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...