Gary Bartz Quartet

Jazz

Friday 3 June, Melbourne Recital Centre

This years’ Melbourne International Jazz Festival was launched on a cold, wet and wintery evening, by living jazz legend and alto saxophone virtuoso Gary Bartz. He was here to perform his latest project “Coltrane Rules – Tao of a music warrior” accompanied by our very own Barney McAll; esteemed pianist and long-time collaborator, James King on the contrabass, and special guest drummer, Kassa Overall. Bartz’s illustrious career has spanned the best part of 60 years and has been shared with influential jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Pharoah Sanders, Max Roach and McCoy Tyner among many others.

To be quite frank, I had virtually no idea what to expect from this group when I arrived at the stage doors, half an hour late due to dreary rain and Melbourne cross-town traffic. My last encounter of Bartz was of him in the 60’s playing ‘free jazz’. I had anticipated something similar, however, following Gary’s introduction to his concert, of “this will be an improvised set without breaks and guided by you the audience”, the tone was set and we were taken off on an enlightening spiritual journey punctuated by McAll’s vibrant lyricism, King’s warmth and sensitivity, and Overall’s unabated drive.

As the first piece began, I closed my eyes and was instantly transported to a place that reminded me of driving through New Orleans on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon in Spring. Bartz’s soulfully melodic and expressive tone, combined with highly creative rhythmical and song-like phrases, were complimented by the organic and intuitive support from his group. McAll’s piano solo was an exuberant mix of funky, shuffling southern blues, conversing with the slapping rhythm from the bass and marching band hits on the snare.

The repertoire was refreshingly varied ranging from the aforementioned blues to introspective ballad, hard-driving Coltrane-inspired post-bop to the Earth, Wind and Fire classic Fantasy. Bartz even included a few lines of sung poetry by Langston Hughes in I’ve Known Rivers from his 1973 album I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies. He also ended the set with some vocals from The Song of Loving-Kindness from 1996 album, The Blues Chronicles. To describe the level of artistry as an organic blend of nuance, passion, sensitivity and sheer emotion, does not do this group’s performance justice. From Barney’s poised accompaniment and soloing, to King’s graceful bowing, to the polyrhythmic intensity and subtlety of Overall’s drums, provided an understated at times, but also bold platform for the leader to weave his virtuosic alchemy. To put it plainly, it was like soul food for the ears…

Reviewer Lee Moore is a Melbourne based saxophonist. He has spent time living and playing in both Adelaide and Chile.

Edited by Dave Llewellyn

Read More

Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet

Jazz, Latin

Friday 10 June, Hamer Hall

The music of Eddie Pamieri has a certain level of personal, autobiographical significance for me, as it reminds me of a defining era in my life. I first learnt of Eddie Palmieri over 20 years ago through my early interest in the great veteran session guitarist, Cornell Dupree (Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers). While rummaging though some old records at a second hand record store, I noticed that Mr Dupree was credited in the liner notes of a record sleeve as one of the main personnel on Palmieri’s highly influential album, “Harlem River Drive”, an album that I was soon to discover, successfully fused 70’s R&B/Soul with Latin music, and is now considered by many as “The quintessential Latin Soul Album”. So it was with this particular record that I received my introduction to the music of Eddie Palmieri, and have enjoyed listening to his music since.

Grammy Award-winning artist Eddie Palmieri “The Latin Jazz King of New York”, has often been acknowledged as a significant historical figure in the evolution of Jazz, Latin, and “World” music. Such titles and accolades, however, mark low on Palmieri’s list of priorities. First and foremost, Eddie Palmieri is a creator, a musician and a storyteller.

What initially warms you about Eddie Palmieri is the earnest, down-to-earth charisma that he seems to exude regardless of whether he is playing the piano, walking or talking. After an introduction from the festival director Michael Tortoni, Mr Palmieri casually found his way over and sat down at the piano as if he was easing himself into a warm pair of bedroom slippers. Then at once, Palmieri’s change of focus became apparent as he engaged on a heart felt solo piano piece dedicated to his wife titled, “Life”. A musical piece that entered softly with sustained notes seamlessly morphing into cascading arpeggios, met with Thelonius Monk-style chord clusters and McCoy Tyner-inspired modulations. A journey well worth the taking.

After the applause finally subsided, Palmieri in bittersweet fashion spoke of his loving wife, and how he managed to play the composition for her just before she passed away. In very few words, Palmieri managed to convey to the audience the wisdom of his years. Palmieri then touched on the paradox (and mystery) of how the joyous sounds of Latin music managed to spring forth from the great pain experienced by the Latin community.

All the members of the septet had by this point had already taken to the stage. The personnel of the Palmieri’s septet consists of well-balanced mix of veterans and younger players –

Jonathan Powell: Trumpet – voted best Latin Jazz Trumpeter off 2009 (Latin Jazz Corner)

Louis Fouche: Alto Saxophone (Christian Scott, Brian Lynch, George Porter Jr)

Luqyes Curtis: Bass (Gary Burton, Ralph Peterson Jr & co founder of Truth Revolution Records)

Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero – Congas (Johnny Pequeno)

Camilo Molina – Timbales (Santana, Dave Grusin)

Nicky Marrero – Bongo/ Timbalitos (A founding member of the influential “Fania All-Stars”, Tito Puente)

As soon as the band were counted in and the groove could be felt, a handful of dancers (who were obviously familiar with the art of salsa dancing) were the first to get on their feet, eager to show their prowess on the dance floor. The limelight for them did not last long however, for as the band continued to gather momentum, the salsa dancers were soon outnumbered and subsequently engulfed by a “swarm” of audience members equipped with nothing other than the desire to move.

The dance floor at the front of the stage then remained completely full for the duration of the whole concert. As an observer I found this symbolic of what I believe to be the general ethos behind Palmieri’s music as a whole. Although Palmieri’s intellect is certainly present in everything he does, his music never comes across as contrived, seeming to be far more about life itself and the rhythmic pulse that drives it.

The skilled interplay between all members of the septet became increasingly apparent as the concert progressed. Each member of the band took their turn, not only making room for each other but also playing in a manner that would compliment each other’s style. I observed that the septet’s overall approach seems to respectfully acknowledge the past without idolising it, while also looking to the future (without the over bearing fervour of a religious zealot that so often comes with modernists). Some of the audience members already familiar with latin music may have been surprised at the complete lack of guiro (considered by some as the quintessential salsa instrument). It’s absence did not, however stop anyone from tearing up the dance floor by any means.

The dynamic solos taken throughout the concert by both horn players could be likened to a brief history lesson in the evolution of jazz on each of their respective instruments; moving through elements of early dixieland and swing, to bebop and cool through to modern jazz. This was all achieved, however, without wasting one inch of “groove”. Every note counts, and at all costs the audience must be inspired to keep dancing. Palmieri’s own focus on the audience did not stray either, even as he infused a Montuno pattern with the deliberate dissonance of Thelonious Monk – he somehow managed to make people laugh but still kept them moving. The subtlety and level of Mr Palmieri’s great skill cannot be overstated, but despite the sophistication and intricacies of his playing, he refuses to be “gentrified”. Palmieri is still a man of the people.

On multiple occasions, Mr Palmieri could be found happily waving back at anyone he noticed waving at him from the dance floor. At one particular point in the night, Palmieri even managed to persuade the whole audience to clap a “son” clave (a distinctive rhythmic pattern of latin music) and maintain the pattern while various band members took their solos. An impressive feat to achieve with an Australian audience to say the least. Close to two hours of festivities had passed in what seemed to many, to be a far smaller window of time before the septet collectively bowed to an exuberant, standing ovation. A fine testament to a brilliant group and a skilled band leader clearly at the top of his game.

Special guest reviewer Mikey Chan is one of Melbourne’s foremost session guitarists. His playing appears alongside many of the world’s finest musicians, from Renee Geyer to Jill Scott and Grammy Award-winning producer, M-Phazes.

Edited by Dave Llewellyn

Read More

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield with NOJO

Big Band, Jazz

Sunday 7 June, Hamer Hall

It turns out that Cecil Taylor was absolutely spot-on when he proclaimed that music should be fun. Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield’s performance with the electrifying New Orleans Jazz Orchestra completely and without doubt reaffirmed this for me.

Last time Dee Dee Bridgewater sang at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, her joyful stage presence delighted a large audience at the Melbourne Town Hall. I was looking forward to see her return, this time with a much larger band.

Irvin Mayfield, New Orleans born and bred, is the founding artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, which, in its own words, creates jazz to enhance life, transform place, and elevate spirit. Indeed I could feel a strong positive energy that radiated from the stage and made for an engaging performance. Mayfield and Bridgewater kept the audience laughing and smiling all night.

Although at times I thought that Mayfield’s trumpet could have been a little louder, the sound of the ensemble was generally balanced, with a warm blend from the saxophones, a thunderous brass section, and a tight rhythm section.

A highlight of the performance was One Fine Thing, which began with a lively interaction between Mayfield and Bridgewater during the melody. It was clear that Bridgewater was not only comfortable with the ensemble; she was part of the ensemble, blending seamlessly with the horns. Bridgewater embarked on a virtuosic scat solo, which explored the limits of her vocal range and timbre.

