Tag Archives: Gian Slater

WANGARATTA 2017: JAM-PACKED JAZZ

Jen Shyu

Sure to be a highlight: Jen Shyu                                       Image: Steven Schreiber

PREVIEW
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

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

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

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.

Sunday

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

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ENLIGHTENED BY PURE AWARENESS

Invenio

Vocal ensemble Invenio performs at White Night Melbourne in 2016 in St Paul’s Cathedral.

REVIEW

Invenio Singers — Luminesce, Thursday May 18, 7pm, Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre

Not so long ago it was common to hear the word “narrative” in complaints about our political parties, but not because of its presence. The term was overused and became irritating, in the vein of “going forward”, but initially it was apt for two reasons: our political leaders had given up trying to carry us with them in pursuit of one vision or another (although the Institute of Public Affairs’ free market agenda seemed omnipresent at times) and we generally like it when there is a story to follow.

As a journalist I’m always looking for the story, whether in an interview with a musician or in a live concert that I’m reviewing. But, like melody in a musical work, it can be a tempting morsel that is not always needed and can be refreshingly challenging to do without.

Invenio in St Paul's Cathedral 2016

Invenio in St Paul’s Cathedral 2016

During Melbourne’s White Night in 2016 I made a point of heading from the station to St Paul’s Cathedral to see and hear Gian Slater‘s inventive vocalists Invenio, who were giving the four-hour performance Sun in a collaboration with video artist Robert Jarvis. This must have been most challenging. Between the singers — variously lit or in darkness and at times flooded with colour at the far end of this enormous, vaulted space — and the crowded entrance doors was an ever-moving bustle of people either looking for seats, filing in or out, or arising from their seats to move out into the streets. How the ensemble members concentrated amid this unrest, I’m not sure, but it was not ideal for audience members content to spend more time and take it all in.

What a contrast, then, to hear and see the new work Luminesce in the superb, small space of the MRC Salon. I have never been to a concert “in this space” (to use another overused phrase) that I did not love.

But before the concert I was, of course, unsettled about what was to come. I wanted to gain some idea of what to expect. I wanted a narrative.

I read that Luminesce would explore light and darkness, sound and silence; that it would vary visual patterns along with sound, geometry with pitch and colour with dynamics. I read that singing is an energy, an act, an initiation of beauty.

Invenio 2016

Invenio in St Paul’s Cathedral 2016

But questions were bustling through my mind just as White Night patrons moved in and out of St Paul’s Cathedral. In this performance, will silence be valued? Will darkness be used, as it is so often, to convey or create uncertainty, fear or horror? Will the experience of Luminesce be enhanced by knowing how it is meant to work, knowing what happens when a singer sings high or low, loud or soft? Or will it be more like a meditation, to be received and accepted, but not puzzled over?

The way it happened in the end was that Luminesce began for me well before the performance, as I became more aware of lights and darkness around me  — in gardens, in traffic, in signs, on buildings and the floodlit Arts Centre fountain, moving but not changing.

Then, in the Salon, Luminesce heightened my awareness while gradually wrestling into submission my dogged determination to analyse. I tried to record my impressions, taking fragmented notes, then gave in to the patterns, the sounds, the rhythms and the shapes.

Changes were a constant, some evolutionary, some sudden. Notes were sustained and sibilant. Voices were invoking, commanding, appealing — mostly without words, but at times to great effect with them. Sequences of notes matched sequences of projected colours. Voices and light had synchronicity, sequentiality and yet differentiation.

The lighting effects were truly amazing, but for me the vocals held sway. These were voices carefully crafted, with such definition and precision, such power and also fragility, engaging in interjections and conversations, sometimes percussive, sometimes burbling, always so superbly controlled and ultimately beautiful to behold.

At the close I felt as if all analysis had been swept away in a tide of pure awareness. This was an experience best left hanging, not described, simply felt.

I turned to a couple of women in the front row who told me they did not know of Invenio or Robert Jarvis or Gian Slater, but came along because it sounded like something different. They were blown away.

ROGER MITCHELL

For those interested, here is an extract from Invenio’s website about Luminesce. It may help explain the mechanics and intent:

“Invenio’s latest work is a new collaboration with video artist Robert Jarvis that uses voices as triggers for lighting events.

“Composed by Gian Slater, Luminesce explores a pattern orientated musical landscape derived from a visual perspective through Jarvis’ software program, Voxstripe. Within the parameters of symmetry, form and velocity, the music ranges from intensely rhythmic to lush harmonic clusters, creating a different vocal ensemble landscape and performative environment.

“Out of the darkness, sheets of colour and geometric shapes are projected on to each of the seven performers, activated and deactivated through every sound and every silence. Groupings of the performers emerge together as waves of light mirror the musical form, whilst always returning to the solo or unison voice, the spotlight or the blanket of illumination.”

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