Tag Archives: Vanessa Tomlinson



Charles Lloyd

What a joy it was to spend a peaceful hour in a small group at BMW Edge for Charles Lloyd‘s masterclass. A few times Lloyd asked whether anyone wanted to play something, but no one volunteered and he talked about life, his life and mentors, and music. I had intended to take a few notes, but instead it seemed right to relax, listen and take many photos. Lloyd’s face is lively and changeable. When a topic really takes his fancy, his face glows with enthusiasm.

It was a privilege to meet Charles Lloyd, shake his hand and chat for a while.

Here’s another picture, but the colour balance is a bit odd:

Charles Lloyd

A tribute by Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra

ON Wednesday night Miles Davis returned, but The Prince of Darkness did a quick costume change at Melbourne Town Hall, emerging after interval a changed musician. Grabowsky and the AAO were never going to offer a pedestrian tribute to Davis, but adventurous compositions by Anthony Pateras and Phillip Rex must have sent some fans home clutching at remnants of their comfort zones.

Grabowsky, always the consummate host, ushered us into three pieces from 1949 arranged for Davis by Gil Evans and played on this occasion by a Birth of Cool nonette. They opened with Boplicity, then Eugene Ball sounded iridescent in the luminous Moonbeams, followed by the sharp, electric Move, on which James Greening‘s trombone was spot-on.

Phil Slater plays Miles
Phil Slater plays Miles

Then came a festival highlight that was a rival to the Charles Lloyd New Quartet experience. Grabowsky conducted the talent-laden AAO in the first part of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto De Arunjuez from Sketches of Spain, arranged by Gil Evans and orchestrated by Eugene Ball. Percussion and a sweeping orchestral passage ushered in soloist Phil Slater as Miles in a beautifully measured performance. Adrian Sherriff on bass trombone provided fantastic depth, Scott Tinkler and Paul Williamson joined Ball on trumpets and Stephen Magnusson on guitar seemed to find just the right time to play a few significant chords. The orchestra created magnificently sweeping vistas, and Ball’s muted horn was light and ethereal.

Any Miles fans would have been convinced of his return, on this night, in this place.

Tony Williams — drummer with Miles Davis Quartet from the mid to late sixties — composed Black Comedy (from Miles in the Sky), which Grabowsky, who was the arranger for this outing, said “changes meter constantly”. This was a change to punchy, spiky music. Erkki Veltheim on violin and Sandy Evans were featured, and there were solos from Paul Cutlan on sax and Simon Barker on drums. Energetic stuff, but no real preparation for what was to come after interval.

Tomlinson, Tinkler and Veltheim
Tomlinson, Tinkler and Veltheim

First up was a world premiere of Anthony Pateras’ composition Ontetradecagon, which he said arose from the idea that at the time of On the Corner being released in 1971, Miles was exposed to electronic pieces by Stockhausen. Pateras saw the album as having “the sound of someone going outside their comfort zone”, so he set out to feel “as unsafe as possible” in this project. He cut sections of On the Corner tracks to make 70 loops on a Revox B77 tape machine, considering these “plunderphonic” and drawing on James Tenney’s Blue Suede, which also used tape.

(The term plunderphonic had been new to me until last week, during the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, when the NMIT Laptop Orchestra played Adrian Sherriff’s Study No. 2 (For Jan Stole Who), the title an anagram of John Oswald, of Plunderphonic fame, whose work it plundered.)

Pateras worked the loops into a 20-minute tape, then made sure the pitches from the loops matched what he was calling on the ensemble to produce, so that both live music and tape input were of equal importance. Pateras had six sub-groups of players, so that some were playing from the sides and back of the space.

So how did it work in practice? Vanessa Tomlinson, Scott Tinkler and Erkki Veltheim launched the piece in almost complete darkness, offering subdued growls, blaring notes and high-pitched spikes. Later reeds came in from the right, and tuba with trombones from the left. The reeds and ‘bones echoed Tinkler’s high spikes, and Veltheim contributed a similarly high-pitched shimmer. I was wishing for lower pitches.

At one stage the hall seemed to be full of chattering monkeys, agitated insects. A bass clarinet started munching before more lush chatter and then machinegun runs of sound. There was agitation, wailing, sirens or mournful wails — a sense of urgency before some slow, sweeping brass took over. Clearly conveyed in the dark came a sound akin to masticating for us to chew on. The agitation continued. There was bustle and unrest and mayhem.

