Tag Archives: Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival



Preview: Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, including 2013 APRA Composer Commission Concert, Sunday 5 May, 2-8pm at
 Northcote Town Hall

Lovers of popular music, including fans of classical and opera, may regard many incarnations of jazz as being on “the fringe”. Purely in terms of bums on seats at concerts, that is probably a reasonable view. But anyone familiar with the improvised music on offer in Australia knows there are gigs that sit on the fringe within the broad genre.

It’s not worth wasting energy on where to draw the line between more mainstream jazz and material that’s “out there”. But some context can be helpful. Martin Jackson, who runs the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, has suggested that patrons of gigs sponsored by the co-op should keep in mind that the diversity of music on offer means they may find some outings a challenge.

I can recall a few occasions on which people looking for some live music after dinner have lobbed at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club not knowing what to expect, then discovered that what’s on offer on the night does not appeal to them. On the other hand, anyone who finds the way to the Make It Up Club at Bar Open in Fitzroy is likely to expect performances that stretch the boundaries of music.

Organisers of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival have had to do some hard thinking in recent years about the challenges of staging a festival with limited resources, declining patronage and arguably some encroachment on its turf by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. If anything the MIJF is now leaning to the more accessible side of the spectrum, but under Sophie Brous it ventured into experimental music with the hugely popular day-long multi-stage Overground at Melbourne Town Hall, which was similar in concept to the MJFF’s previous Big Arse Sundays.

That’s hardly a comprehensive summary of the issues facing the hard-working MJFF organisers, but the upshot is that this year’s festival will consist of one afternoon of concerts grouped around the 2013 APRA Commission Concert, which has become a significant landmark for the festival and in Melbourne’s annual jazz calendar. For anyone unfamiliar with this concert, it’s worth saying that each year APRA funding enables MJFF to invite proposals for a commissioned work that breaks new ground. The chosen work is given its debut airing during the festival. These are always innovative and interesting.

This year Darrin Archer has chosen to focus on Allen Ginsberg‘s poem Howl, using modern composition and improvisation to explore the sex, drugs and spirituality of the beatnik as a sonic landscape. If that sounds weird, it probably will be, but surely that’s what we want from a MJFF concert. The work, titled Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality: Howl to music, will debut at 5.30pm.

But the music begins at 2pm with solo piano performances by Steve Grant (a multi-instrumentalist who is often playing cornet or accordion) and Marc Hannaford (who will soon leave for New York to take up a fellowship at Columbia for a PhD in music theory). It will be a treat to hear these pianists at work solo.

At 3pm drummer Ronny Ferella will usher on his band IshIsh, which has its roots in the music of drummers Eddie Moore and Ed Blackwell’s groups, and the music of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. The line-up has varied since the ensemble’s first album, but for the latest CD End of a Line it featured Eugene Ball trumpet, Jordan Murray trombone, Julien Wilson saxophone, Mark Shepherd bass and Javier Fredes percussion. A special guest for this outing will be Stephen Magnusson on guitar.

At 4pm, expect things to move a little further out there as Scott McConnachie on sax joins Erkki Veltheim on viola and Ren Walters on guitars in a trio that emphasises process of creation rather than any planned result.

After the commissioned work, at 6.30pm Chris Port on drums and laptop will join James Gilligan on bass/tape machine/effects and Marty Hicks on piano and Nintendo DS in exploring Beat and hip-hop culture through improvisation. Titled “Mixer”, this will draw inspiration from Kanye West, Ableton Live, Drake, Pro Guitar Shop videos, Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Aphex Twin, and the Boston Celtics.

Tickets for this biggish arse Sunday cost $35/$25 and are available at the door or online or via Northcote Town Hall website.

Don’t let your fringe down. Be there.



Cassandra Wilson in concert. Picture by Scott Penner, Canada

Cassandra Wilson in concert. Picture by Scott Penner, Canada

Ausjazz Blog previews the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2013 and finds the program highly accessible and aiming to appeal to audiences that may not be attracted to “jazz”


It’s time to get excited. There is less than a month to go before three key jazz festivals in Melbourne bring out crowds of music lovers attracted by the buzz and the hype to hear some live improvised music.

