Tag Archives: Sarah McKenzie

THE AGE OF ENTITLEMENT IS BACK

Mingus Amongst Us

Mingus Amongst Us at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in July 2013

PREVIEW: Stonnington Jazz, 15-25 May 2014

Joe Hockey says the age of entitlement is over, but he is wrong. Over the next few weeks there will be no deficit of live improvised music in Melbourne and that is only fitting. As promises are broken and voters wake up to exactly what terrible things they initiated by voting to stop the boats, we are entitled to seek comfort in music.

The winter season of jazz festivals is almost upon us and, in the absence of a jazz fringe festival this year, Stonnington Jazz — which last year was judged Best Cultural, Arts or Music Event in Victoria at the Australian Event Awards — is first up.

If you’ve never been before, this showcase of 100 per cent Australian jazz (often including expat artists now living abroad) has two main venues, Malvern Town Hall and Chapel Off Chapel, plus a bunch of other bars and restaurants in the city. At the opening night, the town hall is tastefully decked out and guests can watch it all unfold while seated at tables and enjoying drinks and snacks from the bar at the rear.

This year opening night on Thursday, May 15 will feature New York-based expatriate vocalist Chris McNulty — winner of the Bell Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album of 2013 — and singer, songwriter and pianist Sarah McKenzie, also now living in New York, who won the 2012 ARIA Award for her album Close Your Eyes.

Stonnington Jazz this year will feature two concerts celebrating family connections in music. Popular multi-instrumentalist James Morrison will perform with his sons William and Harry in the James Morrison Inheritance on May 22 at Malvern Town Hall. And clarinet player Denis Ball will perform with his son, trumpeter Eugene, in a sextet at Chapel off Chapel at 2pm on May 18.

Other drawcards will be much-loved vocalist Vince Jones performing with Monash University Jazz, an ensemble comprising students that features Rob Burke on sax and Paul Grabowsky on piano.

Dance lovers will be energised by The Melbourne Rhythm Project, which brings together The New Sheiks and dancers led by Ramona Staffield.

And for something completely different, pianist-singer-composer Martin Martini will presents his suite ‘Vienna 1913’ which draws inspiration from the art and lives of the major modernists of the time, such as Schiele, Klimpt, Koskoschka and Hoffmann.

Lovers of traditional jazz will be given an opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Syncopators in a special concert at Malvern Town Hall.

That’s pretty much where the press release information finishes, although it does also mention that festival patron Allan Browne will be plying his drums with Sydney saxophonist Phil Noy and bassist Tamara Murphy at COC on May 22. It’s one of my predicted highlights, which this year are almost entirely chosen from the line-ups at Chapel Off Chapel — a real favourite place of mine to hear live music because it’s possible to get up close and personal with the music.

So here are my recommendations, for what they’re worth:

Saturday 17 May, COC, 8pm, Sexteto Zona Sul/Panorama Do Brazil
Doug de Vries, on guitar, will feature in both sets of this night of Brazilian-influenced jazz.

Sunday 18 May, COC, 2pm Sugarfoot Ramblers/Denis Ball & Eugene Ball
Tap your foot to 20 musicians in the first set, then enjoy the chance to hear father and son in a superb sextet.

Monday 19 May, COC, 8pm Mingus Amongst Us
This celebration of the blues and gospel-influenced compositions of Charles Mingus will enthral and excite. Don’t miss it.

David Rex

David Rex

Tuesday 20 May, COC, 8pm David Rex Quartet/Cannonball
Check out the power of the Rex brothers then enjoy a sack o’ woe from Cannonball Adderley, as interpreted by Tim Wilson and friends.

Joe O'Connor

Joe O’Connor at the National Jazz Awards, Wangaratta

Thursday 22 May, COC, 8pm Joseph O’Connor Trio/Browne Noy Murphy
Check out the compositions of young National Jazz Awards winner O’Connor on piano, then be prepared for whimsical humour and great expression from Al Browne, Phil Noy on reeds and Tamara Murphy on double bass.

Mirko Guerrini

Mirko Guerrini performs in Acquacheta at Wangaratta Jazz Festival

Friday 23 May, COC, 8pm Acquacheta/Grabowsky Sanzone: The Italian Project
Saxophonist Mirko Guerrini’s project with guitarist Stephen Magnusson was a hit at Wangaratta last year, and whatever Grabowsky and Sydney vocalist Virna Sanzone create will be worth hearing.

Saturday 24 May, COC, 8pm Chantal Mitvalsky/Paul Williamson Hammond Jazz Party
Always a hoot to enjoy the warm, wonderful vibe of this party sporting a Hammond B3.

Saturday 24 May, MTH, 8pm The Syncopators 30th Anniversary
Expect this to be packed.

Sunday 25 May, COC, 8pm Marinucci Grant Quintet/Alan Lee Quartet Reunion
Great line-up for the first set with Gianni Marinucci (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Steve Grant (cornet), Tony Gould (piano), Frank Di Sario (bass) and Danny Farrugia (drums). And then Alan Lee will reunite with old friends Gould, Derek Capewell (bass) and Ted Vining (drums).