The piece finished. Was Miles still in the audience, or had he left the building?

Phillip Rex as DJ Davis
Phillip Rex as DJ Davis

Maybe he had slipped out to a rave party, or to find some drugs. That would have suited the final contribution for the night, Phillip Rex’s work Black Satin, which he led from his laptop in centre stage. He had the facility to bring in instruments at will and vary their input from the laptop live as the musicians on stage made their contribution. Rex acknowledged after the gig that this piece would probably work better in a setting where people could dance or move freely to the music.

Paul Williamson and Elliott Dalgleish
Paul Williamson and Elliott Dalgleish

There did not seem to be a direct or indirect connection to Miles, but Grabowsky did say it was appropriate to ask “If he were alive, what would Miles Davis be doing now?” Maybe hip-hop and rave parties would be his scene.

I like to be stretched and these works after interval did that. I found Pateras’s work easier to warm to than Rex’s piece, mainly because more happened and it never lacked interest. But my pick of the night by far was the music from Sketches of Spain.

A final comment: What a fantastic array of talent was on stage for this gig. Everywhere you looked in the rows of musicians were the faces of great musicians — not imported musos, but locals. We should value them more, whatever occasional pain they cause us on the stretching rack.



Han Bennink
Han Bennink

… and again

Lots of gigs. Lots of noise, but some quiet moments as well. Music non-stop from 2pm Saturday until 8:30pm in four Melbourne Town Hall venues. Having emerged late the previous night from the finale of Melbourne’s jazz fringe festival, which has for years had its full day of music entitled Big Arse Sunday, I could not help but think the Overground concept seemed strikingly similar. Was MIJF making a bid to attract the fringe festival audience?

A few observations: The idea of a lot of bands playing in the one place over many hours (as in The Big Day Out) is great and the town hall was humming. Great to see the crowds. But the program running sheet was initially only posted on the doorways and many of us spent valuable time writing it down, because once a gig finished (many lasted only 20 minutes) it was hard to know where to go next. And unless you knew a lot about say, The Deadnotes or Pure Evil Trio or Carolyn Connors — that demonstrates the diversity of what was on offer — it was hard to plot a route through the Overground. For a festival as big and sophisticated as MIJF now is, it seems this aspect could have been done better. Perhaps the MIJF website could carry links to each band/performer, with background info and samples of audio or video.

While on the basics, I had possibly the worst coffee in the universe at the MTH bar, at a time when I needed greeeaaaat coffee. Extempore journal editor Miriam Zolin would have suffered apoplexy. It was lukewarm and I think came out of a thermos. Also, when you are rushing from one concert to the next, there will come a time when you need sustenance. And you need it on the spot, not out along Swanston Street.

Han Bennink takes to the floor

Peter Brotzmann vies with Bennink

Enough whingeing. I made it to 14 sessions, some only for a quick taste. I loved the buzz, but concerts were happening a little too thick and fast, and often I did not know who would be a must-hear for me.

wall of noise
Pure Evil and Occult Blood make noise

Pure Evil and Occult Blood was a wall of noise, but I left with a smile. Greg Kingston (electric guitar and toys) and Tarquin Manek (of Bum Creek, on various instruments) had everyone smiling with their antics, but it had me asking — also after the opening Han Bennink and Peter Brotzmann gig — when the showmanship interferes with the sound.

Greg Kingston
Kingston turns on the tricks

Dale Gorfinkel on contraptions

Bennink’s explosive virtuosity and sublime sense of humour are endearing — we love him — but when Cor Fuhler on prepared piano joined Dale Gorfinkel on sonic contraptions and Kym Myhr guitar and objects, I found it impossible to concentrate on the sound without closing my eyes. Gorfinkel’s device spinning polystyrene cups and a trumpet with tubing was fascinating, but I just wanted to hear the result.

Carolyn Connors

In certain contexts Carolyn Connors‘ extraordinary vocal talents would be OK, but I wanted to get away. And when classical met punk — Golden Fur with True Radical Miracle — I found it a momentarily interesting spectacle, then I wanted to get away.

Hoping Fur a Miracle

The vocal ensemble that included MIJF program director Sophie Brous sounded amazing, but I caught only the last few minutes. (Others in that group were Carolyn Connors, Nik Kennedy, Pete Hyde, Jessica Aszodi, Alex Vivian, Christopher L. G. Hill and Tarquin Manek.

