Monday, November 2, 2009

Paul Grabowsky Sextet

The last gig. Paul Grabowsky Sextet in the WPAC Theatre. Starting late, and for the first time I stood in the media queue and had a chat before heading into the concert.

This is a hard blog post to write... I was so tired that I nearly didn't go, but somehow could not resist. I'm sure you sympathise! This is a fantastic group of musicians and the music they play is transporting. And then, of course it was another chance to hear that Steinway!

The sextet is Paul on piano, Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax) Carl Mackey (alto saxophone), Jordan Murray (trombone) Philip Rex (bass) and Niko Schauble (drums). A very west-coast line up with Jamie Oehlers, Carl Mackey and Jordan Murray all hailing originally from WA and Jamie and Carl still (mostly) based there.

So... why is this a hard blog to write? Well, I think it's important to be honest and I was half waking half sleeping through some of this concert and I'd hate that to be read as an insult. It was delicious and I did float back to my hotel room and then off to sleep in a state of bliss. Not to say in any way that the music was soporiphic or boring. I'd hate anybody to think that. But on the other hand, for that delicious hour of music I drifted between dreamscape and soundscape. It reminds me of Grabowsky's Shirley Avenue piece at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Paul's ensembles have a way of creating new worlds. Philip Rex, according to Paul is from another galaxy anyway. Perhaps that's where some of this comes from!

So thanks Paul, Jamie, Carl, Jordan, Philip and Niko... thanks for ending my Wangaratta Jazz Festival with a beautiful journey!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Andrew Robson's Thomas Tallis Quartet

My one cathedral gig this year. Andrew Robson's Thomas Tallis Quartet was something I knew I had to line up for. A wine in the hot square outside the WPAC, then on to the Holy Trinity Cathedral to join Andrew Robson and Sandy Evans (saxophones) James Greening (trombone) and Steve Elphick (bass) for an hour of medieval tunes with jazz lines. As we walked into the cathedral, the fans were going. Those fans with the hoses, that cool and dampen the air. The humidity in Wangaratta is high today - I was told 60% this morning - so dampening the air didn't make anything terribly much cooler.

This weekend was the first time the suite had been played live. Andrew gave us a run down of the music's history (based on the 15th Century Hymns of Thomas Tallis) and explained that we were going to hear the whole suite of 8 pieces. After a couple of tunes with breaks in between where we could applaud, the group decided to lose the breaks and allow us to hear everything without a break, from start to finish. It was lovely to see Andrew so chuffed about hearing the music live.

The space was perfect. The sounds were gorgeous. The tunes were just right for the venue. Playing by Andrew, Sandy, James and Steve was a delight. And somewhere in the middle we had a humidity enhancement with a sudden shower. Grins all around from the musicians as they heard it on the roof.

Ish Ish

“So groovy I just couldn’t get into it" and "You’re joking, when’s the real band coming on?" - these two quotes were used by Mike Glover in his introduction to Ish Ish. I checked, and they are real quotes! I know and love this band's music and it's a treat to hear this band because they don't play terribly often. But even I shifted in my seat when I heard this. Was this going to be an adventure I didn't want to have?

I was silly to worry of course. Ronny Ferella (drums) is the leader of this ensemble and led us through a number of familiar and new Ish Ish tunes.

Aside: It's always a bit odd to hear his voice emanating from the back of the stage. Punter beside me was wondering who was speaking!

Ish Ish is Ronny Ferella, Eugene Ball (trumpet) Jordan Murray (trombone) Julien Wilson (saxophone) Mark Shepherd (bass)

My notes mention breath. And there was something in the roof making the sounds of brushes on cymbals. There was movement, surprise, beauty. My first experience of hte WPAC Hall, too. It worked.

Picture of Ish Ish from Eugene Ball's website

Linda Oh Trio

Listening to the Linda Oh Trio is about listening. These are the sorts of soundscapes I could live in. This gig was in the WPAC Theatre, and as mentioned in a previous post, the ambience here was very well suited to the trio. Every note on Linda's bass was clear. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire had a wonderful warm sound. Who knows what makes a listening experience this or that... but I do know that when I received a copy of the trio's CD in the post before the festival I heard one track and knew this was one of the bands I had to hear at Wangaratta on the weekend. Not disappointed. I love Linda's touch on the base. Individual notes, and spaces. Including when she played the melody.

Ambrose stood right in front of me; I was in the front row of seats. From here I could see the way he played. Entranced by his sounds, I also loved the way he did this thing that looked like kissing the trumpet. Small sweet sounds.

All three of the players (Linda Oh, Ambrose Akinmusire and Tommy Crane on drums) were interacting like old friends. Listening, conversing and enjoying themselves. Definitely a highlight of the festival for me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wilson Magnusson

This configuration of the Wilson Magnusson Quintet is Julien Wilson on saxophone, Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Barney McCall on piano, Sam Anning bass and James McLean on drums. Wonderful music. Textured landscapes. The wailing cries of saxophone and guitar. Barney McCall's hands blurring on the piano keys as he plays along with Stephen's chattering. Moving over territory.

I noticed the way Barney sits on his stool. Kinda sideways. Shifting in his seat, never sitting full on. No particular significance. I just noticed it...


Walked in part way through the Band of Five Names. A wall of sound. Seriously, it was real, physical, heart-thumping. I had missed the build up. Punter conversations later talked about the build-up, which was happening while I was deciding that Hamilton Loomis wasn't what I wanted. I've heard the Band of Five names do this before. I've forgotten to breathe in the process! Sorry to have missed that this time.

The crashing high-tension music over, we were treated to more Bo5N sounds, the light touch kind of sounds. Spaces and delicate, clear notes. The Band of Five Names is Matt McMahon (piano), Phil Slater (trumpet), Simon Barker (drums) and a recent addition to the group Carl Dewhurst (guitar)

Matt loves the Steinway in the Theatre in the WPAC. He didn't want to leave it!

Picture of Phil Slater from SIMA website.

WPAC sound variations and re-assessing the blues...

After the Hoodangers, there was another interlude involving beers, which then turned into dinner and a little visit to the Blues Marquee. I'd wanted to hear Linda Oh, who was playing in the Hall at WPAC at 8:00 pm, but figured she was on again on Sunday morning. Sometimes friends and beers come first! As it turns out, the accidental decision I made to postpone listening to Linda was a good one. A punter I spoke to in a queue on Sunday (as you do) mentioned that he'd heard both of her gigs and the sound in the theatre had been far superior to the sound in the hall. While we'd both heard Ish Ish in the Hall (more of that later) and it had sounded great, the particular line-up or sound or something of Linda's trio had been better suited to the theatre's ambience. I tested that on Sunday morning (separate post).

In the Blues Marquee, heard the tail end of Andrea Marr and the beginning of Hamilton Loomis. Energetic, and very much appreciated by the crowd, both of them. And Helen Jennings doing a superb job of Blues Emcee, as she does every year. Punter comment about Loomis 'very seventies'. Yes, he was. And it was here that I realised how this particular Wangaratta is very much about the joy of listening to improvised music.... the unpredictability, the call to an open heart and open ears. Rushed back to Ford Street to hear some jazz.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin has a beautiful voice and I love her songs, so I was looking forward to her gig. Not disappointed! A great thing about Wangaratta is the way you can run into musicians in the street during the festival and I had met Kristin's little son Oliver, being cuddled by husband Dave Theak, in the morning. He seemed a lovely little chap, playing with his dad's nose and stuff, like little kids do... and having met him made Kristin's song 'Ode to Oliver' particularly special. A little bit moisty eyed, I was... And 'Just a girl' for some reason twanged the heart strings. Really enjoyed Mike's piano playing this afternoon, and Dave Theak's saxophone seemed to fly out over us.

More than one punter comment afterwards about Krstin's pure voice and this band of hers is wonderful. Mike Nock on piano, David Theak on saxophone, James Sherlock on guitar, Alex Boneham, bass and Tim Firth on drums. St Pats Hall was packed, and entranced by those pure Kristin notes and the original tunes she shared with us.

