Tag Archives: Jessica Nicholas



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.



GIG REVIEW: Sam Anning’s penultimate farewell gig before going to New York, NY.

Sam Anning

Sam Anning, bass
Eugene Ball, trumpet
Andrea Keller, piano
Rajiv Jayaweera, drums

SAM Anning is now in New York, studying for a Master’s at the Manhattan School of Music. Now that he’s gone, we can talk about him. Not that there’s much to say that’s negative about the lad, except that he was perhaps a spruiking a little loudly on behalf of _motion when he filled in for Nick Abbey at Bennetts Lane in July. Sam will be missed, not only because he was playing with some 50 bands (I heard that from reviewer and radio personality Jessica Nicholas), but also because he’s a top bloke. We wish him well and hope he does return, even when he is famous.

Sam Anning
Sam Anning

It was a lovely way for Anning to leave Bennetts. The previous night he had had another farewell of sorts — lots of fun I’m told — with Allan Browne‘s Monday nights mob. This time we heard Anning’s music and some of his favourites by others, beginning with the thoughtful Little Bay (Sean Wayland) and then a moving, slow ballad From The Cloud, written by Anning in response to Iceland’s volcanic eruption and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — a darker cloud. Eugene Ball was in fine form in this piece and all night.

Next came Coltrane’s Countdown — energetic, bustling and bristling — and Neil Young’s Tell Me Why, which Anning first heard on the Live at Massey Hall album. The first set closed with Swinging From A Hills Hoist, which Anning wrote when he could not sleep on a flight back from New York. I loved Ball’s twisting and bending horn and his shimmering vibrato on the last note.

Keller and Ball
Keller and Ball

Set two began with Abba, the “second debut” of a tune Anning confessed to have pinched or borrowed from a couple of sources — one may have been Aaron Choulai’s Silverland. Keller opened this piece with a jaunty little melody. It was great to hear her at the piano. The standard You Go To My Head was next, with what Ball described as “the silly changes”. Fantastic horn and bass in this.

Eugene Ball
Eugene Ball

Raj Jayaweeera
Raj Jayaweeera

Then Anning expressed the bassist’s lament of “never doing your own gig” with his composition I Am the Madam and the Whore, loosely based on the style of Ornette Coleman, with melody dictating harmony. (I think that’s what Sam said.) Ball played some whip-cracking notes which kicked up sharply, and worked the valves beautifully for some irridescent shimmer. Jayaweera displayed the talent and subtlety that is sometimes overshadowed when he’s hidden in larger ensembles. I don’t know whether the madam or the whore won, but this piece ended in a reflective, ruminative passage.

Keller and Ball
Keller and Ball

Anning’s tribute to the cloudy skies of Melbourne came in Overcastaway, which he kicked off robustly. Keller and Anning were great together in this piece, which was followed by the closing Or Not, which was inspired by Ornette Coleman. Ball began with some rasping pedal notes — lovely — and produced some wild squeals from the horn as Keller proceeded to fragment the universe with the keyboard.

Sam Anning had another gig on the Friday at Uptown Jazz Cafe — that was the final one. Hope it went well.



It’s always exciting to hear an artist perform if you have interviewed them, and I had spent an hour and a half on the phone to Charles Lloyd. So I was ready for this concert — just not ready enough to be early, so the usual parking scramble ensued.

Andrea Keller Quartet
Andrea Keller Quartet

The opening, all-too-short set was exactly what was needed. Keller aired some beautifully crafted and melodic compositions with the help of Ian Whitehurst on tenor sax, Eugene Ball on trumpet and Simon Barker on drums. There was plenty of space in these pieces, suiting the venue, and the piano held sway (why do I say it that way if music is not a contest?). The horns were aptly understated and Barker displayed his usual finesse.

I always think it is a significant loss when patrons don’t bother to turn up until the main event, so to speak. The local support bands are almost always excellent. And this opening set was enticingly bewitching, so that Keller’s mob of Aussies could have played on and we wouldn’t have been too upset … well, a little, perhaps.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Charles Lloyd New Quartet

On Day 5 of this festival, at the Australian Art Orchestra’s tribute to Miles Davis, a member of the audience from Adelaide enthused about the Charles Lloyd New Quartet concert. He said there was something special about the performance, that Lloyd “had an aura about him”.

Often in interviews Lloyd describes himself as “a dreamer”. “I’m born into the world, but I don’t really fit into it,” he says. And there is a sense that, as the title of the quartet’s first encore piece on Tuesday night suggested, he is just Passin’ Thru. Other pieces played — Prayer, Dream Weaver: Meditation, Requiem, Booker’s Garden, The Water is Wide and the closing Silvio Rodriguez composition Rabo De Nube (tail of a cloud) — all point to Lloyd’s head space, to where he’s at, so to speak.

As the notes of Prayer floated across the auditorium, serenity seemed to settle on those assembled. When Lloyd spoke, it with his characteristic grace and humility. “We are honoured to be here. We don’t understand the planet or how they’ve worked the game out, but we still want to play this music,” he said.

Lloyd Quartet
Charles Lloyd plays, Reuben Rogers listens

Lloyd’s playing, on tenor sax and alto flute, was sublime. He is obviously in the moment and being guided by what wells up within him as well as what Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums were bringing — and that was plenty. But Lloyd may play a little in the way he talks, which is to be open to ideas that flow in and be ready to follow. Occasionally he loses his way. How would I really know if that happens when he plays, but on one instance in one piece — perhaps Booker’s Garden — I did think it was beautiful, but was drifting around for a while rather than going anywhere.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Reuben Rogers

One thing I liked particularly was the spring in Lloyd’s step when he returned to play after solos by Moran (absolutely outstanding) and Rogers. It was great to feel the swing creep in so gently to the music and to note how little it took for Lloyd to almost imperceptibly introduce that tiny swing feel that transformed the music. Harland helped, of course. As Lloyd mentioned in his BMW Edge Masterclass, Tommy Dorsey is famous for saying “Nice guys are a dime a dozen. Give me a prick who swings.”

Jason Moran
Sound seeker: Lloyd listens, Jason Moran plays

Space is vital in music, and this quartet demonstrated that so well. A pause can say so much. It can create such expectation that it makes you will the music to continue and that gives energy and drive. This band was so great. They worked together so well, demonstrating that Lloyd being a few years more advanced in age was no impediment.

And they took us away to a higher plane for a sweet while. Rabo De Nube, Lloyd said in my interview, “translates as ‘I wish I could be the tail of a cloud and come down to wash away your tears.’”

They did.

[My thanks to intrepid music writer and broadcaster Jessica Nicholas for passing on the set list]