Bridgewater wasn’t the only singer on stage; James Williams put down his tuba for long enough to entertain the audience with a gravelly, throaty rendition of You’ve Got a Friend in Me that reminiscent of Louis Armstrong while still sounding authentic. Also notable was a soaring solo from the alto saxophonist, which showcased his extensive command of the altissimo register and his pleasing, bright tone.

I must confess that I was slightly worried that Bridgewater’s stage presence and vocal virtuosity would eclipse her rendition of What a Wonderful World, but as soon as she started singing it was clear that the priority was storytelling. The audience was captivated from the first note. The beautifully blended horn section and sensitive contributions from the rhythm section gave way to a tasteful solo from Mayfield.

With period music projects there’s always a risk that things are going to sound gimmicky. However, Mayfield and Bridgewater gave us the real thing. It was obvious that the NOJO musicians knew intimately the musical traditions of New Orleans. This, combined with the character Bridgewater brought, provided a sincerity that came through with each number.

Gianni Vecchio is an up and coming Melbourne based saxophone player.

Read More

Joe Lovano and Paul Grabowsky with Rex and Beck

Jazz

Friday 5 June, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club

As I enter Bennetts Lane in the heart of the city, I am greeted by a long line of patrons keenly anticipating what will no doubt be the showcase to conclude this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival. New York heavy-weight tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano is reuniting talents with well-respected and notable pianist Paul Grabowsky, accompanied by fellow Australians Philip Rex (double bass) and Dave Beck (drums).

As the crowd awaits the group to board the bandstand, the atmosphere inside the club is electric, buzzing with casual banter, some nervous grins and the clinking of wine glasses.

From the moment his horn receives it’s first breath, Lovano’s robust energy and vitality are evident. His tone is characterised by warmth, resonance, fullness and sensitivity. The first tune “Folk Art” starts with a solo introduction on tenor, accompanied by the piano and then joined by the drums and inter-weaving conversation between bassist Philip Rex and Grabowsky. The free-falling improvisation is punctuated by highly-charged melody and motif; developed and reworked throughout the piece.

Lovano’s improvisation is forged on an assured foundation of melody, steeped in the tradition of the arts forefathers, but modernised by his approach to rhythm, through displacement, embellishment, and ever-present awareness of self.

The groups rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is an unassuming ballad, featuring the nuances and sensibilities shared between the tenor saxophone and the piano before a segue into Rex’s bass solo, highlighting his wonderfully lyrical sound and melodic approach.

The combined forces of Beck and Rex is formidable. The section works in unison like a single-minded machine, organically complementing the free- spirited style of playing of both Grabowsky and Lovano. Collectively they could not have grooved harder if they tried. This is the reason we play jazz!

Floating through this journey of contrasting textures, psychedelic colours, intensity and fidelity we come to Rodgers and Hart’s emotional “It’s Easy to Remember”. It reminds me of a 1960’s Blue Note recording with it’s raw beauty and earthy soul. Finally, our night ends on a literal high with the uplifting gospel-influenced, groove-injected version of the tenorist’s “Fort Worth” which again demonstrates creativity and artistry at it’s pinnacle.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting conclusion to celebrate the end of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and on a slightly sadder note, the end of an era for our great town’s most iconic Jazz Club Bennetts Lane. The crowd’s enthusiastic applause not enough to coax a reprise…leaving us satisfied but wanting more.

Reviewer Lee Moore is a Melbourne based saxophonist. He has spent time living and playing in both Adelaide and Chile.

Read More

Kurt Elling with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Jazz

Sunday 31 May, Hamer Hall

Most musicians these days fall into one of two categories: those who have mastered technical proficiency on their instrument; and those who are able to connect on a more musical level. It is less common that these two traits are seen in the same place at the same time. Kurt Elling is one of these rare examples. From the moment he walked out on stage, he had the audience’s full attention. Opening with a fresh but tasteful arrangement of Come Fly With Me, Melbourne’s classical elite, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, was transformed into a hard-swinging big band, with some help from Kurt’s regular rhythm section- Mads Baerentzen (piano), John McLean (guitar), Clark Sommers (bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums).