Smiley and ...

After the Hoodangers, Scott Tinkler and Simon Barker. Another good Sydney / Melbourne Combo. I loved the picture of them in the programme... scanned in here for your amusement.

Aside: It's funny what people expect of musicians and I wonder sometimes how much effort it takes to develop the sort of thick skin where an overheard comment doesn't start you questioning yourself. A punter in the street was saying, after hearing this gig, that she had been disappointed to hear that the two of them weren't playing like a duo. "It was like, Scott did this [does this trumpet playing thing with her hands] and then Simon did his thing and then Scott did his thing again and it was like, not what I expected, really." It seemed like she'd let that 'not what I expected' get in the way of what it was... or am I being too harsh?

I was late to this gig as well, but there were seats, so I managed to sneak in. I came in at the end of a trance-like segment of sonorous gong and cymbal sounds from Simon, with Scott standing by. I wish I'd been there for the beginning. I took no notes, spent most of the gig with my eyes closed. I know what these guys look like and I like the surprises that happen when you don't now when Scott's picking up the trumpet and when Simon's picking up the sticks. What was it? These two musicians, colleagues, friends have a rapport and a shared approach that means their shared and complementary energy create beautiful sound spaces. It was fun, uplifting and energising. "Like, awesome."

Saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon is where the festival always seems to get hectic and this year is no exception. So many bands to see and hear and then there are the people you haven't seen since last year, or last week; musicians, enthusiasts, writers, photographers and people you haven't seen for 27 years!

After the National Jazz Awards, I remember there were some Baileys of Glenrowan reisling, some laughs. I signed a copy of extempore, I think. There was heat. It's up to 34 degrees today and the square in front of the WPAC is radiating heat. Old friends. New friends. Then lining up for the Mike Nock and Niko Schauble gig but not getting in. Interesting sounds from our side of the door. I hope to hear them again soon. This is one of those Melbourne / Sydney combinations that Wangaratta facilitates, and I'm sorry I missed it. Damn queues! But never one to let a moment be wasted, off to the Hoodangers in St Patricks Hall. This 'punk trad' band 'goes off' as I heard some young thing say recently. Ben Gillespie on trombone, vocals and shaky rattly gourdy thing, Eugene Ball on trumpet, Phil Noy on saxophone, Mal Williams on banjo, and (I think) Mark Elton bass and Ollie Browne on drums. Normally Chris Tanner's up there playing clarinet, and Phil Noy is a special guest in this line up. Pretty special! Lots of foots tapping in St Pats! Lots of variation in the tunes from fast and furious to reflective Journey to the Sky. Puts a grin on a girl's face, it does.

Then on to the next gig, but more of that in the next post!

What's a double strong macchiato?

It wouldn't be a Jazz Blogger at Large festival if we didn't include catering and environment comments, would it? A musician ordered a coffee at the new cafe at the WPAC (Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre). No big deal, you might say. But the response to a 'double strong short macchiato' was a perceptible physical jolt experienced by order taker... What can you do in those situations, if it's your order that has engendered such a strong response? Not much left to you except: plough on regardless and hope. Turns out he had no effing idea.

The picture shows a short macchiato. A double would be... bigger. Maybe a latte glass instead of an espresso glass... just up the scale.

What the musician received looked like a glass of mud. He pulled a face and may even have said something about what he thought of this macchiato travesty. I have to admit, even I was shocked. Ever helpful, I suggest that next time he order a macchiato by saying 'espresso with a bit of froth on top, not stirred in'. "Sure," he said. "Only I won't be asking for it here..."

A note to festival baristas. Here's your situation: you've got musicians who've been up playing, drinking and reminiscing until the wee hours. You've got a programme that puts them back on stage at 10:00 am. You gotta have good coffee. Nuff said.

Avoiding the WPAC

It's taking me a while to venture into the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre (WPAC). Queues in all sorts of unusual places. It's cool in there though, so the pull is strong! One thing everybody is saying: in the WPAC spaces (Theatre and Hall) it is harder to leave and enter between songs. Something about the setup makes it harder to quickly get in and out.

Maybe not such a bad thing. With the programme, which seemed slightly sparser this year, more punters were choosing to sit through a whole set rather than making an escape halfway through.

And as the days get hotter, I notice it's the natural place to be! Sooo coooolll.

The cafe does a good bacon and eggs but don't order the double macchiato.

National Jazz Award

For me, some years at Wangaratta are 'finals years', when I go to listen to the National Jazz Award finalists and some years aren't. The NJA is an annual competition that focuses on a different instrument each year. This year it is saxophone and I know a few of the players. The rhythm section of Sam Keevers (piano) Ben Vanderwal (drums) and Phil Stack (bass, and last year's NJA winner) are musicians I like to hear as well so I decided to go along to the heats on Saturday morning (10 o'clock).

Normally at the festival, the volunteers allow people to enter and leave between songs. During the heats, we can only arrive and leave between brackets, so I missed a bit by lingering over my coffee but managed to hear Phil Noy, James Annersley and Tim Wilson, and experience their different stage presences! Phil, smiling like he does, James relaxed in charge of the space, Tim polished. Lovely to hear tunes by Bernie McGann and Bobby Gebert being played in the finals! A conversation with a punter afterwards, who knows about such things, revealed some of the things she had noticed: the technical difficulty of the tunes and how the musician masters them, for example, with use of different techniques. On the other hand, you can listen to these brackets of three for the music in them alone, which I did...

Standouts for me were the Bobby Gebert tune 'Song for my Lady' played by Phil Noy with tenderness and beauty. And Ben Vanderwal's drumming. Such a range of textures and touches. My notes make particular fuss about Ben at the end of 'You don't know what love is', played by James Annersley.

Photo of Phil Noy by Laki Sideris, taken at Bennetts Lane in August this year. See Laki's photo blog at

Friday, October 30, 2009

Australian Art Orchestra

In an interesting combination of two trumpeters, two guitarists, two drummers, a bassist and a pianist, Scott Tinkler led this excerpted Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) ensemble. The instrumentation was the easiest target for conversation. Even Gerry Koster, who was broadcasting this live for ABC Classic FM's Jazz Up Late program mentioned it in his intro.

Aside: Funny being in the live audience for a national broadcast... Gerry warns us what's happening, tells us to be enthusiastic in our applause, at the right moments, and turn our mobile phones off to be sure we're not 'part of the broadcast'. What he didn't tell us was that while the news was on, we'd be sitting in silence, with musicians shuffling self-consciously on the stage and all of us, poised, ready to applaud and cheer when prompted... all in absolute silence. Tee hee!

But anyway, back to it. The instrumentation. Well, I found it interesting too. I knew this music was going to require active listening. After all it's Scott we're talking about. He's on an adventure!

In any case, the instrumentation of doubles made it possible to hear and see some really interesting differences between the approach and sounds of the players. I was able to articulate some things after this concert that I had not been able to before... I have heard Stephen Magnusson's guitar spoken of as having a vocal quality recently. I agree with that and it's one of the things that makes his playing distinctive. And I loved the way it manifested in 'The Streets of Forbes' that I heard at Stonnington Jazz this year. Carl Dewhurst's playing on the other hand is different. I found myself thinking of the way Stephen's sound comes from the voice, the chest, a higher articulate form of expression. Carl's is more 'cellular'; I felt his sound in my bones, in marrow cells and platelets. He's earthed in deep places, speaking of things that have no voice... Then Scott and Phil. I realised with a jolt that trumpets are about air [who said I'm slow?!?]. Phil plays with the air, catching it and toying with it. The mute used to that effect. This aligns with his way of swaying. He's in the air, part of it. And Scott's doing different things with the air. He builds boxes around it, like a kid playing with rivulets of water in a rainstorm; he puts barricades in front of the flow, makes the air go around, forces it to mutate and become something else in the process. He stands solid, legs apart and neck tendons distended...

