Tag Archives: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues


Jen Shyu

Sure to be a highlight: Jen Shyu                                       Image: Steven Schreiber

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, November 3 – 5, 2017

The 28th Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues will be the first without Adrian Jackson at the helm as artistic director. Instead, the programming team consists of Adam Simmons and Zoe Hauptmann for jazz, and Scott Solimo and Frank Davidson for blues.

This change led to some understandable concern on the part of regular patrons over the direction that this renowned festival may take, many worrying about whether efforts to overcome budget challenges by widening audience appeal would dilute the core elements in programming of jazz and blues. The result no doubt will be closely scrutinised. It will also, I’m convinced, be thoroughly enjoyed.

Adam Simmons

Adam Simmons introduces the Pugsley Buzzard Trio in Readings book shop at the Melbourne launch of Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2017.

A detailed dig into this year’s jazz (leaving the blues gigs to others) reveals plenty to get excited about — so much, in fact, that it will be hard to fit in breaks for meals or even coffee breaks in a jam-packed program. Don’t forget to download the festival app so you can plan ahead.

Has the festival taken a new direction? Will hard-core jazz fans be satisfied? Is there enough straight-ahead jazz? Are there sufficient “out there” gigs? Is the gender balance improving? Are there enough vocalists? Will the punters turn up? Judgments will be made on these and myriad other questions once the music begins, but unquestionably there is heaps of it on offer.

Overseas artists in the mix include Kari Ikonen Trio (Finland), Jon Cleary (US), Christian Scott and his sextet (US), Jen Shyu (US), James Shipp (US), Pascal Rollando and Philippe Guidat (France), and Aron Ottingnon Band (France), plus expatriate Australian Nadje Noordhuis on a visit from New York. There are many intriguing and alluring combinations, such as Jen Shyu with Simon Barker, Spiderbait’s Kram with James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky, Origami with Wang Zheng Ting, Digital Seed, and a gathering of old and new friends in Guidat/Rollando/Noordhuis/Shipp/Simmons/Hale.

The National Jazz Awards performances this year, featuring brass, will be held in WPAC Hall rather than St Patrick’s Hall before the finals in WPAC Theatre. The 10 semi-finalists are:

  • Thomas Avgenicos trumpet, NSW
  • Josh Bennier trombone, Victoria
  • Niran Dasika trumpet, Victoria
  • Simon Ferenci trumpet, NSW
  • James Macaulay trombone, Victoria
  • Ricki Malet trumpet, WA
  • Eamon McNelis trumpet, Victoria
  • Joe O’Connor trombone, Victoria
  • Alex Taylor trombone, SA
  • Patrick Thiele trumpet, Victoria

How great is it that pianist O’Connor has made it as a semi-finalist on ‘bone?


Friday night’s line-up will give hard-core patrons a chance to flex their concert-going muscles for the succeeding onslaughts on the next two days. Ease your way in at 6pm in WPAC Hall by joining Tony Gould, Mike Nock, Paul Williamson (on trumpet) and university students for the Monash Sessions. Then, at 7.30pm in WPAC Theatre there’ll be a welcome infusion of Scandinavian improvisation from Finland’s Kari Ikonen on piano, Olli Rantala on double bass, and Markku Ounaskari on drums. Expect many hues, innovative harmonies, strong melodies and striking rhythms, all played with lots of joy and passion.

New Orleans makes its presence felt in two concerts on Friday evening. At 8pm Jon Cleary will bring blues into the WPAC Theatre as he demonstrates his prowess at the piano emulating the likes of Tuts Washington, James Booker and Professor Longhair — the greats he found in his adopted home of New Orleans after migrating from Kent in 1980. At 10pm in that venue the strong New Orleans musical pedigree of Christian Scott will shine through as he demonstrates his trademark “whisper technique”, using warm air, which he perfected by emulating his mother’s singing voice.

In WPAC Hall earlier, at 9.30pm, My Name Is Nobody will feature Lucky Oceans, Ben Vanderwal and Tom O’Halloran in a set offering lush, cinematic and ambient sounds along with “a sonic break from a complicated, noisy world”. Bring it on.

Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo will be at the Pinsent Hotel until midnight.


Saturday, of course, will be another kettle of fish, with music beginning at 10.30am (National Jazz Awards, WPAC Hall) and running through until 1.30am Sunday (Jam session with Virus, Pinsent Hotel).

