Tag Archives: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz

BEYOND, AND WITH, WORDS

Ellen Kirkwood Ellen Kirkwood performs in [A]part with Gian Slater and Sandy Evans.    Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, November 2-4, 2018

Music speaks for itself. That’s what visiting saxophonist from Holland, Yuri Honing – a man of few words – told the audience in Wangaratta’s Performing Arts Centre Theatre on Saturday night during his quartet’s second festival outing.

He’s right, of course. The music delivered at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues this year conveyed some powerful messages and crossed cultural boundaries without needing the embroidery of words.

Honing, with his acoustic quartet Wolfert Brederode (Holland) on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson (Iceland) on bass and Joost Lijbaart (Holland) on drums, spoke eloquently with his tenor saxophone in two concerts featuring compositions from their 2017 album Goldbrun. These guys knew each other and the pieces well, the horn soaring and gently musing over the responsive rhythm section in long explorations that varied in energy and intensity, but often seemed darkly brooding. Honing’s concerns for Europe and love of works by Wagner and Richard Strauss were inspirations, but spelled out only in the music.

Yet words and music are often inextricably linked. That relationship can be fraught – how can what we experience in a live concert possibly be described adequately in a string of superlatives? Yet the strength in soul singer Tina Harrod’s exceptionally clearly articulated songs from her album City of Longing, performed on Sunday in WPAC Theatre, came certainly from her strong vocals, but also in the hard-hitting lyrics.

Vikram Iyengar

Vikram Iyengar in The Calling by Adam Simmons  Image: Roger Mitchell

Festival artistic team member Adam Simmons introduced his deeply personal work The Calling, part of his The Usefulness of Art series of concerts, with words, yet it was the performance by his Creative Music Ensemble with Afrolankan Drumming System and Vikram Iyengar, helped by screened visuals, that conveyed the colour, noise, mayhem and moving moments of his journey so effectively.

I have reviewed The Calling previously from a performance at fortyfive downstairs, but for Wangaratta festival patrons this must have surely been a lively, energetic and virtuosic musical journey full of colours, flavours and fun, yet also most moving.

In St Pat’s Hall on Sunday, multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff and drum maestro Ted Vining took the audience on a fascinating journey that came with stories, but conveyed much via the simple musical exchanges between two accomplished players. I wish I’d been there for all of this.

In a festival that did not suffer at all from its forays into other traditions and cultures than the American jazz pantheon, there seemed to be – and these words are probably not ideal – concerts for the brain and concerts for the heart. In other words, some concerts took us on conceptual journeys and others just swept us up and carried us along with their vigour, energy or beauty.

Tilman Robinson

Tilman Robinson at work with the AAO.    Image: R. Mitchell

On Friday night in WPAC Theatre the Australian Art Orchestra presented Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space, in which three composers – AAO director Peter Knight, Tilman Robinson and Andrea Keller – explored the lives of people damaged by war.

In Knight’s Sharp Folds, which offered glimpses of lingering parental grief, the individual words – voiced by Georgie Darvidis – were not all that easy to pick up amid the engrossing and intense accompanying music. Keller’s Bent Heart, which draws on the stories of three women, conveyed their angst so effectively that no words were needed, although the epilogue’s prayer “Cry heart but never break” stays with me. Robinson’s I Was Only A Child brilliantly drew on the rhythm and cadence of a recorded interview between a young student and a war veteran to show how awareness of war turns to nostalgia, its lessons unlearned. In content reminiscent of Lloyd Swanton’s monumental work Ambon, performed at Wangaratta in 2015, this AAO outing used music compositions and words most effectively, their messages lingering.

On Saturday evening in WPAC Theatre Sirens Big Band performed [A]part, trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood’s suite responding to world issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and the omnipresence of the internet. As with Keller’s Bent Heart, this monumental work – comprising sweeping vistas, swelling and receding soundscapes and powerful solos from Sandy Evans on saxophone and Keller on piano – needed no words to convey drama, tension and agitation, as well as loss and suffering. Gian Slater’s vocal contributions were minimal but integral to this work, which was riveting from start to finish.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart performs with his quintet.    Image: R. Mitchell

The quintet that expatriate Australian Alex Stuart brought from his home city Paris treated us to compositions from their album Aftermath, which explored the darkness in the world while celebrating its beauty and defiant joie de vivre. This versatile band – Stuart on guitar, Irving Acao on tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove on trumpet, keys and vocals, Antoine Banville on drums and Ouriel Ellert on electric bass – delivered sophisticated, varied and polished pieces in two outings. Stuart was unselfish in leading this collegiate ensemble, which displayed plenty of verve and drive along with intricacy and finesse in thoughtful compositions.

Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano.

Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano. Image: Roger Mitchell

Another standout Australian artist with recent overseas experience was trumpeter Niran Dasika, who demonstrated confidence and soloing depth forged in Japan through playing a lot of gigs there. Clashing concerts prevented me hearing the whole of all but one of Dasika’s many festival outings, but on Sunday morning he joined Japan’s Sumire Kuribayashi on piano to play her Pieces of Colour compositions with Shun Ishiwaka (Japan) on drums, James Macaulay on trombone and Sam Anning on bass, with Adam Simmons on tenor saxophone for some pieces. This music was exquisitely beautiful, at times playful and also powerful, further proof that collaborations between Australian and Japanese artists bring great results.

I missed hearing the product of one such collaboration – James Macaulay on trombone leading the Hishakaku Quartet – in order not to miss superstars Andrea Keller on piano and Sandy Evans on reeds in an unprecedented duo at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Gender ought not to be an issue in music, yet this set of mostly ballads demonstrated the power, profundity and beauty of compositions and musicianship by two amazing women. Lilac Embers, dedicated to Richard Gill, was a delight.

Evans was among the host of jazz luminaries to perform in WPAC Theatre on Sunday in the dectet Ten Part Invention, introduced by the ensemble’s founder, John Pochee. In a spirited set that included Roger Frampton’s And Zen Monk, Paul Cutlan’s Nock on Effect, Evans’ Fortea Two and Miroslav Bukovsky’s no holds barred Plain Talk, this band showed why it remains at the peak of large ensemble achievements in Australia. My highlight was reedsman Andrew Robson’s Poets Must Keep an Eye on the Moon.

Germany’s Trio ELF was an instant hit with audiences at their Saturday evening concert in WPAC Theatre and on Sunday in the newly styled St Pat’s Hall with tables and a bar. Walter Lang on piano, Peter Cudek on acoustic bass and Gerwin Eisenhauer on drums added a little electronic wizardry and lots of humour to their melodically and rhythmically appealing compositions. Their approach made excellent use of sudden dramatic dynamic variations, beginning each piece with a simple tune repeated, adding effects, pumping up the volume and intensity via bass and expansive work from Eisenhauer, before returning to the fluid simplicity of the piano notes. Their cover of punk band Blink 182’s Down was a favourite.

Recently formed Quattro Club’s Saturday morning outing sported such an array of whistles and bells that I tried closing my eyes to concentrate on the feast of exploratory textures and timbres. Joel Hands-Otte played Bb Clarinet, bass clarinet, bamboo flute and a plastic pipe. Dan Gordon played tuba and bass flugelhorn. Mirko Guerrini played curved soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, xaphoon, Pakistani flute and melodica. Niko Schauble was at the drum kit. It really was akin to kids building a series of projects with Lego blocks, yet without haste and with plenty of assurance. It possibly did not always hang together, but I loved the adventurous, unscripted approach.

Two long-form suite performances that I had heard previously and liked a lot, but did not get to at this festival – trumpeter Reuben Lewis’s I Hold the Lion’s Paw on Sunday and Cheryl Durongpisitkul’s Follow Me Through the Red Ash on Saturday – drew praise from many who attended.

One of the standout cultural collaborations at Wangaratta was The Three Seas, bringing modern jazz together with West Bengali folk music. Matt Keegan on saxophone joined Steve Elphick on bass, Raju Das Baul on vocals and khamak, Deo Ashis Mothey on vocals, guitar and dotora, and Gaurab Chatterjee on dubki, drums in two warmly engaging and virtuosic displays of musicianship on Friday and Sunday evenings. The interaction of Keegan with amazing vocalist Das Baul exemplified the close bonds formed among all these musicians, demonstrating again how well music succeeds in crossing boundaries.

I caught only part of another successful collaboration on Sunday afternoon when Julian Banks on saxophone joined Indonesian master percussionist Cepi Kusmiadi on the kendang sunda, a set of two-headed drums, along with James Hauptmann on drums and Chris Hale on bass. And I copped some justified criticism later that evening for not letting on in time that the Garden Quartet – featuring Iranian musician Gelareh Pour on kamancheh and voice, Mike Gallichio on electric guitar, Arman Habibi on santur and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drums – should not be missed.

Expectations can be dangerous. A restrained acoustic set in WPAC Theatre by guitarist Ben Hauptmann’s “ideal” septet of accomplished musicians was not what I had anticipated. It was a great line-up – Arne Hanna and Franco Raggatt on guitar, Harry Sutherland on piano, festival co-programmer Zoe Hauptmann on bass, James Hauptmann on drums and Evan Mannell on percussion – and there was no denying their musicianship, but selections played seemed more akin to French folk than jazz, and the pieces did not vary greatly.

