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)