Tag Archives: Wheeler Centre

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 6

FORUM ON IDENTITY AT THE WHEELER CENTRE

Paul Grabowsky was the consummate moderator for this discussion, which had in the panel Charles Lloyd, Martin Jackson, Theo Bleckmann and, at late notice, Gian Slater. It was a great success and I understand it was recorded for broadcast on the ABC. They covered a lot of ground, starting with how jazz is defined, how the local scene had changed, and the ways in which genres and demarcations in music are being broken down.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd

Lloyd related a story from Bernie Grundman, who masters Lloyd’s albums, about a friend who took a much younger girlfriend at Bennetts Beach. She came in to find him listening to Bill Evans and, surprised, commented: “You actually listen to music”. Lloyd said music was “healing” and could “change the molecules in the room”.

Theo Bleckmann
Theo Bleckmann looks for people who listen

Bleckmann asked the Wheeler Centre audience how many actually listened to music without doing anything else, and was surprised at how many hands went up. He was optimistic about how being part of the music scene, buying albums, going to gigs and talking about the music was valuable.

Lloyd called for wakefulness to avoid the sleepwalking that “is wanted by a certain society”.

Martin Jackson
Martin Jackson

Jackson said he was not pessimistic about the Melbourne sccene, only about state politicians. He thanked Sophie Brous for having done “a fantastic job with this festival” and, in a moving comment, recalled not having listened to any music for 3-4 days after his father died and splitting from a long-time partner. It was in Coltrane’s music that he eventually found solace.

These are only a few snippets from this forum. Forums are a great idea and there should be more of them. My only reservation in this instance was that Slater, who was given late notice that Allan Browne could not make it, and Bleckmann did not get a chance to say quite as much. Perhaps the number of panelists could be reduced, but probably it is just how things work out on the day.

Gian Slater
Gian Slater

DOUBLE BILL: JASON MORAN SOLO at BMW Edge

After the forum I hurried to BMW Edge for a short, but engrossing set by Jason Moran on piano. Opening with the words “This is a piano”, Moran let loose an assortment of sampled voices and sounds. This was clearly not going to be an ordinary piano recital. Among the words that flowed as Moran played were (I think) Edward VIII saying, “At long last I am able to say a few words of my own”, Nikita Khrushchev saying to Richard Nixon, “The time has passed when ideas scare us”, and Jelly Roll Morton saying, “Jazz is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm. When you have plenty rhythm with your plenty swing, it becomes beautiful.”

In a piece written by or for Moran’s former teacher Jaki Byard, there were tempo changes, a ragtime melody, strong chords followed by dancing notes, varied dynamics, plosive outbursts and beautiful runs up and down the keyboard before a fragment of familiar melody. Moran changed the mood on a dime, so to speak. He then played in sync with a talking woman’s voice as she prattled about breaking down barriers between the art world and the general public. Magic, inventive stuff.

Moran seemed to improvise to electronic static in his penultimate piece, which gradually assumed a hymn-like feel. His clearly defined notes were unhurried, rich in resonance and simple, with some sharp, dissonant attacks. He turned up the volume on sampling in his final number.

As Moran would say in his forum appearance on Saturday, the rich jazz tradition from which he has emerged is important to him, but that still leaves him the freedom to appreciate excursions away from that tradition. His solo appearance bears that out.

Jason Moran
Jason Moran

AHMAD JAMAL at Melbourne Recital Centre

Unwisely I left at the break and dashed to the Recital Centre for Ahmad Jamal, but was too unsettled there. Switching concerts is almost always a mistake, I find, because it is hard to approach the new gig in anything but a rushed frame of mind.
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Ahmad Jamal directs Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I had wanted to hear the second set at the Edge, so I was not as receptive to Ahmad Jamal’s quartet — James Cammack on bass, Manolo Badrena on percussion and Herlin Riley on drums (replacing Kenny Washington) — as I should have been. The music seemed too lush and splendiforous, the piano playing too expansive and lacking the space.

