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 >