Tag Archives: MIJF 2022

Great ways to escape a sack o’ woe

A fractal tree from Dan Tepfer’s “Natural Machines” at Melbourne’s planetarium. Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival
14-23 October 2022

Optimism flowed freely in the first Melbourne International Jazz Festival freed from covid-19 lockdowns, pouring into venues filled with animated crowds so gleeful to be waiting with others in anticipation of the live music in store.

Surely the musicians, festival organisers, sponsors, volunteers and even hard-working staff at venues must have felt this surge in excitement, the buzz of many collective success stories.

Yet as we revelled in the opportunities ahead, out there in the real world there was a sack o’ woe. Floods, climate, covid-19 (still taking lives), war, oppression, suffering … the sack was bulging, the list of woes seemingly endless.

The Ecosystem sextet of vocalists and saxophonists. Image: Roger Mitchell

It was surely apt, then, that the fourth leader of the festival’s Take Note gender equity initiative, Flora Carbo, in her opening night concert entitled “Ecosystem” at The Jazzlab, utilised three vocalists (Merinda Dias-Jayasinha, Mel Taylor and Hannah McKittrick)  along with three saxophonists (Carbo, Bernard Alexander and Zac O’Connell) to explore pop duo Sylvan Esso’s question, “How can I be moved when everything is moving?” This could have been a cry from a generation facing overwhelming change.

Drawing on field recordings of sounds gathered during 2021 city lockdowns, the commissioned work had the atypical sextet line-up take us on a texturally rich journey through soundscapes created by the pulsing and swelling of vocal and reed instruments and amplifying the clacking sounds of saxophone keys being released, along with fragmentary lyrics, such as the evocative query, “Why have I stopped looking?”

Amid the bustle and unrest, Ecosystem seemed to be inviting us to be present and possibly to escape the troubled treadmills in our lives.

Another, sobering, perspective on a sack o’ woe came on the festival’s final night in the intimate setting of The Salon at Melbourne Recital Centre in the Australian Art Orchestra’s First Nations Residency Commission.

In a profoundly evocative composition about whales (Moriyawa) and utilising Dhurga language, composer Brenda Gifford strongly voiced Indigenous hurts, speaking these stark words: “Colonisation. War. Loss. Massacres. Loss. Loss.” Her work featured the powerful presence of Joe Brown McLeod – in quietly spoken language, mouth whistles, on didjeridoo and clapsticks – tapping deeply into this country’s ancient past and First Nations peoples connections to Moriyawa.

This was an important message of truth-telling as the nation takes tentative steps towards an Indigenous Voice to Parliament and to treaty, as well as being an immersive experience of the Moriyawa world, ably conveyed by AAO members, in particular Reuben Lewis on trumpet and electronics, and Aviva Endean on bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and a simple length of black pipe.

In the main auditorium at MRC on 19 October, composer Jeremy Rose’s work “Disruption! The Voice of Drums” was ground-breaking in concept and monumental in scale, placing extraordinary drummers Chloe Kim and her mentor Simon Barker at the front of Earshift Orchestra members on stage to showcase “the power of the drum in disruption, protest, ceremony and healing”.

On three screens above the musicians, Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig delivered live feeds of images showing protesters, their banners, police responding with force and tear gas, candle-lit vigils and other global challenges of 2020.

It’s impossible to convey the breadth of this musical experience in a few words, but what stood out was the restraint – for the most part – in instruments usually given prominence, and the sheer brilliance of Kim and Barker in delivering drum kit work so varied, finessed and controlled. This was not crash and bash drumming.

Highlights from other orchestra members included the fat, warm trumpet notes of Tom Avgenicos, splendidly bent and raspy in the lower registers, and guitarist Hilary Geddes shredding an array of angular, exciting sounds.

Images were integral to two other MIJF outings demonstrating a welcome willingness by the festival to be adventurous. In both concerts audiences who were not necessarily lovers of jazz or improvisation were treated to exemplary music in unusual and enticing settings.

