8 December 2006

Jess & Niels

Last night’s White Eagle was a night of maturity in several ways. In the musical sense, it was a homecoming for two wayfarers and ex-Jazz School students, and both presented mature, developed music. In the performance sense, it was a big night at the White Eagle, with perhaps 150 people in attendance at the last show of 2006.

The crowd celebrated the end of a great first year for the White Eagle sessions. Earlier this year, several jazz students took on the task of presenting themselves and developing their own venue. Like Jazzgroove in Sydney, they’ve taken control of their own art through a cooperative venture. It gives Canberra a venue for performances by its own peripatetic offspring jazzers, and gives the current crew of developing musos a venue to perform, meet and jam. And the big turnout included the families of some of the visiting players as well as lovers of the art. So congrats to Ed, Phill and Hannah for the White Eagle success.

The first players of the night were the Niels Rosendahl Quartet. Niels has just arrived back after a year travelling in Europe and SE Asia, and further studying his tenor sax. He instantly impressed me with a new calmness and sureness in his presence; with clear and purposeful improvisations; with understated but nonetheless fast and complex lines; with clear and impassioned articulation. What he played was necessary, not just impressive. Niels had recommended a book to me the previous night, “Zen guitar”, as a good read, so it was no surprise that exuded a zen-like bearing on the night. He’s obviously developed immensely after time in SE Asia and Europe, mostly in Edinburgh. From the rubato start of “God bless ye merry gentlemen”, to another rubato section on the final tune, “Silent night”, the selections were apt and the performance was convincing. Otherwise the band played various original tunes by Neils and Michael A.

From left, Niels, Michael, Ed and Bill

The band was an impressive unit: Michael Azzopardi (piano), Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Bill Williams (bass) accompanied Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax). Michael played with incredible energy and commitment as always; Ed was connected and interpretive; Bill was a rock with strong walks, and intriguing solos with a hard, clear tone. Ed told me afterwards that he felt all was inevitable and correct while playing with Neils. It showed. Niels finished the night by inviting John Mackey up for a minor blues, so it all ended with the local tenor masters at play. Niels continues to improve and impress; watch him.

The Jess Green Septet was totally another proposition. Jess composes and leads a band with a broad, inclusive, world style. There were infectious rhythms borrowed from all over the place (rockabilly, blues, garage bands and reggae were in there, and she has a connection with, and influence from, Ghana). There were varied time signatures (7/4, 5/4, lots of triple times, 3/4 or 6/4, as well as the old standard, 4/4). There were varied harmonies and counterpoint in the 4-part horn section. So this was orchestrated music, of a modern, global style, with jazz leanings, and plenty of improvisation. What got me about the improvisations was the appropriateness of the solos to the musical context. As well as actively leading the band, Jess plays guitar. She did several wonderful, understated solos with soft picking and a bell-like tone on her Telecaster Thinline (the semi-acoustic model with humbucker pickups), as well as holding lots of rhythms with riffs or even simple chordal work. All the horns played solos, as did drums and bass. In one spot, there was an unusual combination of trumpet soloing against drums, then becoming more standard as the bass joined the action. Zoe Hauptmann is a great bassist, and I loved her immensely fitting solos on two tunes. Her match with the rhythm and groove and horn-based harmonies, and the spaces she left for the horn parts, were immaculate. I was taken by her great, solid tone, too. She works the strings hard, and the resulting sound is solid and dirty and endlessly reliable. I also particularly liked the varied harmonies from the horn section. The writing was good, and the players combined beautifully. And Chris T, sitting in for the night of drums, did a great job. So this was another mature offering; this time of original, contemporary, world-style music.

Jess Green with her Dad and brother

The Jess Green Septet were: Jess Green (guitar, composer, leader), Matt Keegan (tenor sax), Dan Junor (alto sax), John Hibbard (trombone), Simon Ferenci (trumpet), Zoe Hauptmann (bass), Chris Thwaite (drums, replacing Evan Mannell).

It looks like there’s no White Eagle session in January, but expect a return in February.

  • Jess Green's new CD, "Singing fish"
  • Niels Rosendahl's MySpace site
  • 7 December 2006

    Bernie McGann plays Hippo

    Bernie McGann is a legend of Australian modern jazz, and his performance at Hippo’s was confirmation, if confirmation was needed. Bernie is now aged 69. His experience and history was evident in the honesty of his playing, and in the individuality of his style. His style is very much his own. He gets a mention in Stuart Nicholson’s excellent recent book on modern jazz, Is Jazz Dead?: (Or Has It Moved to a New Address), in a discussion of styles of music being different in different countries. He was given as an example of an Australian sound in jazz, that he was dry like the Australian bush (or something similar)**. I mentioned this to Bernie, and also to a few other musos on the night, and they could see the fit. Bernie seemed to take it as inevitable, given he is Australian. Others commented how unique his sound and style are. One sax player described his playing as like his voice: beyond thought of chord and structures; always responding to the other musicians; intimate and immediate like singing.

    His alto has a sinuous quality: twisting, fluid. He plays with seemingly indeterminate pitch and time, moving phrases over the beat structure, and bending notes at will. There are lots of long, multi-octave scales and arpeggios at different levels of dissonance and different substitutions. There were simple lines, perhaps repeated with changing discordance. Always with loose rhythm and pitch which makes everything a personal and intense statement, and always honest. He’d be playful, toying with the underlying structures, but there was always a connection to the underlying tune, and always an intense, ongoing rhythm. After the gig, he mentioned that he’d be happy to see people up dancing. It was a confirmation of the centrality of swing to his jazz; there was always this intense beat amongst all this exploration.

    Bernie was accompanied by Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums), Graham Monger (guitar) and Dirk Zeylmans (tenor sax). They all played well and were thoughtful in how they responded to Bernie. I expect his unique style makes for a demanding outing for his band. I’ve written on them all here; this report is one for Bernie.

    The tunes were bop and standards: My little suede shoes, Scrapple from the apple, Body and soul, Tenor madness, Night and day, and the like. There was no chat with the audience. Despite plenty of informed listeners, it was a noisy, chatty environment, so perhaps it didn’t lend itself to stage patter. Just two sets of intense jazz interpretation with a long, intense history behind it. Great stuff.

  • Bernie McGann at Wikipedia
  • Geoff Page's biography of Bernie McGann

    ** "His sound reminds me very much of the Australian landscape. Dry and brittle and almost Coocoboro-like [sic. I guess the transcriber meant "Kookaburra-like". ed.] about the way he plays ... if Jan Garbarek is a fjord man, Bernie is the opposite of that, he is dry, witty". Paul Grabowski on Bernie McGann in Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address / Stuart Nicholson. NY : Routledge, 2005, p.188.
  • 1 December 2006

    John Mackey CD launch

    John Mackey launched his new CD the other night with a fabulous night of impassioned, Coltranesque exuberance at Hippo’s. John, of course, is the sax teacher at the Jazz School and a product of Perth. He recorded his CD in Melbourne with some excellent sidemen, and John’s brother Carl, who also plays a mean tenor. The launch at Hippo’s only shared 2 players with the CD (John and Eric Ajaye), but it was a spirited band and they played several of the tunes from the CD.

    The band on the night comprised John Mackey (tenor sax), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Carl Morgan (guitar), Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). It’s amongst the crème of the local jazz scene and I’ve written on all these players over the months here at CJ. John is out front, with plenty of original blowing tunes, and hugely passionate and intelligent solos, with a massive 60s-Coltrane-influence. Miroslav provides harmony trumpet lines and great bop solos, and several excellent originals. Carl Morgan is all the rage at the moment, as a young (1st year) guitarist at the Jazz School who’s blowing with great confidence and competence and genuinely interesting, unfaked lines. He’s obviously a talent to watch. Eric Ajaye is, of course, our much-admired bassist with years of experience in the US with the big names. After looking at the liner notes of John’s CD, I realise John has plenty of names to drop to match Eric’s (Nat Adderley, Richie Cole, Dionne Warwick, Roy Hargrove, Toshiko Akiyoski and others vs. Bernie Maupin, Sonny Stitt, Gary Bartz, Victor Feldman, etc) but that’s another story. Michael Azzopardi is the master of frantic, dissonant soloing, and challenging, similarly altered and substituted accompaniment. And Chris Thwaite is the strong drummer in the corner, always with a strong and intimate connection with the others.

    The tunes included plenty of John’s originals, largely from the CD (Contemplation, Pressure cooker, See what happens, It’s the only thing to do, etc), a solo sax interpretation of Ellington’s “In a sentimental mood”, one of my favourite latin tunes, “Invitation”, and several of Miroslav’s excellent compositions (Delicatessen, For Woody, and that theme from Radio National’s Country Hour and an ever-popular tune for Wunderlust, the infectious Bronte Café).

