Tag Archives: paul grabowsky

WANGARATTA 2017: JAM-PACKED JAZZ

Jen Shyu

Sure to be a highlight: Jen Shyu                                       Image: Steven Schreiber

PREVIEW
Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, November 3 – 5, 2017

The 28th Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues will be the first without Adrian Jackson at the helm as artistic director. Instead, the programming team consists of Adam Simmons and Zoe Hauptmann for jazz, and Scott Solimo and Frank Davidson for blues.

This change led to some understandable concern on the part of regular patrons over the direction that this renowned festival may take, many worrying about whether efforts to overcome budget challenges by widening audience appeal would dilute the core elements in programming of jazz and blues. The result no doubt will be closely scrutinised. It will also, I’m convinced, be thoroughly enjoyed.

Adam Simmons

Adam Simmons introduces the Pugsley Buzzard Trio in Readings book shop at the Melbourne launch of Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2017.

A detailed dig into this year’s jazz (leaving the blues gigs to others) reveals plenty to get excited about — so much, in fact, that it will be hard to fit in breaks for meals or even coffee breaks in a jam-packed program. Don’t forget to download the festival app so you can plan ahead.

Has the festival taken a new direction? Will hard-core jazz fans be satisfied? Is there enough straight-ahead jazz? Are there sufficient “out there” gigs? Is the gender balance improving? Are there enough vocalists? Will the punters turn up? Judgments will be made on these and myriad other questions once the music begins, but unquestionably there is heaps of it on offer.

Overseas artists in the mix include Kari Ikonen Trio (Finland), Jon Cleary (US), Christian Scott and his sextet (US), Jen Shyu (US), James Shipp (US), Pascal Rollando and Philippe Guidat (France), and Aron Ottingnon Band (France), plus expatriate Australian Nadje Noordhuis on a visit from New York. There are many intriguing and alluring combinations, such as Jen Shyu with Simon Barker, Spiderbait’s Kram with James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky, Origami with Wang Zheng Ting, Digital Seed, and a gathering of old and new friends in Guidat/Rollando/Noordhuis/Shipp/Simmons/Hale.

The National Jazz Awards performances this year, featuring brass, will be held in WPAC Hall rather than St Patrick’s Hall before the finals in WPAC Theatre. The 10 semi-finalists are:

  • Thomas Avgenicos trumpet, NSW
  • Josh Bennier trombone, Victoria
  • Niran Dasika trumpet, Victoria
  • Simon Ferenci trumpet, NSW
  • James Macaulay trombone, Victoria
  • Ricki Malet trumpet, WA
  • Eamon McNelis trumpet, Victoria
  • Joe O’Connor trombone, Victoria
  • Alex Taylor trombone, SA
  • Patrick Thiele trumpet, Victoria

How great is it that pianist O’Connor has made it as a semi-finalist on ‘bone?

Friday

Friday night’s line-up will give hard-core patrons a chance to flex their concert-going muscles for the succeeding onslaughts on the next two days. Ease your way in at 6pm in WPAC Hall by joining Tony Gould, Mike Nock, Paul Williamson (on trumpet) and university students for the Monash Sessions. Then, at 7.30pm in WPAC Theatre there’ll be a welcome infusion of Scandinavian improvisation from Finland’s Kari Ikonen on piano, Olli Rantala on double bass, and Markku Ounaskari on drums. Expect many hues, innovative harmonies, strong melodies and striking rhythms, all played with lots of joy and passion.

New Orleans makes its presence felt in two concerts on Friday evening. At 8pm Jon Cleary will bring blues into the WPAC Theatre as he demonstrates his prowess at the piano emulating the likes of Tuts Washington, James Booker and Professor Longhair — the greats he found in his adopted home of New Orleans after migrating from Kent in 1980. At 10pm in that venue the strong New Orleans musical pedigree of Christian Scott will shine through as he demonstrates his trademark “whisper technique”, using warm air, which he perfected by emulating his mother’s singing voice.

In WPAC Hall earlier, at 9.30pm, My Name Is Nobody will feature Lucky Oceans, Ben Vanderwal and Tom O’Halloran in a set offering lush, cinematic and ambient sounds along with “a sonic break from a complicated, noisy world”. Bring it on.

Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo will be at the Pinsent Hotel until midnight.