Dan Tepfer’s “Natural Machines”, aired at The Melbourne Planetarium, Scienceworks in four concerts over two nights, was an absolute standout. Tepfer programmed a Yamaha Disklavier grand piano to respond in real time to his improvisations, allowing us to watch fascinated as keys were played alongside those he was pressing. As well, he created algorithms that translated this jointly created music into visual art projected on the dome of the planetarium.

MIJF CEO and program director Hadley Agrez said this project had taken three years to develop. It was worth the wait.

This concert was a musical as well as a visual delight. Tepfer took us on a journey through counterpoint, canon and fugue, frequencies, fractals, harmonies, intervals (just rhythms – the building blocks of music) and pitches, as well as the ratios of orbiting bodies in space. Meanwhile, lying almost horizontal in our seats, we smiled (well, I did) as abstract and beautiful images slid across our sky, at times streaming towards an image of Tepfer’s hands on the piano keyboard.

Screened images and live music were combined superbly at Darebin Arts Centre on 21 October in a celebration of iconic silent films by Georges Melies. Entitled “The Merry Frolics of Melies”, this outing paired a perfect band with eight short films – including the well known Trip to the Moon – full of magic, fun, slapstick and satirical humour, and the wistful sadness that melodrama does so well.

Composer/saxophonist Phillip Johnston wrote the scores played live to a packed auditorium by this ensemble with Alister Spence piano, Daryl Pratt vibraphone and Lloyd Swanton double bass. Not only were the films appealing and instructive about early cinematic inventiveness, but the variations in styles of music, tempos and use of instruments to sync with the rapid changes on screen were wonderful.

Francesca Remigi at the drum kit. Image: Roger Mitchell

There were no visuals other than those conjured in our minds when drummer Francesca Remigi (Italy) unleashed her compositions on The Jazzlab audience on 15 October with the help of Federico Calcagno (Italy, bass clarinet and clarinet) and three Australian musicians she had met in workshops at Banff, Canada in 2019 – Niran Dasika (trumpet, pocket trumpet), Andrew Saragossi (saxophones) and Helen Svoboda (double bass).

In pieces drawn from two of her albums – Il Labirinto Dei Topi (The Rat’s Labyrinth) and The Human Web – and inspired by thought-provoking explorations of social dysfunction and decadence, along with the negative effects of social media, Remigi led the quintet in an intense and utterly engrossing set that was a clear festival highlight.

Voice-overs and sound grabs added to mayhem that evoked conflict, anguish and pain, yet also some eventual relief. Horns were percussive, the double bass tapping higher and then deeply resonant lower chords, and drama mingled with gentle chaos. In the closing Gomorra, Remigi’s drums melded seamlessly with Dasika’s horn. It was a brilliant set.

It was probably not ideal to hear Sydney quartet Tangents so soon afterwards as they aired material from their 2021 release Timeslips & Chimeras, because they delivered slow growth, evolution and a sense of timelessness in their pieces. Evan Dorrian was excellent on drums and percussion, while Peter Hollo’s cello added depth as the music ebbed and flowed, yet never built tension.

Changes were key to the music aired the following night at The Jazzlab in which award-winning Sydney guitarist Hilary Geddes led a quartet with Matthew Harris piano, Helen Svoboda (omnipresent in this festival) bass and Alexander Inman-Hislop drums to play compositions from her debut album Parkside (ABC Jazz).

This outing was a definite festival highlight, in part because of the band’s ability to adjust tempo, dynamics and mood within songs and also because these musicians were having so much fun while performing. Their mood was infectious. Geddes entranced the crowd with a solo in an unusual, but beautiful ending to a fabulous concert.

Later, at 9.30pm, forceful drummer Pheroan akLaff (USA) was teamed with Sunny Kim (South Korea) on vocals, Mike Nock on piano, Peter Farrar on saxophone and Helen Svoboda on bass in what seemed an unequal battle. The clear, pure Kim vocals were often lost amid the onslaught of akLaff’s ferocity at the kit and the result was at times more akin to a spectator sport. Many in the audience no doubt loved such full-on playing from the virtuosic akLaff and Farrar’s matching reed retorts, and Nock’s energy was amazing, but full tilt is best in small doses (my view only).

