Tuesday, November 4, 2008

And home...

There's always going to be more that could have been said. I'm kicking myself for not doing more about Wangaratta and Reid Street and the Blues Marquee. I wish I'd taken more shots. But that would be crying over spilt milk, I guess and they tell us that's a waste of time!

This year at Wang had its own flavour (they all do) and I spent most of my time moving between the Jazz Marquee, Hollywoods on the corner, St Pats, and Jazz on Ovens with a gig at the Cathedral thrown in.

Wangaratta is what you make it. Everybody does it differently and everybody has their preferences. I hope you've enjoyed these little ponderings on Wangaratta 2008. All comments welcome... and goodnight!

Miriam x

The institution of the Pinsent

Up the hill and down two blocks to the Pinsent for a final festival drink. Vodka and Tonic in a tall glass. Listening to Zac Hurran and friends on the stage, jamming... calling for a drummer, a bass player... a quick chat to Eugene Ball... a strange conversation with a nervous young trumpeter who we eventually convinced to get up on stage and give it a go (he did, and he did)...

Hellos and smiles with people from the scene... thinking about the conversations that I meant to have and didn't quite get to; thinking about the music I heard and the music I didn't.

The Pinsent on Saturday night is an institution within the institution, but it is for those with stronger constitution than I have. I can do Sunday night though, when I'm not ready to go to bed and say goodbye to it all, just yet.

Working my way to the door... a smile to that group in the corner, a kiss blown here, a grimace there, ducking to avoid being seen by so-and-so... (yes, that happens too!)

And out into the cool damp air...

James Muller Trio with John Scofield

Before the ink was dry on my festival program, I knew that I would be lining up for this gig. There had been a spot of rain earlier in the evening and the sound people had been worried about cables getting wet, but the rain had stopped by the time this concert came along. Yaay!

In the dark, with my not-so-special camera and with me about four rows back, I gave up trying too hard to get a shot, but not before I'd captured a blur of James Muller and Ben Vanderwal (drums).

We started with couple of tunes with just the trio, which was James, Ben and Matt Penman on bass.

A piece by Sean Wayland called 'Honeycomb'; reminded again of James's sound... A Muller piece called Chick Corea. Was there one more? I didn't write it down.

Then John Scofield joined the trio onstage and we were in for a treat. There has been some fuss made in the press of James Muller being anxious about this moment. We all just wanted to hear. What would this sound like? A tune called 'We' and I don't know who wrote it. Was it a Charlie Parker tune? I don't think that's what James said... but somebody else said it was. Comments / assistance welcome!

Then a change of tempo, slowing it down for a James Muller tune Beethoven, which he laughingly introduced by saying he was going to make John Scofield try and read his music... well it looked tricky, from where I sat! Don't know what was going on, but I reckon James might need to tidy up his handwriting :-)

On to a Scofield tune 'Everybody's Party'. In this and the previous 'We' we were treated to conversations between John and James that had the feel of discovery. Little challenges and smiles... and joining together in places to produce an exhilirating sound with both guitars in unison. The energy coming from the stage was positive, strong, full of goodwill and good vibes. Needless to say, those of us watching and listening had a ball.

An encore requested and after they toyed with us for a little bit we had 'Billy's Bounce', this one definitely a Charlie Parker tune. Again the conversations, the fun, the awesome playing, the sense that we didn't want it to end.

But it did. And after a set that had shown me (for the second time today) a bass player and drummer working very very hard...

Mike Nock Solo

After the high energy of Paul Grabowsky et al, a walk up to the Holy Trinity Cathedral to listen to Mike Nock solo. A chat along the way and I missed a bit of it (as you do) but was rewarded with Mike's tender touch on the piano, sounding sublime in this venue which does such beautiful things with subtle sounds.

Interesting how easily one adjusts - my restlessness soon dissipated as I let the music flow over me.

Paul Grabowsky Quintent with Joe Lovano

A queue for this one - it had been anticipated by many, including Paul, who'd said the night before he was looking forward to it.

And the trouble with great music is that you end up listening instead of thinking about the blog. I do remember that the music was great. Yes. I remember that much.
We're talking Paul Grabowsky on piano, Scott Tinkler on trumpet, Philip Rex on bass and Simon Barker on drums... so people would go for that alone, wouldn't they? Then add Joe Lovano into the mix...

The pieces we heard were from the CD Tales of Time and space, including 'Reason and Rhyme', 'Updraft', 'Circle of Trust' [newly presented as a possible anthem to sado-masochism! - even Grabowsky looked surprised, and he was the one making the strange segue...] and 'Tailfin'.
Tailfin was a highlight for this little punter. I felt like the whole world was in it as we moved from blazing playing to quieter moments. Simon's drumming was featured; my notes include a comment on his fluidity. My notes also include that he and Phil were working very hard in this piece. The energy required to maintain the tempo was obviously immense. The sound was fantastic. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Also featuring in this set was the Aulochrome which Joe Lovano played. A double soprano saxophone with one mouthpiece, the sounds from this had me sitting forward. It does sound like two sopranos being played at once, but more. I guess the whole is greater than the sum of its parts...

Dale Barlow Quintet

Dale Barlow's Quintet is his nibs on saxophone and flute, Bernie MgGann on his alto, Bobby Gebert on piano, and the Waples Brothers Ben on bass and James on drums.

A couple of originals and then another rendition of 'Memories of you' which featured Bernie and which his group played yesterday. I think I liked yesterday's better... but maybe that's just because I came into this set a few tunes in and I couldn't quite get the feel of it.

"D-day" featuring Bobby Gebert on the piano, 'Newphoria'... and 'Beautiful Love' which had Dale on flute and sounded great.

My notes say of Dale "Comedian!" At the end, he said "We've got 5 seconds left so we'll play something really fast."

Tish boom.

Way Out West at Jazz on Ovens

Makes it sound like Jazz on Ovens is on the frontier, and you need to put a posse together to get there... but no. Way Out West is trumpeter Peter Knight, saxophonist Paul Williamson, guitarist Dung Nguyen, Ray Pareira on percussion, Howard Cairns on bass and Dave Beck on drums. The venue was packed! Not just me then, who likes them. In fact I was speaking to Paula Langlands (who is based at Eastside Radio and creates the 'Jazz Made In Australia' program for Community Radio) and she calls them 'one of her favourites'...

One of the great things about watching a band live instead of hearing a recording is getting to see them work together, and I always enjoy that with this group. My notes say "This is a band that just gets on with what it does... and does not receive anything like the recognition it deserves." I revisited their CD 'Old Grooves for New Streets' recently for other reasons and it was songs from that recording that I heard here today in Wangaratta. Their mix of sounds is unique... notably brought about by Dung Nguyen's guitar (and other instruments) in combination with Ray Periera's rhythms. Unfortunately (as is always the way with bloggers at festivals) I had to leave before the set was finished, but I was followed out the gate by the strains of Postcard from Footscray... an evocative piece that feels like the soundtrack for something... something inner-city and yearning...


In the words of a respondent who prefers to comment by phone than by blog... the reason I was all mystified by Michelle Nicholle's 'Misterioso' is that she weaves the tune through another one 'On Moonlight Bay'... oh, yes.... now I remember! Just like on the CD of the same name.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Queues and community

Funny thing about the new arrangement... or maybe the numbers are down this year? I'm bumping into less people between gigs, am being distracted less into drinking and relaxing. In previous years, with five venues (the Trinity Cathedral, Jazz on Ovens, Town Hall, Playhouse and St Patricks) within easy walking distance of the cafe / winery area in Ford Street and with Reid Street just the other side of the car park, it was commonplace to meet people in clumps, crowds and queues... it happened alot less this year... Reid Street was its same busy self, but people going moving between the five venues above were much more spread out. I'd been expecting a few conversations to happen spontaneously, which didn't... so I guess I'll be emailing some people from home instead.

Queuing was less stressful. I heard no comments from anybody about being unable to get into gigs...

Were the numbers down? Or was it just an optical illusion?

Michelle Nicholle - Goddess

Something about Michelle Nichole embodies the feminine. I had another siren call this morning, as I blogged in my room. This time it was not a voice, but Geoff Hughes' guitar sound that was carried on the breeze and into my open window. Logged off, then down the hill and into the tent in a flash.

