Tag Archives: Monash Art Ensemble

OF JAZZ HEROES AND HIGHLIGHTS

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter at Hamer Hall … surely one of the jazz heroes.

REVIEW / RAVE

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, June 3 to June 12, 2016

One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had during this jazz festival — and I’ve had a few, before and after attending 15 concerts — was about the jazz hero.

The person I spoke to was a musician who said he wanted to move away from that approach or model in bands in which he played. In this context I recalled a wonderful concert in Melbourne in which a band gradually swapped players while the music continued, morphing into a new group as newcomers quietly joined in and then others moved off stage during the set.

On the second night of this festival, June 4, I went to The Reverence Hotel in Footscray to hear 30/70 Collective make “future soul and hip-hop meet in the middle via jaunty boom bap”, to quote the program. As they say in some news programs, more on that story later.

After the first set by members of the collective who formed A Brother Scratch, the 30/70 Collective band members did something I have never seen before at a gig — they went into a huddle.

30/70 Collective

30/70 Collective in a huddle before performing.

Already feeling the warm glow from the first set of music that was out of my familiarity zone, so to speak, I was quite taken by this musical group hug, which seemed designed to engender team spirit. It was not long before the packed room was moving to the hypnotic grooves — myself included.

By now you’ll have realised this is more of a rave than a hard-nosed review. But there is a point. The musician mentioned who wants to move away from dependence on heroes in jazz described 30/70 Collective as being like a family. That certainly fitted with my impression from the vibes in the pub.

I decided to try applying the idea of avoiding heroes to the reviewing of a festival. Bear with me.

Reviewers often mention their list of standout gigs or highlights during a festival. I have often done that. And I’ve often asked other patrons and other reviewers to name the bands they’ve most enjoyed. It’s a natural thing, especially if there is limited space in a review, to pick the standouts.

But what if a festival review was more like a collective of gigs? Then I could value each for its special qualities — what worked well and even what didn’t. That’s how I feel about the mix of very different MIJF concerts that I went to this year.

Children of the Light Trio

Children of the Light Trio at Bennetts Lane

On night eight of the MIJF I went to Bennetts Lane at 10pm to hear Children of the Light Trio consisting of Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums — Wayne Shorter‘s band without the hero, if you like.

That’s laughable, you’ll say, because each member of this trio is a hero in their own right. True, but — and I’m already breaking with the “no highlights” approach — that band’s performance without Shorter that night was the gig I’d have to say has stayed with me and will do so for a long time to come.

On the final night of the festival I did hear Wayne Shorter with the members of this band. Afterwards I heard snippets of opinion, including comments that he did not play for a great portion of the set, that some say he’s too comfortable with Perez, Patitucci and Blade, and, notwithstanding, that this hero of jazz is on a different plane from any of the great players still alive.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter plays Hamer Hall

Hearing Shorter at Hamer Hall was special. Getting relatively close to record some images was pretty special.

Hearing him in conversation with Jon Faine, Wilbur Wilde and Kristin Berardi on ABC radio 774 was also special — and at times hilarious. His refusal to get bogged down by labels and his wish to think so broadly about life made me wonder whether Wayne Shorter would want to be put on a pedestal.

I enjoyed his playing on this occasion a lot more than when I heard him some years ago at The Palais in St Kilda, which is perhaps a sign that I had then been uneducated in what to expect — frequent changes of direction and very short bursts of sax. This time he did not play for too long in the set, but what he contributed was considered and just right in the moment.

That said, after reflection, I took more away from his quartet members’ gig as a trio in the much smaller venue. Of course it would be far too exclusive to have Shorter perform to such a limited audience.

Anyway, my search for a hook or a story on which to hang reflections on this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival has ended — albeit in way too meandering a fashion — at that strong image of 30/70 Collective in a huddle. To that image I add some showing large ensembles featured at this festival at the ends of their concerts.

the migration

Stu Hunter and musicians after “the migration” at Malthouse Theatre.

We’ve seen some big projects come to fruition on stage this year — Stu Hunter‘s the migration, the Monash Art Ensemble‘s performance with Tomasz Stanko, the release of a new album by Peter Knight’s Way Out West.