Herlin Riley and James Cammack
Herlin Riley and James Cammack

Also, I was forced to fend off Melbourne Recital Centre staff who thought I was filming video, and then (the last straw) I was asked to move out of the seat I had been told to sit in when I arrived. I left and returned to BMW Edge. An enduring image as I left was of Manolo Badrena surrounded by what seemed like a barricade of percussion devices, almost as though he was performing from a cage. In fact the ensemble seemed to have a lot of clutter on stage and that seemed to suit the extravagance and fussiness of their music. I longed for a piercing horn note or a single piano note to hang shimmering in the air.

Manolo Badrena
Manolo Badrena

So I left and returned to the Edge. That was a great gig.

DOUBLE BILL:
OEHLERS, HARLAND, GRABOWSKY, ROGERS at BMW Edge

Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers
Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland and Jamie Oehlers

Somehow it was easy to reconnect to this gig, despite missing the start of the set. My feeling is that as the set progressed there was gradually more integration between these four highly skilled players. Of course that is just an impression, but it felt for a while we were feeling lots of energy, but that Oehlers was a little more muted than usual and that Grabowsky was able to hold his own (again, there’s that competitive metaphor) against Rogers and Harland.

Reuben Rogers
Reuben Rogers

But later in the set Oehlers let go in a long solo and that seemed to establish his presence, so that this robust quartet was able to drive towards an engrossing finish that helped obliterate my abortive bid earlier to switch venues. I doubt that many left the Edge unsatisfied with the Double Bill.

Harland and Oehlers
Harland and Oehlers

THE CLAUDIA QUINTET at Bennetts Lane.

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

Chris Speed and Drew Gress
Chris Speed and Drew Gress

Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman
Matt Mitchell and Ted Reichman

Drew Gress
Drew Gress

John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck

More details and pics to come.

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MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL — DAY 3

FORUM ON THE UNDERGROUND AT THE WHEELER CENTRE

Peter Brotzmann
Brotzmann: You can’t change the world with music

Han Bennink, Peter Brotzmann and Brian Chase, along with Australian writer Jon Dale, were panelists in the first of three panel discussions at the Wheeler Centre. It was an opportunity to see these guys in civvies and reflecting on their craft, but the discussion was initially rocky. Moderator Joel Stern had done a lot of homework and was clearly a fan, but his long-winded efforts to pass on his knowledge may have irritated Bennink and Brotzmann. “I play music, I don’t want to talk about it”, Bennink told Stern sternly in the opening minutes. “Don’t make such a heavy load of it.”

That was tough for Stern, but illuminating to the audience. These guys have experienced too much of life to waste on warm-ups, and Stern needed to press ahead. It’s impossible to cover the discussion in detail here, mainly because this blog is running way behind in its festival coverage, but Bennink and Brotzmann said much of interest.

Brian Chase
Brian Chase

Chase seemed not to find it easy to express ideas — he talked when pressed, but if he said anything momentous it must have slipped by without me noticing. (I’m probably being a bit tough. Perhaps his ideas were complex and/or hard to express.)

Brotzmann recalled the links between Underground music and the Vietnam war, riots in Detroit and Berlin, and Angela Davis. “One kind of feeling that we had was we had to fight against something and had to change the world,” he said. “But you can’t do that with music. You can make people’s minds more sensitive.” Later he said “today is not much different from 50 years ago” and “Europe is on the way back with the Underground.”

Brotzmann also noted that “American jazz music was always concerned with making money” whereas in Europe “I saw doing the music more as a question of being an artist than being able to earn money with it”. When pushed to comment on the Australian scene he said “my impression is that you are at least 30 years behind”, but then said city governments at home were not interested in funding artistic endeavours. “If we don’t care about education and culture, we better give up immediately.”

“In most of Europe there is money for big blown-up events — the most stupid you can imagine — but there is no money for basic work, and without that every house falls apart. Don’t make the same mistake.”

Bennink: Don't make it such a heavy load.
Bennink: Don’t make it such a heavy load.