Michelle's Quartet includes, aside from Geoff on guitar, Ronnie Ferella on drums and Tom Lee on bass.

We heard 'Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes', 'If you could see me now' which featured Geoff, 'There will never be another you'. 'Whatever the...' (a fun, original tune I always enjoy!) 'Lonely Woman', a Horace Silver tune I'd never heard before and loved. A very tender Geoff Hughes solo in this one... Also 'Misterioso' from Michelle's first album was announced but I think it turned into something else... didn't it? or was I just drifting on the music?

The Herald Sun in Melbourne recently described a Michelle Nicholle gig as a 'dependable dose of jazzy goodness.' I'd agree with that. I'd also say that the feminine, in voice and delivery as well as choice of songs is one of the reasons I listen to Michelle Nicholle. She's sensual, with a voice that sometimes strays into little-girl-land but a presence that is all about The Goddess. This is Earth Mother and siren all rolled into one. Who knows what it does to the men in the audience, but for this woman, an hour with Michelle and her band is always empowering.

And if you're in Melbourne and want to hear her and the band on any Thursday, go to The Brunswick Green, 313 Sydney Rd, Brunswick. 8.30pm. $10 will get you some of it!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lost and Found

Paul Grabowsky on piano, Jamie Oehlers tenor sax and Dave Beck on drums.

We did this one once before, at Melbourne Jazz. They made my festival. Tonight they [expletive] went off! Look, i don't care what anybody says, Jamie Oehlers is a transmitter of some sort. Remember last time I talked about the jacket removal manoeuvre [that's really hard to spell, actually]. Well this time, we had insects jigging in time to the music. Jamie moves around while he's playing, and the little bugs (well it's a tent by a river, what do you expect in the evening when all the lights are on) were moving in time. Yes! It's true.

Lots of energy. Not angry energy; deeper, lighter, more fiery than anger. This had a golden hue. Dave Beck let the drums stay silent a couple of times which frustrated a fellow punter but didn't bother most of us! And besides, it's not up to us! Jamie picked up little melodies, gave them to Paul, who fed them back and then shared them again. A journey, a conversation. Freedom, joy and lots of exclamation points. We heard intensity and reflection, pauses and beginnings and a slow thoughtful winding down.

This was a great gig. Buy the CD. Hear them live if you can. Even Jamie and Paul said it was the best yet.

I couldn't hear any more music after that... I was done diddley done, as Ned Flanders would say.

Bernie McGann Quartet

Ahh, Bernie. How I love your sound. The Quartet is Bernie on his trusty alto, Warwick Alder on trumpet, Brendan Clarke on bass and Andrew Dickeson [aka smiley] on drums. (pictured here with two anonymous but enthralled backs-of-heads in shot)

I'm sure that 'smiley' is not an official nickname for Andrew Dickeson. I made it up after watching him play with Bernie's Quartet. He smiled through nearly the whole thing.

Songs played were a piece based on George Gershwin's 'So What', which Bernie calls 'ACNR' (All Care No Responsibility), then [yaaaay!!] Spirit Song which is a Bernie McGann anthem, probably his most famous piece. 'Memories of You' and then 'The Breeze and I'. Bernie was wondering who wrote it. I checked on Wikipedia and they said "The song is based on a Spanish language song, "Andalucia." The music to the original song was written by Ernesto Lecuona, with Spanish lyrics by Emilio de Torre; the English language lyric was written by Al Stillman." Okey dokey.

This band is tight, good, thrilling for the same reasons it's always thrilling. Spirit Song is a treat, particularly for me. I'm humming it now...

Brendan Clarke was really working hard; his sound was great... his playing tonight was particularly wonderful to watch and to hear. Brendan can do great things. I remember I was listening to the radio when they were playing his set in 2001 (the year he won the National Jazz Awards for bass). I was late for something but sat glued to the car radio, listening until he had finished. He was playing like that tonight.

A great set by all. I was surrounded by hundreds of happy punters who felt the same.

Thank you!

John Shand's new book

John Shand (pictured, right) has written a beautiful book about jazz in Australia. Posing the question "is there such a thing as Australian jazz", John attempts to answer it by talking to and 17 musicians he has seen as contributing to what might be a unique Australian jazz and improvised idiom. Read more on the Jazz Australia website.

Paul Grabowsky (pictured, left) launched Jazz: The Australian Accent just before the Bernie McGann Quartet gig in the Jazz Marquee, commenting that the timing's perfect for a book like this. The jazz scene in Australia is as vibrant as it's ever been and there's a growing interest in the artform of jazz /improvised music. Access to stories is important. The way this book captures a moment in time is also valuable.

John Shand, thanking Paul, also thanked Jane March for her photos, which are used throughout the book (to great effect, I might add)

Congratulations, John!


Not sure if I'm allowed (must remember to check next time) but I've decided to start taking photos at gigs. I won't use the flash and I'll stop as soon as anybody official asks me to, but the absence of good shots in the media materials makes it necessary.


Tents get hot. That's one of the things about tents. It's not terribly hot here in Wangaratta - I haven't checked the Bureau of Metereology site but I'm guessing high 20s. The Jazz Marquee is getting a bit warm in the middle of the day, understandably. Lights, people who insist on breathing and metabolising (so selfish!!). Walking into a gig today I see the festival peeps here have thought of that as well! There are fans around the edges of the tent, pointing in. At certain times (between gigs so the saxophones don't get wet, I suppose...) the fans are turned on and a very (very) fine mist is pumped through so that the blades push this cooling mist out into the centre of the seating area. In a dry climate like this, it's a fantastic way to cool a space quickly and very refreshing as well to come into a concert and find a seat while the fans are still blowing their coolth into the room. Well done, festival peeps!

Craig Scott Quintet

A quick run around to Jazz on Ovens (which a little confusingly now needs to be entered from Ryley Street instead of the other one and is not terribly well signposted...) to hear the last tune played by the Craig Scott Quintet. I've only heard Craig's playing in Judy Bailey's trio before and have loved the way he interacts in that context. Today, we heard a swinging, jazzy quintet. The driving rhythm was energising - and a punter whose opinion I respect agreed with me (in fact she said it first!) Paul Cutlan on saxophones, Tim Fisher on piano, Tim Firth (love his work!) on drums and Warwick Alder on trumpet. I want to hear them again, for more than one tune! Maybe next time...

Sam Keevers Nonet

I last heard this band at Stonnington in May with some substitutions. Today the (as advertised) lineup was Sam on piano, Scott Tinkler with trumpet, Jordan Murray (trombone), Bernie McGann (alto), Jamie Oehlers (tenor), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Des White (bass), Simon Barker (drums) and Javier Fredes (percussion).

First tune was 'Compassion Compression', Keevers' 'protest song about absence of compassion'.

'Simple Pleasures' followed, dedicated to Ella the genius Border Collie who has since passed on. The tune featured Jordan Murray on the trombone, Bernie McGann's Alto's dark voice, and Stephen Magnusson in a solo that made the unrufflable (is that a word) Scott Tinkler sit up an take notice, mouthing 'wow' across at Stephen (tho' it may have been an expletive. I couldn't tell from where I was sitting!!

I felt something well up. Later in the evening Paul Grabowsky mentioned that those who play improvised music and we who listen to it are lucky - it provides a release for emotions that can otherwise become toxic, if held on to. I suppose he means it provides a process for working through something. I really sensed that something was being worked through.

This was a song full of swinging sweet sadnesses. I felt it, other listeners felt it and I heard from Scott later that they were definitely feeling it on stage.

Sam Keevers has that way with music anyway, and the particular sensibilities and circumstances at play in St Pats this afternoon must have converged to give an already great band that extra something special...

Here's a picture of Sam that I lifted from this article in The Age from a couple of years ago. Can't find a photo of the nonet anywhere! I'm going to have to start getting brave and taking shots in gigs. Wish me luck!

But shouldn't there be a pic of the nonet in the media material provided by (to) the festival. Eh?


Little changes in our world. The Rural City of Wangaratta is feeling the drought, no doubt. It's closer here than in the cities, harder to ignore. I notice that at least one local restaurant has decided to sell bottled water instead of providing free tap water on the tables. It may just be a way of maximising profit, but it feels like a sign of things to come.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Megan Washington & Paul Grabowksy Sextet

You know how I said about the way my window faces out onto the Jazz Marquee? Well, this afternoon, I heard a siren call. Megan Washington. I'd heard her and the band warming up (between the thwock, thwock, thwock) and then the music started. Halfway through the concert I was down there lining up to be let in at the end of the next song.