I had no idea what to expect from the only US band, FORQ, which comprises Henry Hey on keyboards, Chris McQueen on guitar, Jason “JT” Thomas on drums and Kevin Scott on electric bass. In their final outing of two at the festival on Sunday night in WPAC Theatre they delivered an energetic rock-infused set, but nothing to rival the work of popular Snarky Puppy, of which McQueen is a member.

The fully pumped Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, fronted by Tina Harrod and Darren Percival on vocals, closed out the festival in St Pat’s Hall with a set so loud that I sought relief for my ears towards the back. I liked the setting of “Club St Pat’s” but missed the final night jam where musicians and fans mingled and celebrated music performed and music enjoyed.

To sum up in words what often speaks for itself, the eclectic mix of improvised music at 2018’s festival again delivered plenty to satisfy fans, again on a limited budget and this time without big internationally renowned names or a lot from the American songbook. Culturally diverse offerings worked well, as did the significant European contributions.

Some new, festival-initiated collaborations between visiting and Australian artists would have been icing on the cake.

Words were important in some instances, and the forceful messages of “concept-based” concerts by the AAO and Sirens will play on in my mind for some time.

ROGER MITCHELL

More images of the festival will be posted when time permits.

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CHORDS REFLECT CRISES, CULTURES

Cheryl

Cheryl Durongpisitkul performs Follow Me Through the Red Ash.      Image: Roger Mitchell

PREVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, November 2-4, 2018

Most music fans going to “Wang” this year will have made that decision some time ago, so this is intended as a guide to the myriad jazz gigs on offer.

With the Invictus Games fresh in our minds, the Australian Art Orchestra’s Friday night concert (8pm WPAC Theatre) entitled Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger than Space is an appropriate starting point. Based on a concept by Paul Grabowsky AO, composers Andrea Keller, Tilman Robinson and AAO Artistic Director Peter Knight focus on those who tried to pick up their ‘normal’ lives after the war. In three world premieres inspired by Monash University Faculty of Arts’ One Hundred Stories – which remember not only the men and women who lost their lives, but also those gassed, crippled, insane and irreparably damaged by war who returned to Australia – the composers employ archival recordings, tape, electronics and improvisation. Expect this to be challenging and affecting.

Similarly significant and topical issues will be addressed musically on Saturday (6.30pm WPAC Theatre) when Sirens Big Band performs [A]part: an hour-long suite by trumpet player Ellen Kirkwood, featuring Andrea Keller (piano), Sandy Evans (saxophones) and Gian Slater (voice). This work is a response to world issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and the omnipresence of the internet. This predominantly female and trans band is sure to deliver an arresting performance.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart.                      Image: Roger Mitchell

It’s great to have expatriate Australian guitarist Alex Stuart over from Paris again, this time with his French band – Irving Acao tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove trumpet and keyboards, Antoine Banville drums and Ouriel Ellert bass. Stuart’s fourth album, Aftermath (2017), reflects the dark turning points the world is facing, but is inspired by “the omnipresent and evident beauty that surrounds us”. Word is that this band is tight as and hot.

The quintet’s two outings (7.30pm Friday WPAC Hall and noon Saturday St Pat’s Hall) suffer a little from inevitable festival overlaps, but Melbourne audiences can also catch the band at 8pm on November 4 at The Jazzlab.

Less thematically concrete but definitely referencing the environment, Cheryl Durongpisitkul’s suite Follow Me Through the Red Ash (4pm Saturday, St Pat’s Hall) will draw on techniques in Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Petrushka to explore what Nikos Fotakis has described as a musical narrative that is “a kind of mystical environmental fairy tale, about the balance of power within an ecosystem”.

This year’s program places less emphasis on the American jazz tradition, offering an eclectic mix of artists and influences from Europe, Japan, India, Iran, Moravia, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Indonesia.

As well as Stuart’s quintet, Europe is well represented by saxophonist Yuri Honing (Holland) and Trio Elf (Germany), both certain to be festival highlights.

Honing’s conviction that Europe is undervalued, along with his love for classical music, history and art, influenced his 2017 album Goldbrun. Desire was Holland’s No.1 best selling album in 2015. Honing on tenor saxophone will join Wolfert Brederode (Holland) on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson (Iceland) on bass and Joost Lijbaart (Holland) on drums for two concerts (10pm Friday, and 10.30pm Saturday, WPAC Theatre). Expect peace, serenity, tension and mysticism.

Trio Elf

Trio Elf. Image: Uli-Zrenner-Wolkenstein

Trio Elf’s acoustic line-up comprises Walter Lang on piano (expressive melodies and energetic chords), Peter Cudek on acoustic bass (melodious counterpoint and low-register synth-like grooves) and Gerwin Eisenhauer (a drum machine come alive). In two concerts (8.30pm Saturday, WPAC Theatre and 8.30pm Sunday, St Pat’s Hall) expect jazz, classical, rock and electronic influences from a trio crossing between the modernistic, hyper-rhythmic and a more lyrical, traditional approach.

