Tag Archives: Stu Hunter


Stu Hunter's The Muse

Contrasts and conflict: Stu Hunter's The Muse

GIG: St Patrick’s Hall, 8pm, Sat, October 30

Stu Hunter piano, Matt Keegan tenor sax, Jonathan Zwartz acoustic bass, Simon Barker drums

Hunter’s ensemble for the first of his suites was smaller than for The Gathering. Unfortunately I could stay only for a short time because Sara Serpa was due to perform in the WPAC theatre in half an hour.

Hunter explained the genesis of The Muse and its links to Brett Whiteley and the frequent meeting of beauty and conflict. His piano opened in a ruminative mood. As Keegan’s breathy sax and Zwartz’s bowed bass joined in, we heard the sound of rain drumming on the roof. There was an engrossing solo from Zwartz, drowsy piano, some sax and then Barker suddenly woke things up.

We began to understand the reference to beauty and conflict as flowing sax and solemn piano soliloquies were subjected to jarring bursts of smash and crash from Barker, who at times seemed about to jam the ends of his sticks into the drum skins. This was about contrasts and conflict, about opposites. The sax was so mellow and the piano so tender; the drums were so spiky and harsh.

As I left the hall, Hunter was zipping up and down the keyboard, playing jaunty piano before Keegan sent his sax notes soaring forth and splaying above our heads.

Jonathan Zwartz

Engrossing: Jonathan Zwartz

I thought the larger ensemble used for The Gathering, with Julien Wilson and James Greening, was more compelling, but there is no doubt that both Hunter’s suites are fascinating and inventive forays that are taking improvised music into new territory.


Stu Hunter

Sweet suite: Stu Hunter

GIG: WPAC theatre, 1pm, Sat, October 30

Stu Hunter piano, Matt Keegan tenor sax, Jonathan Zwartz acoustic bass, Simon Barker drums, Julien Wilson tenor sax, James Greening trombone and pocket trumpet

THIS suite won Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year at the Bell Awards and Best Independent Jazz album in the Independent Music Awards. I loved the album (see Ausjazz review), but had not heard the music live.

Live it was … is. Alive. Inventive. In the moment. After Hunter and Keegan solos, Greening exudes rich blurts of sound. A heart-stopping solo from Wilson and you can feel the intensity of feeling in the room. Barker slowly covers his drum kit with an orange cloth, then plays over the covering.

Simon Barker

Under cover: Simon Barker

Wilson’s tenor shimmies higher, Keegan’s goes lower. There is no piano, no bass, no ‘bone. The saxes have the floor, their notes slowly swelling and left hanging.

Barker removes the cloth from his drums. Keegan plays with expression. The jocularity displayed earlier has gone. This is serious music. Hunter’s notes are gently answered by the horns. From Zwartz comes a tiny infusion of lament, delivered with the bow. Reverting to plucked strings, he grimaces as the notes are squeezed from the bass.

Jonathan Swartz

Squeezed notes: Jonathan Zwartz

There is a horn outburst. Greening’s pocket trumpet sounds brighter and sharper. The piano chatters. Drums and bass are in devilish dialogue. That tiny trumpet squeals before being discarded in favour of the trombone. There is a piano soliloquy — deep, solemn, hymn-like chords reverberate before saxes and bowed bass join in.

James Greening

Primal: James Greening on 'bone.

Then there is a change. Barker inserts a definite beat and the saxes glide in over the piano’s reverence. Barker has a chain draped over the kit. He is lost in the rattling percussion he creates. Zwartz adds depth. The saxes bid us ta ta while the trombone adds some wah-wah. This is physical sound, visceral, alive, animal. The beat is building momentum. Greening gives us guttural gravel sounds, his ‘bone crying out, wailing and shaking as if driven from within. Suddenly his playing is soft for a moment, then it blares forth. It is primal, earthy, from the beginnings of life. This is what brass is all about — twisted, bent, tortured and throat-clearing.

The saxes join in. Meanwhile bass, piano and drums have kept up a relentless background pattern. Tension is building. Barker goes beserk. He is having an episode, a plosive fit, a sudden and unpredictable outburst that scatters all before it.

Simon Barker

Beserk: Simon Barker on drums.

What will come next? Piano is delivered in staccato bursts, in little forays out of the trenches. Then Hunter, by contrast, is left alone to skit across the keyboard, his left hand delivering a dramatic rhythm. He builds and holds the tension. He skips across the keys. Then the others jump in. Wilson growls his way in, followed by Keegan, then the solo trombone — each is playing over a structure underpinned by piano, bass and drums. Keegan embarks on an escapade. Gradually volume and expectation are heightened. It is like a volcano about to erupt.  Then one tiny note ends it.

This was a gathering not to have missed. Surely no one left without being entranced and engrossed.

Stu Hunter ensemble

The Gathering ensemble: Hunter, Wilson, Keegan, Zwartz, Barker and Greening.


Kurt Elling

Impish humour: Kurt Elling the showman.


ROGER MITCHELL attempts to sum up Australia’s major festival of improvised music in a few words

WHEN Mike Nock’s New Quintet opened the 21st annual jazz festival at Wangaratta on Friday, the pianist told the audience, “This is jazz. Things happen.”

It was good advice. The festival program had not seemed to promise as much as in recent years. But things happen.

By midnight Saturday, a damp but satisfied audience left Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre still reverberating from a fiery set by saxophonist Oliver Lake’s organ quartet – the festival’s first experience of a Hammond B3 organ.

Patrons did not know a rubber band applied by Melbourne saxophonist Adam Simmons had repaired Oliver Lake’s sax in time for the visiting US quartet to deliver ferocious and virtuosic swing – topping its Friday night outing.

And by midnight Sunday two full houses had been amazed and entranced by the vocal agility and showmanship of Kurt Elling, with his impish humour and homage to jazz greats such as Dexter Gordon.

Belgian pianist Jef Neve’s trio took the international honours with lyricism, excitement and daring, closely followed by Tokyo’s Sisia Natuna, who provided an engrossing set with former Melbourne pianist/composer Aaron Choulai.

It would have been good to hear New York-based Portuguese vocalese singer Sara Serpa exploring more diverse territory.

The inventiveness of Australian musicians was highlighted in pianist composer Stu Hunter’s suites The Muse and The Gathering, with trombonist James Greening’s primal solo a monument to brass.

From Perth, Johannes Luebbers conducted a superb dectet in entrancing and original compositions. The Ian Date Quartet delivered delightful hot jazz and the controlled dynamics of Joe Chindamo’s trio took Simon and Garfunkel’s beautiful song America to new heights.

Sunday’s treats included a nostalgic brass outing from Bob Barnard and his UK mate Roy Williams, a sublime Greg Coffin Trio set and an engaging performance by Andrea Keller’s quartet.

Mike Nock, whose quintet opened with energy and ended in glorious disarray, was correct. At Wangaratta Jazz, things happen.

An abridged version of this review appeared in Melbourne’s Herald Sun on Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Roger Mitchell will be posting more festival reviews on ausjazz.net soon.