Ausjazz blog catches the flavour of Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival on Friday, October 28, 2011
It was balmy, warm and threatening rain when festival artistic director Adrian Jackson welcomed patrons to the first gig of this festival, the Linda Oh Quartet. This group, with Sam Sadisgursky on tenor sax, Fabian Almazan on piano and Rhodes and Kendrick Scott on drums, played with zest, energy and interaction. Oh, who moved from Malaysia to Perth when she was two and now lives in New York, was a hit on her previous visit to Wangaratta, but her approach to the music then was cooler and less relaxed.
This quartet really works well, and the focus is less on Oh as a skilled young female bassist who has made it to New York (quite an achievement) and more on the creative work of the ensemble. The quartet included some tracks from its forthcoming album Initial Here, due out next year. They played The Ultimate Persona, Something’s Coming (West Side Story), Deeper Than Happy, Little House and No. 1 Hit.
There was a very enticing, warm feel to this ensemble. It was polished, with fluid transitions and no jagged edges, exhibiting a group dynamic without any hint that players were seeking the limelight. The band expertly explored a range of moods and emotions.
Kendrick Scott on drums was skilled and subtle, not resorting to any smash and bash. Sadigursky contributed some beautiful tenor sax passages and the combination of Almazan on Rhodes with Oh on electric bass guitar worked really well in Deeper Than Happy and Little House. Some who admire Oh’s upright bass skills may have preferred that she stay on that instrument throughout, but the change seemed to allow Almazan more prominence on the weatherbeaten Rhodes and that was no bad thing.
Next up, in the WPAC Hall, was pianist/composer Walter Lampe, an expatriate now living in Amsterdam, with Dale Barlow on sax and flute.
This was but a brief glimpse of this concert, hardly enough to justify any broad observations. Lampe was alone on stage when I entered, playing sumptious chords. When Barlow returned, he introduced their take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which he said would “take all sorts of liberties” with the original, though paying it great respect.
Barlow’s sax sound for this delightful deconstruction of the favourite tune was fat, air-filled and luscious as it drifted languidly over Lampe’s piano. Lampe dug out some strong, rumbling chords before some more delicate work in his solo. It was a beautifully laid-back interpretation (what else would you expect). Barlow took up the flute for the next tune. I had to leave, heading to
St Patrick’s Hall to catch James Muller Trio.
Again, this was a brief sojourn just to see what was afoot. Muller on guitar was with Alex Boneham (fresh from his engaging and compelling accompaniment of Geoff Page reading his poetry at the launch of extempore‘s volume of Page’s jazz poems entitled A Sudden Sentence in the Air) and Ben Vanderwal on drums. Apologies for that convoluted parenthesis.
These musicians are brimful of talent and this was, I imagine, a set with plenty to offer for fans of robust jazz with some rock influence thrown in. It is a treat to hear Muller in full flight, ably backed by Boneham and Vanderwal, but this was to be a treat for others. I had to catch Josh Roseman with the Australian Art Orchestra.
This is where the “wacky” part of the heading of this post starts to make sense. The Australian Art Orchestra can always be expected to come up with something out of the ordinary, so this concert was always likely to be a little different, given Roseman’s taste for similarly thinking outside the square. He is one interesting cat, as they say in jazz milieu. And of course there was expatriate Barney McAll, brother of John McAll of Black Money fame, who is also “out there” in the nicest way.
So, who was there and what happened? Well, the laundry list of players was, for the AAO, Tim Wilson and Jamie Oehlers on saxophones, Eugene Ball and Paul Williamson on trumpets, Jordan Murray and James Greening on trombones, Geoff Hughes on guitar, Phillip Rex on double bass and “Mr Grabowsky” (as Roseman always addresses him, with obvious respect) on piano. For the Josh Roseman Unit, Barney McAll played Rhodes, clavinet (electrophonic keyboard instrument manufactured by Hohner, according to Wikipedia), laptop, piano, Chucky (a homemade musical instrument he describes as being “for textural enterprise and underwater landscapes as metaphor”) and maybe another device or two, Ted Poor was on drums and Peter Apfelbaum on drums, keyboards and saxophone.
What happened? Well, it is hard to describe, but quite amazing. At one point Roseman told the audience that he and Barney had been “ploughing a path through absurdity” for many years, though this was “the first time we have set foot together on a stage in his motherland/fatherland”. Roseman added (and this seems to sum up the night): “He is truly out of a tree and we are going to shake a tree”. And shake a tree they did.
But how to describe the result is a challenge. I admit to having been quietly laughing inside on many occasions during the set, because there seemed to be so much absurdist humour built into the performance. Tungsten Mothra (an allusion to a fictional moth monster who is pitted against Godzilla in many Japanese movies) was “dedicated to a lady — a whole lot of them” and was intended (I think) to conjure up visions of cheer leaders. Unspeakable (these were all Roseman compositions), which included a solo by Apfelbaum on melodica, segued into The Execution Tune in an extraordinary multi-layered display, with histrionics, which I was sure featured a fantastic guitar solo by Hughes, but maybe it was produced on the clavinet. It was hard to grasp exactly from whence the sounds originated. McAll pulled enough expressive faces to rival Jim Carrey, as well as leaping about behind his instruments to produce effects or overcome technical difficulties.
Manifest Density followed, before Invocation, a work commissioned by the SFJAZZ Collective. This was epic but episodic music, with the structure not that easy to uncover amidst the short interventions by many players and combinations thereof. Contributions were often brief and the overall effect often a busy marketplace of rhythms, textures, patterns and incursions.
The set closed with what Roseman described as the King Froopy All Stars theme song, a reference to his 11 or 12-piece big band. This was a sonic feast, with a rich, resonant solo from the bandleader, spiced with some effects. There was a strange, but appealing feel to this piece, with flamboyant piano and keyboards and some piercing “whistles” from Ball’s horn. The musicians were all serious concentration, but the music was laughing. McAll had some fun with effects, producing sounds reminiscent of bird calls. At the end the band went into hymn-like Salvation Army band mode, with Grabowsky really getting into it on piano.
I have little doubt that this was challenging music even for these talented musicians, though often lots of fun to play. But it was also challenging for the listeners, because there was little to latch on to before the constantly changing and evolving music moved on. That’s no bad thing, especially in a festival where “really out there” music was not so prevalent in the program. But this fun night did not leave me feeling it was one of the AAO’s highlight performances or that I could walk out with the tag “memorable” embedded in my deteriorating memory bank. It was more music for the intellect than the soul.
Note: For those who made it this far and intend to return for more on this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, I intend posting one overview of Saturday’s concerts, and one of Sunday’s, rather than attempting to review individual performances. These will be posted in the next few days. Please re-visit the blog, because pictures will be added gradually as time permits.