Tag Archives: John Scofield

MARY HALVORSON LETS HER HAIR DOWN

Mary Halvorson Trio, Bennetts Lane, 11pm, June 10
Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2011

Mary Halvorson guitar, John Hebert bass, Ches Smith drums

Megan Evans

War on mobiles: Megan Evans introduces Mary Halvorson Trio

It was late at night when Halvorson’s trio was setting up. Bennetts Lane Megan Evans introduced the trio and could have murdered “that man at the bar talking on his mobile phone” … but she didn’t.

Mary Halvorson

In a world of hair own: Mary Halvorson plays in her cocoon

It probably says something about my lack of it, but I admit to being distracted by the guitarist’s hair. I could see that when Halvorson settled down to play she was going to literally let her hair down — not in a musical sense, but that it was going to fall in a curtain all around her face, forming a sort of cocoon. She would be in a world of hair own, I posted later to Facebook.

Ches Smith

Talent: Ches Smith

I was also distracted, and really pleased, to discover that the drummer I had loved so much at the Forum upstairs earlier with Tim Berne’s Los Totopos, Ches Smith, was a member of Halvorson’s trio. Melbourne drummer extraordinaire Ronny Ferella alerted me to this fact — fairly obvious to everybody else given that Smith was sitting in front of us at the drum kit — while agreeing that this young drummer really has talent.

Ches Smith

Tired but true: Ches Smith

Smith looked pretty tired, and at times during the first set of three pieces he seemed to go on to automatic pilot. But for my money he was the standout performer of this gig. During the first few minutes of the trio’s first piece a significant cymbal went flying off its stand, though Smith does not strike me (get it?) as a smash & bash drummer. He does go at it hard at times, but he’s a lot more interesting than that. There is variation, responsiveness and a sense of complete involvement with the music that make him great to hear, and to watch.

John Hebert

Impressive: John Hebert

I had to leave to catch a train after the first set, wimping out (as Megan suggested), so this post relates to only the first half. John Hebert on bass was impressive.

Mary Halvorson

Gravelly: Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson has a strong feel to her work, but on this occasion there did not seem to be a lot of variation. From this half concert it seemed she was deliberate and considered rather than being at all showy in her playing. In fact, in these three pieces she seemed almost restrained. The sound was less about individual notes and had a more gravelly feel. Pedals were present, but not used flamboyantly.

Am I saying Halvorson was not exciting? Possibly, on this occasion, when I think about it, that sums it up. But neither her playing nor her trio was at all boring. I think there was a contained yet sustained feel, with plenty of tension and interest, but not the sort of virtuosic high points that you may get from a James Muller or John Scofield.

Another set would have been good. Hearing Smith again was the highlight for me.

ROGER MITCHELL

Wang and all that jazz

Mike Nock
Mike Nock plays Wangaratta. Picture courtesy CHERYL BROWNE

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Christmas for jazz fans comes just before the Melbourne Cup, reports ROGER MITCHELL, and in 2009 the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz celebrates its 20th year
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(Article published in the Sunday Herald Sun on October 18, 2009)

THE signs were not auspicious.
Drummer Allan Browne was thinking, “This will never work”.
Artistic director Adrian Jackson was thinking the same. He had never run a music gig, let alone a festival.
And, as the audience drifted into town 20 years ago for the first Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, a shopkeeper greeted Jackson with the words: “In town for the jazz festival? What a load of f—ing bull—- that is.”
The signs are not always correct.
In 1990 there were 28 concerts over three days in the town hall, Playhouse Theatre and a couple of pubs. Box office receipts were $25,000.
Last year, takings for Australia’s main jazz festival were $320,000. Music venues and accommodation in the area were being stretched.
In the 20th anniversary year, a new, multi-million-dollar Performing Arts Centre has replaced the larger, fondly remembered town hall as the main venue. A festival pass, at $160, covers most of the 80 gigs at 16 venues, involving more than 200 professional musicians.
An institution on the music calendar, “Wang” has always taken risks, resisting the temptation to choose popular artists or big names.
As Jackson says, “We’ve always put the emphasis on a musically strong program, hoping people will go away with a really positive experience.
“We’ve brought out artists like Horace Tapscott, Barry Harris and Arthur Blythe, about whom dyed-in-the-wool jazz fans would jump up and down, but they’re hardly household names. That’s worked in our favour.”
There have been big names — John Scofield, Joe Zawinul, Betty Carter, Dave Holland among them — but the idea has always been to let patrons sample music that’s new to them.
“The beauty of one pass getting you into multiple venues is that it encourages people to go to something they may not have gone out of their way to hear,” Jackson says.
“Sure, you’ll get people walking out saying, `This isn’t jazz’ or `That was horrible’, but you’ll also get people surprising themselves with what they can enjoy listening to.”
Everyone who has been to Wang will recall standout performances, and musicians are equally moved.
Expatriate New York pianist Barney McAll, who won the inaugural National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta in 1990, recalls one lasting highlight: “I remember hearing Adrian Sheriff playing with Andrea Keller.
“He played a trombone solo so emotionally powerful I had to leave the town hall for a walk.
“I didn’t listen to much more that day, that solo was enough.”
Jackson, who had been writing about jazz for 10 years before taking on the Wangaratta gig, welcomed blues musicians into a separate program from 1992, but resisted efforts to curb the rise of modern jazz.
“That was one of the early debating points: Should we have more traditional jazz? My argument was it’s an important part of the jazz scene, but it’s not really the future of where jazz is going 20 years from now.
“Sadly that’s because people like Len Barnard, Tom Baker and Roger Bell are no longer with us.”
Saxophonist Julien Wilson, who first played the festival in 1994, loves the fact that “all camps come together for one beautiful long weekend — the traditionalists, the conceptualists, the scientists and the heretics, the prophets and the preachers, the protagonists and the provocateurs”.
“This is where you can hear the best improvisers Australia has to offer, playing beyond their abilities, and then share a pizza with them,” he says.
“Wangaratta is to us what Christmas is to small kids — you spend the whole year looking forward to it and then don’t want it to end.”
Musicians love to be there. Some names — Browne, Paul Grabowsky, Mike Nock — crop up every year, but Jackson says there are good reasons.
“I don’t bring Al up there to perform with the same band every year,” he says. “He can perform with Aaron Choulai or Marc Hannaford or Andrea Keller or in all sorts of small groups, plus he’s capable of playing in more traditional settings, either with his band or with Brett Iggulden.”
Larrikin Alan Browne may be also on the program to act the goat.
He recalls looking out of the town hall band room window to check on his beloved second-hand car and seeing “a man with a rope, like a cowboy, trying to lasso a goat”.
“Finally he got the goat and it went mad, swinging around in a big arc into my car and doing about 900 bucks worth of damage.
“My main witness was (violinist) George Washingmachine. I remember George spent the rest of the night saying `I don’t stand a goat of a chance’ and `Our next song is Slow Goat to China’.
Luckily, Wang still has its characters 20 years on.

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz,
Oct 30 to Nov 2