Paul Grabowsky's Sextet is himself, Niko Schauble on drums, Sam Anning's bass, Jamie Oehlers on tenor sax, Shannon Barnett on trombone and Stephen Magnusson on guitar. Megan has a beautiful voice that seems fragile yet tenacious. Notes hold clearly. I personally like her lyrics too. She gets words to flow so that they don't seem forced into line, to meet the needs of a song. A facility with poetry that is rare enough in songwriting to be very welcome when it shows itself.

And then in the middle of a piece called 'Poetry' we were treated to a blast from Jamie, Shannon and Stephen in particular that energised the room. All the programmes being used as fans in the marqueesped up (yup it's warm in there on a 28 degree day!). People looked at each other, sat forward and we were off!

David Murray Black Saints Quartet

10:45 on Friday night was when the music really began for me at this festival. I'd been to the Ilmiliekki Quartet at 9:15 but I was still thinking about the launch so my ears were closed. A couple of songs in, I left and had some dinner. Sometimes you just have to do that at Wang.

So at 10:45 I toddled down to the marquee to hear David Murray Black Saint Quartet. I took notes and they're not terribly legible the next day. I know I was tired because I kept thinking about how I should get a shot for the blog, with my little camera and was kicking myself for not bringing the camera, but of course it was with me, in my bag.


David Murray is described in the programme as 'one of the most important and accomplished saxophonists in the last three decades in jazz'. Gerry Koster, who emceed the event, said much the same thing, using slightly different words. All very good, but what I cared about was the next hour and a half of music. I was tired, but I was ready. Because after all, I was in Wangaratta!

Legible sections of my notes tell me that the first tune he played was 'Waltzing Again', dedicated to his father and something to do with Cuba.

The next song, 'Kiama for Obama' had the first three rows of audience (the reserved seats, nicely separated from those of us who take pot luck) moving as one. I had a sense of a large energy, I was so tired that sysaesthesia was kicking in. I saw the blue ocean, less fluid, more powerful and moving moving constantly. A beautiful tune. Oh, and Kiama is not pronounced as we do here, for the town with the blowhole in NSW, no indeedy. It's Key-arma. Which makes Kiama for Obama a nice ring, too! 'Our Man in Washington' as David Murray called him. There was a latin feel to this and we saw a hint of it as Murray walked away from microphone after announcing the song, with a little shimmy of the hips. 'Aha', I thought. We're in for some movin' music.

And then a tune called 'Banished'. Writen for a documentary about racism in America. The piece featured bassist Jaribu Shahid, bowing the bass. He was constantly adjusting his strings between bowing which must have been tricky. But what he produced was a range of soulful sounds that sang and roared, growling deeply from the bass. Then the bowing of the bass and Myrray's bass clarinet joined in a mournful cry

And then the highlight of the evening for me, and for others who have given me their punteresque opinions since was the song called 'When the Monarchs Come to Town' dedicated to Satchel Paige, a famous member of the Monarchs baseball team. It only struck me later that all through the concert Murray had been making strong references to racial issues, which are at the core of his music. And I was just listening to the sounds. Having just read John Shand's book Jazz: The Australian Accent I am a tad sensitised to the differences that may or may not exist between music that comes from Australia and music that doesn't... It became crystal clear for me last night that this is a big difference. Jazz in Australia is not the music of protest, or the music we use to cry out against racial injustices, at least not in the same way is it is associated with those causes in the USA. That's a real 'yes, obviously' thing to say, I know but you know when you have knowledge in your head and there's a moment sometimes where it shifts into a deeper kind of knowledge. I guess I was just having one of those shifts.

Back to the music. For 'When the Monarchs Come to Town', Murray again played his bass clarinet. A beautiful instrument - one of my favourite sounds. Tiredness and the disconnect of reason that it sometimes brings had definitely kicked in. He played the instrument with a percussive sound. A melodic tapping that he used to carry the tune. Enthralling sound. The sort of thing you'd expect for a few notes, but he carried the whole tune on it. And then occasional little shrieks and squeaks seemed to excape. At this point i was picturing a parrot of some sort, embodied in the clarinet, and wanting its voice to be heard. A little shriek here, a little shriek there. And then more and more strident until this bird was singing and squawking and the whole tent was thumping its feet. The piano (Lafayette Gilchrist) bass (Jaribu Shahid) and drums (Malik Washington) were on fire. And gradually the bird was satisfied that it had said its thing and subsided and back we were to the mellow bass clarinet. A beautiful thing. The song left me breathless.

A final tune, Murray Steps. Introduced thusly: "We got tired of playing 'Giant Steps' because it was too hard, so I wrote this and it was even harder." Murray thanked Coltrane for bringing spirituality and dexterity to the music. We all admired his own dexterity!

Later, at the merchandising tent where fans were lining up to have their CDs signed (as you do) Lafayette Gilchrist, pictured here at the launch -where he had been equally dexterous with cheese, crackers and wine all successfully juggled and consumed while being a very able conversationalist - said of being in Murray's quartet. "We just wait and see what he wants to do, and we go there. Every concert's different and we don't know what's going to happen." So maybe I should go to the one this afternoon as well...


Wangaratta is getting itself a new performing arts space, but these things take time so there's currently a construction site where the old Town Hall venue was, and a temporary main stage fashioned from a very large Marquee in Merriwa Park... that's the park down to your right as you come into the first roundabout of the main shopping street in Wangaratta. Quite a few Wang regulars were wondering how the venue would be, but it seems to be working well. I've even heard a couple of punters say that they think it should be like this permanently! Must remember to take pics next time I'm down there... I can show you what it looks like.

At the motel, I have a room facing the park so as I sit here typing, if there's any music on in the marquee, I can hear it. I can also hear the tennis. Thwock. Thwock. Thwock. And the odd announcement. "Congratulations to Amy and Kristen for their playing today" (tennis, not saxophone) "If you're still here, come up - we've got a prize for you." Thwock. Thwock. Thwock. "Don't forget everybody, we've got some music for you here today, at great expense to the management. You might play better than usual, if you can just catch the rythm." That's true! Someone actually said that!

Launching extempore

Without apology, I start the Wang blog with the launch of extempore, the journal of arts and writing with content that is 'about, inspired by and responding to jazz and improvised music'... it's been a major project for the past year or more and it was launched on Friday 31 October at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. Yaay! We had commandeered the supper room beside St Patrick's hall, one of the major venues of the festival. Normally this room is used for feeding the sound guys... it adjoins a fully-fitted kitchen where meals are prepared daily for the discreet people in black who make the sound possible...

A simple launch formula - plenty of cool guests (Andra Jackson, journalist, Adrian Jackson, Artistic Director of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Lafayette Gilchrist, piano player with David Murray Black Saints Quartet) some drinks (supplied by Baddaginnie Run) and nibbles and mingling followed by a notable personage doing a launch speech, a reading or two by contributors and then a big thank you and hurrah! We officially exist. Our notable personage for the evening was the wonderful Mike Nock, jazz icon and chief judge at the finals of the National Jazz Awards each year at the festival. We were treated to a reading of 'Coffee with Miles' by Geoff Page and 'Quintet' by Lynn Hard.

Pictured at right, Geoff Page, Mike Nock and Yours Truly.

The highlight of the launch had to be John Clare's performance of three short excerpts from his piece 'Rock and Roll Diary of a Jazz Musician' (pictured below

John Clare performing excerpts
Here are some more pics of our happy event:

Cheese by the Milawa Cheese Factory and wines by Baddaginnie Run

Gerry Koster (Jazz Up Late on ABC Classic FM) and Henk van Leeuwen (Australia Northern Europe Liaisons). Also visible, Adrian Jackson, John Shand (his new book Jazz: The Australian Accent being launched this weekend) Jane March (her photographs appear in John's book), and Peter Riechniewski (Sydney Improvised Music Association)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wangaratta 'round the corner!

Hi. Me again. Just compiling the list of things to arrange for the trip to Wangaratta this year for the annual festival of jazz, and have decided to put 'blog' on the list. If you can't make it to the regional metropolis of Wang this year, you'll get a sneak peek of it here!