What Elling offers in musical talent, he equals in entertainment value. Despite looking a clear 15 years older than I had imagined, he still carries that extra charm, that suave that makes the women love him, and the men… well… love him too. A couple of tunes in, he brought in the Cuban flavour with an infectious rendition of Si Te Contara- the Cuban rhythms so overwhelming that, despite all her classical training, second violin Freya Franzen was almost bopping out of her chair. He then slowed the pace with Bonita Cuba, a song he wrote the lyrics to after hearing Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval playing the haunting melody as he pined for his home country. Accompanied by Australia’s own John Mackey on tenor saxophone, Elling’s lyrics captured both the mourning of the melody and the romanticism of Cuban culture.

Joined later on stage by Melbourne based Michelle Nicolle, we proved that Australian talent has it’s place with the best, as the two performed Voce Ja Foi a Bahia and Too Close For Comfort with the playfulness and confidence of a collaborative bond that dates back several decades. Perhaps the most enjoyable exchange to witness though, was not that of the leading man, but rather the relationship between MSO conductor Benjamin Northey, and one of the most exciting drummers in the current jazz scene, Kendrick Scott. It was clear from the smiles shot across at each other, that these two were enjoying every minute of what was probably not their usual type of musical interaction.

Finishing with an encore that pulled out all the stops- a lengthy vocalese solo, several key changes and some shredding on the piano by Baerentzen, I think Kurt summed it up best himself when he sang:

Now, let’s get tight and lay it on the line
You do your thing baby and I’ll do mine
And any trip we take will be just fine
As long as I can dig the ride, I’m satisfied

Read More

Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda

Jazz, Latin

Saturday 6 June, Hamer Hall

Without a doubt Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda are both eclectic virtuosos and prolific artists of the highest order.  On first analysis, it is tempting for the jazz aficionado to draw parallels between former pairings of guitar and piano (such as Bill Evans and Jim Hall), but the Bandolim is not a six string guitar, rather, an instrument in it’s own right with it’s own distinct timbre (higher in register than that of a guitar with closer ties to that of a 10 string mandolin).

To the outsider, the pairing of such instruments as the piano and Bandolim may seem unusual; although once a musician begins to approach the caliber of artistry that Bollani and de Holanda have achieved, the ideas conveyed manage to transcend the mediums they use to express their art.

Both share a deep passion for South American music and jazz, but more importantly (from an artist’s standpoint) it was evident through their mutual interaction that they genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

The duo have been playing together since 2009, have toured extensively having released a live album in 2013 through ECM, (Stefano Bollani / Hamilton De Holanda: O Que Sera) which provides an excellent account of the duo’s musical empathy and interplay.

The duo’s repertoire covered a wide range of tunes including Brazilian love songs, waltzes, tangos, original compositions and even a Bee Gees cover (How Deep is Your Love), all of which provided as appropriate vehicles for both musicians to express their unique personality.

From the outset, the high level of interplay was clear. Both players wove around each other with contrapuntal lines that were offset with some melodic passages played in unison. Their approach could be described as slightly reminiscent of the Lennie Tristano school of jazz if it were injected with a good dose of South American Rhythm.

To his credit, Stefano Bollani is a highly animated pianist. Not satisfied with sitting down at the piano, Bollani stands, crouches, and sometimes kneels at the piano while trying to engage the audience with his infectious enthusiasm.

In interviews, Bollani has named both Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum as early influences which is evident through his fluid technique. But Bollani’s approach is a far more percussive one – and not only while pressing the keys of the piano. At certain moments during the concert, Bollani would slap various parts of the body of the piano like a conga drum.

Hamilton de Hollanda is no slouch either. His accompaniment of Bollani was both tasteful and decisive, filling in the right spaces between Bollani’s notes, occasionally punctuating rhythms and phrases at the right moment. While soloing, it is quite obvious de Holanda is familiar with the language of jazz, yet he always manages to stay true to his Brazilian roots.

The string muting techniques employed by de Holanda are something to behold; coupled by his keen use of polyrhythms, the overall effect seems to meld seamlessly with the beautiful textures provided by Bollani.

At times one could be forgiven for thinking the duo might be playing in your living room rather than in a concert hall, as their overall interaction with the audience and general approach to performance came across as quite personal, sincere, and full of humour.

It is this paradox that wins you over. Bollani and de Hollanda are serious musicians who have worked very hard at perfecting their craft, but neither take themselves too seriously. It is this ethos combined with high level artistry that translates into the music to become something far greater than the sum of it’s parts. But the proof as they say is “in the pudding”, and the proverbial pudding came in the form of a very heart-felt standing ovation from the audience.

Special guest reviewer Mikey Chan is one of Melbourne’s foremost session guitarists. His playing appears alongside many of the world’s finest musicians, from Renee Geyer to Jill Scott and Grammy Award-winning producer, M-Phazes.

Read More

Pharoah Sanders Quartet

Jazz

Review coming soon!

Read More