Be prepared for some full-on, head-to-head clashes — these are not merely overlapping concerts, so you’ll have some hard choices. Kari Ikonen Trio begins at 11am in WPAC Theatre for those who missed it or loved it on Friday. But at noon Nick Haywood Trio (St Pat’s Hall) is up against Mike Nock’s solo e-coustic set (Holy Trinity Cathedral).

Barney McAll’s much-loved ASIO are sure to be in Hi-Vis at 1pm in WPAC Theatre. Expect much talent and humour.

Then comes a seriously upsetting clash at 2pm. Experimental vocalist, dancer and multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu will join the intense and brilliant Simon Barker at Holy Trinity — this has to be a highlight — while guitarist Robbie Melville’s five-piece, two-saxy ensemble plus visuals delivers inviting, eclectic contrasts in WPAC Hall as Cleverhorse. As if that choice isn’t tough enough, St Pat’s Hall features sextet Slipper, with Gemma Horbury on trumpet and Belinda Woods on flute, playing bassist Alastair Watts compositions. It’s all on from 2pm to 3pm.

There’s no clash at 3pm when Nadje Noordhuis reunites with James Shipp (vibes), Gian Slater (vocals) and Chris Hale (bass), joined by young guitarist Theo Carbo (not to be missed) in a WPAC Theatre concert backed by Martin Jackson’s Melbourne Jazz Co-operative.

But at 4pm the clashes are back. Choose Robbie Melville with reedsmen Gideon Brazil and Monty Mackenzie for “chamber jazz and contemporary classical” as Antelodic at Holy Trinity, or the muscular DRUB (Scott Tinkler, Simon Barker, Philip Rex, Carl Dewhurst). That’s a real tough one. Blues and boogie woogie pianist Bridie King is the third option at this time slot, in St Pat’s Hall.

There’s time for a quick bite now — must keep the energy levels up — before bassist Nick Tsiavos and his Liminal ensemble bring us brilliant discordance as the ancient becomes modern in a hypnotic synthesis of new minimalism (6pm, Holy Trinity). Many may stay at this, but others will be lured away to WPAC Theatre by 6.30pm, intrigued by the spectacle of Spiderbait’s Kram joining James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky. Anything could happen.

If you love Hammond organ — and who doesn’t if Tim Neal is at the keyboards — Jim Kelly’s Thrillseekers will perform at St Pat’s Hall at 7.15pm. And in WPAC Hall at 8pm Digital Seed includes last year’s National Jazz Awards winner Mike Rivett in a sextet that includes Matilda Abraham on vocals and utilises electronics and synthesisers.

New Zealand-born pianist Aron Ottignon, now a Parisian, has a fantasy in which each of his fingertips is a drumstick. He joins Samuel Dubois on steel pan and Kuba Gudz on drums in WPAC Theatre at 8.30pm, producing music that “combines the ambition of jazz with pop melodies, echoes of world music and electronic effects”. This trio will also close the festival — jam session aside — so this is a chance to decide whether it’s your cup of tea.

Virus will draw some patrons off to the Pinsent at 9pm. But at 9.15pm in St Pat’s Hall Philippe Guidat (guitar) and Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet), who met at an upstate New York Music Omi Artist Residency when Adam Simmons (woodwinds) was guest mentor, will join Pascal Rollando (percussion), James Shipp (vibes/percussion) and Chris Hale (bass). I reckon this could go in a few directions, all of them with great promise and possibly a little humour.

This festival has many not-so-hidden gems. One is DRUB (already mentioned) and another is the 10pm WPAC Hall encounter between Gian Slater, Barney McAll and Simon Barker.

But many will be drawn away to WPAC Theatre at 10pm to hear more of Christian Scott, along with extraordinary flautist Elena Pinderhughes, Shea Pierre on piano and Rhodes, Kris Funn on bass, Corey Fonville on drums and Logan Richardson on sax.

Pinsent Hotel jam session anyone? As mentioned, there is a lot of music on offer at this festival. And Sunday is another day.


Day 3 will separate the sheep from the goats, the climate change deniers from the realists. This is when serious patrons awake, stretch, inhale deeply and head for double shots of coffee before another full day, and night, of live music. Keep in mind that it’s the musicians who are doing the heavy lifting here.

If you’re extra keen be at Holy Trinity at 10am for Bridie King & Gospel Belles. Brass fans will be in WPAC Hall for the National Jazz Awards playoffs from 10.30am, picking their three finalists before the judges get a say.

