Tag Archives: Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2014

MANY HIGHLIGHTS, MANY FROM CLOSE TO HOME

Jamie Oehlers

Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers in a MIJF highlight for 2014.

WRAP-UP REVIEW: MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 2014, 30 May to 8 June

So far for this year’s MIJF I’ve posted previews, pictorial updates and reflections that have sometimes ended up as mini reviews. But the intention was to leave most of the reviewing until the festival was over. So, I can report that I went to 23 concerts, counting each set of two double bills and each set of three with brief support acts. The venues included Hamer Hall, the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Malthouse, Melbourne Town Hall and Bennetts Lane. I did not make it to club sessions at Uptown Jazz Cafe or Dizzy’s Jazz Club, but heard there were some great gigs there that I missed.

While on venues, it was good to have Uptown included this year and the Malthouse turned out well, attracting some good crowds to evenings that included, effectively, three concerts. The lighting there, as I have said elsewhere, was poor, but that comment also applies to the Footscray Community Arts Centre and to Bennetts Lane. (I’m told by Laki Sideris that I have to make the lighting work for me when taking photographs, and I’ve been trying to do that.)

The observation has been made elsewhere that this festival brought out international artists who’ve been before, rather than other musicians new to the festival who do not have the established names to draw crowds. It must always be a balancing act for any festival’s artistic and program directors, but Adrian Jackson has long had a reputation for bringing relative newcomers to the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, so it can be done.

I think a more important issue is what happened in the venues on the nights, and how audiences reacted. The other question is how are we to judge the success or otherwise of these festivals — is it about bums on seats, audience reaction or the opinions of assorted critics? That could open a large can of worms, but I think it is useful to report on gigs that electrify or engage the audience, as well as to comment on the performances.

I tried dividing the concerts I attended into highlights, worthy mentions and those not so hot. Of the highlights, only seven involved international artists and the remaining 12 were by Australian musicians. I found that interesting.

Jorge Pardo

Jorge Pardo

The “not so hot” category is a misnomer, because it was probably the type of music played that did not appeal to me so much. In each case there were plenty of happy patrons. But I was not among them when Jorge Pardo joined Josemi Cameron and Jose Manuel in Huellas. Pardo on tenor sax and flute, and Cameron on guitar were skilled musicians, but as the solos dragged on and the music rose and fell, I found that it did not go anywhere too interesting (too subtle for me?) and that there was insufficient variation in Jose Manuel’s percussion work.

Larry Carlton

Larry Carlton

The Larry Carlton Quartet also suffered from repetitive drumming by Gerry Pantazis and, while Phil Turcio on keys did his best to lift the intensity, I found this group’s material too fruity and easy listening for my taste — soft rock that lacked differentiation and space, failing to reach any heights or plumb any depths.

Israeli pair Daniel Zamir and Tomer Bar engaged the audience with melodies that seemed to draw more on Jewish tradition than jazz. There was some audience involvement that worked, but it just was not going to set my nerves jangling.

On to the worthy mentions, which is meant as a positive category without any rafters being lifted. The lightly cooked Omelette served up by Jordan Murray, Stephen Magnusson, Mark Shepherd and Ronny Ferella before Charles Lloyd’s Sky Trio took the MRC stage was muted, carefully crafted and perfect as a way into the main gig, although I found the guitar did not come through strongly.

Sky Trio was as anticipated, delivering fluidity, warmth, a sense of fun at times, beauty, musings and flights of fantasy. Being at a Lloyd concert is akin to a religious experience. Backed by the superb rhythm section of Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums, Lloyd showed he has the breath and finesse to deliver long, meditative solos on tenor sax, flute and tarogato. The encore of standard Where Are You and Lloyd’s Sweet Georgia Bright, including Harland’s controlled solo, ended the set on a high. A festival highlight? Not quite, possibly because it was so laid back.

