Tag Archives: The Malthouse

A SANDWICH OF FOOD FOR THE SOUL

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

REFLECTION:

A Conversation at The Wheeler Centre and three concerts at The Malthouse on Saturday 7 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

1pm: A Conversation with Mike Nock

Improvising musicians are always listening to the others in the band, on the lookout for something they can pick up on and take somewhere. Journalists are always on the lookout for the angle — the unifying aspect that can help make a collection of events into a story.

Mike Nock handed me the angle to this post about his Wheeler Centre conversation and the three gigs to come later, although I did not pick up on how it would work until the evening. He spoke about a lot of aspects of music in this hour, including the fact that he once sang at the London Palladium, but more about these topics later if time permits.

I want to highlight a couple of Nock’s statements about jazz. He said jazz is “about connecting with people emotionally”. Later he said, “It is food for the soul — that’s what jazz is.”

I was happy to hear a musician of Nock’s stature say this, because I am at times moved to write food-for-the-soul-type comments about the music that moves me, although I am wary of slipping into sentimentality and aware of reactions to what’s played being subjective. If I do write thus about a musical experience I seem to be nagged by an inner voice wanting to dismiss this sort of talk as emotional claptrap and asking what it really means to say something “feeds” the “soul”.

That’s a topic for later, perhaps, but as it turned out, the Malthouse gigs later that evening — ironically, perhaps, the two before and after Nock’s gig with Laurence Pike — prompted me to want to use that emotive description.

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

Mike Nock at The Wheeler Centre

7pm: Hunters & Pointers

First on stage were members of Hunters & Pointers, who had not performed together for 21 years. They were John Hoffman on flugelhorn, Graeme Lyall on saxophone, Tony Gould on piano, Ben Robertson on double bass and Tony Floyd on drums. How much talent can you fit on one stage?

From the opening notes I just wanted to find better words than smooth to describe this quintet’s work. Like a well-oiled trombone slide these luminaries of Australian jazz just let the notes slip into the auditorium and hang there in space.

I often prefer tension-filled music that’s prickly and sharp-edged. But this was sublime stuff that I knew would draw out that stuff about “food for the soul”. Luckily, I had Mike Nock’s words to provide support.

After Just Friends, my favourite vocalist Kristin Berardi joined Gould for Body and Soul, then the band for a vivacious rendering of Tea For Two. In I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Lyall delivered some super smooth alto sax that was fat and furry, Floyd’s work on brushes and mallets was superb, and Gould’s solo was a treat. This piece drew a loud “Yes” from the audience and justifiably so.

In mid concert there was some horseplay and even a joke, before the set’s highlight, for me — Berardi’s performance in Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most. Her vocals in this were eloquent, sensitive and yet not sentimental at all. The audience forced an encore, It Could Happen to You, that featured a solo with Robertson really jumping and evolved into a really swinging number.

This was food for the soul part one.

Tony Floyd and John Hoffman

Tony Floyd and John Hoffman

Kristin Berardi with Hunters and Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters & Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters and Pointers

Kristin Berardi with Hunters & Pointers

Graeme Lyall

Graeme Lyall

Tony Gould

Tony Gould

Tony Floyd

Tony Floyd

Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson

John Hoffman

John Hoffman

9pm: Mike Nock and Laurence Pike

As mentioned, this set had a different sort of appeal. Immediately I was struck again by Nock’s ability to create an air of reverence that is totally engrossing, yet does not require many notes to be played.

Pike was extremely busy at times on drums and percussion, playing almost as if possessed — but in a muted fashion. (What is conveyed comes as much from what he holds back as by what he actually does, if that makes any sense. An example is the vigour with which he goes to hit with brushes, yet hardly any sound emerges.) I was reminded of a Cannonball Adderley live gig in which you can hear the audience respond to what’s hinted at by the rhythm section.

Nock built tension and focus, commanding attention. As the set progressed, both Pike and Nock were tinkering at sounds, producing electronic static along with rattles and the shaking of bells, plus short flurries of piano notes between pauses. I thought there was a lot in common with the Alister Spence Trio‘s set of the previous evening.

I was not moved to describe this as food for the soul. My appreciation of the set was more dispassionate. The appeal lay in the fascination of a changing landscape.

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Laurence Pike

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

Mike Nock

11.20pm: Julien Wilson Quartet

The finish of this narrative is probably fairly obvious by now. Julien Wilson on clarinet and tenor sax joined Barney McAll (over from New York) on piano, Jonathan Zwartz on acoustic bass and Allan Browne on drums and cymbals to complete a dream line-up.

I had lost any urge to dash off to Bennetts Lane to hear Django Bates Beloved play Charlie Parker. Another time. I wanted — wait for it — food for the soul, and this was the quartet to provide exactly that.

They began with Ellington’s The Feeling of Jazz, then Deep Night followed by a new ballad, Bernie, in honour of the late great Bernie McGann. Weeping Willow followed as a tribute to recently departed Gil Askey. There were great solos by Browne and McAll in this. In particular I loved how the quartet ended this and the previous piece, allowing them to gradually slip away. It was appropriate, I thought, to have such peaceful departures for these two characters of jazz.

From the opener, Wilson showed again that he continues to play with assurance and to draw on deep inspiration that is clearly a sustaining force.

They played another new piece, Rain Man, and ended with Farewell off the album This Is Always as an encore.

