Tuesday, November 4, 2008
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!
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...
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...
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."
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...
Monday, November 3, 2008
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'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
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.
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.
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)
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?
Saturday, November 1, 2008
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!
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...
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!
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
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)