For me it all starts with the launch of extempore, which along with the Masters Thesis has been my big story this year!

Please, if you're in Wang on Friday arvo, pop into the Supper Room at St Pats to help us celebrate. Click on the picture below to see the invitation in legible size!

Monday, May 26, 2008

That's it for now

Stonnington Jazz is now finished for 2008. And Melbourne Jazz. And the Jazz Fringe. April and May have been intense - and that's without blogging any fringe gigs. Whew! Going to a classical music concert tonight. And staying in for the rest of the week ... maybe :-)

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to keep visiting the Jazz Australia website for news on what's happening in jazz and improvised music in Australia and beyond.


Oh, and if you're interested in jazz and writing, check out the National Jazz Writing Competition and extempore.

Julien Wilson

Following immediately after BAZ (i.e. without the three day gap you see here on the posting timeline!) was Julien Wilson. Apologies for the blog delay to all who have been following these observations. I have to admit I hit the end of my capacity to listen and appreciate. Heaven forbid! And then of course 'family' commitments kick in eventually even when you're having a wonderful time going out every night and hearing Australia's best improvising sounds. Princess Buckethead (pictured) has been a demanding flatmate for the last few days, imprisoned in a cone of safety so that she doesn't rip her stitches out! Ah well. Life goes on.

But we were here to talk about Julien Wilson's Band's gig. Did you know that when you've got two bands on, then the second band does their sound check first in the afternoon, followed by the first band. Thus the set-up for the first band is nicely in place for when they come on... and things can be easily re-configured for the second band between sets. On my list of 'things I learned at Stonnington Jazz'. This system was messed up on Thursday because Julien Wilson's band had to do their sound check late. Why? Well for one thing, Stephen Magnusson had 'just flown in' (keeping in mind that's half way around the world!) from London and then taught for a full day, before strapping his trusty guitar on his back and coming to Chapel off Chapel. And Julien had been teaching all day as well, I think. Anyway, upshot of it was that the soundcheck system that normally works so well was completely stuffed up. The result was that for the first time this festival I saw milling around and disorganisation on stage before the band started. The only word for it was 'faffing'. That's alright guys, we'll just talk among ourselves. The emcee (Simon Bonney again) was so entranced by slow dance of disorganisation that he almost forgot to announce!

But the music is what we go for, right?! And you'd be right to worry that maybe Stephen might want to have a snooze and maybe the musicians might be distracted... but no. Bunch o' professionals this lot! Julien was of course the - no doubt proud - recipient of the Jazz Musician of the Year Award at the Secret Squirrels this year (so secret that if you put bell awards into google, they don't show up - you have to know stuff. Like that they are linked -somewhat tenaciously- to Melbourne Jazz so if you go to that site, and have the brilliant idea of navigating to the links page, you can finally get to the bells site. How about some SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), guys?? ).

But back to the band (again) Julien Wilson on tenor saxophone, Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Colin Hopkins piano, Philip Rex bass and the incredibly versatile Dave Beck on drums. I've seen him in some very different groups at this festival and he sounds great with all of them, varying his style in line with the music.

It was dark up in the tiered seats and I can't read what I wrote up there, nor remember all of what I've heard (it's been three days!). I do remember being struck by how different this band sounded to the recent CD that Julien put out with Stephen, and Philip from this line-up with Steve Grant on accordion, Simon Barker on drums and Jordan Murray on trombone. I liked tonight's sound alot. And in case you were wondering, could hear nothing of the previously mentioned faffing coming through in the music :-)

Highlights: Miya-gawa and Something about Something. Google tells me that Miya Gawa is the name of a river in Japan. I have noted down (astoundingly legibly!) that the rythms and sense of Miya Gawa put me in mind of the essence of the 7:35 tram on the 109 line that I often catch into work in the city. I'll leave that with you. Punter number S01 (the s is for Stonnington to differentiate from punters at other festivals) was very struck by Something about Something as well. Stephen's guitar particularly beautiful.
Photos: (from top to bottom of post) Princess Buckethead (aka Mikki) sitting on my mouse so I'll pay her some attention. Julien Wilson (photo from Bell Awards website), Colin Hopkins (photo supplied by Stonnington Jazz)

Friday, May 23, 2008


"Listen," said the Stonnington Jazz official who led me up the dark corridor and into the (almost sold out) performance space at Chapel off Chapel. "This band is very grungy and bluesy. You know that, don't you."

"Yes yes," I said, as I rubbed my hands together with glee (mentally of course, because I was holding the obligatory glass of red wine) BAZ, led by guitarist Aaron Flower is from Sydney. Zoe Hauptman on bass, her brother James Hauptman on drums, Karl Laskowski (saxophone) Bruce Reid (lap steel guitar).

Tonight we were definitely treated to grunge and blues. And jazz and ... well a thumping good time actually!

Aaron Flower is another guitarist with a distinctive voice - I seem to be raving about guiatarists and piano players during this festival!

But back to the gig. I've been in the habit of sitting down at one of the tables right in front of the band but decided tonight to sit up in the tiered seats behind. I wanted to be in the audience and feel what it felt. Audiences are great barometers. When--at the end of a festival like this--I've heard so much music that I'm not even sure what I think any more, I can use the audience as a touch point. What the audience does as one is useful for a group opinion on what's going on. Individual taste, preference, tiredness and constraints disappear and what you get is a good snapshot of how this culture at this time is going to think of what's happening on the stage.

And let me tell you that tonight was the WRONG NIGHT to go and sit up in the tiered seats, if I wanted to sit quietly in my seat and listen! Not only was I commandeered by the music, but those tiered seats were rockin' man! They are sturdy (they hold about 200 of us I think) but they were shaking and the peoples' feet were tapping. Those seats were having an excellent time.

Highlights: It's touching to hear a musician play as the first song in a set, a piece that transparently acknowledges an influence. D Minor is dedicated to Bill Frisell. Next Fraser Street (not sure of the spelling of this one and forgot to check. Bad blogger, naughty blogger) and in it I heard twinges of a band called 'Cake' (did I imagine it?) who hail from California and whose music you will have heard if you are a fan of the Black Books series on the ABC. My notebook tells me that Dark Ballad 'went off' starting slowly and heating up to something irresistible and 16 Bar Snooze [not sure if I got that name right] was very 'rock' but had some fantastic saxophone by Karl.

Environment notes: cold again at Chapel off Chapel, but it was acknowledged by management. Announcements by PBS broadcaster Simon Bonney who does Giant Steps on that radio station every Tuesday.

Photo: Aaron Flower, courtesy of Stonnington Jazz

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Joe 'n James

In the set break, rushed back to the Malvern Town Hall after the Tim Stevens gig at Chapel off Chapel, driving past all the High Street shops with the fabulous wedding frocks and what have you... I didn't speed, but it's an easy enough drive and I managed to catch a little bit of the end of the Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band! The first time I've heard them live, and loved it, particularly energised as I was by the previous gig and the drive between venues! Mark on the piano, Brett Hirst on bass, Tim Firth drums, Matt Keegan saxophone and James Muller on guitar. If the rest of the set was like the last bit then it was a [insert superlative here] set.

A little chit chat, the shaking of some hands, the kissing of some cheeks and of some air, then the lights dimmed and Joe Chindamo meets James Muller. (see my interview with Joe Chindamo on the Jazz Australia website a few weeks before the concert if you want more stuff!)

Before we get to that - a small observation. When they're dimming the lights at the bar at the town hall before a set starts, they use a type of remote control that I haven't seen since I shared a terrace house in Newtown (Sydney) with a couple of beer drinkers and a very old television in the late eighties. A very long stick, operated with some precision, is used to turn the lights off. In much the same way as Bill changed channels on the TV from across the room in our cosy loungeroom. A small wave of nostalgia for my lost and impecunious youth...

Ahem. But back to James. One of my favourite musicians. The first time I heard him play was with Vince Jones, and the way he played the guitar on Hallelujah broke my heart or something very like it. I've really enjoyed his playing, his 'voice' and his compositions ever since. There's a song he wrote called Adelaide that appeared on his Thrum CD and I catch myself humming it from time to time. Not many tunes stick with me like that...