The most enjoyable piece in the set was the closing Andrew Hill composition Gone to Say Goodnight.

Mike Nock returned to the piano – tuning troubles notwithstanding – the following night to revisit his much-loved 1982 album Ondas (ECM) recorded in Oslo with Eddie Gomex on bass and Jon Christensen drums. In two concerts at The Jazzlab he was joined by emerging talents Jacques Emery and Chloe Kim.

From the long and engrossing opening piece Forgotten Love, Nock was unsurprisingly superb, while uncharacteristically referring to charts due to the passing of time since the album’s release. There is such clarity, space and sense of unhurried propulsion in this album, so it was a delight to hear the master deliver it live.

I am happy to be contradicted, but there didn’t always seem to be complete understanding early on by Emery and Kim about when it was best to intervene. Perhaps I was longing for a repeat of interactions on the recording that seemed so perfect. But as the set progressed the trio seemed better integrated. This outing was a treat.

Another was in store the following night. Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz introduced his work, Suite Suomi, written for harpist and pianist Iro Haarla (Finland), with a quotation from her compatriot, poet Eeva Kilpi, entitled Even Nature Gives You No Choice:

“When you have seen a cloud in the lap of a pond;
and the moon between the waterlilies;
inevitably you are at the mercy of your own soul.”

We were asked not to clap until the end of this compelling collaboration featuring Haarla, Zwartz, Julien Wilson on tenor sax, Phil Slater on trumpet, Ben Hauptmann on guitar and Hamish Stuart on drums. This often sombre suite contained so much – a pulse seeming to emulate the heartbeat of the Earth, a slow piano meditation by Haarla, a unity of strings between concert harp and Hauptmann’s instrument, a bass solo in which Zwartz took us to beautiful places, his final note lingering in the stillness.

After much that was solemn, Hauptmann’s catchy infusion of country-style guitar near the end was welcome.

This concert was a moving testament to a love of the natural world shared by Haarla and Zwartz.

The penultimate night of the festival featured two distinctly different outings. Brooklyn-based Chilean tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, in the third of her MIJF concerts at The Jazzlab, delivered a dispassionate set of material from her album 12 Stars, with quartet members Lage Lund guitar, Pablo Menares double bass and Kush Abady drums.

The influence of Aldana’s 12 years in New York showed in the cool feel of this music, with Lund’s guitar mostly subdued and Abady’s efforts at the kit not resulting in much propulsion until the final Los Ojos de Chile, which primed the audience to seek an encore – not possible as the players had to fly, literally.

By contrast, The What Ifs at 9.30pm launched their new digital album Keep It Simple in a manner characteristic of this lively and beautifully balanced Melbourne quintet bristling with talent. The band – Paul Williamson trumpet, Scott McConnachie saxophones, Miro Lauritz vibraphone, Helen Svoboda (again) bass and Dylan Van Der Schiff drums – builds immersive tension through carefully incorporating complexity, adding in blistering horn solos, texturally rich bowed bass and exquisite vibrato dances. This is a group to watch … and hear.

The final of 14 concerts for me was at 9.30pm on 23 October, featuring New York-based guitarist Quentin Angus in a quintet with Jo Lawry vocals, Steve Barry piano, Sam Anning electric bass and Ben Vanderwal drums playing mostly tunes from the expatriate’s 2022 album The State of Things.

These were diverse, jumping from the lightness of Pure Imagination and Somewhere Over the Rainbow to the title track, which took us to dark moments in recent history. The most moving piece, Mila, was a piano and guitar duet reflecting the struggle and happiness that followed the traumatic premature birth of Angus’s daughter, Mila, played over a recording of her heartbeat.