Hard-working musicians, as well as the proprietors and staff at the city’s many excellent jazz clubs, probably wonder why so many patrons who find their way out of the woodwork during festivals are not sighted at other times, but that’s been a reality for years.

Festivals are fantastic because they raise the profile of improvised music, attract media coverage that is not available during the rest of the year and, it is hoped, provide a taste of the adventurous artistic endeavour that is always on offer throughout the year — at intimate venues with low admission prices.

The festival season opens on Sunday, May 5, with the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival 2013 APRA Composers Commission Concert at Northcote Town Hall as part of a larger event from 2pm-8pm. Every year this festival features an inventive commissioned work and this year’s will be pianist Darrin Archer’s “Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality: Howl to music”, which refers to ‘Beat’ writer Allen Ginsberg’s poem.

Next is Stonnington Jazz, from Thursday, May 16 to Sunday, May 26, featuring Australian musicians in a program devised by artistic director Adrian Jackson, who is also responsible for the annual Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.

More on these festivals later.

The festival with the biggest budget and international artists, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, runs from Friday, May 31 until Sunday, June 9. Conceived by artistic director Michael Tortoni, the 2013 program has as its theme the exploration of conversations between musical styles — in particular exchanges between jazz and popular music.

Full details of the concerts, artists and venues are available on the MIJF website.

This preview is intended to pick out some highlights that may not gain as much attention as they deserve, as well as giving a guide of sorts as to what patrons may expect.

For a number of years now the MIJF has set out to broaden its appeal. This year’s program is no exception, as shown by the links to popular music. A prime example is Here Comes the Night at the Palais Theatre, in which Joe Camilleri, Vince Jones, Vika Bull and the 14-piece Voodoo Sheiks Orchestra will perform songs by Van Morrison. (I’d bet that pianist John McAll will be playing up a storm in this.)

Commenting on the Van Morrison gig, Tortoni told a media briefing that, “I guess this year we are really going to be quite broad, from the heaviest New York avant garde improvisers to the highly accessible artists as well, and this is obviously on the side of the highly accessible.”

So, before delving into anything that may not appeal to a wider audience, it’s worth mentioning the concerts that will draw crowds.

The MIJF opening gala event on May 31 at the Palais Theatre, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, will bring a crowd favourite — young pianist vocalist, arranger and composer Sarah McKenzie — back from Boston to be musical director in a concert of jazz covers, pop and rock masterpieces. The gala will explore the music of artists such as Led Zeppelin, Coldplay, Paul Simon, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Prince and Sting. Jazz vocalist Michelle Nicolle, special guest Mahalia Barnes will join McKenzie and her band for this outing.

To help celebrate the festival opening, at 1pm on June 1 Southbank will host the New Orleans Second Line Street Party featuring a seven-piece Rebirth Brass Band playing vintage New Orleans jazz with heavy funk, soul, hip-hop and rhythm and blues.

The line-up for a free opening concert at Fed Square from 2pm that day will be announced closer to the festival.

Still on concerts bound to be popular, singer/songwriter Cassandra Wilson returns to Australia after almost a decade to perform at Hamer Hall on the festival’s closing night, June 9. Wilson, who joined Blue Note Records in 1992 and released the landmark album Blue Light ’Til Dawn, interprets vintage blues, country and folk music in fresh and creative ways. She has a swag of awards.

Another artist with a long list of honours is Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdes, who will bring his Afro-Cuban Messengers to Hamer Hall on June 8. Revered as one of Cuba’s greatest jazz pianists, Valdes grew up with Latin jazz and Cuban folk music. He is the son of pianist Bebo Valdés, who directed Havana’s famous Tropicana night club band.

