Gary Bartz Quartet

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

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Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet

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

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Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield with NOJO

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.

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Joe Lovano and Paul Grabowsky with Rex and Beck

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.

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Kurt Elling with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

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

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Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda

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.

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Barney McAll

We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Australia’s own Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, Barney McAll.

MJ Tell me about your early musical experiences and influences growing up in Melbourne.

BM Well, I started playing piano at about seven years old, and I used to practice by myself. I’d play games in my head that at the end of the world, those people who could survive had to play a song. I used to play games like that for hours, and then I’d look up, and it would be dark outside. So then, I had a band and we started playing around, and I started getting more into jazz. I had Len Barnard live up the street, a great Australian jazz drummer, and he turned us on to Pinetop Smith, Bud Powell and Miles Davis. We had another friend who turned us on to all this blues music, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf. Eventually I would go in and out of the city playing gigs with people, and I started working with Vince Jones, Alan Browne, Doug De Vries, Gary Costello… I wasn’t anywhere near supposed to be in that band. I had to learn fast, and then I really started working hard and shedding.

“I wasn’t anywhere near supposed to be in that band. I had to learn fast…”

MJ You are an Australian, but you’ve spent a lot of time abroad. Do you think that Australia has it’s own brand of jazz, it’s own flavour, or are we just doing the same kind of thing as people all over the globe?

BM It’s a complex question. I think there’s possibly a music that’s developing, and it stems from American jazz. Improvised music in Australia has changed to be less influenced by straight-ahead black American music. It’s more compositional, so it’s kind of a hybrid. This is happening as you say, all over the world. Improvised music is becoming less of a jazz thing, less walking bass, swinging hats, and more experimental, involved in all sorts of rhythms and meters, and intervalic ways of writing music and playing it. Whether it’s just that life changes and people make music that’s relevant to a changing life.

MJ You’ve worked with a large number of high-profile acts. Everyone from Roy Ayers and Maceo Parker, right through to a lot of pop acts like Aloe Blacc and Sia to name a few. How do you think this has shaped the way you play?

BM Significantly, I think. I was working with Gary Bartz for many years, and then I started working with Fred Wesley who works with Maceo. I remember going back to play some straight-ahead jazz with Gary Bartz, and he said, “Tell Fred, thank you”. What he was saying was, tell Fred thank you for helping you lay in the pocket, to play more simply, and to listen. That was a direct way that playing funk has helped me be more musical in a jazz context. Playing with Sia, and Aloe Blacc, Daniel Merriweather, that’s great music as well. I suppose all those influences help you to understand that there’s only two kinds of music; good or bad. It helps you become a better musician, and to make music as opposed to jazz.

“…all those influences help you to understand that there’s only two kinds of music; good or bad.”

MJ How would you describe your style of playing?

BM It’s a difficult question, but it’s kind of a lot of different influences. Stylistically, I’ve been deliberately trying to infuse gospel colours into my music. Previously, I was into Afro-Cuban music, so, that’s in there a little bit too. But I’m really just an improvising musician, I’m a spontaneous composer.

MJ It’s interesting that you cite those particular influences, because listening to your playing, it’s the gospel inflections and Afro-Cuban influences that seem most prominent, even when you’re playing in other genres.

BM Yeah, I’m not trying to play those genres and try to rehash them, but I’m interested in infusing it, and just getting some of those colours that I find so beautiful and so interesting.

MJ Did you have a favourite player growing up, and has that changed over time?

BM Yeah, it’s always changing. Growing up, it was listening to a lot of Bud Powell and being just completely perplexed and lured into the music. And I always loved Keith Jarrett. I also loved the piano playing of singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, and especially Ray Charles. I find their piano playing really mystical, and very original.

MJ During your musical journey, can you remember a piece of advice that you received that had a particular impact on your way of thinking or playing?

BM Wow, I can give you a couple. One of them, Daniel Merriweather said to me, which was, “If you don’t try to be bluesy, you’re more bluesy”. I think that’s pretty hip. Gary Bartz hadn’t ever given me any advice on how to play. When I first got to New York we were doing a live recording of a jazz standard, and he just said “relax”. That’s all he’s ever said to me. But I think the best piece of advice that anyone’s ever given me, is a piece of advice that I’ve heard four or five people say, and that is, “just keep playing”.

MJ Your arrangements are often very lush and rely pretty heavily on the musicians in your ensembles playing a specific way. How much of this is about getting the right guys in for the job, and how much is your direction?