Connections between Australian and Japanese musicians will bear fruit at Wang this year in three outings. Recently returned after time in Japan, Australian trumpeter Niran Dasika will join Japan’s Sumire Kuribayashi – known for her storytelling on piano – to present KIRI (noon Saturday, Holy Trinity Cathedral), a suite inspired by the ‘nihonga’ paintings of Kaii Higashiyama. In a dectet on Sunday (noon, WPAC Theatre) Dasika and Kuribayashi will present longer forms and orchestral textures in her Pieces of Colour, along with Akihiro Yoshimoto (saxophones), Reiko Yamamoto (vibes), Tomohiro Yahiro (percussion), Yuki Ito (bass), Hideaki Kanazawa (bass), Hiro Kimura (drums), Kengo Komae (drums) and Australia’s James Macaulay (trombone).

On Saturday (2pm, WPAC Hall) Macaulay will lead the Hishakaku Quartet – named after a Yakitori restaurant in Tokyo – with Dasika on trumpet, Marty Holoubek on bass and Japan’s Shun Ishiwaka on drums. Their debut album, recorded in Tokyo in October last year, features compositions by Macaulay, Dasika and Holoubek.

Indian musical traditions will be reflected in three concerts at Wang, two featuring cross-cultural ensemble The Three Seas (9.30pm Friday, WPAC Hall and 8pm Sunday, WPAC Theatre). Fusing modern Australian jazz with West Bengali folk music, the band comprises Matt Keegan on saxophone, Steve Elphick on bass, Raju Das Baul on vocals and khamak, Deo Ashis Mothey vocals, guitar and dotora, Gaurab Chatterjee on dubki and drums. Expect echoes of traditional Baul, carnatic and Nepalese folk songs in danceable music that radiates joy. Raj Das Baul will also perform solo (3.30pm Sunday, Cathedral) on khamak, a string instrument originating in India, drawing on the rich folk forms of Baul music.

Gelareh Pour

Gelareh Pour Image: Roger Mitchell

Contemporary Persian and Western motifs will blend (7pm Sunday, WPAC Hall) when Gelareh Pour’s Garden Quartet guarantees to sway the heart and persuade the feet to tap. The band features Pour on kamancheh (Persian spiked fiddle) and voice, Mike Gallichio on electric guitar, Arman Habibi on santur (Persian hammered dulcimer) and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drum kit.

Composer and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros AM will seamlessly bring middle-eastern and classical music together with jazz and his sharp wit on Sunday (5.30pm, Cathedral). Moravian influences will be evident when pianist Emil Viklicky – known for his response to Janacek’s Sinfonietta – performs in a duo with trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky (1.30pm Sunday, Cathedral).

Adding to the international collaborations abundant at this festival, Indonesian master percussionist Cepi Kusmiadi will perform on the kendang sunda, a set of two-headed drums, with Australian musicians Julian Banks on saxophone, James Hauptmann on drums and Chris Hale on bass (4.30pm Sunday, WPAC Hall). They will perform music from their new album Agung, recorded in Denpasar to reflect their climbing of the volcano and good friends tackling adventure head on.

The Calling

Ray Pereira and Kanchana Karunaratna in The Calling. Image: Roger Mitchell

Sri Lanka is the focus of The Calling (1pm Saturday, WPAC Theatre), the fourth project in Adam Simmons’ acclaimed The Usefulness of Art concert series. This intensely personal work, performed by the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble with Afrolankan Drumming System and Vikram Iyengar, was inspired by sounds and experiences from Simmons’ first visit to Sri Lanka. Don’t miss it, if only to see whether Ray Pereira smiles.

Collaborations among Australian musicians have for many years delivered patrons at Wang the performances that are the most inspiring and long lasting in their impact. The huge amount of hard work and talent in this nation’s jazz musicians is regularly showcased at this festival. This year is no exception.

On Saturday (1pm, Cathedral) Sydney’s saxophonist, composer and educator Sandy Evans OAM will join Melbourne’s pianist, composer and educator Andrea Keller for a duo set that will undoubtedly delight. And on Sunday (3pm WPAC Theatre) one of our finest large ensembles, Ten Part Invention, will present some classic compositions from founding member Roger Frampton as well as new works by current band members. What a host of talent: Miroslav Bukovsky trumpet/musical director, Sandy Evans saxophones/musical director, Andrew Robson saxophones, Paul Cutlan saxophones, John Mackey saxophones, Warwick Alder trumpet, James Greening trombone, Paul McNamara piano, Steve Elphick bass, Dave Goodman drums.