There are seriously great musicians at work in Wangaratta on Sunday, many of them home-grown artists.

After ensuring my hair is suitably coiffed I’ll be in WPAC Theatre with bells on at 11am to hear the Phil Slater Quintet play new compositions (how could anyone pass up Simon Barker, Matt McMahon, Matt Keegan, Brett Hirst?) and in St Pat’s Hall at noon for the Angela Davis Quartet. The talent just keeps coming at 1pm in WPAC Theatre when bassist Jonathan Swartz is joined by Barney McAll piano, Hamish Stuart drums, Julien Wilson sax, Phil Slater trumpet, James Greening trombone, Fabian Hevia percussion and Steve Magnusson guitar. And at 1.30pm multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff may be weaving his magic at Holy Trinity, but there are no details on the festival website.

At 2pm don’t miss a chance to look into the future in St Pat’s Hall when bassist Isaac Gunnoo, drummer Maddison Carter and siblings Flora (saxophone) and Theo Carbo (guitar) demonstrate the talent on the scene from younger jazz musicians. And for a hit of vocals — there are not so many singers this year — Matilda Abraham will bring vulnerability and warmth to WPAC Hall at 2.30pm.

It’s relentless — wall to wall music with overlaps. At 3pm composer and bassist extraordinaire Sam Anning brings a feast of musicians to the WPAC Theatre stage: Andrea Keller piano, Mat Jodrell trumpet, Carl Mackey sax, Julien Wilson sax and Danny Fischer drums. In Holy Trinity Cathedral from 3.30pm James Shipp on vibes and Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet will celebrate the release of their Indigo album with help from Theo Carbo, Chris Hale and Gian Slater. And at 4pm in St Pat’s Hall, Belinda Woods on flutes will present compositional elements ranging from free improvisation to highly intricate structural forms in a sextet.

Tension is mounting at this point as the NJA finalists prepare to do battle at 5pm in WPAC Theatre, but If you have not yet caught a glimpse of Adam Simmons as performer rather than program team member, here’s your chance. From 4.30pm in WPAC Hall, Origami will present “Wu-Xing – The Five Elements” a new work by Adam inspired by the Ancient Chinese elements Wood (木 mù), Fire (火 huǒ), Earth (土 tǔ), Metal (金 jīn), and Water (水 shuǐ). This will feature Simmons on alto sax and bass clarinet, Howard Cairns on bass, Hugh Harvey on drums and Wang Zheng-Ting on sheng (Chinese mouth organ). It is a great pity this overlaps with the the NJA finals. Let’s hope it is performed elsewhere soon.

Around about 6pm there will be a NJA winner, so it’s time for a shot or three of coffee before Virus begins in St Pat’s Hall, followed at 7pm in WPAC Hall by Philippe Guidat on guitar and Pascal Rollando on percussion, who will draw on flamenco, Andalusian and Arabic music, Indian music in an acoustic set.

Then, at 8pm in WPAC Theatre, prepare to be mesmerised as multilingual vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Jen Shyu (US) opens her performance of Jade Tongue with Mother Cow’s Companion, one of three traditional folk songs in this work. She will be accompanied by Simon Barker drums, James Shipp vibraphone and Veronique Serret six-string violin for this outing, which is certain to be arresting.

In St Pat’s Hall Zac Hurren will be firing on all keys in a trio format from 8.30pm if you need an energy boost. At 9pm in WPAC Hall Lucky Oceans will head a quintet with Paul Williamson sax, Nick Haywood bass, Claire Anne Taylor voice and Konrad Park drums.

The final WPAC Theatre gig at 10pm will be the Aron Ottingon Trio, but if you are still firing on all cylinders and brim full of the buzz, the annual jam session at the Pinsent Hotel will be the place to put this Wang festival to bed. You can relax and savour the memories — all that hard listening has paid off.



Ambon is performed at Wangaratta's WAPC Theatre

Ambon is performed at Wangaratta’s WAPC Theatre


Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2015

MICHAEL Ondaatje, in his novel The Cat’s Table, paints a view of life in which “there is a story ahead of you, barely existing”. He says “only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it” so that “you find in this way the path of your life”.

