Tag Archives: Silo String Quartet

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

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Stonnington Jazz — Day 9

The Sculthorpe Songbook

It was a great pity that Peter Sculthorpe, who inspired Phil Slater and Matt McMahon as students and later as the accomplished jazz musicians who brought us this incarnation of the Sculthorpe Songbook, was at the last moment, due to illness, unable to travel to Melbourne for this concert.

It was a fitting tribute to one of Australia’s living treasures soon after his 80th birthday. The reinterpretations of Sculthorpe pieces reflected the diversity of his music, as well as his commitment to compositions that drew on influences from this country and the region, rather than hanging on the coat tails of Europe. Phil Slater said Sculthorpe had placed great importance on “finding your place and representing that place in music”, on conveying “the feel of places”, so it was the intent of the jazz musicians, with Silo String Quartet, “to play the feelings of Peter’s music”.

Phil Slater
Phil Slater

With Simon Barker on drums and percussion, Carl Dewhurst (hidden behind the grand piano) on guitar and Steve Elphick on double bass, the ensemble began by linking adaptations of Singing Sun (a Sculthorpe melody), From Nourlangie (1993), and the Calmo movement from a piano concerto (first recorded on the album Paths and Streams). Katie Noonan joined the group to sing Maranoa Lullaby (Aboriginal plainsong based on an east Arnhem Land melody, 1996), which was followed by Pemungkah (a version of a melody by Balinese composer Lotring, originally aired in Sun Music 3). Tim Freedman (The Whitlams) took the microphone for It’ll Rise Again (from rock opera Love 200).

Katie Noonan
Katie Noonan

I can’t wait to digress about a discovery that was a highlight for me after the concert, in the early hours. When Freedman sang the words of It’ll Rise Again (“Sun down, it’ll rise again, Ice melt, it’ll ice again, Drowning boat, she can float again … Sun down, boat rise … Judas chose, and he chose again, Christ died, and he rose again, … ) I recalled that Jeannie Lewis sang this with great power on Free Fall Through Featherless Flight in the 1970s. I had never known it was a Sculthorpe song, with lyrics by Tony Morphett, and it was exciting to make that connection. I wanted to listen to Lewis’s version and, after some fossicking, found it on a blog. Yeh!

That was a digression, but I should say that, while Freedman sang competently, his voice seemed to lack the depth that the song needed — it has such a beautiful melody and moving lyrics, which refer to Captain James Cook’s need to repair damage to a boat in what was to be the north of Queensland. Earlier, when Noonan (and I am not a big fan of her voice, or of the material she has been singing recently) performed Maranoa Lullaby, I was captivated and moved.

Phil Slater and Katie Noonan
Phil Slater and Katie Noonan

From the shimmering sound of guitar and percussion that opened Singing Sun, interrupted momentarily by an ambulance siren from beyond our world, the Malvern Town Hall audience was embraced by a sense of stillness. The gentle vibrato seemed to suggest a didgeridoo, and, later, gamelan influence. Slater’s amplified trumpet spoke in fiery terms, then blew out the flames over gentle piano. The breathy infusion of horn notes occurred often during the evening, setting me off in search of tips on how to achieve this manifestation of an incredibly versatile and atmospheric instrument.

Permungkah began with static and chatter from Dewhurst and Barker, with a beat gradually forming and the tempo increasing. The melody was catchy, but sad. In trumpet sorties over the rhythm, Slater darted in and climbed a few trees (the image worked for me) in what became a journey in rhythm overlaid by some melody. It seemed to be quite different from classical or what I expected of Balinese influenced music. The piece ended slowly, with only guitar to close. In It’ll Rise Again, guitar and horn solos were compelling.

Silo String Quartet
Silo String Quartet

I did feel that the strings seemed a little forlorn, with not that much to do in the first set.

The second set brought us interpretations of Kakadu (written before Sculthorpe had visited there), The Stars Turn (from Love 200), Jakily (unsure of name) and Music From Japan, Out the Back (by Freedman, arranged by Sculthorpe in 2002), Love (from Love 200), and Bone Epilogue.

Katie Noonan
Katie Noonan

In Kakadu, horn floated serenely over ceaseless, muted percussion that behaved with quiet busyness. Then, while trumpet screamed, the ensemble built drama — a lot of this music was about layering.

Noonan’s voice seemed again entirely appropriate for The Stars Turn, and the cello intro was superb. In the third piece, combining two, I fell in love with the trumpet intro, and continued the affair throughout.

Katie Noonan and Tim Freedman
Katie Noonan and Tim Freedman

Sculthorpe called Out the Back “some of the prettiest music I’ve written”, Freedman told us, and also said after composing the piece he felt like Duke Ellington, with whom he shares a birth date. The audience was wowed by Freedman’s rendition of lines such as “I’m not surfin’, I’m sittin’ out the back” — his light and laid back vocals suited the song. But Noonan had moved me, and when the two sang Love, it was the quality in her voice that stood out. (What am I saying? Have I been converted?)

Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden
Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden

Bone Epilogue began with bowed bass sounding much like a didgeridoo and Elphick’s long solo was superb. Some beautiful horn playing recalled Slater’s comment (see Press Articles) that playing trumpet for Anzac ceremonies was one of the most moving occasions for a musician playing this instrument. McMahon, who contributed a lot but seemed to avoid the limelight throughout the evening, burst in with a tinkle jumble of notes that had virtuosic flourish and added a cinematic feel. I scribbled: The piece is expanding, as wide as this country, a journey in sound, an exploration of the land.” OK, so I was carried away, but I believe many others were also.

Phil Slater and Matt McMahon
Phil Slater and Matt McMahon

Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden
Steve Elphick and Aaron Barnden

McMahon, Elphick, Slater and Aaron Barnden
Matt McMahon, Steve Elphick, Phil Slater and Aaron Barnden