When the world stops

14 November 2019

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival, ‘Berardi/Foran/Karlen’ ⋅
State Theatre Centre Courtyard, 9 November⋅
Review by Bourby Webster ⋅

I entered the State Theatre Centre Courtyard for the Brisbane-based Berardi/Foran/Karlen set at the Perth International Jazz Festival on the first baking hot day of summer. Fortunately, by the time the set started, the sun’s harshness had gone, a soft breeze was blowing, and the temperature was utterly perfect.

I associate jazz with dimly lit small venues featuring red velvet seats where you can hear a pin drop, so this open-air venue with pedestrians walking past talking and street noise blaring was a different experience. However, the minute the music started, the world stopped. From the first gentle strike of the piano keys I was utterly mesmerised. The song was entitled A Mother’s Plea. The poetic, soft chords on the piano, and voice-like saxophone joined together in a song that was exactly what the brochure promised: “music drawing on modern jazz, European folk and classical music creating something intensely intimate, textural and emotional”.

As the song progressed, Kristin Berardi demonstrated why she is one of Australia’s most in-demand vocalists, scatting with wonderful control, expression and intonation. Saxophonist Rafael Karlen played with an exquisite vocal-like quality and Sean Foran had the touch and expression of a world-class classical pianist, his rippling, caressing way of performing broken chords adding colour and expression.

In the Foran-composed, toe-tapping, five-beats-to-a-bar Double Take, the pianist stood on several occasions to pluck the piano strings with one hand whilst continuing to play with the other, adding a compelling textural addition to the sound, an ‘experimental’ technique there only to serve the music, not for show.

No Shepherds Live Here opened with shimmering piano at the top of the keyboard over gentle lower chords – in the gentle breeze in the Courtyard it was absolutely stunning. I felt tears prick my eyes the playing was so evocative.

The trio play with synchronicity and understanding. Photo Mark Francesca.

The song Friday (because it was written on a Friday, Foran explained) got the audiences’ toes tapping. Berardi’s simple technique of landing her vocal on a semitone lower or higher than expected, before gently coming to land on the note your ear anticipated, added a strong emotional pull to her vocal line. The musicians synchronicity and understanding of each other’s strengths meant they delivered a seamless soundworld across their set despite the fact that they are all very different composers.

By the time the encore came (Karlen’s saxophone playing put him in the spotlight here) the wind had dropped almost completely, a stillness had fallen in the courtyard, and plenty of other jazz musicians, coming from their own performances, had joined the audience, mesmerised. These three musicians bring their music to life in a stunning, seamless, intuitive and deeply personal way. This is their unique gift and one I feel very privileged to have heard live in concert.

Pictured top: The mesmerising Kristin Berardi. Photo by Mark Francesca.

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Author —
Bourby Webster

Bourby Webster is the Founder and CEO of Perth Symphony Orchestra one of WA’s newest and fastest growing arts companies. She is a graduate of Oxford University in Music and the Royal College of Music and is a professional violist, lecturer, presenter, and producer. She can’t even look at a playground as she suffers chronic motion sickness.

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