Finally in this list of crowd pleasers, on June 8 the Melbourne Town Hall will host 774’s Roaring Swing, a night of hot jazz and dance recalling the nightlife and dance styles of New York City in the 1920s. Leigh Barker and The New Sheiks will join Michael McQuaid and his Red Hot Rhythmakers in firing up dancers as members of Swing Patrol teach the charleston to the uninitiated. This should be a roaring success.

So what concerts are likely to be the festival highlights without necessarily being immediately accessible or hugely popular?

Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider (Image supplied)

The most exciting outing of MIJF 2013 for me will be at the Melbourne Recital Centre, where two contemporary big band composers, America’s Maria Schneider and Canada’s Darcy James Argue will bring their charts to life via Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, led by David Theak.

I have loved the inventive, collaborative works of Schneider, as epitomised on albums such as Evanescence, Allegresse and Concert in the Garden, as well as the way the US composer uses ArtistShare to provide access to the creative process. Canadian Argue’s work with his Secret Society, often described as “steampunk-inspired”, has also drawn critical acclaim.

This should be a standout as both composers have their way with the Mothership Orchestra, which is one of Australia’s finest big bands.

Among other artists in the festival’s Modern Masters series definitely worth catching will be the driving rhythms of US bassist Christian McBride’s trio (Melbourne Recital Centre, June 1) US saxophonist James Carter, with his Organ Trio (MRC, June 7). This is also a chance for lovers of the Hammond B3 to hear that wonderful instrument played by Gerard Gibbs.

Jazz fusion — an area Tortoni says MIJF has not done much with in the past — will be given an airing on June 4 at MRC by US guitarist Mike Stern (Blood Sweat & Tears, Miles Davis) in his band with drummer David Weckl, tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini and bassist Tom Kennedy. Tortoni describes Stern as “one of the greatest electric guitarists of our generation”.

A new series for MIJF this year is Explorations in Jazz which Tortoni says “highlights the current directions in jazz and the vast array of musical styles being explored by contemporary musicians”.

Under this very wide umbrella are offerings as diverse as the energetic Snarky Puppy with Alison Wedding (Forum Upstairs, June 1), “jazz literate hip-hop loving” Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat, (The Forum, June 7) supported by locals Hiatus Kaiyote, the genre-bending five-piece band Kneebody (Forum Upstairs, June 2), a transcendental odyssey led by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (The Hi-Fi, June 1) and the hypnotic grooves of Erimaj (Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, June 7).

For me the gems in this Explorations series are likely to be Paul Grabowsky’s Shapeshifter (Forum Upstairs, June 2) and Maria Schneider exploring collective improvisation with Monash University music students (Alexander Theatre, Monash University, June 8).

In my experience, smaller venues usually offer the most exciting musical experiences, if only because we have the chance to feel totally immersed in music being played so close to us we can see the interaction occurring.

This year, in a partnership deal with MIJF, Club Sessions at The Paris Cat Jazz Club and Dizzy’s Jazz Club have been listed on the program, though the artists are not booked by the festival. This will allow these venues — which, along with Uptown Jazz Cafe provide a feast of live music all year — to share in the patronage that a festival always attracts.

The “official” Club Sessions at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club have some interesting collaborations. Israeli-born guitarist Gilad Hekselman, now in New York, will join the Jamie Oehlers Trio on May 31 in a set that will see bassist Sam Anning visiting from NYC.

Avant garde New York ensemble Open Loose will renew a collaboration with local saxophonist extraordinaire David Ades on June 3 as well as playing separately on June 4.

Expatriate Australian pianist/composer Sean Wayland will join Kneebody’s drummer Nate Wood and Oz bassist Brett Hirst for some “electro-pop meets modern fusion” on June 4.

James Carter will join in a sax fest with Julien Wilson on June 6, backed by the power and finesse of Phillip Rex on bass and ex-expatriate Danny Fischer, back from New York, on drums.

Special treats from local musicians include the world premieres on June 1 of Night and Day, which guitarist Tim Willis created with The End via the 2013 PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission, and on June 3 of the Allan Browne Trio’s Lost in the Stars inspired by the Zodiac Suites of composers Mary Lou Williams and Karlheinz Stockhausen. These should be marked as concerts not to be missed.

