Tag Archives: The Forum

BAND ON THE RUN

Monash Art Ensemble

Monash Art Ensemble

MINI REVIEW

Monash Art Ensemble with special guest Mark Helias, The Forum Upstairs, Sunday 2 June, 2013, 2pm, Melbourne International Jazz Festival

I’m a bit confused, because this gig was billed as Shapeshifter, but the leaflet given out refers to Monash Art Ensemble, described as “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st century musicians”. That description is apt because this was exciting music indeed. The large ensemble (16 if you count conductor Paul Grabowsky and guest bassist Mark Helias, who is in town to play with Open Loose) opened with a commissioned work, Intrusions, by Eugene Ball, and followed with four pieces by Helias.

What can I say in a mini review? I loved this performance not only because of the music, but because of the talent the young musicians in the band displayed, which demonstrates that we have a lot to look forward to in Melbourne. There was so much diversity and development in these pieces, and the band members showed great concentration and responsiveness throughout. Ball’s composition was intense and at times eerie. I think Erkki Velthheim prepared his violin in this and there was a clarinet played in a bucket of water (possibly by David Griffiths). Frank Di Sario was excellent on bass.

Mark Helias

Mark Helias

Helias’s pieces were amazingly complex, but the ensemble coped well. I thought of Knitting or Quitting as dispassionate but arresting music and I loved the interplay between bass clarinet and bowed bass. Young trombone and trumpet players were excellent in this piece, which had so much to it. Haymaker was exciting music full of bustle and energy, with a hot piano solo by Joe O’Connor. I think Melbourne has a young pianist to match Perth’s Tal Cohen.

The concert closed with the beautifully lush Grabowsky composition Love Like A Curse, which was an excellent wind-down from the earlier animation.

More highlights will occur during this festival, but this was a definite. Full marks to Monash University and all who sail with this project.

Image gallery

ROGER MITCHELL

Advertisements

ISN’T IT GRAND, NORWEGIAN BAND

REVIEW

Ausjazz blog picks some highlights from the 2012 Melbourne International Jazz Festival:

Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif

A festival highlight: Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif from Norway.

All up, Ausjazz went to all or part of 15 MIJF gigs this year. This is an attempt to pick out some highlights, though there will be posts about individual concerts when time permits. A few explanatory notes: First, I chose not to review the Opening Gala: The Way You Look Tonight or the final evening’s Dee Dee Bridgewater Sings, because those concerts were not my cup of tea. That is not any reflection on the musicians involved.

Second, for reasons beyond my control I could not make any gigs from Monday, June 4 to Wednesday, June 6 inclusive. Again, that had nothing to do with the calibre of the music on offer. Third, I did not make it to any of the master classes, though I have heard from many who did that these were definite highlights.

Of the concerts I attended, there were none that I did not enjoy — perhaps I am easily pleased, but I believe this festival followed the usual rule by delivering more delights than may have been anticipated upon first glance at the program. It was not too adventurous — certainly not as “out there” as recent years under the direction of Sophie Brous. I did miss that aspect. The most experimental outings were Peter Knight‘s Fish Boast of Fishing and Andrea Keller‘s work with Genevieve Lacey and Joe Talia — both at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon and both involving Australian artists. From overseas, the Robert Glasper Experiment strayed from the conventional, as did the Norwegian quintet Motif, but the latter was the standout of these two for me.

Before I discuss highlights, it’s probably worth exploring the value or otherwise of reviews. Unlike reviews of opening night stage productions, with MIJF commentary there is in most cases no season ahead in which potential punters can decide to go or not go on the basis of what’s written. Most concerts are unrepeated or already sold out before reviews hit the airwaves, streets or online haunts. I see reviews as one way to build an archive or record of what a festival has succeeded in delivering. That record may provide some context to those who attended various concerts or merely arouse the interest of readers who may seek out that music in some form later, possibly even live if the artist or band returns.

So, in consecutive order by date rather than any (futile) rating, my highlights were as follows: I found Bernie McGann‘s quartet at Bennetts Lane on the opening Friday night deeply satisfying, not only because of McGann’s saxophone work, but because of what the other players in the band — Marc Hannaford, Phillip Rex and Dave Beck — contributed.