Simon Barker and Ken Eadie have such distinct styles. A striking scene in the film Intangible Asset #82 is where Simon is learning to fall, to let the earth's gravity take him. I see that in the way he plays. There's a slow weight in the way the sticks fall, in the way his body follows them. Such power in this relaxation though... A submission to the earth's forces and a harnessing of them at the same time. Ken is tight, fierce, stretched. His face, body, stance, strike... they all speak of readiness and fight.

I dread the idea of any of these musicians reading this and thinking any of what I say is negative or positive. I'm just trying to explore an 'is-ness'... "it is what it is"

Phil Rex and Marc Hannaford were of course superb.

Picture of Scott Tinkler taken by Laki Sideris in Melbourne earlier this year. Laki's photos also appear in extempore Issue 3.

Ari Hoenig

Speaking to drummer Simon Barker in the coffee line at the Hot Jazz Cafe in the new WPAC [Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre] on Saturday morning, I was singing the praises of Ari Hoenig, and it turns out that what I saw, heard, LOVED, at the Ari Hoenig gig on Friday night is something that Ari Hoenig known for...

The first thing I look at in a drummer now, after talking to Simon and seeing Emma Franz's film Intangible Asset #82 is how they sit, how they play, what their body is doing. Ari Hoenig seems to have a combination of ready and relaxed. I love the way he sits on his stool. He's watchful, poised and responsive.

The Ari Hoenig Quartet (with Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Jamie Oehlers, saxophone and Sam Anning, bass) was my first music of the festival. I had left my pen with the sticky tape and stuff and all I had in my bag was a 'sharpie' one of those thick texta things. No finesse. My notes are rough, but my memory is clear. The interaction between the players was wonderful. 'Here I am', I thought. At Wangaratta again. Some great interaction. Gilad Hekselman's guitar and Jamie Oehler's saxophone holding conversations. 'Light tension' are the words that stand out from my notes. Threads of sound and light moved between the players and it was as good to watch as it was to listen to.

The highlight for me was 'Moanin'', the Bobby Timmons tune made famous by Art Blakey. Ari played the melody, with for a moment, Jamie providing rhythm with the tenor saxophone. Using his elbow apply varied pressure to the drum skin (is that what it's called??) this amazing drummer played the notes and the spaces, creating a sound that didn't even sound percussive. All these notes flowing, with pauses... and best of all this feeling on the stage of fun, of barely surpressed laughter and wonder, that spread from us in the audience up to them and back to us again. Hah!

Picture by Francesco Truono from Ari Hoenig's website

extempore launch

Nothing like a bit of blatant self interest on a blog. But then again, I like the idea of starting a jazz festival with a launch of a journal inspired by jazz and improvised music. I'd attend even if I didn't have to!

extempore Issue 3 was launched with a quiet celebration at the Supper Hall at St Pats. Mike Nock launched the journal this year, as he did last year. He's been a great friend of the journal and yours truly, and his launch speech was short, sweet and to the point. Geoff Page read his poem from Issue 3 ('What key's the conversation in?') and 'The Documentation' which appeared in Issue 2. John Clare did an improvised excerpt from his essay 'I cutta the balls off!', also from Issue 3. He stands at the front, balancing on the balls of his feet as he declaims, and the audience is transfixed, as you can see in the picture.

Everything seemed to go without a hitch which given the day's dramas was a relief. Yours truly had been running very late so had done a quick change in the back room (off with jeans, boots and shirt, on with frock, red shoes, jewellery and lipstick). Incredibly proud of this achievement (the journal, not the quick change in the back room) and terribly tired from it all. I'm told there were 90 people there (we had 75 last year) and I wish I'd had time to chat to everyone. But there you go. And so the festival begins...

And thanks to Steve Doig (hallmaster), Baddaginnie Run for the wine and Milawa Cheese for the... ummm... what was it again?... oh yes, the CHEESE!

National Jazz Finalists Q&As

Well, here it is again... Wangaratta Jazz, rebranded and 20 years old . We've started our festival with the Q&As with the National Jazz Awards finalists that have become an institution around here. Five years in a row!
Check them out on the Jazz Australia website >

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Belated farewell

I know it's a week after the festival finished... everyone else has long ago said their goodbyes. We're so hooked on immediacy in this fast paced world we live in that a week can seem like too damn long in blogger-land!

April and May in Melbourne were enormous for jazz and improvised music. With Melbourne International Jazz Festival followed by Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival and then Stonnington Jazz, the weeks went by in a colourful blur. At the end of it, there's a chance to take stock and look back. It's been a good one. We've been incredibly fortunate this year.

It's been lovely to have a fellow blogger at the festival(s). Roger Mitchell was a little more energetic than I, and definitely showed me up on the photos department! If you're not already, I'd recommend you follow his blog...

And if you want to keep up with what's happening with this little black duck, you can do so here, at or at the extempore website, where you can also subscribe to the free newsletter.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sculthorpe Songbook Project

Difficult to categorise, but you know when you're introducing a group of musicians of this calibre that something beautiful could happen. It's a trust thing.

Calibre? Phil Slater (trumpet), Matt McMahon (piano), Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Simon Barker (drums), Steve Elphick (bass) and the Silo String Quartet. Guest vocalists Katie Noonan and Tim Friedman. That should do it.

And if you also know that the music they are working with is filled with space and textures, complexity and a wide range of influences, another dimension of expectation kicks in. Somewhere I read that this is 'a unique contemporary cross-genre collaboration that re-imagines the music of Peter Sculthorpe'. Looking back over the two evenings I heard this concert, I could agree with that!

The music started with Carl's guitar, a slow building hum to a vibration, then a gong from Simon... the piano starts quietly and then Steve bows the bass. Phil's trumpet sounds out. We're off. There's a wild look in Simon's eye.

This first piece was 'Singing Sun'. The music chosen for this project comes from a wide range of Sculthorpe pieces. We were walked through it by Phil, Matt and Tim... I'd heard two of the songs before... the Calmo movement from Sculthorpe's piano concerto is on Matt's CD Paths and Streams and Bone Epilogue is on Strobe Coma Virgo Phil Slater's 2003 CD. I'm blogging this a week after it happened and it's been bugging me all week 'Where had I heard that track before?' It was only my favourite, on replay replay replay when I first heard Strobe Coma Virgo.

There are other writers who will do a better blow-by-blow description of what they heard. For me, subjective as usual, I was excited by the opportunity to hear / see Phil, Matt and Simon play together. They have a special something that comes from a deeply shared sensibility or approach. Carl's playing with all of them, separately and together, taps into that. Steve Elphick is a bass player I've always admired deeply. Also from Sydney, he has played with these musicians before, too. He is a great listener but mostly I think what I love about his playing is that along with his willingness to have an adventure, he has a combined lightness and sureness of touch.

Let's go to Katie. I was a big fan of George, which is where we first heard her I guess. This was all before I started to listen to this other music. And I haven't always enjoyed Katie's voice in the jazz context, though I've been an admirer of hers for years. Tonight changed what I feel about her voice; I liked what I heard.

Then the Tim Friedman. The connection(s) with Sculthorpe gave him one reason to be there and I loved the additional texture that his voice and singing added.

The string quartet added yet another type of texture. And while other punters told me that they wish the strings had been used more, I'm not that brave. I had what felt like the perfect amounts of everything going into my ears.

As for the music. Such a tapestry, such a landscape... The first night (Friday) I took hardly any notes. I guess I was just open to whatever was being offered. The second night I (barely) pulled myself together and put pen to paper.