    John’s bands do not make for a light and easy evening. He always plays with a barrage of notes, and screaming, passionate intensity, and there’s volume to match. But it was a thrill to hear this band, and every player was obviously enjoying the challenge immensely. From what Eric said about the recording session, it was similarly demanding. So take any chance you get to hear John and one of his outfits, and get a copy of his CD. Take it easy; it’s not one for the faint-hearted. But if you can handle the intensity, you’re in for a treat.

  • John Mackey at MySpace
  • 16 November 2006

    Bones exposed at Hippo's

    Exposed Bone’s performance at Hippo’s last night reminded me of why I love jazz. It was an energetic show, with humour and intelligence and great skill covering a range of modern, popular styles (rock, blues, groove, calypso, klezmer, etc) in various standard and odd times. It’s so much not just history (although, at times, there’s reverence to traditions) or a defined and endlessly repeated canon (despite continued exploration of the standards repertoire). Jazz today is a melange of influences explored by highly trained and skilled artists, with energy and joy to boot.

    Exposed Bone is Jeremy Borthwick’s band. It plays original music in a world/groove vein. I missed their last performance at Hippo’s, when Jeremy played with the Hauptmann family (Zoe on bass, James on drums and Ben on guitar). This time, EB comprised Jeremy (trombone), James Muller (guitar), Brendan Clarke (electric bass) and James Hauptmann (drums). The fact that the band can change almost totally and still play these difficult arrangements (some even read by sight on the night) is just more proof of the skill levels in modern jazz.

    Jeremy plays trombone with fast, post-bop and bluesy lines which seem so hard on this instrument. I’ve mentioned before the current interest in trombones in front lines and EB are a perfect example. It’s a smooth, lithe sound and I guess this matches the modern, sophisticated, lounge/groove audience. I wonder whether synths have brought about the resurgence of the trom, because they do have similar sounds … just a thought. But Jeremy is a master.

    James Muller is now an Australian guitarist of world stature, given his recent sojourn in New York, and his recording with Bill Stewart, John Scofield’s drummer. He lifted the band (as guitarists are so capable of doing) every time he started a solo. What amazed me was how he displayed expertise in so many styles. There was rock guitar to die for, sleezy and down-home with wah, volume and other effects, but then he’d morph to fast, clean dissonant pentatonic jazz lines or the broad arpeggios and sweeps of fusion. And to end the night, he played a blues tune with the minor pentatonics and bends you expect in that form. He raised a great flourish of cheers after every solo. I was just a bit disappointed when each solo ended, so I would have liked them to be longer. But what displays of expertise they were!

    And the rest of the rhythm section was right there with the front line. It was the first time I’d seen Brendan Clarke on electric bass. He had a fat, soft tone with a high-mid edge and it reminded me of his sound on double bass. But it was that syncopated right hand finger work that propelled the band so strongly. He was obviously having a good time, frequently smiling to James’ flash soloing. He also had a great knack with building tension – eighth notes on one note for one whole chorus at one time, and several other high tension segments with the whole band. And he was no slouch at solos.

    James Hauptmann on drums was no slouch, either. He plays a soft rather than sharp sound, and a non-intrusive style. To me, this is a more traditional style, viz. his trading fours in an early tune. But again, he was exciting and energetic with plenty of busy solos and he pushed the band along with incessant rhythms in a style reminiscent of early Weather Report. Great stuff.

    BTW, Brendan and James H are local boys made good: both are products of the local jazz school.

    I had an interesting discovery. I found when I was tapping along with the beat, it was always on 1-3 rather than 2-4 as in swinging jazz, so I guess that’s a feature of these more popular or world styles. I’d welcome any comments on the theory behind this, and whether the musos out there agree. Just add comments under this post.

    In summary, the players were superb, the audience had a great time, the tunes were presumably original, and the vibe was energetic and fun. So, another great display of Australian modern jazz-groove at Hippo Bar.

    13 November 2006

    Stange happenings with CJ feeds

    It seems all posts on the CJ home page were redated to 11 Nov when I upgraded to the new Blogger software (betaBlogger). It's obviously some interface issue with Blogger/Feedigest, but it should be OK for any future posts. In the meantime, visit the CJNews page for recent News announcements.

    11 November 2006

    Vale Michael Foster

    The Canberra Times reported this morning (Canberra Times, Sat 11 Nov 2006, p.4) that long-time jazz afficionado and jazz reporter for the Canberra Times died yesterday (10 Nov). Appropriately, he died in Wangaratta, shortly after the recent Festival. Michael was a strong supporter of the Jazz School, and has funded various awards and, with his wife Bronwyn, a visit by the the Big Band to the Monterey Jazz Festival. The attached pic is Michael at a recent session at White Eagle. Thanks, Michael, for your long-time support of jazz in Canberra.

    7 November 2006

    Jenna Cave recital, 17 Nov

    Jenna Cave has advertised her Graduation recital at the Jazz School, so it seems we're welcome to attend. Jenna will present her compositions played by the ANU's Big Band and Recording Ensemble and also perform on alto. This may be the last time to see these bands in their present formation. Band Room, Peter Karmel Bldg, ANU School of Music, 2pm, Fri 17 Nov.

    2 November 2006

    Visitors from NY: Jacam Manricks

    New York is a gathering place for jazz players from around the world. It has something like 10 major jazz clubs, and perhaps 100 venues for jazz. It’s still a mecca for advanced players, and the home of many famous jazz names. So jazz visitors from NY are something to look forward to.

    Hippo’s NY visitors were Jacam Manricks (alto sax), Steve Newcomb (piano), Jasper Leak (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums). Jacam is the leader and composer, originally out of Brisbane. He’s the son of professional orchestra-playing parents and has a impressive history of awards in Australia and OS. In NY, he’s currently working on his doctorate in composition, and earning as a jazz educator. So, he arrives with lofty expectations. But these are all Australians with NY connections. Danny and Jasper have been in NY for several years; Steve was in NY but has now returned to Brisbane.

    So what is it about NY? I feel you see immense commitment and seriousness (that classic book of modern jazz, “As serious as your life”, comes to mind). Also, I hear original compositions with a hard, exploratory and energetic edge. I imagine that’s partly an expression of the individualist, live-or-die, competitive world of the US (which is presumably at a frenzied pitch in NY) and modern jazz itself. And obviously, high levels of musicianship and vigorous renditions of standard tunes.

    JM’s band didn’t disappoint. JM’s original compositions were spikey inventions, with big intervals jumping up and down through sinuous melodies, often with syncopated, written rhythm section accompaniment. The piano solos were thoughtful and adventurous; the sax solos were initially non-legato, and developed into long, atonal flourishes; the drums solos were frequent, fast and disjunctive, with lots of rolls and rudiments finishing with frequent staccato slaps. I only remember one bass solo, but it was highly competent and interesting. I’d heard Jasper Leak’s album, and, as a fellow bassist, I was very happy to hear his name mentioned when the band started up. He was absolutely solid in underlying these hard charts, and an immensely interesting foundation. There were a few walks, one which appeared spontaneously in UMMG, and another lovely walk throughout Countdown. Otherwise, he played syncopated, rhythmically diverse lines throughout the night. I discovered something when I noticed how he would break up the rhythm, playing on -2-4, then perhaps 2-41-34-2-4, so the beat moved from the 2-4 to the 1-3 then back again, usually at unexpected times. It’s like a rhythmic version of playing substitute chords: not wrong but quite disconcerting. Great playing.

    The non-originals were Sam River’s “Beatrice”, Stayhorn’s “Upper Manhattan Medical Group” and Coltrane’s “Countdown”. Otherwise, the show was all original. As I remember, the played Numbers 7, 3, 2, a medley of 4/5, and 1. Trust me; the compositions were more creative than the titles. There was some complex reading and writing demanded of all the players: good and interesting stuff. Check out Jacam’s website for a generous collection of his original music.

    JM is playing at Wangaratta in a few days. I hope the band gets a larger audience there than last night’s disappointingly small one. They deserve it.

  • http://www.jacammanricks.com/
  • 28 October 2006

    Sam Young, Wayne Kelly, White Eagle

    It was another successful outing at the White Eagle last night: two bands, several jams and another ArtSound recording.

    The Sam Young Quartet opened the night with a guitar-based sound that you seldom hear in the jazz scene. That’s a shame, because this was an interesting and involving set, reminiscent to me of the 60s/70s electronic jazz of Miles (the era of Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson). SYQ comprised Sam Young (drums), Jarrah Jones (guitar), Aron Lyon (guitar) and Gareth Hill (bass). They played originals, variously by Gareth, Sam and Aron, as well as Wayne Shorter’s “Mascalero”. The music was mostly intense and pensive, but there were occasional dramatic flourishes (for example, Sam’s opening for his original, “The breaks”) and the final tune by Aron was more upbeat. Most guitar solos and melodies were played by Aron, accompanied by Jarrah’s chordal work. I’ve been impressed by Jarrah’s chordal work in several performances. His interesting voicings and free movement over rhythmic structures generally loosen up a band. They particularly suited this era. Aron was playing with rich effects and the combination with Jarrah made for a modern sound with complex heads and solos. Sam and Gareth are both highly capable players in their own rights, both as accompanists and as soloists, so the performance was a joy (if you can say “joyful” for this style of music). The sound was a little muddy at times, and there were some problems with hum, but otherwise much enjoyed.