BM Which piece are you talking about for example?

MJ You have a piece called thirty three which starts out with a bass motif that’s repeated throughout the whole song.

BM That piece was a fantastic experience because it was based on an Afro-Cuban rhythm called Ellegua. You have to play that piece first, because you honour Ellegua in the Afro-Cuban tradition. And if the spirit of Ellegua likes what you’re doing, then your tapes in the studio won’t get chewed up. What you’re hearing is the first time we ever played it, cos I wanted to write simple, lush things that people could sightread, and then they would feel the song unfolding as it was going onto tape. We started with that piece on the record, and it went for 15 minutes, it was really very exciting. The percussionist had spoken to the drummer, Joey Barrett, and told him what to play, and given him direction. Apart from that, I had just chosen the players, which were amazing musicians, and we just played it.

MJ A lot of your music has quite open, improvised forms. How much of that is prearranged, and how much do you just leave up to the gig?

BM Well, I’m interested in the unexpected, and I’m interested in getting away from the whole jazz idea of head, solos, head. So, it is very much arranged to be the way it is manifested. But by the same token, good musicians can follow a tangent that is indicated by any of the musicians, and just milk it or flesh it out on a dime. Good musicians can feel something changing or some direction, and everyone can go there immediately. Without musicians having that incredible quick-wittedness- their whole life is about being able to change very quickly. A lot of the music that I write is really helped along by that incredible reflex of creativity.

“Good musicians can feel something changing or some direction, and everyone can go there…”

MJ You’ll be performing with your quintet at the jazz festival, with a few local favourites. Can you talk a bit about the music and the band?

BM So the band is called ASIO, which stands for the Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit. The players are Jonathan Zwartz on bass, Simon Barker on drums, Julien Wilson on tenor saxophone and Steve Magnusson on guitar. These are all the players that are also on the new album which is called Mooroolbark, dedicated to the place where I grew up. We’ll be playing the CD release of Mooroolbark at the Melbourne Jazz Festival. Asio, interestingly enough, also stands for the genus of true owls- you’ll want to put that in the article please (laughs).

MJ And are you now back in Australia for a little bit?

BM I’m in Sydney for the whole of 2015, I’m doing a Peggy Glanville-Hicks composer residency in Paddington, so I’m just composing for one year here.

MJ You’ve worked in a number of different settings, do you think your playing style changes significantly depending on who you’re playing with?

BM Most certainly. In fact, if you look at a band that’s been playing together, you get much more music and creativity than if you have the best players in the world all thrown together in a superstar band. All superstars together does not necessarily make for good music. I’ve played with these guys in this band for a while now, and I’m looking forward to it because we’re trying to develop it as a band.

“All superstars together does not necessarily make for good music.”

MJ Is your current lineup the preferred format you like to play in?

BM I’m kind of liking this, you know, tenor saxophone, guitar, bass, drums, piano. I’ve written all this music for that, and it’s a compact unit. Julien Wilson’s such a beautiful player, as is Steve Magnusson, so you really get a chance to hear things interpreted in a really rich way. I’m down for all sorts of things. I play in a band in New York which is three trombones and myself, so I’m definitely open to all different colours.

MJ You spend a lot of time writing and playing, and doing all things music. What do you like to listen when you’re just relaxing in your down time?

BM That’s a very good question! I like to listen to a lot of African music. There’s a website called Capes of Africa, and it’s unbelievable. You can download the most rare and bizarre, deep, old music from cassettes that’s been uploaded. I just love listening to that stuff, it’s really inspiring to me. I like to listen to artists like Morton Feldman, Brian Eno, I like an English new wave band called Eyeless In Gaza. There’s an Australian rapper named Remi who’s actually pretty happening, and also Andrea Keller’s music. I like to listen to a lot of ambient sounds, sounds of nature. That’s kind of a way to have an inspirational, meditational journey.

MJ You’ve already had a very rich career. What are your plans for the future?

BM Philosophically, my plan is to be new every moment. But in a straight-ahead answer of what music might be coming in the future, I’m writing a piece for a large ensemble, for the Monash Art Ensemble. That piece is representative of having enough time to really explore different avenues that I’ve wanted to for quite a while. I’m also working on a pop album, that so far features Sia, and actually the vocalist from Jagwar Ma, Gabriel Winterfield, and Gian Slater. It’s kind of a pop album, but it’s a protest album disguised as a pop album.

Barney McAll’s album, Mooroolbark, is now available from all good record stores.