  • Eyes and ears wide open in happy surprise at Katie's singing on 'Maranoa Lullaby'
  • Phil's acknowledgement of Peter Sculthorpe and of Sculthorpe's sources and his gratitude at Sculthorpe's letting them 'mess around' with his music.
  • Simon's solo with chains in 'Pemunkah' and the way that Carl's guitar sounded like a choir in the background
  • The dark, hollow sounds in this song, and the way Phil's trumpet wove like golden light through the darkness
  • The story behind 'It'll Rise Again' and Tim's singing of it. He had more fun on the second night. I guess it takes a night or two to know a room.
  • Phil's trumpet again on 'Music from Kakadu'
  • Katie (again) on 'The Stars Turn'. The palpable longing. Matt and Caerwen (cello).
  • The way Tim's and Katie's voices complemented each other in 'Love' (from Sculthorpes' Love: 200)
  • The lyrics of 'Out the Back' and the string movement in it.
  • On 'Bone Epilogue' Steve Elphick sounding like 3 instruments at once with his playing and bowing and plinking below the bridge

Thanks to Roger for the pic and check him out for more detail on this concert.

The Streets of Stonnington (Stephen Magnusson)

Thursday 21 May (2nd set) Chapel Off Chapel

Stephen Magnusson (guitar) was joined by Eugene Ball (trumpet & flugelhorn), Frank di Sario (bass) and Dave Beck (drums).

Highlights were:
  • 'TM' was the starting song - Stephen being lyrical, gorgeous.
  • Then the Ornette Coleman tune 'Roundtrip'. "Oh, oh, oh" say my notes. "Eugene on the trumpet and Stephen on guitar at the same time."
  • 'Goggles' [no notes taken]
  • Then all was forgotten as the band launched into 'The Streets of Forbes'. As noted in the Gian Slater blog entry, this has some significance, for me. I found myself singing the words inside my head... what a treat this was! Eugene's gorgeous trumpet playing with deep, low sounds. Of course there is no mystical connection with Stephen's choice to play this and the existence of the song in my own personal life. But I got a thrill anyway. And can't help wondering if there's an opportunity or some interest to do a CD of Australian Bush Ballads. Stephen? You listening?
  • Two final songs - 'Gabrielle' and 'Hey Guess What', during which Stephen and Eugene had some fun, and so did we! Did i hear the Simpsons theme (among other things)?
Thanks Roger, for pics again! Good ones!

Tony Gould's Trio

Thursday 21 May

Chapel Off Chapel, with Tony Gould (piano) Imogen Manins (cello) and Gianni Marinucci (trumpet and flugelhorn)

If one of our jobs on this planet is to create beauty (I find it hard to disagree with the concept) then nobody's going to argue that this trio did their job very very well this evening. It really was beautiful - not just because that's the closest adjective to hand.

Oh, and Tony was wearing very cool shoes!

Songs by a number of composers. Tony made a point of mentioning that they were playing some pieces from non-locals!
  • 21.4 - look it up in the Bible. Apparently it has some significance. Note to self. A tune by Bob Magnusson (assuming no relation to Stephen)
  • Gianni's Flugelugelhorn on this was typically beautiful. A round, golden, mellow sound.
  • Lullaby by Gianni followed, bringing a tear to the eye for some reason. Or maybe it was a reaction to the smoke machine.
  • It's all in the game by Charles Dawes, later Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.
  • Bill Dobbins' Spring Song and I can almost hear the birdies tweeting
  • Lullaby by Tamara Murphy. I heard a sniffing noise. There's a punter in the audience having a bit of a cry.
I hear it was 'a bit too beautiful' for a punter or two. Well, it takes all kinds

Thanks to Roger Mitchell for his pic of the trio.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Paul Williamson Quartet

Wednesday 20 May

Scary stuff this announcement and introduction job! Some musicians introduce their songs and their personnel. Some don't. Paul Williamson (trumpet) is one of the latter. Ah well, I guess that's way things go.

Paul has been in Ireland and the pieces this quartet played tonight were written there, from an outsider's perspective (so says the media information).

Playing with Paul tonight were Geoff Hughes (guitar), Des White (bass) and James McLean (drums). Is James as young as he looks? He looks about 17. I really enjoyed his playing. He was paying attention, watching, adjusting... and engaged. Geoff and Des are that sort of player too so it was an interesting set.

With no announcements, I asked Paul for the set list afterwards. There were four songs:
  • Aftermath
  • You're only a Muppet.
  • Green land, grey skies
  • Knuckles and chuckles (whose name puts me in mind of Ireland simply from the stories my brother told me from when he lived there for a while)
Picture of James McLean thanks to Roger Mitchell.

Jex Saarelaht Quartet

Wednesday 20 May

Chapel Off Chapel again. Jex on piano, Julien Wilson on tenor sax, Johnathon Zwartz on bass, Niko Schauble on drums.

Such a pleasure to hear Jonathon. Last time I heard him was at a gig with Tina Harrod singing and Hamish Stuart on drums and Matt McMahon on keyboard at a pub in Sydney. His CD The Sea is a beautiful thing.

Jex has a smiling way about him. I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to say during the introduction. "Whatever you want" was his reply. So that's what I did. It's easier tonight than it was last night. I aksed the lighting guy to adjust the light so that I could see something other than glare and the front half of the microphone... and I guess that announcements get easier with practicse.

And then the music. This was music that made you want to look up to the sky.

I think that's why the song titles are all mashed on my page, except the third one, 5 19 (it's harder to mash numbers)

Things I noticed, while looking skywards:
  • Niko's extraordinarly large and floppy cymbal. It's spectacular to watch - like a big jelly fish.
  • The softening interplay between Jex on piano and Julien's sax on the first song.
  • The solo by Julien in the second song
  • Jonathon's introduction (wow!) to 5 19
  • The joke that Jonathon and Jex were sharing in the fourth song (what was it!?)
  • Julien's whistling saxophone in the last song.
Set break and raspberry tea...

DID YOU KNOW That if you take a cup of raspberry tea half way through a glass of 'okay' shiraz and then go back to the shiraz, it's suddenly better. A strange but effective way to improve a glass of wine. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Roger Mitchell for pictures again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BLBB with Gian Slater

Interesting to feel the different texture in composition between Andrea's pieces in the first set and Gian's in this set. Highlights from this set include 'Don't close the door' - the band was loving it and that meant we were loving it too!

'When...', which featured Andrea Keller and then the really interesting depth of texture with the combination of Gian's high voice over Adrian's bass trombone.

You could feel the warmth between Gian and the band... they all know each other well and it's palpable. And it seeped through in 'The Warming Kiss of Kindness' which rather yummily featured Ian Whitehurst and Adrian Sherriff.

A latin feel to 'Logical Guesses', arranged by Tim Wilson and featuring Eugene Ball. The set finished with Our Galaxy.

On the way home, I found myself singing. For the last 30 (eek!) years or so I've either had old cars or motorbikes so I have a number of 'car songs'... (or 'bike songs'). Something about the Gian Slater and Bennetts Lane Big Band gig made me want to sing. The four main ones are 'If I loved you' from the musical Carousel, and three little traditional Australian folk songs... 'One Sunday Morning', 'The Ballad of '91' and 'The Streets of Forbes' Convicts, striking shearers and bushrangers... I don't hear these songs alot; they feel like a private stash of music that nobody knows about... I sang all these songs on the way home in my little old car (and no I don't sound anything like Gian Slater) and I only mention this because of what happened two nights later, on Thursday... Read on!

Bennetts Lane Big Band

Chapel Off Chapel - the venue with temperature problems last year seems fine tonight.

After announcing the Bennetts Lane Big Band, they actually walked in! I'm getting the knack of this.

Andrea Keller on the piano; Eugene Ball and Damian Maughan on trumpets; Shannon Barnett (trombone), Adrian Sherriff (bass trombone); Ian Whitehurst, Phil Noye and Tim Wilson on saxophones, Nick Haywood on bass and Rajiv Jaraweera on the drums.

The first set plays compositions by Andrea. Starting with 'For Bernie' - a tune I've heard a few times... I began to remember what I enjoy so much about Andrea's writing... a feeling that crystallised throughout this first set.

