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 www.melbournejazzphotos.com/