Tag Archives: Joe O’Connor

LONG LOOK AT A SHORTER FESTIVAL

PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, June 3 – 12, 2016

Tomasz Stanko

Tomasz Stanko

SOME of the main drawcards at this year’s festival are well-known knowns — Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Gary Bartz — but it’s a big program with plenty of other artists to be excited about.

Stats don’t put flesh on the bones, but over 10 days the festival will stage 74 events involving 335 artists (75 international and 260 Australian), 22 free events and heaps of club sessions at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Uptown Jazz Cafe and Dizzy’s Jazz Club. The larger venues will include Hamer Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, Forum, Malthouse and The Channel at Arts Centre Melbourne.

On the final three days Riverside Bar at Southbank will host Hamer Jazz Bar each evening from 6pm as a rendezvous for festival patrons.

As usual, the main program is divided into Modern Masters, Explorations in Jazz and the three sets of Club Sessions, plus five Jazz Out West events, seven Close Encounters and two Artist Workshops at Monash University.

Gary Bartz

Gary Bartz

All good festivals come with a clash or two not emanating from a drum kit and MIJF 2016 opens with a big one. Our own flamboyant pianist and composer Barney McAll has had a hand in bringing jazz great Gary Bartz from the US to play Melbourne Recital Centre on opening night, with Andrea Keller’s Transients I as support.

This clashes head-on with PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission winner Joe O’Connor on piano in a quartet at Bennetts Lane to perform Confrontations. In six dialogues, O’Connor’s work will balance “tonal and non-tonal harmony, regular and irregular rhythm, delicate lyricism and impressive density”. That sounds pretty damn interesting. These two gigs present a tough choice.

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding

There’s no need to say a lot about Esperanza Spalding, who will play the Forum at 9.30pm on opening night, because she will draw crowds. Marcus J. Moore on Pitchfork described her album Emily’s D+Evolution thus: “Using a dissonant guitar riff, thumping drums, and lurching time signature, it almost feels like a dare to stick around. The album has the feel of a nervy gauntlet throw, seething with the sort of ferocity that only comes from time spent alone, far away from the limelight. These are exuberant, confrontational songs, amplified in the same sort of rock/funk hybrid style that brings Prince and Janelle Monae to mind. Gone is the Afro, replaced with long braids, wide-rimmed glasses, and ornate outfits.”

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter also needs no promotion. He plays Hamer Hall on the festival’s closing night with Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Enough said, although I’m hoping for some longer bursts of saxophone magic from the great player than we heard at the Palais when he was last here.

Perez, Patitucci and Blade will play two gigs at Bennetts on Friday, June 10 as Children of the Light Trio. Surely this must be one not to miss.

While on the subject of bass players, Hawthorn luthier Benedict Puglisi is making acoustic bass instruments specifically for Spalding and Patitucci to play while they are here. That suggests his work is pretty special.

The international artists include some who were popular on previous visits to the festival. Genre-crossing Robert Glasper Trio (US), who performed in 2012, will return in an acoustic trio format with new album, Covered, on June 4 at MRC with Ross McHenry Trio supporting.

Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke (Image: Nick Pitsas)

And the “father of Ethio jazz” Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopia), who played the festival in 2010, will join the local band Black Jesus Experience at the Malthouse on Wednesday, June 8 to give the world premiere of The Cradle of Humanity.

Hiromi

Hiromi

Also returning is the pianist from Japan who sold out three shows in 2012, Hiromi. She who joins Simon Phillips on drums and Anthony Jackson on contra bass guitar at Hamer Hall on Thursday, June 9.

Tomasz Stanko

Tomasz Stanko (Image: Caroline Forbes)

And I don’t care what clashes with Polish trumpet maestro Tomasz Stańko‘s band featuring Alexi Tuomarila on piano, Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. I’ll be at one of their two Malthouse concerts on Thursday, June 9 at 6.30pm and 9pm.

Also at the Malthouse and not to be missed on Saturday, June 11, will be Stańko and Paul Grabowsky leading the Monash Art Ensemble at 6.30pm to explore the music of Krysztof Komeda, who scored Rosemary’s Baby and Knife in the Water. Not to be missed.

Latin jazz titan, pianist Eddie Palmieri (US) will spend five days with Monash University student musicians before their Jazz Futures performance at the MRC Salon on Thursday, June 9 at 6pm. Palmieri’s Latin Jazz Septet will set feet tapping at Hamer Hall on Friday, June 10 at 7.30pm.

Singer José James will pay tribute to the music of Billie Holiday in Yesterday I Had the Blues at Hamer Hall on Saturday, June 11 at 7.30pm.