On to the notes: 'Galumphing around the world' sounded to me like a road trip, though I wondered whether I thought that because of the title. It struck me at some point that the conversation between the tenor sax (Ian Whitehurst) and the piano was like a couple's conversation on a Sunday drive including a little tension and a couple of outbursts! Some building excitement with the drums and bass. Definitely a journey.

'Singing in a sinking ship', was back-announced and after the introduction by Andrea and Nick I heard an existential longing in this that spoke to the title. I thought perhaps it is just that Andrea has that rare knack of giving a name to a piece that matches what it sounds like! Adrian's bass trombone was striking; vibrating under the song... And Nick's solo...

Another highlight was 'The Rain Outside' with Raj and Andrea giving us the effect of drops on the roof... and then the soft fluid sounds of Eugene Ball and Raj again. Beautiful stuff.

And 'Lines on My Face' was so happy I felt quite good about the lines on my own!

A little set break. A littl wine... and back in a little bit for Gian Slater... with the Bennetts Lane Big Band once again.

Thanks once again to Roger Mitchell for the fabbo pics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I was a band room virgin...

Bennetts Lane Big Band gig tonight, after no jazz for a couple of nights! Life caught up with me on Sunday night (missed Mark Isaacs' CD launch at Bennetts. Not happy, Jan!) and I was on a plane on the way home from Brisbane on Monday.

So here it is, Tuesday and it's my first gig introducing the band. For five nights during this festival, I get to stand behind a microphone and say "Please turn your mobile phones off and fill in the survey and now please make the band welcome..." and part of the deal is that I have to chat to the band about anything they particularly need me to say for them and all that emcee kinda stuff. I've never been into the band room before! I get to go behind the door that says 'Authorised Personnel Only!' I was breathless with excitement!

Lucky me, my first experience of the job was the Bennetts Lane Big Band. I got to sit in while Andrea Keller talked the band through the charts. It was all minims, semi breves and codas... a secret language! What an excellent introduction to the inner workings of a gig. Almost made me want to learn music! Almost...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grabowsky / Washington

Oooh she's a slip of a girl that Megan Washington in her little black dress and a cardie, and she sings with her whole body. Elbows out and in again, tension shaken gripped and then shaken out through finger tips, bent over as if in agony, curled up in a little ball, rocking ... but everything's okay. It's just singing. Megan Washington style.

The gig started with a quiet one. 'Write me a song' with just Megan and Paul (Grabowsky). She semi, self-effacingly says that she had planned to start with a rocky number. But that came soon enough!

The band is Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Shannon Barnett (trombone) Sam Anning (bass) and Niko Schauble (drums)

The rocking happened in 'The End', which came next and featured a great solo by Jamie. Then the cardie came off. Energy abounded. 'The opposite of love', then 'Take What You Need' during which Megan and Shannon mysteriously left the stage for a while then returned. Megan did say that Shannon was wearing her (Megan's) boots. Maybe they had to have a boot discussion.

'Are you on my side?' and Steve Magnusson's solo had me enthralled. I checked with him about it later and the effect (of echo / shadow and strange movement) comes out of his use of a looping effect.

Next up, a Washington song inspired by a few months of reading too much Edgar Allen Poe called 'The Custom of the Sea' about eating the cabin boy. Solo by Sam Anning, beautiful.

'Curios and Cutaways' featured Shannon Barnett. I found myself watching Shannon, fascinated... I love the way she plays the trombone with her wrist so loose. She makes the slide look like a piece of string. The band sounded particularly great for this song... holding together tightly, really together. A fierce solo by Niko and Megan's voice at the end, doing this great ho ho ho ho ho ho ho thing, like a musical instrument... and Niko going tik tik tik takkety tik on the drums behind her.

Other highlights, in the second set were Megan and Paul playing the piano together - not how you might think. Paul had the keyboard and the strings. Megan leaning over the piano's side to pluck strings. And through it all, Sam Anning messing about beautifully on the bass.

For 'Poetry', I've noted in my little book that Paul "...stands up then sits down and starts the plinking plinking ... like a frenzied muppet ... sounds great! Never a muppet sounded like this!" Sorry Paul. I was tired. I was happy. It was an excellent gig. It's in the notebook. What can I do?

'Fisherman's Daughter' and the encore 'Telepathy' finished the night. Thanks all!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vince's rolling band(s)

I've been enjoying Vince Jones' music since I first heard it on a record (that'll be the black thing with the hole in the middle) sometime in my second year at university. As someone who had toyed with music but whom it had never quite grabbed, I took absolutely no notice at all of the musicians playing in Vince's bands. Which something I'm now unable to comprehend... but maybe this blog goes some way to rectifying that transgression!

It's been said before... and by some of the musicians themselves... that Vince's bands are great training grounds. You can learn things there about stage craft and music that you can't learn anywhere else in Australia. Be that at as it may, the musicians on stage tonight were a stellar bunch, rotating through many of the musicians who have played with Vince over the last 30 (eek!) years. The first combination included Dale Barlow, Tim Rollinson, Ben Waples, Matt McMahon and Simon Barker were first up. (that's tenor sax, guitar, bass, piano and drums respectively) We heard favourites and [i'll just take advantage of the permission that is implicit in blogging to just say what one thinks] I was glad it was just Vince's voice we heard tonight. I think teaming him up with Katie Noonan last year was a mistake. [hovers over delete button.... nah... it stays]

Favourites such as 'Waltz for Debbie', 'Tenderly' (featuring Dale Barlow), 'Let's Get Lost' and 'We Let Them Do It' (with Vince backed by just the rhythm section of Simon, Matt and Ben)

It was in this piece that I felt the concert really began to open up. Perhaps it is just that this rhythm section and Vince have a good conversational style? The song hung together better for me than the previous pieces adn I wonder if that's the risk of trying to re-capture old dynamics. We all move on. But anyway, this song struck me particularly. I was enthralled by Simon's drumming and Vince ended with a trumpet flourish.

My notes say "Mmmm" as punctuation Yeah well, that's what he does... part of his charm and Vinceyness
Next configuration included Jex Saarelaht at the piano, Al Browne on the drums and Steven Hadley on bass, with Doug de Vries on guitar and Wilbur Wilde (The busiest man in Showbiz) on his trusty tenor sax. Punter beside me nodded sagely and said "Ah, the Melbourne band" and was immedialy transported across the years to gigs at the Tankerville Arms. I've written 'Wow, they really hold together' across the page for this combination!

'Stop this world and let me off' featured Doug's guitar. He does have such a lovely sound. I've been hearing him mostly in his latin configurations recently, but enjoyed him immensely in this context tonight.

They went on to play 'Can't afford to live, can't afford to die' and 'Send down more love'

Second set, we saw Tony Floyd on drums, Dale with teh saxophone, Paul Grabowsky at the piano and Steve Hadley on bass. Playing 'Rainbow Cake' and 'Jettison Everything'. It struck me how different this song is when played by Paul and Matt. Matt's playing turns it into an entreaty, Paul's into an admonition. How a touch can change a song!

The next configuration of Sam Keevers (piano) Doug on guitar again, Ben on bass and Simon on the drums played 'Let me please come in' and The nature of power. So much bass! Heavy, man.

Then 'Love, love, love' a 'recent favourite' of mine, in recent revisits of my Vince Jones CD collection (yes I graduated to CDs after that first hearing in the '80s) Once again the difference between player struck me (it's all piano for me tonight!) Sam and Matt treat this tune differently. Sam's on the Live CD playing this and here he is again.

We finished up with an attempted singalong (not sure we did a very good job and certainly we did not sound like the Welsh Choir that Vince alluded to)

An encore 'Little Glass of Wine' and I still have a couple of lines of that song floating around in my head: "As soon as you learn that you won't live forever, you grow fond of the fruit of the vine..."

Thanks to Roger Mitchell for photos.

