Tag Archives: julien wilson

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

PARIS ON A GUITAR STRING

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart performs at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in 2012

AUSTRALIAN TOUR: Alex Stuart Quintet

The title of this post will mean little to many, but it alludes to the first Lonely Planet guide that I ever used, South-East Asia on a Shoestring, which accompanied me on the trek up through the wilds of Java and Sumatra and beyond many, many years ago.

But I digress. We have come to expect — and look forward to — visits home by expatriate musician Alex Stuart from his adopted home in France.

The guitarist (www.alexstuartmusic.com/) is back from Paris this month and joins some of Australia’s top jazz musicians to launch his new album Place to Be. Stuart moved to France in 2005 after graduating from the ANU School of Music in Canberra.

His Australian tour follows the album’s launch in May at Paris’s Sunset Jazz Club. The album, released by the French label Gaya / Abeille Musique, has received many enthusiastic critical responses there, including Nouvelle-Vague magazine’s “balanced to perfection … one of the best jazz albums of the year – 5 stars” and national radio station France Musique’s “an absolutely superb album … music that shimmers”.

In Australia, ABC Jazz made it a “feature album”, while The Australian’s John McBeath praised it and gave it 4 out 5 stars.

Stuart has been immersed in the rich and varied musical cultures of the Paris jazz scene and, through a residency in Kolkata, in the Hindustani classical tradition. He is well recognised in Europe, known for his 2010 album, Around, and winning the prestigious 2011 Révelation prize at the Jazz à Juan jazz festival. In 2012 he played at the Wangaratta Festival and in 2013 he was nominated for the Freedman Jazz Scholarship.

Stuart says he welcomes opportunities to return to Australia, the country that has influenced his music in many ways and “has also directly inspired several of my compositions, most recently the Place to Be track Cuttagee, Wapengo, which comes from fond memories of the NSW Far South Coast”.

Describing Place to Be as an “ode to cultural openness”, Stuart says he finds inspiration in many places, “including the jazz tradition, contemporary jazz, African and South American grooves, rock and post-rock, Indian and Balkan music, Australia, life in Paris’s 19th arrondissement and the sea and surfing”.

For his quintet on tour, Stuart Alex has three-time Bell Jazz Awards winner Julien Wilson on saxophone, ARIA award winner and founder of the band Wanderlust, Miroslav Bukovsky on trumpet, winner of several Bell and other jazz awards Jonathan Zwartz  on double bass, and on drums Tim Firth, who won the 2011 National Jazz Award at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart at Bennetts in 2012

Alex Stuart’s tour dates:

  • Tuesday 21 October: MJC / Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne
  • Wednesday 22 October: Venue 505, 280 Cleveland St Surry Hills, Sydney
  • Saturday 25 October: Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, Wollongong
  • Sunday 26 October: Zephyrs Jazz, Four Winds Windsong Pavilion, Barragga Bay, (near Bermagui) NSW
  • Monday 27 October: The Street Theatre, Canberra

 Alex will also play as a quartet at MONA and other venues in Tasmania between 30 October and 1 November.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

A SANDWICH OF FOOD FOR THE SOUL

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

REFLECTION:

A Conversation at The Wheeler Centre and three concerts at The Malthouse on Saturday 7 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

1pm: A Conversation with Mike Nock

Improvising musicians are always listening to the others in the band, on the lookout for something they can pick up on and take somewhere. Journalists are always on the lookout for the angle — the unifying aspect that can help make a collection of events into a story.

Mike Nock handed me the angle to this post about his Wheeler Centre conversation and the three gigs to come later, although I did not pick up on how it would work until the evening. He spoke about a lot of aspects of music in this hour, including the fact that he once sang at the London Palladium, but more about these topics later if time permits.

I want to highlight a couple of Nock’s statements about jazz. He said jazz is “about connecting with people emotionally”. Later he said, “It is food for the soul — that’s what jazz is.”

I was happy to hear a musician of Nock’s stature say this, because I am at times moved to write food-for-the-soul-type comments about the music that moves me, although I am wary of slipping into sentimentality and aware of reactions to what’s played being subjective. If I do write thus about a musical experience I seem to be nagged by an inner voice wanting to dismiss this sort of talk as emotional claptrap and asking what it really means to say something “feeds” the “soul”.

