Tag Archives: Kurt Elling


Sara Serpa

Vocal instrumentalist: Sara Serpa

GIG: WPAC theatre, 8:30pm, October 30

Sara Serpa vocals/compositions, Andre Matos guitar, Aaron Choulai piano, Sugawa Takashi bass, Tanaka Noritaka drums

Takashi, Serpa, Matos

Congruity: Serpa in sync with Matos, and Takashi on bass.

I am not big on vocalists, though I am always open to being persuaded otherwise. My usual, possibly crass, explanation is that vocals can get in the way of the instruments. Sara Serpa was ideal for my education, because she does not regard herself as a singer with a backing band, but as another instrumentalist. The reservation I had after hearing Serpa in this outing was that her vocal range did not seem to especially extensive and that in using her voice as an instrument she seemed to too closely follow the guitar playing of her husband, Andre Matos. No doubt Serpa was improvising, but her compositions seemed to call for a fair bit of congruity between her voice and that of Matos’s strings, so that I wished after a while that she would be more adventurous.

Sara Serpa

Improvising: Sara Serpa

In terms of my education on vocalists, this festival had great potential. I was later to hear two Kurt Elling concerts (the vocalist as showman) and on Cup eve I heard Kristin Berardi in a sensitive duo with James Sherlock. I was unable to hear Sarah McKenzie on Sunday with her sextet at the Pinsent Hotel. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that Elling’s vocal antics were spectacular, though I did wish for less of the zany humour and more songs to celebrate the agility and range, and just the pure sound, of his voice. And Berardi’s delightful outing had much more of the voice as superb instrument that I had hoped Serpa would deliver.

Sara Serpa

Capturing the giants: Sara Serpa with Sugawa Takashi

Serpa, from Portugal but now living in New York, opened with Ten Long Days of Rain, written in Boston. Then followed Sequoia Gigantes, inspired by a description of the giant redwood trees in John Steinbeck’s novel Travels with Charley. Serpa introduced the song eloquently as an attempt to capture “the essence of being around these trees — peaceful and yet intimidating”, then quoted a few lines from the book. This was one of Serpa’s pieces that I felt really captured the feeling well.

Sara Serpa

Conveying anguish: Sara Serpa

Her next composition, Praia, she said loosely translated as “beach”. Serpa seemed to sing partly in Portuguese and part vocalese. This was followed by a fado — a traditional Portuguese form Serpa said dealt with the challenges of longing for and loving someone who does not love you — entitled S’em Razao (Without A Reason). Her voice certainly conveyed anguish.

Andre Matos

In a chord with Serpa: Andre Matos

Matos alone accompanied the vocalist for Acerta Passo, by Pixinguinha, which was roughly translated as “catch up”. In this Serpa’s voice seemed tiny and fragile as she attained notes in a higher register. Then she sang Julia, from the Beatles White Album. This was sung in English, her voice blaring out at higher volumes in parts. I did not think this treatment of the song worked all that well.

The set finished with Gold-Digging Ants, which was part vocalese, part doo-wop.

Choulai, Serpa, Takashi

Incongruity of attire: Choulai, Serpa, Takashi

All I could think of at the end was the incongruity of Aaron Choulai in his American football top (or baseball?) at the piano and the comparatively formal attire of the singer. But that also applied to Choulai’s other concerts with the Japanese musicians. Of course it is immaterial.


Sugawa Takashi

Matos was suitably empathetic throughout and Choulai, Takashi and Noritaka were attentive and careful not to take any of the limelight.

Tanaka Noritaka

Tanaka Noritaka

I suppose I was a little disappointed in Serpa’s concert, given the excited reviews I’d read. She seems to prefer to avoid vocal gymnastics. Perhaps she could be a little more adventurous in her improvisation using her chosen instrument.


Kurt Elling

Impish humour: Kurt Elling the showman.


ROGER MITCHELL attempts to sum up Australia’s major festival of improvised music in a few words

WHEN Mike Nock’s New Quintet opened the 21st annual jazz festival at Wangaratta on Friday, the pianist told the audience, “This is jazz. Things happen.”

It was good advice. The festival program had not seemed to promise as much as in recent years. But things happen.

By midnight Saturday, a damp but satisfied audience left Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre still reverberating from a fiery set by saxophonist Oliver Lake’s organ quartet – the festival’s first experience of a Hammond B3 organ.

Patrons did not know a rubber band applied by Melbourne saxophonist Adam Simmons had repaired Oliver Lake’s sax in time for the visiting US quartet to deliver ferocious and virtuosic swing – topping its Friday night outing.

And by midnight Sunday two full houses had been amazed and entranced by the vocal agility and showmanship of Kurt Elling, with his impish humour and homage to jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon.

Belgian pianist Jef Neve’s trio took the international honours with lyricism, excitement and daring, closely followed by Tokyo’s Sisia Natuna, who provided an engrossing set with former Melbourne pianist/composer Aaron Choulai.

It would have been good to hear New York-based Portuguese vocalese singer Sara Serpa exploring more diverse territory.

The inventiveness of Australian musicians was highlighted in pianist composer Stu Hunter’s suites The Muse and The Gathering, with trombonist James Greening’s primal solo a monument to brass.

From Perth, Johannes Luebbers conducted a superb dectet in entrancing and original compositions. The Ian Date Quartet delivered delightful hot jazz and the controlled dynamics of Joe Chindamo’s trio took Simon and Garfunkel’s beautiful song America to new heights.

Sunday’s treats included a nostalgic brass outing from Bob Barnard and his UK mate Roy Williams, a sublime Greg Coffin Trio set and an engaging performance by Andrea Keller’s quartet.

Mike Nock, whose quintet opened with energy and ended in glorious disarray, was correct. At Wangaratta Jazz, things happen.

An abridged version of this review appeared in Melbourne’s Herald Sun on Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Roger Mitchell will be posting more festival reviews on ausjazz.net soon.


Oliver Lake
Oliver Lake is one of the international artists at Wangaratta Jazz


Wangaratta Jazz demystified — ROGER MITCHELL reflects on the musical feast about to unfold this weekend

HE wears a black beret to match his clothes, snaps his fingers to a private beat and calls everyone “man”, but you won’t often find him among the madding crowd on Cup weekend at Wangaratta Jazz. He is the caricature of a jazz fan.

The annual festival is bursting at the seams, with queues at many gigs demonstrating its broad appeal. Many who attend are connoisseurs of improvised music — let’s call them jazz tragics — but they may not stand out from the crowd.

Look for the knitted brows of concentration as, armed with a detailed concert schedule — possibly uploaded to the mandatory iPhone — the tragic moves with military precision from gig to gig, flashing the priority entry that will ensure a good seat in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre.

The tragic will make sure he or she catches international artists, such as Oliver Lake, Jeff Neve, Sara Serpa or Yuri Honing, who may not be household names.

The tragic will break only for strong coffee or a hasty discussion over dinner with other aficionados. The talk will be about which jazz standards were alluded to in the free improvisation session that afternoon, whether a visiting virtuoso justly treated a favourite Ornette Coleman piece, and who actually deserved to win this year’s National Jazz Awards.

In far greater numbers will be the music festival lovers. They’ll be more relaxed and slightly less organised, knowing that their festival pass will get them into every venue, even if it means queuing early for the popular performers, such as Kurt Elling, or taking a chance and rolling up at the last minute.

They’ll delight in discovering the diverse settings for music apart from the two arts centre venues, grabbing a coffee as they enjoy The Dilworths or The Catholics under canvas at Jazz on Ovens, or strolling across to the majestic Holy Trinity Cathedral to catch Oliver Lake solo or Rob Burke and Tony Gould. They will pore over the CDs on sale as they file into St Patrick’s Hall to hear suites by Stu Hunter’s quartet and Allan Browne’s quintet.

Festival lovers will be less critical and often openly enthusiastic, warmly greeting musicians outside after a gig — grabbing all available CDs in minutes — or happily joining them for coffee or a glass of wine at Hot Jazz Cafe or the arts centre’s Intermezzo.

They’ll be comfortably dressed, with good shoes for walking between venues, a hat and sun block, as well as a brolly just in case. And while many will stick to music they expect to enjoy, lots of other festival lovers will sample the unknown — and discover that they love it.

Blues fans have a program all their own, so they won’t stray too far from the blues marquee in Apex Park, where the music just keeps on coming. The sunscreen and hats are vital if the weather is warm, because not everyone can fit under the shade. And a footy poncho will not go astray in case of rain while Diesel or Debbie Davies are on stage.

Over at the free stage on Reid St is the place to find the regional festival fan, happy to have escaped the city for a long weekend and with an appetite for food and wine to go with the music. This bon vivant may pop into the Pinsent Hotel for some hot traditional jazz and will certainly scout the local craft and produce markets, as well as the wineries hosting free outdoor jazz concerts on Monday before the Melbourne Cup.

At the Cup Eve Concert, the WPAC Theatre will fill with worn-out jazz tragics, relaxed festival lovers, satiated fans of fine fare and even a few blues fans who may have decided it was wiser to walk than drive. It’s the safest of bets that everyone will have a night to top off a great weekend.

Wangaratta Jazz, October 29 to November 1.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, Melbourne, on October 29, 2010