The Friendly Festival

Sounds corny and a tad sycophantic doesn't it. And I guess I said it last year as well... but the truth is that Stonnington Jazz is run by people who make you feel welcome. They know how to make a gig run smoothly. They know how to make their volunteers feel good about what they are doing. Volunteer at tonight's gig suggested it's because events is what they do. Maybe. That's opposed to those festivals whose organisers are good at jazz, and by extension not very good at making the punters happy? Out on a limb here... Isn't it possible to do both?

Isn't that what Stonnington does? I don't know how the musicians are treated, but those of us who listen, admire and discuss are welcomed with open arms.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Judy Carmichael and goodnight

I chose a Judy Carmichael concert to finish off my experience of this year's jazz festival. The jazz festival offers a wide range of music and I like to dip an ear into a few of them. I went to just one set of Judy's gig. Really enjoyed John Scurry's playing, and the trademark Judy Carmichael banter, singing and stride playing. She's an entertainer - and the audience, though somewhat reserved, were into it. As was I...

I had intended to stay for the full gig and pop into the Jazz Jam again at the end of it. I'd had such a good time there the night before; why not do it again. But in the way these things sometimes work, I found myself leaving at the end of the first set. Is it possible to have enough music? Capacities vary... and my cup felt like it was running over.

This was a jazz festival with alot of choices and many great moments. A volunteer (F) tells me "I saw Ethan Iverson piano solo at the Forum upstairs (opening act for Julien Wilson quintet), and for me, that was one of the highlights of the festival." I had my own and I hope you have enjoyed the moments presented here. Thank you for reading... I don't always think that 'fully researched' is the right way to go into a jazz gig so this is pretty subjective and often uninformed stuff... but the stats show that a few people follow these ramblings.

If you're up for it, I'm going to the Melbourne Jazz Fringe and Stonnington Jazz as well this month. You'd be most welcome to tag along!


Jazz Jam!

My penultimate post from the 2009 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. On Friday night, after two wonderful concerts at the Melbourne Town Hall I wandered up to Bennetts, in the hope of hearing The BBC (Nels Cline/Tim Berne/Jim Black Trio) but the queue was out the door so I popped into the little room next door to have a vodka and check out the Jazz Jam! I left at 1:30 ish, which is when the music stopped and I guess that means I had a good time! Marc Hannaford has been the host for the 11:00 pm jazz jams throughout the festival. I only went to the one night - Friday; that's the trouble with a day job, no matter how much you love your work, it can get in the way of staying out until all hours!

Reader, I had a ball! I loved that Bennetts was noisy. People were having a good time and there was music as well! The small room was packed. It didn't seem like many people were putting their names down to play but we had a few changeovers, though Marc played piano the whole time... just one plaintive 'do we have any piano players who want a go?' Des White on the bass for most of the time, Sam Bates on drums (I think) for alot of the time. Though Jordan Gilmore got up for a couple of songs and I really liked his playing... He has a light touch and good ears is what I would have said in my vodka-and-cranberry-juice-and-jazz-induced state of happiness...

Marc was a good choice for host! He was okay with people talking, realising the context made it okay... and he's such a versatile player and good with people too! Gawd knows what he's thinking, but he keeps smiling through it all.

Scott Tinkler was an unexpected treat. I suppose that's the thing about Jazz Jam! Anything can happen.

A chance encounter with a cognac-drinking architect was refreshing. If you hang out in 'the scene' you can sometimes feel like you're having same conversations all the time. Don't get me wrong, I love the conversations I have in the scene, but there's nothing wrong with a new voice. The architect (let's call him A) is at a conference this weekend and we had a nice little conversation about the way humans create space. He'd noticed that I'd been very focused on getting to the corner behind the coffee machine. I like places in corners with views of the stage (it's a problem I have with the jazz lab at Bennetts actually... I haven't quite found that space yet!).

A says that architecture (in his opinion) is less about the buildings than about people and the choices they make. Food for thought.

Haden, Frisell, Iverson

Also on Friday night at the Melbourne Town Hall was the Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell and Ethan Iverson Trio. With Charlie Haden the Artist-in-Residence at the festival there's an awful (which is awfully good!) lot of him about, and he also popped up to Sydney for a concert in the meantime!

This trio was beautiful to listen to. They started right into the music and Ethan Iverson back announced the first tunes, then forward announced some more. We heard the full trio for a few songs (four?) then dues in different combinations.

An aside about Ethan Iverson... Someone (Marc? Eugene? Brett?) was telling me that he's a font of all knowledge about jazz; he knows names, dates, anecdotes... a walking encyclopaedia, really good to talk to.

Humpty Dumpty, an Ornette Coleman tune was a real highlight for me, and Charlie Haden's solo in particular.

Also Broken Shadows, with just Ethan Iverson and Charlie Haden, during the duos half of the concert, where two out of the three played together, with the other off the stage.

Bill Frisell's playing struck me throughout. I've been thinking about how I generally like a melody (and how I feel palpable dissatisfaction sometimes when I can't find it...) The way this trio played fed my unsophisticated need for a tune while also satisfying my mostly equal desire for a distraction from it! Hearing two instruments play the same tune, in unison, is as treat, and not often heard. I'm more used to situations of the instruments might play and the other one mucks around. I love that of course or I wouldn't enjoy jazz and improvised music very much! But Bill Frisell in particular tonight was playing with the others, rather than just complementing them. In unison something happens that when I tried to articulate it came out something like this: in unison, two instruments create a depth of sound that for the first time tonight I was able to separate from the concept of complexity. Depth and complexity. Noice. Thanks Ethan, Bill and Charlie!

Apologies for the illegal photo. Dodgy conditions, dodgy photographer... Good thing the music was fab!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Shirley Avenue on Swanston Street

I know you all know this, but I'll say it anyway, because it struck me again tonight just how much our appreciation of music is influenced by how we listen. What place do we listen from? What are we thinking? Where are our head and hearts?

Tonight at Melbourne Town Hall, Paul Grabowsky played his piece Shirley Avenue, commissioned by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and played with an interesting band... Niko Schauble (drums), Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Genevieve Lacey (recorders).

It was a Friday night concert and Friday night is always interesting from a listening point of view because the working week has drained me. I'm always tired on a Friday night... and tonight was no exception so I closed my eyes from time to time in order to listen better, though I was fascinated by the grand organ and could not resist craning to see it from time to time.

And I should mention here that as a punter I really appreciated Paul's wry "You've been very patient," comment as he started the concert. We'd just been treated by some breathless speechettes by three lispy whispy girls associated in various ways with the jazz festival and a speech by a City of Melbourne councillor whose enthusiasm outweighed her ability to read or pronounce. Clap clap clap. Now let's hear some music.

Shirley Avenue is a tribute to the street in suburban Glen Waverley that Paul Grabowsky used to live on. We started with the organ. Notes so high they would have made my cat's ears flatten back and her eyes go all starey (she's asleep near the fan on my computer as I write this so she pops into mind... I can't help it!)

A few minutes in I recognised this as music I wanted to be in. I wanted it in headphones or to lie between two speakers on my loungeroom floor, surrounded by the sounds.

This was dark prose; the round woodwind sounds of the recorder rendered a dark forest. Scott, Niko and Paul play so wonderfully together and Genevieve's sounds added a layer of beauty that fit beautifully (from where I sat) with the piece. It was fascinating to hear the difference between Paul's touch on the organ and that of Chris Abrahams when I heard The Necks at that wonderful The Necks Unplugged concert in the same venue a couple of years ago. I was intrigued by now and decided to travel out to Shirley Avenue sometime soon. If it as this music decribes, it is a street in a dark forest, a road to where the wild things are.

Scott's trumpet, which he played for a little while in water, evoked summer... further enhanced by what else was going on including a recording of [tune forgotten] over the trumpet. Somewhere in there was a shift from light and happy backyard swimming pools and sprinklers of youth to something darker but still wet. Nursery rhymes and the happy shouts of children at play... but the darkness never far away.

I told you I was tired.