On the following night, at the same venue, Murphy’s Law impressed with Tamara Murphy‘s suite “Big Creatures Little Creatures”. At The Forum later that evening, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra showed its class with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter, but the standouts for me were the Andy Fiddes composition Gathering Momentum, some trumpet excellence from Phil Slater in the third piece (the name of which I did not catch) and Potter’s darker sax in the encore Rumination. Later still, back at Bennetts Lane, the Eli Degibri Quartet from Israel had a smooth fluidity and swing that definitely had me wanting more, especially from the 16-year-old pianist Gadi Lehavri.

What can I say about McCoy Tyner‘s concert on Sunday in the Melbourne Town Hall? The only basis I have for comparing the pianist now with his illustrious past playing is via recordings, and on that basis he is not quite in that league now. And I think Jose James could not act as a substitute for Johnny Hartman. I enjoyed the outing, and I don’t see much point in comparisons when you have a chance to hear a musician of Tyner’s stature. But this was not a festival highlight for me.

By contrast, Terence Blanchard‘s quintet on Thursday at Melbourne Recital Centre was a real standout. It’s definitely no criticism of Rob Burke, Tony Gould, Tony Floyd and Nick Haywood, who opened this gig, but I did think as Blanchard’s band opened with Derrick’s Choice that a band with a local trumpeter such as Scott Tinkler or Phil Slater would have been ideal.

In the quintet’s set I would have been satisfied just to hear Fabian Almazan‘s contribution on piano, but Blanchard’s playing was inventive, fluid and piercingly penetrating, with sampled audio from Dr Cornel West and some echo among the special effects. Blanchard’s tone did not really dig into the guttural until shortly before the inevitable encore and his sound was not as fat as I’d expected. Brice Winston on tenor sax was superb in the Almazan piece Pet Step Sitter’s Theme.

In terms of musicianship, Renaud Garcia-Fons on bass with the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC on Friday night stood out. I’d regretted having to miss the solo bass gig at Bennetts Lane mid week, but in a way this trio concert was a vehicle for Garcia-Fons to show his amazing talents. On his five-stringed instrument Garcia-Fons uses a range of techniques with and without bow, recalling Barre Phillips‘ solo performance at Wangaratta Jazz last year, but it’s a totally different experience. I could only marvel at Garcia-Fons’s skill, but, by contrast with Phillips, his music lacked the tension and resolution (or lack of it) that is so compelling in jazz improvisation. Also, I would have liked to hear more from Kiko Rulz on flamenco guitar, who in brief bursts only whetted my appetite to hear more. I could not help but wish that Pascal Rollando on percussion would contribute more fire and inventiveness. That said, this concert was a highlight.

Even more so was Dr Lonnie Smith in his trio with Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums at Bennetts Lane late on Friday. I love the Hammond B3 and Smith was enjoying every moment of his time on Tim Neal‘s beautiful instrument. This was a therapeutic experience and just what the Doctor ordered for me. Kreisberg’s playing was exciting and intense, and the organ was just a thrill and a joy to hear. The notes from a Hammond can be felt deep in the body and seem to free the spirit. I’ll be hanging out for Smith’s new album, Healer, due in a few weeks. But an album is not the same as being there and feeling the B3 vibrations at close quarters.

OK, I’m waxing too lyrical. On the second Saturday of the festival I made it to four gigs. Peter Knight and his ensemble’s Fish Boast of Fishing at the Salon, MRC, took me out of my comfort zone and into an emerging, growing, developing experience in which I felt there was a contradiction of sorts. There was definitely tension. There was complexity and coordination in the way sounds were produced, but when I closed my eyes the experience was of something organic, almost living and breathing. Perhaps that was the point.

Norwegian band Motif

Norwegian band Motif

Next came another real highlight for me and I would have missed it if I had not had a recommendation from ABC presenter Jessica Nicholas. The Norwegian outfit Motif was a standout. I always think European bands can be counted on to bring something significantly different to their music and Motif was no exception. This was intelligent, quirky and engrossing jazz, with extreme variations in dynamics and pretty well anything you could imagine. There was ferocity and solemnity. There was pandemonium and space. What a hoot! This was the night’s highlight. There was another great set to follow I’m sure. It was hard to leave.