Saturday

Saturday, of course, will be another kettle of fish, with music beginning at 10.30am (National Jazz Awards, WPAC Hall) and running through until 1.30am Sunday (Jam session with Virus, Pinsent Hotel).

Be prepared for some full-on, head-to-head clashes — these are not merely overlapping concerts, so you’ll have some hard choices. Kari Ikonen Trio begins at 11am in WPAC Theatre for those who missed it or loved it on Friday. But at noon Nick Haywood Trio (St Pat’s Hall) is up against Mike Nock’s solo e-coustic set (Holy Trinity Cathedral).

Barney McAll’s much-loved ASIO are sure to be in Hi-Vis at 1pm in WPAC Theatre. Expect much talent and humour.

Then comes a seriously upsetting clash at 2pm. Experimental vocalist, dancer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu will join the intense and brilliant Simon Barker at Holy Trinity — this has to be a highlight — while guitarist Robbie Melville’s five-piece, two-saxy ensemble plus visuals delivers inviting, eclectic contrasts in WPAC Hall as Cleverhorse. As if that choice isn’t tough enough, St Pat’s Hall features sextet Slipper, with Gemma Horbury on trumpet and Belinda Woods on flute, playing bassist Alastair Watts compositions. It’s all on from 2pm to 3pm.

There’s no clash at 3pm when Nadje Noordhuis reunites with James Shipp (vibes), Gian Slater (vocals) and Chris Hale (bass), joined by young guitarist Theo Carbo (not to be missed) in a WPAC Theatre concert backed by Martin Jackson’s Melbourne Jazz Co-operative.

But at 4pm the clashes are back. Choose Robbie Melville with reedsmen Gideon Brazil and Monty Mackenzie for “chamber jazz and contemporary classical” as Antelodic at Holy Trinity, or the muscular DRUB (Scott Tinkler, Simon Barker, Philip Rex, Carl Dewhurst). That’s a real tough one. Blues and boogie woogie pianist Bridie King is the third option at this time slot, in St Pat’s Hall.

There’s time for a quick bite now — must keep the energy levels up — before bassist Nick Tsiavos and his Liminal ensemble bring us brilliant discordance as the ancient becomes modern in a hypnotic synthesis of new minimalism (6pm, Holy Trinity). Many may stay at this, but others will be lured away to WPAC Theatre by 6.30pm, intrigued by the spectacle of Spiderbait’s Kram joining James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky. Anything could happen.

If you love Hammond organ — and who doesn’t if Tim Neal is at the keyboards — Jim Kelly’s Thrillseekers will perform at St Pat’s Hall at 7.15pm. And in WPAC Hall at 8pm Digital Seed includes last year’s National Jazz Awards winner Mike Rivett in a sextet that includes Matilda Abraham on vocals and utilises electronics and synthesisers.

New Zealand-born pianist Aron Ottignon, now a Parisian, has a fantasy in which each of his fingertips is a drumstick. He joins Samuel Dubois on steel pan and Kuba Gudz on drums in WPAC Theatre at 8.30pm, producing music that “combines the ambition of jazz with pop melodies, echoes of world music and electronic effects”. This trio will also close the festival — jam session aside — so this is a chance to decide whether it’s your cup of tea.

Virus will draw some patrons off to the Pinsent at 9pm. But at 9.15pm in St Pat’s Hall Philippe Guidat (guitar) and Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet), who met at an upstate New York Music Omi Artist Residency when Adam Simmons (woodwinds) was guest mentor, will join Pascal Rollando (percussion), James Shipp (vibes/percussion) and Chris Hale (bass). I reckon this could go in a few directions, all of them with great promise and possibly a little humour.

This festival has many not-so-hidden gems. One is DRUB (already mentioned) and another is the 10pm WPAC Hall encounter between Gian Slater, Barney McAll and Simon Barker.

But many will be drawn away to WPAC Theatre at 10pm to hear more of Christian Scott, along with extraordinary flautist Elena Pinderhughes, Shea Pierre on piano and Rhodes, Kris Funn on bass, Corey Fonville on drums and Logan Richardson on sax.

Pinsent Hotel jam session anyone? As mentioned, there is a lot of music on offer at this festival. And Sunday is another day.

Sunday

Day 3 will separate the sheep from the goats, the climate change deniers from the realists. This is when serious patrons awake, stretch, inhale deeply and head for double shots of coffee before another full day, and night, of live music. Keep in mind that it’s the musicians who are doing the heavy lifting here.