There are many more concerts to enjoy, including Bob Sedergreen and friends in a set after the Stonnington Youth Jazz Initiative on May 21.

Think about it. Promises are being broken. Taxes are being raised. Retirements are being delayed. Renewable energy is being wound down. Global warming is being ignored. The ABC is being cut. The workforce is being casualised.

My suggestion is to get out now and enjoy live music before the end of the world as we know it eventuates.

ROGER MITCHELL

TO BOOK TICKETS: Phone 82907000 or go to www.chapeloffchapel.com.au

For full program information go to: www.stonningtonjazz.com.au

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WHEN KEITH JARRETT COMPLAINED

Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie

REVIEW

Sarah McKenzie Quartet and Silo String Quartet, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Friday 16 August 2013

Sarah McKenzie piano, vocals; Hugh Stuckey guitar; Hugh Harvey drums; Tamara Murphy bass

Aaron Barnden violin, Andrea Keeble violin, Ceridwen Davies viola, Caerwen Martin cello

There’s a story in every gig, and in this outing it came in the second set, when we learned that we would be treated to a song dedicated to Keith Jarrett. Not because he was such an inspiration, but because — surprise, surprise — Mr Jarrett made a complaint. More on this story later.

In May 2011, patrons at the opening night of Stonnington Jazz (see Ausjazz review) heard Sarah McKenzie as entertainer, engaging and captivating the audience with her evident love of performing music she loved.

A year later, McKenzie again opened the festival (see Ausjazz review), but this time as arranger, composer and musical director of a big band, Graeme Lyall’s impressive Generations in Jazz Big Band from Mount Gambier.

A lot of water had passed under the bridge since then. In 2012 McKenzie’s second album, Close Your Eyes, received the ARIA award for Best Jazz Album and after a visit to the Umbria Jazz Festival she was invited to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, US. She made a flying visit back to Melbourne in June to be musical director in Everybody Wants to Rule the World, a concert of jazz covers, pop and rock masterpieces on the opening night of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Sarah McKenzie Quartet, Silo String Quartet

Sarah McKenzie Quartet, Silo String Quartet

McKenzie came to Bennetts Lane with some significant firepower. Apart from her new quartet line-up with Hugh Harvey on drums and Tamara Murphy on bass, she had the considerable talent of the Silo String Quartet. McKenzie also brought arrangements for the string quartet by two of her Berklee colleagues, Saunder Choi (Philippines) and George Mathew Dylan Varner-Hartley (Canada).

McKenzie’s talent for and love of arranging was evident from the opening Bye Bye Blackbird, but first set highlights were her versions of Sting’s Fragile, the standard I Won’t Dance and, to close, Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary, which wowed the audience, showcased her skill on piano and demonstrated the appeal of her phrasing.

I’m far from an expert on vocals, but the full timbre, depth and power in McKenzie’s voice is often hinted at — albeit very gratifyingly — rather than given a real workout in the songs she chooses. Given edgier material I believe she could let loose and really challenge herself, with great results.

Silo String Quartet

Silo String Quartet

The Silo quartet added a smooth, rich feel to Little Girl Blue, I Remember You (arranged by Dylan Varner-Hartley) and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (arranged by Saunder Choi), which gave space to Mckenzie’s vocals over slow work in unison by the strings.

The night’s highlights came in the second set. There were many, but I felt the set went on a little too long, so that the sense of a slow build was lost. The final song, At Last, displayed the strength of McKenzie’s vocals, but it seemed a pity to close without the Silo String Quartet on stage.

The second last piece, Gershwin’s beautiful Embraceable You, was rendered superbly and showed excellent interaction between Stuckey’s guitar and the strings, yet perhaps could have been played earlier in the night.

Ceridwen Davies, Caerwen Martin

Ceridwen Davies, Caerwen Martin

That said, this set brought us great arrangements from Dylan Varner-Hartley (for You’ve Changed) and Tamara Murphy (for I’m Through With Love), the latter bringing a nice exchange between strings and voice. McKenzie’s treatment of Big Yellow Taxi was, as always, adept and carefully crafted.

Harvey’s drums fired up behind guitar in Come On Home to set the scene for McKenzie to show us how well she sings the blues, showing dynamic variation, power and the facility to bend notes. Nice work.

I felt it would have been good to have the Silo String Quartet let off the leash at times in this concert, but their skilful work in Little Fluffy Clouds and Falling Water, two of five pieces from their Cloud Suite, was a real highlight. How good is it to go to a jazz gig and enjoy a string quartet that can improvise so ably. 

Sarah McKenzie and Silo String Quartet

Sarah McKenzie and Silo String Quartet

But the standout for me came at the start of the second set, when McKenzie treated us to three of her original compositions. In the first, Letter to Lover, she split the audience into three and had us sing harmonies, which was a lot of fun.

Aaron Barnden, Sarah McKenzie

Aaron Barnden, Sarah McKenzie

Then came I Loves You Porgy, written a few days earlier in a beach shack on the Great Ocean Road and dedicated to Keith Jarrett, “who gave us a noise complaint at the Umbria Jazz Festival”. Apparently the “noise” from McKenzie’s band was reaching into another venue, annoying Mr Jarrett.

