Tag Archives: Melbourne Recital Centre

Is jazz winning an Aria? … Sounds jazzy to me.

Ellie Lamb conducts during the performance of Between Worlds. Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival

December 2-5 2021

Stories. That’s what music is about, whether those stories are conveyed via a festival, a concert, a suite, a song or a solo.

Words, whether explanatory or in songs, can help tell stories. Other stories are passed on without words, conveyed powerfully in notes and passages that stir emotions and provoke responses.

The short story of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival is how successfully an October program involving more than 400 artists in 120 events at 30 venues was improvised at short notice into an intensive four days of exhilarating live music in December, albeit with unavoidable clashes and an initial scramble for tickets.

The longer account can begin with a contrast in communication. The Melbourne Recital Centre concert featuring the festival’s inaugural Artist in Residence, Paul Grabowsky, and vocalist Emma Donovan on Saturday night was a triumph in many ways – one being the connections evident between Donovan’s musical grounding in family. There was power in her voice, but just as much in her stories of how grandparents Aileen Bradshaw Quinlan and Micko Donovan, who had “music in their bodies”, had shaped her own love of this gospel-infused music, delivered under the title of The Old Rugged Cross.

Paul Grabowsky, Emma Donovan and Philip Rex in The Old Rugged Cross. Image: Screen grab

As Grabowsky’s lively arrangements gave members of the superb accompanying septet a chance to shine – especially the pianist, Audrey Powne on trumpet, Stephen Magnusson on guitar and Mirko Guerrini on saxophone – Donovan tapped into deep emotions when delivering grandfather Micko’s songs Miracle Man and The Promised Land.

Maria Moles, Stephen Magnusson and Adrian Sherriff acknowledge Amos Roach. Image: RM

Earlier that evening, when the Australian Art Orchestra’s First Nations Artist in Residence Amos Roach joined AAO musicians Magnusson, Adrian Sherriff and Maria Moles, and the Murrundaya Yepengna dancers, for Six Seasons, this introduction to Indigenous story telling through song cycles was often mesmerising. Roach, deeply expressive on the droning, pulsating yidaki, underpinned this dramatic presentation, but his words of explanation about what we were witnessing in the dancers’ movements came late in the performance, before four short illustrative dances that seemed almost an afterthought. I felt that the appreciative audience could have gained greater understanding of these important ancestral stories with a little more guidance. Clearly, however, the story of the AAO working with First Nations performers is only beginning.

Niran Dasika and Ellie Lamb in full flight during Between Worlds. Image: Roger Mitchell

Also on Saturday, but in The Jazzlab, trombonist Ellie Lamb’s suite Between Worlds, commissioned for the MIJF Take Note program, boldly explored identity and the experience of living between genres and genders. Lamb left their talented octet to tell this story without interruption and without announcing the expressive titles of the six pieces: Flying, Falling; Dreaming; Sinking; Drowning; Breaking; and Being.

This non-verbal approach reflected their view, as expressed to ABC radio’s Andrew Ford on The Music Show, that “music is an abstract way of storytelling” and improvised music can convey emotions “in a more tangible way than simply saying words”.

Lamb’s suite was complex and powerful, evoking tension through dissonance that movingly and disturbingly conveyed the confusion, anxiety and dysphoria associated with not necessarily conforming to rigid gender boundaries. The release of tension was evoked by contrasting moods, but most evident in the tumultuous finish. Niran Dasika on trumpet, Madison Carter on drums and Shaun Rammers on tenor sax and clarinet deserve special mention in this compelling musical narrative, as does Lamb on trombone.