Anyway, James was teamed with Joe and the big drawcard here I guess was meant to be that these two very gifted players and writers would be a good combination. Joe was in charge (i.e. he was the one talking into the microphone). The set included a couple of compositions that Joe said he wrote especially for this gig, so inspired was he by the idea of doing a concert with James. It was a real pleasure to see and hear the two of them, and particularly with the extra blessing of Brett Hirst on bass and Tim Firth on drums backing them up.

The two new Joe Chindamo pieces were It is what it is and one that is yet to be named and will probably remain that way :-) We heard a couple of James' compositions including one called Beethoven, and then a couple of tunes from Joe's recent Duende: The Romantic Project CD. The piano - guitar duet was something I want to hear again. I'm not sure what I feel or think about it... didn't enjoy it as much as some of those other tunes. But I feel like I just wasn't concentrating the right way or something. I couldn't hook in.

What did work was in the final tune when Joe played just with Tim and there were some conversational moments in there that I loved - partly at least because of the interesting combination of drums and piano alone.

I was very grateful for two things in this concert. I got to hear alot of James' playing. It's been a while and I was hanging out for it. It's a corny thing to say no doubt but that guitar actually sings, like with a voice... And I was also grateful that Joe brought his piano accordion. He did a Morrisonesque thing (you know what I mean, when James Morrison puts a trombone up each nostril and a trumpet out his bottom and plays them all at once...while swinging from a chandelier and mopping his brow with a hankie held between his toes) playing the piano with his left hand and the piano accordion with the right hand. Why don't we hear more of the piano accordion. I wish we could.

And there was some smiling going on. Quite a bit of it actually. Down in the dark where i was sitting and up there with all the lights.

Thanks to all of you space-changing, mood-lifting, smile-making music makers!

Photos courtesy of Stonnington Jazz. Top to bottom: Joe Chindamo, James Muller, Tim Firth, Brett Hirst

Tim Stevens Trio

A bit of a tricky one tonight. The trickiest so far. How on earth is a girl supposed to choose between Tim Stevens Trio, Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band, Allan Browne's Drunken Boat and Joe Chindamo and James Muller. Not fair, Stonnington! In the end I opted for Tim Stevens Trio followed by Joe and James. And I managed a bonus bar or six of Mark Isaacs as well! I wanted to hear Allan Browne's Quintet too but the cloning hasn't quite kicked in yet...

Tim's trio was at Chapel off Chapel. We're talking Dave Beck (drums), Ben Robertson (bass) [newly wedded, we were informed by Mr Stephens] and his nibs on the piano. Tunes were from Mickets - the recent CD by the trio.

After the gig, I walked up to the stage, tripped over a foldback and asked Tim about the second last and last songs. We got distracted by a conversation about the last one so I never heard the name of the second last one... and when I got home there was an email from Tim, following up. Here's the track list he sent me: No it’s not, ...the body desolate as a staircase, Rufus redux, Our little systems, Sly-pie, Encore: chaser What a good egg is Tim! Thank you!

I love Tim's music, and I've been hearing these tunes around the place a bit recently because of the new CD. The live experience tops it CDs and radio though. Every time. You get to see what's going on for the musicians as well as sharing a space with the music as it's happening. Says she, stating the obvious... The trio's music had (has) a transporting quality - not fiercely dragging you down the road with it - but taking you by the hand and leading you there.

Trouble was [due to things that had happened in my work day] tonight I needed a kick in the bum and I got something like it towards the end of the set, as Tim noted during one of his chats with us between songs. Just when you're starting to have fun, it's time to go. The last tune he described as a silly little encorey thing - but it was great!

Interesting seeing Dave Beck tonight. This band is a bit of a contrast to the Lost and Found group (Grabowsky, Oehlers, Beck) that I heard at Melbourne Jazz. I felt like Dave wanted to make more noise. It seemed to me that he was restrained, and only really let go in that last song. I could imagine him running home after the gig and belting the sh*t out of his drum kit for a while, to let it all out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bernie McGann, Jex Saarelaht Trio, Jamie Oehlers

Chapel off Chapel tonight. Another sold out concert. Congratulations Stonnington! The Announcer Bloke tonight was Gerry Koster of ABC Classic FM's Jazz Up Late and the concert was being recorded for ABC Classic FM's Jazztrack programme. A regular Aunty Fest at the Chapel!

And you can always tell the ABC's recording because of the array of interesting shaped microphones... Clever, eh!

Our musicians tonight... Bernie McGann (alto sax), Jex Saarelaht (piano), Philip Rex (bass) Niko Schauble (drums) Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax)

Bernie McGann does Monk! What a treat! Announcer bloke had some very nice things to say about Mr McGann and his alto. And they all turned out to be true! And I had no idea I was a Monk fan, until tonight. I had heard everything in the set list before, (of course, of course, Thelonius Monk is a favourite of many musicians... I know that) But I'm not good with names.

Trying to get better though... here's what this little blogger wrote down during the concert (and then checked spelling on Google!!) Eronel, Let's Cool One, Ask Me Now, Hackensack, Well, You Needn't, Straight No Chaser, Epistrophy Interesting fact, that when searching Google with possible spellings for Eronel, it keeps asking 'Are you sure you don't mean urinal?'

But back to Bernie. I first heard him live at the now-defunct Side-on in Annandale (Sydney). I'd been told about him, but remember clearly being struck by his sound. I think of stringybark honey when I hear him play. Not sure why... but there's something unique and essential about the flavour of stringybark honey and the sound of Bernie's alto, so maybe that's it. I was struck tonight by the way he carries his instrument, the way he plays it and the way he lays it down. It is well-worn and had been held and played on more nights than I've had hot dinners [now there's a phrase you don't hear often enough these days!] When he holds it, making music, waiting to step up and play, or just holds it, as he sits to one side between turns, there's a sense that it's part of him. He's not holding something separate.

Highlights: It was all great! Both sets were quite different and good for their own reasons. Second set with Jamie in the mix was phenomenal. Jamie Oehlers and Bernie playing together and alternating on Well, You Needn't. That was bloody wonderful to listen to and watch. And they seemed to be getting into it as well. Philip Rex's bass solo on Straight No Chaser caught the attention of more than one punter.

Evironment notes: Foyer hot, concert space freezing. Regulars at this venue will sympathise.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Still thinking about Mike

I woke up this morning still thinking about the Mike Nock Trio gig that I went to last night... A night's sleep has merged the particulars into a memory of a startlingly good experience. A happy culmination of work, inspiration, mood, interpersonal-connection, commitment and goodness knows what else ...

The audience becomes a single entity and it tells you all you need to know sometimes... the audience last night really did sit up and take notice. I wasn't speaking metaphorically. Looks were exchanged, smiles were swapped, bums were shifted in their seats.

I hope it was as good for Mike, Ben and James as it was for us... but my guess is it was probably even better!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mike Nock Trio

It's a new trio! Tonight on stage with Mike Nock were James Waples, Mike's regular trio drummer and brother Ben Waples, who also played in Vince's band on Thursday (and probly Friday too, but I wasn't there...) I don't know if this is a temporary or permanent change, but Ben sounded great and all of us could see and hear the zing that was going on up there on that stage tonight.

Mike Nock is such a relaxed and present player. His engagement and his 'now-ness' are palpable. Like I found with Grabowsky, Oehlers and Beck at Melbourne Jazz, this was a gig that energised. The whole room sat up and took notice and you could see that the band felt it too! It really looked like they were all enjoying themselves.

Highlights of this gig - well the whole gig was a highlight - but the second piece in particular 'House of Blue Light' by Gigi Gryce ... And Mike's comment "It's from another era, but so am I... Seriously! I feel like that sometimes!"

'The song has ended' with its whisps and hints of something familliar that he then explained by telling us it's a song his mother used to sing...

James' drumming in the fourth song... 'The Wind' by Russ Freeman. A fluidity and precision that made him a pleasuer to watch as well as a good listen!

I noticed particularly tonight the way Mike can (and often chooses to) stop a note. Just stop. No trailing off or fading out. Plink. Period, the end... as they say in parts of the world where a full stop is called a period.

And goodnight.

Sam Keevers Nonet

Back in the Malvern Town Hall tonight, to hear Sam Keevers Nonet. A couple of personnel changes from the advertised lineup. Ian Chaplin, Geoff Hughes and Des White replacing Bernie McGann, Stephen Magnusson and Philip Rex on their respective instruments. Could have been a bit of a downer for anybody who turned up specially to hear a particular musician, but seemed to work fine for the rest of us!