    The Wayne Kelly Quartet followed with a very different style of music. This was more straight-ahead rhythmically, harmonically more defined, instrumentally less effected and with more clear distinction of solos. So, it seemed more structured or patterned than the fluid style that SYQ played (although really it wasn’t). But these guys were so professional. They played tight, over complex tunes, and passed great solos around. The music was original – plenty of tunes from Wayne’s recent CD, and a few by Mike. WKQ were Wayne Kelly (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass), Mike Price (guitar) and Mark Sutton (drums). There were tons of high points to note. Amongst others, I remember: excellent accompaniment by Brendan (he’s a great bassist, with an unusual sweet and rounded tone); an excellent solo at the end from Mark; a very appropriate tune by Mike called “Young guns” (he’d see lots as the head of the Jazz School) with a very appropriate solo (including sweeps, patterns and sidestepping, which are outside Mike’s normal style); Brendan’s charts falling from his new music stand and him organising them with his feet while playing (funnier than most jokes you commonly hear on stage); Wayne’s great tunes from his recent CD. Wayne gave away some of his influences in the names of a few tunes: “Mr Hank Mobley” and “Dr Kirkland Blues”. Overall, highly professional and highly swinging.

    The night finished with a few student jams. The next White Eagle session features the Jess Green Sextet with Neils Rosendahl on 7 Dec.

  • http://myspace.com/jazzatthewhiteeagle
  • TTMaker – scheduling software for jazz festivals

    If you’re planning on running a jazz festival, or similar event, this software looks like a real timesaver. It keeps a record of musicians, bands and venues, and provides options which avoid scheduling conflicts. You input list of musicians with their details, the bands they play in, venues with available equipment and setup details for the event (dates, daily start and end times, length of sets, time between sets, etc). TTMaker provides programming options for bands taking into account musos playing in different bands. When you’ve chosen the best program from the scheduling options, TTMaker provides web pages or prints of schedules, bands and members, etc.

    Click on image to view full size

    It’s a pretty simple concept but it seems eminently helpful – in avoiding stress for organisers, and in saving time. I watched the process of fitting my band into the Moruya program at the last minute. It was obviously difficult for the scheduler, Michel, to finalise a workable program, given that one member was playing in the Jazz School Big Bang, another was playing in two other bands, and I was playing in one other band. So, it seems to me to be a good investment, at least for an event of the scale of Moruya.

    It also stores personal details of musicians and bands. So as a by product, it can produce a variety of relevant lists, eg, musicians with instruments and phone numbers, bands with members’ names, bands with contact details, bands by style.

    TTMaker is developed by Roots Software in Melbourne and was built in conjunction with the Wagga Jazz Festival. The proprietors can be emailed and they respond quickly and seem helpful. You can download a demo version which will manage a small event, or pay for standard or professional versions. It seems well worth investigating if you’re toying with organising a festival.

  • http://www.rootsoftware.com/
  • Wagga Fest program created with TTMaker
  • 23 October 2006

    Moruya Festival 2007

    Moruya staged its annual jazz festival over the weekend. Moruya’s a small and pleasant town on the South Coast. Like the town, the event is intimate and entertaining. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with as many musicians as audience (or perhaps more musicians), esp given the presence of the full Jazz School and several large ensembles and choirs. The ANU School of Music is the mainstay of the festival: they presented their three large ensembles and lots of smaller bands. But there are also various other regulars, several school ensembles, a surprising number of vocal groups, and a few feature acts.

    The ANUSM (ANU School of Music) Big Band played on Friday night and wowed the crowd at the local Golf Club. The played a sleek, professional performance. They’ve been playing out a lot recently, and it shows. Their upcoming performance at Wangaratta should be a worthy one. The Commercial and Recording Ensembles played in the Air Raid Tavern. I saw only parts of each performance. The Tavern is a smaller venue, and the volume was pretty intense, and I thought maybe some members were a bit tired after plenty of playing, but both gave powerful and interesting performances. (In case you read my earlier post on the three ensembles, my current favourite is the Big Band :->)

    Isomorphism was a drum-free trio led by Hannah James (bass) with Patrick Hutchins (tenor sax) and Matthew Lustri (guitar). They played nice versions of standards and latin tunes, and opened the festival for me with good straight ahead soloing.

    Team Zissou were an interesting piano trio comprising Phill Jenkins (bass), Ben Foster (piano) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). They started with the beautiful and touching Beatles tune “She’s leaving home”, so it was an obvious winner for me. I spoke to Phill later about playing modern pop songs in jazz, and he mentioned several CDs which were influential for this band: Herbie Hancock’s “New standards”, and Brad Mehldau’s “Day is done”. Team Zissou are gentle and inventive, with solos moving smoothly between the very competent players. I liked this one.

    Swinging Affair was another Jazz School band. They played standards, mostly vocals-based, but with a few instrumentals. On the day, SA comprised Alison Flett (vocals), Matt Sykes (drums), Joseph Lloyd (alto sax), and two players who sat in: Carl Morgan (guitar) and Hannah James (bass). Alison has a strong voice, and selected some great songs. I especially liked “End of the love affair”, previously performed by Billie Holliday and others and Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile. This band created and held a steady, insistent swing, and performed some great solos. Carl shows real talent, despite only being a first year student, and he’s obviously being watched by other students with admiration. He’s playing fast and interesting solo lines with odd but satisfying twists. Hannah, too, is playing great, solid bass lines, and is ever-reliable in that role. Matt and Jo were also impressive. This was enjoyable and it kept a good-sized audience for the whole hour, despite some very cool winds blustering around the Monarch Beer Garden. Nice one.

    Overhead Project is Jazz School-related, being led by, and made up partly of, ex-students. OP plays a smooth style of modern jazz that I associate with the US West-Coast: smooth guitar; gentle tempos; laid-back but exploratory soloing. Michael Coggins (guitar) leads the band, with Valdis Thomann (trombone), Gareth Hill (bass) and Ben Braithwaite (drums). This was music to loll you into musings and deep thought: very satisfying and very far from post-bop. As a bass player, I’ll single out Gareth Hill. His solos were perfect for the context, and he was later to impress in a few other bands as a very able bop player (at breakneck speeds for long durations) and a tasteful electric bassist. My drummer mate loved Ben’s subtle drumming in this band, and I enjoyed both Michael’s soft and supremely tasteful solos, and Valdis’ well-structured solos showing considerable chops on this difficult instrument.

    Straight Up performed brilliantly as always. I’ve written elsewhere about this trio, and I can’t help but rave. Eric Ajaye (bass) is the leader and a revered player around town, as are the ubiquitous Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). No attitude here: all supportive smiles, intense activity and great performances. Michael bends over the piano, working it with his immensely fast solos, classical overtones of flailing hands, occasional synth slides and frequent outside playing. Eric matches with fluent bass support and fast and complex solos at the highest level of the art (he played acoustic double bass for this set). Chris accompanies the others with sharp and apt playing and always smiling and watching and aware of the others. These guys are masters. My piano mate wondered how the piano stands up to the beating, and my drummer mate commented on the pertinent drumming. As a bassist, I just sit in awe! Straight Up performs the festival circuit. See them if you can.

    John Mackey’s quintet became a sextet when Miroslav Bukovsky was able to arrive earlier than expected. It was another eye-opener of intense, loud, sometimes frantic post-bop. John Mackey (tenor sax) was leader, with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet) in the front line, and a rhythm section comprising Michael Azzopardi (piano), Sam Young (drums), Gareth Hill (bass) and Carl Morgan (guitar). John played with speed and rabid, screaming passion, as always. But he opened my ears again with a long and more gentle closing solo passage on a ballad (don’t remember which). It was intensely beautiful, and a reminder of the more soothing side of 1960s impassioned jazz. Miro played lovely fast solos, and contributed several wonderful originals, including one modal piece that I loved. (I didn’t keep notes on the night, so can’t provide titles). I’ve written above of Garth’s hot bop playing (it was impressive, and displayed that incredible stamina needed for a bop bassist), and Carl’s great playing over the weekend (hard to believe he’s a first year student), and Michael’s always hot. Sam’s playing impressed both me and my drummer friend. He was playing his heart out with triplets and interesting forms and a great solo at the end. So, this was a powerful performance at the end of the night that left everyone elated, stunned and a bit exhausted.