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Walter Smith III

Ahead of the upcoming Melbourne International Jazz Festival, we thought we’d have a bit of a chat to find out more about Texas-born tenor man, Walter Smith III

MJ You’re from Texas originally, which is not a place necessarily associated with jazz. How did you first become introduced to the genre, and what are some of your early experiences and influences?

WS Growing up, we had a lot of local people that were up and coming. We would have people come by the school, like a Jason Moran, Chris Dave and Eric Harland. We had that direct connection to the guys in New York who were doing everything we wanted to do. But we had the local scene, which was full of lots of great musicians. So there was a lot of inspiration around.

MJ How do you think that affected the way you thought about jazz? In the Mersey Beat movement in the UK, a lot of the young musicians, some of whom would go on to become Beatles, didn’t have access to a lot of great music but, like you were mentioning, they really fed off and taught each other. Is that something you think would have affected the way you play if you’d been brought up in New York or LA or Chicago or somewhere with a more defined scene?

WS Our influences were pretty much what we handpicked from records. I listened to a lot of Trane and Charlie Parker and Lester Young. Those were my big saxophone influences. But outside of that, I was more interested in the guys that were from Houston. It was Chris Dave playing with Kenny Garrett, and Eric Harland playing with McCoy at that time, and he played with Joe Henderson around that time too. Moran and Harlan both played with Greg Osby, so I grew up being really influenced by music that was happening, being made currently by that kind of scene.

“Our influences were pretty much what we handpicked from records…”

MJ Are there a lot of Houston players that you would associate these characteristics with?

WS Yeah, I think so. I was in the same grade with great electric bass player Mark Kelley, who now plays with The Roots, and Kendrick Scott, who I think is one of the most unique drummers out there now. And then, the grade ahead of me in school was Robert Glasper, and the guys that were younger than us- Jamire Williams, he’s a ridiculous drummer. Same thing with Ambrose (Akinmusire) and Howard Wiley, Dayna Stephens, Taylor Eigsti, Justin Brown, Julian Lage- all those guys are in that same boat. They grew up listening to what they listened to, and, well, they’re leaders of their generation in terms of being original voices.

MJ How would you describe your own style of playing? If you were to try to categorise it, how would you explain your concept and approach to the saxophone?

WS I would say it’s very grounded in an old sensibility, but with a few seemingly random choices that might not necessarily go along with whatever the history of saxophone is. So, just like a quirky version of something that you already heard before.

MJ The thing that really strikes me when listening to you, is your use of articulation. Particularly in really fast phrases, it doesn’t diminish at all or get sloppy.  Is that something you’ve deliberately worked on or is it something you’ve taken from other players?

WS Definitely. I went to Berklee College of Music, and really started studying a lot of older guys. Von Freeman, and Johnny Griffin, thinking about all the tempos that those guys were playing and the ideas, and trying to emulate that kind of style keeping it as clean as I could at faster tempos. I have a weird embouchure, which contributes to the fact that I have to really concentrate on articulation.

MJ Did you have a particular player that you looked up to growing up ?

WS It was the big three for me growing up. It started out as Charlie Parker, but then once I got to high school, it was equal parts Josh Redman, Kenny Garrett and Branford Marsalis. That was the thing I was going for, learning music and trying to play like them over it.

MJ Can you remember during the learning process, a piece of advice that someone said to you that had a big impact on your way of playing or thinking?

WS The first one that popped into my head was Jason Moran. He saw some YouTube video from my time at Berklee. Playing a rhythm changes with a band, and just playing constant eighth notes through the whole thing and not being very adventurous harmonically or rhythmically. He just sent me an email saying, “I watched this video of you. Have you ever thought about these things”? While I had thought about them, nobody ever just said it to me like that. It made me think that, stuff that you’re playing all the time, someone’s listening.

The other person around that same time, Aaron Goldberg was touring with Josh Redman, and I got to meet them and know them a little bit . I was having a conversation with Aaron about some guys and some records, and I was like, “Man, yeah I don’t really like that”. He said, “You just named three people that are some of the most respected musicians ever, and you don’t like it. You need to listen to it with different ears”. He was saying, humble yourself before you listen to it. He really made me think it’s not all supposed to be perfect. This is how they wanted it to be…. Everybody’s not coming from the same place.

“It’s not all supposed to be perfect. This is how they wanted it to be… Everybody’s not coming from the same place.”

MJ You’re coming out to Australia shortly for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. What do you enjoy most about coming out here?