And having Geoff Hughes on guitar tonight gave us some special moments. In the band's second tune 'Pachyderm Picasso' something happened we were treated to some beautiful Geoff sounds. I even went so far as to write 'guitar!!!' in my notebook. It made think about how guitars particularly, to me, have such a range of possibilities, depending on whose hands they are in. Goeff's sound has alot to do with something particular that i am drawn to in the Allan Browne Quintet CD Drunken Boat - the suite is also being performed at the festival on Wednesday in the Chapel off Chapel series.

Now, microphones. Ahem. What happened to the saxophones?? Maybe it was where i was sitting (I was with a table of friends in the downstairs 'cabaret style' seating area at a large round table) but they were a bit distant. Like Jamie Oehlers and Ian Chaplin had gone out the back for a bit of a blow...

But here's another soundy thing, and an interesting one too. The Malvern Town Hall is a very big room, as you would expect from a rather large suburban town hall, I suppose! When Eugene Ball was trumpeting out to us in the third song of the set, I could hear the sounds coming out to us amplified and unamplified, and the sound was alive! I coulda listened to that for alot more bars, but alas we had to move on.

Other highlights were the drumming at the beginning of 'Pachyderm Picasso'... Javier Fredes and Simon Barker treating us to a prolonged conversation between their disparate drummy things. Rythms changed and stayed, and sped and slowed... Africa wound through it too...

And speaking--as we were--of pachyderms, Mr Keevers told us about his obsession with (perhaps it would be politer to say intense interest in) elephants. He revealed to us that recent studies have shown... that only three species have a sense of self - human beings, dolphins and elephants. I spent most of the following piece wondering how one could check that. How does one check one's own sense of self. Do I need to have a sense of self to even ask that question? And are we completely sure that kittens don't have one? Does my kitten know that it is hungry or sleepy or does it just feel the hunger and the sleepiness and then act on it. Does the kitten ever say to itself 'I am hungry' and more to the point, how would I ever know! Wouldn't it act the same way whether it had a sense of self or not? By, for example, going to the food bowl and eating?

That's the trouble with jazz... it makes you think...

Photo: Jamie Oehlers, who is also in the nonet

Me and my media pass

Could I just make a note here about what it feels like to be a media person at Stonnington Jazz. What that means in practical terms is that I get a laminated card and I get to hear gigs for free. I get the chance to interview musicians and I have access to photos, bios and that sort of stuff, that I use sometimes for research.

From the time of the launch itself, the people at the City of Stonnington and the festival - in particular Odilla O'Boyle, Peter Redden and Adrian Jackson have made the process of being involved an easy and positive experience. It is refreshing to be included in something as a participant instead of feeling like a necessary evil as I did at Melbourne Jazz, slinking in and out of venues with my Media Pass tucked under my arm except when I absolutely had to flash it.

I don't think for one moment that it's okay to be writing all the stuff that I do for nothing or very little money, and nor do the people who don't pay me to do it, by the way. In fact the people who don't pay me to write are in the same boat themselves. But I do it anyway, and one of the reasons I can afford to do all this writing for free or very little is because festival organisers see the benefit in having text and photos--formalised conversations--happen around their event.

It is so yucky to have it done grudgingly, and really great to have it done generously. Thanks, peeps at Stonnington. It means a great deal to me that I feel like I'm part of something and made welcome. Nobody likes to feel like a crummy hanger-on!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stonnington Jazz ... and the band played Waltzing Matilda

Opening night at Stonnington Jazz. Opening song of opening night (Vince Jones and Katie Noonan, Songs of Love and War) was Katie singing Eric Bogle's 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda'. Interesting choice. Certainly aligned with the night's advertised theme. But felt odd somehow...

Most prominent punter commentary of the night consisted of queries about the matching of Vince and Katie. Were they good together? Were they a match? Opinions varied. The theme of love and war was a perfect one for 'our Vince', who has for years now been choosing songs and writing lyrics that make statements. He makes statements in between the songs too, and that did not change tonight. It was a Vince concert with Katie add-ons. Though I am not qualified to comment on the other direction, never having been to a Katie concert. Perhaps to Katie fans, it was a Katie concert with Vince add-ons.

One observation that I quite liked was that Katie's voice, when she sang in duet with Vince, was a teensy weensy bit lower and we all enjoyed that.

I do love Vince, and his concerts are a great zen lesson in remembering that things 'are what they are'. Let's face it, everybody has something to say about that commentary he runs... but for me, it's easy to enjoy a Vince gig. I love his voice, his almost-hesitant-but-not-quite phrasing, the stunning surety that underlies that also. I've been a fan of his for a long time and have each of his CDs and a couple of favourites among them. My friend Steve appears as a 'Woo Hoo!' in the background of the live CD recorded at the basement in Sydney. And what I've also learned to appreciate about Vince is the wonderful array of musicians he gathers around him. His band tonight were Matt McMahon on piano, Simon Barker on drums, Ben Waples on double bass and Melbourne's Stephen Magnusson on guitar. Strings appeared too, I think maybe because of how well they resonate with Katie's voice... they were for her I think, and their names were... hang on...I can't find their names anywhere. I know that they were introduced, by first name only, and i know that they were great. I didn't write their names down [bad blogger, naughty blogger] But I do remember they all ended in 'ie' like Josie, Nicki... Huey, Duey, Louie... Sorry, string quartet, you know who you are!

Vince sang songs that those of us who have been following him for a while recognised. Wild applause from the audience when he started 'Hallelujah' and 'Don't Jettison Everything'...

There were alot of Vince fans in the audience and alot of us didn't think some of those Vince songs worked with Katie joining in.

But we all seemed to enjoy Katie songs with Katie singing them. One punter just down from me commented on the sweetness of the notes that Katie sometimes hits. Soooo sweet, she said. The punter that is.

And now the bit you've all been waiting for - environment and announcement notes. Well the MC for the evening was Adrian Jackson, the artistic director of Stonnington Jazz and Wangaratta Festival of Jazz... and he declined to resort to disembodied ockerisms that we recently experienced at various Melbourne Jazz venues.

Malvern Town Hall has been restored and brought up to date with great care. It retains original fittings etc but has natty little additions like comfy seats upstairs and plexiglass (?) bullet proof sniper screens on the balcony... only joking! The screens are there but I think they're for putting lights and photographers on. I saw lights and photographers at both ends.

But if you can possibly go to a Stonnington Jazz gig at the Malvern Town Hall, I recommend it, if only for the turbo charged hand dryers in the loos. I only used the one in the Ladies room but I did check and there is definitely one in the Mens too. That thing sounds like a bloody aeroplane taking off! And dries your hands almost instantly, with no noticeable chapping! A nother punter with whom I was lucky enough to share the facilities (in separate cubicles of course!) did comment over the wall that with all that roaring clearly a man had designed it... if it had been a woman, it would have purred.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Adieu, and thank you

I don't think it's customary to sign off on blogs, but this one was created for a festival that is now over.

Thanks to all the punters who contributed snippets and then enjoyed reading about themselves in disguise!

Thanks to those of you with shoulders etc.

Thanks to Melbourne Jazz for my media pass.

Thanks to the Jazz Australia website and its editor Peter Jordan for publishing my [informed] drivel.

And thanks to Mikki (pictured), who keeps me company in the wee small blogging hours.

Most importantly, thank you thank you thank you to all the performers at this festival, for the music and the things that go with it.

See you for a few gigs at Stonnington Jazz perhaps? 14-25 May 2008. Programme available here>

Cindy Blackman

I won't make this a long blog. I have very little to say about the music that's positive and you know what people say - if you can't say anything nice, register a blog and start typing !!