It is a stretch, perhaps, to compare this view of life with coming to a jazz festival, yet there is always a sense of adventure, discovery and the lure of the unknown before this annual pilgrimage to Wangaratta for a weekend of music. What is the story ahead of us? To what will we attach ourselves so that we can feed our tales of the musical encounters ahead, building a narrative? In essence, what will we say to friends and colleagues back home about this festival?

A few preliminaries must be dealt with. This story does not cover the Blues Marquee. Much as I would have liked to hear Canned Heat at that venue, I did not find an opportunity.

Neither did I visit the new stage in the King George Gardens to hear jazz get “deconstructed, shaken up and unpacked”. The move to offer a less mainstream program at this venue did prompt some rusted on jazz fans to voice concerns about the festival losing its undoubtedly prestigious reputation as being serious about jazz.

But the stories I heard from those who did visit the garden stage were all positive — music that appealed to many, plenty of people and seats, interesting food and space for dancing. Heavy rain on Sunday forced some programming changes, I believe, but otherwise the move from Reid St stages to a ticketed venue may have been a success. If that provides revenue that can feed back to the jazz budget, it may be a positive.

Budget constraints were evident in the limited breadth of the international artist component, so a financial boost would be welcome. But after the last notes of the final night’s jam session at the Pinsent Hotel died away — some fluidly fleeing from the trumpet of James Morrison — there had been plenty of meat on the jazz bone (or quinoa in the salad for those inclined).

And a final preliminary comment: The festival app was a hit and a real asset, especially to reviewers.

Lloyd Swanton's Ambon

Lloyd Swanton’s Ambon

But let’s get it out there before delving further into any Ondaatje-style “story ahead” that may emerge from this festival: Sydney bassist Lloyd Swanton’s monumental work Ambon, performed too late on Saturday night in WPAC Theatre and lasting too long at almost two-and-a-half hours including a brief interval, towered over this weekend’s music.

However, to mention that an edit would help seems churlish in the face of a musical colossus so full of impact and affect, highlighting as it does in an intensely personal way the experiences of Swanton’s uncle Stuart as a prisoner of war on Ambon during World War II.

Twelve musicians and narration from Swanton invoked powerful and unforgettable images. Particularly in the second part, wails and strangled cries of assorted instruments conveyed to us with breathtaking, visceral, realism this world of suffering. Ambon will leave an indelible imprint on any who heard this performance.

But one concert is not a whole festival, so we need to pursue the elusive “story ahead” of Ondaatje’s theory. In practice — whether at a jazz festival or in life — we follow our noses and see what develops.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas

The festival could be described as a Dave Douglas club sandwich. The US trumpeter, bandleader and composer opened and closed the program and altogether featured in four concerts plus an onstage conversation.

On the WPAC Theatre stage on Friday evening his sure hand guided the Monash Art Ensemble through his suite Fabliaux, exploring medieval, bawdy tales via a series of transitions highlighting reeds, brass, percussion and strings. It was a texturally rich journey that I thought was even more impressive than when initially performed at Monash University in March 2014.

In two quintet outings Douglas was the energiser who kept pianist Matt Mitchell, saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston pumped as they blasted us with often-remorseless onslaughts at full-throttle. Mitchell was superb and Royston exciting, yet I found more to enjoy when the group backed off, provided more dynamic variation and celebrated Douglas’s richer, more air-cushioned horn on hymn-like ballads.

The pick of Douglas’s concerts was a duo set with Australia’s Paul Grabowsky that drew on New England psalm tunes from The Sacred Harp. There were fierce exchanges (Ham Fist), but the whole concert had gravitas, offering solemnity as well as tension, wonderful interplay, rich tonality and masterful control of dynamics. This was a festival standout for me.

Grabowsky also featured in Fabliaux and with vocalist Virna Sanzone, saxophonist Mirko Guerrini and drummer Niko Schauble in The Italian Project, which I had heard performed in May 2014 at Chapel Off Chapel. Some may have found the traditional folk songs and works of Italian composers a little too infused with sweetness, but again deep empathy and warmth was evident between these musicians.

Linda Oh

Linda Oh

Linda Oh seemed to shine more outside Douglas’s quintet. Her quartet outing with Irabagon, Royston and guitarist James Muller produced some wonderfully warm solos and compositions that reflected a sensitive, intelligent musician. Undeniable highlights of this set were two movements from The Arrival Suite, inspired by the works of a graphic novel by Perth artist Shaun Tan (Folk Song was exquisite) and her piece Speech Impediment, inspired by Megan Washington’s Ted Talk on stuttering.

