Monash Art Ensemble with special guest Mark Helias, The Forum Upstairs, Sunday 2 June, 2013, 2pm, Melbourne International Jazz Festival
I’m a bit confused, because this gig was billed as Shapeshifter, but the leaflet given out refers to Monash Art Ensemble, described as “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st century musicians”. That description is apt because this was exciting music indeed. The large ensemble (16 if you count conductor Paul Grabowsky and guest bassist Mark Helias, who is in town to play with Open Loose) opened with a commissioned work, Intrusions, by Eugene Ball, and followed with four pieces by Helias.
What can I say in a mini review? I loved this performance not only because of the music, but because of the talent the young musicians in the band displayed, which demonstrates that we have a lot to look forward to in Melbourne. There was so much diversity and development in these pieces, and the band members showed great concentration and responsiveness throughout. Ball’s composition was intense and at times eerie. I think Erkki Velthheim prepared his violin in this and there was a clarinet played in a bucket of water (possibly by David Griffiths). Frank Di Sario was excellent on bass.
Helias’s pieces were amazingly complex, but the ensemble coped well. I thought of Knitting or Quitting as dispassionate but arresting music and I loved the interplay between bass clarinet and bowed bass. Young trombone and trumpet players were excellent in this piece, which had so much to it. Haymaker was exciting music full of bustle and energy, with a hot piano solo by Joe O’Connor. I think Melbourne has a young pianist to match Perth’s Tal Cohen.
The concert closed with the beautifully lush Grabowsky composition Love Like A Curse, which was an excellent wind-down from the earlier animation.
More highlights will occur during this festival, but this was a definite. Full marks to Monash University and all who sail with this project.