Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz rains supreme

Review: West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra, King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival ⋅
His Majesty’s Theatre and surrounding venues, July 4-6 ⋅
Review by Ron Banks ⋅

Intimate jazz festivals such as the King Street Corner Pocket are a chance to encounter new talent, renew acquaintanceship with old talent, and marvel again at the breadth and depth of jazz music available to audiences in Perth.

The idea of the festival is to run events over three days, muster the musicians in small bars, lounges, even hotel reception rooms and give them about an hour in each venue to showcase their versatility and variety of styles. No big-name imports, just local talent many of them at the beginning of their career or not too far in.

The Corner Pocket Festival began last year, and is now in its second incarnation under the auspices of the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra. There is no headline commercial sponsorship, but WAYJO’s reputation for encouraging jazz among the younger breed of musicians is endorsement enough.

Thursday’s opening performances began promisingly, despite the gloomy weather perhaps deterring a few fans from venturing out into the rainy night. Proceedings began at 5.30pm with percussionist Daniel Susnjar, one of the city’s most inventive time-keepers leading TRISK (his trio with pianist Chris Foster and bassist Nick Abbey) through original compositions in His Majesty’s Theatre Barre Café.

The old theatre is one side of the central axis of King Street, and each performance is within easy walking distance up laneways or across the street. Most capable of drawing a modest crowd on opening night were the small bar venues such as The Cheeky Sparrow and the Sewing Room, with the three venues in His Majesty’s the most convenient for dashing from one to another within the hour-long time frame of performance. Those with the energy and enthusiasm for a spot of venue-hopping jazz can experience as much of the festival as physically possible with the discounted 10-show pass. Even without the package tickets are $15, or just $5 for late entry.

Nueva Salsa Orchestra playing at The Sewing Room. Photo Eliza Cowling

Opening night saw the debut of guitar and drum duo Bill and Ben upstairs in the Maj dress circle bar. These two young men possessed the chops to deliver fresh arrangements of jazz standards such as Body and Soul and The Way You Look Tonight.

Down the laneway at the Cheeky Sparrow, The Island Trio (electric piano, bass and drums) started with a funky version of Summertime before ransacking the Great American Songbook in the search for re-invention.

Upstairs in the carpeted and curtained room of the Intercontinental Hotel, a five-piece outfit Mejadra explored the further shores of jazz with energy and drive.

Heading back to the Barre Café, fans could hear Danish guitarist Kristian Borring and his trio serving up his lyrical original compositions in amplified acoustic jazz style.

As heavy-weather dusk shaded to deepest night, the atmosphere was almost tropical Downstairs at the Maj with vocalist Libby Hammer and her quartet demonstrating the perfect union of voice and skilled accompaniment on some of the brightest and wittiest number’s in the female jazz vocal repertoire.

Hammer is a city treasure with her big stage personality, perfect pitch, rich store of standards and her capacity to deliver the complete entertainment package. This was cabaret jazz at its finest, enlivened by the explanations and banter with her band boys about how she chooses her set of songs. Hammer has a kid’s program coming up in the city for the school holidays which sounds worth checking out if you want your youngsters to get hooked on music and jazz.

This small jazz festival named after a Count Basie tune features about 55 gigs with more than 200 musicians contributing and has the potential to grow into something bigger than its current ambitions. But perhaps its appeal is simply because it is intimate and relatively simple – guys and gals getting together to show what they can do and hoping those who love a sense of adventure will come along for the ride.

The King Street Corner Pocket festival continues until July 6. 

Pictured top: Cabaret jazz at its finest with the Libby Hammer Quartet, Downstairs at the Maj. Photo Rosalind Appleby

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