OVERGROUND AT MELBOURNE TOWN HALL
… and again
Lots of gigs. Lots of noise, but some quiet moments as well. Music non-stop from 2pm Saturday until 8:30pm in four Melbourne Town Hall venues. Having emerged late the previous night from the finale of Melbourne’s jazz fringe festival, which has for years had its full day of music entitled Big Arse Sunday, I could not help but think the Overground concept seemed strikingly similar. Was MIJF making a bid to attract the fringe festival audience?
A few observations: The idea of a lot of bands playing in the one place over many hours (as in The Big Day Out) is great and the town hall was humming. Great to see the crowds. But the program running sheet was initially only posted on the doorways and many of us spent valuable time writing it down, because once a gig finished (many lasted only 20 minutes) it was hard to know where to go next. And unless you knew a lot about say, The Deadnotes or Pure Evil Trio or Carolyn Connors — that demonstrates the diversity of what was on offer — it was hard to plot a route through the Overground. For a festival as big and sophisticated as MIJF now is, it seems this aspect could have been done better. Perhaps the MIJF website could carry links to each band/performer, with background info and samples of audio or video.
While on the basics, I had possibly the worst coffee in the universe at the MTH bar, at a time when I needed greeeaaaat coffee. Extempore journal editor Miriam Zolin would have suffered apoplexy. It was lukewarm and I think came out of a thermos. Also, when you are rushing from one concert to the next, there will come a time when you need sustenance. And you need it on the spot, not out along Swanston Street.
Han Bennink takes to the floor
Peter Brotzmann vies with Bennink
Enough whingeing. I made it to 14 sessions, some only for a quick taste. I loved the buzz, but concerts were happening a little too thick and fast, and often I did not know who would be a must-hear for me.
Pure Evil and Occult Blood make noise
Pure Evil and Occult Blood was a wall of noise, but I left with a smile. Greg Kingston (electric guitar and toys) and Tarquin Manek (of Bum Creek, on various instruments) had everyone smiling with their antics, but it had me asking — also after the opening Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann gig — when the showmanship interferes with the sound.
Kingston turns on the tricks
Dale Gorfinkel on contraptions
Bennink’s explosive virtuosity and sublime sense of humour are endearing — we love him — but when Cor Fuhler on prepared piano joined Dale Gorfinkel on sonic contraptions and Kym Myhr guitar and objects, I found it impossible to concentrate on the sound without closing my eyes. Gorfinkel’s device spinning polystyrene cups and a trumpet with tubing was fascinating, but I just wanted to hear the result.
In certain contexts Carolyn Connors‘ extraordinary vocal talents would be OK, but I wanted to get away. And when classical met punk — Golden Fur with True Radical Miracle — I found it a momentarily interesting spectacle, then I wanted to get away.
Hoping Fur a Miracle
The vocal ensemble that included MIJF program director Sophie Brous sounded amazing, but I caught only the last few minutes. (Others in that group were Carolyn Connors, Nik Kennedy, Pete Hyde, Jessica Aszodi, Alex Vivian, Christopher L. G. Hill and Tarquin Manek.
Focused: Misterka and Chase
Two concerts deserved to have full attention, but I had to keep moving. These were Seth Misterka (CCM4) and Brian Chase (of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs) on sax and drums, which was minimalist but compelling, and Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion),
Eugene Ughetti (percussion) and Robin Fox (processing), which provided a period of slowly evolving relief from the mayhem elsewhere.
I missed Cor Fuhler with Scott Tinkler and Simon Barker with Bum Creek. I missed Kim Salmon (The Scientists, Surrealists) with David Brown (Bucketrider, Candlesnuffer, Western Grey, Pateras Baxter Brown). Pity.
I found the quartet of Mick Turner (of Dirty Three, on guitar), Francis Plagne (guitar), Evelyn Morris (of Pikelet and True Radical Miracle, on drums) and Erkki Veltheim (Twitch, Australian Art Orchestra on viola) OK, but not overwhelming, and why Plagne played with his back to the audience was a mystery. Maybe he found an audience made it hard to concentrate.
All stops out: Anthony Pateras
So to the standouts, for me. Bennink and Brotzmann were strong, relentless and cathartic. Bennink with Anthony Pateras on the grand organ was an amazing and beautiful thing. Great idea, executed flawlessly. The organ had the oomph to cope with Bennink’s madness.
Grabowsky prepares for piano
Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress
Sean Baxter on drums and percussion with Paul Grabowsky on piano was another superb combination. In the end Baxter stole the show, but they were perfect together.
Han Bennink returns …
Brotzmann and Bennink revisited was again something special, but what lifted it beyond that was their final collaboration with the Embers Big Band. Embers members Adam Simmons (various saxophones), Dave Brown (electric microtonal bass) and Sean Baxter (drum kit and junk) and Kris Wanders (tenor saxophone) joined Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio) on double bass. Greg Kingston‘s guitar seemed to be largely lost in the mayhem.
When Wanders joined Brotzmann and then Adam Simmons for a sax armageddon the audience was in raptures.
David Brown on guitar and pedals intervened at just the right moments, backed ably by Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio). And then there was the duel of sorts between Bennink and the drummer with the hair (Kram from Spiderbait). It was all beyond words, and beyond expectations. What a buzz for performers and for the rapt audience, who left exhausted, but fulfilled.
For more on Overground at Melbourne Town Hall, Mess and Noise has plenty.
WITH THE BLACK JESUS EXPERIENCE AT THE FORUM
Mulatu Astatke and the Black Jesus Experience
What a change of pace. All that noise and full-on duelling of the Embers Big Band subsided gradually in my head on the walk to The Forum as I mentally switched gears for Ethio-jazz. The Forum was an ideal venue for a spectacle and when The Black Jesus Experience came on stage with James Arben on sax there was all the atmosphere — and a smoke machine and coloured spotlights — of a big rock concert or stage spectacular.
But amid all the fuss, Mulatu Astatke seemed to exude calm and generosity of spirit. This was not some rock star with an air of importance, but a man content to make his gentle contribution among the assembled musicians and, obviously, to delight in doing it. He was attentive to the other musicians and at other times seemed lost in reverie as he played.
I did not catch all the names of tunes played, but there were some from the film Broken Flowers, a Heliocentrics piece entitled Cha Cha, another called Chic Chica, one called The Dawn and “one composed for myself” entitled simply Mulatu.
I did not know what to expect, but probably something a lot more energetic and even hip-hop oriented — I don’t know why. As it turned out most of the concert seemed to be gentle and celebratory, with repetitive rhythms and subtle variations. I’d need to listen to more to be able to adequately describe the music. But it was pleasant without being get-out-of-your-seat-and-start-dancing music.
There was some excellent musicianship from Souren Tchakerian on percussion, Peter Harper on alto sax, Ian Dixon on horn and Pat Kearney on drums, but I thought James Arben (Heliocentrics) on saxophone was fairly disappointing. A real standout was the keyboard playing of Thai Matus — he was quiet for most of the gig, then erupted with energy and fire, lit appropriately by a red spot. Great stuff.
On fire: True Live keyboardist Thai Matus
All up, and perhaps I was suffering from the effects of Overground, this concert was not one to set the pulse racing or the blood flowing. It was a nice opportunity to chill in the club-like atmosphere of The Forum.