It remains only to conclude with a tribute to The Rookies, who ably hosted Late Night Jams throughout the festival. Many antics resulted, I’m told, but one of the craziest must have surely been the invasion of The Jazzlab jam on the final night by a band and guests from a Jewish wedding, leading to wild music and manic dancing that was indeed a fitting end to a fantastic festival.

ROGER MITCHELL

PS: Thanks to festival and venue staff for assistance throughout.

Heavens above – it’s going to be a hell of a party

Dan Tepfer at the controls for Natural Machines. Image: Nicholas Joubard

PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2022
14-23 October

As we ponder life’s imponderables – such as, was Scott Morrison ever sworn in as arts minister? – the launch of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival draws our eyes to the heavens.

The festival is back in town for 10 days from Friday 14 October, freed from the onerous constraints of Covid-19 (still here, but largely being ignored) and sporting its first global line-up in three years.

That’s great, but what’s immediately intriguing is the prospect – over two nights – of gazing at the dome of Melbourne’s Planetarium at Scienceworks while algorithmically generated animated visual effects play out in response to US pianist Dan Tepfer’s programming of a Yamaha Disklavier to react to his improvisations in an outing dubbed Natural Machines.

That’s just one of the special concerts likely to lure crowds of music lovers out for an eclectic program with more than 400 artists from 13 countries in 85 events at 25 venues.

Festival artistic director, Michael Tortoni, is happy.

“Now, with borders open once more, I am absolutely thrilled to open the festival, and this city, back up to the world with the best jazz musicians and performers from across the country and around the globe set to converge here this October. It’s going to be a hell of a party,” he said.

Disruption! The voice of drums. Image: Prudence Upton

Another, delayed for a year by border closures, is Disruption! The Voice of Drums, in which saxophonist composer Jeremy Rose is joined by drummers Simon Barker and Chloe Kim, along with the Earshift Orchestra, to explore the power of the drum in disruption, protest, ceremony and healing. Video artists Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig will contribute images to this work at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

As the nation moves towards enshrining an Indigenous voice to parliament in the constitution, the festival brings two significantly relevant contributions. In a family-friendly premiere concert at Chapel Off Chapel, Emma Donovan will celebrate country, kids, community and language in Follow the Sun, including her childhood stories and some songs in Noongar and Gumbaynggirr languages.

At MRC, proud Yuin woman and saxophonist Brenda Gifford premieres her commissioned work about whales as First Nations Artist in residence, accompanied by nephew Joe Brown McLeod (didjeridoo, clapsticks) and Australian Art Orchestra members.

Flora Carbo will present her commissioned work: Ecosystem. Image: Roger Mitchell

At The Jazzlab on opening night, Freedman Fellowship Award finalist Flora Carbo – as leader of this year’s Take Note artist development and gender equity initiative – presents the second festival commission, Ecosystem, which will explore place, environmentalism and social change by drawing on sounds of the city.

Emma Donovan will perform at Big Saturday. Image: Michelle Grace Hunder

A day-long special event, Big Saturday at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, has been well publicised and will feature eight-piece New Zealand band Fat Freddy’s Drop along with funk and soul exponents The Bamboos, soul siren Emma Donovan and and The Putbacks, and Cat Empire’s Harry James Angus on horn and vocals in a duo with Freja Hooper on drums.

In a special event for fans of silent films, The Merry Frolics of Melieres will bring footage by Georges Melieres to the screen accompanied by Phillip Johnston (USA) scores played by an exceptional ensemble including Alister Spence, Daryl Pratt, Lloyd Swanton.

Morgana will revisit their beginnings. Image: Aurora Kuhn

There are two anniversary celebrations of note at Chapel Off Chapel. All-female quintet Morgana – Lisa Young, Fiona Burnett, Andrea Keller, Annette Yates and Sonja Horbelt – will reunite to revisit the brand of jazz they played 30 years earlier.

And The Shuffle Club of “rapscallion raconteurs” comprising Ashley Gaudion sax, Paul Griska double bass, Rodney Gilbert drums and Dannie Bourne keyboard – all also on vocals – will be joined by guests Nina Ferro and Julie O’Hara to recall 21 years of jazz, swing, blues and boogie.

