Tag Archives: Wangaratta



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.




Was Wangaratta the Naked City? The scene early Monday at a jam session of interest. (Face of performance artist pixelated)

REVIEW: Wangaratta Jazz 2014

Ausjazz samples 25 concerts in the 25th year of the Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival and finds many expectations fulfilled and many unexpected moments of magic

The 1948 film entitled The Naked City closed with the line, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City and this has been one of them.” Well, one story to come out of the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival in its 25th year was about a young man, possibly a guitarist, who it is alleged was close to naked on stage at the Sunday night jam session in a local pub of some interest to jazz fans.

That’s one story, and there will be a lot more — if not quite eight million, at least as many as there were patrons at this long weekend feast of great music. Artistic director Adrian Jackson is not revealing that number yet, but the queues seemed long and most venues were well filled.

This review has to be just one of those stories — it is a personal account, after all — but each festival seems to offer up its own take on the concerts, hinting at a theme, riff or melody that can be picked up and taken somewhere in the way that improvising musicians are doing all the time.

My story this year is about expectations. It can be good to have them — they ensure interest and build excitement. If they are met, it makes us happy. If not, of course, we may be disappointed. We can be locked in by expectations and be less likely to adapt and go with the flow. Best of all, perhaps, is when we are unexpectedly pleased — that’s when serendipity strikes.

So, being a glass half full kind of guy (that’s not really true, but let’s run with it), let me start with the gigs that fulfilled, or surpassed, expectations. There were plenty.

Roger Manins

Roger Manins tackles plastic recorder … what key is it in?

On Friday night, New Zealander Roger Manins’ band Hip Flask (Manins on tenor, Stu Hunter organ, Adam Ponting piano, Brendan Clarke bass and Toby Hall drums) was a ripping set by top musicians who also had a lot of fun. From 9.42 Mayday (Mannins) through Revolution (Hunter), Droop Blues (Ponting) and beyond, they held the packed WPAC Hall audience in thrall, adding some fun to the mix when Manins took a brand new plastic recorder from its packaging on stage and began to play — with some success. I found it hard to leave as the band played a ballad, Manins’ tenor being so captivating.

On Saturday, a necessarily brief visit to hear trumpet maestro Scott Tinkler’s Drub, with Carl Dewhurst guitar and Simon Barker drums, was fierce balm for the soul and I revelled in it — as did the players. They blew away cobwebs and filled me with warmth.

Later, drummer Danny Fischer’s band from his New York days, Spoke, with his talented friends Andy Hunter on trombone, Justin Wood on saxophone/flute and Dan Loomis on bass, provided collegiate inventiveness, seamless transitions and a feast of timbres as well as humour and pieces that were carefully nurtured to the last note. This band was up against tough competition, so I caught two half gigs rather than one complete concert. Both outings, on the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, confirmed their worth. Let’s hope Spoke returns soon.

James Greening

James Greening wrapped up in his music.

On Sunday afternoon, Greening from Ear to Ear, featuring luminaries gathered by the inimitable James Greening, this time adding sousaphone to his trombone and pocket trumpet, had to be a festival highlight and it was.  What a wonderful choice of musicians and instruments. With baritone sax, bass clarinet and accordion in the mix and texturally rich layers wafting gently over each other or gathering momentum and swing, this was thoughtful, intelligent jazz spiced with humour and a dash or two of serious reflection.

Pianist Sam Keevers paid tribute to the late Bernie McGann in a quintet that lived up to all expectations. They played Sweet Lucy, Mail and Second Wind before I had to leave, reluctantly, but Bernie would have surely been happy with the result.

Who says jazz can’t rock? My high hopes of Steve Magnusson’s new band Kinfolk were based on the line-up and instrumentation. These guys did not disappoint, their foray into rock-infused material featuring a Hammond organ and the compositions having a bit of an edge.

And in Holy Trinity Cathedral immediately after that, master of many instruments Adam Simmons joined esteemed pianist Tony Gould on an adventure that prompted a fan beside me to ask, “Is this a highlight of the festival? It’s perfect. Top.” Whether whisper-quiet on shakuhachi or going wild on tenor sax, Simmons seemed to have music dancing within him, welling up and spilling out. Gould seemed like an anchor, a haven of peace and reassurance.

Enrico Rava

Enrico Rava with Papa Carlo

Finally, in outings that fulfilled or exceeded expectations, visiting Italian trumpet maestro Enrico Rava reunited with drummer Niko Schauble’s band Papa Carlo in a breathtaking rendition — and exploration beyond — Sleep My Child, a track from their album Night Music of 1994. It called to my mind Keats’s immortal line on the nightingale’s song, “Now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain…” It’s not that I particularly wanted to go just yet, but in the serene phosphorescence or staccato rumblings or guttural grumblings or occasionally soaring horn notes of this superbly layered and at times eerie improvisation, it seemed the world was transcended.

Rava, with three concerts, was the international headline artist. I thought that in his enjoyable Friday evening gig the standout performers were the Monash University contingent. I liked the way the format allowed them to shine in small groups, with Rava as a gracious host who listened attentively and did not try to grab the limelight. Monash is known for joining students with their teachers in ensembles and it works. But credits for some excellent solos extended beyond mentors Paul Grabowsky, Rob Burke, Jordan Murray, Stephen Magnusson and Mirko Guerrini, with entrancing work at the piano by Joel Trigg and on tenor sax by Paul Cornelius.

On Saturday Rava could not have asked for a better band than Grabowsky, Guerrini, Schauble and bassist Frank Di Sario. It was a little disappointing that Rava chose a set of standards, but we began to see his facility with the instrument, especially the sudden variations in volume, his love of brief, explosive interventions and at times a Tomasz Stanko-like air cushion. There were sparks and spears from the horn, but not sustained tension. As was evident in Rava’s talk with Miriam Zolin during the National Jazz Awards judging, he is a warm and engaging fellow, and that fits with his music.