Focused: Misterka and Chase

Two concerts deserved to have full attention, but I had to keep moving. These were Seth Misterka (CCM4) and Brian Chase (of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs) on sax and drums, which was minimalist but compelling, and Vanessa Tomlinson (percussion),
Eugene Ughetti (percussion) and Robin Fox (processing), which provided a period of slowly evolving relief from the mayhem elsewhere.

I missed Cor Fuhler with Scott Tinkler and Simon Barker with Bum Creek. I missed Kim Salmon (The Scientists, Surrealists) with David Brown (Bucketrider, Candlesnuffer, Western Grey, Pateras Baxter Brown). Pity.

I found the quartet of Mick Turner (of Dirty Three, on guitar), Francis Plagne (guitar), Evelyn Morris (of Pikelet and True Radical Miracle, on drums) and Erkki Veltheim (Twitch, Australian Art Orchestra on viola) OK, but not overwhelming, and why Plagne played with his back to the audience was a mystery. Maybe he found an audience made it hard to concentrate.

All stops out: Anthony Pateras

So to the standouts, for me. Bennink and Brotzmann were strong, relentless and cathartic. Bennink with Anthony Pateras on the grand organ was an amazing and beautiful thing. Great idea, executed flawlessly. The organ had the oomph to cope with Bennink’s madness.

Grabowsky prepares for piano

Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress
Sean Baxter: A wok cover in progress

Sean Baxter on drums and percussion with Paul Grabowsky on piano was another superb combination. In the end Baxter stole the show, but they were perfect together.

Han Bennink in action at Melbourne Town Hall
Han Bennink returns …

Brotzmann and Bennink revisited was again something special, but what lifted it beyond that was their final collaboration with the Embers Big Band. Embers members Adam Simmons (various saxophones), Dave Brown (electric microtonal bass) and Sean Baxter (drum kit and junk) and Kris Wanders (tenor saxophone) joined Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio) on double bass. Greg Kingston‘s guitar seemed to be largely lost in the mayhem.

Kris Wanders
Kris Wanders

When Wanders joined Brotzmann and then Adam Simmons for a sax armageddon the audience was in raptures.

Sax armageddon
Sax armageddon

David Brown on guitar and pedals intervened at just the right moments, backed ably by Abel Cross (Pure Evil Trio). And then there was the duel of sorts between Bennink and the drummer with the hair (Kram from Spiderbait). It was all beyond words, and beyond expectations. What a buzz for performers and for the rapt audience, who left exhausted, but fulfilled.

For more on Overground at Melbourne Town Hall, Mess and Noise has plenty.


Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke and the Black Jesus Experience

What a change of pace. All that noise and full-on duelling of the Embers Big Band subsided gradually in my head on the walk to The Forum as I mentally switched gears for Ethio-jazz. The Forum was an ideal venue for a spectacle and when The Black Jesus Experience came on stage with James Arben on sax there was all the atmosphere — and a smoke machine and coloured spotlights — of a big rock concert or stage spectacular.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

But amid all the fuss, Mulatu Astatke seemed to exude calm and generosity of spirit. This was not some rock star with an air of importance, but a man content to make his gentle contribution among the assembled musicians and, obviously, to delight in doing it. He was attentive to the other musicians and at other times seemed lost in reverie as he played.

I did not catch all the names of tunes played, but there were some from the film Broken Flowers, a Heliocentrics piece entitled Cha Cha, another called Chic Chica, one called The Dawn and “one composed for myself” entitled simply Mulatu.

I did not know what to expect, but probably something a lot more energetic and even hip-hop oriented — I don’t know why. As it turned out most of the concert seemed to be gentle and celebratory, with repetitive rhythms and subtle variations. I’d need to listen to more to be able to adequately describe the music. But it was pleasant without being get-out-of-your-seat-and-start-dancing music.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

There was some excellent musicianship from Souren Tchakerian on percussion, Peter Harper on alto sax, Ian Dixon on horn and Pat Kearney on drums, but I thought James Arben (Heliocentrics) on saxophone was fairly disappointing. A real standout was the keyboard playing of Thai Matus — he was quiet for most of the gig, then erupted with energy and fire, lit appropriately by a red spot. Great stuff.

Thai Matus
On fire: True Live keyboardist Thai Matus

All up, and perhaps I was suffering from the effects of Overground, this concert was not one to set the pulse racing or the blood flowing. It was a nice opportunity to chill in the club-like atmosphere of The Forum.

Mulatu and BJE