And to complete the Modern Masters concerts, Vince Jones and Matt McMahon will join the Astral Orchestra to bring us Van Morrison’s Masterpieces at 7.30pm on Friday, June 10 at MRC.

Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy (Image: Philippe Levy Stab)

As part of the Explorations in Jazz series, guitarist Lionel Loueke (US) will join Sydney group The Vampires for two Bennetts Lane gigs on Saturday, June 4. And crowd-pleasers Snarky Puppy (US), who wowed crowds here in 2013, will be in the Forum at 9.30pm on Thursday, June 9.

The Coopers Malthouse has great beers on tap (I’m not paid to say that) and it may suit many to spend Friday, June 10 there to hear Stu Hunter‘s suite The Migration (a fantastic line-up) at 6.30pm and then Kristin Berardi Band (also a top line-up) at 9pm. You could not possibly go wrong with these two performances by Australian bands.

The Malthouse also hosts Peter Knight’s Way Out West on Saturday, June 11 at 9pm, featuring koto virtuoso Satsuki Odamura and Ray Pereira on fun and fiery African-influenced percussion. This gig will showcase new material and is sure to be a knockout.

And anyone who can remember the Chris Dave and the Drumhedz festival gig in 2014 should recall multi-reedist Marcus Strickland. Twi-Life is set to deliver soul, jazz-funk and R&B in two shows at Bennetts Lane on Saturday and Sunday, June 11 and 12, at 7.30pm and 10pm (they must be expecting a crowd — that’s four concerts).

If all that music’s not enough, there are club sessions. Can’t mention them all, but here are a few likely highlights.

Guitarist Paolo Angeli (Italy) will join local musicians at Bennetts Lane to bring us jazz influenced by Sardinian folk songs (June 3). He will also play solo guitar at Bluestone Church Arts Space in Hyde Street, Footscray at 4pm on Sunday, June 5. Westies must come out to this and other MIJF gigs at Dancing Dog Cafe (Wallace), Reverence Hotel (30/70 Collective) and Footscray Community Arts Centre (Jazz-a-Bye Baby).

Get close up and personal with Robert Glasper Trio at Bennetts on June 5. Hear a tribute to our maestro of Mondays and much besides, drummer Allan Browne, on June 6. If you fancy trumpah, as Scott Tinkler would put it, don’t miss Keyon Harrold and Twi-Life musicians in two gigs on June 8. And for fans of drummer Ari Hoenig, there are two gigs on June 9 at Bennetts featuring guitarist Quentin Angus and bassist Sam Anning.

Uptown Jazz Cafe has a ripper line-up of gigs during the festival. Don’t miss Mark Fitgzibbon Trio (June 3), Paul Williamson Quartet playing Monk (June 3), Andrea Keller’s Transients IV (June 4), Stephen Magnusson Trio (June 5), Ithaca Bound suite, music of the Allan Browne Quintet (June 6), Jamie Oehlers/Paul Grabowsky Quartet (June 9) and Sam Keevers’ Red Fish Blue (June 12). These and the other Uptown gigs are delivering seriously good jazz.

Dizzy’s Jazz Club in Richmond also has eight festival gigs, so look these up on the festival website.

Time’s almost up if I’m to post this as the embargo expires. Apologies for any errors. Other events of note include the free opening concert at Fed Square on June 4 at 1.30pm featuring Brazilian and Latin ensembles led by Alistair Kerr and Sam Keevers respectively.

Barney McAll is going to play about with the Federation Bells and anything could happen with that. Keep an ear out at noon on June 4 in Birrarung Marr.

And the Queen Vic market will groove to Los Cabrones on June 8 at 6pm to warm up the Winter Night Markets.

And at noon on Sunday, June 12, at The Channel, 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank you may find out how many festival artistic directors it takes to change … well … a light globe, a set list, a door gig, a minor key … you name it.

ROGER MITCHELL

For further details and full program visit the festival website.

Note: Many images posted above are supplied by MIJF.

 

 

THE STING IN THE TAILFIN

Shapeshifters

Taking shape or taking off? Paul Grabowsky conducts Shapeshifter

GIG REVIEW: Shapeshifter, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Take two groups of musicians, add Paul Grabowsky and stir. The result is bound to be interesting.