    I heard a lot of other bands for short periods, but not enough to provide an opinion here. Llama were a soul/modern band fronted by a sister and brother pair: Jenny Lee (vocals, trumpet) and Rob Lee (trombone). Pierre’s Dream Banned featured some old colleagues, Pierre Kammacher (saxes) and Ron Lucas (piano). Pierre is a regular on the festival scene and I’m always amused by the punny band names he uses. The Strange Weather Gospel Choir is another regular at Moruya. It’s a big mob, which had to be broken into three separate parts to perform the small Monarch Lounge, and so lost some of the power of ~50 voices when I saw them last year. Nonetheless, they are impressive. Moondance played a hard-swinging Euro-folk set, as I remember, and it went down well. Mike Hallam’s Hot Six is the patron of the Moruya Festival. It’s a very competent trad outfit comprising some members with international tours under their belts. Mother’s Ruin are mates of mine. They played an interesting set comprising several originals in the Ragtime tradition – quite a change for me, mired as I am in modern, and seldom hearing anything earlier than bop. I also caught the Radford College Band at the Saturday picnic in the park, and was impressed by its competence. I was sorry I missed the band called New Vibes Express. They are a group of middle-aged jazzers out of Sydney with long experience. My drummer mate caught a few minutes and spoke well of the drummer’s brushes technique and the vibrophonist’s dual mallets. The drummer’s broken left leg (!) meant his hi-hat work didn’t match his brushes, but high praise none-the-less. I was also sorry to miss Madeline Hawke’s Madeline 4, but I wasn’t surprised to hear good reports of her singing.

    George Washingmachine, Psycho Zydeco and Al Davey’s & the monStars were feature bands. I saw a few minutes of the first two. They both impressed as entertaining and professional, as you would expect, and had great followings. I missed the monStars.

    I played with two bands. I was happy with my playing on the day, so all was right with the Moruya world. Deja Who played one set of modern jazz with a nod to the more adventurous. DW were Liam Wilson (piano), Scott Young (drums), Michael Cleaver (alto sax, midi wind instrument), Alistair Clarke (trombone) and Eric Pozza (bass). The band was thrown together for the event, and only Michael knew Alistair before the day, but it worked, and was fun. I’ll remember this episode with amusement. When I introduced Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” as “something more adventurous”, a trad/mainstream audience member sounded surprised. She obviously thought our pretty standard version of Coltrane’s “Equinox” was daring enough. But she stayed to the end, and we got some interested glances from a younger audience through the windows, so “Teen spirit” was at least a moderate success. I also played twice with Sandias, another project of Oliver Hague. Sandias are a jazz/latin outfit with Oliver Hague (saxes), Margaret Hancocks (flute), Liam Wilson (piano), Mike Smith (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). We played well, and better than our Wagga outing, and did some interesting experimental rhythmic variations on Chameleon. It was fun. And congratulations to Oliver Hague for his excellent original tune “Mujer Holgada” which I’m always proud to play.

    So, Moruya was a relaxed outing in a pleasant little town with lots of good music especially out of the Jazz School. Recommended.

    Moruya Jazz Fest website

    12 October 2006

    Women fused in concert

    I don’t understand the “Fused” theme, but a concert featuring this group of women from the CSM was a great idea, and it provided a varied, fascinating and entertaining evening of considerable musical depth.

    From left, Anna, Ruth, Sally, Jenna

    Ruth Lee Martin is a musicologist and MC for the night. I understand she gathered the concert together after hearing the excellent CD “Take it in colour” (see the CJ recent review). There’s a bit of feminist pride here, and good on them. There aren’t as many women as men in jazz or at the Jazz School, and perhaps they can be overlooked. Jazz can be pretty blokey and it’s a highly individualistic art, which perhaps advantages the guys. But it’s also intellectual and highly respectful of excellence, so the paths are there for the best to shine through. And there are some great female role models to show the way (some personal favourites are Joanne Brackeen, Carla Bley and Sandy Evans). Knowing the CD, I came with anticipation and high expectations, and went away very satisfied. So congratulations for this highly successful celebration of some of our local women of jazz.

    Let’s not forget this was a “composition showcase”, so all the tunes on the night were originals. We have some considerable compositional talent here, and mostly from women who are students or only very recently graduated. It bodes well for the ongoing development of the art, and pulls the rug from the feet of the conservative traditionalists.

    Anna Thompson (violin) started the night with the Straight Up Trio, Eric Ajaye (bass), Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaites (drums). Anna is influenced by some names that I haven’t heard of for a while (Jean Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood) and it showed in her playing. Violins are strung in fifths, and I was trying to identify whether the lines she plays in solos are different from guitars, basses, etc, which are strung in fourths. I didn’t hear a difference in melodic lines played, but the double stop work was harmonically different from guitar chords. And I really noticed the different control of sound in the violin: the bowed attack and ability to control a sustained note. Anna played very capable solos, led well, and provided an interesting mix of jazz rock, funk and Caribbean/Calypso. Straight Up performed their usual excellent set, with solos all around, and great, solid, inventive rhythms. I’m still wondering about one song title, “Yollop & the Trollop”, but it was a nice start.

    Ruth Lee Martin (vocals) followed with a set of original tunes in the Scottish folk idiom. This was quite a change from the jazz normally played in this room: a new musical approach, and intriguing sounds. Words with serious intent: telling stories of poverty-stricken families evicted from Scottish villages, migrant experiences, boats and seas, and of course whisky and freezing temperatures. Also different were the fiddle (rather than violin) styles, the mono-chordal, world-music structures. Ruth was accompanied by her band Eilean Mor: Bill Grose (guitar), Chris Stone (fiddle), and several “ring-ins” from the Jazz School, Bill Williams (bass), Ed Rodrigues (drums) and Anna Thompson (fiddle, in this context). For me, an eye-opener and much enjoyed.

    Sally Greenaway (piano) followed with a diverse range of pianistic styles. She opened with a piano/percussion piece with Phoebe Juskevics (percussion; also a composer on the “Take it in colour” CD), then played a larger format piece off the CD, called “E11eventy” and finished with a largely improvised solo piano piece. The first and last pieces exposed more classical and soundscape approaches to playing, as well as being more inward-looking. But I’d loved the bigger piece on the CD, and enjoyed it immensely live. The band for E11eventy was Sally, Phoebe, Gareth Hill (bass), Sam Young (drums), Anna Thompson (violin), Rob Lee and Valdis Thoman (trombones) and Jono Apps (trumpet).

    Jenna Cave (alto sax) finished off the night with several of her impressive and complex compositions played by the Recording Ensemble. Jenna’s compositions really are impressive. I hear she may be continuing these studies overseas, so good on her, and best of luck. Jenna led the band from the middle of the horn line. She only led 2 tunes, but they were profound, and well named: “My life, a work” and “Odd time in Mali”. Both have odd timing: the first has bass playing 4/4 bass lines against 6/4 swing on drums; the second alternates 5/4 and 4/4 bars. Interesting! The players Recording Ensemble comprised Jon Apps and Julian Barker (trumpet), Al Clarke (trombone), Michael Cleaver and Jenna Cave (alto sax), Jo Taylor and Bill Williams (tenor sax), Carl Morgan (guitar), Luke Sweeting (piano), Garther Hill (bass), Sam Young (drums), and Phoebe Juskevics (percussion) sat in.

    So, a great night and well received by a moderately large attendance. Congrats to these four women, and I hope there are more of these.

    7 October 2006

    White Eagle double barrel

    Another great night was had at the White Eagle last night. This is only the third night, but these sessions are developing well, and promise to create quite a stir over time. Last night it was a double bill with the Gerard Masters Trio (Sydney) and the John Mackey Quartet, followed, of course, by the jazz jam session.

    First on was John Mackey (tenor) with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). John and Miro are teachers at the CSM, so considerable talents with lengthy histories. The tunes were originals, I think mostly from John’s portfolio but including some from Miro. The style is probably best described as hard bop, in the idiom of Art Blakey: solid rhythms, fast walks, sharp unison heads, long structured solos and dynamics rising and falling with the solo changes. John plays challenging solos in the style of Coltrane. Good, authentic, inventive stuff; in and out of the harmonies, all over the beat, and lots of impassioned sounds. Miro was a bit of a surprise to me. I usually picture his playing in the context of Wunderlust rather than in a bop-style, but he did this admirably well. Sharp playing, fast runs, clean playing. Bill and Ed are students (only 2nd year, I think, but it doesn’t show). Ed’s playing with great confidence these days – he was lively and busy and relevant both this night and the night before with the large ensembles. Bill has a great reputation. Just the other day, someone was praising his 300bpm walks at a recent concert practice. He put down a solid and reliable undercurrent, and played interesting solos, and fitted comfortably with Ed. This was a nice band, presumably put together for the night but very capable.

    The Sydney import in the second set was obviously awaited with anticipation by the CSM students. They have been saying for some time (in awe, it seemed to me) that Gerard Masters was coming for the next White Eagle session. This was no let down. It was a sublime performance by a piano master with an elite pair of offsiders. Gerard Masters has been selected to contest the Piano prize at this year’s Wangaratta Festival, and we could see why.