Cindy arrived with hype - and alot of that hype comes to us from the drum community, I'd guess. As a drummer with rock roots, she has a style that seemed to me to speak a different dialect than I am used to hearing. Drum solos are one of my favourite things in improvised music, and the reason for this is unclear to me. However, tonight, I heard lots of drum solos so you'd think I'd be happy. Turns out I'm fussier than that. I like an ensemble to allow space for all its musicians to express themselves and this group seemed instead to be a vehicle for the relentless expression of an impressive looking drum kit.
Cindy Blackman is a very powerful and fast player. Her hands blur and she really hits those bits of skin. But I couldn't seem to engage. Not my cup of tea. Just a personal opinion. I wanted to send her a little note back stage... begging her to find the still, reflective place inside that contains the key to slowing down the leg twitches and building space around the sounds. What a silly suggestion!! She doesn't have to be like Simon Barker or Jarle Vespestad. But eh, what would I know. I imagine if I were a drummer I'd be mightily impressed. And there is room for all styles at this festival!

Albert says goodbye and Michael says... nothing... though his mouth opens and closes momentarily.

Albert Dadon appeared on stage before the Cindy Blackman concert to perform what appeared to be a handover to Michael Tortoni. Welcomed Michael on stage, put his arm around him, in a friendly sort of a way. "I'd like to introduce Michael Tortoni, the Artistic Director of the next Melbourne Jazz festival. And what better way to end the festival, than with the wonderful Cindy Blackman!" [this last bit in an announcy sort of a voice]

The band starts to walk on stage, Albert starts to walk off. Michael, mouth opening and then closing, not sure if he's supposed to say something, finally decides he isn't and wanders off as well.

Thought you'd find that interesting.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Joe Chindamo - Piano for Kids

Having recently interviewed Joe Chindamo for Jazz Australia website (article appearing soon on http://www.jazz.org.au/). I had an idea of what the kiddies were going to be in for at Joe's Piano For Kids concert. He had promised to 'play the crap out of' Sesame Street (couldn't happen to a better tune!!). And I'd also heard what he was going to do to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Wow!

The preview built up my expectations for something really special. There is no doubt that Joe's ability to take a tune and do whatever he damn well wants with it is a key component of his success as a piano player.

It just so happened that I was able to go to the concert today, and I was very excited to hear the real thing. I'd wanted to hear the other Piano for Kids concerts as well, particularly Bob Sedergreen and John Weber, whose concert has been mentioned in the blog of Greg @ Melbourne.

Also the BMW Edge venue, I discovered today is a really lovely daytime venue - at least at this time of year when it's not too hot outside!

Quick Quiz:

If you were running a Piano for Kids concert, how would you begin... as you walked onto the stage to dozens of little hands clapping a welcome, dozens of little faces gazing up at you expectantly:

  • "Welcome to the end of my career"
  • anything, anything other than Option 1.

There will not be a prize for guessing what Joe said as he walked onto the stage to dozens of little hands clapping a welcome, dozens of little faces gazing up at him expectantly...

Admittedly, Joe was the victim of another announcement fiasco... Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, please welcome Joe Chindamo [with the Chin spelled like the bit on the bottom of the face instead of like kin] And while we're here, can I just ask how that is allowed to happen. What happens in Volunteer Land at Melbourne Jazz? Should I write a letter to Michael Tortoni, next year's Artistic Director and suggest a training course that includes this bullet point in fairly large font, preferably flashing and impossible to ignore:

"Announcers should check pronunciation of artist name(s) with the artist before announcing them."

Commonsense? Too obvious?

But I digress.


On to the music... I learned quite a bit at the concert, as Joe gave a slightly potted lesson in some basics which, being a non-musician, are all interesting to me. Not so interesting to the 4 years old and under section of the audience! It was all in the delivery (or not, as was the case)

What was most enjoyable about this concert? The music! It was beautiful, expressive, exciting, fun and very very well received by children, parents and childless punters alike. The patter, however, needed work.

Greg @ Melbourne

Aha! A fellow wordsmithing punter has been spotted. For some excellent reading about the festival, check Greg @ Melbourne Jazz

Tomasz Stańko Quartet

Lots of people looked forward to this. He's a popular man, Tomasz Stańko. Not to mention his other three band members, Slawomir Kurkiewicz - bass, Michal Miskiewicz - drums and Marcin Wasilewski - piano.

I'm so tired that I'm more easily transported, I think. Though that's not to take away from this Quartet's ability to do that anyway. They did transport me.

I particularly noticed Stańko's trumpet tonight, attributing to it--in a miriam-centric quasi-anthrompmorphic kind of way--all sorts of emotions and expressions. His notes seemed clear and unequivocal. Even the airy ones :-) I pondered this as I drove home afterwards. Just privately, without revealing too much, today's been one characterised by vulnerability (mine). So what I heard was probably affected by that. I notice that some players have that knack of connection with the intangible 'is' and an audience member will find that in the presence of that player's music, non-verbal, emotional experiences resonate with the music as either vehicle, intensifier, purging mechanism... or all three.

I heard a universal cry tonight and a celebration too, of all that arrives at the end of any journey that takes us through fire and tests our mettle. I've noticed that in Stańko's music before. There's something in there that connects to the bigger thing. And if you're connected too (as we cannot help being when we are vulnerable) then he can take you there. To the bigger thing. The thing that is...

Comments in the foyer:

Punter 8 said he'd like to hear Stańko without the trio. The trio is tightly knit, a trio unto itself. No surprise, given that that's what they are and what they have been since Stańko found them... They interact well with each other but sometimes Stańko seems almost superfluous.

Turned out it was a consensus. They all want to hear him out of that context again...

Sound note:

What is going on? Apart from the "Piano-too-loud, horns-too-soft" issue I may have mentioned once or twice (!), on more than one occasion, someone on stage has wanted to use a microphone to say something and there's been a considerable delay in activating it, so you get a bit of silent mouthing to start with until someone up the back turns a knob. Tomasz copped it this time!

Ocker announcement
Well, there wasn't alot he could do to butcher Tomasz Stańko 's name. Though he did try, without the 'sch' sound at the end of Tomasz. I'm going to be sad to say goodbye to that disembodied broadly accented voice. Any minute now.

Tord Gustavsen (or was that Tod?)

I can't remember the first time I heard the Tord Gustavsen Trio but I do remember that I fell in love with the sound, then and there. It seemed to resonate exactly with some part of my melancholy heart. Not the whole heart, mind. Just a little Tord Gustavsen Trio corner of it. Inhabited by Tord G - piano, Harald Johnsen - bass and Jarle Vespestad - drums

It's a different story to the vibrant energy transfer [resistance is futile] type of thing that happened with Lost and Found last night. This taps into something else. Clear, soft piano, bass and drums. Purity and distillation that creates space to breathe, and be. The words that Mr Gustavsen put around the pieces as he announced them backwards and forwards indicated that this sense of space and being is not a mistake. In a whispery ECM-esque voice (that he slipped out of once or twice, forgetting where he was!! :-) ) he made the existentiality clear.

A highlight for me was the breathtaking (breath-holding) drum solo that Jarle Vespestad treated us to during Twins, a song that Gustavsen had written for his twin siblings... This drum solo was so full of air and space, I found myself becoming a little dizzy as I held my breath, watching and listening. He seemed to make a drum beat slow down, a touch of the cymbal last beyond the possible, beyond the single point of contact to a longer, sustained note...

Environment note: Heating and sound okay. Thanks

I had thought that we had said our last good-byes to Ocker Announcement Man at the Regent, but apparently he moved across to Hamer Hall with the festival's legends.

"Ladies n gennlemen. Ploise welc'm Tod, errr Tord Gustavs'n."

That's Gust as in gust of wind. Noice

So little time...

I went to Clunes today with a friend, to attend Back to Booktown... an interesting event in the Historic Gold Mining area of Victoria... The whole town is invaded by second hand booksellers who set up shop in disused buildings and on trestles and in tents all over the small and very picturesque town. As we rummaged and chatted, drank coffee and solved most of the world's problems, I found myself having niggling anxieties about the fact that for this entire festival it looks like I'll be only attending night concerts and I have not yet stepped inside Bennetts Lane for the whole of the festival.

I was up in Clunes looking for books, spending a well-earned day relaxing with a friend and worrying about whether I was blogging enough. It's a crazy world we live in!

