Tag Archives: Stonnington Jazz

ITALIAN TRADITION TURNS ADVENTUROUS

Virna Sanzone and Niko Schauble

Virna Sanzone and Niko Schauble in The Italian Project

REVIEW: Acquacheta / Paul Grabowsky & Virna Sanzone: The Italian Project, Chapel Off Chapel, Friday 23 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

In all my travels abroad, I have not been to Italy. Now I want to go. Yet the musicians who have inspired this wish are close to home.

This concert was billed as “jazz with an alluring Italian accent”. It might also have been promoted as two sets by superb musicians, some with Italian connections. Saxophonist and pianist Mirko Guerrini moved to Melbourne last year to take up a teaching position at Monash University. At Wangaratta last year he teamed with guitarist Stephen Magnusson, bassist Frank Di Sario and drummer Niko Schauble as Acquacheta, but I heard only part of that concert.

It was a treat to hear a whole set from this quartet as they reinterpreted songs by John Lennon and George Harrison, some originals by Magnusson, Di Sario and Guerrini, movie theme Prima della Pioggia (Before the Rain), plus En la Orilla del Mundo (At the Edge of the World, possibly by Arturo Castro).

Mirko Guerrini

Mirko Guerrini

What a rich tapestry this was. I particularly liked the sharp-edged and abrasive Mag-Pie (Magnusson), the piano’s clarity and scant guitar in Before the Rain, the developing intensity of Javier (Di Sario), which included a great guitar solo over drums and bass, and ruminative reeds with rapid vibrato and rasping “parps”. In the closing Here Comes the Sun, Guerrini built his solo so beautifully to a climax of squeaks and squawks that I decided it would be the best sax solo of the night. I spoke too soon.

The second set ditched the guitar and bass (sorry Steve and Frank) and added pianist-composer-arranger Paul Grabowsky and Sydney vocalist Virna Sanzone for a collaboration titled The Italian Project — interpretations of traditional Italian and Sicilian folk songs, and more recent songs from Fellini and other modern Italian composers.

Virna Sanzone

Virna Sanzone

The program notes said Sanzone’s delivery of the lyrics “often provides a dramatic contrast to the imaginative improvisations of her colleagues” and that was indeed the case. As someone who at times needs convincing (or education) on the value of vocals — I often enjoy other instruments more — this set was a revelation, perhaps precisely because I loved the disparity between the expressive vocals and the riveting work of the other musicians.

It probably helped that I could not understand the words being sung, because that left the voice unadorned, except by the emotions conjured by my mind from the description given by Sanzone about the songs.

Two things stood out in this set. First, Virna Sanzone conveyed so much emotion in vocals that were powerful yet often caressing, the degree of care taken giving the impressions that the sounds were being nurtured as they emerged. I especially loved the vocals in Mi Votu E Mi Rivotu and the yearning in Sanzone’s voice in Mi Piace, as well as the way she entered so unobtrusively during the piece.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky

Second, the accompanying musicians were just superb, as well as being sensitive to their vocalist. Highlights included Guerrini’s beautiful solo in La Pampura Di L’Aiva (at times he seemed just to breathe into the sax),  Grabowsky’s powerful swinging solo and Schauble in full flight in Tu Si’ Na Cosa Grande, another fantastic Guerrini solo in Ma L’Amore, No, and his droning buzz in Mi Votu E Mi Rivotu accompanied by deliberate, spaced chords from Grabowsky. Mi Piace brought subtlety on piano and drums, and wondrously variable dynamics along with mewlings from Guerrini before the piece gathered intensity.

I could go on raving, but you get the message. The imaginative work by Guerrini, Grabowsky and Schauble throughout this set would have been a joy to behold, but offset against Sanzone’s vocals it was a perfect fit. Not surprisingly there was an encore.

This was an ideal way to see and hear Italy.

ROGER MITCHELL

There are more images to come, when time permits.

Mirko Guerrini

Paul Grabowsky

Virna Sanzone

IN SPACE, EVERYONE MAY HEAR YOU DREAM

Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O’Connor

REVIEW: Joseph O’Connor Trio / McDougall-Noy-Murphy, Chapel Off Chapel, Thursday 22 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

As Sun Ra may have put it, space is the place, and both sets at the Chapel had plenty of that highly prized attribute in improvised music — space. OK, so in space no one can hear you scream, but when you listen to music that is open and airy, there may be room to dream.

James Macauley

James McLean

It was evident throughout the Joseph O’Connor trio’s set. There was an acceptance of space in Sotto Vocce in the way the three instruments — O’Connor on piano, Marty Holoubek on bass and James McLean on drums — acted cooperatively yet independently, intervening and then withdrawing as the piece developed. McLean’s sparse work on the drum kit had plenty of it.

Marty Holoubek

Marty Holoubek

In the standard Solitude, Holoubek’s bass was open, airy, relaxed and unhurried, with room to move. And the ballad Fractured Symmetry had notes splaying and spilling everywhere, with fragments, short runs and again that welcome space.

Originally from Brisbane, pianist Joseph O’Connor is completing a PhD course at Monash University. He won first prize in the National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta Jazz last year.

This outing demonstrated his delicacy of touch, expression (in Paul Bley’s Carla), his ability to enter a piece so lightly and convey just the right feel (in Ellington’s Solitude) and his gentle swing (in Noy’s Lady Lachs Schinken). Possibly it may have been good for O’Connor also to play some pieces allowing stronger, more emphatic work at the keys, with greater drive and dynamic variation. In other words, a taste of O’Connor let off the leash and a little more out there would have been nice. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of that in concerts to come.

