Tag Archives: Wangaratta Jazz



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

Haaken Mjasset Johansen with Motif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norwegian band Motif

Norwegian band Motif

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

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

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

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

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

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




Murphy’s Law premieres “Big Creatures Little Creatures: The Modular Suite”, written for MIJF by PBS Young Elder of Jazz Competition winner Tamara Murphy — Jordan Murray trombone, Nashua Lee guitar, Tamara Murphy bass, Joe Talia & Daniel Farrugia on drums and percussion — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Saturday, June 2 at 8pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012

Murphy's Law

Murphy’s Law plays “Big Creatures & Little Creatures: The Modular Suite”

It’s the sign of a good festival, I’ve been told, when there are gigs you’d love to be at that clash with others you can’t miss. Tamara Murphy‘s suite clashed with visiting saxophonist Chris Potter‘s appearance with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra at The Forum and I had decided on the big band — until I realised that fast footwork could allow a visit to Bennetts Lane before catching Potter in the second set.

Nashua Lee

Nashua Lee

I was really glad that I’d opted to hear the Australian (and world) premiere of Murphy’s work, because it was entrancing. It was also, to my surprise given the modular nature of the suite (referred to by Murphy in an interview with Miriam Zolin before the work was complete), not at all fragmented, but rather seemed to be compellingly cohesive.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

But how much was improvised on the night and how much was scripted? None of the musicians appeared to be using any charts, and there was a level of concentration and intensity that usually accompanies spontaneous improvisation. Clearly the musicians were highly attentive to what the others were up to, but it was almost as if they were following a script that was not written down, yet was in their heads. Surely there must have been hours of rehearsal for this suite to work so well, but I do not know whether that’s the case.

Daniel Farrugia

Daniel Farrugia

The suite came across as an exploration of timbres and textures in a way that was tonally and percussively rich — even luxuriant at times. Some pairings of instruments worked extremely well — Murphy’s bowed bass with Murray’s muted trombone, Lee’s guitar with Murphy’s bowed bass — and Farrugia’s intensity on drums contributed significantly.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

Big Creatures Little Creatures was relatively subdued until the latter stages, when that changed as the work ended in a real climax. The tight playing at this point emphasised the musicians’ synchronicity, especially as exemplified by Talia and Farrugia, who worked faultlessly together on drums in a way that was hard to believe.

Daniel Farrugia

Daniel Farrugia

I would definitely like to hear this suite performed again, perhaps at a Stonnington Jazz or Wangaratta Jazz festival. It deserves a wider audience than there was space for in the large room at Bennetts Lane, though that was packed.

Daniel Farrugia & Tamara Murphy

Daniel Farrugia & Tamara Murphy

With this work, Murphy and her colleagues have added to the growing list of important and engrossing suites created in Australia, such as those by Allan Browne et al (The Drunken Boat, Une Saison en Enfer) in Melbourne and Stu Hunter (The Muse, The Gathering) in Sydney.



Tuesday, March 22 at 9pm, Bennetts Lane, Melbourne


Callum G'Froerer

Callum G'Froerer at Wangaratta 2010 with Johannes Leubbers Dectet

Perth-based trumpet player Callum G’Froerer leads a new quartet featuring Brett Thompson (Perth) on guitar, Alex Boneham (Sydney) on bass and Hugh Harvey (Melbourne) on drums.

We had two glimpses of Callum G’Froerer in 2010. In July he was with the Mace Francis Orchestra at Bennetts Lane, his solos featuring in There’s Nothing to Say, The Preacher is Broken and Pine Tree Blisters. Then, with the Johannes Luebbers Dectet, he played St Patrick’s Hall in the opening night of Wangaratta Jazz in October. The dectet’s performance was a highlight of the festival, and I noted at the time the “richly expressive trumpet” of G’Froerer and that his solo in Just Ripe was “capable of melting the hardest of hearts”.

For more details of G’Froerer’s musical journey so far, which has include time last year at Banff Centre Workshop for Jazz and Improvised Music, visit his website.

I’m looking forward to hearing this quartet from Perth, Melbourne and Sydney play compositions inspired by a trip to the US and Banff, as well as selections from G’Froerer and Brett Thompson’s collaborative work from 2009 based on the life of Robert Johnson.

As well as the performance on Tuesday, the quartet will play on March 24 at 8.30pm at Vibe On Smith St for a “Special Thursday” show. Entry: $10.

Callum G'Froerer

Callum G'Froerer (trumpet) in Mace Francis Orchestra