WS Yes, I was out there last year. We went to the Sydney festival and that was amazing. We played three or four times in different venues . We even got to see Chaka Khan, who I’d never seen before, and that was pretty amazing! Besides that, we had some good food. We had some great coffee. That was the supreme thing that we found… Really nice espressos.

MJ You’ll be playing with your quintet while you’re here. Can you talk a bit about the band and the music you’ll be playing?

WS I recorded an album last year, and it came out in September of 2014, called Still Casual. It has ten or eleven original compositions that I wrote in the last year and a half for this band. I wrote it in a way that I was trying to make myself play a little bit more mature. This is, so far, my best effort in terms of writing music and having a whole program of things that go together. We’ll be playing the music from that, and the band that we’ll be playing with, two of the guys from the album will be there. The pianist, Taylor Eigsti, Harish Raghavan, bassist, and we’ll be joined by Julian Lage on guitar, and Eric Harland on drums. Incidentally we also play together in Eric Harland’s band, which is called Voyager.

MJ You do work with a lot of the guys from your band in different settings. How do you feel that your role or the music differs depending on who the bandleader is at any given time?

WS I think everyone has a different approach to composition. I know I play totally different when I’m playing my music, and Eric’s music, or whoever else’s, and it’s the same with everyone else in the band.  Whoever the leader is, they just bring a different vibe to what they want from you.

MJ You’ve got four albums now under your belt as bandleader, and a whole heap more as a sideman. What direction do you see yourself heading over the next ten years or so?

WS I have a couple of projects in mind. I have four of my own, but it seems like I’ve done the same album four times so far. Moving forward, I’m just trying to really make decisions based on stuff that I’d want to listen to. It’s gonna be stuff that I find that I can sit down and listen to repeatedly, not just something that I hear one time through and I’m done. I have some ideas for some stuff with different instrumentation, strings and a couple of other horns.

“Moving forward, I’m just trying to really make decisions based on stuff that I’d want to listen to.”

MJ So when you don’t have your musician hat on, what do you actually like to listen to for recreation?

WS I find lately that I’ve been going back to albums from formative years. They just have that special feeling where you know every second of every track on there. So I’ve been going back looking at some of those Josh Redman albums, Mark Turner albums from back then, but lately I’ve been checking out Becca Stevens new album, Perfect Animal. I’ve been checking out the new Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly. I have a lot of friends that were a part of putting that together so it’s also cool to see them doing that. And also I’ve been checking out this duo out of LA called Nowa.

The Walter Smith III Quintet will be performing at Bennett’s Lane on May 29 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival

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Hamilton de Holanda

Melbourne recently hosted prodigious mandolin talent, Hamilton de Holanda. We caught up with him before he came out to find out more about the man and his music.

MJ You grew up in Brazil within a musical family. Can you tell me about your upbringing and some of your early influences?

HH Yes, I have a musical family. My father’s a guitar player, my grandfather was a trumpet player, and my brother is a 7-string guitar player. Since I was 5 years old, I have my first mandolin. It was a Christmas gift from my grandfather, and every day, all day, I played with my father and my brother. We have a choro group and every day we practiced since I have 5 years old. After that, when I have about 6 and 7, I studied in a music school in Brasilia, cos I was born in Rio de Janeiro, but I grew up in Brasilia the capital. I studied at the music school called Escola de Música de Brasília, and I studied five years violin, cos we didn’t have a mandolin teacher. The tuning of the mandolin and the violin is the same. So I had this five years violin studies. And a little bit guitar also, through learning harmony. But in this same time, I had this group with my father and my brother, and I used to play choro. Choro is like the first popular Brazilian music. It is my beginning.

MJ So, with a musical family, and given your upbringing in South America, do you think these factors have changed the way you might play?

HH I don’t know, cos I didn’t grow up in another place (laughs). But of course my music is a music that comes from the sun, and the hot temperature.

“My music is a music that comes from the sun…”

MJ Mandolin is not a very common instrument in jazz. Did you draw influence from other mandolin players growing up, or were there other instruments that shaped your playing?

HH Well, my first influence was Jacob do Bandolim. He’s like a father of the mandolin in Brazil. I have also Armandinho Macedo, the first mandolin player after Jacob, who has a new point of view of mandolin. More freedom, more improvisation. But I have many influences, not just mandolin players. Like Buddy Powell, like Agua de Beber, and Hermeto Pascoal of course. But I love jazz also. Keith Jarret and Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, John Coltrane. Also classical music, I love Villa-Lobos, I love Bach. My music have a little bit of these big influences.