Australian quartet Red Fish Blue will launch its second album, The Sword and the Brush, on June 2, followed by a separate concert in which Jordan Murray on trombone and Paul Williamson on trumpet will join the Rob Burke and Tony Gould Quartet.

The Mike Stern Band will perform in a rare club session on June 9.

It’s always worth investigating bands from outside the US, because they often have a fresh, interesting approach. On offer this year at Bennetts Lane are Kekko Fornarelli Trio from Italy (June 5), Omri Mor Trio from Israel exploring North African Andalusian music (June 6) and David Helbock Trio from Austria (June 8).

From vocalists performing covers and the Van Morrison Songbook to swinging dance, hip-hop and fusion, this year’s festival is certainly eclectic and highly accessible. Hard core fans of straight-ahead jazz may find the pickings a little lean, but there will undoubtedly be unexpected highlights.

It’s time to gear up for a few nights out at live music in Melbourne.

For full program details visit the Melbourne International Jazz Festival website.


Now, more than ever, seems it fit to have a Melbourne jazz fringe


Anzac Day seems a good opportunity for reflection. A week or so back I was gearing up to post about the coming season of jazz festivals in Melbourne and the need for us to get off our couches and venture into the wintry nights to hear live music, prodded or encouraged perhaps by a surge in publicity about the delights of improvised music. I reckoned that the first cab off the rank — before Stonnington Jazz (May 17 to 27) and the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (June 1 to 11) — would be the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.


Fond memories of Fringe: A man called Miles makes pancakes on an electric frypan while a patron of the Captain's Bar requests a libation.

Fond thoughts came to mind about favourite Fringe moments … the sausage sizzle at Fitzroy Bowling Club where your snag is handed over by one of your favourite musicians; the ache in the bum that you notice only at the end of Big Arse Sunday when you’ve listened to eight hours or so of music; the challenge of staying in the room long enough to appreciate the subtleties of what seems like noise; the growing sense of anticipation and excitement as the APRA Commission work by Fran Swinn, Gian Slater, Erik Griswold or Ren Walters is about to unfold; the fun of following fellow patrons through city streets from a performance in an art gallery to another in which a violinist appears on a balcony and an orchestra of laptops plays below; the adventure of heading along a dark light industrial street to a dimly lit warehouse where a man called Miles makes pancakes on an electric frypan, the tiny Captain’s Bar serves enticing libations and there’s an iPhone mash-up making “music” at night’s end; the thrill of discovering Sandy Evans playing in a band that sets the pulse racing … Need I go on? Anyone who has been at these gigs will identify with the vibe.

Xani Kolac

Fond memories of Fringe: Zani Kolac plays violin from city gallery balcony.

With these thoughts in my head I was gently salivating as I looked up my calendar and saw the listing, gleaned from a useful jazz gig guide, showing that MJFF would run from April 23 to May 2, 2012. Then it dawned on my feeble brain that there had been no mention of the program for this year’s Fringe.

A word with drummer and festival administrator Sonja Horbelt revealed there was reason for concern. Sonja said Fringe is “re-evaluating and quite sponsorless this year”.

“Over the past year in particular we’ve felt the impact of Melbourne being “festival-ed out” and of the Melbourne Jazz festival drifting closer to what we believe to be the intrinsic identity of the Jazz Fringe Festival. It is flattering to think the main festival is drifting closer to what the Fringe is, but on the other hand it has left us searching for a definition of Fringe and a more focused purpose for the festival,” Sonja said.

“The Board has decided to use 2012 to take stock of the essential fabric of what is happening on the Melbourne scene and to re-evaluate the true purpose of the Jazz Fringe and its meaning for our community. We don’t have any major funding sponsors this year, aside from APRA for the composer award, so the Commission event will be the only event we stage.”

The news that the Commission concert would go ahead was good. The rest was a disappointment, not only because there would be less of the adventurous music for which this festival is known, but because there would be, essentially, no MJFF this year. I lament the loss of sponsorship and I lament the loss of a much-loved and vital part of Melbourne’s jazz and improvised music scene.

