Tag Archives: Monash Art Ensemble

SLIP OUT OF THOSE COMFORT ZONES

PREVIEW PART 2: Melbourne International Jazz Festival, May 30 to June 8, 2014

An earlier post mentioned some of the gigs that will attract the big crowds at this year’s festival, which artistic director Michael Tortoni has described it as “the broadest, most inclusive ever”.

Before mentioning some concerts that are a little less mainstream, it’s important to highlight the successor to a major hit of last year’s festival, which is sure to again fill Melbourne Town Hall with dancers having the time of their lives.

Swing Noir

774’s Swing Noir will be a hoot                            (Image supplied)

This year, 774’s Swing Noir concert will offer gypsy swing and hot club jazz as Swing Patrol dancers provide the inspiration and help with classic steps of the Charleston, and two bands — Ultrafox and Swingville — delve into the world of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. The festival invites the energetic to “slip on your dancing shoes, dress to kill and join us at the dawn of European jazz”. And for fans of ABC radio’s 774, the host will be Hilary Harper, who will apparently be “dazzlingly bohemian” on the night.

STRETCH YOURSELVES

It’s been said many times before, but festivals are one way to tempt music lovers to dip their toes into unfamiliar waters. Sometimes this means “jazz” becomes less of a perceived obstacle; sometimes devotees of jazz try moving outside their comfort zones.

And speaking of breaking boundaries, one significant change of this year’s MIJF is Jazz Out West, which for the first time will bring some musical events to Melbourne’s west. That’s especially exciting for Ausjazz, because there are many musicians living in this part of the city, but live music is not as prolific and does not attract the crowds of suburbs such as Northcote — yet.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

The big drawcard will undoubtedly be cross-cultural sextet Peter Knight’s Way Out West at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Many will know the albums released by an earlier incarnation of this award-winning ensemble, but this outing will air new compositions written since Sydney’s koto virtuoso Satsuki Odamura and Lucas Michailidis on guitar came onboard.

Led by Peter Knight, their fascinating new project features the seamlessly combining Asian instrumentation and approaches with irresistible influenced grooves and jazz-inflected melodies. Others in this top line-up include Knight on trumpet and laptop, Howard Cairns on bass and button accordion, Paul Williamson on saxophones, Ray Pereira on percussion and Rajiv Jayaweera (rejoining the group from New York) on drums. I can’t wait to hear the new material and let’s hope there’s room for a few Westies to fit into a packed venue.

Other western offerings include Horns of Leroy — a funky brass band — at the Reverence Hotel, Hey Frankie at The Dancing Dog, Afro Beat — with an Ethiopian meal — at African Town Café Bar, and Soundwalk, in which Aboriginal elder Uncle Larry and others will lead a walking and listening tour of the streets, waterways and secret spaces of Footscray.

At last year’s MIJF crowds of younger fans crammed in to catch Snarky Puppy, and Tortoni expects similar enthusiasm for bassist Derrick Hodge and vocalist Chris Turner, who perform at The Forum.

In this “festival exclusive” billed as “exciting, cutting edge stuff on the razor’s edge of new generation jazz”, Hodge — who performed with The Robert Glasper Experiment in 2012 — and Turner — who many will recall from ERIMAJ last year — will be joined by Federico Pena and Michael Aaberg on keys, Paul Bender on bass and Mark Colenburg on drums. The combination of Hodge with Turner could take this concert in many directions.

In four gigs at Bennetts Lane, the man dubbed “probably the most dangerous drummer alive” — Chris Dave — will defy all attempts at categorisation, bringing elements of R&B, funk, rock, jazz, hip-hop and electronica via his band The Drumhedz. Expect hypnotic beats.

Serious fans of music that ventures into exciting territory must mark their digital diaries for a Malthouse double bill from Australia — Alister Spence Trio — and the USA — Dawn of Midi. Spence’s trio is well known here and accurately described as “endlessly surprising”. Brooklyn trio Dawn of Midi — Amino Belyamani piano, Aakassh Israni double bass and Qasim Naqri percussion — has been lauded for the album Dysnomia. Expect the unexpected from both trios in a concert not to be missed.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi

Also at the Malthouse, significant figures in Australian jazz — John Hoffman, Graeme Lyall, Tony Gould, Ben Robertson and Tony Floyd — get together for the first time in 20 years to form The Hunters and Pointers. Joined by award-winning vocalist Kristin Berardi, they will celebrate the release of a collection of unheard live recordings that originally featured Christine Sullivan on vocals.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson

Another Malthouse double bill will be a musical treat. In one set, the winner of this year’s Don Banks Music Award and member of the Jazz Bell Awards hall of fame, Mike Nock, will join his former student, drummer Laurence Pike. In the other one set, saxophonist Julien Wilson — who was a star of the 2013 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival — will again visit the quartet format with New York-based pianist Barney McAll, Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Melbourne drummer Allan Browne. This double bill will not disappoint.