In this case, Grabowsky as Musical Director has gathered six students from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and teamed them with seven members of the renowned Australian Art Orchestra to form Shapeshifter — “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st Century musicians”.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) O’Connor, Mamrot, Rex, Klas and Beck

In the first set, the ensemble played Variations (2001), based on a melody from the Suite du’n Goût Étranger (Suite in a Foreign Style) by 17th Century viola-da-gamba virtuoso Marin Marais. As Grabowsky explained, the piece puts the melody through a series of costume changes, each paying homage to composers past and present: Ennio Morricone, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, J.S. Bach and Olivier Messiaen.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and Davidson

Described in publicity material as “a kind of chamber concerto showing off the virtuosity of the players”, Variations would probably send a shock wave or two through any audience used to classical chamber music. Opening with pre-recorded music over which trumpeter Eugene Ball introduced squeals, whistles, growls and farts, the piece was often frenetic and often displayed dissonance or even discordancy.

Shapeshifters

Onslaughts: Philip Rex

Philip Rex on bass, with and without bow, helped mightily in the onslaughts, assisted by the superb Dave Beck on drums and percussionist Shanie Klas beating a small tin as if her life depended on its bell-like sound. A dirge of saxes was overlaid by upper register horns from Scott Tinkler and Ball.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and O’Connor

Joe O’Connor (keyboards) delivered some fierce runs, the notes well dug into the ivories. Brendan Toohey on bass clarinet added to the chatter of saxes in some bursts of AHBL (all hell breaking loose). James Macaulay‘s trombone worked well with Beck’s ‘plosive’ attacks and Dan Mamrot on guitar added significantly to what was a rich repertoire of timbres.

Variations was amazing, though I am sure I did not catch anything like all of its allusions of homage to composers. I would have to say it left me more marvelling than moved, but there was more to come from Shapeshifter after the break.

Shapeshifters

Horny: Tony Hicks solos with Shapeshifter

The second set opened with Tall Tales, a three-movement suite Grabowsky wrote in honour of filmmaker Fred Schepisi on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The first movement, Ngukurr Mon Amour, is based on the structure of manikay, the traditional song cycle form of the Yolngu peoples of Arnhem Land. The second, …and a bier for young Arnie is informed by the music of the young Arnold Schoenberg, and includes a miniature alto saxophone concerto. The third movement is entitled Wacky, Zany, Madcap.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter at work

This piece quickly had me convinced it would be the standout of the night. From the first movement, which opened with Welsh’s violin acting as a drone to Rex’s vigorous bass, it was compelling, energy-filled and intense. To me, this was a better showcase for the ensemble than Variations, especially as epitomised in the work of Tinkler, Tony Hicks on tenor sax over the rhythms of Rex and Beck, Lachlan Davidson‘s alto saxophone when fired up, Macaulay’s classy ‘bone, which had Grabowsky clapping, and in some brass salvos fired as if by instruments of war.

Shapeshifters

Zestful: Paul Grabowsky

Grabowsky as conductor was lively, active, perky, vibrant, vital, zestful, not to mention eager, zealous and spirited. His hands darted into the air as he urged the players onwards and upwards to new heights, demonstrating the drive that will no doubt propel Shapeshifter as it develops and explores new material.

Shapeshifters

Serious business: Scott Tinkler

Unexpectedly, it was the closing composition, Grabowsky’s Tailfin, which left the strongest impression in this outing. This was a new arrangement of a piece composed in 1992 and released on the albums Viva Viva (1993) and Tales of Time and Space (2004). I was struck by the different feel of the piece in the hands of Shapeshifter — compared to the Time and Space version it was more weighty, with more depth and guts.

Beck led us into it with a long introduction effectively using brushes over the slow thump of the bass drum. When Tinkler got to the serious business of the key solo he drew applause and a call from Grabowsky to “play that again”.

Shapeshifters

Another place: Welsh and Tinkler

The other horns painted a slow, solemn picture behind Tinkler, before Welsh’s violin took us to another, primal place in tandem with Mamrot on guitar. O’Connor on piano released the tension, making way for Toohey to usher in some twists and turns against the backdrop of Rex, O’Connor and Beck.

This rendition of Tailfin was still spinning in my head long after I left the venue in a mad dash for the train. It remains the standout for me in an outing that showed Shapeshifter to be no mere will o’ the wisp.

ROGER MITCHELL

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: Rex and Beck

Shapeshifter players: Paul Grabowsky, Musical Director

Australian Art Orchestra musicians: Dave Beck drums; Lachlan Davidson alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Tony Hicks tenor saxophone; Philip Rex double bass; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Eugene Ball trumpet; Lizzy Welsh violin.

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music students: James Macaulay trombone; Paul Cornelius saxophone; Brendan Toohey clarinet &amp bass clarinet; Shanie Klas percussion; Dan Mamrot guitar; Joe O’Connor keys.

Shapeshifters

Leading man: Grabowsky as musical director