Another concert not to let slip past unnoticed features Quattro Club (11am Saturday, WPAC Theatre) a new quartet consisting of Niko Schauble drums, Mirko Guerrini woodwinds, Joel Hands-Otte woodwinds and Dan Gordon tuba. Expect compositions as starting points, gently morphing group explorations and superb solos.

And for lovers of soul, vocalist Tina Harrod (1pm Sunday, WPAC Theatre) is sure to wow audiences with songs from her latest album City of Longing, performed with Stu Hunter on piano, Dave Symes bass, Matt Keegan saxophone, Evan Mannell drums, James Greening trombone, Cameron Deyell guitar, Ray Cassar trumpet, and on vocals Virna Sanzone, Evelyn Duprai and Lisa Spence.

For those who like their musicians to be daring or dangerous, trumpeter Reuben Lewis will lead Melbourne psychedelic jazz collective I Hold the Lion’s Paw in an outing (2pm Sunday, St Pat’s Hall) offering a trance-inducing concoction of electro-acoustic noise and slowly evolving soundtracks. Collective members on this occasion are Jordan Murray trombone, Cheryl Durongpisitkul alto sax and flute, Adam Halliwell guitar, David Brown electric bass, Maria Moles drums and Tom Lee double bass.

No festival should be without some fun, and Wang promises to deliver that via two concerts. Canada’s The Shuffle Demons (10pm Saturday, WPAC Hall) wear spectacular hand-painted suits and love to parade through the audience as they play a mix of funk jazz, hard bop jazz and jazz rap. On sax and vocals are Richard Underhill, Matt Lagan and Shawn Nykwist, while Michael Herring contributes bass and vocals and Stich Wynston drums and vocals. That’s a lot of vocals. Expect wild romps into the crowd, free jazz, danceable funk, poetry and killer solos.

A Great Rack and an Empty Reverb (6pm Sunday, St Pat’s Hall) is apparently a cross between jazz and stand up comedy, with Maria Moles (drums/percussion), Adam Halliwell (guitar/synth) and Emily Bennett (vocals/effects rack) offering what we might encounter at a New York comedy club in a weird parallel universe.

And no festival these days can be without a band that can appeal to a younger audience. After all, the occasional longstanding jazz follower at Wang may be a little long in the tooth. (Who said that?) So, the big attraction this year in that space, gathering the right metrics, will be the US outfit FORQ (9.15pm Saturday, St Pat’s Hall and 10pm Sunday, WPAC Theatre). FORQ was founded by keyboardist Henry Hey (David Bowie, Empire of the Sun, Jeff “Tain” Watts) and bassist Michael League (Grammy-winning leader of Snarky Puppy). Now Kevin Scott on bass joins Hey, Chris McQueen (Snarky Puppy, Bokanté) on guitar and Jason “JT” Thomas (Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Marcus Miller, D’Angelo) on drums. The band’s third album Thrēq (pronounced “threek”) was released late in 2017.

Drums are the featured instrument in the National Jazz Awards, the 10 finalists being Alex Hirlian, 24 (Sydney, NSW), Alex Reid, 25 (Perth, WA), Alexander Inman-Hislop, 25 (Petersham, NSW), Alf Jackson, 27 (Hobart, Tas), Angus Mason, 25 (Glengowie, SA), Damien Ellis, 32 (Thornbury, Vic), James McLean, 28 (Preston, Vic), Josh Baldwin, 33 (Adelaide, SA), Lewis Pierre-Humbert, 27 (Tecoma, Vic), and Oli Nelson, 25 (Redfern, NSW). The hard-working support band comprises Stu Hunter piano, Brendan Clarke bass and Paul Cutlan saxophones. The judges are David Jones, Hamish Stuart, Dave Goodman.

After all that listening to other drummers, Jones will join Evri Evripidou on six-string bass (9pm Sunday, WPAC Hall) as Third Ear to create sonicscapes “born without pre-conception”.

There are other Wang concerts not mentioned in this guide, but that does not mean they won’t entrance, enthral and appeal.

St Pat’s Hall will be set out differently this year, offering a club-like atmosphere. And that will be setting for the closing concert of the festival, The Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, which celebrates the energy, passion, and dazzlingly inventive arrangements of Hungarian-born bandleader, composer and visionary Jackie Orszaczky, who died of Lymphoma in 2008. Fronted by Tina Harrod and vocalist Darren Percival, the ensemble will feature many players who performed regularly with Jackie over the years. With Dave Symes bass, Hamish Stuart drums, Stu Hunter keys, Clayton Doley keys, Arne Hanna guitar, Matt Keegan saxophone, James Greening trombone and Virna Sanzone backing vocals, this should wrap up Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues in style.