The irony is that Sophie Brous, who expanded Melbourne’s international festival into areas that had been Fringe territory, is no longer at the helm of MIJF, so in a year that could have seen Fringe filling in where the popular multi-stage experimental extravaganzas at Melbourne Town Hall left off — albeit on a necessarily smaller scale due to budget constraints — there is just one event rather than a full-on festival.

I am not saying the Fringe organising committee had any choice. Nor do I think it is a bad thing for the MJFF to re-evaluate its purpose. But I am hoping that this vital and valuable festival emerges phoenix-like from the ashes in 2013, because it is worth far more than just a collection of gigs on a calendar. MJFF can provide the special, quirky experiences mentioned above, which more formal festivals may not find so easy. It is surely also the ideal place for emerging exponents of new approaches to music to try them on audiences willing to be shocked, even horrified, but often exhilarated. And established artists can try new line-ups or alternative approaches.

That’s about it for the rant. The message: Keep the fringe in Melbourne jazz in the years ahead. May sponsors everywhere — apart from APRA, extempore, Melbourne Jazz Cooperative and Northcote Town Hall — hear and heed that message.


Tilman Robinson

APRA Commission winner: Tilman Robinson

Sunday, May 13 from 5pm at Northcote Town Hall

Network of Lines premieres ‘If On A Winter’s Night a Traveller’

Tilman Robinson, composition/trombone/processing; Peter Knight, trumpet/processing; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Xani Kolac, violin; Melanie Robinson, cello; Brett Thompson, guitar/banjo; Berish Bilander, piano/accordion; Samuel Pankhurst, double bass; and Hugh Harvey, drums.

Robinson’s new work is inspired by Italo Calvino’s 1979 postmodern novel of that name. Robinson is a composer, arranger, trombonist and sound artist whose works are not easily categorised. He graduated from West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2009. He has received commissions from such jazz and classical ensembles as the Australian Brass Quintet, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, Fused and the Arundo Reed Quintet. He has been an arranger for Sinead O’Connor and was commissioned to write for Orchestra Victoria’s Seven Songs to Leave Behind. His music has been performed by the Bennetts Lane Big Band, Canada’s Frontier Justice Big Band and EMO (Enthusiastic Musicians Orchestra).

Ren Walters

Ren Walters plays Cafe 303, Northcote

Close Conversation

David Tolley bass violin, Ren Walters acoustic guitar

Tolley and Walters have a long, close musical connection. As Tolley puts it in his High 5 for Jazz and Beyond, “Hardly a month has passed in 18 years without some creative interaction [from Walters] which translates into a permanent place at my ‘table’ as my adopted son.”

Tolley gave up the bass violin in 2005 because of Parkinson’s Disease, but his recovery was “fed by intensive studio work with computer-generated electronic sounding and sporadic painting and drawing”. Late last year he organised RRaPP — a Reunion Retreat and Performance Project concerned with the “discovery through the process of composing and performing simultaneously, in real-time, interactively, without preconception but drawing upon the vast collective creativity, skill and experience of the protagonists.” This project facilitated Tolley’s return to bass violin.

Ren Walters is known to Fringe patrons for, among many other outings, his APRA Commission work performed at Iwaki Auditorium in 2009.

Stephen Magnusson

Steve Magnusson in a MJFF festival gig at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

MAGNET Trio: Stephen Magnusson guitar, Eugene Ball trumpet, Carl Pannuzzo voice

MAGNET is a new project for guitarist/composer Stephen Magnusson as a creative collaboration with Ball, Pannuzzo and Argentinian drummer, Sergio Beresovsky, who is in Argentina. Beresovsky’s absence offers the trio version of the group a way to re-interpret their repertoire, as they do every time they perform, starting with simple melodies and building it “from their ears up”.

We can expect interaction and harmony at the deepest level of collective improvisation, with “the moments made as pure as if they had been composed over crystal”.