The Monash Art Ensemble, led by Paul Grabowsky, never disappoints, so seat belts may need to be fastened when this exciting ensemble of students and seasoned players teams with British jazz maverick, pianist and composer Django Bates and his piano trio, Belovèd. Together they will explore the music of Charlie Parker as well as Bates’ compositions.

As mentioned in the earlier preview post, Charles Lloyd’s The Greek Project clashes with an exciting world premiere of PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission winner Tilman Robinson’s The Agony of Knowledge at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. Robinson has demonstrated his facility for composition, so his musical exploration of the Icelandic epic poem Volsungasaga promises to be a festival highlight. The work will draw on Norse legends that have influenced music and literature for centuries, as exemplified in Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Sydney musicians at Deakin Edge, Fed Square will explore jazz and film in The Wires Project, a collaborative multi-media work in which vocalist Briana Cowlishaw, Gavin Ahearn on piano, Peter Koopman on guitar and Nic Cecire on drums improvise a musical response to a video by Aymeric De Meautis based on photographs by Singapore’s Chia Ming Chien. The bonus is that this experience is free.

Ausjazz had hoped to preview the intimate club sessions at MIJF 2014, which are the meat and potatoes of this festival and my favourites. Time has ruled that out, so stay tuned for further festival posts and reviews.

ROGER MITCHELL

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

Dave Douglas

Trumpets: Jordan Murray, Niran Dasika, Ben Harrison, Dave Douglas

REVIEW: World premiere of Fabliaux for four ensembles by Dave Douglas, featuring the Monash Art Ensemble, Saturday 15 March, 7.30pm, Music Auditorium, Monash University

The nine movements of the composition visiting trumpet player Dave Douglas wrote for the Monash Art Ensemble seemed to flash past, although the performance must have lasted well over an hour.

Before we get to the music it’s worth mentioning one highlight that came in the form of words, spoken by Douglas after the sixth piece, Unknowing, Forgetting, which was written principally for the brass group. After sitting in with Jordan Murray on trombone and Niran Dasika and Ben Harrison on trumpets, Douglas paid tribute to students Dasika and Harrison.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas pays tribute

“I’ve been humbled before them,” he told the audience, before saying it was incumbent upon young Art Ensemble members as the next generation to take the reins, “lead us forward in music and be 10 times as good as we are”.

Douglas’s tribute was surely a moment for Dasika and Harrison to treasure, but also an insight into the value this visiting composer placed on the potential of an exciting ensemble that has been nurtured by Paul Grabowsky. It was another encouraging sign that talent and commitment are not hard to find among our young musicians — though fair remuneration for their efforts may be elusive.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas with Geoff Hughes and Craig Beard

The idea of Douglas’s Fabliaux suite, which harks back to the often bawdy and (he said) these days possibly offensive comic tales of medieval literature, was for the players to be grouped into reeds, brass, percussion and strings, with every group taking a primary role in a piece between those involving the whole ensemble. Nothing was locked in, because Douglas worked with the MAE to develop the suite through improvisation.

The changes of emphasis made the whole suite alive and interesting and there was, literally, never a dull moment. The opening piece, Forbidden Flags, soon introduced us to Australian Art Orchestra artistic director Peter Knight‘s carefully crafted electronic “static”, which added textural interest throughout the evening and always complemented rather than sought to dominate. There was a lot happening in this busy, but sombre piece. Douglas’s direction was ever present, but he did take up his instrument before the end.

String and percussion

Strings plus Grabowsky and Rafferty

Frieze featured the reeds, ushering in some shimmer before notes began to bend and develop sinuosity. There was some Knight chatter, horns were crying then chirruping. Strings contributed their own shimmer. This was sonically interesting, high chatter giving way to barracking with an occasional fart. Then we encountered sibilance and some piercing, high dissonance. I could not help smiling.

Legions had propulsion and gentle swing from the start, but its intensity and power grew, fired by the horns and with Lachlan Davidson taking us on soprano sax journey. Rhythm seemed to be the glue in this piece.

Gears featured percussion and the focus was on the changing interactions between Grabowsky on piano, Kieran Rafferty on drums, Knight’s electronics and Craig Beard on vibes. These four built drama and tension. With those elements, what’s not to love?

Before the fifth piece, Once Again The Mind, Douglas spoke about how the spark of invention can happen at the same time across the globe, and about how some may recognise use of isorhythm and the medieval hocket in this composition. Here’s a link on the  topic that may be interesting.

I heard dramatic statements before slower, quieter interludes. This had a souped up medieval feel. Murray contributed some delightful air-filled ‘bone that was effective when offset by electronic chatter and vibes. The piece provided an exchange of ideas between the horns and the strings with percussion. Rob Burke on clarinet and the strings players showed agitation and there were strong statements to end the piece.