Sean Foran and Julian Arguelles

Sean Foran and Julian Arguelles

This concert was great, but I went on to hear Brisbane’s Trichotomy at Bennetts Lane, with UK guest Julian Arguelles on sax, and discovered this night’s highlight. Formerly known as Misinterprotato, this trio featured Sean Foran on piano, Sam Vincent on bass and John Parker on drums. The set was full of inventiveness, interest, variation and effective provision of space.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

Back on the worthy mentions track, Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri’s The Greek Project, also featuring Rogers, Harland, Takis Farazis on piano and Socratis Sinopolous on politiki and pontiac lyras, was an exposition of the unity achieved when two individuals from different cultural roots and musical traditions discover much in common. In CL Blue, Lloyd seemed to lay his notes on the air and send them off and in Requiem his sax was ending Farantouri’s sentences. In Prayer, the lyra notes from Sinopolous were high, clear and plaintive, then entering a dance. Farantouri’s voice was fascinating — it had strength without great projection, emerging from deep in her throat and seeming to delve into history. This concert was a monumental event. But it lacked the focus and impetus of Lloyd’s Sangam concert of 2010, and in Greek Suite pieces it perhaps lacked the ability to hold attention.

It may seem heresy to some, but I have to be honest and say that one of my festival highlights followed The Greek Project. I’d been told by several people not to bother hearing Chris Dave and The Drumhedz, especially not after the Lloyd/Farantouri concert, because it would be such an abrupt change.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

I went to Bennetts Lane expecting to feel like a fish out of water at a gig that would have appeal to a younger audience into a mix of R&B, funk, hip-hop and electronica, with some rock and jazz thrown in. I had listened to some YouTube clips that had not turned me on. Well, Chris Dave on augmented drum kit — with two tall, corkscrew cymbals — Isaiah Sharkey on guitar, Nick McNack on bass and Marcus Strickland on tenor and soprano sax produced a set that held my interest from the word go until almost the finish, when an encore piece went on a bit too long. Sharkey’s guitar playing was a work of art, with lots of variation and heaps of skill. Dave on drums was virtuosic, Strickland produced some excellent solos and McNack was solid on electric bass. But the appeal was in the watchfulness and interaction in this band. So much was going on and in this performance (out of three) it was evident that decisions were being made and fun was being had throughout. They were having a ball and so was the audience. This was an unexpected, but clear highlight.

Eminently worthy of mention was the Allan Browne Quintet‘s performance of The Drunken Boat suite the following night at Bennetts Lane, its often short pieces providing a feast of diverse moods and styles.

Livio Minafra

Livio Minafra

An unexpected festival highlight was Livio Minafra‘s entertaining and engaging gig at the same venue that night, which I have already reviewed.  OK, it was a stretch to call it jazz, but I found it most enjoyable and fun.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

Tuesday 3 June was a standout in my view, bringing two festival highlights in one night. At Footscray Community Arts Centre — see earlier postPeter Knight’s Way Out West played long-awaited new material that will soon emerge on a fourth album, as well as some pieces from earlier recordings. There was so much to like about this diverse ensemble’s outing, but I particularly appreciated the space and developing intensity of The Birds, which made excellent use of the clarity in  Satsuki Odamura‘s koto notes. In Music For April, muted koto notes were like drops of water and Lucas Michailidis’ guitar notes seemed to be propelled as if by springs. Laptop crackle, guitar and koto built an eerie feel to Nine Years Later, in which the ensemble took us to wonderful places. This was a considered and carefully crafted outing and I look forward to the new Way Out West album.

Eric Harland at Bennetts Lane

Eric Harland at Bennetts Lane

From way out west I rushed to Bennetts Lane for what was to be my top highlight of this festival for 2014, bringing Rogers and Harland from Lloyd’s Sky Trio together with Paul Grabowsky on piano and Jamie Oehlers on saxophone. As mentioned in an  earlier post, this concert was an excellent example of why many of us love jazz. Paper Tiger opened with all stops out and we heard some sharp attacks and searing solos during the set, but in Oehlers’ Innocent Dreamer and Grabowsky’s Angel we were surrounded by inexpressible beauty. This group is recording in January. Bring it on.

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Other festival highlights covered in earlier posts were the opening set at Melbourne Recital Centre by Here and Now, the fascinating outing by Finnish trio Jukka Perko Avara at Bennetts Lane and the double bill at The Malthouse featuring Alister Spence Trio and Dawn of Midi. The last of these three posts also covered Django Bates Beloved trio’s celebration of Charlie Parker, with help from Monash Art Ensemble, which I ranked as eminently worthy of mention, but not one of my highlights.