    The trio was Gerard Masters (piano), Cameron Undy (bass) and Dave Goodman (drums). Again, the music was mostly band originals by Gerard, but included one from Cameron’s sister, Fiona, and another by Sean Wayland. This was subtle and complex music. There was a good deal of swing at times, but it also had Euro elements; no II-Vs here. Gerard plays incredibly mobile interpretations of the harmonic structure. His substitute chordal work is constant, ongoing and convincing; sometimes hard-on soloing, other times gentle and intuitive. Cameron is also a master in this style. He could freely move over the fingerboard, but he’d play simply, then intersperce with incredibly fast and complex little runs. He’s a master of that fingerboard: fast and comfortable and always appropriate. And Dave was there with a big grin, and similarly relevant playing. Dave’s grin was a bit of a symbol for the band – they communicated well, enjoyed each others’ playing, and it showed. But to me, the defining issue was how they could portray the essence of a tune. They were not just running chords, but voicing the very character and meaning of the pieces they were playing. They are trained - that’s clear - but I was surprised by their young age and real musical maturity. These are guys to watch. Too bad about the poorly-tuned piano, but nothing in life is perfect.

    Both these concerts were recorded by Chris Deacon of ArtSound, so they should appear on radio in coming weeks.

    6 October 2006

    Big Band, Commercial Ensemble, whatever…

    I’m at a loss. I remember hearing the Recording Ensemble several times in the last few years, and thinking their music was contemplative, sublime and clearly my preference amongst the larger ensembles at the CSM. Then a few nights back, CSM Big Band and the Commercial Band performed together, and now I’m not so sure. The Big Band started off the show; how I loved the insistent swing of Basie and standards and the more modern styles like Bob Mintzer. Then the Commercial Ensemble showed; it blew us out with funky styles and hard, clamourous bop and pop.

    So, it was a great night at the Big Band Room at the Jazz School. There were lots of musicians on stage, and a good sized audience to view them, probably lots of friends and family. We were in for another night of big ensemble jazz. We’ve been lucky with these bands in Canberra recently – Bob Mintzer, Mothership, now this.

    John Mackey introduced the Big Band. As its leader/tutor, he’s moved the Big Band over recent years to more modern charts, and even managed to get Bob Mintzer over to lead a performance of his own charts just weeks back. This is a band of about 18 players at any one time (there are several changes during the night, esp on drums, bass and piano). The lineup is piano, bass, drums, guitar, 4xtrumpets, 5xsaxes/flutes, 4xtrombones, and vocals. On the night, the charts covered modern (including Bright lights, Original people and Latin dance by Bob Mintzer), the Basie-style Hayburner, L.O.V.E., a great old standard with vocals, and an original by Jenna Cave, an advanced student at the CSM who is composing some very interesting and mature tunes. There were good solos all around. Again, I found some hard to hear – there’s plenty of volume in such a large ensemble, especially when the rhythm section gets worked up, or the brass provides fills, and individual players can easily get lost. I loved the changing tonalities as lines moved between sweet flutes, sinuous saxes, smooth troms and spluttering trumpets, the real excitement in Latin dance, and the sublime swing in L.O.V.E. I must say, it was great to hear a voice, too. Madeline Hawkes always seems to fully commit herself to the tunes she sings - so much so that I even enjoyed Moondance, which is not a favourite of mine (otherwise, Madeline sings along with the trumpet lines as a member of that section). So by interval, I’d fallen in love with big band standards and swing again.

    Then the Commercial Band arrived. They are a smaller and more punchy affair. Eric Ajaye led on bass (Eric is also the leader/tutor), with drums, piano, guitar, vocals, 2xtrombone, 2xtrumpet, 1xtenor and 1xalto. This was fun, loud, pushy, funky. The band started with a hard-hitting version of Naima (you wouldn’t call this version “sublime”) and moved on to Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. This band had a singer too. Sophie Leslie sang Billy Joel’s New York state of mind, and later Boplicity. I’m not sure if the words of Boplicity were original, but they were fast. Otherwise, Sophie also sang horn lines. Then Eric introduced the David Letterman theme, and opined on the great musos playing for that show, followed by a 70s-style funk tune called Old School. So, slap bass, hot walks, screaming guitars and synth and horn solos. This was fun. By the end of the night, I’d changed my opinion again: I’d decided the commercial funk style was my favourite.

    One thing I noticed on the night was how effective were the female singers (Madeline and Sophie) singing lines with the trumpets. They gave a lovely sweet aspect to the harsher trumpet sounds, and they were surprisingly audible despite the volume of the trumpets. And, of course, how easily we forget the beauty of the voice, and how it makes music so much more personable – in other words, I loved hearing singing in this context.

    I don’t have all the names, but solos were played by a whole string of players on the night: James LeFevre (tenor), Luke Sweeting and Mike Azzopardi (piano), Sebastian Macintosh and Alistair Clark (trombone), Jono Apps (trumpet), Carl Morgan and Daniel Hunter (guitar), Michael Cleaver (alto), Ed Rodriguez (drums), Eric Ajaye (bass). (If I missed any solos, I apologise; just email me).

    So what’s my favourite of the CSM large ensembles now? Just at the moment, it’s the Commercial Ensemble, but that happens to also be the last one I’ve heard. So I can’t promise my preferences won’t change again after each performance at Moruya.

    The bands are playing at the Moruya and Wangaratta Festivals over coming weeks. So catch them if you can. They are wonderfully capable and entertaining ensembles.

    29 September 2006

    Mike Nock returns

    Mike Nock returned triumphantly to Canberra. This time with grand piano, no sticking keys, new trio, and great venue with quality sound. He’s famous as our NZ-Australian with a long US history behind him (notably Art Blakey and Fourth Way) and for his strong support to young modern jazz players, especially in Sydney.

    He didn’t disappoint. He was personable between tunes, and challenging and intelligent while playing. He writhes on the piano stool, and taps one or both feet, but what sound comes out! It was not the perfect smooth rendition: like so many top players, inventiveness and passion take the place of mere correctness as the measure of the performance. His approaches to soloing vary richly. As I was listening to one solo, I noticed the right and left hands mimicking each other with lines in different octaves, then a standard right hand solo against left hand chordal work, then melody in the right hand with fabulous discordant left hand harmonies. All this accompanied a soloistic freedom that moved over the harmonic and bar and chorus structure, and a fluidity with notes playing anywhere ahead or behind the beat, but always with authenticity and conviction. In the hands of someone like Mike Nock, you remember just how powerful the piano is as an instrument.

    And his support were no slouches either. Mike Majkowski (double bass) is an upcoming star just 2 years out of the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz School. He supported effectively, led often enough, provided one of the compositions, and soloed with real maturity. And he had a great sound, and a lovely right hand technique. He also smiled a lot and kept good contact with Mike Nock. He was obviously having a good time. James Waples (drums) easily matched and supported the others. To me he seemed more cool, and he showed his mettle with subtle backing, controlled sounds and several solos, especially one lengthy standout solo at the end of the night.

    The repertoire covered standards to originals to totally improvised on the spot (it’s a daring crew, this). It included Ellington’s “I let a song go out of my heart”, Bernie McGann’s “Spirit song”, Mike Nock’s “Blues for…”, the standard “Get out of town”, Mike Majkowski’s fluid original “Rising & falling”, Mike Nock’s mashup “So what, it’s summertime”, Green Dolphin Street, and Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”.

    Henk van Leeuwen, Mike Nock, Chris Deacon (from left)

    So a great night of excellent playing. There was a small but happy audience of ~90 people – high art always struggles against pop but moreso in this celebrity age. Thanks to Henk van Leeuwen for his work in promoting and touring quality music like this. And to Chris Deacon of ArtSound who recorded this concert. Keep an ear out for the replay on air sometime in the next month or so.

  • Henk's Australia Northern Europe Liaisons site
  • 22 September 2006

    Mothership lands in Canberra

    “10 Part Invention … we’re better. There are only 10 of them.”
    It was obviously a jest from David Theak: brimming with pride in his band, but also respect (and a touch of competitive spirit) for the other ensemble. The band was enjoying itself, and it was evident. The 17 (yes, 17!) members of JazzGroove’s Mothership Orchestra were on tour, occasionally smiling, but mostly concentrating on the charts, and playing exciting music with the visiting German pianist. How could they not be having a great time? And the feeling in the audience was mutual.

