Stonnington Jazz — Day 3

The Washington Grabowsky Project

On April 25, 2008, the audience at BMW Edge during the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival warmed to the endearing exuberance of Megan Washington, accompanied on piano by Paul Grabowsky. She was a real entertainer from the word go. And here she is:

Washington, Grabowsky 2008

Washington 2008

Then, at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz on November 1, 2008, Washington again wowed the crowds, this time accompanied by Grabowsky, Niko Schauble on drums, Sam Anning on acoustic bass, Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Jamie Oehlers on sax and Shannon Barnett on trombone. Here she is during that performance:

Washington at Wang 08

So we come to Stonnington Jazz 2009, when the same group of musicians assembled at Malvern Town Hall. The description I wrote in the Herald Sun after Wangaratta could have applied again on Saturday night: “When Megan Washington is breathless and excited, dancing a little jig, her voice rising and falling as if on a whim, you know she’s under the influence (of music).
The signs are unmistakable — and irresistible.”


Her arms, indeed her whole body, help to express emotions. At times she sits on the stage to listen, or stands with her hands clasped, as if in silent prayer, or her head bowed in admiration of the music being played. Vocally she seems at times to be so fragile, then suddenly moves so effectively from the delicate to the robust, from innocent to saucy. There is an impish sense of humour always lurking close to the surface, and she tells her Portugal bookstore story with the skill of a consummate performer.

Washington project

Washington seemed to captivate the audience from her opening number, Write Me A Song, performed with only Grabowsky onstage. Then the ensemble emerged (“We had the whole gradual rock entrance thing planned, but I think I just messed it up”, Washington said.) and Schauble took us solidly and swiftly into The End.
After the perceptive and intelligent lyrics of The Opposite of Love, dedicated to George W. Bush, Washington took a vote on applause during solos — the musicians won. Oehlers and Grabowsky had solos in Take What You Need, which finished with exquisite vocals.

Magnusson, Washington

After ensuring the patrons were connected, Washington sang Are You On My Side, which was a highlight of the night, from the Magnusson intro, through Barnett’s solo to the beautiful ending, with that question hanging in the air before Grabowsky closed the piece alone.

Grabowsky Washington

For The Custom of the Sea Washington took over the piano, leaving Grabowsky to sojourn briefly with the horns and guitar before he stood beside the piano and joined in the song. At the break we were left to reflect on just how well the ensemble worked and how well the musicians conveyed so much through controlled dynamics. Magnusson could make a minimal contribution so significant.


Curios and Cutaways opened the second set, which featured Barnett in some vigorous, swinging stuff, with Grabowsky carrying foward the insistent beat and Schauble using plenty of muscle. Washington’s vocals were high and breathy. Oehlers, who seemed not to be all that prominent during the evening, had a solo in Peaches Bones, and in the “creepy” Spiders and Silkworms Grabowsky and Washington were each plucking at the piano strings.


Poetry was a saucy number and a drama, with flashing lights, raucous horns and Washington dancing away amid the frenetic playing. The musicians undoubtedly had fun. In The Fisherman’s Daughter, Grabowsky’s hint of dissonance was a highlight, along with the harmonies from horns and guitar. Especially effective were Magnusson’s looping notes, at times played back in reverse and sounding like a pursuing echo. Washington seemed utterly possessed, or transported by the music, which must be a significant part of her appeal.


The encore was inevitable. It was Telepathy, “written when I thought I was in love with my best friend’s boyfriend — and he knew, but we never talked about it” — with only Grabowsky and Washington onstage. They had plenty of it.

There is no album of Washington with this ensemble, but it is in the works. Recording took place early this year, so keep your ears open.

Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Day 7

Downstream Label Launch

It was a strong turnout at 3RRR for the three gigs marking the launch of Downstream Music, a label that’s really a collective aimed at selling some CDs and getting people out to hear some live music. The main movers and shakers are drummers Ronny Ferella and Sam Price, with help from guitarist Geoff Hughes’s new studio. The new albums include Mandala’s I’ll Stop When You Stop, Sam Price’s Rand, Ish Ish’s End of A Line, Casma’s Whist, Not This Not That’s All This For That, and Streamers’ Multiverse. All are available through Downstream Music.

The Gravikords


For the first set, Hughes and Ferella were joined by Ben Hauptmann on acoustic guitar and electric mandolin, and Sophie Dunn on violin to play Ferella’s Retreat ‘Til One, Hauptmann’s Congo, Ferella’s What Is This? (a tune he heard on radio, taped and transcribed, because he really liked it), and Hauptmann’s Ben’s Other Tune.

Ben Hauptmann

It was all fairly restrained, with Ferella and Hughes lost in their rhythms and patterns, Dunn adding contrast, plaintive notes at times and then wandering alongside the others in a folk style. Mandolin and guitar interracted well in What Is This?, and in Ben’s Other Tune Hauptmann on acoustic guitar was in a holding pattern with Ferella while Hughes and Dunn carried out their explorations.

Sophie Dunn

Sam Price solo

Sam Price

In this set it was just Sam Price and a laptop and a drum kit. It was billed as sounding “like organic machinery”. Whatever Price had programmed on the laptop was released in stages, demanding responses on the drums. Occasionally the drum kit sounds were fed into the laptop and that led to further responses on drums. Price said later that he had to learn a programming language to do this.

My responses were various, and included lots of questions. I was wondering: Are the laptop sounds randomly generated, with Price responding? Does he know what’s coming? Are the drum sounds feeding into the laptop and re-emerging? Does it matter how music is made or only what it is like to experience? What is sound and what is music?