Han Bennink did not have such strong views, but often showed his sense of fun and a refusal to take things too seriously. He commented that Holland was so small that “we are shoulder to shoulder and up to our knees in cow shit, and that’s OK, but the smell …”

“I am really a bit of a coward about travel. I really want a little house in Holland where I can put a finger in the dyke,” Bennink said.

Discussion was better once Stern invited questions. Brotzmann weighed in again at the end, saying that much of today’s music learned by young people was “bullshit” and that it was important for musicians to learn on the road. “It’s a very intense social experience, not just a game. It’s a very good education and it is still happening each time again (when we travel). We should be able to pass this on to our younger colleagues … it’s about going somewhere deeper.”

HAN BENNINK, COR FUHLER, SCOTT TINKLER,
ERKKI VELTHEIM AT BENNETTS LANE

That mad drummer again
That mad drummer again

It was strange, almost a shock, to see the man with the red striped tie in the fancy red Wheeler Centre chair turn into the drummer with the spotted red bandanna and the vicious sticks in the large room at Bennetts Lane. But a few whacks and fancy antics from Bennink and I was back in tune. He is amazing. What stays the same, whether in the forum earlier or any of Bennink’s concerts is that quizzical, challenging look of mock seriousness, as if he is inviting someone to take him on.

Well, they lined up to do that, with mixed success. Cor Fuhler on prepared piano knew what he was up against, but it seemed an uneven match. Fuhler’s subtlety was always going to be overwhelmed by the maestro drummer’s salvos. It was fun, but a more equal match came when Scott Tinkler on trumpet replaced Fuhler for the next round. They went at it and I’m not sure who won. I do think Tinkler has not been up against many more formidable foes. Is music meant to be a contest? In this light sense of that, yes. It was a spectacle to watch both men go at it. Next week at Bennetts, mud wrestling — to even up the gender balance.

Next into battle came Erkki Veltheim on viola. He fought valiantly, even stridently, with hairs flying off his bow and his instrument wailing in protest. He was a match for Bennink’s speed, but not quite in volume. But there were moments when the Bennink onslaught eased to allow Veltheim some space. It’s all good, as they say in the classics.

Finally, Fuhler and Tinkler returned to the fray, so that four musicians were going at it hammer and tongs. Amazing, spectacular, yes, but not greatly moving. So I decided to seek respite in the smaller room next door, where patrons were being turned away at the door.

MIKE NOCK, SAM ANNING AND ALLAN BROWNE
AT BENNETTS LANE

Nock, Anning and Browne
Nock, Anning and Browne

So the local (ie non-international) musicians had a full house. Greaaaaaaatt! But Allan Browne was wondering where these people go to every Monday night when he has his ensemble’s resident gig.

Anning/Browne
Anning and Browne

Perhaps the crowd was out for a festival gig, or because of the presence of Mike Nock, with whom Allan had not played (he recalled at the end of the night) since 2006 when his close friend and fellow musician, bassist Gary Costello, died. Recalling that is obviously still painful to Allan. At the time he wrote these moving words:

“I still can’t get used to the past tense, a future without Gaz is unthinkable yet. We both loved e.e.cummings …

‘and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)’.”

Nock and Anning
Nock and Anning

I hope it is all right to quote that, Allan. I’m not suggesting there is a connection, but on Monday night in that small room, Mike Nock, Sam Anning and Allan Browne played wearing their hearts on their sleeves — or so it seemed to me. They joked about, as usual, and they had fun playing. But in the third from last piece, I think, there was a Mike Nock solo that had me almost weeping. That’s a personal thing and no doubt others were having different experiences. But this was, for me, one of those nights when the music is so beautifully played — not only in quiet ballads, but in vigorous pieces and lively takes on standards — that it is impossible to avoid it penetrating to the core. This is what music is about at its most profound — feeling. In my humble opinion.

Nock, Anning, Browne
Nock, Anning, Browne

It’s late at night and I’ve waxed lyrical. But I’m convinced others packed into that small space felt the vibe. Nock, Browne and Anning were in empathetic, mutual understanding mode, and loving it. What a great gig. And I caught only part of it. Thanks Mike, Al and Sam.