    A big ensemble like this is a rare experience. They are expensive to bring together, and demand complex charts, and presumably a good deal of rehearsal. Mothership’s tour is promoting their CD, “The Mothership plays the music of Mike Nock”. On the night, Mothership played some tunes from that CD, several by Florian Ross (the visiting German pianist and composer who was playing with Mothership) and a few others by members of the band. To represent the mainstream, there was even a rendition of Autumn Leaves (arranged as Autumn Things) which, I thought, was evidence of the nature and the quality of the performance. The head was obvious enough although slightly twisted, but the harmonically adventurous solo by Florian Ross was abstruse, while the chordal structure just hung in there due to some adventurous, but still evident bass from Brendan Clarke: quality stuff. There’s tons you can say about this night. An enthusiastic, but not large, audience; interesting and engaging charts; rich moving harmonies; melodic lines bouncing around between sections; rich and varying tonal palettes; strong rhythms backing some great solos. The power of a big ensemble like this is something different from the best small jazz combo. It’s loud, complex, mobile, rich; it’s another experience although still jazz, and too rare.

    Of course, there are always solos in jazz, and no disappointments here. For me, some standouts were Florian Ross with harmonically rich solos that only a pianist can do, and a crossover classical-music approach in several spots which identified him to me as a European jazz player. At one stage, there was a unique string of solos in a straight blues tune where four consecutive trombone solos (!) were followed by a fabulously melodic, fluent and expressive bass solo by Brendan Clarke. There were several solos by David Theak on alto or soprano sax that I particularly enjoyed and some guitar solos by James Muller that just brought the house down. The last developed from fast and interesting, through sweeps and whole tones and Scofield, to free and passionate, and ultimately to a dead stop; truly overwhelming. A guitar-playing mate from the Jazz School said to me that he’s the best guitarist in Australia. I could believe it on this performance. But everyone played his part well, and perhaps it’s unfair to single some out.

    I give thanks that we have these dedicated musicians to commit to art like this and funding agencies (in this case, the Australia Council for the Arts) to support them, so we are not totally reduced to the lowest common denominator pap of the music marketplace*. Australia boasts three significant large creative jazz ensembles that I can think of – Ten Part Invention, Australian Art Orchestra and Mothership Orchestra. Don’t miss any one of them if you get the chance. Mothership are still on tour for a week or so, playing at the Goulburn Regional Conservatorium on 29 Sept, and Sydney's Seymour Centre on 30 Sept. Catch them if you can.

    Click on image to enlarge

    On the night, The Mothership were: Florian Ross (Germany; piano, composer, arranger), David Theak (lead alto & soprano sax, clarinet), Murray Jackson (alto & soprano sax, clarinet), Roger Manins (NZ; tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Scott Langley (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Nick Bowd (baritone sax, bass clarinet), James Muller (guitar), Evan Mannell (drums), Brendan Clarke (contrabass), Simon Ferenci (trumpet, flugelhorn), Darryl Carthew (lead trumpet), Tim Crow (co-lead trumpet, flugelhorn), Mat Jodrell (WA; guest trumpet), Jeremy Borthwick (lead trombone), Lucian McGuiness (trombone), Danny Carmichael (trombone), Colin Burrow (bass trombone)

  • Mothership Orchestra website

  • * For more on jazz in free markets, “Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address” by Stuart Nicholson (available from the Canberra Public Library Service)

    17 September 2006

    Wagga Jazz Festival

    I got to the Wagga Jazz Festival last weekend (this year it was Fri 8 – Sun 10 September). First thoughts? The venues are fairly spread out, so there’s a bit of walking, but there was a free courtesy bus running between venues. There were 8 stages, in 5 main venues. The equipment was very good: big JBL PAs that were great, but total overkill; upright pianos being constantly retuned; bass amps like SWR, Ampeg, Hartke and Yamaha and good drums kits.

    The festival had a lot of traditional, or old-style jazz formats (perhaps more so this year?), so it didn’t have quite the appeal to the CJ modern-jazz crowd. But I enjoyed a few bands.

    From left, Geoff Woods (bass), Jeff Bartram (piano), Graham Morris (drums)

    The mainstream cum modern Jeff Bartram Trio from Melbourne played the first set I heard that interested me, so they came somewhat as a relief. JBT is Jeff Bartram (piano), Graham Morris (drums) and Geoff Woods (bass). Jeff plays a modern style and does it well, and is well accompanied by the others. My impression was that the bassist was new to the band, but he did a perfectly good job. JB provides an amusing, commentary as he jumps up and down from the piano between tunes. They played standards: Stella…, Daydream (Ellington/Strayhorn), Old folks, Whisper not, Lush life and the like. Nice tunes, with a steady backing, and a piano moving pretty freely over the bar structure, with a fair degree of interesting dissonance. Nice stuff. I caught JBT the next day as the Rising Sun Quartet with Ron Anderson (sax, flute). RSQ were also interesting and capable. A real surprise came when Ron Anderson took over the piano as the Ron Anderson Trio and led a perfectly capable piano trio set; impressive.

    The other find was Michael McQuaid’s Red Hot Rhythm Makers. MM’sRHRM is a Melbourne nonet playing the big band music of the 1920s/30s. And what a band! These were authentic renditions of Ellington and other bands of the period: wispy, glissando vocals with slight US accents; accurate but relaxed readings of complex charts; plenty of solos moving around between instruments; lots of instrumental colour played by talented multi-instrumentalists. Great stuff. There’s a big Canberra connection here, too. Mike McQuaid is a Canberra boy (someone said Phillip College), and Sandra Talty (drums/vocals) is also from Canberra. More generally, the band is obviously well trained, presumably all products of tertiary training. MM’sRHRM are Michael McQuaid (trumpet, sax, clarinet), Simon Holman (trumpet), Cassandra Liston (trombone), Jason Downers (sax, clarinet), Joel Dullard (sax, clarinet), Lauren Van Der Werff (sax, clarinet), Liam O’Connell (banjo, guitar), Richard Mander (double bass, tuba), Sandra Talty (drums, vocals).

    I’m currently reading “Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address” by Stuart Nicholson. In short, it argues that jazz has become a museum piece in the US, and that the Marsalis phenomenon (young lions playing dead styles; an essentially conservative approach to jazz and the production of a classical jazz canon) has considerable responsibility for it (along with commercial interests and jazz education). I’m not taking sides, but I can confirm it is deeply researched, and he has some incredibly damning quotes from people of the highest stature in jazz, so it’s worth consideration. So, I was thinking about this while I listened to McQuaid’s band and the whole Wagga Festival. And my concerns grew when I heard some trad-type making denigrating comments about modern styles over the PA at one venue. This is not unknown at other jazz festivals, and, at the very least, it’s bad manners.

    Otherwise, I liked a small group of school-aged kids called Blind Pilot. They were a little out of place playing an alt-rock set rather than a jazz one. But they had good vocals, at least one interesting original tune, and not a grey hair amongst them. Worth watching with more experience. I also caught the last tune of the Australian Army Band Kapooka. Professional, entertaining and slick as always. Otherwise, it was trad, or sitting over a beer in one venue or another.

    I played latin/funk with Sandias at Wagga. Sandias were Oliver Hague (sax), Margaret Hancocks (flute), Liam Wilson (piano), Mike Smith (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). At its best, Sandias plays some tasteful melodies with the front line (the sax and flute can sound really sweet together) on top of interesting grooves, thanks especially to Liam's reliable cross-rhythms. On the day, we weren't playing our best, especially for the second set, but, hey, there's always Moruya.

    As for Wagga, my motel was cheap, the architecture was very interesting and some of the local night-owls were openly abusive and threatening. Admittedly, Wagga’s not the only place you experience this, but it happened separately to both me and another of my party, and it was not pleasant, and it left a bad taste. So, I enjoyed it well enough, but I was not ecstatic.

  • Wagga Festival website
  • 15 September 2006

    Jess Green wins award

    Jessica Green has won the Jann Rutherford Memorial Award for 2006. The award assists the professional development of an outstanding young female jazz musicians.

    Jess was born and raised in Canberra, and completed a Bachelor of Music (Jazz Studies) majoring in guitar at the Canberra School of Music, ANU. She graduated with first class honours and received the Director’s Prize.

    Congrats from Canberra Jazz.

  • Announcement at Jazz Australia
  • 12 September 2006

    Bernie McGann - guest review

    Text by Gilles Rohan

    Bernie McGann played at Geoff Page’s “Jazz in Concert at the Gods” on 2 May 2006.

    Since I first saw Bernie McGann at “Morgan’s Feedwell” in Glebe, Sydney, over 20 years ago, he has mellowed yet retained the inventiveness and thoughtfulness that has made him stand out in the Australian and global jazz scenes. In those days the “freer” exuberance of a certain lineage was evident. Bernie would exhibit a musical vitality that would leave the average heavy wotsit rock band for dead despite the obvious aggro of unbridled decibels. I’ve seen him play a number of times since then and have never been disappointed.

    On this night, as on others, in the intimate surroundings of the “Gods”, one had a very 50s to 60s ‘jazz club’ experience, without the smoke; I’m not referring to the preponderant age sample present – we get to see some more youthful types at the gigs – not just the musos!