McAll seemed attentive rather than flamboyant on the night. He later said how much he appreciated Browne being so zen at the drum kit.

This concert was good for the soul. It was the perfect ending to the penultimate day of MIJF 2014.

ROGER MITCHELL

Jonathan Zwartz

Jonathan Zwartz

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

Barney McAll and Julien Wilson

Barney McAll and Julien Wilson

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz

Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz

Barney McAll

Barney McAll

 

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TURNING UNKNOWNS INTO KNOWNS

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

Django Bates and Peter Eldh celebrate Charlie Parker at The Malthouse

REFLECTION:

Three concerts at The Malthouse on Friday 6 June 2014 for Melbourne International Jazz Festival

7pm: Django Bates Beloved with Monash Art Ensemble celebrate Charlie Parker

It was going to be an evening of new experiences — I was familiar with only two of the four ensembles and had heard only one musical performance in the Merlyn Theatre at The Malthouse. It is a similar format to Chapel Off Chapel, but much wider, so that it is a much longer walk to move from one side of the elevated seating to the other to gain a different perspective for photographs. The sound seemed excellent, but the lighting lacked direction, so that by the final concert it was almost lights out as far as the action on stage was concerned.

I don’t believe that the music of Charlie Parker can be easy to play, and the opening concert confirmed this. Django Bates, at the piano and keyboard, was joined by Peter Eldh on double bass and Peter Bruun on drum kit, with Bates taking a conducting role either from the piano with gestures or by walking over to the Monash Art Ensemble, which included students and seasoned players.

If anything this outing was a demonstration to me that, first, I did not know Parker’s music well enough to make any assessment of how Bates had departed from the original Parker arrangements, and, second, it was complex music that called for skill and attention to detail by the musicians.

I particularly enjoyed Bates’ We Are Not Lost We Are Simply Finding Our Way (that’s how I felt), which featured Scott Tinkler on trumpet. I loved the interplay between bass and piano, as well as some deep, growling notes and mingling of sounds from the ensemble in Star Eyes. The orchestra seemed to have excellent control of dynamics in Confirmation, flaring up suddenly in what became a hard-driving piece. The Study of Touch was full of interest, with ensemble solos from Tony Hicks on flute, Rob Burke on soprano sax and a young sax player who may have struggled a little at higher registers. My Little Suede Shoes showcased some deft work by the trio before Bates conducted the ensemble in.

Audience reaction is often a useful guide, not necessarily to the musicianship, but to how well the music succeeds in being engaging. In this concert I felt as if the appreciation was muted, with the ABC’s Gerry Koster having to suggest that with extra clapping “we may get an encore”.

But I was inspired to seek out more of Bates’ work and to get to know Parker much better.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble.

Peter Eldh and members of Monash Art Ensemble

Django Bates, Peter Brunn and Peter Eldh with members of Monash Art Ensemble.

9pm: Alister Spence Trio

This was the trio with which I was acquainted, but the outing was another clear demonstration that hearing a group live will always have far more impact than hearing them on an album.

As soon as the early distraction of taking some photographs in the allocated time and the parsimonious and nasty red light was over, I was immediately engrossed in this set, which was music I felt could be touched or felt as a physical sensation. Propulsion is often a key factor for me, and Spence‘s trio — Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and percussion — had it in spades. Brave Ghost featured some lovely, deep, resonant bass and delivered intensity plus. With excellent dynamics from Hall and some hot piano by Spence, this was going places. The piece was a ripper.

We heard Seventh Song, Threading the Maze and “a quick version” of Sleeping Under Water, each demonstrating this group’s ability to gain and hold our attention, building and releasing tension as changes occurred. This was a riveting set by a focused, energetic and engrossing trio. And I believe they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

Toby Hall

Toby Hall

11.30pm: Dawn of Midi

Sometimes we need spoiler alerts. I often think that if I read a film review before seeing it, it is impossible to wipe out the memory of a single remark that may skew how I will view the movie. In the case of this outing by Dawn of Midi, I happened to read a brief comment by someone who had been at the previous night’s performance. In summary, this person thought Dawn of Midi’s set was similar to a performance by The Necks, but less interesting.

I could not erase that idea as I listened to Amino Belyamani on piano, Askaash Israni on double bass and Qasim Naqri on percussion. The set seemed very controlled and to be all about incremental change. A lot of alterations were made to the rhythmic patterns, but the changes were gradual and required concentration to pick up.

In a strange twist, a conversation after the performance altered my view. Curious about what those familiar with Dawn of Midi had thought, I asked some fans of the group. The explained that this was not improvised at all, as is The Necks’ music, but totally scripted — and in detail, down to the last note, so to speak. They assured me that the set as played live was very close to the album Dysnomia and that I should get it and listen before passing judgement.

So I dutifully obtained the album and have played it a few times while writing these “review-style” pieces. I find that my view has changed. Whereas on the night I did not think there was enough to keep me interested and hanging out for more, I can appreciate now that there is a compelling element to this incrementally changing landscape.

So tonight I learned about little-known unknowns (Parker) and even lesser-known unknowns (Dawn of Midi), but learnt more about unknowns I would like to become better-knowns.

ROGER MITCHELL

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Amino Belyamani

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni

Qasim Naqri

Qasim Naqri

Askaash Israni

Askaash Israni