That’s a topic for later, perhaps, but as it turned out, the Malthouse gigs later that evening — ironically, perhaps, the two before and after Nock’s gig with Laurence Pike — prompted me to want to use that emotive description.

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

7pm: Hunters & Pointers

First on stage were members of Hunters & Pointers, who had not performed together for 21 years. They were John Hoffman on flugelhorn, Graeme Lyall on saxophone, Tony Gould on piano, Ben Robertson on double bass and Tony Floyd on drums. How much talent can you fit on one stage?

From the opening notes I just wanted to find better words than smooth to describe this quintet’s work. Like a well-oiled trombone slide these luminaries of Australian jazz just let the notes slip into the auditorium and hang there in space.

I often prefer tension-filled music that’s prickly and sharp-edged. But this was sublime stuff that I knew would draw out that stuff about “food for the soul”. Luckily, I had Mike Nock’s words to provide support.

After Just Friends, my favourite vocalist Kristin Berardi joined Gould for Body and Soul, then the band for a vivacious rendering of Tea For Two. In I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Lyall delivered some super smooth alto sax that was fat and furry, Floyd’s work on brushes and mallets was superb, and Gould’s solo was a treat. This piece drew a loud “Yes” from the audience and justifiably so.

In mid concert there was some horseplay and even a joke, before the set’s highlight, for me — Berardi’s performance in Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most. Her vocals in this were eloquent, sensitive and yet not sentimental at all. The audience forced an encore, It Could Happen to You, that featured a solo with Robertson really jumping and evolved into a really swinging number.

This was food for the soul part one.

Tony Floyd and John Hoffman

Tony Floyd and John Hoffman

Kristin Berardi with Hunters and Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters & Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters and Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters & Pointers

Graeme Lyall

Graeme Lyall

Tony Gould

Tony Gould

Tony Floyd

Tony Floyd

Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson

John Hoffman

John Hoffman

9pm: Mike Nock and Laurence Pike

As mentioned, this set had a different sort of appeal. Immediately I was struck again by Nock’s ability to create an air of reverence that is totally engrossing, yet does not require many notes to be played.

Pike was extremely busy at times on drums and percussion, playing almost as if possessed — but in a muted fashion. (What is conveyed comes as much from what he holds back as by what he actually does, if that makes any sense. An example is the vigour with which he goes to hit with brushes, yet hardly any sound emerges.) I was reminded of a Cannonball Adderley live gig in which you can hear the audience respond to what’s hinted at by the rhythm section.

Nock built tension and focus, commanding attention. As the set progressed, both Pike and Nock were tinkering at sounds, producing electronic static along with rattles and the shaking of bells, plus short flurries of piano notes between pauses. I thought there was a lot in common with the Alister Spence Trio‘s set of the previous evening.

I was not moved to describe this as food for the soul. My appreciation of the set was more dispassionate. The appeal lay in the fascination of a changing landscape.

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

11.20pm: Julien Wilson Quartet

The finish of this narrative is probably fairly obvious by now. Julien Wilson on clarinet and tenor sax joined Barney McAll (over from New York) on piano, Jonathan Zwartz on acoustic bass and Allan Browne on drums and cymbals to complete a dream line-up.

I had lost any urge to dash off to Bennetts Lane to hear Django Bates Beloved play Charlie Parker. Another time. I wanted — wait for it — food for the soul, and this was the quartet to provide exactly that.

They began with Ellington’s The Feeling of Jazz, then Deep Night followed by a new ballad, Bernie, in honour of the late great Bernie McGann. Weeping Willow followed as a tribute to recently departed Gil Askey. There were great solos by Browne and McAll in this. In particular I loved how the quartet ended this and the previous piece, allowing them to gradually slip away. It was appropriate, I thought, to have such peaceful departures for these two characters of jazz.

From the opener, Wilson showed again that he continues to play with assurance and to draw on deep inspiration that is clearly a sustaining force.

They played another new piece, Rain Man, and ended with Farewell off the album This Is Always as an encore.

McAll seemed attentive rather than flamboyant on the night. He later said how much he appreciated Browne being so zen at the drum kit.

This concert was good for the soul. It was the perfect ending to the penultimate day of MIJF 2014.

ROGER MITCHELL

Jonathan Zwartz

Jonathan Zwartz

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

Barney McAll and Julien Wilson

Barney McAll and Julien Wilson

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz

Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz

Barney McAll

Barney McAll