MJ There’s one thing that I noticed when listening to you- it’s not just jazz. You can definitely tell the influence of classical music, more traditional influence and other genres in there too. Is this something that you’ve deliberately tried to bring into your playing, or is it a natural thing for you?

HH My first music is the Choro. Choro is a mix between the classical Europe music, and the African music. So the first melody and the harmony from the choro is the classical melodies and harmonies. The way of my music is to play the choro first, after- the other music, and of course things like classical music, but with freedom and improvisation.

MJ One thing that I really enjoy about your playing too, I’ve listened to other jazz mandolin players, and, to me, a lot of them play it more like a jazz guitar. The thing I like about your playing is that you actually use a lot of the traditional techniques like tremolos and double stops in your playing. Is this just a product of your background in more traditional music?

HH No, not really. I love other kinds of music, and I mix everything. It’s not a way to think about music, traditional. Music is freedom for me, I can do what I can think about. If I have a jam session with a Swedish guy, or Australian, American, or Venezuelan guy, if you have a music to play together, I play together. I don’t have this problem.

MJ So would you say you have a style?

HH My style is from Choro to jazz. (Laughs)

MJ I understand you have a 10-string custom mandolin that you play. Can you tell me a little bit about why this instrument’s so special?

HH When I have about 18, 20 years, I thought about having a polyphonic mandolin. More melody and chords and rhythm together, like a solo piano or guitar player. I tried to do that with my eight string, with my normal mandolin. I did some arrangements and some compositions, but I wanted to have a bigger mandolin with more bass notes. And I called a friend, a mandolin builder, “Hey, you can do a 10-string mandolin for me? You can use a wood, not expensive, because if we don’t like it, we burn it.” But the first was magnificent, it was an incredible instrument. This was in 2000. After that, all the building guys make this model.

“Hey, you can do a 10-string mandolin for me?… if we don’t like it, we burn it.”

MJ Can you remember a particular moment that’s made a big impact on your way of thinking or playing?

HH Many moments I have that reflects this. The first time when I listened Armandinho, when I saw the first time Hermeto Pascoal playing, when I listened the first time to clarinetist from Brazil called Paulo Moura, the first time Chick Corea, and when I begin to study the partitas and sonatas from violin solo from Bach. I have many influences to think about.

MJ You’ll be coming to Australia very shortly, playing with Stefano Bollani. What are you looking forward to most?

HH It’s my first time to Australia. I’m excited because it’s a beautiful country, and I saw about the people it’s like in Brazil. Have people with the sun, with a good deal of life, so I’m excited to be in Australia.

MJ Can you tell me about playing with Stefano?

HH Stefano is like a musical brother, and we play since 2008. Our first time was in Italy, and after the first music together, we said we have to do something. Just playing and no talking- everything’s looking with him. When he plays some melody or some charts, he didn’t need talking anything with me, and the opposite is the same. So we have a beautiful musical connection. We like improvisation, and he knows about Brazilian music. He has the rhythm, real rhythm with his piano and his ears to play anything.

MJ When I spoke to him, he mentioned that you don’t normally choose the songs before you go on stage. Is that something that you do to be in the spur of the moment?

HH We have set lists of about 40 or 50 songs, and when we are in the stage, we play. No rehearsal and just to have one set list. And this is the concert like that. We see the people and we play.

MJ Are you planning on seeing anyone play at the festival while you’re here?

HH If I have time between the concerts, I will see, of course. I love that. I love new music and new musicians around the world, and I have the same way in Australia, of course.

MJ You play with different acts and lineups. How does your playing change when you work with different people?

HH I think when I play with great people and great musicians, I want to learn some kind of great way of music, and also I want to give a little bit from my music.

MJ I know you’re a family man as well as being a busy musician. How do you relax when you’re not on the road, and what are your plans for the future?

HH My plans is continues to do what I do. I give the people my music and my heart because when I play, the most important for me is to touch the heart of the people. Is the good point, the beautiful point of the life for me. When I relax, I have my mandolin with me, and I can compose, or playing off with my kids, or give some piano lessons to my little boy who is just 7 years old. Or if there is a ball, I can play football with my kids. Life is beautiful.

“I give the people my music and my heart because… the most important for me is to touch the heart of the people.”

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Stefano Bollani

Interview coming soon!

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Miguel Zenon

Interview coming soon!

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Gian Slater

Interview coming soon!

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Pharoah Sanders Quartet

Review coming soon!

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