Audrey Powne and Flora Carbo perform with Aura at The Salon, MRC. Image: Roger Mitchell

A much gentler musical story emerged in the acoustically rich Primrose Potter Salon at the MRC on Thursday December 2 when quartet Aura treated us to a set of thoughtful and beautifully crafted pieces, some originating when band members met in 2019 while at the Banff Centre’s Workshop in Jazz and Improvised Music in Canada directed by Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey. Tamara Murphy stepped in for Helen Svoboda on bass, joining Audrey Powne trumpet, Flora Carbo alto saxophone and South Australia’s Kyrie Anderson drums. These compositions seemed to reflect the ensemble’s beginnings in the crisp air and open spaces of Banff, as well as wanderings and explorations into new territory. Highlights were Anderson’s Dissociation Daze, with eerie horns building tension and intrigue, and Carbo’s The Ultimate Premiere, featuring unhurried bass work and independent horn journeys with bent trumpet musings and breathy sax.

Delightful ease and fluidity along with seamless mood changes were the hallmarks of a Sunday afternoon outing by the unassuming John Scurry’s Reverse Swing at The Jazzlab. But not only was this superb septet – Scurry guitar, Brennan Hamilton-Smith clarinet, Stephen Grant piano, James Macaulay trombone, Eugene Ball trumpet, Howard Cairns bass, Danny Fischer drums – so musically enticing, but every song played had a story – a history behind it. So from I Live In A House (from a loved Allan Browne poem), through My Cat Moves Like Putin (a mincing walk in an “Elizabethan collar”) to the pre-encore Splendidly Over the Moon (a friend: I’ve met someone) we were treated to brief anecdotes to accompany accomplished musicality. This was a treat.

Johannes Luebbers conducts his dectet in A Tapestry in 10 Pieces. Image: Roger Mitchell

Another delight came from a rich vein of stories tapped by composer/conductor Johannes Luebbers from members of his dectet as part of A Tapestry in 10 Pieces – a project in which he created 10 works in 10 years, one for each of the 10 players, after engaging each in conversation to ascertain their listening habits, musical loves and technical interests of the featured soloist. At The Jazzlab on Sunday evening the dectet, with Tamara Murphy sitting in for Hiroki Hoshino on bass, played seven of the pieces with such responsiveness and attention to Luebbers’ nuanced direction that each was sublime. Hosh Posh afforded the players a bit more freedom, but other more tightly scripted compositions brought such a broad palette of colours, harmonies and timbres that nothing felt at all constrained. This performance was ultimately the festival highlight for me as well as a demonstration of a composer drawing inspiration and limitations from musicians’ stories.

Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the MRC was a fitting setting for the Sam Anning Septet to launch their recent album Oatchapai, with atmospheric lighting and haze effects ushering us into a slowly unfolding world of mystery. Julien Wilson on bass clarinet set the sombre mood early in the opening Tjurunga and the ensemble added majesty. A break in the sobriety came in Stretchroactivities, which had an old time feel. Spoken word soundscapes delivered by Anning were enigmatic, defying easy interpretation amid the instrumental musical stories, but it was hard to escape the sense of deep questions being asked or matters explored. Ultimately the most compelling stories in this outing came in the integrated and labrinthian musical contributions by the players.

In a much smaller setting, The Jazzlab, on Thursday December 2, trumpeter Mat Jodrell led another great group to launch Grateful, which seemed in its intent “to uplift and keep us headed on the right path” to be so apposite to our pandemic predicament, yet was recorded in February 2019 – a year before the world became much more uncertain. The liner notes said, “In this ever-changing, uncertain world in which we live, to be grateful is one of the most powerful tools we have to bring joy to ourselves and others.”

Jimmy Macbride on drums and Miki Yamanaka and piano were replaced in this outing by Dave Beck and Andrea Keller. The latter was compelling and captivating at the piano, as always, and the former demonstrated clarity, focus and depth of eager involvement throughout. For brevity’s sake let’s revive the old school sports report line that “all players played well”, but in this case really mean that in spades. This was a hugely uplifting concert with which to start four days of festival.

Another launch at The Jazzlab – the Angela Davis Quartet’s Maximilian Project – on Sunday demonstrated saxophonist Davis’s commitment to bring a project to fruition despite pandemic constraints. She was ably supported by Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Frank Di Sario on bass and Patrick Danao on drums. These smooth compositions, drawing on Davis’s experiences of motherhood and raising a newborn child during Covid time, suggest that calmness and strength can be mustered in the face of such challenges.

Emily Bennett: ready to be “a jazz woman”. Image: Roger Mitchell

Last in place, but not least, was the launch of Lost in Place by Reuben Lewis’s I Hold the Lion’s Paw at The Jazzlab on Thursday night, December 2. In the words of reviewer Des Cowley, this album can be summed up as “stripped-down trumpet utterances, electronic soundscapes, and weird vibrations”. Cowley’s comprehensive liner notes conclude that “Lewis has given us a timely meditation on our growing need to navigate a path through overwhelming social, economic and global turmoil, as we seek a place – even if temporarily – to land.”

I arrived late, temporarily lost on the freeway and then heading in the opposite direction to the venue. I found a space and settled in for serious listening, focused on the solemn features of Ronny Ferella at the drum kit. After a while voice artist Emily Bennett launched a totally improvised, slightly distorted monologue that was highly amusing and yet quite pointed in the context of recent social media debates.

I quote some of her words not to suggest they are all that Lost in Place is about, but because it was a significant part of this gig on this night:

“What is jazz really? Is jazz winning an Aria? Is it playing in a jazz festival? Is it saying, ‘I like jazz’? Is it watching jazz? Is it saying ‘I like jazz’? I like it a lot. It sounds jazzy to me and … I’m ready to be … a jazz woman. I’m ready to be the poster girl of the band that’s not mine. I’m ready to have my photo taken. I’m ready to take the sauce bottle and have a fair shake of it…”

These questions can be left without comment. But they added to the Lost in Place story.

And so must the stories of the many gigs at this year’s MIJF that I missed be added to the individual stories behind all the notes played and notes unplayed. And to the stories of each listener at each concert. These are all stories worth hearing.

ROGER MITCHELL

FINDING COMMON GROUND

Maceo Parker with The Meltdown in A Tribute to Ray Charles.

Maceo Parker with The Meltdown in A Tribute to Ray Charles.  (Image supplied)

QUICK PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, 1-10 June, 2018

Program details are now out for the 21st MIJF, which this year aims to demonstrate that “jazz can happen anywhere”. Over 10 days more than 100 events will feature almost 400 Australian, international and emerging artists.

The usual detailed preview of the festival will be published when time permits, but here is a taste of what’s on offer.

There will be 26 venues across the city, from the Hamer Hall to small clubs, as well as cafes in Melbourne’s west. Among free festival community events will be Jazz Massive – a participatory mass-music making event on the lawns of State Library Victoria.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival Artistic Director, Michael Tortoni, says this year’s festival illustrates that jazz is the common ground that brings together a diversity of artists, genres and experiences.

“This year our program focuses on the waves of influence that jazz has – both within itself and also the influence it has on other music genres. We are really excited to showcase some of the future directions of this vital and ever-evolving art form,” Tortoni says.

Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux                      Image: Shervin-Lainez

International artists will include funk legend Maceo Parker (USA) paying tribute to Ray Charles, jazz-blues chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux (USA), the “(inter)stellar” Sun Ra Arkestra (USA) and Yemen Blues (USA). Modern masters will include Branford Marsalis (USA), Gretchen Parlato (USA), Christian McBride (USA) and Terri Lyne Carrington (USA); alongside future masters such as Nubya Garcia (UK) and Francesco Cafiso (Italy).

Australian artists on the festival program will include The Others, a collaboration between Paul Grabowsky AO, James Morrison and Kram that wowed the audience in its debut at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues in 2017, Harry James Angus’s new project, Struggle With Glory, and Brenton Foster as the recipient of the PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission.

Melbourne-based Barney McAll will premiere two works: Trilogy of Cycles at Birrarung Marr’s Federation Bells and Sweet Sweet Spirit featuring music by the great gospel composer Doris Akers at Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre.

The festival’s international exchange program with the Tokyo and Singapore jazz festivals is supporting the development and world premiere of The Gravity Project, which brings together contemporary Japanese and Australian improvisers Paul Grabowsky AO, Masaki Nakamura, Kuniko Obina and Aaron Choulai and the Chok Kerong Trio from Singapore.

Jazz Out West returns with local DJ, radio broadcaster and music personality Mz Rizk as guest programmer, focusing on experiences not usually found in a jazz festival, including a cross-genre tribute to high priestess of soul: Nina Simone and emerging crossover artists Thando, Cool Out Sun, KillaHertz and Kalala & The Round Midnights.

Free events will include the return of Sound Walks throughout the city, lunchtime concerts at St James and the long-running artist workshops and Close Encounters series, which has expanded to include career development workshops led by industry experts and practitioners including Chelsea Wilson (Brunswick Music Festival), Fem Belling (The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra), and Marcus Strickland (Christian McBride’s New Jawn / Twi-life).

Family-friendly festival events include Lah-Lah’s Big Jazz Adventure and the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir at Southern Cross Lane.

There are some venue changes. Sonny Rehe’s Uptown Jazz Cafe is not on board this year, which is a pity as it has contributed substantially to the line-up of artists in past years. The Toff in the Town was a last-minute inclusion last year, but won’t feature this year.

Club Sessions will be held at The Jazzlab in Brunswick,  Dizzy’s Jazz Club in Richmond, Lido Jazz Room in Hawthorn and Southside Jazz Room in Elsternwick.

Larger concerts will take place in Hamer Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, 170 Russell and Darebin Arts Centre. Jazz Out West gigs will be spread over a wide range of venues.

Full program details are now available at the MIJF website.

ROGER MITCHELL

LIVE A LITTLE WITH LIVE MUSIC

Ben Winkelman Trio

Ben Winkelman Trio: Eric Doob, Ben and Sam Anning.        Image: Robert Carlo

PREVIEWS

Ben Winkelman Trio, The Salon, MRC, Melbourne, 11 March 2016 at 7pm

winkelman-front-cover_300x

It began in Perth, jumped to Portland and tonight the Ben Winkelman Trio National Tour 2016 arrives at Melbourne Recital Centre for a Melbourne Jazz Co-operative gig at 7pm.

The tour, which takes in eight other cities after tonight, will launch the pianist / composer’s fourth album, The Knife, released in Australia this month on Jazzhead. Ben Vanderwal will be at the drum kit for the tour, replacing Eric Doob. Sam Anning, recently returned from a long stint in New York, is on acoustic bass.

The album’s 13 Winkelman originals, recorded at Sear Sound in New York, were inspired by the highs and lows of adjusting to life in that city and reflect the composer’s interests in Cuban, Brazilian and gospel music, “odd meter claves and through-composed miniatures”.

A Melburnian who has been living in New York since 2010, Winkelman has an impressive discography — Odysseys was a 2010 AIR Award nominee for Best Independent Jazz Release, The Spanish Tinge won the 2007 AIR Award in that category and Stomps, Pieces & Variations was nominated in the 2006 Australian Jazz bell Awards.

Click here to book $30 & $25 concessions.

Moreland City Band

Scott Tinkler at the helm of Moreland City Band.

Fleming Park Festival, 11am – 6pm on Sunday 13 March 2016, corner Albert and Cross streets, East Brunswick

Fleming Park is the place to be on Sunday as the Moreland City Band presents a day of live music, plus an African drumming workshop with Ray Pereira and the chance to try out in lacrosse sessions with Moreland Lacrosse Club.

The music on offer includes The Immortal Horns, Andrew Murray’s ATM15, Big Band Frequency, Moreland City Bands, JC Little Big Band, Beyond the Bathroom Choir.

There will be food stalls, a barbecue, a licensed bar, cakes and activities for kids.

This is a free community event supported by Moreland City Council, Moreland Lacrosse Club and Andra Jackson.

ROGER MITCHELL