But Tarbaby at the Comedy Theatre — with Oliver Lake on alto sax, Eric Revis on bass, Orrin Evans on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums — served up a set of take-no-prisoners hard-driving jazz. This was a top rhythm section that took me full circle back to the Bernie McGann concert at the festival’s start. Apart from Lake’s robust playing, what I loved most was Evans’s command of the piano in Paul Motian‘s Abacus. This set would have topped the night for me, but I still had Motif ringing in my consciousness and I wasn’t letting that go in a hurry.

I did queue up for a long, cold wait to hear some of the Robert Glasper Experiment, but it was too hi-tech for me. I just wanted to chill and listen to Glasper on piano, but the crowd at Bennetts Lane was all fired up. They probably had a highlight at this outing, but not me.

On Sunday, the final night, I caught the first set of Sandy Evans with Toby Hall and Lloyd Swanton. It was the perfect wind-down.

All in all, there was plenty to get excited about in the MIJF 2012. The crowds were out listening to live music and many venues seemed to be full.

Next year? Well, maybe a few more European bands and a little more experimentation. But, after all, there is the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival for that.

ROGER MITCHELL

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 2011 — PREVIEW

Saturday, June 4 — Monday, 13 June

Rollins

Sonny Rollins. Photo credit: Denis Alix / Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

It’s eclectic. It’s like an octopus. Yes, just when you thought the word eclectic had become too hackneyed a term, there is really no better way to describe this year’s MIJF, which had its program launch at 6pm today.

The program devised by Sophie Brous is indeed wide-ranging, broad-based, extensive, comprehensive, varied, diverse, catholic, all-embracing, multifaceted, multifarious, heterogeneous, miscellaneous and assorted. Like an octopus reaching out in many directions, the MIJF seems to defiantly defy encapsulation, yet it must surely offer — to use a standard phrase — something to appeal to everyone.

Yes, parts of the program will invite the query “Is this jazz?” and others will provoke or irritate. But no one can deny that any line-up mixing Sonny Rollins and Jason Moran with the ironed-smooth Chris Botti (apparently it rhymes with goatee) and the krautrock of Faust, or the resonant scream of Korean Pansori singer Bae Il Dong with the minimalist drone of Tony Conrad is never going to be boring.

Ausjazz blog was there when Brous gave her usual impressive, lightning-fast briefing on what to expect, but there’s no other way to grasp the enormity of this program apart from just diving in and going with the flow. All the fine details are available on the MIJF website, but hang on for a roller-coaster ride through the main events — probably in a little more detail than is possible via print media.

The emphasis, says Brous, is on the playful aspect of improvisation and on encouraging participation, so there will be free activities in day in the city “so people can explore their inner creator”.

The Big Jam, which attracted 5000 people last year, returns to Fed Square at 2pm on June 4, hosted by 774 ABC radio’s Derek Guille and supported by “pied pipers” — musicians at rail stations across the suburbs who will encourage people to bring trumpets, violins, clarinets, sousaphones, kazoos and any other instruments to join in a mass music-making event. The event, if last year’s is any guide, will be less of a cacophony than many will expect.

The free Opening Celebration Concert follows at 3pm, with Melbourne’s fez-wearing 1930s swing ensemble Cairo Club Orchestra and international guests to be announced shortly before the festival opens.

Other free events include morning sessions in Fed Square entitled Sonic Showers in which trained and untrained voices will be invited to sustain a pitch in a bid to produce “beautiful harmonic clusters” that, according to Brous, will be like “the heavens opening” and a musical pick-me up akin to tai chi. On selected evenings acoustic ecologist Anthony Magen will host evening sound walks encouraging active listening without communication in the city centre. And there will also be jazz musicians staging mini concerts across the public transport network from early May and daily during the festival.

MODERN MASTERS

The heart of the festival’s large-scale outings are in this series of 15 musical events, which include a repeat of last year’s Overground six-hour extravaganza celebrating the city’s underground creative music culture at Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday, June 12.

The opener is Fly Me to the Moon, an evening of jazz standards “from Cole Porter to Irving Berlin and beyond” at the Palais on June 4 that carries on from last year’s Baby It’s Cold Outside, which Brous described as celebrating “that caramel-toned schmaltz we’ve grown to love from the great crooners”. This time the vocalists will be Tex Perkins, Paris Wells, Eddie Perfect and Kimbra, backed by the Sam Keevers Trio.