ROGER MITCHELL

BRANDIS-ING LIFESTYLE CHOICES

Sandy Evans

Sandy Evans performs at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues

REVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2016

There is a political dimension to the performance of live music that often goes unmentioned. Yet it was present at this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, whether in frequent black-humoured mentions of “lifestyle choices” (the products of which apparently we were hearing onstage) or in passing comments that did not reflect well on Attorney-General and former arts minister George Brandis, who is widely blamed for funding cuts to the arts.

It was also obvious in the program, which featured fewer international artists, and in what appeared from observation to be fewer bums on seats — both a result of this renowned and much-loved music festival having to significantly tighten the purse strings. Let’s hope — and work towards — that situation improving in the years to come. This annual gathering of jazz and blues musicians has a proud history.

It was apposite, in this context, that multi-instrumentalist Adam Simmons included, in a set by the trio Origami in St Patrick’s Hall, three pieces from The Usefulness of Art, an album inspired by Rodin that reflects on what artistic experience and participation can offer society — acceptance, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith — “at a time when fear governs politics rather than vision and principles, at a time when we cannot offer our hand to those in need, at a time when support for music education is diminishing”.

Mind you, those wise sentiments come from a musician who plays in his socks, which are often red.

And these layabouts who have chosen to fiddle with their instruments on stage rather than doing a real job are almost certainly commos. For instance, flamboyant pianist Barney McAll tore up a picture of Donald Trump live on stage in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre during a performance by his band ASIO (Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit).

And the program devised by the festival’s prominent and no doubt left-wing artistic director (or creative director as he is known this year) Adrian Jackson is clearly leading a gender-based assault on the world of jazz, displaying as the line-up did “the strength and diversity of female jazz and blues artists, whether as vocalists, instrumentalists, bandleaders and composers”.

But I digress. Wasn’t this review supposed to be about music?

There is no single feature that makes any session of live music work for an audience, and no audience that is entirely of one mind. Yet many times an audience will feel and go with the vibe, delighting in whatever works collectively — be it virtuosic playing, full-on hard bop, intricacy and subtlety, or various forms of complexity. That is hardly an exhaustive list.

On Friday night Paul Grabowsky and Monash Art Ensemble joined Daniel and David Wilfred from Arnhem Land in a performance of Nyilipidgi that some found challenging. It was not my first experience of this work, which probably helped, and I thought it allowed two musical traditions — modern jazz and Indigenous ceremony — to cohere powerfully and emotively. The Wilfred brothers were expressive in their movements, although they did not dance as in a previous performance I’d seen.

The Long Way Around, Ronan Guilfoyle’s trio from Ireland, displayed understanding as well as propulsion and intensity in what was a fairly restrained outing.

And to close the evening, award-winning Chilean expatriate saxophonist Melissa Aldana formed Crash Trio with countryman Pablo Menares on bass and Colin Stranahan (US) on drums in a concert that never seemed to move or excite. Aldana displayed fluidity and technical expertise, but on this occasion lacked that indefinable ability to make us captives to her talent.

I made it to a dozen concerts on Saturday, but for too many of those I did not hear all of each gig because of overlapping concerts. Pianist Andrea Keller — whose contributions to this festival were a highlight — joined Eugene Ball on trumpet and Tamara Murphy on bass for Transients IV, one of Keller’s trios inspired by and in memory of the late Allan Browne. There was so much magnetism and space in the originals they played that I did not want to leave.

It was also a treat to hear expatriate trombonist Shannon Barnett and her fellow band member from Germany Stefan Karl Schmid on saxophone perform with Monash University Big Band, assuredly demonstrating under the direction of Jordan Murray that there are many young, talented “lifestyle choice” enthusiasts out there.

It often doesn’t work to hear half a concert, but festival programs make that hard to avoid. In Holy Trinity Cathedral at noon on Saturday, however, Luke Howard on piano along with Jonathan Zion on bass and Danny Farrugia on drums were superb advocates for their album The Electric Night Descends. This intricate, layered and beautiful music swelled and receded in the lofty space, its mesmeric quality staying with me long afterwards, despite my early departure from the set.

This uplifting mood was built upon in Celebrating Bernie McGann, Sandy Evans on tenor sax and Andrew Robson on alto joining Warwick Alder on trumpet, Brendan Clarke on bass and Andrew Dickeson on drums in a tribute to the inspirational musician who died in 2013. Evans said some of McGann’s compositions were “the best of all time” before the quartet performed her commissioned four-part suite, Loose, Long, Taste, Groove. We heard sprightly and sharp trumpet, a marvellous maelstrom of sound, twanging resonance and splendid horns mingling. Evans played with heart, soul, presence, spirit, feeling — call it what you will — and Robson sent alto notes darting as he ducked and weaved behind the music stand. It was indeed a celebration.

At 2.30pm the Luke Howard Trio members emerged from their telephone box clad in the colours of saxophonist Anton Delecca’s quartet and the transformation worked. I heard only the first half, but the versatility of these players exemplified the fact that they don’t get to take on a lifestyle choice without hard work. And it pays … well, not in big bucks maybe, but in the music that emerges.

Pianist Tal Cohen was unable to return from the US for a duet performance with saxophonist Jamie Oehlers, but Paul Grabowsky stepped into the breach. These two know each other so well. During their exquisite rendition of Armistice I vividly recalled the soft pastel hues of Afghan sunsets, and Oehlers’ work in The Dreaming was air-filled subtlety as the duo explored simple patterns. But the high point of this outing for me was a fully improvised piece that recalled their engrossing Lost and Found album. It’s a wonderful device to go unscripted — a tiny element of suspense demands our attention as we wonder where will they take the piece, who’s changing the mood or tempo or dynamics, and how will they know when to end it.

Jazz critic for a Murdoch publication John McBeath has described the Joseph O’Connor Trio as “an important new Australian talent” and he’s not wrong. O’Connor says the trio’s first album Praxis is inspired by his “study of dissonant counterpoint” and “combine a spacious, non-tonal harmonic palette with an intricate rhythmic sensibility”. I’d express it more simply by saying that it is not necessary to understand fully the complexity or intricacy of the structures this band explores to find it absorbing and engrossing. It really is worth an attentive listen and deeply satisfying.

The evening session on Saturday brought two festival highlights, the first being Ronan Guilfoyle’s eight-part suite A Shy-Going Boy, which set out to explore duality, complexity and ambiguity in the life of his grandfather, Joseph Guilfoyle, who was a volunteer in the 1916 Rising in Ireland. Voice recordings were a powerful adjunct to this carefully crafted set of pieces that, for instance, changed from jaunty and bright to sombre lament within A Dog With Two Tails. Ronan was joined by son Chris on guitar, Matt Jacobson on drums and Australians Scott Tinkler on trumpet, Jamie Oehlers on sax and Andrea Keller on piano. It was a challenging and sobering work of a similar ilk to Lloyd Swanton’s Ambon, but not on the same scale.

Shannon Barnett

Shannon Barnett

The audience in St Pat’s Hall at 9.15pm heard Shannon Barnett in her element, joined by her German group of Stefan Karl Schmid, David Helm on bass and Fabian Arends on drums, playing her compositions. This was a special outing for Barnett’s many fans and a musical treat, full of warmth and depth in the air-cushioned horns that seem to call for the epithet “resplendent” as they flow upwards and outwards from the stage. I loved the timbres and the finesse and restraint of the drums, as well as the traditional jazz feel of Hope Solo. Barnett’s characteristic humour showed through. An error in the festival app led me to miss this quartet’s second outing next day, which was a great pity.

The Wangaratta debut by bassist Tamara Murphy’s Spirograph Studies took quite a different approach that eschewed solos in favour of a group ethos as band members took a more textural and developmental approach to each piece. I did not catch the whole performance, but found it hard to resist the desire for more variation or more movement towards a destination. This is a group to watch.

Melissa Aldana

Melissa Aldana steps up her intensity.

Before a visit to the Blues Marquee to hear Geoff Achison I heard the opening piece of Melissa Aldana’s Crash Trio. It was New Points and Aldana continued to deliver fluidity in her long solos, but seemed to have stepped up the level of intensity compared with her previous night’s outing.
The last thing you need on a Sunday morning is Confrontations, but that’s what Joseph O’Connor’s trio with Scott Tinkler on trumpet delivered in spades. This five-piece suite was written as his PBS Young Elder of Jazz commission. It was utterly compelling in WPAC Hall, but not at all as I had imagined or as the title suggested. It’s not my place to infringe on an artist’s naming rights, but surely interactions, intersections, juxtaposings or congruities may have fitted just as well. There were deep raspings and higher register explorations from Tinkler, and fragmented, percussive piano onslaughts from O’Connor. But there were exquisite eddies and currents in there too, along with quite beautiful and gentle interventions as paths criss-crossed and patterns formed and dissolved. The tension-filled Blocks ended a great outing.

Ronan Guilfoyle is not only an accomplished composer for diverse ensembles and bass guitarist, he is evidently well versed in a wide range of musical traditions. When his trio performed in WPAC Hall the first three pieces drew on New Orleans funk, a reggae groove and North African gnawa rhythms. At times I found the drums too strong for intricate and well executed guitar work by Chris Guilfoyle, but the final piece I heard, Not Too Chabby, built to a stirring finale that was, well, you guessed it, not too shabby at all.

At 1pm in WPAC Theatre I caught the opening three pieces by a stirring sextet led by saxophonist Kellie Santin, who returned to Melbourne some time ago after 11 years in London. This was a swinging band that obviously enjoyed what they were doing — it is a lifestyle choice after all — and they were tight and lively. As they played Save Your Love For Me, Street Life and Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, it was obvious that Santin had wooed and won quite a few audiences in her career and this outing was going to be polished and professional.

I left for something completely different. Adam Simmons on soprano sax and Nick Tsiavos on contrabass were playing Sixteen Allelulias at Holy Trinity. Indulge me here as I wax lyrical, albeit perhaps not as much as this duo.

As I listened to this constantly liminal exchange between two artists of sound, I remarked on their understanding, their exquisite timing, the deliberateness of their interventions and the contrast in their instrumentation — deeply resonant bass, air-filled saxophone notes. Their periods of unison were broken by slight extensions or delays. The bass notes deepen, the sax holds back. They exchange a look, then Simmons bounces in, but never overplays. They are a study in empathy and in listening (it is part of many lifestyle choices, after all). Sax notes seem to be exquisitely laid upon the bass notes, or poured on to them. The result is iridescent.

Past tense returns: It was almost big clash time, and crunch time. I wanted to hear Sandy Evans Trio with Bobby Singh on tabla, as well as Barney McAll’s ASIO. The resultant switch was jarring to say the least.

At 2.30pm in WPAC Hall Evans launched into an amazingly intense and rhythmically compelling solos over a drone, before Singh began on tablas. They played a Sri Lankan tune and then Robben Island from their album Kapture, a tribute to anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 26 years. I wanted to hear more. Much more.

But at 3pm I was next door ready — but utterly unprepared — for McAll’s ASIO. There were four men in Hi Vis vests ready to create chaos for their leader, but often seemingly wondering what he would require of them next. McAll held up signs with assorted instructions (“Make bird calls”?), tore up a picture of Donald Trump and talked wildly of parking tickets paid, needing milk and finding a 7-Eleven. He also distorted his voice in a most effective fashion via his synthesiser.

As usual with this creative performer, amid all this absolute and utter craziness there were sobering moments, as when he referred to a piece written about people “who appear to have everything, but don’t”. And McAll said judging the National Jazz Awards was “one of the hardest things I’ve had to do” — and we believed him.

Speaking of those awards, Adam Simmons mentioned just before the final judging that he had entered three times and had no success. So, as he said, there was hope for those who missed out.

National Jazz Awards winner for 2016 Mike Rivett

National Jazz Awards winner for 2016 Mike Rivett

The results were as follows: 1st Mike Rivett (Cairns), 2nd Troy Roberts (Perth) and 3rd Jeremy Rose (Sydney). Congratulations to those three and all who made the final 10 who performed in heats during the festival.

Anyone still reading at this point deserves a national jazz reader award. Sorry, no prizes.

At 7pm Melbourne Jazz Cooperative’s Martin Jackson introduced Andrea Keller’s Transients I, featuring Julien Wilson on tenor and bass clarinet, and Sam Anning on double bass. This began with Allan Browne’s Cyclosporin and ended with Hand Me Downs. In between we heard wonderful compositions by Keller and Anning. Keller’s tribute to the late John Taylor, a pianist and mentor, entitled Grateful, Hopeful, Joyful, was breathtakingly beautiful — Julien Wilson take a bow here. (But remember, there’s no money in it, because it’s a lifestyle choice.)

And I thought it would all be over after the 9pm outing by the Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Quintet, which included Angela Davis’s moving Hymn For the Lonely and Keller’s tribute to John Taylor. Zoe Hauptmann on bass had met drummer Sonja Horbelt that morning. Surely this was a fitting way to end a festival in which many women musicians put their lifestyle choices on the line.

James Morrison

What a line-up: Olivia Chindamo, Troy Roberts , Matt Jodrell, James Morrison, Patrick Danao, Harry Morrison.

But it was not to be. The Morrison clan had other plans.

That’s James Morrison (on trumpet, trombone, piano and — at the Pinsent Hotel later on double bass), William Morrison on guitar and the amazingly speedy and dextrous Harry Morrison on bass. They gathered Troy Roberts (tenor), Carl Mackay (alto), Matt Jodrell (trumpet and piano), Patrick Danao (drums) and Olivia Chindamo (vocal gymnastics) in an all-out extravaganza that wowed an absolutely packed WPAC Theatre.

That’s a whole lot of people in that audience that went away with a smile on their faces because of lifestyle choices.

Down at the Pinsent Hotel were a few more of those layabouts on stage who had no real jobs. But what happens at the Pinsent stays at the Pinsent.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note to self: Write something soon about the festival app that was far from accurate or complete. And add some images.