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

As mentioned, Douglas joined the brass section for Unknowing, Forgetting, in which trombone and three trumpets delivered some chatter and tweet before some wonderfully expressive weaving of notes that displayed how different valved horns can sound. The percussion section helped build pace and intensity before horns closed in unison.

Whirlwhind began with electronic splatter and muted horns. Douglas conducted as layers were added. There was some lovely textured clarity from the strings, then spectacular violin work by Liz Sellers, with plenty of note bending, then mild frenzy and echoes from carefully controlled horns. Mirko Guerrini on baritone sax and Paul Cornelius on tenor added a soft, deep interlude.

I found Whirlwind hard to describe. It had drama, but at times the sections seemed to be talking different languages, while at others there was collective shimmer. Perhaps group dynamics sums it up.

Wagon Wheel featured strings, opening with a sweet refrain that seemed tinged with a lament. A string-pluck festa led us, with help from Craig Beard on vibes, to finally focus on Geoff Hughes‘ guitar — it was good that he had this space.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky in full flight

Tower of the Winds was full of vigour, treating us to a duo of Douglas on trumpet with Burke on clarinet, strong intervention by Knight and Kieran Rafferty on drums and then a Grabowsky piano solo that came with built-in contrast between his emphatic chords and his free-ranging right hand, his digging deep for notes and thunderous barrages. The end of the suite seemed to come in no time.

I’m sure good things are happening in music at universities all across Australia, but as an example of students and experienced musicians tackling an inventive suite written for them to test their mettle, this was an engrossing and invigorating performance.

ROGER MITCHELL

Fabliaux was  to be recorded in the Monash venue the next day. Watch for it to pop up somewhere.

Ensemble members for Fabliaux

Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Ben Harrison, Niran Dasika
Trombone: Jordan Murray
Flute, clarinet, soprano sax: Lachlan Davidson
Clarinet, alto sax: Rob Burke
Tenor: Paul Cornelius
Bass clarinet, baritone sax: Mirko Guerrini
Violin: Liz Sellers
Cello: Will Martina
Bass: Marty Holoubek
Guitar: Geoff Hughes
Piano: Paul Grabowsky
Drums: Kieran Rafferty
Tuned percussion: Craig Beard
Electronics: Peter Knight

MONASH HOSTS WORLD PREMIERE

PREVIEW: World Premiere of new composition by Dave Douglas, featuring the Monash Art Ensemble, Saturday 15 March, 7.30pm, Music Auditorium, Monash University, Cost: $20 / $15

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas                           (Image supplied)

There are two reasons to be excited by the collaboration to aired this evening at Monash University. The first is that renowned trumpeter and music educator Dave Douglas, fresh from his performance with John Zorn at the Adelaide Festival, will unveil a new and as yet untitled composition to a Melbourne audience.

The second is that the new work will be played by the exciting, inventive and talented Monash Art Ensemble under the direction of Professor Paul Grabowsky, who is Executive Director, Performing Arts, Academy of Performing Arts. This group, which features the cream of students and staff from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and veteran players of the Australian Art Orchestra, has collaborated recently in projects with leading figures in contemporary music including Mark Helias, George Lewis and Mary Finsterer.

Monash Art Ensemble

Monash Art Ensemble at MIJF 2013

At last year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Monash Art Ensemble’s concert in The Forum upstairs with bassist Mark Helias was a definite highlight, not only because of Helias’s compositions, but also because the ensemble played difficult material with finesse and power. For the Ausjazz review of this concert, see BAND ON THE RUN.

Monash Art Ensemble

Monash Art Ensemble on stage at The Forum upstairs

Douglas says his new composition for the Monash Art Ensemble features 16 musicians in ensembles of wind, brass, percussion and strings. It is inspired by the timbres of the composers of the Ars Nova in 14th century France, but moves into “wholly uncharted territory”.

“Improvisation meets composition as these sounds walk across the centuries for a new chapter in this American composer’s oeuvre, written especially for this engagement”, Douglas said.

Paul Grabowsky described the collaboration with Douglas as “a milestone in the already eventful life of the Monash Art Ensemble”.

“He is without doubt one of the deepest thinkers around contemporary jazz and improvised music today, a composer of great depth who is able to embrace a pluralistic vision of music within a strong stylistic framework. He is also one of the leading trumpeters of his generation, and a major educator, so there is much to be excited about,” Professor Grabowsky said.

Dave Douglas has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland award and two Grammy nominations. Douglas has a new quintet, an electric sextet (Keystone), and Sound Prints Quintet, which is co-led with saxophonist Joe Lovano.

From 2002 to 2012, he served as artistic director of the Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at The Banff Centre in Canada. He is a co-founder and director of the Festival of New Trumpet Music, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012. In 2013 Douglas was, for the second year, International Jazz Artist in Residence at the Royal Academy of Music in London and launched his own Jazz Workshop, dedicated to enriching the musical experiences of younger players.

Here’s a clip of the Dave Douglas Quintet at work in July 2013 .

ROGER MITCHELL