That concert won’t set my heart pounding, but on Sunday, June 5 it’ll be a different, surreal kettle o’ fish when original Sun Ra collaborator Marshall Allen leads the 10-piece Sun Ra Arkestra in two sets at the Forum — described by sources close to MIJF as “a bunch of old space invaders” keeping alive the spirit of pianist, composer and organist Sun Ra.

It gets better, with tenor sax great Sonny Rollins at Melbourne Town Hall on Monday, June 6 with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion.

Mind you, if you feel a desperate need instead to be smoothed into a mood of mellow mellifluousness, Chris Botti will be at the Melbourne Recital Centre on June 5 and 6.

Botti lovers may not be so soothed by the eight brothers from Chicago who form the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Their father, Philip Cohran, played with Sun Ra in the 1950s. Inspired by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy and N.W.A. (Niggas With Attitudes or Niggaz With Attitude), the brothers “sound like a live sample of a lot of hip-hop we hear and it’s really dense and well arranged brass music with a heavy drummer and eight brass players”, Brous says.

The inventiveness doesn’t stop. On Wednesday, June 8, Jason Moran, who was a hit last year, brings his Bandwagon (Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums) to the Forum. An adventurous jazz pianist also influenced by J Dilla and rapper Nas, Moran brings sampling into his live performances. In a double bill, Bandwagon will be joined by Indian-born US-based Vijay Iyer (piano) and Rudresh Mahanthapa (alto sax), who view contemporary jazz, as Brous puts it, “through the lens of Indian and Asian musical influences”.

On Thursday, June 9, the Andrea Keller Quartet will open at the MRC for saxophonist and cool jazz exponent Lee Konitz, who played with Miles Davis on The Birth of the Cool album, accompanied by special guest Kurt Rosenwinkel and young New York players Dan Tepfer on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums.

On Friday, June 10, Anthony Pateras’s Thymolphthalein will open at the Forum for the cult German krautrock band Faust, who Brous says “occupy a mythological space and only play when the situation’s right”. This “night of sensory overload” will feature original Faust members Werner “Zappi” Diermaier on drums and percussion, and the UK’s Geraldine Swayne on vocals, guitar, organ and visuals.

At MRC, Ron Carter, who Brous describes as “the grand poobah of jazz bassists” and who was a member of Miles Davis’s sixties quintet, will perform with Russell Malone on guitar and Mulgrew Miller on piano. Katie Noonan will also sit in (she worked with Carter on the Blackbird album of Lennon McCartney music)  as well as performing as Elixir with Zac Hurren on sax and Stephen Magnusson on guitar.

Rosenwinkel — who Gary Burton plucked from Berklee School of Music at age 19 and who later joimned Paul Motian’s bebop band Human Feel — is back at the MRC at 7.30pm on Saturday, June 11 with his Standards Trio (Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums) for an intriguing double bill with “beautiful, honey-toned but really contemporary” vocalist Norma Winstone, who will be joined by Glauco Venier on soprano sax and bass clarinet, and Klaus Gesing on piano to perform music from their Stories Yet to Tell album.

In the Forum from 8.30pm Australian group The Raah Project will perform “big band ensemble music moving into the realm of lounge”, with lighting design by Blue Bottle, known for Chunky Move visuals.

And from 9pm that night until 1am, minimalist drone music will fill the Melbourne Town Hall — expect sustained or repeated sounds, notes or tone clusters from mostly electronic instruments or processing, with slight harmonic variations. The stars will be composer, organist, pianist and visual artist Charlemagne Palestine, who will play the Grand Organ, and avant garde video artist, filmmaker, sound artist and composer Tony Conrad, who, with LaMonte Young and John Cale, was a member of The Theatre of Eternal Music, a mid sixties experimental drone music group that performed on the US east coast and in western Europe, known for using discordant, sustained notes and loud amplification.

I love this: most of the pieces performed by The Theatre of Eternal Music had long titles, such as The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as they were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gong, Illuminated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot and the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer.

Conrad was allegedly indirectly responsible for the name Velvet Underground, because Lou Reed and Cale found a book of that title in Conrad’s old apartment in New York City.

