Tag Archives: Melbourne


Ravi Coltrane's quartet at Bird's Basement

Ravi Coltrane’s quartet at Bird’s Basement


Ravi Coltrane at Bird’s Basement, Singers Lane, Melbourne on Sunday, March 6, 2016

IT HAS been said often in recent months, but there’s a lot of live music happening in Melbourne, plenty of it being jazz / improvised. That can’t be bad.

But as venues proliferate, the challenge remains to really get more Melburnians — and visitors to town — off their couches and out there listening, hopefully on a regular basis.

Change has been in the air for Melbourne’s jazz scene since the closing of Bennetts Lane Jazz Club after last year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the shift of regular Melbourne Jazz Co-operative gigs to Sonny Rehe’s Uptown Jazz Cafe in Fitzroy. Then Bennetts staged its most convincing Lazarus-like recovery pending the advent of developer David Marriner’s planned incarnation of the iconic venue in Flinders Lane  at a date to be fixed.

Patrons file into Bird's Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Patrons file into Bird’s Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Early this month (March 2016) Albert Dadon launched his Bird’s Basement club in the appropriately named Singers Lane close to Flagstaff Station, opening with seven nights of “jazz royalty” as reedsman Ravi Coltrane played two concerts a night in the slick, custom-built basement.

There had been much talk in jazz circles about whether the Bird’s Basement model of an early dinner show and a separate supper show would work, and how long the extensive resources of Dadon could sustain the new venue if he built it and crowds did not come. Ironically, that question came up recently in the small venue Conduit Arts in Fitzroy, host to many creative and superb performances over recent years. Now, it seems, Conduit Arts will be closing.

In this context, it was with great interest that I took my camera to Bird’s Basement for the supper show on the final night of Ravi Coltrane’s stint with Glenn Zaleski on piano, Kush Abadey on drums, Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass. Coltrane played tenor and sopranino sax. (The names of Coltrane’s band members were not listed on printed material at the club, as far as I could see. I am indebted to John McBeath for letting me know that I had two members of the line-up wrong in this post earlier.)

Bird's Basement has a blue note

The ambience at Bird’s Basement has a blue note

A few remarks about the venue. After years of feeling familiar and comfortable in the two rooms at Bennetts Lane, at which patrons find their own way to tables or single seats, I felt strangely formal in having Bird’s staff conducting patrons to seats.

I can say without reservation that all of the many staff at Bird’s were unfailingly friendly, welcoming and helpful. Ordering and delivery of drinks was smooth and payment at or shortly before the gig ended did not disrupt the music.

Being on my own, I was initially taken to a seat at the bar, but a more suitable vantage point for taking photographs was soon found.

Ticket purchase and seat allocation are no doubt still evolving, but I found the Ticketek process awkward and unsatisfactory. In the process of registering I ended up with two tickets in my checkout basket with no obvious way to remove one. Also, seat allocation was impossible without knowing the seating plan at Bird’s, which apparently changes according to numbers booked.

As for ambience, it’s all very blue and a little shiny. It seems a pity that patrons and waiting staff have to cross in front of tables to get to the far side tables, and there is no standing area at the back where the press of punters can build the sort of excitement often felt, for instance, in the small room at Bennetts. Bird’s Basement has a refined feel that may appeal more to those used to dinner with their music.

But musicians and patrons seem to agree that the acoustics are good, as may be expected in a purpose-built space.

Johnathan Blake

Kush Abadey enthuses from the drum kit

Now for a mention of the music. Given that this was the final night of seven paired performances, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of this quartet was pleasing. I was mightily impressed with Kush Abadey at the drum kit and Glenn Zaleski at the piano.

With Coltrane on tenor for his originals Coincide and Candlewood Path, Ralph Alessi’s Who Wants Ice Cream, and another brief piece, the quartet delivered compelling, intelligent jazz in which the leader left plenty of space for his young rhythm section to show its undoubted prowess. Abadey often seemed to drive proceedings.

Coltrane’s tenor forays included brief statements that said a lot without any attempt to dominate, leaving us wanting more. He closed the concert on sopranino, firing up on Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life and John Coltrane’s Equinox, appropriately resisting any temptation to announce the latter with a paternal reference.

Bird’s debut week must rate as a success, but the real tests will come when international artists are not on the bill. And it will be interesting to see whether this venue linked loosely to New York’s Birdland will attract new patrons to live music or tap into the numbers already turning up to Bennetts Lane, Uptown, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green and other Melbourne venues.

Bird’s Basement has a long way to go before it develops the rich history that adds significantly to a well-established and much-loved venue. But the music is what counts and nostalgia should not be overrated.

Rightly or wrongly, I felt that I ought to dress up for Bird’s — that it possibly was a bit flash for my taste and may attract a different crowd. If so, that could work and would help provide work for local musicians as well as imports. But let’s see.

Meanwhile, the following night I sat in a familiar chair in the small room at Bennetts Lane to hear Tim Stevens deliver 13 brand new and unnamed compositions with help from Dave Beck and Ben Robertson. It had a different feel.





Emma Pask

Emma Pask at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz this year.

PREVIEW: 17th Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club and The VCA Grant Street Theatre, December 7 to 14, 2014

This festival is always one to look forward to as the year’s end approaches and this year Sonja Horbelt has put together a comprehensive program. Budgets are often a constraint, but this year the MWIF has a little more funding and it shows in the line-up, which comprises artists from Canada, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

I had to miss the festival launch on Saturday 29 November on the Victorian Arts Centre forecourt when, in a free concert, many had the opportunity to hear the world music grooves of Andrea Khoza and the Secrets, the South of the River Gospel Choir, and the Julia O’Hara Heptet.