Jordan Murray and Tomasz Stanko with Monash Art Ensemble

Jordan Murray and Tomasz Stanko with Monash Art Ensemble

All of these have involved a lot of work and huge collective effort.

Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life

Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life

And of course in smaller ensembles such as Andrea Keller’s Transients, the Allan Browne Quintet performing Ithaca Bound at Uptown Jazz Cafe, Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life, Shai Maestro Trio, the Tomasz Stanko Band and the Tribute to Allan Browne trio of Paul Grabowsky, Mirko Guerrini and Niko Schauble, we have heard the results of collective interaction.

Even in the solo gig by Paolo Angeli at the Bluestone Church in Footscray we saw how his instrument’s many parts worked together to produce different styles of music.

Interaction is what makes the diverse music that makes up jazz so engrossing, inventive and wonderful. And each musician brings to the stage the formative background that has shaped them — influences that interact and find expression in changing ways as they practise and play.

Some of us will love, like or not like some of the music we hear from improvising musicians, but at its core is that interaction. We see and delight in it as we watch the faces of the musicians at work.

End of rave. In the days ahead I will add a few, much shorter, separate posts — with pictures — to cover concerts I attended as part of this festival.

In the meantime, musicians will be playing live in lots of venues around Melbourne, so get out there. You won’t regret it.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

 

 

 

 

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MONASH FREE-FOR-ALL AT IWAKI

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky at work.

PREVIEW:

Monash Art Ensemble Friday 3 October 7:30pm at the Iwaki Auditorium, free

There’s a lot on in Melbourne tonight. First up, at 7.30pm, the always exciting Monash Art Ensemble presents its third and final project for 2014, featuring the world premiere of three new compositions and one classic work.

From 8.30pm, at Uptown Jazz Cafe, there will be two sets to launch Paper Tiger, a new album from Stephen Magnusson, Jamie Oehlers and Ben Vanderwal. But more of that in a separate post.

The Iwaki concert will comprise American modernist composer Milton Babbitt’s All Set, which is a rarely performed work of third stream music, a synthesis of classical music and jazz; Andrew Harrison’s Gassed Shell (Severe) explores his grandfather’s WW1 experiences; Confluence by lauded pianist and composer Joseph O’Connor was written specifically for the Monash Art Ensemble, and a new work, for e.e. cummings, by the ensemble’s director Paul Grabowsky completes the program.

Andrew Harrison has written for theatre, film and the concert hall. His signature compositional style draws upon the art music and jazz traditions, challenging the boundaries between improvisation and conventional music notation.

Gassed Shell (Severe) continues his musical exploration of his family’s battlefield experiences in World War I. Commissioned by Paul Grabowsky and the Monash Art Ensemble, Gassed Shell (Severe) draws on the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, where his grandfather was wounded in action by mustard gas. Harrison’s composition interweaves excerpts from his grandfather’s war record with Wilfred Owen’s profound anti­war poem Dulce Et Decorum Est. The title of the work comes from his grandfather’s casualty report.

Joseph O’Connor took out the 2013 National Jazz Award and the 2014 Bell Jazz prize for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year. His new composition Confluence is written specifically for the Monash Art Ensemble and celebrates the thorny atonality and rhythmic volatility of American modernism composers in sequences of detailed notation. Each member of the ensemble will bring their personal histories to the work through improvisation in the central movements.

Milton Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist and teacher noted for his serial and electronic music. All Set was commissioned in 1957 and is seen as the definitive melding of jazz and serial music. As Paul Grabowsky puts it, “His compositional and intellectual wisdom has influenced a wide range of contemporary musicians and is a groundbreaker in the kind of new music that the Monash Art Ensemble is championing.”

Paul Grabowsky is composing a brand new ensemble piece for this concert.  for e.e. cummings will build on his already extensive record of award-winning works.

 

TURNING UNKNOWNS INTO KNOWNS

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

REFLECTION:

Three concerts at The Malthouse on Friday 6 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

7pm: Django Bates Beloved with Monash Art Ensemble celebrate Charlie Parker

It was going to be an evening of new experiences — I was familiar with only two of the four ensembles and had heard only one musical performance in the Merlyn Theatre at The Malthouse. It is a similar format to Chapel Off Chapel, but much wider, so that it is a much longer walk to move from one side of the elevated seating to the other to gain a different perspective for photographs. The sound seemed excellent, but the lighting lacked direction, so that by the final concert it was almost lights out as far as the action on stage was concerned.