Sunday, June 12 will see Charlemagne and Conrad headlining Overground, with many other performers taking over spaces in the town hall from 3pm to 9pm. Tim Berne, Mary Halvorson, Golden Fur and Sean Baxter are among the attractions.

And from 8.30pm at the Forum, the Paul Grabowsky Trio (Julien Wilson on sax, Frank Di Sario on bass, Niko Schauble on drums) will join a chamber orchestra to perform The Eye of the Storm, which Grabowsky wrote for the Fred Schepisi’s forthcoming film of that name. Grabowsky and Branford Marsalis recorded a live version of this work in October last year. This will be a festival highlight.

To wrap up the Modern Masters series of concerts, James Morrison and some of Australia’s swing greats will perform A Tribute to Australian Swing, taking the audience through our history as it evolved with influences from visiting American swing bands in the 1920s.

JAZZ UP CLOSE

The Forum Upstairs and the Salon at Melbourne Recital Centre will host 10 Jazz Up Close concerts, beginning at 1pm on the opening Sunday, June 5, with eastern European melodies and contemporary jazz from the 3Cohens Sextet — a set of three Cohen brothers from Israel and the US — and US pianist Aaron Goldberg, who returns with Rueben Rogers on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums.

At 6pm that day, AlasNoAxis drummer Jim Black will join Chris Speed (who with the Claudia Quintet last year was a highlight),  Hilmar Jensson on guitar and Skuli Sverrisson on bass to “explore elements of post rock in the context of improvised music”, to quote Brous. And an arresting set from Chiri, comprising Scott Tinkler on trumpet, Simon Barker on drums and the amazing Korean Pansori singer Bae Il Dong will complete the gig. Bae Il Dong sang beside a waterfall for 18 hours a day for seven years, building up scar tissue on his vocal cords and developing a deep, rumbling resonance.

New York drummer Ari Hoenig will join Perth-based saxophonist Jamie Oehlers in a double bill on Tuesday, June 7 with Vijay Iyer, who will perform solo.

And The Forum Upstairs is also the venue for a June 10 concert on the Friday night of the festival’s closing weekend. It should be something special, with Jason Moran joining Scott Tinkler and Simon Barker, before Tim Berne (who featured in his exciting Adobe Probe Melbourne at Bennetts Lane) ushers in his Los Totopos (“corn chips”) band with Oscar Noriega on clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums.

In an Australian premiere the following night, New York’s guitarist Mary Halvorson — who has been likened to composer and instrument creator Harry Partch — will bring her trio to the Forum Upstairs in a double bill with Japanese pianist Satoko Fuji in “Ma-Do” (the silence between the notes”) with husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura.

Bell-Award-winning Coco’s Lunch vocalist Lisa Young will form a quartet on June 12 at 1pm with Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Ben Robertson on bass and Dave Beck on drums to perform her song cycle The Eternal Pulse, with south Indian vocal percussion. And Magnusson will then unveil his Magnet project with Eugene Ball on trumpet, Sergio Beresovsky on drums and Carl Panuzzo on vocals to complete the gig.

And at 6pm pianist Joe Chindamo will join Phil Rex on bass and Rajiv Jayaweera on drums in a double bill with the energy and allure of Sarah McKenzie‘s trio (David Rex sax, Sam Zerna bass and Craig Simon drums).

Jazz Up Close sessions in the MRC Salon will comprise Albare (Dadon), Anthony Pateras’s Thymolphthalein and Jim Black with students from Monash University.

BENNETTS LANE — AT THE CLUB

There will be some really exciting gigs in this series of 14 concerts, but I reckon it’s best to start another post to deal with what’s in store therein.

It seems that the involvement of Australian musicians in this eclectic and octopus-like festival may not be as great as in last year’s, at least in the sense of supporting  international drawcards. But the Bennetts Lane series will help make up for that.

Look for another post soon on the At The Club series and free masterclasses.

My laments? I always wish that the Melbourne’s regular jazz haunts such as Uptown Jazz Cafe, Bar 303 and Paris Cat, and also Jazz Vibe on Smith, would be included among the festival venues. And I am sorry that there will not be any sessions at the Wheeler Centre in which visiting and local musicians can chew the fat and respond to audience questions.

Now it’s time to post. Apologies for any errors. I may add some images later.

ROGER MITCHELL