Tag Archives: Han Bennink


Overground, Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011
Sunday, June 12, 3pm-9pm, Melbourne Town Hall

Rully Shabara

Arresting: Rully Shabara on vocals

It was late in a solid afternoon of music when the Indonesians invaded. In a day of occasional confusion, with some patrons not quite sure who would be on next and which gigs were running late, musicians needed some drama to make their presence felt. A small but curious crowd had gathered to hear Rully Shabara (voice) and Wukir Suryadi (bamboo instruments) from Yogyakarta, but this soon became a large and intensely interested gathering which pressed forward as if forced by the ferocity of the vocal onslaught.

Rully Shabara

Ferocity: Rully Shabara

We had heard Chiri, in which Bae Il Dong had demonstrated the power and emotive impact of Korean p’ansori singing, so the idea of strong vocals was not new. But the forcefulness of this duo came as a surprise. Hearing Shabara at close range can be likened to having a steam train roaring towards you, though he did vary the dynamics and could move the audience as well as assail. But the main attribute of his voice seemed to be ferocity and the ability to deliver a sudden vocal onslaught that was awe-inspiring and even a little frightening.

According to a post by Marvin on Free Albums Galore,  Rully Shabara is a member of the Indonesian avant-rock/punk group Zoo and Wukir Suryadi is an innovative musician who experiments within the boundaries of the traditional music of Indonesia using a musical instrument he built.

Wukir Suryadi

Amazing: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Suryadi played two instruments. His primary one — a bambuwukir, constructed (as the name suggests) from bamboo and producing sounds like an electric guitar with built-in percussion — was capable of amazing variation in his skilled hands.


Virtuosic: Wukir Suryadi on bambuwukir

Between Shabara’s vocals, Suryadi erupted into a rock-star-like frenzy that was virtuosic and compelling. It was if he could just touch the instrument to produce a band’s worth of sound. The audience showed appreciation with whoops and wild applause. An excellent description of a Sydney gig by these two musicians is at Sydney Outsider — Java in Waterloo.

Wukir Suryadi

Wukir Suryadi on recorder-like flute

At the end of the set, Suryadi played a long recorder-style flute, which was ideal for the soulful lament delivered by Shabara. For Overground patrons who stayed, this gig must have been a highlight.

Rully Shabara

Soulful lament: Rully Shabara

Should it have been part of a jazz festival? I think so. In the lower town hall Will Guthrie & Cured Pink (if I’ve got the correct gig) had been doing some amazing things with a piece of meat, I’m told. And, Bae Il Dong was a big hit during the festival. Overground is meant to take us out of our comfort zones, which is also what the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival is meant to do. I say, bring it on.

That said, I think Overground needs to work on some improvements. Because there are late changes to the order of gigs, and because concerts inevitably run over time, there ought to be a way for patrons in the main entrance foyer to see at a glance exactly which gigs are on at any moment in each venue — upstairs, downstairs and in the main hall. And I don’t mean gigs scheduled, but those actually on at that time. This would be a challenge to update, but really helpful.

As well, it would be good to have more information available about each band, so that if you have never heard its music you’d be able to make a judgment about where to head if there was a clash. With the crowds that turn up to Overground, it is hard to get into the smaller venues, so some planning is necessary. I do realise the concept is meant to allow patrons to try whatever pops up, but this often leads to a fragmentary experience if you have no idea what to expect.

What else was a highlight on the day? Well, I missed Yoshida Tatsuya and Satoko Fuji, Charlemagne Palestine with Oren Ambarchi, and Tony Conrad with Chris Abrahams. I felt for Matt Mitchell on solo piano, who came on between the Indonesian invasion and Sean Baxter with Jerome Noetinger and Faust (at which time I had to go to catch Paul Grabowsky‘s gig at the Forum).

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler

The combination of viola, sax and trumpet  worked well in the set by James Rushford, Oscar Noriega and Scott Tinkler, and it was a pleasure to hear Noriega again — I love his work. I also enjoyed hearing Anthony Pateras at the piano with Tim Berne on sax and Gareth Thompson on drums.