Jeff "Tain" Watts

Jeff “Tain” Watts plays WPAC Theatre on Sunday night.

But what of the other major international drawcard, judged by some to be the “world’s best drummer” Jeff “Tain” Watts? Surely he and his high-powered quartet, featuring expatriate Australian Troy Roberts on tenor saxophone, Osmany Paredes on piano and Chris Smith on bass, exceeded expectations. Well, yes and no. Watts seemed a different player in the festival’s closing concert on Sunday night than on the previous night, when he seemed distant and uninvolved, leaving the amazingly talented Roberts and virtuosic Paredes to take the honours.

Troy Roberts

Troy Roberts

In closing the festival, Watts certainly lived up to his reputation as an extraordinary practitioner of the complex mathematics involved in virtuosic, rapid-fire drumming that can set hearts pumping and bring patrons to their feet. As expected, the packed WPAC Theatre crowd loved it and most fans’ expectations would have been well met. But Watts’ drumming is more about speed, flourish and dexterity, and the quartet — with the exception of the undeniably beautiful ballad Reverie in both sets — runs mostly at full throttle. In Watts’ drumming there is often little or no space and not a lot of apparent variation, at least to the uninitiated in the finer points of the art.

The other Watts contribution to this festival came on Saturday afternoon when Tain’s wife Laura brought her pocket trumpet to a quartet with her husband, Smith, Roberts and guests Zac Hurren on tenor and her old friend James Sherlock on guitar. They played pieces from Laura’s suite Elicit Inquest, inspired by Ellington’s book Music Is My Mistress. This was a cool rather than an overly engaging set, with any real fire coming from Roberts and Hurren.



Among home-grown gigs that did not quite live up to expectations, the Australian Art Orchestra’s second airing of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue suffered somewhat from its billing as a contemporary response to the music and life of Louis Armstrong, using his letters as a way into the story of his life. The suite composed and arranged by Eugene Ball did not quite succeed in providing that, in part because the words delivered so spectacularly by pop vocalist Ngaire were not entirely clear and the visual component was highly abstract.

Without that expectation I would have been much happier, because this was inventive in its instrumentation and took us on an at times fascinating journey with many spectacular sights and sounds. In the end I freely admit I did not fully grasp all there was to see and hear, and found the work sporadically engaging rather than cohesive.

Mike Nock

The dude abides: Mike Nock

Mike Nock always comes with incredibly high expectations and his Trio Plus definitely ended on a high with the lively, energetic composition The Dude Abides. But earlier the band seemed to favour the solo-follows-solo model rather than ensemble work with more interaction. Nock, as always, was compelling on piano and Brett Hirst was strong on bass, but there seemed to be a little too much sameness in some solos and not quite enough to hold our interest. Guest musicians Karl Laskowsky on tenor and National Jazz Awards winner this year Carl Morgan on guitar certainly did not lack skill or technique, but perhaps inventiveness. That said, Nock could well be dubbed The Dude, and he abides.

Without mentioning all of the 25 concerts I attended, there are some for which I had no expectations in particular, but which delivered serendipitous moments in spades.

Lisa Parrott

Lisa Parrott

These included expatriate Australian Lisa Parrott’s reunion on Saturday with mates Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Cameron Undy on bass and Simon Barker on drums. There are already way too many words in this review, but this band’s rendition of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman was spectacular, brim full of interest, texture and timbre. The rapport among these players was evident throughout this standout set.

Ben Gillespie

Ben Gillespie in Holy Trinity Cathedral

On a whim I ducked into Holy Trinity Cathedral on Saturday to catch the unusual match of Tony Gould with Hoodangers trombonist Ben Gillespie. If only I had gone there earlier. While Gould played a Benjamin Britten arrangement of the folk song Down by the Salley Gardens, Gillespie sang the lyrics in falsetto. This was absolute magic. Then his trombone produced notes of burnished gold so soft and light that they floated off to melt away in the lofty cathedral vaults. Gould was glowing as he played and delighted in Gillespie’s vocal rendition of My Journey to the Sky, “dedicated to anyone who has lost someone recently”.

Earlier that day at the cathedral, Steve Grant treated us to early stride and ragtime pieces, among them that Scott Joplin classic Solace, which he played sublimely.

And on Sunday morning, Gillespie was joined by the Hoodangers crew in a set that included Eugene Ball’s composition Trumpet, which had a minor feel and featured a major solo (in its impact) by Phil Noy on alto sax. It was another set full of serendipitous delights and a great way to start the day.

And that’s a great point at which to halt this review of Wangaratta Jazz 2014. It’s just one story. Please send me yours.






Barney McAll

Barney McAll with his hand-painted albums at Wangaratta Jazz 2013

On loan from New York City, pianist and composer Barney McAll has two gigs in Melbourne before his return to the US. At Bennetts Lane Jazz Club at 9pm tonight (November 13, 2013) he will be in his Non-Compliance Trio with Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Hamish Stuart on drums.

I’ll be working ’til midnight, but luckily I heard the trio at the recent Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival. I also have one of Barney’s hand-painted albums that he promises to have available at tonight’s gig.

Barney McAll

Barney McAll performs solo in Wangaratta’s Holy Trinity Cathedral in 2013.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, November 14) at 9pm, also at Bennetts Lane, he will give a solo performance of new music from his piano recording Every Piano Should Have A House In It.

Both these outings are a chance to catch the McAll magic before Barney disappears again to Obamacare country.