Just so as you know, this blog is something I do after coming home from a concert (usually I finish around 2:00 am 'cause I'm a bit slow) and then I get up the next morning and go to work (or Clunes). It's worked out to between four and six hours' sleep a night since Tuesday (starting with pre-festival Wadada Leo Smith)

I wish I could have done more. I had visions in the beginning of attending lunchtime concerts and late afternoon concerts followed by evening concerts... but somewhere along the line, I ran out of steam... next year I might take leave! And next week, I'm going to have some 'going to bed early' time!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Michelle Nicolle Octet

Ahh, the lovely Michelle Nicolle. More the sort of concert that the stage at the Palms was made for. She's done more adventurous things than I saw her do here... but what I really noticed was that the show was perfectly tuned to the audience, and they loved it. The two acts tonight (Lost and Found followed by Michelle Nicolle) were very different. I was at a table of four and three of them joined a fair number of people who left after Lost and Found had finished, and were not interested in staying for the Michelle Nicolle Octet (quartet plus brass on brass) On the other hand, there were tables and seats all over the room that were restless and heading out for beers quite regularly during the first bit with Jamie, Paul and Dave, but then settled in and really enjoyed Michelle's show. Horses for courses of course!

I have not heard Michelle very often recently... so I don't know what her repertoire is at the moment, but I enjoyed (strangely) the Joan Armatrading and Lou Reed that she included.

It strikes me though that it's an interesting programming choice... two acts that substantially divide the audience on the same bill... oops, there I go again, forgetting that it is not the job of punters to ask questions...

Announcement update

Reported at the Tord Gustavsen concert, by a fan of the blog... who attended the Yamandu Costa "guiatar sensation from Brazil" concert at Hamer Hall while I was listenening to stuff at the Palms...

"Pity you missed Yamandu last night : you would have heard that familiar voice : 'Ladeez and gennlemen, please welcum, Yaham...Yaharma...du Costa!"

Ye gods.

Lost and Found

Yes, I got lost last night. Trying to find The Palms at Crown. Lucky for me I met Scott Tinkler and he told me where to go. In the nicest possible way. Not a big fan of any casino, I've never been into this big one in Melbourne. Never. Not in the whole time I've lived here! But tonight I wanted to hear Oehlers, Grabowsky and Beck (sorry Dave, couldn't find your website...) Yamandu Costa Trio was on at Hamer Hall, but I heard them play twice last year. Not that they weren't worth hearing again (and again, and again) but... well... Hamer Hall just didn't seem like the right place for his sound. There's a heat in Costa's playing, a heated conversational quality in the band that the space did not do justice to, in my opinion. And also, I wanted some local sounds, a particular type of sound, that energises in that certain way ... and I knew these guys would deliver.

And before I tell you how not disappointed I was about Jamie, Paul and Dave... how I found exactly what I needed, let me just (for those of you who haven't been there) tell you a litle about the Palms at Crown. It''s velour I'm talking about folks. A nice blue velour. And chrome. And a stage that looks like it's lit for --- gawd, I don't even know what for! Laurence, the exceptionally excellent guy from All About Jazz said in his characteristic low-key way. 'Wait until you see the dry ice' Well, I waited and there it was. And at the back of the stage there's a veritable constellation of little lights. It is just soooo showbiz. I wanted to go home and put on my gold lamé frock, to do it justice!

But back to the music... when a proportion of the audience leans forward as one to take their jackets off at the end of a powerful, blasting, transporting Jamie Oehlers solo, well you have tangible evidence that energy is being transferred. Can't get more empirical than that, and that's what happend folks. I saw it with my own tired eyes. Probably only 5 or 6 people but he made that thing fiercely sing, then in the space at the end of it, the jacket removal manoeuvre occured. It was here, on night 3 of the festival that I felt, finally, what I always hope I will feel when I hear improvised music; some music that spoke that deeper, freeing language, below thought, that changes you so that you are different at the end of it than you were at the beginning, in ways that cannot be described in words. You don't know how it happens, you don't know how to repeat the experience. You just go, and open and listen. And then it happens. Alright!

Thanks Lost and Found.

*** and can someone have a word to the sound guys. About the piano. We had again, the experience of the piano sounds being right out the front. Oehler's saxophone blazing and Grabowsky's piano sounding louder. If someone reading this knows the sound guy for the Tord Gustavsen trio tonight, for example, could they have a quiet word. Sheeesh!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Dr Abdullah Ibrahim: EKAYA

So did any one see the picture of Paul Grabowsky doing this same face in the Sunday Mag a couple of weeks ago? Hmm. Whose idea was that I wonder... but I digress. It makes a bloke look worried. What is Dr Abdullah Ibrahim worried about?

Imagine this: the Regent Theatre lobby, at the end of a concert... A small sample of the types of conversations that were taking place...

Punter 1: What was the sound guy thinking. The piano was so amplified that he just had to touch a key "plink" and it reverberates through the whole room. And the bass was distorting. And the saxophones sounded like they weren't being amplified at all.
Punter 2: That was the most boring concert I have ever been to
Punter 3 to Punter 4: What did you think?
Punter 4: Hmmm. I had no idea it was going to go for two hours.
Punter 5: Can someone tell me how to get to Bennetts Lane?

Meanwhile, Punters 6 & 7 are discussiong the shells. Stafford Hunter (trombone, sea shells) was playing them on stage. Punter 7 tells Punter 6 about Steve Turre. Punter 6 is going to order a copy of a Steve Turre CD as soon as the shops open tomorrow. Apparently Trombones and Sea Shells go together. It's the trombonists who try the conch.

If I'm honest (it happens sometimes) I will admit that the conversation snippets above say more about the snippees than the subject of the conversation. At any festival it's important to remember that most fundamental of fundamental tenets : It is what it is.

It was a concert. It was Dr Abdullah Ibrahim. They didn't seem to hang together, did they. And the music flowed with--one punter said--a strong world and folk threads. This little punter/blogger works in an office on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and she was extremely tired tonight. Another punter was treated to yours truly's head on his shoulder for a portion of the concert. And yours truly is not the one who thought the concert was boring. It was soporific in spots and that's a different thing. It was what it was.

Standouts for me were Howard Johnson's Baritone Sax, which woke me from a little doze on my neighbour's shoulder. I can highly recommend being woken up by those Howard Johnson sounds. It was pretty sweet, actually. Plus he plays a mean pennywhistle! And there was also the above mentioned Stafford Hunter, he of the conches. That sound was really something. I had never heard shells being played before.

The whole of EKAYA: Dr Abdullah Ibrahim - piano, Belden Bullock - bass, George Gray - drums, Cleave Guyton - saxophone, Stafford Hunter - trombone, sea shells, Howard Johnson - baritone, penny whistle and James Stewart - baritone, bass, clarinet, flute.

There were sweet dreamy moments aplenty. Not just metaphorically: had actual dreams while listening to this concert, a lovely half-state of consciousness, with the sounds providing a context. I wish the band had sounded more rehearsed. I wish the sounds had been more evenly amplified. But it was what it was. And it wasn't all bad.

But the Regent was effing freezing! Come ON people!! Turn the heating up, willya!


"We're surprised to be here": Grigoryans

Yup, and so was M. Debussy, no doubt. Slava and Leonard played us a beautiful classical guitar concert to start our night of jazz. Gorgeous stuff but not what I would have put on a stage with a big Melbourne Jazz poster behind it. This set before Dr Abdullah Ibrahim was originally Charlie Hunter, who pulled out due to tendonitis that saw him cancelling lots of other gigs too, in Europe as well.

And no I'm not slagging the Griogoryan brothers. I love their music. But if I had a dollar for every time I heard 'Great Classical Concert' in the foyer of the Regent afterwards, then I could have bought my own tickets instead of relying on a media pass. And yes, that's my way of acknowledging that I don't want to be seen to be looking gift horse in the mouth. Deffo not the case... However... it was a classical concert. I heard something a little bit like it a month or two ago at Melba Hall, with a famous classical guitarist. And when the artists reach out to us in the audience, and say "We're surprised to be here," well the grumpy old bastards among us make a snorting noise out of our nostrils and roll our eyes back in our heads. What? What? What? You're surprised! What about the people who paid for a jazz concert! And yes, I know they played some Ralph Towner. The thing is, that's not the point. Is it? By the way, I loved the Debussy. Made me want to come home and listen to more.
At least our old friend was still there, providing continuity: "Oi wood loik to remoind yez that Slarvar and Lenn'd Grigoryan will be availab'l for merchandoise soining in the foya. The Ab-duller [yes, that's really how he pronounced it!!] Ibrahim concert will begin shortly."