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 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."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kurt Elling

And then there was Kurt. Here's how much I liked his singing at one stage... I was visiting Omaha, Nebraska in the US of A and being from a bit of a wide brown land (as the saying goes) and also being a bit of an impulsive spendthrift sometimes, I decided to visit Mr Elling's home town of Chicago and pop into the Green Mill to listen to him. I booked a cheap hotel downtown then got a cab to the club, lined up around the corner with everyone else, and eventually got in. The place has a loooooong bar and Kurt singing up the other end and around the corner. The place was PACKED and it was a great night. Omaha to Chicago is about the same distance as that between Sydney and Melbourne...

And then he came to Melbourne (which for him is a much longer distance than the one between Omaha and Chicago). He's been here before and he said he likes it. But he's good at his job and maybe he says that wherever he is. But no... surely not. Everybody wants to live in Melbourne... don't they????

He said he loved the room (the Concert was at the Regent), and it made me wonder what looked like from the stage. I must try that one day... But before there was any talking, he had launched into the concert with My Foolish Heart. A voice that I enjoy so much in my loungeroom, sounding great in that large, slightly shabby but magnificently, dustily opulent room at the pretty end of Collins Street. A little moth story in the middle of My Foolish Heart had me puzzled. There's this moth right, and it used to be the moon. Or the moon used to be the moth. And then the moth dissolves in ecstacy and joy and its limbs fall to the earth as a type of sacrament, and there something about touching the skin of the limbs with one's mouth, which made me feel a bit shuddery because I don't know if you've seen a moth's legs up close, like when you were learning to use a microscope as a kid and stuff but they're not the sort of thing I'd want to put in my mouth... but then he went back to My Foolish Heart, so that was alright after all.

Julien Wilson, who last night at the Secret Squirrels won The Renault Australian Jazz Artist of the Year award (Vroom Vroom! Congrats!) joined Kurt and band (Laurence Hobgood - piano, Robert Amster - bass, Kobie Watkins - drums) for Masquerade and a couple of other songs, with his classy black outfit and his saxophone and the crowd loved to see him there. A bucket of Karma to Kurt - he's been generous in this way before, inviting Michelle Nicolle up on stage with him on a previous visit too (I am told this by my friend the Phantom)

A few new songs, a few oldies (he finished with Resolution, the Coltrane piece with Kurt Elling lyrics - a beautiful song). As usual there were some lyrics I dug and some I didn't... One song I liked had a line in it that has stuck with me tonight... "We think by feeling; what is there to know?" I hear alot of that from musicians, funnily enough.

Also memorable, the Dexter Gordon piece (I think it's from the Nightmoves CD) with lyrics that celebrate Kurt's daughter (now two and half years old, he told us... )

And a wave to Nancy Wilson who had been originally booked by the festival and was not able to make it due to Ill Health. A signature tune (Kurt's words) Save Your Love For Me done simple and warm.

He's got a great voice, he's got a great band. He seems generous, warm, authentic and he says he likes us and the city we live in.

Noice. Lidies n gennlemen, Kurt Alling wool be available for merchandoise soining after the show. Thank you and good noight.

Django Reinhardt's Children

Who knew that a Jazz Festival concert would turn out to be a language lesson. Do you know Kath & Kim, the infamous Fountain Gate dwellers with their very own TV programme? If you do, then just take Kath's voice and make it male. Then announce a 'gypsy jazz' (not my words, I got them from the festival programme!) guitar group that plays "In the tradition of Django Reinhardt" (also lifted from the programme). If you don't know Kath & Kim, just bung on an Australian accent. Broad as you like. So broad that it feels like 'strewth' needs to be part of anything you say. There ya go. Bewdiful.

"Laidies n Gennlemen, wouldja please welc'm Lez Onfonts de Jangoh."

Lucky for us the band started playing... Beautiful guitars. After Wadada Leo Smith's challenges and exhilarations last night, this was a different kind of pleasure. Tapping, clapping all around as the audience really got into the guitar sounds. Smiling, strong playing from Yorgui Loeffler (guitar) Xavier Nikq (bass), Mike Reinhardt (guitar) and Samson Schmitt (guitar). Deffo a guitar group, no? I really found myself enjoying knowing when a tune began and when it ended. There are protocols with this music. I like to listen to lots of types of music with my eyes closed, but not this. I'm eyes open wide awake.
Life. You can feel the life. The sort of life that leads to large family gatherings at Sunday dinners in European immigrant backyards where vegetables are grown... Or maybe that's my own past creeping up to haunt me.

Unfortunately, we struck a language problem a couple of songs in... "Parlez vous francais?" we were asked by one of the musicians. We heard "oui" "Oui!" "oui" from scattered locales within the audience. Note my judicious use of the word scattered... Somehow the scattered minority were interepreted to represent the entire audience. The rest of the concert was delivered in French, which when it came to the music thankfully had no ill effect for non-francophones in the audience. In fact I'd be hard pressed to say whether it would have sounded any different at all in English, if I'm honest.

I knew, at some stage that I would be tempted to buy a CD at the end. But I also knew I'd resist. It's music I can listen to for hours, live, but somehow on the stereo, it's not the same.

And at the end the blessed return to our native tongue. "Woudja ploise thenk Lez Onfonts de Jango. Bloody Brilliant. There's CDs n other merchandoise for yez if yer want 'em, out the front. Kurt's gonna be here soon but yez have all got toime for a coldie... "