Tag Archives: Tamara Murphy


Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie


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.


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

Picture gallery: Some additional images


Grabowsky, Di Sario, Browne

Credit where it’s due: Grabowsky, Di Sario, Browne

REVIEW: Melbourne Jazz Co-operative 30th Anniversary ConcertSunday, January 27 at The Edge, Federation Square at 2pm

The music spoke most eloquently at The Edge on Sunday, but some perceptive words accompanied it. Paul Grabowsky, one of three musicians to perform at the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s first concert, held at RMIT’s Glasshouse Theatre on the Sunday afternoon of January 30, 1983, was obviously struggling to plumb the mystery of Arts Victoria‘s decision to cut the purse strings.

Allan Browne

Body of music: Allan Browne

Before joining the other original MJC artist, Allan Browne, in a trio with Frank Di Sario — who in a way was sitting in for esteemed bassist, the late Gary Costello — Grabowsky said that, after listening to the earlier two sets, he could only wonder why any arts funding body would choose to cut support for music such as this.

He also reminded us that the development of music is as important as the playing of it, so the role of this co-operative is integral to the individual styles and works of Australian musicians.

Other words that added to the music commemorating this anniversary came from reedsman Julien Wilson, who has campaigned vigorously on behalf of the MJC. He said that, despite the significant loss being faced by professional musicians, ever since the halt in funding “every time I play it feels like a celebration”.

This concert to honour 30 years of achievement was bitter sweet. Arts Victoria’s timing was so bad. Yet Wilson spoke for the audience and the other musicians: this felt like a celebration.

Any one of the three sets could have served as musical sustenance enough. This was inspired programming by the MJC’s Martin Jackson — there was sufficient difference in approach from each trio, yet not such a radical change as to make any in the audience uncomfortable.

Tamara Murphy

Ever better: Tamara Murphy

Pianist Andrea Keller joined bassist Tamara Murphy and Browne at the drum kit in a first set that was beguilingly beautiful, delivered by Keller with compelling strength and presence, and by Browne with his characteristic ability to let his body freely express feelings with stick, brush or hands. Murphy seems to play better each time she performs.

The trio played Keller’s compositions All Colours Grey (Parts 1 and 2) and That Day, Murphy’s Travellers and Lullaby and Browne’s Cyclosporin.

Andrea Keller

Compelling strength and presence: Andrea Keller

Before the set ended, Keller played two pieces from an unreleased solo recording, Family Portraits, in which she used a loop pedal. This technique, which had the pianist’s head disconcertingly disappearing as she bent to adjust settings, was especially effective in Without Voice, a tribute to the three grandparents she had never met.

Barney McAll

Flair, virtuosity and humour: Barney McAll

Opening the second set with three solo pieces, expatriate pianist/composer Barney McAll displayed his flair, virtuosity and engaging humour, though he did not bring along his zombie clown puppet Feral Junior as he did recently to performances at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. Now residing in New York, McAll is an example of how the MJC can nurture an artist of talent and originality.

Julien Wilson

Iridescent beauty: Julien Wilson

Saxophonist Wilson, forced to improvise without his usual trio, joined McAll and Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz in their debut outing together. It was fascinating to watch McAll and Zwarts observe, adjust and make this trio work.

Wilson, who admitted to possibly channelling the Mingus tune Goodbye Pork Pie Hat towards the end of his unnamed composition, played with iridescent beauty throughout the set.

Jonathan Zwartz

Good work: Jonathan Zwartz

Highlights were the Wilson and McAll solos in Hermeto Pascoal‘s Desencentro Certo (Certain Disencounter), Zwartz’s work in Wilson’s tribute piece entitled H and Wilson’s move to clarinet in Farewell (“a celebration for those who are no longer with us”), which was enlivened by Browne sitting in on drums.

Paul Grabowsky

Consummate profundity: Paul Grabowsky

Another farewell, Grabowsky’s tribute to Gary Costello entitled Abschied, opened the final set with Di Sario and Browne. This dark, compelling piece was followed by Last King of Poland and the energetic Cryptostatic, with a segue into Psalm.

Di Sario and Browne gave Grabowsky space in this set, but were ready to intervene spiritedly.

It felt as if the auditorium was concentrating as one as the trio began the world premiere of Grabowsky’s Love Like A Curse. There was an encore, but I would have preferred to have this concert end with the consummate profundity of that composition.

Frank Di Sario

Honouring Costello: Frank Di Sario

Out beside the microphone from which 3PBS-FM program manager Owen McKern so capably hosted this MJC gig was an empty chair. The idea, previously tried without much success by Clint Eastwood at the US Republican National Convention, was that the vacant seat was for Victoria’s Premier, Ted Baillieu.

Eastwood has probably killed off any hope of the empty chair as a potent symbol, but if only the MJC could get Mr Baillieu to come to a concert such as this, I suspect the battle for funding would have some hope of success. Perhaps, to attract him to a gig, fans of jazz and improvised music ought to send him strong vibes of Love Like A Curse.



Barney McAll

Expatriate Barney McAll will return from New York to celebrate with MJC.

Will Arts Victoria notice? The co-operative that it recently decided was not worth a penny will turn on a mini festival of four concerts to mark its 30 years of bringing live improvised music to Melbourne audiences:

Melbourne has recently had cause to grieve. Its vibrant jazz scene has been threatened by Arts Victoria‘s mystifying decision not to provide any financial support in 2013 to the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, an organisation integral to supporting the growth of musical talent and the development of live improvised music in this culturally rich city.

Now Melbourne has cause to celebrate. Over the Australia Day weekend the rich vein of annual festivals that includes the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival,  Stonnington Jazz and the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival is to be complemented by a mini festival to mark a historic event. But will Arts Victoria notice?

To celebrate 30 years of presenting continuous annual jazz programs in this city the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative will stage four concerts, beginning with a free outdoor lunchtime concert at City Square on Friday, January 25 from noon to 2pm featuring guitarist Craig Fermanis’ Trio followed by pianist Daniel Gassin’s Sextet.

On Saturday, January 26, the Jex Saarelaht Quartet with Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz will perform at the Uptown Jazz Café, 177 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, from 8.30pm ($15 & $12 concessions).

The main 30th Anniversary Concert — to be held on Sunday, January 27 at The Edge, Federation Square at 2pm ($30 & $20 concessions; $15 children) — will feature three trios of musicians who have been given a platform by the MJC over the years.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky displays his characteristic energy at Wangaratta Jazz.

New York-based pianist Barney McAll will be back in a gig featuring seven leading figures in the Melbourne contemporary jazz scene.

National Jazz Saxophone Award winner Julien Wilson  will join McAll (with whom he recorded in New York) in a trio with Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz.

Julien Wilson

Julien Wilson with Jonathan Zwartz at Wangaratta Jazz Festival 2012.

The MJC milestone will be fittingly marked also by two members of the dual-ARIA winning Browne-Costello-Grabowsky Trio, with which the co-operative staged its first concert exactly 30 years ago, on Sunday afternoon, January 30, 1983 at RMIT’s Glasshouse Theatre. Sadly bassist Gary Costello died in 2006, but pianist/composer Paul Grabowsky (recipient of the Melbourne Music Prize) and drummer Allan Browne will perform.

A recipient of the Don Banks Award and ‘Bell’ Australian Jazz Award Hall of Fame, Browne is also known for his compositions, poetry and delightfully irreverent sense of humour.

Allan Browne

Poetry in motion: Allan Browne plays Uptown Jazz Cafe.

Grabowsky and Browne will combine with the bassist Frank Di Sario to perform original compositions. A highlight will be a Grabowsky composition dedicated to Gary Costello.

Frank Di Sario

Frank Di Sario plays Bennetts Lane.

Browne will feature again during this celebratory concert in a third trio with two of  the many outstanding female instrumentalists on the Melbourne scene: triple ARIA winning pianist/composer Andrea Keller, and bassist/composer Tamara Murphy (leader of Murphy’s Law). They will play works from their album Carried by The Sun (Jazzhead), as well as new compositions.

Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller plays The Salon, MRC with Genevieve Lacey.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy plays Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.

Both McAll and Keller will also perform some solo piano pieces during this concert.

The MJC celebration will conclude on the evening of Sunday, January 27, with the Rabid Hawk sextet, led by guitarist Nash Lee, performing as part of the MJC’s regular Sunday night ‘A-Live Jazz’ series at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club. This  date also marks the 20th Anniversary of the MJC’s mutually beneficial collaboration with this well-respected venue.

Finally, as part of the co-op’s regular Tuesday night “Transitions” Series at Bennetts Lane, drummer Browne will perform work from Conjuror, his CD and book of poetry.