Hale, Nathan Slater and Ben Vanderwal in Sylvan Coda at Melbourne Recital Centre

Sylvan Coda

Jacq Gawler, Hannah Cameron, Gian Slater and Julian Banks

Chris Hale

Chris Hale

The other short opening set deserving special mention at MRC so far this year was the performance by Here and Now before the Larry Carlton Quartet.

I left a little early from Carlton’s set — to get to another festival gig and also because the music being played did not excite me. But a clear standout for me was the work of Andrea Keller on piano, Nilusha Dassenaike on vocals, Alex Pertout on percussion, Evripides Evripidou on bass and David Jones on drums.

I should confess that on this rainy evening I was tempted to arrive at 8.15pm to catch the main act, but decided I should respect the artists performing first. I am so glad I did.

Although this set was short, I felt that it took us to quite a special place. Each member of the ensemble contributed significantly, but Evripidou on bass was inventive and I found Keller’s solo, without needing to be loud, filling the auditorium as well as my being. I believed it would be one of the best piano solos of the festival. Her notes seemed to be drawing the audience into a state of total absorption. Dassenaike’s voice was integral to this meditative set.

Here and Now plays Melbourne Recital Centre

Here and Now plays Melbourne Recital Centre

Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller

Alex Pertout, Nilusha Dassenaike and Evripides Evripidou

Alex Pertout, Nilusha Dassenaike and Evripides Evripidou

Here and Now musicians take a bow.

Here and Now musicians take a bow.

I’d like to see opening acts given a fairer allocation of time in future festivals. But one thing is certain — it is never wise to come late and miss out on what comes first. It could well be what you appreciate most.

ROGER MITCHELL

MUSICIANS WHO MOVE

Gerald Clayton

Gerald Clayton                          Picture: Ben Wolf

Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, November 1-4, 2013

This preview covers a lot of ground, with the aim of letting people know what is on offer. The joy of a festival such as Wangaratta is that patrons can take risks and dip into unfamiliar territory.

JAZZ PROGRAM PREVIEW

Music moves us, musicians move us and musicians move. So many times when we read the biographies of favourite musicians, we find they have made leaps to new places and new music communities — sometimes returning home eventually, sometimes not.

On a recent Sunday night at Melbourne’s Uptown Jazz Café, pianist Marc Hannaford played two sets at a farewell gig before leaving for at least five years in New York. He invited musician friends and colleagues to sit in. It was a great way to celebrate a big move in his life and career.

This year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues brings us many artists who have made significant moves to new places as their music developed.

As in previous years, many of the musicians are expatriate Australians. The line-up, carefully crafted by artistic director Adrian Jackson, raises the (admittedly immaterial) question of how long a local musician has to be living overseas before being classified as an international artist.

In a year when piano is the chosen instrument for the National Jazz Awards, it is fitting that the headline artist will be thrice Grammy-nominated young US pianist Gerald Clayton, who has attracted attention as a rising star in a trio with Joe Sanders on bass and Justin Brown on drums. On this visit Pete Van Nostrand  will be at the drum kit.

Clayton was born in Amsterdam, grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in New York. His trio’s third album, Life Forum, was due for release in Australia by Universal on September 2.

Clayton will spend some time working with Monash University music students before the festival, so a few students could well end up with the trio on stage for one concert. Here is a sample.

Chris McNulty

Chris McNulty      (Picture supplied)

Among the expatriate internationals making the trip to Wangaratta will be vocalist Chris McNulty, who has been based in New York since 1988, and this year won Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album for The Song That Sings You Here.

McNulty, who was in Melbourne for the Jazz Bell Awards, will perform with her partner, guitarist/composer Paul Bollenback, and bassist Ugonna Okegwo, both from New York, in The Magic Trio, a drumless collaboration they have shared since 2000. Bollenback will also lead a trio with Okegwo and Perth-based drummer Daniel Susnjar, who played with Paul when he was in the USA last year.

McNulty will also re-establish a link from her early days in a band with pianist/composer Paul Grabowsky, joined by Frank Di Sario on bass and Mike Jordan on drums.

Expatriate international Barney McAll is no stranger to Wangaratta. In 2011 he brought a choir and large ensemble to the festival stage for Graft, but this year he will appear solo and in a trio.

In what promises to be real treat, McAll will take to the Holy Trinity Cathedral stage to explore some of the gospel music he regularly performs on Sundays at a church in Brooklyn. Anyone who heard McAll’s three solo pieces during the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative 30th Anniversary Concert on January 27 this year at The Edge, Federation Square, will look forward to hearing more.

McAll, who described the Wangaratta festival as “the bohemian grove of Australian jazz”, told organisers he would be playing some spirituals and new solo pieces, including a preview “of my first solo piano recording, which will be called Every Piano Needs A House In It”.

Joining McAll in his Non-Compliance Trio will be friends Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Hamish Stuart on drums.

Another Australian export, guitarist/composer Peter O’Mara left Sydney for New York in 1981, moved to Munich the following year and has lived in Germany and, more recently, Austria for 30 years. Last at Wangaratta in 2002, O’Mara will lead his quartet from Vienna in what Jackson describes as music “on the jazz side of jazz-rock fusion, very electronic, funky and pretty exciting”. Expect a mix of what O’Mara describes as “modern jazz, odd-metre fusion and groove”, in which expat American Tim Collins on vibes shares melodies with the guitar. Here is a sample.

More of the European input so vital to any festival will come from Dutch trumpet player Eric Vloeimans, who uses an electronic attachment on his instrument and, with his quartet Gatecrash, will also bring a fusion and funk emphasis. Expect a range from jazz to world, electro-funk and “contemplative soundscapes that are punctuated by a touch of wackiness”.

Jef Neve

Jef Neve

Belgian pianist Jef Neve was most recently at Wangaratta in 2010 with his trio (see Ausjazz’s rave review), but this time will play solo piano as part of a world tour. Neve regards the piano as an orchestral instrument — “Everything is present: choir, strings, woodwinds, brass and, of course, percussion” — and says the “soul and sound of the instrument” is his main source of inspiration in his classically influenced playing.

Froy Aagre

Froy Aagre         (Picture supplied)

Norwegian saxophonist Froy Aagre performed at Wangaratta in 2009 with members of the Brisbane band Misinterprotato, now known as Trichotomy, who she met at Canada’s Banff Jazz Workshop in 2005. Sean Foran (electric piano) and John Parker (drums) from Trichotomy will join Aagre to present her new electric repertoire, which she says “fuses new electronic sounds into melodic, groove-based jazz” and is “a way to communicate joy to the audience”.

AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS

That pretty much covers the FIFO (fly in fly out) jazz and improvised music performers, but the line-up of Australians at Wangaratta this year is so extensive and exciting that it is arguable they could carry the festival.

Sydney pianist and composer Mike Nock will join reedsman Julien Wilson, whose playing recently has been outstanding, and guitarist Steve Magnusson will re-visit the trio that was so successful in May at Stonnington Jazz.

Barney McAll’s presence will enable two CD launches. Bassist Jonathan Zwartz will bring his nine-piece band together for the first time since the recording of The Remembering and Forgetting of the Air, which features McAll, Magnusson, Phil Slater on trumpet, Wilson on tenor, James Greening on trombone and sousaphone, Richard Maegraith on tenor and bass clarinet, Hamish Stuart on drums and Fabian Hevia on percussion. With this material and this line-up, no one should miss this.

McAll will also join Zwartz, Allan Browne on drums and Wilson — Julien recording for the first time in a classic tenor sax quartet — to launch their album of mostly standards, mostly ballads entitled This Is Always.

Julien Wilson, Sam Anning, Allan Browne

Julien Wilson, Sam Anning, Allan Browne

In another launch not to be missed (I know this because there was a recent preview at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club), expatriate bassist Sam Anning will join Wilson and Browne to celebrate Sweethearts, an absolutely entrancing album that serendipitously was recorded when Anning, over from New York, was delayed in Melbourne by a US visa problem, for which we all should be eternally grateful.

Expat drummer Raj Jayaweera, also be back from New York for the festival, will form the house band with Anning for the National Jazz Awards piano recitals.

The plethora of Australian jazz musicians in New York will be further depleted by the departure to Wangaratta of trombonist Shannon Barnett, who will reconvene her quartet — Nash Lee guitar, Chris Hale bass guitar and Hugh Harvey drums — and also launch a new band, U.nlock, with vocalist Gian Slater, Sam Anning and Raj Jayaweera with material the four worked on in New York recently. A key feature of U.nlock will be “voice and trombone sharing both the lead and accompanying roles”, Slater says.

Barnett will also perform as part of clarinettist and vocalist Barry Wratten’s New Orleans Pelicans with Michael McQuaid on trumpet and reeds, Steve Grant on piano, John Scurry on guitar and banjo, Howard Cairns or Leigh Barker (Saturday morning) on bass and Lynn Wallis on drums.

The much-missed trombonist will also assemble Dixie Jack, a local version of Ragstretch, a band with whom she has played in Denmark consisting of Copenhagen-based expat clarinet player and vocalist Chris Tanner, known for his classic jazz work with Julien Wilson in the band Virus, and guitarist Craig Fermanis, Sam Anning and Raj Jayaweera. Dixie Jack, consisting of Barnett, Wilson, Anning and Jayaweera, will play traditional jazz.

Classic jazz is well represented this year. Melbourne band the Sugarfoot Ramblers is led by Travis Woods on trumpet, with Jason Downes on reeds and graduates or current students of the jazz course at Monash University who share a fondness for New Orleans Jazz. Others in the line-up are James Macaulay trombone, Brett Thompson banjo and guitar, Marty Holoubek bass and Daniel Berry drums. From Sydney, The Cope Street Parade and The Finer Cuts, who have recorded with experienced trumpeter Geoff Bull, will also add their traditional jazz sounds. Allan Browne will join the Finer Cuts, who usually don’t perform with a drummer, for one session.

The Wangaratta festival always draws musicians from across the country, providing a relatively rare opportunity for them to share the stage. The exciting sextet led by Melbourne’s Paul Grabowsky will feature Jamie Oehlers from Perth on tenor and Sydney musicians James Greening on trombone, Andrew Robson on alto, Cameron Undy on bass and Simon Barker on drums. This band has recorded an album it hopes to release at the festival.

Satsuki Odamara

Satsuki Odamura, Paul Williamson and Peter Knight.

Another certain hit, Peter Knight’s band Way Out West, now features Sydney-based koto player, Satsuki Odamura, along with Melburnians Lucas Michailidis on guitar and Hugh Harvey on drums as well as founding members, Peter Knight on trumpet, flugelhorn, Paul Williamson on saxophones, Howard Cairns on bass and Ray Pereira on percussion.

And Melbourne vocalist Gian Slater will team with Perth saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and Melburnians Paul Grabowsky on piano, Ben Robertson on bass and Dave Beck on drums in The Differences to play material from the album of that name.

Two concerts enjoyed by patrons of Stonnington Jazz in May will also be on the Wangaratta program. Red Fish Blue is an alliance of two musicians from Melbourne, pianist Sam Keevers and percussionist Javier Fredes, with two from Sydney, bassist Brett Hirst and drummer Simon Barker. And vocalist Josh Kyle and Keevers will perform Songs of Friends, which are their interpretations of songs by Australian singers/composers.

The Cup Eve Concert will feature Joe Chindamo with his trio and Monique Di Mattina performing music from her recent album Nola’s Ark, which is a jazz blues hybrid.

AUSJAZZ RECOMMENDATIONS

This preview covers a lot of ground, with the aim of letting people know what is on offer. The joy of a festival such as Wangaratta is that patrons can take risks and dip into unfamiliar territory.

In case it helps, the following are the concerts that I’d be keen not to miss:

  • Barney McAll’s solo piano in Holy Trinity on Sunday, November 3 at 3pm
  • Jef Neve solo piano, WPAC Theatre, Sunday, Nov 3 at 1pm
  • Launch of Jonathan Zwartz album The Remembering and Forgetting of the Air, Friday, Nov 1, WPAC Theatre
  • Launch of McAll/Wilson/Zwartz/Browne album This Is Always, WPAC Memorial Hall, Saturday, Nov 2 at 2.30pm
  • Launch of Wilson/Anning/Browne album Sweethearts, WPAC Memorial Hall, Saturday, November 2 at 4.30pm
  • Barnett and Slater’s U.nlock, WPAC Memorial Hall, Sunday, Nov 3 at 2.30pm
  • Paul Grabowsky Sextet, WPAC Theatre, Sunday, Nov 3 at 10.30pm
  • Way Out West, WPAC Theatre, Saturday, Nov 2, 11am

ROGER MITCHELL

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues