Tag Archives: Roger Mitchell

IS INTENSE … IS GOOD?

Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki plays Monk on solo guitar.   Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW
2019 Melbourne International Jazz Festival – May 30 to June 9

“If music’s not intense, it’s not good.” That throwaway line by a wonderful Melbourne musician came as an instant response to my summation of the Vijay Iyer Trio’s outing at The Jazzlab on Sunday, June 2 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

In the trio’s fourth outing at the festival, US pianist Iyer, with Stephan Crump on acoustic bass and Jeremy Dutton on drums delivered a mostly high octane performance that revelled in complex, recurring patterns and delivered propulsion plus. In long and powerful yet intricate pieces, all three trio members seemed to embody their music, tapping into a rhythmic sense deep within them and feeling it so strongly that it erupted out of them.

This outstanding concert was at times mesmeric, yet demanded concentration. Elements within the music were always changing as the trio members’ interplay built tension, held it and then relented, only to build again. As icing on the cake, late in the set Iyer invited two US musicians – rapper Kokayi and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire – to join in briefly before he urged the audience to “do everything we can to stop this tide of fascism” in the world and “keep fighting, keep listening”. The room was won over, without question.

Intensity surely is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for good music, but this year’s eclectic MIJF offered many potent and passion-evoking concerts that brought jazz lovers out of the woodwork, possibly prompting our ad guru Prime Minister Scott Morrison to have Lara ask the perennial question: Where the bloody hell are you (for the rest of the year)?

Small, crowded venues definitely help deliver intensity. But often it is down to who’s on stage and the sheer enormity of what they do there. On Tuesday, June 4, Miles Okazaki (USA) in The Jazzlab gave us a taste of his devotion to Thelonious Monk as exemplified in his six-volume album Work, recording 70 Monk compositions on solo guitar.

A better knowledge of Monk would have helped in appreciating subtle nuances, I’m sure, yet this was a truly virtuosic performance offering complexity, dynamic variation, space and swing. With only his foot tapping at times to keep the beat, Okazaki used his guitar as melody maker, rhythm driver and percussion instrument, playing almost continuously for an hour and 20 minutes without charts. Highlights were Crepescule with Nellie and the encore, a Monk arrangement of Tea for Two. The concentration, focus and memory required for this solo effort was amazing.

At this year’s festival, work commitments meant I missed significant Saturday concerts –Gershwin Reimagined, Linda May Han Oh’s Adventurine, the PBS Young Elder of Jazz commissioned work Displacement, Elio Villafranca, and Marginal Consort – many of these in larger venues.

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Herbie Hancock in full flight with his keytar at Hamer Hall.   Image: Roger Mitchell

But I did hear Herbie Hancock, Vinnie Colaiuta, James Genus and Lionel Loueke in the second of their two sold-out concerts at Hamer Hall, which seats almost 2500 people. This felt like a rock concert, albeit in a fairly sedate setting, and the massed fans came ready to express their adoration.

Yet I found this outing by four undoubtedly superb musicians to have an unremitting, electronically enhanced intensity that allowed for few subtleties and too few departures from full throttle. It seemed to me a little like a showcase for boys with their toys, but of course the packed auditorium loved it.

Colaiuta’s contribution didn’t need extra bells and whistles – his work at the drum kit seemed to have one speed (flat out) and one volume (loud). Hancock mostly played furiously, switching between piano and Korg Kronos keyboard (billed as “the most powerful synthesizer on the planet”) as he vied with Colaiuta to be heard. His vocals were distorted via an electronic processor which I concede did fit alongside the similarly altered vocals and synthesizer-style sounds (via a Digitech Whammy pedal?) from the accomplished Loueke in addition to some glottal clicks that reflected his West African roots.

On bass, Genus was classy and less cluttered, his few solos a standout. This outing was at its most entertaining towards the end, and when Hancock wowed the auditorium with his fancy keytar, leading the quartet to an encore, Chameleon, that brought his fans to their feet.

It’s an odd contrast to draw, perhaps, between Hancock and Billy Childs, who performed in the Melbourne Recital Centre on festival opening night, May 31. Hancock had nothing to prove and yet he seemed keen to prove he is still up with the latest.

Childs, who in bringing us many compositions from his album Rebirth – described by Vijay Iyer as “a reminder that Billy Childs can burn” – seemed to be signalling a return to the power and energy of more straight ahead, small group jazz, but nevertheless needed no high-tech gadgetry. This outing, featuring expatriate Australian Alex Boneham on bass, Christian Euman on drums and Dayna Stephens on saxophone, exemplified the huge appeal of a great rhythm section and varied, evocative compositions.

Childs did burn, but with a different kind of fire, his keyboard work in Horace Silver’s Peace including emphatic chords, muted strums of the piano strings and delicate, high trills. There was nothing dreamy about Starry Night, just exquisitely crisp clarity and forays into the abstract. Above all, this set was full of interest because there was so much variation.

As with Childs, the appeal of the Florian Hoefner Group concert on Tuesday, June 4 at The Jazzlab was not in relentless intensity. Its allure came in more nuanced and lyrical compositions, drawn mostly from the 2016 album Luminosity, along with the obvious enjoyment of interaction among reuniting musicians.

Canadian pianist Hoefner welcomed this opportunity to play again with drummer Peter Kroneif (an expatriate Austrian now in New York) and Australians bassist Sam Anning and tenor saxophonist Michael Rivett, all of whom he’d met outside their home countries a decade ago. Two standouts not from that album were Black is the Color, based on a Scottish folk song, and the energetic Newfound Jig.

The most exquisite concert of this festival for me would fail on an intensity meter. And it came a little unexpectedly.

Unable to get to the long improvisation by Marginal Consort (Japan) when that was rescheduled to a Saturday slot at The Substation, on Friday, June 7, I set out to hear Ross James Irwin’s 60 Years of Kind of Blue at 170 Russell Street before catching the second of two concerts at The Jazzlab.

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When the lighting’s so Kind of Blue that colour is permissible.    Image: Roger Mitchell

As it turned out, the recasting of the Miles Davis classic came on stage later than I had anticipated, after the well received pizzazz and exuberance of Fem Belling (vocals, violin) and the band ZEDSIX at the former Billboard venue, so I had time to hear only three tracks off the Davis album as reinterpreted by Irwin’s superb 11-piece ensemble before leaving. It was enough to know that I want to hear this tribute concert again. Mat Jodrell on trumpet, Phil Noy on alto sax and Julien Wilson on tenor sax were sounding spectacular as I left this updated Kind of Blue.

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Colin Hopkins, Eugene Ball, Nick Haywood, James McLean and Stephen Magnusson have fun with Petra Haden.    Image: Roger Mitchell

At The Jazzlab, Petra Haden – daughter of much-loved US bassist the late Charlie Haden – was teamed with what turned out to be the perfect band of Australian musicians for her Songs From My Father. Haden’s musical heritage pours forth in her fluid, unfettered vocals – her voice so relaxed that it transmits this vibe to the audience in classics such as Shenandoah, The Fields of Athenry and the superb Jimmy Webb song The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress.

But what took this concert to another level was what Colin Hopkins (piano) Eugene Ball (trumpet), Nick Haywood (bass), James McLean (drums) and Stephen Magnusson (guitar) did to give the songs an edge, to add abrasive accents or sharp spears of sound that Haden may not have always expected but seemed to welcome. This superb, adventurous concert closed with Haden singing the David Bowie/Pat Metheny song This Is Not America, written for the film The Falcon and the Snowman, Haden poignantly delivering the enigmatic words that seemed so apt in these times: “A little piece of me will die because this is not America.”

Other concerts deserve mention, despite the length of this review.

Belgian pianist Jef Neve is a familiar face for jazz festival patrons, but his outing on Thursday, June 6 at The Jazzlab was more tempered than when, at the 2013 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, his virtuoso solo performance – at times thunderously stormy – brought a standing ovation. On this occasion, with Teus Nobel (Netherlands) on trumpet and flugelhorn, Neve showed restraint that suited this duo with Nobel, whose flugelhorn playing had an uncharacteristic edge for that mellow instrument.

After Neve and Nobel came a multi-cultural extravaganza directed ably by Michael Pigneguy from the drum kit, except when he lost the mic to powerful vocalist Alemay Fernandez, who demanded “Melbourne, make some noise” before telling the audience “That was pathetic”. This nine-piece ensemble (Australia/Malaysia/Singapore/USA) played for 10 minutes less than two hours, with fine work in solos from Pigneguy, Marques “Q Sound” Young on trombone, Craig Fermanis on guitar, Toby Bender buried behind the band on percussion and Lachlan Davidson in the dark on saxophone. Fernandez and Evelyn Feroza were appropriately forceful among the guys. The set may have gone on a little too long, but it was a big undertaking done really well. I particularly appreciated two Middle Eastern influenced compositions by Pigneguy – Street Dance and West Bank Moon.

I had to leave 170 Russell Street before the end of Ambrose Akinmusire’s challenging Origami Harvest – which brought us soundscapes created with the Silo String Quartet, rapper Kokayi and modern jazz, funk and soul to confront and explore important issues in society. It seemed a big shift from the album to bring in Kokayi rather than Kool A.D. (Das Racist), but the words spoken no doubt addressed related issues. I was told Akinmusire would have been happy to create and produce this work – an effort to tackle opposites in society – without necessarily playing in it, but the absolute highlight on the night for me was one spirited and spiritual solo from his trumpet, his notes soaring heavenwards and lingering in the air. In saying that, Origami Harvest was striving to focus on much more than such purity of sound. It was important that we heard it. That’s why this festival has Explorations in Jazz.

I heard other important explorations in jazz – the launch of a new album, Night Music, by Jamie Oehlers, Claire Cross’s work with Tomorrow is My Turn. I would like to have heard Bill Frisell.

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Ian Chang on drums in the half light.

And after the highly charged Herbie Hancock outing I saw out the festival in the deep red glow of Rafiq Bhatia (USA) on guitar, with Jack Hill on electric bass and Ian Chang on drums. They amped it up and we all basked in the glow and cried out for more.

Intensity? Yes, there was some, but it was warming us like coals rather than egging us into a frenzy.

Well done once again Melbourne International Jazz Festival. And well done The Rookies in the nightly jam sessions.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: This review has appeared so late because since the festival’s end I have been laid low by one of the worst colds (not flu) that I’ve ever had, with irrepressible coughing and nasty conjunctivitis.

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The final jam session at The Jazzlab, hosted by The Rookies. Image: Roger Mitchell

 

 

BEYOND, AND WITH, WORDS

Ellen Kirkwood Ellen Kirkwood performs in [A]part with Gian Slater and Sandy Evans.    Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, November 2-4, 2018

Music speaks for itself. That’s what visiting saxophonist from Holland, Yuri Honing – a man of few words – told the audience in Wangaratta’s Performing Arts Centre Theatre on Saturday night during his quartet’s second festival outing.

He’s right, of course. The music delivered at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues this year conveyed some powerful messages and crossed cultural boundaries without needing the embroidery of words.

Honing, with his acoustic quartet Wolfert Brederode (Holland) on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson (Iceland) on bass and Joost Lijbaart (Holland) on drums, spoke eloquently with his tenor saxophone in two concerts featuring compositions from their 2017 album Goldbrun. These guys knew each other and the pieces well, the horn soaring and gently musing over the responsive rhythm section in long explorations that varied in energy and intensity, but often seemed darkly brooding. Honing’s concerns for Europe and love of works by Wagner and Richard Strauss were inspirations, but spelled out only in the music.

Yet words and music are often inextricably linked. That relationship can be fraught – how can what we experience in a live concert possibly be described adequately in a string of superlatives? Yet the strength in soul singer Tina Harrod’s exceptionally clearly articulated songs from her album City of Longing, performed on Sunday in WPAC Theatre, came certainly from her strong vocals, but also in the hard-hitting lyrics.

Vikram Iyengar

Vikram Iyengar in The Calling by Adam Simmons  Image: Roger Mitchell

Festival artistic team member Adam Simmons introduced his deeply personal work The Calling, part of his The Usefulness of Art series of concerts, with words, yet it was the performance by his Creative Music Ensemble with Afrolankan Drumming System and Vikram Iyengar, helped by screened visuals, that conveyed the colour, noise, mayhem and moving moments of his journey so effectively.

I have reviewed The Calling previously from a performance at fortyfive downstairs, but for Wangaratta festival patrons this must have surely been a lively, energetic and virtuosic musical journey full of colours, flavours and fun, yet also most moving.

In St Pat’s Hall on Sunday, multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff and drum maestro Ted Vining took the audience on a fascinating journey that came with stories, but conveyed much via the simple musical exchanges between two accomplished players. I wish I’d been there for all of this.

In a festival that did not suffer at all from its forays into other traditions and cultures than the American jazz pantheon, there seemed to be – and these words are probably not ideal – concerts for the brain and concerts for the heart. In other words, some concerts took us on conceptual journeys and others just swept us up and carried us along with their vigour, energy or beauty.

Tilman Robinson

Tilman Robinson at work with the AAO.    Image: R. Mitchell

On Friday night in WPAC Theatre the Australian Art Orchestra presented Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space, in which three composers – AAO director Peter Knight, Tilman Robinson and Andrea Keller – explored the lives of people damaged by war.

In Knight’s Sharp Folds, which offered glimpses of lingering parental grief, the individual words – voiced by Georgie Darvidis – were not all that easy to pick up amid the engrossing and intense accompanying music. Keller’s Bent Heart, which draws on the stories of three women, conveyed their angst so effectively that no words were needed, although the epilogue’s prayer “Cry heart but never break” stays with me. Robinson’s I Was Only A Child brilliantly drew on the rhythm and cadence of a recorded interview between a young student and a war veteran to show how awareness of war turns to nostalgia, its lessons unlearned. In content reminiscent of Lloyd Swanton’s monumental work Ambon, performed at Wangaratta in 2015, this AAO outing used music compositions and words most effectively, their messages lingering.

On Saturday evening in WPAC Theatre Sirens Big Band performed [A]part, trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood’s suite responding to world issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and the omnipresence of the internet. As with Keller’s Bent Heart, this monumental work – comprising sweeping vistas, swelling and receding soundscapes and powerful solos from Sandy Evans on saxophone and Keller on piano – needed no words to convey drama, tension and agitation, as well as loss and suffering. Gian Slater’s vocal contributions were minimal but integral to this work, which was riveting from start to finish.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart performs with his quintet.    Image: R. Mitchell

The quintet that expatriate Australian Alex Stuart brought from his home city Paris treated us to compositions from their album Aftermath, which explored the darkness in the world while celebrating its beauty and defiant joie de vivre. This versatile band – Stuart on guitar, Irving Acao on tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove on trumpet, keys and vocals, Antoine Banville on drums and Ouriel Ellert on electric bass – delivered sophisticated, varied and polished pieces in two outings. Stuart was unselfish in leading this collegiate ensemble, which displayed plenty of verve and drive along with intricacy and finesse in thoughtful compositions.

Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano.

Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano. Image: Roger Mitchell

Another standout Australian artist with recent overseas experience was trumpeter Niran Dasika, who demonstrated confidence and soloing depth forged in Japan through playing a lot of gigs there. Clashing concerts prevented me hearing the whole of all but one of Dasika’s many festival outings, but on Sunday morning he joined Japan’s Sumire Kuribayashi on piano to play her Pieces of Colour compositions with Shun Ishiwaka (Japan) on drums, James Macaulay on trombone and Sam Anning on bass, with Adam Simmons on tenor saxophone for some pieces. This music was exquisitely beautiful, at times playful and also powerful, further proof that collaborations between Australian and Japanese artists bring great results.

I missed hearing the product of one such collaboration – James Macaulay on trombone leading the Hishakaku Quartet – in order not to miss superstars Andrea Keller on piano and Sandy Evans on reeds in an unprecedented duo at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Gender ought not to be an issue in music, yet this set of mostly ballads demonstrated the power, profundity and beauty of compositions and musicianship by two amazing women. Lilac Embers, dedicated to Richard Gill, was a delight.

Evans was among the host of jazz luminaries to perform in WPAC Theatre on Sunday in the dectet Ten Part Invention, introduced by the ensemble’s founder, John Pochee. In a spirited set that included Roger Frampton’s And Zen Monk, Paul Cutlan’s Nock on Effect, Evans’ Fortea Two and Miroslav Bukovsky’s no holds barred Plain Talk, this band showed why it remains at the peak of large ensemble achievements in Australia. My highlight was reedsman Andrew Robson’s Poets Must Keep an Eye on the Moon.

Germany’s Trio ELF was an instant hit with audiences at their Saturday evening concert in WPAC Theatre and on Sunday in the newly styled St Pat’s Hall with tables and a bar. Walter Lang on piano, Peter Cudek on acoustic bass and Gerwin Eisenhauer on drums added a little electronic wizardry and lots of humour to their melodically and rhythmically appealing compositions. Their approach made excellent use of sudden dramatic dynamic variations, beginning each piece with a simple tune repeated, adding effects, pumping up the volume and intensity via bass and expansive work from Eisenhauer, before returning to the fluid simplicity of the piano notes. Their cover of punk band Blink 182’s Down was a favourite.

Recently formed Quattro Club’s Saturday morning outing sported such an array of whistles and bells that I tried closing my eyes to concentrate on the feast of exploratory textures and timbres. Joel Hands-Otte played Bb Clarinet, bass clarinet, bamboo flute and a plastic pipe. Dan Gordon played tuba and bass flugelhorn. Mirko Guerrini played curved soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, xaphoon, Pakistani flute and melodica. Niko Schauble was at the drum kit. It really was akin to kids building a series of projects with Lego blocks, yet without haste and with plenty of assurance. It possibly did not always hang together, but I loved the adventurous, unscripted approach.

Two long-form suite performances that I had heard previously and liked a lot, but did not get to at this festival – trumpeter Reuben Lewis’s I Hold the Lion’s Paw on Sunday and Cheryl Durongpisitkul’s Follow Me Through the Red Ash on Saturday – drew praise from many who attended.

One of the standout cultural collaborations at Wangaratta was The Three Seas, bringing modern jazz together with West Bengali folk music. Matt Keegan on saxophone joined Steve Elphick on bass, Raju Das Baul on vocals and khamak, Deo Ashis Mothey on vocals, guitar and dotora, and Gaurab Chatterjee on dubki, drums in two warmly engaging and virtuosic displays of musicianship on Friday and Sunday evenings. The interaction of Keegan with amazing vocalist Das Baul exemplified the close bonds formed among all these musicians, demonstrating again how well music succeeds in crossing boundaries.

I caught only part of another successful collaboration on Sunday afternoon when Julian Banks on saxophone joined Indonesian master percussionist Cepi Kusmiadi on the kendang sunda, a set of two-headed drums, along with James Hauptmann on drums and Chris Hale on bass. And I copped some justified criticism later that evening for not letting on in time that the Garden Quartet – featuring Iranian musician Gelareh Pour on kamancheh and voice, Mike Gallichio on electric guitar, Arman Habibi on santur and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drums – should not be missed.

Expectations can be dangerous. A restrained acoustic set in WPAC Theatre by guitarist Ben Hauptmann’s “ideal” septet of accomplished musicians was not what I had anticipated. It was a great line-up – Arne Hanna and Franco Raggatt on guitar, Harry Sutherland on piano, festival co-programmer Zoe Hauptmann on bass, James Hauptmann on drums and Evan Mannell on percussion – and there was no denying their musicianship, but selections played seemed more akin to French folk than jazz, and the pieces did not vary greatly.

I had no idea what to expect from the only US band, FORQ, which comprises Henry Hey on keyboards, Chris McQueen on guitar, Jason “JT” Thomas on drums and Kevin Scott on electric bass. In their final outing of two at the festival on Sunday night in WPAC Theatre they delivered an energetic rock-infused set, but nothing to rival the work of popular Snarky Puppy, of which McQueen is a member.

The fully pumped Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, fronted by Tina Harrod and Darren Percival on vocals, closed out the festival in St Pat’s Hall with a set so loud that I sought relief for my ears towards the back. I liked the setting of “Club St Pat’s” but missed the final night jam where musicians and fans mingled and celebrated music performed and music enjoyed.

To sum up in words what often speaks for itself, the eclectic mix of improvised music at 2018’s festival again delivered plenty to satisfy fans, again on a limited budget and this time without big internationally renowned names or a lot from the American songbook. Culturally diverse offerings worked well, as did the significant European contributions.

Some new, festival-initiated collaborations between visiting and Australian artists would have been icing on the cake.

Words were important in some instances, and the forceful messages of “concept-based” concerts by the AAO and Sirens will play on in my mind for some time.

ROGER MITCHELL

More images of the festival will be posted when time permits.

CHORDS REFLECT CRISES, CULTURES

Cheryl

Cheryl Durongpisitkul performs Follow Me Through the Red Ash.      Image: Roger Mitchell

PREVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, November 2-4, 2018

Most music fans going to “Wang” this year will have made that decision some time ago, so this is intended as a guide to the myriad jazz gigs on offer.

With the Invictus Games fresh in our minds, the Australian Art Orchestra’s Friday night concert (8pm WPAC Theatre) entitled Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger than Space is an appropriate starting point. Based on a concept by Paul Grabowsky AO, composers Andrea Keller, Tilman Robinson and AAO Artistic Director Peter Knight focus on those who tried to pick up their ‘normal’ lives after the war. In three world premieres inspired by Monash University Faculty of Arts’ One Hundred Stories – which remember not only the men and women who lost their lives, but also those gassed, crippled, insane and irreparably damaged by war who returned to Australia – the composers employ archival recordings, tape, electronics and improvisation. Expect this to be challenging and affecting.

Similarly significant and topical issues will be addressed musically on Saturday (6.30pm WPAC Theatre) when Sirens Big Band performs [A]part: an hour-long suite by trumpet player Ellen Kirkwood, featuring Andrea Keller (piano), Sandy Evans (saxophones) and Gian Slater (voice). This work is a response to world issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and the omnipresence of the internet. This predominantly female and trans band is sure to deliver an arresting performance.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart.                      Image: Roger Mitchell

It’s great to have expatriate Australian guitarist Alex Stuart over from Paris again, this time with his French band – Irving Acao tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove trumpet and keyboards, Antoine Banville drums and Ouriel Ellert bass. Stuart’s fourth album, Aftermath (2017), reflects the dark turning points the world is facing, but is inspired by “the omnipresent and evident beauty that surrounds us”. Word is that this band is tight as and hot.

The quintet’s two outings (7.30pm Friday WPAC Hall and noon Saturday St Pat’s Hall) suffer a little from inevitable festival overlaps, but Melbourne audiences can also catch the band at 8pm on November 4 at The Jazzlab.

Less thematically concrete but definitely referencing the environment, Cheryl Durongpisitkul’s suite Follow Me Through the Red Ash (4pm Saturday, St Pat’s Hall) will draw on techniques in Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Petrushka to explore what Nikos Fotakis has described as a musical narrative that is “a kind of mystical environmental fairy tale, about the balance of power within an ecosystem”.

This year’s program places less emphasis on the American jazz tradition, offering an eclectic mix of artists and influences from Europe, Japan, India, Iran, Moravia, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Indonesia.

As well as Stuart’s quintet, Europe is well represented by saxophonist Yuri Honing (Holland) and Trio Elf (Germany), both certain to be festival highlights.

Honing’s conviction that Europe is undervalued, along with his love for classical music, history and art, influenced his 2017 album Goldbrun. Desire was Holland’s No.1 best selling album in 2015. Honing on tenor saxophone will join Wolfert Brederode (Holland) on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson (Iceland) on bass and Joost Lijbaart (Holland) on drums for two concerts (10pm Friday, and 10.30pm Saturday, WPAC Theatre). Expect peace, serenity, tension and mysticism.

Trio Elf

Trio Elf. Image: Uli-Zrenner-Wolkenstein

Trio Elf’s acoustic line-up comprises Walter Lang on piano (expressive melodies and energetic chords), Peter Cudek on acoustic bass (melodious counterpoint and low-register synth-like grooves) and Gerwin Eisenhauer (a drum machine come alive). In two concerts (8.30pm Saturday, WPAC Theatre and 8.30pm Sunday, St Pat’s Hall) expect jazz, classical, rock and electronic influences from a trio crossing between the modernistic, hyper-rhythmic and a more lyrical, traditional approach.

Connections between Australian and Japanese musicians will bear fruit at Wang this year in three outings. Recently returned after time in Japan, Australian trumpeter Niran Dasika will join Japan’s Sumire Kuribayashi – known for her storytelling on piano – to present KIRI (noon Saturday, Holy Trinity Cathedral), a suite inspired by the ‘nihonga’ paintings of Kaii Higashiyama. In a dectet on Sunday (noon, WPAC Theatre) Dasika and Kuribayashi will present longer forms and orchestral textures in her Pieces of Colour, along with Akihiro Yoshimoto (saxophones), Reiko Yamamoto (vibes), Tomohiro Yahiro (percussion), Yuki Ito (bass), Hideaki Kanazawa (bass), Hiro Kimura (drums), Kengo Komae (drums) and Australia’s James Macaulay (trombone).

On Saturday (2pm, WPAC Hall) Macaulay will lead the Hishakaku Quartet – named after a Yakitori restaurant in Tokyo – with Dasika on trumpet, Marty Holoubek on bass and Japan’s Shun Ishiwaka on drums. Their debut album, recorded in Tokyo in October last year, features compositions by Macaulay, Dasika and Holoubek.

Indian musical traditions will be reflected in three concerts at Wang, two featuring cross-cultural ensemble The Three Seas (9.30pm Friday, WPAC Hall and 8pm Sunday, WPAC Theatre). Fusing modern Australian jazz with West Bengali folk music, the band comprises Matt Keegan on saxophone, Steve Elphick on bass, Raju Das Baul on vocals and khamak, Deo Ashis Mothey vocals, guitar and dotora, Gaurab Chatterjee on dubki and drums. Expect echoes of traditional Baul, carnatic and Nepalese folk songs in danceable music that radiates joy. Raj Das Baul will also perform solo (3.30pm Sunday, Cathedral) on khamak, a string instrument originating in India, drawing on the rich folk forms of Baul music.

Gelareh Pour

Gelareh Pour Image: Roger Mitchell

Contemporary Persian and Western motifs will blend (7pm Sunday, WPAC Hall) when Gelareh Pour’s Garden Quartet guarantees to sway the heart and persuade the feet to tap. The band features Pour on kamancheh (Persian spiked fiddle) and voice, Mike Gallichio on electric guitar, Arman Habibi on santur (Persian hammered dulcimer) and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drum kit.

Composer and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros AM will seamlessly bring middle-eastern and classical music together with jazz and his sharp wit on Sunday (5.30pm, Cathedral). Moravian influences will be evident when pianist Emil Viklicky – known for his response to Janacek’s Sinfonietta – performs in a duo with trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky (1.30pm Sunday, Cathedral).

Adding to the international collaborations abundant at this festival, Indonesian master percussionist Cepi Kusmiadi will perform on the kendang sunda, a set of two-headed drums, with Australian musicians Julian Banks on saxophone, James Hauptmann on drums and Chris Hale on bass (4.30pm Sunday, WPAC Hall). They will perform music from their new album Agung, recorded in Denpasar to reflect their climbing of the volcano and good friends tackling adventure head on.

The Calling

Ray Pereira and Kanchana Karunaratna in The Calling. Image: Roger Mitchell

Sri Lanka is the focus of The Calling (1pm Saturday, WPAC Theatre), the fourth project in Adam Simmons’ acclaimed The Usefulness of Art concert series. This intensely personal work, performed by the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble with Afrolankan Drumming System and Vikram Iyengar, was inspired by sounds and experiences from Simmons’ first visit to Sri Lanka. Don’t miss it, if only to see whether Ray Pereira smiles.

Collaborations among Australian musicians have for many years delivered patrons at Wang the performances that are the most inspiring and long lasting in their impact. The huge amount of hard work and talent in this nation’s jazz musicians is regularly showcased at this festival. This year is no exception.

On Saturday (1pm, Cathedral) Sydney’s saxophonist, composer and educator Sandy Evans OAM will join Melbourne’s pianist, composer and educator Andrea Keller for a duo set that will undoubtedly delight. And on Sunday (3pm WPAC Theatre) one of our finest large ensembles, Ten Part Invention, will present some classic compositions from founding member Roger Frampton as well as new works by current band members. What a host of talent: Miroslav Bukovsky trumpet/musical director, Sandy Evans saxophones/musical director, Andrew Robson saxophones, Paul Cutlan saxophones, John Mackey saxophones, Warwick Alder trumpet, James Greening trombone, Paul McNamara piano, Steve Elphick bass, Dave Goodman drums.

Another concert not to let slip past unnoticed features Quattro Club (11am Saturday, WPAC Theatre) a new quartet consisting of Niko Schauble drums, Mirko Guerrini woodwinds, Joel Hands-Otte woodwinds and Dan Gordon tuba. Expect compositions as starting points, gently morphing group explorations and superb solos.