Another post, entitled a Sandwich of Food for the Soul, covered festival highlights at The Malthouse on Saturday 7 June: The Hunters & Pointers with Kristin Berardi, Mike Nock with Laurence Pike, and the Julien Wilson Quartet with Barney McAll.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

The final highlight for me of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2014 was the Hamer Hall outing of duets by Chick Corea on keys and Gary Burton on vibes. As they played I thought about what made this performance so successful; what was evident in their playing. It seemed to include mutual understanding and appreciation, subtlety, fun, finesse, dexterity, delicacy, intricacy, splendour, responsiveness, lightness of touch, rapidity, clarity, virtuosity, luminosity, melody, translucence (of vibes notes) and maybe even whimsy. As I posted elsewhere “there was plenty of pixie dust flying from the vibes”, especially in Crystal Silence, which seemed to be a contest to see who could play with the lightest touch.

Corea and Burton had been here before, but that did not detract from the enjoyment of this outing. Their concert seemed a fitting end to a festival, which artistic director Michael Tortoni described as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

So, there were plenty of highlights at the MIJF 2014. Two innovations — the excursion to Melbourne’s west and the use of The Malthouse — were a great success. Artists visiting from overseas did not dominate the highlights, in my view. It’s fair to say that the mix was eclectic, taking in The Drumhedz and Bates’ take on Charlie Parker, but clearly the MIJF under Tortoni allows plenty of scope for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival to reclaim some of the “out there” ground if funding becomes available in future years.

ROGER MITCHELL

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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

 

FEATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar with Jukka Perko Avara Trio

REFLECTION:

Jukka Perko Avara Trio (Finland), MIJF Club Session at Bennetts Lane 9.30pm Wednesday 4 June 2014

I hurried from Here and Now and the Larry Carlton Quartet to finish the night with a Finnish flourish. Having been impressed by Carlton’s facility with his instrument, but not too excited by the material he chose to play, I was ready for adventure.

Well, I missed the first piece, but pretty soon I found myself thrown into the deep end of what seemed a very strange pool indeed, eased in by the wry sense of humour of saxophonist and band leader Jukka Perko. I did quite know what had hit me, to tell the truth, and felt as if I was treading water amid some strange currents for quite a while.

Jukka Perko with his trio.

Jukka Perko with his trio.

The humour was an ice breaker. Perko explained that their second piece, He Left the Road, was about a man who walked off into a forest swamp and wandered about for some time before returning to pretty much the same point — which was they way he often felt about jazz. There was some heavy breathing into the sax in this fragmented piece.

Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar.

Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar.

All three members of the trio made extensive use of pedals for sustain, reverb and playback of samples on the run. At times it felt almost classical (from Teemu Viinikainen on acoustic guitar), at others there was piercing soprano sax, then intricate electric guitar from Jarmo Saari. I felt during Guardian Angel that the music was so changeable that it was hard to keep up or adjust as it shifted in intensity and mood. The finish (no pun intended) was fast, loud and full of vigour.

After some humour directed at Swedish music being in a major key and the Finns requiring a switch to minor, there was a lyrical, folk-style piece with a dance feel before things turned darker.

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar

Jarmo Saari on electric guitar

During Water of the Black Trench — a reference to the last waters from melting snow flowing into deep pools that made the clear water appear dark — I was mesmerised and totally engrossed. Saari’s vocals, emerging into the mic from beneath his long moustache, were uncanny, unsettling and evocative. His voice and his electric guitar, with reverb and sustain, conjured creepy, icy things that were in keeping with the gravelly static coming from someone in the trio. This wonderful piece finished with what could have been the cries of birds followed by a tiny echo of the sax notes.

Praise the Lord for He Is Good (an old French mediaeval song reworked) offered a series of musical vignettes, each quite different. The unpredictability of this trio had me convinced that in the encore, Summer Hymn, the light, airy, melodic and pleasant feel would surely give way to something darker, but that did not happen. The floating, flowing feel of summer remained until the end.

Departing from the deep traditions of jazz from the US always offers potential for something completely different. I’d like to hear more of the Jukka Perko Avara Trio, if only to be better prepared for the unexpected. But somewhere deep in the black trench I decided I was no longer out of my depth.

ROGER MITCHELL