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

Sophia Brous with Tim O'Dwyer

It’s not often that the program director — and principal mover and shaker — at a major international festival is also on the program as a performer, so Sophia Brous’s outing with Judith Hamann on cello, Chris Abrahams on piano and Tim O’Dwyer on sax was a must-see.

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

Abrahams, Hamann and Brous

My attitude to vocal gymnastics has already taken its toll on Norma Winstone (who, along with all other vocalists who indulge in a little scat, can sleep quite easily at night without my applause for that aspect of their work, I’m sure). But I am reliably informed that Brous is following a path well trod by Maggie Nichols and Julie Tippetts. Here’s a link to Maggie Nicols, Dave Fowler, Phil Minton in a Mopomoso Christmas Special 2009. And here’s a link to Keith and Julie Tippett live in Jazz à Luz in 2007. (I did not discover these links, but received them as an aid to my education.)

Sophia Brous

Mover, shaker and vocalist: Sophia Brous

So, being honest, I preferred this vocal experimentation, especially with the cello, to other instances of what I call “vocal gymnastics”. And, though it may be following an established path, it was stretching my comfort zone, which is always good. But it’s still not really my cup of tea (I don’t drink much tea).

Alex Garsden

Out there: Alex Garsden

The other gig of particular interest was US drummer Ches Smith‘s outing with Jim Denley on sax, Alex Garsden on guitar and Natasha Anderson on “recorder” (though it looked like a laptop to me). Garsden managed some pretty interesting sounds and did some pretty strange things to his guitar’s strings, and Denley had some amazing ways to play a sax and a wooden flute, but Smith’s input was not spectacular compared with his earlier work.

Jim Denley

All we needed to know about sax: Jim Denley

To sum up, Overground was definitely worth doing, and worth attending. But this year I felt that we were missing a Han Bennink or Peter Brotzmann (the stars in 2010) to give the day some focus. Palestine and Conrad are undoubtedly characters, but their performances lacked the action-packed feel of Bennink or Brotzmann’s gigs. That said, I’m certain many punters went away happy — or deaf and happy.




Peter Brotzmann
Brotzmann: You can’t change the world with music

Han Bennink, Peter Brotzmann and Brian Chase, along with Australian writer Jon Dale, were panelists in the first of three panel discussions at the Wheeler Centre. It was an opportunity to see these guys in civvies and reflecting on their craft, but the discussion was initially rocky. Moderator Joel Stern had done a lot of homework and was clearly a fan, but his long-winded efforts to pass on his knowledge may have irritated Bennink and Brotzmann. “I play music, I don’t want to talk about it”, Bennink told Stern sternly in the opening minutes. “Don’t make such a heavy load of it.”

That was tough for Stern, but illuminating to the audience. These guys have experienced too much of life to waste on warm-ups, and Stern needed to press ahead. It’s impossible to cover the discussion in detail here, mainly because this blog is running way behind in its festival coverage, but Bennink and Brotzmann said much of interest.

Brian Chase
Brian Chase

Chase seemed not to find it easy to express ideas — he talked when pressed, but if he said anything momentous it must have slipped by without me noticing. (I’m probably being a bit tough. Perhaps his ideas were complex and/or hard to express.)

Brotzmann recalled the links between Underground music and the Vietnam war, riots in Detroit and Berlin, and Angela Davis. “One kind of feeling that we had was we had to fight against something and had to change the world,” he said. “But you can’t do that with music. You can make people’s minds more sensitive.” Later he said “today is not much different from 50 years ago” and “Europe is on the way back with the Underground.”

Brotzmann also noted that “American jazz music was always concerned with making money” whereas in Europe “I saw doing the music more as a question of being an artist than being able to earn money with it”. When pushed to comment on the Australian scene he said “my impression is that you are at least 30 years behind”, but then said city governments at home were not interested in funding artistic endeavours. “If we don’t care about education and culture, we better give up immediately.”

“In most of Europe there is money for big blown-up events — the most stupid you can imagine — but there is no money for basic work, and without that every house falls apart. Don’t make the same mistake.”