Gian Slater and Linda Oh

Gian Slater and Linda Oh

The latter composition was also part of an iridescent duo set with vocalist Gian Slater at Holy Trinity, where Oh’s bass seemed inseparable from the voiced notes Slater sent soaring and floating into the cathedral’s lofty heights.

Vocals were integral to two utterly different ensemble works. Kristin Berardi added her voice to another set of pieces drawn from words written in war, ably assisted by Sean Foran on piano and Rafael Karlen on sax. Hope In My Pocket seemed at times too gentle to convey the terrible losses and fears raised, especially as nuanced in Karlen’s luminous notes. Yet Berardi’s face conveyed the deep feelings exposed in these wartime letters.

Jane Bunnett in Maqueque

Jane Bunnett in Maqueque

Canadian soprano sax player and flautist Jane Bunnett, who led five young Cuban musicians in two concerts as Maqueque, the name translating as “the fiery spirit of a young woman”, took us in a completely different vocal direction. The award-winning ensemble took WPAC Theatre by storm on Friday night and understandably attracted lengthy queues the following night in St Patrick’s Hall.

Magdelys Savigne in Maqueque

Magdelys Savigne in Maqueque

Bunnett’s undoubted energy was upstaged by the enthusiasm and infectious joy of her ensemble members, who delighted with their collective sense of rhythm and captivated with beautiful harmonies. Dayme Arocena was billed as the standout vocalist, yet on Friday percussionist Magdelys Savigne demonstrated her admirable vocal skills, especially in the Bill Withers classic Ain’t No Sunshine.

Bunnett told the audience before Maqueque’s encore (Mamey Colorado) in WPAC Theatre “you have to dance or at least shake your booty”. I bet there were plenty of wiggling bums on seats.

US bassist David Friesen played two solo gigs in the cathedral as well as joining pianist Mike Nock for a duo set in WPAC Theatre. In each setting on Saturday these concerts gradually developed momentum. As a solo performer Friesen explored the playing of samples taken on the run to build layered pieces that were absorbing rather than exciting.

In the gig with Nock, with whom he had not played for 40 years, Friesen joined his friend and master of invention in again creating on the run — tentatively at first and then engaging in the way that such experienced improvisers can make seem so effortless.

Bass playing was naturally a big focus at this year’s festival because that instrument featured in the National Jazz Awards. So it was fitting that solos by Ben Waples (in pianist Jackson Harrison’s trio) and Steve Elphick (with Zac Hurren’s trio) were delivered so ably by experienced exponents of the bass arts (that may not sound so good, but it is).

Another bassist, Nick Haywood, can “play hard or be discreet” according to the program notes, and in TNT — with Tony Gould on piano and Ted Vining on drums — he chose the gentler approach. I did not hear all of TNT, but what I did catch was an exquisite experience.

The awards judges split hairs to decide between the three finalists, taking their time to return their verdict and award Sam Anning (back in Melbourne from New York) first prize followed by Alex Boneham (now living in LA) second and Tom Botting (expat Kiwi now in Sydney) third. Botting was undoubtedly the winner in comedic talent.

To put gender on the agenda as women’s jazz festivals are about to take place in Sydney and Melbourne, should all the judges have been male when there are women bassists in Australia and two of the top 10 finalists were women? (This point was put to me by a woman jazz fan with considerable expertise in governance.)

Sam Anning was performing in St Pat’s Hall when the news of his success filtered through. And not long after that he was looking a little bemused by the antics of Perth’s wildly exuberant drummer Daniel Susnjar in a septet playing Afro-Peruvian jazz as the festival neared its end. There was much spirited playing in this ensemble, but Grant Windsor has to be commended for providing much impetus from the piano.

And last, but by no means least, the search for a story to this year’s festival lands us at WPAC Theatre at 11am Sunday. On stage were two tenors, accompanied by Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson. Cameron Undy on bass and Danny Fischer on drums completed the band.

But the unseen player, in their thoughts and in our thoughts, was the late David Ades.

Hurren gave us that winning smile of welcome and then said, simply, “We’re going to play for Dave now.”

Play they did. It was a fitting tribute.

And it is a fitting place to end the “story ahead” that came to pass at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues 2015.