I don’t believe that the music of Charlie Parker can be easy to play, and the opening concert confirmed this. Django Bates, at the piano and keyboard, was joined by Peter Eldh on double bass and Peter Bruun on drum kit, with Bates taking a conducting role either from the piano with gestures or by walking over to the Monash Art Ensemble, which included students and seasoned players.

If anything this outing was a demonstration to me that, first, I did not know Parker’s music well enough to make any assessment of how Bates had departed from the original Parker arrangements, and, second, it was complex music that called for skill and attention to detail by the musicians.

I particularly enjoyed Bates’ We Are Not Lost We Are Simply Finding Our Way (that’s how I felt), which featured Scott Tinkler on trumpet. I loved the interplay between bass and piano, as well as some deep, growling notes and mingling of sounds from the ensemble in Star Eyes. The orchestra seemed to have excellent control of dynamics in Confirmation, flaring up suddenly in what became a hard-driving piece. The Study of Touch was full of interest, with ensemble solos from Tony Hicks on flute, Rob Burke on soprano sax and a young sax player who may have struggled a little at higher registers. My Little Suede Shoes showcased some deft work by the trio before Bates conducted the ensemble in.

Audience reaction is often a useful guide, not necessarily to the musicianship, but to how well the music succeeds in being engaging. In this concert I felt as if the appreciation was muted, with the ABC’s Gerry Koster having to suggest that with extra clapping “we may get an encore”.

But I was inspired to seek out more of Bates’ work and to get to know Parker much better.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Django Bates, Peter Brunn and Peter Eldh with members of Monash Art Ensemble.

9pm: Alister Spence Trio

This was the trio with which I was acquainted, but the outing was another clear demonstration that hearing a group live will always have far more impact than hearing them on an album.

As soon as the early distraction of taking some photographs in the allocated time and the parsimonious and nasty red light was over, I was immediately engrossed in this set, which was music I felt could be touched or felt as a physical sensation. Propulsion is often a key factor for me, and Spence‘s trio — Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and percussion — had it in spades. Brave Ghost featured some lovely, deep, resonant bass and delivered intensity plus. With excellent dynamics from Hall and some hot piano by Spence, this was going places. The piece was a ripper.

We heard Seventh Song, Threading the Maze and “a quick version” of Sleeping Under Water, each demonstrating this group’s ability to gain and hold our attention, building and releasing tension as changes occurred. This was a riveting set by a focused, energetic and engrossing trio. And I believe they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

11.30pm: Dawn of Midi

Sometimes we need spoiler alerts. I often think that if I read a film review before seeing it, it is impossible to wipe out the memory of a single remark that may skew how I will view the movie. In the case of this outing by Dawn of Midi, I happened to read a brief comment by someone who had been at the previous night’s performance. In summary, this person thought Dawn of Midi’s set was similar to a performance by The Necks, but less interesting.

I could not erase that idea as I listened to Amino Belyamani on piano, Askaash Israni on double bass and Qasim Naqri on percussion. The set seemed very controlled and to be all about incremental change. A lot of alterations were made to the rhythmic patterns, but the changes were gradual and required concentration to pick up.

In a strange twist, a conversation after the performance altered my view. Curious about what those familiar with Dawn of Midi had thought, I asked some fans of the group. The explained that this was not improvised at all, as is The Necks’ music, but totally scripted — and in detail, down to the last note, so to speak. They assured me that the set as played live was very close to the album Dysnomia and that I should get it and listen before passing judgement.

So I dutifully obtained the album and have played it a few times while writing these “review-style” pieces. I find that my view has changed. Whereas on the night I did not think there was enough to keep me interested and hanging out for more, I can appreciate now that there is a compelling element to this incrementally changing landscape.

So tonight I learned about little-known unknowns (Parker) and even lesser-known unknowns (Dawn of Midi), but learnt more about unknowns I would like to become better-knowns.

ROGER MITCHELL

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni