Tag Archives: Mark Helias


PREVIEW: World Premiere of new composition by Dave Douglas, featuring the Monash Art Ensemble, Saturday 15 March, 7.30pm, Music Auditorium, Monash University, Cost: $20 / $15

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas                           (Image supplied)

There are two reasons to be excited by the collaboration to aired this evening at Monash University. The first is that renowned trumpeter and music educator Dave Douglas, fresh from his performance with John Zorn at the Adelaide Festival, will unveil a new and as yet untitled composition to a Melbourne audience.

The second is that the new work will be played by the exciting, inventive and talented Monash Art Ensemble under the direction of Professor Paul Grabowsky, who is Executive Director, Performing Arts, Academy of Performing Arts. This group, which features the cream of students and staff from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and veteran players of the Australian Art Orchestra, has collaborated recently in projects with leading figures in contemporary music including Mark Helias, George Lewis and Mary Finsterer.

Monash Art Ensemble

Monash Art Ensemble at MIJF 2013

At last year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Monash Art Ensemble’s concert in The Forum upstairs with bassist Mark Helias was a definite highlight, not only because of Helias’s compositions, but also because the ensemble played difficult material with finesse and power. For the Ausjazz review of this concert, see BAND ON THE RUN.

Monash Art Ensemble

Monash Art Ensemble on stage at The Forum upstairs

Douglas says his new composition for the Monash Art Ensemble features 16 musicians in ensembles of wind, brass, percussion and strings. It is inspired by the timbres of the composers of the Ars Nova in 14th century France, but moves into “wholly uncharted territory”.

“Improvisation meets composition as these sounds walk across the centuries for a new chapter in this American composer’s oeuvre, written especially for this engagement”, Douglas said.

Paul Grabowsky described the collaboration with Douglas as “a milestone in the already eventful life of the Monash Art Ensemble”.

“He is without doubt one of the deepest thinkers around contemporary jazz and improvised music today, a composer of great depth who is able to embrace a pluralistic vision of music within a strong stylistic framework. He is also one of the leading trumpeters of his generation, and a major educator, so there is much to be excited about,” Professor Grabowsky said.

Dave Douglas has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland award and two Grammy nominations. Douglas has a new quintet, an electric sextet (Keystone), and Sound Prints Quintet, which is co-led with saxophonist Joe Lovano.

From 2002 to 2012, he served as artistic director of the Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at The Banff Centre in Canada. He is a co-founder and director of the Festival of New Trumpet Music, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012. In 2013 Douglas was, for the second year, International Jazz Artist in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music in London and launched his own Jazz Workshop, dedicated to enriching the musical experiences of younger players.

Here’s a clip of the Dave Douglas Quintet at work in July 2013 .



David Ades

David Ades


Melbourne International Jazz Festival Club Sessions at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club:
10.30pm Monday 3 June 2013 — David Ades & Friends
8pm Tuesday 4 June 2013 — Open Loose
10.30pm Tuesday 4 June 2013 — Snarky Puppy

On 26 August last year, musicians gathered at Uptown Jazz Cafe in a benefit concert for saxophonist David Ades, who was in Germany receiving treatment for cancer. On 3 November, Ades came on stage at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre to drive one of the 2012 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival‘s highlights. Ades was on fire as he joined Julien Wilson on tenor, Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Danny Fischer on drums to launch his album A Glorious Certainty, which was recorded in Brooklyn in 2011. (See Ausjazz review: Musical conversations say it all.)

The MIJF club session on 3 June gave Ades an opportunity to revisit the album with his friends from Open Loose, with whom he recorded it — Tony Malaby on tenor, Mark Helias on contra bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Ades did not waste the opportunity, leading us through the album songs with amazing energy. After a blistering opening (was it La Ripaille?), highlights included mingling alto and tenor in Melissa (dedicated to artist Melissa Thompson, Ades’s wife until her death in 2005), the resplendently spiky Dreaming In Colour and the minimalist textures of This Land, which again featured some beautiful reed work, with alto and tenor independent yet unified, and a great bass solo. The closing Philstream (for Phil Treloar) produced more entanglements of the saxes, some plaintive vibrato, bird-like cries and a deep drone from Helias’s bow.


Tony Malaby

Tony Malaby

In the smaller room at Bennetts the following night, Open Loose played while David Ades watched. As expected, the music was much different, though not that similar to the Mark Helias material aired at The Forum Upstairs on Sunday 2 June with the Monash Art Ensemble (Ausjazz review: Band on the run). I felt a strong groove from the trio as I burrowed through the throng to catch a glimpse of the players. Just ahead, off-duty drummer Ronny Ferella was moving to the vibe, which was surprisingly gentle, yet totally involving.

Rather than epic complexity and frequent change, this outing was a celebration of texture and timbre, with each instrument given the time and space to drift in and out of our collective consciousness. This was music to luxuriate in, to sink into and move with, to give in to and absorb utterly. Open Loose took us places that were visceral yet not driven into us. By contrast with the Ades gig the previous night, Tony Malaby was much more prominent, exploring the range of the tenor — especially the lower registers. Cleaver also showed a lot more of his capabilities, with some killer solos that were nevertheless far more expressive than mere crash ‘n’ bash. Helias contributed arresting strength and also explored the deepest of depths. I did not want this gig to end.


It did, of course, and I had to decide whether to go next door for the second sell-out Snarky Puppy gig of the night or stay for some hard core straight ahead jazz from Sean Wayland on piano, Brett Hirst on bass, Kneebody’s Nate Wood on drums and James Muller unexpectedly on guitar. From comments later, staying put would have been a pretty good choice, but I had to find out what all the fuss was about. What was Snarky Puppy up to that had sold out The Forum downstairs as well as two unscheduled club gigs?

Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy

I’m not sure that I have an adequate answer, but it’s fair to say the larger room (Jazz Lab) was full of young people who probably would have been happier jettisoning the chairs so they could move more readily to the raw funk, soul and jazz of Snarky Puppy. There was a rock feel to this gig, and the smiling faces and energy in the band and crowd guaranteed success from the start. The musicians in this collective (not all came on tour from the US) are talented. The band is practised, knows what it’s about and how to woo a crowd. At one point the audience was enthusiastically participating in two-part harmonies and just bursting to get involved. There was a nice, long interchange between the percussionist, Nate Werth, and drummer, Robert “Sput” Searight.

It was like being at a “jazz” party and surely that’s no bad thing.

I left before vocalist Alison Wedding joined the band, but I’m certain she won the hearts of patrons with ease.


It was late, I was tired, and this music lacked the tension, dissonance and unexpectedness that make much improvised music so engrossing. That said, it was great to see this venue packed with young fans of live music.

The Wayland gig was still going, but the doorway seemed too crowded, so I headed for the train.



Monash Art Ensemble

Monash Art Ensemble


Monash Art Ensemble with special guest Mark Helias, The Forum Upstairs, Sunday 2 June, 2013, 2pm, Melbourne International Jazz Festival

I’m a bit confused, because this gig was billed as Shapeshifter, but the leaflet given out refers to Monash Art Ensemble, described as “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st century musicians”. That description is apt because this was exciting music indeed. The large ensemble (16 if you count conductor Paul Grabowsky and guest bassist Mark Helias, who is in town to play with Open Loose) opened with a commissioned work, Intrusions, by Eugene Ball, and followed with four pieces by Helias.

What can I say in a mini review? I loved this performance not only because of the music, but because of the talent the young musicians in the band displayed, which demonstrates that we have a lot to look forward to in Melbourne. There was so much diversity and development in these pieces, and the band members showed great concentration and responsiveness throughout. Ball’s composition was intense and at times eerie. I think Erkki Velthheim prepared his violin in this and there was a clarinet played in a bucket of water (possibly by David Griffiths). Frank Di Sario was excellent on bass.

Mark Helias

Mark Helias

Helias’s pieces were amazingly complex, but the ensemble coped well. I thought of Knitting or Quitting as dispassionate but arresting music and I loved the interplay between bass clarinet and bowed bass. Young trombone and trumpet players were excellent in this piece, which had so much to it. Haymaker was exciting music full of bustle and energy, with a hot piano solo by Joe O’Connor. I think Melbourne has a young pianist to match Perth’s Tal Cohen.

The concert closed with the beautifully lush Grabowsky composition Love Like A Curse, which was an excellent wind-down from the earlier animation.

More highlights will occur during this festival, but this was a definite. Full marks to Monash University and all who sail with this project.

Image gallery