    Bernie, as usual, worked well with the other members of the band. There was Warwick Alder on trumpet, Lloyd Swanton on bass and the young Alex Masso on drums, replacing John Pochée who was unable to make it on the night.

    Bernie manages to craft velvet to gutsy sounds that meld with the other players’ contributions in a frequently retiring manner. No shove it in your face arrogance here. He can still teach a few the value of vibrant yet unassuming performances. Sure, the years have softened the sharpest edges of his phrases, yet there are enough examples of the current variety to make it all very worthwhile.

    Between the sets I had a brief chat with Bernie. I purchased a couple of his recent offerings: ‘Blues for Pablo too’ and ‘Live at Side on’– what can I say? Excellent.

    He still seems very much “driven” by his music, and, when I asked him if he saw himself playing for some time yet, he answered along the lines of “what else is there?” Good question.

    Thanks to Gilles Rohan for this review. It's the first guest review for CJ. We welcome others. I can't attend everything, so get in touch if you can help. Probably the easiest way to add your input is to email a Letter to the editor. See the CJ's Letters page for instructions.

  • Pic from this concert
  • 3 September 2006

    Colours of young Canberra women composers (CD review)

    A CD is more a challenge than a live gig. It’s a statement. It doesn’t disappear into the ether like a gig, so you need to produce a worthy work, and be proud enough to promote it. So hearing one impressive track on ArtSound when this CD was the feature of the week raised my interest, and then getting an email from Sally Greenaway to promote it was doubly interesting.

    Take it in colour is satisfying for several other reasons. Firstly, it highlights the work of women in jazz; in this case, four young but very accomplished women. Secondly, these are not just women performers blowing a set of standards, but four composers with a range of styles (most important). Thirdly, it’s a diverse mixture of formats – big band, large ensemble, various smaller combos, with and without vocals, and solo percussion. And fourthly, perhaps as an aside, it’s a product of the CSM’s recording studio. So I found this album fascinating in its diversity and accomplishment but also just plain entertaining.

    Jenna Cave opens the set with big band and large ensemble pieces. Jenna is an alto sax player, majors in composition, and is a member of the CSM Recording Ensemble. She offers three tunes with richly orchestrated arrangements with surprising maturity. The first, Cardinal Lemoine, recalls Jenna’s time in Paris. The second, Journey, is a complex, more composed piece, with four parts of distinctly different rhythms and feels, including fast modal and 6/4 swing. Jenna also reappears later on the CD with a song, Through the sky, where the voice part is strangely horn-like. The large intervals are ably handled by Madeline Hawke, and the balance (including the voice being occasionally lost in large horn sections) confirms the impression of an instrumental part.

    Sally Greenaway follows Jenna’s opening with three tunes. Sally is a piano player, and the one player I knew of before this CD. Sally’s is a quite different set: it’s more restrained, matching the nature of her solo playing. She starts with Sequira, a piano trio (piano, bass and percussion) with an Egyptian theme. I heard Asian, at least in the keyboard sound, but the harmony sounded more Middle-Eastern. Percussion rather than drum kit gives the tune a different flavour. A big band tune, E11eventy, follows. Again I heard echoes of Bill Evans’ Sketches of Spain (I’d heard it earlier in Jenna’s Journey). This is a fairly simple tune with parallel harmonies, but it has an unforced nature that is wonderfully self-evident. I liked it. Sally’s third tune, Lymph node, is another complex piece, this one dedicated to her father.

    Fionna Tamin offered another change: she writes and sings two songs, Coffee song and I’d live better in my dreams, and performs them in a standard small combo format. These are in a popular style, but they are engaging. The first mulls over a lost, but imperfect, love while sitting with a coffee. The second tells of a series of dreams she had in her home of Jakarta. They reminded me of US West Coast styles, especially Michael Franks. Guitar-based, light but entertaining and interesting.

    Phoebe Juskevics finishes off the set. Firstly with a tune with a disconcerting title, Beautiful hate. It’s a trio improvisation with piano, bass and percussion in two parts. Interestingly, her second offering, Freedom, is a percussion solo at the end of the CD: a great and unexpected twist to round off the session. Sadly, Phoebe was overseas so she’s missing from the cover pic.

    If you’ve got the feeling that this is a good outing for lots of the students (given plenty of solos and big band arrangements), you’re right. Twenty-four players appear on the CD, and the names I know are virtually all students. I was impressed by the quality of the ensemble playing. I felt a few solos lacked confidence in the studio environment (it’s a hard call to turn on your improvisation on call in that environment), but the band playing was really good – the rhythms were solid and tight, and the harmonies were well pitched. Congratulations are definitely due here to both students and their teachers. I’ll single out Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Neils Rosendahl (saxes) for their solos – these really are players of note, and the quality of their solos is no surprise. I also liked Sally Greenaway’s solos, which are expressive and introspective, and Ben Roger’s bass playing and especially his lovely jazz bass tone.

    So, Take it in colour is a very satisfying CD and a most impressive effort for these four women (and their colleagues), doubly so given it's their first outing.

  • Take it in colour website
  • 31 August 2006

    John Mackey Quintet

    Hippos hosted John Mackey’s band last night, and it was another demonstration of talent from the CSM Jazz School. The band comprised John Mackey (tenor sax) as leader, Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Michael Azzopardi (piano), Gareth Hill (bass) and Sam Young (drums). John and Miroslav are teachers at the school, and come with considerable reputations. Michael, Gareth and Sam are students, but highly capable.

    John is a strong and emotive player in the Coltrane, early-60s, avant-garde mode. He will reliably blow complex and impassioned solos with a hard tonal edge, and lots of out playing; often long and demanding; often frantic or wailing, but always intense. He didn’t disappoint this time, and the tunes were suited to his style. They played several originals, and some covers, by Nat Adderley and others.

    I have written before of Miroslav as a local Miles, in the sense that he gathers great musos to work together. In this case, he played the trumpet part in a 50s/60s-style small combo. He played melodies in harmony or unison with John’s tenor, and blew strong and well formed solos. He displayed more of a soloist bent in this formation than in Wunderlust or his own combos, and it was very impressive playing: few fluffed notes (common enough with the best of trumpeters), some harmonic backdrops, good internal structure and development in solos, occasional flourishes and fast runs.

    Michael Azzopardi is everywhere these days, but he’s a great player and well worth the frequent listens. He played wonderfully as always, providing excellent backing with ever-changing rhythms and harmonies. He led a rich and changing rhythm section, often breaking into cross rhythms, or whole-note triplets, or similarly challenging the underlying rhythm. But he also provided numerous impassioned solos. I remember one especially when he followed one of John’s long solos. He told me after that he decided against trying to match this flurry of outside notes, so he played a lovely, rippling surface of steady, arpeggiated notes, which then developed into a softer and more thoughtful solo. It was a brilliant change of tack from the band, displaying a considerable competence in producing different styles on demand.

    Gareth struck me from the start with a fast post-bop walk, and he held that throughout the night. He has a soft but present sound, and provided a steady, reliable undercurrent. He did several nice solos, too. Not flashy, but well conceived, tasteful and capable explorations of the harmonies. I especially liked some chordal double-stop work with accompanying drums and piano in the second set.

    Sam kept the steady beat through the night, responded well to Michael’s explorations to the rhythm, and provided interesting changes and fills to underlie the heads and solos.

    I only stayed for the first and second sets. To me, the second set was the more satisfying. It felt more settled, less frantic, generally more “musical”. But what I saw was a pleasure. Much more challenging than relaxing, but that’s how I like it.

    This was classic 50s/60s avant-garde: John in his trademark long, leather overcoat, Miroslav cool beside him, Michael hunched over his keyboard; Gareth and Sam thrusting away underneath it all. Another great night of local jazz.

    25 August 2006

    White Eagle jammers

    Here are the four jamming groups for the last White Eagle Jazz session. Don’t miss the next session. These sessions are off to a great start. There were about 30 people at the first event, and about 120 at the second. Some work’s required on the PA, but it’s a great night and interesting food and drink on tap. It opens at 7.30 and starts promptly at 8pm, so get there early for the full show.

    Afro Blue. Played by Mike Azzopardi (piano), Carl Morgan (guitar), James Luke (bass), Andrew Swift (drums), Sebastian McIntosh (tenor sax)

    Nostalgia in Times Square, Oleo. Played by Julian Banks (tenor sax), Daniel Hunter (guitar), Wayne Kelly (piano), Andrew Swift (drums), Brendan Clarke (bass)

    Things ain’t what they used to be. Played by Hannah James (bass), Jono Apps (trumpet), Al Clarke (trombone), James LeFevre (tenor sax), Ben Foster (piano), Dave Rodriguez (guitar), Sam Young (drums)

    My romance. Played by Hugh Deacon (drums), Madeleine Hawke (vocals), Stu McKnown (bass), Sebastian McIntosh (tenor sax), Andy Campbell (guitar)

    Mike Price - Carl Dewhurst

    A teacher-pupil reunion was celebrated last night at the White Eagle Jazz Series. Carl Dewhurst was a student of Mike Price at the CSM Jazz School a good time back. Carl is now a major player on the Sydney jazz scene, and Mike is now the Head of the Jazz School. Accompanying Carl and Mike were two other alumni of the CSM – Brendan Clarke (bass) and James Hauptmann (drums).