It was followed by an instrumental piece, There Were Three Ships, written in the Kimberley, featuring first violin Aaron Barnden with McKenzie and a lovely interlude by piano, bass and drums.

These three originals clearly showed that McKenzie could come up with an album of original material.

There is a lot to Sarah McKenzie. Yes, she is a natural entertainer who loves to play with standards and can work with a big band or string quartet. But I think the three original songs in this outing proved that the vocalist and pianist can not only extend herself with edgier, more challenging works, but also has a bright future as a songwriter.

ROGER MITCHELL

Sarah McKenzie Quartet and Silo String Quartet, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Friday 23 August, 9pm

Picture gallery: Some additional images

HEY, HEY IT’S YOUNG TALENT TIME

Ausjazz blog reviews the opening of Stonnington Jazz 2012

Sarah McKenzie

Alex Boneham and an attentive Sarah McKenzie at Stonnington Jazz opening night.

It was a perfect setting for deja vu. It was the opening night of Stonnington Jazz, the venue was Malvern Town Hall, patrons were seated nightclub-style at tables across the dimly, but beautifully lit auditorium, and festival director Adrian Jackson was at the microphone. Sarah McKenzie was soon seated at the piano. It could easily have been a year earlier when the young singer opened Stonnington Jazz for 2011. But somehow the deja vu never arrived. This was different.

Generations in Jazz Big Band

Generations in Jazz Big Band

The big difference, of course, was a big band — the Generations in Jazz Big Band composed of talented young musicians nurtured by the esteemed saxophonist Graeme Lyall at Mount Gambier in South Australia. This band made a substantial difference not only because of their excellent musicianship, but because they altered the dynamic. Right from the start McKenzie was not just the performer on piano and vocals with her quartet of Hugh Stuckey on guitar, Alex Boneham on bass and Craig Simon on drums. She was now McKenzie the arranger and composer and musical director of a band, albeit in close collusion with Lyall. And from the start of this gig McKenzie was alert and attentive to what the band was doing — doing very well indeed.

Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie

With quartet and band, McKenzie performed The Wind Cries Mary (Hendrix) and At Last (Gordon/Warren), before giving us two numbers with the quartet and vibes — her take on Big Yellow Taxi (Mitchell) and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Ellington). But the highlight of the first set gave us a chance to see McKenzie sans piano and sans vocals in the role of composer and band leader.

Sarah McKenzie conducts the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Sarah McKenzie conducts the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Two things made this number special for me. First, Song for Maria was McKenzie’s tribute to American arranger, composer and big band leader Maria Schneider, of whom I’m a huge fan. This composition really worked well and really blew away any cobwebs of deja vu — we were seeing and hearing a new dimension to McKenzie as composer. Second, McKenzie handed the piano keys to Shea Martin (I hope that name is correct), who did credit to her work in a considered and compelling performance.

Shea Martin with the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Shea Martin with the Generations in Jazz Big Band

Graeme Lyall appeared to lead the band as the second set opened with Look For the Silver Lining (Kern/DeSylva).

Generations in Jazz Big Band

Generations in Jazz Big Band

It was obvious that Lyall has these young players well rehearsed and responsive. But, hey hey, some antics were about to begin.

Generations in Jazz Big Band

Generations in Jazz Big Band

There was no sign of an ostrich, but who should suddenly pop up but the inimitable showman Daryl Somers, who is a patron of the Generations in Jazz Program. He put the audience through its paces with some singalong.

Daryl Somers

No ostrich: Daryl Somers pops in to Stonnington Jazz.

McKenzie returned with the quartet for her version (“I can’t play a standard in a standard way”) of Nat King Cole’s Too Young, followed by Don’t Tempt Me, an original and the title track from her first album. The second album, Close Your Eyes, will be released soon. It should be said that the work of Stuckey, Boneham and Simon was exemplary, and Stuckey’s contribution on guitar in particular was appreciated by the crowd.

Sarah McKenzie

Hitting her straps: Sarah McKenzie

It was about now that it seemed McKenzie really started to hit her straps. I had the feeling she was just getting into her stride. Saying that she always tried to “do one dangerous thing every day”, she again handed the piano to young Martin and took the mic to perform only vocals in Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies.

Shea Martin on piano at Stonnington Jazz.

Shea Martin on piano at Stonnington Jazz.

I loved the work of the band, the pianist and Boneham’s bass in this piece, and again it was excellent to see McKenzie being a little dangerous.

One dangerous thing: Sarah McKenzie without piano.

One dangerous thing: Sarah McKenzie without piano.

But the singer returned to the piano for her most powerful number all night, an original blues titled Living Room Blues. I think McKenzie really felt relaxed at this point and could have gone on. She seemed to be just warming up. But the night ended with her alone at the piano for the ballad I Should Care.

It was a great festival launch, but more importantly it was a chance for McKenzie — with a huge dollop of help from Graeme Lyall and the big band — to show her potential as an arranger and composer. And there is much hope for the future of Australian jazz with young musicians being given such a great start.

At the opening of Stonnington Jazz 2012, the deja vu that might have happened was never missed.

ROGER MITCHELL