And for lovers of soul, vocalist Tina Harrod (1pm Sunday, WPAC Theatre) is sure to wow audiences with songs from her latest album City of Longing, performed with Stu Hunter on piano, Dave Symes bass, Matt Keegan saxophone, Evan Mannell drums, James Greening trombone, Cameron Deyell guitar, Ray Cassar trumpet, and on vocals Virna Sanzone, Evelyn Duprai and Lisa Spence.

For those who like their musicians to be daring or dangerous, trumpeter Reuben Lewis will lead Melbourne psychedelic jazz collective I Hold the Lion’s Paw in an outing (2pm Sunday, St Pat’s Hall) offering a trance-inducing concoction of electro-acoustic noise and slowly evolving soundtracks. Collective members on this occasion are Jordan Murray trombone, Cheryl Durongpisitkul alto sax and flute, Adam Halliwell guitar, David Brown electric bass, Maria Moles drums and Tom Lee double bass.

No festival should be without some fun, and Wang promises to deliver that via two concerts. Canada’s The Shuffle Demons (10pm Saturday, WPAC Hall) wear spectacular hand-painted suits and love to parade through the audience as they play a mix of funk jazz, hard bop jazz and jazz rap. On sax and vocals are Richard Underhill, Matt Lagan and Shawn Nykwist, while Michael Herring contributes bass and vocals and Stich Wynston drums and vocals. That’s a lot of vocals. Expect wild romps into the crowd, free jazz, danceable funk, poetry and killer solos.

A Great Rack and an Empty Reverb (6pm Sunday, St Pat’s Hall) is apparently a cross between jazz and stand up comedy, with Maria Moles (drums/percussion), Adam Halliwell (guitar/synth) and Emily Bennett (vocals/effects rack) offering what we might encounter at a New York comedy club in a weird parallel universe.

And no festival these days can be without a band that can appeal to a younger audience. After all, the occasional longstanding jazz follower at Wang may be a little long in the tooth. (Who said that?) So, the big attraction this year in that space, gathering the right metrics, will be the US outfit FORQ (9.15pm Saturday, St Pat’s Hall and 10pm Sunday, WPAC Theatre). FORQ was founded by keyboardist Henry Hey (David Bowie, Empire of the Sun, Jeff “Tain” Watts) and bassist Michael League (Grammy-winning leader of Snarky Puppy). Now Kevin Scott on bass joins Hey, Chris McQueen (Snarky Puppy, Bokanté) on guitar and Jason “JT” Thomas (Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Marcus Miller, D’Angelo) on drums. The band’s third album Thrēq (pronounced “threek”) was released late in 2017.

Drums are the featured instrument in the National Jazz Awards, the 10 finalists being Alex Hirlian, 24 (Sydney, NSW), Alex Reid, 25 (Perth, WA), Alexander Inman-Hislop, 25 (Petersham, NSW), Alf Jackson, 27 (Hobart, Tas), Angus Mason, 25 (Glengowie, SA), Damien Ellis, 32 (Thornbury, Vic), James McLean, 28 (Preston, Vic), Josh Baldwin, 33 (Adelaide, SA), Lewis Pierre-Humbert, 27 (Tecoma, Vic), and Oli Nelson, 25 (Redfern, NSW). The hard-working support band comprises Stu Hunter piano, Brendan Clarke bass and Paul Cutlan saxophones. The judges are David Jones, Hamish Stuart, Dave Goodman.

After all that listening to other drummers, Jones will join Evri Evripidou on six-string bass (9pm Sunday, WPAC Hall) as Third Ear to create sonicscapes “born without pre-conception”.

There are other Wang concerts not mentioned in this guide, but that does not mean they won’t entrance, enthral and appeal.

St Pat’s Hall will be set out differently this year, offering a club-like atmosphere. And that will be setting for the closing concert of the festival, The Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, which celebrates the energy, passion, and dazzlingly inventive arrangements of Hungarian-born bandleader, composer and visionary Jackie Orszaczky, who died of Lymphoma in 2008. Fronted by Tina Harrod and vocalist Darren Percival, the ensemble will feature many players who performed regularly with Jackie over the years. With Dave Symes bass, Hamish Stuart drums, Stu Hunter keys, Clayton Doley keys, Arne Hanna guitar, Matt Keegan saxophone, James Greening trombone and Virna Sanzone backing vocals, this should wrap up Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues in style.

ROGER MITCHELL