    This mostly was a night of standards played by a small combo, but with a few interludes featuring the two guitarists playing without the rhythm section. I particularly liked these more introverted pieces. They provided a real interplay by the guitarists, and I thought it let them express their styles more individually. Lots of the tunes for the night were well known: I hear a rhapsody, Have you met Miss Jones, Footprints, C-Jam Blues/Bag’s groove. There were also lesser known tunes, by George Benson (Thunderwall?) and John Scofield (The Beatles?). Darn that dream was done as a guitar-only piece and it was beautiful.

    Carl played a strong, modern style. Electric guitar, lots of difficult substitutions resolving after lengthy (occasionally humourous) flights of fancy. The band lifted with his solos. He’s a hot and powerful player, and well received by the large numbers of students in attendance. Mike’s of another generation. Not less capable, but cooler and sweeter. He’d also break away from defined harmonies often enough, but not with the contest to the underlying harmonies that Carl would offer. Mike plays a semi-acoustic, and his style fits: fast, sweet and more diatonic. It was an interesting contrast.

    I first thought Brendan Clarke (bass) provided a strong and conventional basis to the chordal movements, but during the night, his solos increasingly broke away from the stated harmonies. He plays with great chops; his fingers running accurately all over the neck. James Hauptmann (drums) kept a watchful eye on all the proceedings, provided a strong swing accompaniment, and broke into several strong solos.

    Jamie Oehlers Quartet

    Jamie Oehlers came with a string of prizes and a matching reputation. He lived up to it. This was another of those magic nights of performance excess. I raved about Dave Weckl a few weeks ago. This was another show on this level, although in a very different genre.

    I was sitting very close to the band and the bell of JO’s tenor, so I was able to catch every note. But what were they? Firstly, the sound was rich and rounded, surprisingly so in this field of hard post-bop improvisation. But the notes were the big challenge. He’d often introduce solos with long, fast diatonic flourishes, then launch into streams of harmonic invention that left me dumbfounded. I really was lost for understanding in these harmonies – obscure, changing, profoundly challenging. And patterns based on big intervals (much harder than small) and carried on over long ranges from the top to the bottom of the register. Then you’d arrive at an extreme and realise the tone on that low note was smooth, rather than the more common honk of lesser players, or that high note remained sweet. Amongst all this, his solo lines would cross over the bars and beats, in a way that matched the malleable harmonies. I found JO’s solo performance on a blues less convincing (fast but more obvious) and I felt the first set was the better (maybe the band was fresher – it certainly was intense playing). But this was a master at work, of obvious international standard. I read in the paper the weekend before the concert that Charles Lloyd had led the judging panel for the big sax prize JO won at the Montreux Festival. It was apt. This was a master at work, and of clearly international class.

    But he wasn’t alone. I’ve seen Ben Vanderwal a few times recently at Hippo’s. He’s a great drummer – not so much for his chops; more for his immense and endless creativity. He plays a standard kit. It’s got a good sound: hard and full, powerful; smooth, not edgy but not that soft swing tone. And his playing is so much more that swing-style rhythms played well, although they are there too. He seems to have a sense of theatricality that has him playing latin, rock, trad, modern, any style from one bar to another. Just endless change and invention, and a drive and readiness to lift that matched Jamie’s creations. One minute toms, next cow bell (that old hoary thing), then mallets, whatever. Ever changing. Great solos too. This is someone I didn’t know of at the start of the year, but now he’s an icon.

    The others were no slouches either. Sam Anning holds it together, as bassists do in this style. But his fills were neat and sharp, and his solos matched: well pitched and with a great woody tone. I was looking for his amp, and it was this little diminutive thing at his feet – uh, new tech! Sam Keevers was another name I knew of, but hadn’t heard live. He was a bigger guy sitting over this small, red keyboard, with a Roland 60w bass cube for his amp. But it was a great piano sound that he got, with occasional lapses into effected piano and synths. It reminded me of Herbie Hancock’s inventions in ethereality and groove.

    The music was largely original – presumably mostly by JO, although one was announced as by Sam Anning, and they also played Coltrane’s Dear Lord, and I loved their rendition of Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation.

    Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax) appeared with Ben VanderWaal (drums), Sam Anning (bass) and Sam Keevers (piano).

  • JamieOehlers.com
  • 5 August 2006

    Bob Mintzer

    The Jazz School welcomed Bob Mintzer, famed New York sax player and arranger/composer for a public concert last week. Bob had just spent 2 days getting from New York to Canberra, and came to the concert after a day with the students. He was looking forward to getting some sleep, but even in this state, we got a show of expert musicianship.

    The first set was a small combo with staff of the school. Eric Ajaye (bass), Mike Price (guitar) and Mark Sutton (drums) played the whole set; Miroslav Bukovsky (flugelhorn) and John Mackey (tenor sax) sat in for the last tune. They played 6 tunes - I recognised two (Body & soul, Tenor madness). Someone said there was another standard that I obviously didn’t recognise, and I guess the others were BM originals. Bob was a master on his bright gold (gold-plated?) tenor. He interpreted and embellished melodies with subtlety and skill. He interspersed flowing solos with fast and fluid flourishes. He blew considerable harmonic alterations but with it all seeming totally appropriate and unforced. I especially loved his open tempo intro and ending for Body & soul – just like the on recordings, really. Great, modern playing. The band started pretty quietly and laid back, but built up during the set. Eric played solidly as always, but worked up to some powerful and inventive solos towards the end. Mike played complex chordal work and fluid solos. Mark was apt and obviously concentrating for this outing. Miroslav, always tasteful, played a lovely flugelhorn solo. And it was both interesting and instructive to see the contrast of John Mackay’s Coltranesque style against the more discreet inventions of Bob Mintzer.

    But it was the second set that I especially loved. This was the student Big Band playing charts by Bob and led by him. I believe the band has been practicing the charts for a few weeks, and John Mackay commented that they were hard charts. They made them seem easy. The band excelled, with excellent pitch and tempo, and some impressive solos. They played 6 BM charts: Papa lips, Bright lights, Original people, Tribute, Each day and Latin dances. I was interested in watching BM lead the band – I don’t know what the fist symbolised, although the finger counts were obvious. BM did several solos himself, and it was fun to watch the 3 tenors just by him gazing in respect. Michael Azzopardi (piano) excelled himself with his solo on Bright lights. BM responded after with “that was good” – it was impressive when he said it on the night. Carl Morgan (guitar) got in two interesting solos, and Luke Sweeting (piano) did a lovely understated one. There was an alto sax solo which I found hard to hear (more on sound later!); Ed Rodrigues (drums) got a nice one in too. I loved Phil Jenkins’ (acoustic bass) playing – steady and perfect for the role, and he looks the part perfectly! I’ve left out lots of good playing here – either players I didn’t recognise or whatever. They all played really well – it was a very professional presentation. There was one spot that I really loved, I think is was at the end of Original people (?) The trombones and trumpets played a staccato passage, perhaps in fourths, where they bounced off each other, somewhat reminiscent to me of Carla Bley’s orchestration. Lovely stuff. In summary, a great performance – sharp, well intoned, and lively. Congrats to the band.

    BTW, the lineup of the big band was: 4 x trumpet, 1 x scat vocals, guitar, bass (electric or acoustic), drums, percussion, piano, 3 x tenor sax, 1 x soprano sax, 2 x alto sax, 1 x baritone sax, 3 x trombone, & Bob Mintzer.

    From left: Michael Azzopardi, Bob Mintzer, Carl Morgan.

    I was interested to hear Bob talk of his history. He’d played with Thad Jones, and said he was his major influence. Then he talked of Thad Jones updating what Ellington had been doing. Interesting. Today I looked on allmusic.com, and Thad Jones was described as “harmonically advanced trumpeter/cornetist with a distinctive sound and a talented arranger/composer”. It all rang true to what I heard in Bob M.

    The sound was nothing to write home about. Mics were often turned off when needed, balance was poor and I lost a few solos. At one stage, BM even said “Sound, finally”. Not a good look for a small town showing off to the big smoke.

    But what else went well? Nice to see John Mackay welcoming their classical colleagues to the concert, and also to see they were there. Nice to see a full house, although the venue was small, so that was not too difficult to achieve. Nice to hear Bob M’s chatter and name dropping – easy when the names are of the ilk of Brecker, Sanborn and Erskine. And, at least for Bob, nice when he finally got the chance to pack up and go home to bed.

  • BobMintzer.com
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