I found the sudden changes initiated from the laptop a bit disconcerting. It seemed a little like a drumming class with tapes that demanded a response. I thought if I were a drummer (hardly likely) I would prefer to play with other musicians. Before the piece ended, Price built momentum and generated a lot of energy. The whole concept was challenging and intriguing.


Hughes, Ferella

It had been a long week of music and I needed a wake-up. Mandala did the trick. The first 20-minute piece began gently enough, with Ferella using “bells” for percussion and Hughes adding some feedback effects. Then Ferella initiated some sudden, but muffled, attacks and Hughes allowed his input to swell. Hannaford injected single notes. There were strong, robust, spiky inputs from each member of the trio, with short, sharp bursts and a progression until guitar and drums were creating a physical response situation — that lovely state when the body of the listener responds physically to the sounds produced. They calmed it down near the end.

Marc Hannaford

Ferella said, “The only thing this band can do consistently is play for 20 minutes, so we’ll play for another 20.” And they did, though I certainly wasn’t thinking about the duration of the piece, which was gripping and great. The musicians seemed totally immersed, with no interaction obvious by looks or signs, yet it was there in the music. Hughes produced an engrossing solo, and later some “tweeting” and deep, resonant notes. Ferella contributed some top “cymbal-ic” moments. Hannaford was focused, making key interventions. This was a therapeutic, cathartic experience.

Geoff Hughes

Maybe these live moments can never be captured on recordings. Nothing beats being there. But the Downstream albums are a pointer to what’s out there if you just take the risk and leave the house for a live gig.

The rest of the Fringe

I had a Stonnington gig next evening that clashed with the Zoe Frater Quintet outing at Cafe 303 with vocals by Carl Panuzzo, and I could not make Short Arse Sunday with the Alcohotlicks. It was a pity not to be in at the finish of the Fringe Festival for 2009, but no doubt it finished on a high note. Once again the organisers, all of them musicians, made it a great festival.

Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Day 6

Frisell — Music inspired or written by Bill Frisell

Phil Bywater made a point after the first set at Uptown Jazz Cafe that the Fringe Festival had come up with the idea of having a Bill Frisell tribute before the Melbourne International Jazz Festival decided to invite him to Melbourne. When the Fringe organisers heard he was coming, the invited him to stay over for the Fringe gig, but he had other commitments. But it didn’t matter, because in the audience we decided Bill was with us in spirit.

Frank Di Sario and Luke Howard

A few years back I used to catch Frank Di Sario in a trio with Peter Knight on trumpet and Lucas Michailidis on guitar, and at one gig they added a cellist, at the Charles Street Bar in Seddon (it’s now a restaurant — popular, but not hosting live music). They were playing some pretty out there totally improvised and unrehearsed stuff that was just intense and wonderful.

Luke Howard

That’s not really relevant, except that Howard and Di Sario did rehearse three times for this set, which consisted of three pieces and was also wonderful. The feel of the set recalled the Andrea Keller/Geoff Hughes gig at Cafe 303 on the Monday (see Fringe, Day 4 in this blog). The instrumentation was different — though the Roland at Uptown Jazz Cafe did lean towards the fuzzy, thick sound of Keller’s Nord — but that didn’t prevent there being a similarity. Like Keller and Hughes, Di Sario and Howard produced music that was totally engrossing — introspective music in which it was easy to become totally absorbed.

Di Sario

They played Frisell’s Small Hands, from the Second Sight album by Bass Desires (a quartet of Frisell, with John Scofield also on guitar, Peter Erskine on drums and bassist Marc Johnson as band leader), and Probability Cloud, from the 2008 History, Mystery album Frisell released with an octet. Small Hands was in good hands with Di Sario and Howard, who created a dreamy surrealism helped by the soft, pink and blue lighting. Probability Cloud called for some faster, more complex bass, and quicker keyboard. Howard achieved some nice puddling in the mud of slightly dissonant chords before that signature of Frisell’s — the slowly repeating and developing motif — carried the piece to its conclusion. It was superb stuff.

Di Sario

Di Sario announced the final piece as a standard not often heard —My Old Flame, which I learned later was composed by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston and sung by Mae West in the film Belle of the Nineties. We heard “yeah” a few times as both players were getting into the groove and feeding off their enthusiasm in each other’s efforts. I think we could all have listened to more from these two.

Jacqueline Gawler with Fran Swinn and Tamara Murphy

Jacqueline Gawler

Instead of Fall 10X being on next, we were treated to vocals by composer, lyricist and percussionist Jacqueline Gawler, also appears with vocal quintet Coco’s Lunch, Stoneflower and the Jacqueline Gawler Band, accompanied by bassist Tamara Murphy and guitarist Fran Swinn, who is a member of the JGB.

Murphy and Swinn

I had to leave before the set was over, but heard the first three numbers — Frisell’s Strange Meeting, from the albums Live and This Land, another Frisell tune the name of which I did not catch, and a quirky Gawler original she said had its genesis on a flight to Canada while testing how long she could continue writing under the influence of sleeping pills. Apparently the writing began to tilt up the page until the song emerged: When passengers write poetry and flight attendants sing.


I might as well own up to finding it difficult to write about vocals, or at least more difficult than about instrumental music. Gawler used her voice as more than merely a vehicle for words and was able to float her notes to form a rich texture over, within and around the bass and guitar. Under the influence of sleeping pills, she appeared to become sultry and possibly keen to wrap her arms around passing passsengers or singing attendants in full flight.

Murphy and Swinn

The guitar and bass — at times bowed — worked really effectively, creating a wonderful fluidity with the voice.

The spirit of Bill Frisell seemed to be hovering close to the bar as I stole away into the night.

Some more pictures from the gig:


Gawler, Murphy, Swinn