Tag Archives: Sonja Horbelt



It was a hectic day as the two festivals crossed swords for our custom. So with the sounds of the Big Jam ringing in my ears, and after literary delights at the extempore launch, and after the Paul Grabowsky Sextet at Bennetts Lane (phew!) it was time to see off the fringe festival in the best way possible — with great music at a comfortably packed Cafe 303.


Daz Hammond Combo

Darrin Archer on hammond, Hugh Stuckey on guitar, Tim Wilson on sax and Andy Keegan on drums, with Ben Hauptmann sitting in occasionally had the place humming when I arrived and they fired some good energy into the gathering.

Tim Wilson
Tim Wilson

Ben Hauptmann
Ben Hauptmann

Jess Green’s Bright Sparks came on to close the night and close the fringe festival. What a finale! Ronny Ferella on drums had had only one rehearsal (it didn’t seem to matter) in the afternoon with the band, which included Zoe Frater, now a Melburnian, on electric bass. A high-powered crew from up north made up the rest of the band, comprising Jess Green on guitar and vocals, Adrian Shaw on trumpet and percussion, Sandy Evans on tenor sax, John Hibbard on trombone and Lachlan McLean on alto sax.

Jess Green's Bright Sparks
Jess Green’s Bright Sparks

In an energetic, robust set, the Bright Sparks played Orange Rock Song, Your Checkered Shirt, Patterns and Stories, the edgy Alias, the softer Mali-referenced and zydeco-feeling Bamako Youth, Clickety Clack and the Full Moon O’er the Thames and an ode to Nick entitled Dear Mr Cave. There were some great solos from Shaw, Evans, Hibbard, Frater, McLean, Ferella and Green — yes, that’s everyone, but it’s true. There was plenty of room for soloing, but no one was trying to grab the limelight and the compositions allowed for plenty of duos and trios in the highlights.

Adrian Shaw and Sandy Evans
Adrian Shaw and Sandy Evans

Bar 303 was pretty crowded for a gig going so late, but I could not help thinking that, like The Dilworths, here was an ensemble that would really hold a crowd on a big occasion. There is a lot of talent in Sydney and we have the Jazz Fringe Festival to thank for bringing us some as a treat.

Speaking of thanks, Sonja Horbelt in particular and other Fringe committee members deserved a huge thank you from audiences for their efforts in making this festival such a success. Bring on the next MJFF in 2011!


Commission Winner Gian Slater: Gone, Without Saying

Gian Slater et al
Gian Slater and her singers

What a great start to the MIJFF for 2010! Sonja Horbelt praised the work of the committee and the support of sponsors, including APRA, Victoria University and Miriam Zolin’s journal extempore, which is about to launch its fourth edition and is a must-have for serious lovers of improvised music and the arts.

Then it was on with the music:

The festival’s commission concert always produces something inventive and compelling. Last year it was a work guided by Ren Walters. This year Gian Slater and 13 singers performed at BMW Edge in a work for voices designed to explore the notion of communication between and without words. The singers were Jenny Barnes, Tom Barton, Helen Catanchin, Hailey Cramer, Miriam Crellin, Georgie Darvidis, Ed Fairlie, Bronwyn Hicks, Kate Kelsey–Sugg, Louisa Rankin, Damien Slingsby and Loni Thomson.

The concert was described as exploring what “cannot be put into words — those things we don’t wish to speak of, or those that go without saying”. The work was “written for voices using experimental and extended vocal techniques with intricate, textural layering and conceptual improvising”.

The performance received a standing ovation. I was tired and hungry, but that was soon irrelevant as these singers took us on a journey of discovery that was audibly rich and yet brimming with subtlety. This must have taken so much work to perfect and was no doubt a difficult work for the vocalists. There was so much to take in that it would be great to see and hear the work again, and to reflect on what it was expressing about how we communicate (or don’t).

This was not mainstream jazz (did anyone expect that?) and perhaps it was not improvised, but fairly carefully composed. But it was riveting.

(And I think I used to know a Bronwyn Hicks at The Melbourne Times years ago. She was a cartoonist. Any connection?)

Here’s a few other pics:

Gian Slater et al
In full flight

Gian Slater et al
Gian using a “music box”.

Gian Slater singers
Singers need a hand

Life That Lingers

Andrea Keller
Andrea Keller

Before Gian and her singers, Andrea Keller on piano and Tim Wilson on saxophone played with great empathy and understanding. There was a strong sense that the musicians were listening intently to each other and responding, though their communication was not that visibly apparent. It would be fair to say that for Keller and Wilson there was much that went without saying and much that was best said with music.

Tim Wilson
Tim Wilson

For details of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, including Big Arse Saturday, which I can’t get to because I’m working, visit the MIJFF website.