Driving home, much later and I had heard a great deal of music in the intervening hours but Shirley Avenue had stuck with me. I want to hear it again. Up close, in headphones. If nothing else because I could hear in it my own childhood. Even the choice of a recorder--which may have been a purely musical decision--rocketed me back to 1969 when I started school, picked up and played a recorder for the first time and started my philatelic collection (now long gone) with an enormous commemorative stamp of man's first walk on the moon.

Like I said, we bring ourselves to what we hear, I guess. And I still want to hear it again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Charlie Haden Quartet West

Melbourne Recital Centre. Noice. Though I have wondered when attending previous concerts, what will happen if and when the people in charge get tired of the swirly patterns in the wooden walls. Do they get a chisel out and make different swirly patterns? Do they flatten them out and wallpaper over them?

With Charlie Haden as the artist in residence for this festival, we get to hear him in so many ways. This was going to be another one... different to the Liberation Orchestra Context...

A funny thing happened to me at last night's gig. Yes, it's taken me a day to blog it, which is naughty, but crappy admin work, tiredness and a day job got in the way. And that other thing that kicks in sometimes where you just enjoy the music and then you don't want to write about it because bringing it into words does something to it that lessens it somehow. Definitely true of last night. And sitting here at home doing necessary stuff (I want to be out and LISTENING but can't get there tonight) I find myself almost almost deciding not to blog what I hear any more. I just want to listen.

But I'll hang in there for a bit.

Now where was I...

Magnusson, Ball and Talia opened the evening for us. That's Stephen, Eugene and Joe. Two lovely bits of improvisation to begin with. An ambient tune; transporting... and then something with some more conversation, some stuff going on. Then a beautiful gorgeous surprise, with Lush Life (was that what it was? I am hopeless with song titles). I'm not sure I've heard Eugene Ball play like that before. If my yoga teacher had been there beside me he would have been cross. My yoga teacher keeps telling me about the importance of breath, and for quite a few of Eugene's bars, I held mine, spellbound. I loved those notes Euge. Love love loved 'em.

A little break then, and some free wine... (I paid for water)

Then Charlie Haden's Quartet West. Knowing what the sound can be like here at the Melbourne Recital Centre, imagine my surprise (shared by others in the audience, I soon found out) to hear that the bass was missing. Charlie Haden playing on stage in front of us and we can't hear him!

My notes say 'Is it just me? Is the bass missing?' About four songs in, Mr Haden did a bit of back-announcing and asked us what we thought. "Turn up the bass!" was the answer he got.

The bass was turned up. Result: a recital centre full of much happier punters!

I am told by someone who was at the sound check that the bass was down so quiet because that's the way Charlie Haden wanted it. But I'm glad we got it turned up because it made a difference.

An interesting observation by another punter who joined me for a few songs (S) that someone who's been around for as long as Charlie Haden, playing through styles, evolving as a musician with the music, then they have an ability to move between styles - free to bop and back and beyond - in ways that probably don't seem strange if you've lived and played all those styles as they were happening; if you've been part of their development...

There were many highlights in this concert. Piano player Larry Goldings, tenor saxophone player Ernie Watts (wow!) and drummer Rodney Green make up the other three parts of this quartet.

I spent the first half of the concert worrying about the bass and the second half with my eyes closed enjoying the sounds immensely. The last tune the quartet played (except for the encore) was Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman'. It was immense. Larry Goldings' solo was incredible; creating a space out of sound that enthralled the audience. They were all great. More than one happy punter outside after the concert commented on Ernie Watts' sound. Actually one punter was a bit miffed when he (at first) didn't come out for the encore. She raised her voice and demanded the 'sexy saxophone player'. Was Charlie Haden pouting? What about the sexy bass player?

Charlie Haden has a chorus he's been singing this whole visit about how it's job of musicians to create beauty, and I can hear that. I can hear that's what they're doing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Al, Sam and Marc

I also heard from a very happy punter (K) that Allan Browne, Marc Hannaford and Sam Anning at Bennetts on Monday night were great. The place was packed, Al was in fine form with his patter, the music was wonderful and the trio had a little dance, getting into 'Straight No Chaser'. I can't believe I missed that!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Che spettacolo!

Carlo Actis Dato this evening at BMW Edge (I keep ending up there!) Being a good girl, I took seriously the request not to record or photograph and now the Melbourne Jazz website is down due to too much traffic... so we're in an image-free zone for the moment, which I will rectify as soon as I can.

Having heard Actis Dato Quartet on Jazz Up Late more than once, I knew that they would be fun. But as I said to a certain broadcasting punter (see Jazz Up Late above) after the show, the difference between hearing them and seeing them was pretty significant.

The quartet filed up on stage singing, in African style outfits. From the beginning, we heard Africa in their music. This makes sense given recent tours to Africa-type places such as Ethiopia and Egypt. The quartet is: Carlo Actis Dato (saxophone + bass clarinet), Beppe Di Filippo (alto & soprano saxophones), Matteo Ravizza (bass), Daniele Bertoni (drums/percussion)

Carlo Actis Dato is clearly the boss. Scrap that. I mean ringleader. They are a bunch of naughty naughty boys having alot of fun, or that's the impression they want to give. They're not masking any lack of skill with their antics though. It's serious music done not-so-seriously is all! Movement, energy, laughter, jokes, childish chants and rude gestures aside, you could have closed your eyes and heard an exciting concert. You could have. But I reckon you would have peeked out from behind your eyelashes every now and then just to check they were real... and to be reassured they weren't coming up the aisle towards you, to grab you and make you dance or clap or do audience participation. Yikes!

I didn't catch the name of the first tune, but the second one (Perestroik), once the band had moved on from the physical and musical soviet mimicry, included a moment at the end where S. Dato took his hands off the keys, and made movements with his hands that he then matched with sounds from the bass saxaphone. He wrung his hands and the music squawked, then fluttered his arms and hands like the wings of a bird and the music flew, before finishing with wide arms, as big as the earth and a big, wide, open sound to match.

Then a tune named after a West African country (that I can't find on the map so I must have heard the name wrong or they were taking the mickey, either of which is highly possible). A moment in the middle where Dato and Beppe Di Filipo did a kinda war dancey thingy and for a moment were in fierce golden symmetry on the stage.

Then 'Josephine Baker', and Dato contextualised for us with: "You know her? She used to dance in Espain."

"Paris," yells punter one row down. "Paris, in France."

Oh shut up.

"You remember," Dato goes on. "She was a black woman who wore bananas here [indicates 'around waist'] and goes like this, eh?' whereupon he shimmies like Josephine Baker.

"France!" repeats the punter in front.

Oh shut up.

Turns out he was one of those punters who enjoys listening to music by shaking his head vigorously from side to side.

'Don't Feed the Drummer' was a three act play, with a theme of drummer petulance. If there was an award for performance tanties, the drummer woulda won it.

'Istanbul Boogie' To quieten us down a little, but "nothing to do with boogie woogie"

A brief mention by Dato that he loves Melbourne audiences because we are 'hot' and 'responsive' (!)


'Blue Cairo' with more audience participation. A particularly enjoyable soprano sax solo by Di Filipo. An interesting sequence where Dato slowly took his Bass Clarinet apart, giving it piece by piece to Di Filipo, who re-built it from the bell up. Dato ended up with just the mouthpiece, making music by moving his hands over the opening. It could only have work with excellent musicianship. It worked, by the way!

Sahara - members of the quartet left the stage and came back on in colourful flowing robes. Then back up into the audience to harass us!

And then it ended... but not quite. "Ancora! Ancora!" from the audience (Encore in Italian by the way) and we were off again.

Somehow that turned into an essay with no pictures. Oops! Thank goodnes someone else in the audience wasn't a goody two-shoes... thanks, photographer who shall remain anonymous. Excellent pic to brighten up this post!

Picture added later, courtesy of the MIJF website!

509 Bandwidth Limit Exceeded

Well congratulations, Melbourne International Jazz Festival... If you go to this evening, this is what you get: The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.