Bennink: Don't make it such a heavy load.
Bennink: Don’t make it such a heavy load.

Han Bennink did not have such strong views, but often showed his sense of fun and a refusal to take things too seriously. He commented that Holland was so small that “we are shoulder to shoulder and up to our knees in cow shit, and that’s OK, but the smell …”

“I am really a bit of a coward about travel. I really want a little house in Holland where I can put a finger in the dyke,” Bennink said.

Discussion was better once Stern invited questions. Brotzmann weighed in again at the end, saying that much of today’s music learned by young people was “bullshit” and that it was important for musicians to learn on the road. “It’s a very intense social experience, not just a game. It’s a very good education and it is still happening each time again (when we travel). We should be able to pass this on to our younger colleagues … it’s about going somewhere deeper.”


That mad drummer again
That mad drummer again

It was strange, almost a shock, to see the man with the red striped tie in the fancy red Wheeler Centre chair turn into the drummer with the spotted red bandanna and the vicious sticks in the large room at Bennetts Lane. But a few whacks and fancy antics from Bennink and I was back in tune. He is amazing. What stays the same, whether in the forum earlier or any of Bennink’s concerts is that quizzical, challenging look of mock seriousness, as if he is inviting someone to take him on.

Well, they lined up to do that, with mixed success. Cor Fuhler on prepared piano knew what he was up against, but it seemed an uneven match. Fuhler’s subtlety was always going to be overwhelmed by the maestro drummer’s salvos. It was fun, but a more equal match came when Scott Tinkler on trumpet replaced Fuhler for the next round. They went at it and I’m not sure who won. I do think Tinkler has not been up against many more formidable foes. Is music meant to be a contest? In this light sense of that, yes. It was a spectacle to watch both men go at it. Next week at Bennetts, mud wrestling — to even up the gender balance.

Next into battle came Erkki Veltheim on viola. He fought valiantly, even stridently, with hairs flying off his bow and his instrument wailing in protest. He was a match for Bennink’s speed, but not quite in volume. But there were moments when the Bennink onslaught eased to allow Veltheim some space. It’s all good, as they say in the classics.

Finally, Fuhler and Tinkler returned to the fray, so that four musicians were going at it hammer and tongs. Amazing, spectacular, yes, but not greatly moving. So I decided to seek respite in the smaller room next door, where patrons were being turned away at the door.


Nock, Anning and Browne
Nock, Anning and Browne

So the local (ie non-international) musicians had a full house. Greaaaaaaatt! But Allan Browne was wondering where these people go to every Monday night when he has his ensemble’s resident gig.

Anning and Browne

Perhaps the crowd was out for a festival gig, or because of the presence of Mike Nock, with whom Allan had not played (he recalled at the end of the night) since 2006 when his close friend and fellow musician, bassist Gary Costello, died. Recalling that is obviously still painful to Allan. At the time he wrote these moving words:

“I still can’t get used to the past tense, a future without Gaz is unthinkable yet. We both loved e.e.cummings …

‘and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)’.”

Nock and Anning
Nock and Anning

I hope it is all right to quote that, Allan. I’m not suggesting there is a connection, but on Monday night in that small room, Mike Nock, Sam Anning and Allan Browne played wearing their hearts on their sleeves — or so it seemed to me. They joked about, as usual, and they had fun playing. But in the third from last piece, I think, there was a Mike Nock solo that had me almost weeping. That’s a personal thing and no doubt others were having different experiences. But this was, for me, one of those nights when the music is so beautifully played — not only in quiet ballads, but in vigorous pieces and lively takes on standards — that it is impossible to avoid it penetrating to the core. This is what music is about at its most profound — feeling. In my humble opinion.

Nock, Anning, Browne
Nock, Anning, Browne

It’s late at night and I’ve waxed lyrical. But I’m convinced others packed into that small space felt the vibe. Nock, Browne and Anning were in empathetic, mutual understanding mode, and loving it. What a great gig. And I caught only part of it. Thanks Mike, Al and Sam.



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