1. The absence of Allan Browne was deeply felt this year.

2. Adrian Jackson again deserves much praise for his program.

3. Many gigs were not covered in this review. That does not mean they weren’t great.



Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett’s all-female sextet Maqueque     Image supplied

PREVIEW: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, October 30 to November 2, 2015

Ausjazz takes a look at what’s in store as a landmark festival of jazz and blues hits the reset button in a bid to broaden its appeal and invite new patrons into Wangaratta’s moonlit gardens to sample genre-hopping musical combos and chill-out lounges


After 25 years of fairly settled venues and a reasonably clear distinction between its constituent musical parts of jazz and blues, the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues is heading in new directions for 2015.

According to Chair of the Festival Board, Paul Squires, “it’s time to hit refresh”. Under the banner of “Welcome to Jazz Country”, the festival is moving the focus of non-ticketed performances from Reid Street to the Ovens Riverside Precinct, “where the spirit of jazz, blues and other musical influences will fill the streets, laneways and green spaces” along the Ovens River, including Riverside Square.

King George V Gardens, Wangaratta

King George V Gardens, Wangaratta

And, in nearby King George Gardens, a new stage for ticketed concerts is billed as “the place where jazz gets deconstructed, shaken up and unpacked” in “a creative collision of spring sounds that are on everyone’s playlist”.

It all sounds quite different. We are told “the best surprises will happen after dark, so by night the moonlit gardens will house a starlight salon, dance zone, genre-hopping musical combos and chill-out lounges”.

As Squires puts it, “we want to activate new audiences to buy into the festival experience” because “it’s time to get amongst the music, try something new, take a risk … by exploring the adventurous music embedded throughout our rural city”.

At this point I can imagine some longstanding festival fans diving for cover in either the Blues Marquee or the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre, but Artistic Director Adrian Jackson assures hard-core fans that apart from gigs at the new Gardens Stage “we have a line-up that absolutely upholds the stylistic balance and standards of previous years”.

Evidently Jackson is bringing his considerable programming skills to bear on a difficult conundrum. As he says, “there is an inherent contradiction in presenting a program full of daring, creative, original jazz, and expecting that program to have instant appeal to the typical punter in the street. At the same time, you don’t build an audience for jazz and blues by presenting music that has nothing to do with jazz or blues.”

The Gardens Stage will therefore feature “artists who would be known to the general public, whose music is readily accessible, and who still display a high level of musicianship”.

The line-up in King George Gardens has a nostalgic feel and its broader appeal is evident. Joe Camilleri will perform with his 12-piece RnB big band, The Voodoo Sheiks, and rock ’n’ roll saxophone player Wilbur Wilde will bring his track record as a jazz player to the fore. Emma Pask and Darren Percival of The Voice fame, along with a quartet led by pianist Gerard Masters, will interpret the music of Neil and Tim Finn in Finn-Land.

Phil Stack

Phil Stack at Wangaratta in 2014

Rai Thistlethwayte, Matt Smith and Phil Stack of rock band Thirsty Merc may also tap into their jazz instincts in an acoustic set, and Paul Williamson will fire up his Hammond Combo for a jazz party that has long been an audience favourite at Stonnington’s annual jazz festival.

Reid Street regulars Luke R. Davies and the Blues Brothers 3677 will be hoping to draw in their usual fans. Sydney quartet Arabesk, Sam Keevers’ 15-piece Latin jazz / Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble Los Cabrones and eight-piece band Black Jesus Experience are likely to set toes tapping.

And let’s not forget the irrepressible, talented and entertaining James Morrison, who will bring to the Garden Stage a big band and groups of students from the inaugural year of the James Morrison Academy of Music in Mt Gambier, South Australia.

There is plenty of nostalgia also at the Blues Marquee, especially with two concerts by sixties favourites Canned Heat, featuring veterans Larry “The Mole” Taylor and Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra along with Dale Spalding on harmonica, guitar and lead vocals and John Paulus on lead guitar. I’m hoping their Fried Hockey Boogie makes the set list.

Others are better to properly preview the Blues Marquee program, but it includes Russell Morris, Harper, Old Gray Mule, Joe Camilleri with The Black Sorrows and Ash Grunwald.

With the festival branching out to broaden its appeal, where does that leave rusted on jazz fans who will gather in the WPAC Theatre and Hall, at St Pat’s Hall and Holy Trinity Cathedral?

Well, there’s plenty to whet the appetite, although international artists performing in the main jazz venues are not such well-known drawcards as in years when budget constraints were less limiting.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas with Geoff Hughes and Craig Beard at Monash University

In March last year US trumpeter Dave Douglas visited Monash University to have the Monash Art Ensemble rehearse and perform the nine movements of his suite Fabliaux for four ensembles. Changes of emphasis made the whole suite alive and interesting and, as an Ausjazz review said at the time, “there was, literally, never a dull moment”.

Douglas will join the ensemble to launch the recording of Fabliaux and play a duo concert with pianist Paul Grabowsky, as well as leading his quintet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Linda Oh, who grew up in Australia and has been a big hit previously at Wangaratta.

A solo outing by Philadelphia musician Mitchell, who has played with Tim Berne and Mark Helias, raises expectations of some exciting work with electronics.


Linda Oh at Wangaratta in 2009

Linda Oh will also be leading a quartet with guitarist James Muller, Irabagon and Royston, as well as joining vocalist Gian Slater in a duo set they initiated at the 2011 festival.

Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett’s passion for Cuban music will be evident when she leads her all-female sextet Maqueque (the name translates as “spirit of a young girl”), which features the powerful vocals of Daymé Arocena. The other young Cuban musicians are percussionist Magdelys Savigne, drummer Yissy García, pianist Dánae Olano and bassist Célia Jiménez. Expect lots of happy energy and a hard-driving sound.

David Friesen

David Friesen                                                  Image supplied

I’m really looking forward to hearing US bassist, David Friesen, who will perform two solo concerts in Holy Trinity Cathedral and also join old friend Mike Nock for a duet outing in WPAC Theatre. Don’t miss these.

As always, Australian bands performing at Wangaratta can be relied on to deliver substantive, adventurous and challenging works that are almost guaranteed to be festival highlights and live on in our memories.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi with Sam Anning at Wangaratta in 2012

A couple of such concerts will this year have a connection to war. On Friday, October 30, vocalist Kristin Berardi will join pianist Sean Foran and saxophonist Rafael Karlen to present songs inspired by letters, now in the state archives, sent home from the front by Anzacs in World War I. The songs have been recorded on the album, Hope in My Pocket.

Lloyd Swanton

Lloyd Swanton

On the following evening an impressive 12-piece band will play 12 compositions by bassist and composer Lloyd Swanton for an extended suite, Ambon, inspired by his uncle Stuart’s experience as a Japanese POW on Ambon. Swanton (The Necks, The Catholics) says he wanted to “salvage whatever beauty I could from what is … a quite horrible story” and to draw more attention to the plight of these prisoners.

Joining Swanton will be Paul Cutlan (bass clarinet, saxophones, recorder), James Eccles (on his uncle’s viola), Sandy Evans (tenor and soprano saxophones), James Greening (trombone, cornet, pocket trumpet, tuba), Fabian Hevia (cajon, percussion), Sam Lemann (ukulele), Jon Pease (guitar), Ron Reeves (kendang, percussion), Michel Rose (pedal steel guitar), John Hibberd (trombone) and Hamish Stuart (drums).

Zac Hurren

Zac Hurren with Sam Anning

This year, sadly, Wangaratta will be the poorer for the absence of festival stalwart Allan Browne. He will be sorely missed. Another artist we have lost, saxophonist David Ades, will be remembered in a concert by his close friend and fellow saxophonist, Zac Hurren. The Queensland saxophonist will play original music Ades recorded in New York shortly before he died in November 2013 and which is to be released on his final album. Mark this gig as one not to miss.

Virna Sanzone and Niko Schauble

Virna Sanzone and Niko Schauble in The Italian Project

A triumph of Adrian Jackson’s years as artistic director of Stonnington Jazz will be revisited when pianist Paul Grabowsky joins vocalist Virna Sanzone and European expatriates Mirko Guerrini (saxophone) and Niko Schauble (drums) to perform The Italian Project — interpretations of traditional Italian and Sicilian folk songs, and more recent songs from Fellini and other modern Italian composers.

When they delighted the audience at Chapel Off Chapel in 2014, I loved “the disparity between the expressive vocals and the riveting work of the other musicians” and found “the imaginative work by Guerrini, Grabowsky and Schauble throughout this set a joy to behold” and “offset against Sanzone’s vocals it was a perfect fit”. This outing is bound to be a festival highlight for many.