With borders now open to international artists, the festival can welcome performers from abroad – most from the USA, but others with links to Chile, Italy, South Korea, Finland, Israel and Brazil.

Joining the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall for two nights on her first visit to Australia, five-time Grammy Award winner and ‘First Daughter of Soul’ Lalah Hathaway (USA) will honour her father Donny’s legacy as a singer, arranger and composer of soul music.

Another Grammy award winner, electric and acoustic guitar virtuoso and prolific recording artist Al Di Meola (USA) will fuse jazz with world styles at MRC.

Dwayne Thomas Jnr – MonoNeon – will perform at 170 Russell St.

Electric bassist Dywane Thomas Jnr, aka MonoNeon, promises a wild ride for audience members at 170 Russell St with a five-piece band playing southern soul, funk, jazz and blues.

Club sessions offer an opportunity to see international artists up close. Drummer Pheeroan akLaff (USA) will collaborate at The Jazzlab with Sunny Kim voice (South Korea), Mike Nock piano, Peter Farrar saxophone and Helen Svoboda bass.

In another club outing, keyboardist Brett Williams (USA) will join Kate Kelsey-Sugg to deliver the blend of pop, R&B and soul that has made B+K well known in America.

Melissa Aldana will bring her quartet. Image: Eduardo Pavez Goye

Grammy nominee Melissa Aldana, a Brooklyn-based saxophonist from Chile, will bring her quartet – including Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund – to present compositions from her 2022 Blue Note album 12 Stars over two outings at The Jazzlab.

Well known to audiences in Western Australia, US-based pianist Tal Cohen (Israel) will perform two sets at The Jazzlab – a duo with long-time collaborator saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and a quartet adding in Alistair Peel on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums.

Drummer composer Francesca Remigi (Italy) will join Federico Calcagno on bass clarinet and Melbourne musicians in another club session to present her Archipelagos project, drawing on influences including modern jazz, prog rock, Indian Carnatic music, electronic and free jazz.

Also at The Jazzlab, acclaimed harpist Iro Haarla (Finland) will explore Nordic minimalism with bassist composer Jonathan Zwartz in a world premiere of Suite Suomi, a journey through remote landscapes of light and shade.

Mike Nock will revisit his album Ondas. Image: Roger Mitchell

Renowned pianist/composer Mike Nock (New Zealand, but Australia claims him) will revisit his Ondas album in a trio club outing, joined by Chloe Kim (drums and percussion) and Jacques Emery (bass).

As well as welcoming overseas performers, Chapel Off Chapel is playing host to an “export series” of concerts intended to showcase Australian artists to the world and build on links with other festivals such as those in Tokyo and Wellington.

Emma Donovan’s Follow the Sun is one. Another is electric bassist Chris Hale’s airing of his new album Ritual Diamonds, in which his melodies are interwoven with complex rhythms from South Korea’s percussionist Minyoung Woo, who draws on shamanic drumming of that country’s Eastern seaboard.

Other bands MIJF is keen to spread word about who will perform at Chapel Off Chapel are NSW cinematic jazz rock group Brekky Boy, Zela Margossian Quintet from Sydney and pianist Andrea Keller’s original Transients trio with Julien Wilson and Sam Anning.

The full MIJF program is now available on the festival website, including details of free Jazz Westside gigs in the City of Moonee Valley and in Footscray, including Kidstruments Live! featuring I Hold the Lion’s Paw playing musical gadgets. There are free lunchtime concerts at St James and University Square, plus Close Encounters – intimate conversations including a session on the mental health of working musicians.

Best of all – apart from the return of such a full program with overseas and Australian artists – the late night, free jam sessions are back featuring The Rookies. How can the night not end on a high note when the jam is hosted by Greg Sher on alto saxophone, Tom Sly on trumpet, Joel Trigg on piano, Oscar Neyland on bass and Chris Cameron on drums?

ROGER MITCHELL