The festival proper runs for a week from Sunday 7 December 7, when at 2pm at the VCA Grant Street Theatre patrons will hear the rich sounds of “Things She Said”, with music by Nilusha Dassenaike and lyrics and visuals by celebrated Australian artist and author Barbara Hanrahan. The line-up for this free event includes Nilusha Dassenaike, Chantal Mitvalsky, Gian Slater, Miroslav Bukovsky, Frank Di Sario and Alex Pertout and the Wintersweet Vocal ensemble.

That evening at 8pm at Bennetts Lane Jazz Lab, celebrated Sydney vocalist Emma Pask kicks off proceedings with “her secret Sydney band”. Anyone who heard Emma at the Cup Eve Concert on Wangaratta Jazz weekend this year will know she is a superb entertainer and not to be missed.

Also that night in the Bennetts Jazz Club is Melbourne group Lazercatz 2000 led by Lena Douglas piano  with Felix Watson trumpet, Jimmy Bowman trombone, Maria Moles drums and Darvid Thor guitar. Their music, which mixes contemporary jazz and pop elements, is influenced by the likes of Kenny Wheeler and Andrea Keller. Lazercatz 2000 released their debut album in May 2014 to a sell-out room at Bennetts Lane.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

On Monday 8 December in the BL Club , there will be a genuinely collaborative enterprise with Andrea Keller at the piano, Tamara Murphy on bass, Allan Browne on drums.  They will play compositions by all three and each piece “unfolds like a three-way conversation, the focus shifting subtly from player to player”. Also that night in the Jazz Lab, young students from Melbourne will deliver patrons insight to the jazz stars of the future at the Bennetts Lane student night.

On Tuesday 9 Dec 9 in the BL Jazz Lab, Melbourne saxophonist Kellie Santin will launch her debut recording Quintessence , which features a rhythm section led by drummer Gerry Pantazis and bassist Simon Fisenden plus Phil Turcio on keys, Simon Hosford on guitar, Phil Binotto on percussion, with special guest, 2014 UK soul vocalist Carmen Hendricks.

Nat Bartsch Trio

Nat Bartsch Trio                                  (Image supplied)

Also that night in the Club at Bennetts there will be a very special concert when  Nat Bartsch Trio plays its last gig for the foreseeable future. As Nat puts it, “It’s a complicated story, involving some exciting life changes, and ongoing health problems that have made running a band very difficult. It’s time to put the trio on hold; at least for now.” That’s sad news, but this is sure to be a great gig, with Bartsch on piano, Tom Lee on acoustic bass and Daniel Farrugia on drums. This trio’s album To Sail, To Sing was a winner.

Emie R. Roussel

Emie R. Roussel                                            (Image supplied)

On Wednesday 10 December in the BL Lab, Canada will come to town with Quebec’s contemporary jazz band the Emie R. Roussel Trio playing music that’s “resolutely young, rhythm-based, and infused with straightforward rock and pop harmonies”. Roussel plays piano, Nicolas Bédard  bass and Dominic Cloutier drums.

On Thursday 11 December in the BL Lab, Andrea Keller and Miroslav Bukovsky will  present The Komeda Project. Canberra trumpet player/composer/improviser Miroslav Bukovsky will join Melbourne’s pianist/composer/improvisor Andrea Keller to co-lead an ensemble of eight Australian contemporary musicians in a response to, and reinterpretation of, some of the music of Polish film music composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda.

The list goes on in this substantial festival. On Friday 12 December in the BL Jazz Lab, Michelle Nicolle will perform with her “fretet”, featuring four of Melbourne’s finest jazz guitarists Geoff Hughes, Stephen Magnusson, Sam Lemann and Craig Fermanis.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi

And on Saturday 13 December in the BL Jazz Lab my absolute favourite vocalist Kristin Berardi returns to the MWIJF with her newest ensemble, featuring some of Sydney and Melbourne’s finest musicians: Greg Coffin (piano), Carl Morgan (guitar – recent winner of the Wangaratta National Jazz Award), Brett Hirst (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums). This will be superb.

The Festival closes on Sunday Dec 14th with its own traditional Fox Force 6, the MWIJF Women’s Festival Sextet which this year includes vocalist Kristin Berardi, trumpeter Audrey Powne and pianist Andrea Keller.

This festival is a great celebration of women in jazz as well as being a feast of music before Christmas and holidays slow things down.

For full program details visit the festival website at www.mwijf.org


The Melbourne Women’s International Jazz festival gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from major sponsor City of Melbourne, and supporting sponsors Révélation Radio Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, APRA, Fraser Place Melbourne, VCA/University of Melbourne and the Victorian Arts Centre.


Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy                 (Image supplied)

NEWS: Melbourne International Jazz Festival, until Sunday, June 9

Just announced! More Snarky Puppy love can be expressed in two club sessions this Tuesday night, 4 June. The one at 8pm at Bennetts Lane is sold out, but there is now another at 10pm. Tickets are strictly limited.

So the gigs at the Lane that night will be:

In the club (smaller room): Open Loose (8pm) & Wayland/Hirst/Wood (10:30)

In the jazz lab: Snarky Puppy (8pm and 10pm) & The Grid/Jam (late)

Doors open 30mins before showtime.

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club 

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