The 509 error on a website 'Bandwidth Limit Exceeded' often means that a website's getting more traffic than they allowed for.

Maybe it's the links in this blog, which as we know is very very popular reading... every time I link to Melbourne Jazz they get thousands of visitors! Sorry, guys!

Charlie Haden - Festival Opening Concert

Due to a number of other commitments I'm limiting my listening pleasure during this festival to some highlights. I fully expect to be led astray in the next week (who wouldn't?) but will do my best to be strict and sensible. Hah!

Not to be missed of course was Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, featured in the free (!) opening night concert of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Now that, my friends, was a great idea. A GREAT idea.

In an interview on Saturday morning with Andrew Ford on Radio National's The Music Show Charlie Haden said that (here I go, paraphrasing again) that he wants to create beauty; that he hopes the music people hear takes them on a journey; that he hopes it's a journey to a place they like.

The cold weather had caused the concert to be moved indoors to the BMW Edge so I ended up there again. As Mr Haden was introduced and the band filed up on stage, it started to be an emotional experience, and not a note had been played! The orchestra was populated by Australians for Charlie Haden's visit: Paul Grabowsky on the piano, Jamie Oehlers and Julien Wilson on tenor saxes, Phil Noye on alto, Scott Tinkler 1st trumpet and Paul Williamson 2nd trumpet. Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Andrew Young on French Horn, Dan ?? on tuba (sorry! didn't catch the name and the website says the tuba is being played by Phil Rex, which I know is not true!) Shannon Barnett on trombone, Ben Vanderwal on drums and Sam Anning on bass.

We were told about the 'role' of the orchestra; the first recording came out in 1969 during Nixon's presidency in the USA and the second recording in the time of Reagan. Then another one during the time of Bush's 'father and mother' and the fourth recording during the time of Dubya. The anecdote told on The Music Show was given another airing "I guess now that Obama's been elected, we can retire!" says the tuba player as the Liberation Music Orchestra watches the election in November last year on the tv in their dressing room in New York. "No," retorts Charlie Haden "We can never retire!"

Okey dokey then, let's hear the music! And we did.

Voicings, Mr Haden had explained, were inspired by the Spanish Civil War. Which is why we had a french horn and a tuba among the instruments.

Starting with 'Not in Our Name' (also the name of the most recent Liberation Music Orchestra CD) then moving on to 'This is Not America' (a Pat Metheny tune written for the film The Falcon and the Snowman. This featured a particularly gorgeous solo by Shannon Barnett and her trombone. Then 'Blue Anthem', starting with 'military' rat-a-tat-tat drums. 'Amazing Grace' with a beautiful conversation going on between Charlie Haden and Sam Anning... Charlie's bass to Sam's bass and back again. Breathtaking. And Charlie's "yeah, man" of appreciation from time to time. Then on to 'Going Home' and Sylvio Rogriguez' 'Tail of a Tornado'. Then 'Silence' (a tune by Charlie Haden). My notes say here that only a bloody musician could write a tune called 'Silence' and fill it up with sounds like this...

By this stage the emotion in the room was almost palpable. The combination of instruments, playing skills and arrangements saw to that. And just when we needed it relief came in the final tune 'We Shall Overcome'; a commendable sentiment and in the hands of this orchestra a beautiful song that uplifted.

From the beginning of the concert I felt the sounds of individual instruments were a little muffled. I've heard it said that the BMW Edge can be acoustically 'problematic' and I overheard that a great deal of effort had gone into getting the sound as good as possible for the festival. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the recently opened Melbourne Recital Centre, where the sound is really something special and when I heard the Australian Art Orchestra there recently, every instrument was discernible. Tonight, we were saved by the music, by the fact that Charlie and the musicians he had in his orchestra tonight were all beautiful; by the palpable good will in the room... and did I mention this already?... by the music. As journeys go, it was pretty damn good. So good that on the train home, Connex was once again unable to make me miserable. Hah! Take that, Connex!

Zac and the kiddies- "Something like that"

Because of Connex (see previous post) I was late for the Zac Hurren Trio Jazz for Kids concert at the BMW Edge. Thus my introduction to the gig was on the surreal side of bizarre. I know the venue well and I know that it has resounding wooden floors. I was wearing heels. So I was tippy tippy tippy toe-ing down the loud wooden stairs to sit inconspicuously three rows from the front of the tiered seats. All the kidlets and their parents were down towards the front(ish) having a great time. What made it surreal was this tap tap tapping that was going on. The floors are not the only noisy thing at The Edge. The seats are all wood and the little tackers in the audience had all been given chopsticks at the beginning of the concert (it had completely escaped my attention that the volunteers huddled at the top of the stairs were carrying packets of the things or I would have asked for some of my own!) All those kids playing their chopsticks! On the wooden floors, on the backs of wooden chairs! It added a really interesting (and enjoyable) little thread below all the music that the trio played during the gig. And was fun to watch as well!

Zac's approach to the brief was to do alot of explaining and play tunes that might be recognised by kids, jazzing around with them in ways that also (bravo!) made them enjoyable to those of us who are a little jaded about Sesame Street and Elmo, and ambivalent about the Simpsons theme as music-to-listen-to-at-a-jazz-concert.

A highlight of the concert was young Aaron who, when Zac proposed a blues, put his hand up [ooh ooh, pick me! pick me!] and was invited up on stage by Zac. The trio welcomed Aaron (I reckon maybe 11 years old?) and what a thrill it must have been for him. A testament to the openness that this type of music is supposed to represent and to the skills and abilities of Zac, Sam Anning (bass) and Sam Bates (drums) that they were able to run with this and look like they were having fun. Brought a tear to the eye, it did. And that's no lie. A foot-tappingly good listen as well!

I wondered last year when I attended my first one, what the challenges might be of a 'Jazz for Kids' concert. With an audience ranging in age from baby to grandparent, how do you keep them engaged. Zac seemed keen to impart knowledge and I think some of the older kids who might have been introduced today or recently to jazz would have loved it. Everybody in the room picked up on Zac's ebullience and the warmth emanating from the two Sams... I was doodling in my notebook and wondering how to describe the exact type of success this concert was and I think I may have found it: the train trip home on my Connex train seemed much less grim than the train trip in! Thanks guys!

Here's a bonus pic of Zac hamming it up for the Sun-Herald. And Sam watching. Oh, you guys.

Glenferrie Station Blues

Before I get onto the subject let me have a Connex whinge. It's the thing to do in Melbourne. You see there's a narrow band of acceptable temperature and dampness levels within which Connex runs the trains on time, and even then... yes... even then... you'd be reckless to count on the timetable!

If you've been listening to anything Melbourne-and-weather related recently, or if you're in dear old Melbs yourself, you'll know that the temperature dropped fairly suddenly sometime on Friday night.

Now that I've set you up with all the facts, let me just tell you that I had a moment, standing on Glenferrie station on Sunday lunchtime, heading in to the MIJF to hear a Jazz for Kids concert and I felt as though I was in some weird representation of Thatcher's Britain, as I learned about it in some gritty grainy fillum at a film festival some years ago (I've forgotten the name of the film but its imagery and message stayed with me). A grey and windswept platform, huddled passengers en route to football games and jazz festivals. The announcement boards not working, the train delayed and delayed and delayed.

Uggh. What is happening here?

But then the train came and I settled into the musty upholstery with an empty hamburger packet on the seat beside me for company... and all was well in the world once more.

Jazz Festival time in Melbourne again!

Well, here we are again. April and May in Melbourne have become the months that jazz enthusiasts can look forward to an even greater choice of wonderful music to listen to. In 2009 the schedule of your jazz blogger at large (moi!) covers the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) from 26 April until 2 May, then the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival (MJFF) from 8 to 17 May and Stonnington Jazz from 14- 23 May. Yikes!

Next blog: Zac Hurren's Jazz For Kids and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra...