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!