Melbourne Jazz Fringe 2009 — Day 5

My intention was to make it to Make It Up Club, Bar Open, in Brunswick St, Fitzroy, where some 15 musicians were offering some avant garde improvised music, but the night ended where it began, in a pool of poetry and other literary delights, along with music, at Bennetts Lane.
Launch of extempore issue 2

Miriam Zolin

Martin Jackson, of the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, officially launched the second issue of extempore, edited by Miriam Zolin (above). He ended with a strong push for the journal to be given government funding, and his praise for Zolin’s drive in keeping this project going was echoed later by Sonja Horbelt on behalf of the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.

Pi O

Then the large crowd was treated to readings by two contributors. First, professed anarchist, poet, draughtsman and editor of experimental magazine Unusual Work, Pi O, read from his works, including 1928 Jazz in Melbourne for Sonny rehe, which appears in this issue of extempore. Pi O has used that name since the 1970s and will continue to do so for as long as he writes poetry. It represents his true initials, a symbol of his balance, his love of mathematics, anonymity and his function as a poet (the manipulation of words and letters). That background on the poet’s name came from the University of Wollongong.

Andrew Lindsay

Then novelist and sometime journalist Andrew Lindsay demonstrated his theatrical skills with an engaging and energetic reading from his verbatim piece for the journal, Music Slut from Hell.

Andrew Lindsay

MJC Transitions Series: Allan Browne’s “free ensemble”

So the die was cast for the evening. Soon, though not as early as expected, Allan Browne ushered in his “free ensemble”, along with a 1976 John Olsen etching of Cooper Creek in Flood. But more of that later. With Browne were Tamara Murphy on bass, ring-in Julien Wilson on tenor sax (“We’re really happy to have him, instead of Shannon [Barnett],” Browne cheekily noted later), David Rex on alto sax, Steven Grant on trumpet and Jex Saarelaht on piano. We were in for a treat — literary reflections with music.

That said, I did at times miss some of the words spilling from Allan Browne’s lips, hidden as he was at the back of the band, so their significance was sometimes lost. The first words were about Brett Whiteley, though I did not catch the author. Still, the key phrase came through, “… mixing the never yet attainable blue … INDIGO”. Saarelaht left some lovely deep ruminations hanging in the air before the others came in.

Tamara Murphy

Next was Murphy’s musical response to Judith Wright’s Black Cockatoos “tossed on the crest/ of their high trees, crying the world’s unrest”. This was a delightful musical experience, but hard to describe — all breathy murmurings as the horns pecked at sounds; plucked piano strings; bowed bass and slow, drifting tenor sax. It was all subdued, perhaps unlike the raucous complaints we might have expected from cockatoos.

Steven Grant

A reading from A. B. Facey’s A Fortunate Life, referring to a plan, momentarily considered, to roll an 18-inch wheel of cheese into no man’s land at Gallipoli “to flush out the Turks”, was followed by an arrangement by Steven Grant. This showed how capable horns are of gentle outpourings. There was chatter, grumbling, as if a lot of old men were behaving like old women (to use, unwisely perhaps, ideologically unsound cliches), then growing louder in their complaints — or was this then the battle we were hearing?

Browne prefaced the next piece with remarks on the Olsen etching. “It’s the most superb thing I own. I look at it and it makes me dream of Cooper’s Creek. I’ve never been to Cooper’s Creek. (Heckling from the crowd.) I have written this to tell the story … I guess Olsen is thinking about Cooper’s Creek flooding, and when it does a new life is born.”

The words above the etching read: I do my utmost to obtain emptiness, I hold firmly to stillness, and all the myriad creatures all rise together, and I watch their return.”

Murphy, Brown

A bass solo followed, then tenor sax, and eerie, moving trumpet.

Before the second set, we were treated to visions of tubes of ice-cold beer and chundering in the old Pacific sea, a la Barry Humphries’s Bazza McKenzie. David Rex had turned these sixties’ memories into music.

William Street, as recorded by Browne with Grant on Five Bells, brought us back from the break with a thump in this reflection on the Kenneth Slessor poem about his love for the street in Sydney that leads to the Cross. A key phrase stuck: You find it ugly, I find it lovely.

Wilson and Rex

In a full-throated solo by Wilson there was edge to his playing — was he reflecting the ugly, the loud, the brash, the crass, the brazen? When Grant came in and then the others, it was tough, searing stuff, with wailing saxes and a spiky trumpet mounting an assault on the eardrums. In the end, before dying away, it became an insistent babble of moans and cries. The lovely side of William St, for Slessor, was undoubtedly loud.

Browne, Murphy

A piece “for Gertrude Stein” was obscure, with Browne waxing lyrical about “tantric arrival”, Facebook and “archival survival”. I gave in to the music and left literary references behind.

We then heard a musical take on James McAuley’s poem Magpie, which “gargles music in his throat, the liquid squabble of his note … He swaggers in pied feather coat and slips fat worms down his throat”. This was a lot of fun, with shades of Jelly Roll Morton, and then there was a final sight-reading challenge from Jex Saarelaht, which Browne described as “a bit like the Rite of Spring”. Right.

The small crowd left, tired but fulfilled — by music and words in concert.