That said, this was definitely a set of therapeutic or healing music that was good for the soul. It confirmed that the judges at Wangaratta chose well from a highly talented group of finalists in the National Jazz Awards.

And speaking of therapeutic music with plenty of space, the second set delivered more of both.

One of the greats (and great guys) of Australian jazz, Stonnington Jazz patron and drummer-bandleader Allan Browne, was unable to make this gig for health reasons. We wish him a quick return to the stage. Rory McDougall, who plays with Aaron Choulai, Sam Zerna and The Putbacks, stepped in.

According to bassist Tamara Murphy, pianist Andrea Keller had been in the line-up, but was away touring, so saxophonist Phil Noy stepped in. This trio began and ended the set with Bernie McGann — the recently departed saxophonist’s Brownsville to start and Murphy’s moving tribute Bernie to close. McDougall’s solo in this was assured and he engaged in some nice exchanges with Noy, who opened with a solo full of subtleties. Murphy’s playing is always interesting in the best sense — imaginative and never predictable.

Phil Noy

Phil Noy

In a beautifully controlled solo in The Opposite of Afar, Noy reached some distinctive high notes that I find it hard to describe, but they a had a special quality, being penetrating yet not at all forced.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

Murphy’s solo in this seemed considered, deliberate and crafted with a lot of care — I’m not sure whether that will mean anything because I appreciate that much of what musicians perform ought to fit that description. But in this case that aspect seemed particularly evident.

During The Two Bears (Noy) I reflected that Noy was delivering a soft, yet full sound on reeds that was often floating as if on a cushion of air. There were no squawks and no sharp edges. His solo in Stablemates (Benny Golson) had just the right amount of swing. Great piece. Hoo Hoo, a ballad Noy wrote in Tasmania, had some more of those intriguing  higher notes plus a tiny vibrato, and Murphy produced a slow solo with enough space to let the light of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem lyric get in.

Rory McDougall

Rory McDougall

Maybe the Allan Browne vibe hung around for this concert despite his absence because this trio worked really well. McDougall’s brief solo in Staples (Noy) was great, and during the closing Bernie I was musing on the way in which the timbres of all three instruments were on out there to be enjoyed.

Space is indeed the place and there was plenty in the Chapel on this occasion.

ROGER MITCHELL

CHANTAL FIRES A CANNONBALL INTO A TOUGH CROWD

Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal Mitvalsky and Darrin Archer in Cannonball

REVIEW: David Rex Quartet / Cannonball, Chapel Off Chapel, Tuesday 20 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

Vocalist, DJ and PBS broadcaster Chelsea Wilson introduced this two-set gig with lively enthusiasm, and there was every reason to look forward to what was in store from the brothers Rex. Alto saxophonist David, described by expatriate New York pianist composer Barney McAll as “the finest alto saxophonist in Australia today” was joining his sibling, acoustic bass powerhouse Philip. David Allardice was at the piano and Sam Bates was sitting in on drums in the absence of Danny Farrugia.

David Rex

David Rex plays Stonnington Jazz

The quartet played eight pieces, opening with John Coltrane’s Straight Street and closing with the catchy, upbeat Mr Hyde, in which we heard Allardice thoroughly warmed up on the keyboard, an absolute ripper of a bass solo and a strong alto solo to finish.

There was a lot to like in the set — the highlights for me were Philip Rex‘s solos — but either the audience was unresponsive or some interplay was missing between the players, because the vibe did not seem to be there on the night. We heard some super smooth, dreamy sax in David Rex‘s ballad Shades of Colour and some slightly bent alto notes in the classic Body and Soul (“a quick ballad to show how slow we can play”), plus tougher and faster bop in Slap It. But Hammond Song seemed to lack a real buzz and in general the quartet seemed to be finding it hard to fire up the small crowd.

Philip Rex

Philip Rex

I felt that a pianist such as John McAll may have added the pizzazz and flamboyance to arouse the audience on the night. Yet there was no denying the individual talents of the Rex boys on alto sax and double bass.

Tom Lee on bass and David Wilson on alto sax

Tom Lee on bass and David Wilson on alto sax

The second set brought on another alto saxophonist, Tim Wilson, who formed Cannonball to explore the joyous, soulful, grooving music of the great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. He was joined by Paul Williamson (trumpet), Darrin Archer (piano), Tom Lee (bass), Sam Bates (drums) and Chantal Mitvalsky (vocals).

To be honest, I was hoping to hear this band play pieces such as One for Daddy-O; Sack O’ Woe; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Limehouse Blues or Walk Tall, but I had to be content with Work Song among my Adderley favourites.

Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal Mitvalsky

That said, we were treated to a great trip down memory lane, beginning with the bright opening track The Chant, featuring top solos by Wilson and Williamson. We were not long without vocals and as soon as Mitvalsky came on for Ten Years of Tears — which included great bass work by Lee — the songstress became the focal point of the band. I think it was a tough audience, but Mitvalsky gradually roused them and won them over with the power of her personality and vocal range.

David Williamson

David Williamson

A restrained Williamson solo in If You Never Fall in Love With Me was a treat, as was Wilson’s alto in the bluesey Since I Fell For You, in which Mitvalsky’s vocals were expressive and powerful. In Work Song her forceful vocals carried conviction.The trumpet was another highlight in this piece.

Chantal Mitvalsky

Chantal Mitvalsky

Cannonball delivered the goods and no doubt reminded some in the audience of the Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley association. As a lover of the instrumental Adderley, I had to quell a wish to hear more of the band unadorned, but that’s a personal preference. I reckon Mitvalsky’s presence made the night for many at Chapel Off Chapel.

ROGER MITCHELL

Stonnington Jazz 

Tim Wilson

David Rex