If you’re extra keen be at Holy Trinity at 10am for Bridie King & Gospel Belles. Brass fans will be in WPAC Hall for the National Jazz Awards playoffs from 10.30am, picking their three finalists before the judges get a say.

There are seriously great musicians at work in Wangaratta on Sunday, many of them home-grown artists.

After ensuring my hair is suitably coiffed I’ll be in WPAC Theatre with bells on at 11am to hear the Phil Slater Quintet play new compositions (how could anyone pass up Simon Barker, Matt McMahon, Matt Keegan, Brett Hirst?) and in St Pat’s Hall at noon for the Angela Davis Quartet. The talent just keeps coming at 1pm in WPAC Theatre when bassist Jonathan Swartz is joined by Barney McAll piano, Hamish Stuart drums, Julien Wilson sax, Phil Slater trumpet, James Greening trombone, Fabian Hevia percussion and Steve Magnusson guitar. And at 1.30pm multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff may be weaving his magic at Holy Trinity, but there are no details on the festival website.

At 2pm don’t miss a chance to look into the future in St Pat’s Hall when bassist Isaac Gunnoo, drummer Maddison Carter and siblings Flora (saxophone) and Theo Carbo (guitar) demonstrate the talent on the scene from younger jazz musicians. And for a hit of vocals — there are not so many singers this year — Matilda Abraham will bring vulnerability and warmth to WPAC Hall at 2.30pm.

It’s relentless — wall to wall music with overlaps. At 3pm composer and bassist extraordinaire Sam Anning brings a feast of musicians to the WPAC Theatre stage: Andrea Keller piano, Mat Jodrell trumpet, Carl Mackey sax, Julien Wilson sax and Danny Fischer drums. In Holy Trinity Cathedral from 3.30pm James Shipp on vibes and Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet will celebrate the release of their Indigo album with help from Theo Carbo, Chris Hale and Gian Slater. And at 4pm in St Pat’s Hall, Belinda Woods on flutes will present compositional elements ranging from free improvisation to highly intricate structural forms in a sextet.

Tension is mounting at this point as the NJA finalists prepare to do battle at 5pm in WPAC Theatre, but If you have not yet caught a glimpse of Adam Simmons as performer rather than program team member, here’s your chance. From 4.30pm in WPAC Hall, Origami will present “Wu-Xing – The Five Elements” a new work by Adam inspired by the Ancient Chinese elements Wood (木 mù), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water (水 shuǐ). This will feature Simmons on alto sax and bass clarinet, Howard Cairns on bass, Hugh Harvey on drums and Wang Zheng-Ting on sheng (Chinese mouth organ). It is a great pity this overlaps with the the NJA finals. Let’s hope it is performed elsewhere soon.

Around about 6pm there will be a NJA winner, so it’s time for a shot or three of coffee before Virus begins in St Pat’s Hall, followed at 7pm in WPAC Hall by Philippe Guidat on guitar and Pascal Rollando on percussion will draw on flamenco, Andalusian and Arabic music, Indian music in an acoustic set.

Then, at 8pm in WPAC Theatre, prepare to be mesmerised as multilingual vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Jen Shyu (US) opens her performance of Jade Tongue with Mother Cow’s Companion, one of three traditional folk songs in this work. She will be accompanied by Simon Barker drums, James Shipp vibraphone and Veronique Serret six-string violin for this outing, which is certain to be arresting.

In St Pat’s Hall Zac Hurren will be firing on all valves in a trio format from 8.30pm if you need an energy boost. At 9pm in WPAC Hall Lucky Oceans will head a quintet with Paul Williamson sax, Nick Haywood bass, Claire Anne Taylor voice and Konrad Park drums.

The final WPAC Theatre gig at 10pm will be the Aron Ottingon Trio, but if you are still firing on all cylinders and brim full of the buzz, the annual jam session at the Pinsent Hotel will be the place to put this Wang festival to bed. You can relax and savour the memories — all that hard listening has paid off.

ROGER MITCHELL

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BLUES IN AMERICA, TOM VINCENT

bluesinamerica-web-pic-with-text_600x

CD REVIEW 

3.5 stars *

Blues in America: Tom Vincent piano, Branford Marsalis soprano and tenor sax, Leigh Barker & Matt Clohesy double bass, Alf Jackson drums

I have not reviewed albums for a long time, for a few reasons, but that may change. Let’s see how this turns out.

If I were a musician it’s fair bet that I’d be anxious about not being inventive enough and being caught out repeating phrases that I’d used in previous solos — worried that I may not be keeping the improvisations fresh and always different. That kind of concern is in the back of my mind whenever I write reviews of albums or live performances — my version of the goalkeeper’s fear of the penalty kick is the fear that I’ll keep repeating words and phrases, thereby revealing an inability to do more than trot out a standard set of reactions to the music. With that goes a worry about my lack of musical training or knowledge, and my limited knowledge of the American songbook and the deeply embedded lore of jazz.

When I read, for instance, Paul Grabowsky‘s words about music and musicians, I’m inclined to think that if the people who play so well and compose music so well can write about it so eloquently, why not leave it to them.

Another reason for avoiding CD reviews is that I slipped so far behind in delivering them that it became an obligation not met and therefore the joy of listening slipped away a little. Why was it hard to just pop out a review? Well, partly for the reasons expressed above, but also because music is, I believe, not easy to write about. I have long yearned for a feed from the brain to the screen (or paper) so that my experience can be delivered directly to the reader, without interference. In that way, when I’m in the moment listening at a live gig or to an album via headphones, the intensity of that experience could be delivered undiluted. It would still, of course, be one person’s experience, as is any reviewer’s.

So, with that palaver out of the way, what can I say about Tom Vincent‘s Blues in America? First, the mechanics. Blues in America was recorded in October 2015 at Sound Pure studio in Durham, North Carolina and at Big Orange Sheep in Brooklyn, New York City.  Vincent is joined on the Durham tracks — one, three and five — by Branford Marsalis on soprano and tenor saxophones and by Leigh Barker on double bass, and on the Brooklyn tracks —two and four — by Matt Clohesy, who has lived in New York for many years, on double bass. Hobart drummer Alf Jackson plays on all tracks.

The title track is a Tom Vincent original. The others are composer Donald Kahn’s classic A Beautiful Friendship, the Bernie, Pinkard & Casey standard Sweet Georgia Brown, Russian-born composer/songwriter Vernon Duke’s Autumn in New York and Jimmy Hanley’s hit (Back Home Again in) Indiana.

When Vincent launched his Pozible campaign to fund Blues in America, he said, “This is going to be a swingin’ album”. He’s not wrong. Swing and propulsion are evident throughout, and that’s not so common in a lot of improvised music these days. Much of the drive comes from Barker and Clohesy, of course, but the rhythmic thrust shown in Sweet Georgia Brown, along with varied dynamics and nice chordal contrasts, provides a great paradigm of a rhythm section in top form. This Georgia is one toe-tappin’ gal.

The opening A Beautiful Friendship — featuring wandering, exploratory and at times embroidered piano soloing followed by tenor musings and some interplay from Marsalis — is well laid back, yet ends with a heightened sense of swing.

Vincent’s original Blues in America is pretty jaunty for a blues and much faster, with lots of rapid and intricate repartee between piano and soprano sax, Marsalis being more agile than the nation Malcolm Turnbull once dreamed about. The exchanges make this a favourite for me.

Much slower is the Autumn in New York ballad and the mood change conjures images of leaves drifting down from the trees in Central Park, with maybe a sprinkling or two of drops after a shower. Put your feet up for this and let the thoughts drift past.

Indiana is bright and jaunty, Barker taking us on a fast walk as Vincent treats us to expansive vistas with gentle swing and Marsalis floats out easy tenor notes over the brush work of Jackson. The ending is tight and punchy, with a final “parp” from Marsalis.

Tom Vincent’s Blues in America is further confirmation — as if we needed it — that Australian jazz musicians can seamlessly team with those in the New York scene and produce a fine result. It also provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate just how good Vincent is at the keyboard, delivering fluidity and swing in a way that draws on what I think of as older traditions or roots of jazz.

ROGER MITCHELL

* Stars? I’m not so keen on the star ratings, mainly because they can be used so differently by reviewers. In the tradition I was taught by Kenny Weir at the Sunday Herald Sun, where 4.5 or 5 stars were reserved for albums that had survived the test of time and had probably been re-released, I’d say this is a 3.5 plus, which is a definite recommendation to buy. If you want to, go to Tom Vincent’s website.

 

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