In other WPAC Theatre attractions during the festival, oud master Joseph Tawadros will display his virtuosic skills on the fretless Arabic lute alongside his brother James Tawadros on percussion and pianist Matt McMahon, and crowd favourite James Morrison will play a set with his Superband, which features Mat Jodrell (trumpet), Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Phil Stack (bass) and David Jones (drums) as well as guest saxophonist from the US, Jeff Clayton.

Perth-based drummer/composer Daniel Susnjar will perform compositions from his debut album Su Su Nje, given four stars by reviewer John McBeath, which is inspired by Afro-Peruvian rhythms and fresh arrangements of classic Peruvian songs.

There will also be plenty to please in the WPAC Hall next door. Papua New Guinea-born pianist/composer Aaron Choulai, who moved to Japan in 2009, will lead a trio with Tom Lee on bass and Hugh Harvey on drums. Expect the unexpected.

Alister Spence

Alister Spence

Pianist/composer Alister Spence has recorded five albums with Lloyd Swanton on bass and Toby Hall on drums and glockenspiel. When they performed at the Malthouse during the 2014 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, the Ausjazz review described their outing as “music I felt could be touched or felt as a physical sensation” and “a riveting set by a focused, energetic and engrossing trio”. Expect plenty of propulsion from this trio at Wangaratta.

Veteran drummer Ted Vining formed Blow in 2000, calling on the experience of pianist Bob Sedergreen, his musical partner of over 40 years, to join Peter Harper (alto saxophone, flute), Ian Dixon (trumpet) and Gareth Hill (bass). With six albums under its belt, Blow will mix individual freedom with ensemble work.

Peter Petrucci

Peter Petrucci

If it’s a while since you heard Peter Petrucci on guitar, he will join Bob Sedergreen, Wilbur Wilde and Paul Williamson on saxophones and Mike Jordan on drums in veteran bassist Geoff Kluke’s The Changes. This should be a hoot.

Winner of the 2006 National Jazz Awards for piano Jackson Harrison will team with Ben Waples (bass) and James Waples (drums) in a trio with guest on trumpet Phil Slater. This will definitely be worth an early start at 10am Sunday.

And if you miss bassist Phil Stack on the Gardens Stage, he will join James Muller on guitar and Tim Firth on drums in WPAC Hall.

The other hall that draws big crowds at Wangaratta, especially during judging of the National Jazz Awards (for bass this year), is St Pat’s. Jane Bunnett and Maqueque will perform there on Saturday night.

Pianist Chris Cody — born in Melbourne, bred in Sydney and now living in Paris — will play standards and originals with Mike Avgenicos (tenor saxophone), Thomas Botting (bass) and James Waples (drums). Expect Arabic and African influences with a definite French accent.

Described by John Clare as “one of the leading drummers in the country”, Sydney’s Dave Goodman will perform originals written music specifically for members of his quartet, Peter Koopman (guitar), Matt McMahon (piano) and Cameron Undy (bass).

Also from Sydney, Hammerhead is a sextet in the mould of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and other Blue Note bands. The line-up is Jason Bruer (tenor saxophone), Andrew Robertson (alto saxophone), Phil Slater (replacing Ray Cassar on trumpet), Greg Coffin (piano), Matt Greubner (bass) and Duncan Archibald (drums). Expect classic hard bop.

Paul Van Ross

Paul Van Ross

Melbourne saxophonist Paul Van Ross (The Buck Stops Here, Get Sorted) travelled to Cuba in 2013 to record his fourth album, Mi Alma CubanaMy Cuban Soul. Joining Paul (saxophones, flute) will be Jonathan Cohen (piano), Elizabeth Obando (bass, vocals), Damien Ellis (drums), and Toby Bender (timbales).

Rob Burke

Robert Burke

And another Melbourne saxophonist, Monash University’s Robert Burke recorded his latest album, The Power Of The Idea (Jazzhead) in New York. Wangaratta patrons will hear a variation of that band with Paul Williamson on trumpet, Jordan Murray on trombone, Paul Grabowsky on piano, Marty Holoubek replacing Mark Helias on bass and Dave Beck taking over from Nasheet Waits on drums.

So, to answer that question arising from the additional Gardens Stage and other festival changes this year — “What does that leave rusted on jazz fans?” — I believe there is plenty of meat on the bone (or quinoa in the salad), especially in the WPAC Hall, St Pat’s Hall and at Holy Trinity Cathedral. If the queues seem too long in WPAC Theatre, it is a dead cert that there will be some solid jazz fare at these other venues.