Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz gymnastics

Perth Festival review: Jazzmeia Horn ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, March 1 ⋅
Reviewed by Ron Banks ⋅

Texas-born jazz singer Jazzmeia Horn has an extraordinary voice no doubt about that.

It’s a big voice; one that can soar into the stratosphere, explore the depths of a song, whisper, cajole, shout, scream like a two-year old, ease through a jazz ballad with nonchalance and style or scat and burble sounds that reshape your thinking about how the jazz idiom should be presented.

Her jazz heritage is the likes of singers such as Betty Carter or Ella Fitzgerald, but she takes their material and gives it a fresher, more daring and adventurous edge.

Her opening number was the old standard Willow Weep for Me, refreshed by her remarkable vocal range into something  strange and mysterious. It set the pattern for the kind of vocal gymnastics that show how the human voice is not yet done with re-invention and re-interpretation.

More standards were to follow – a medley of Tenderly, The Nearness of You and Misty, for example – each number crafted with a subtlety and delicacy that suggest a mind and voice working overtime to overturn established conventions of vocal delivery.

She can also get into the be bop tradition like an instrumentalist rather than a vocalist – that talent at full play in her interpretation of Charlie Parker’s little-known Au Privave. It’s not the kind of number for the faint-hearted performer.

If Horn has a fault, it’s that she is, for some perhaps, too inventive, too versatile, too willing to go out on a limb in her artistry rather than stay within the normal confines of how a song should sound. But if that’s a fault, give it to me any day.

With this big versatile voice comes a big personality; Horn likes to chat with her audience, invite them into her world. Remarkable for a jazz singer (rather than a showbiz singer) she successfully involved the audience in a call-and-response encounter based on, of all numbers, Cole Porter’s Night and Day.

That number morphed into the audience chanting back phrases about self-esteem (”love yourself, love your skin”). It could have sounded corny but it wasn’t. It was pleasurable for both the singer and the audience.

Horn is now based in New York and brought with her musicians of great subtlety and craft in pianist Victor Gould, bassist Barry Stephenson and drummer Henry Conerway. Their ability to follow or to lead the singer down new pathways was deeply pleasurable.

The Perth Festival has been short on ground-breaking jazz performers in recent years, but Jazzmeia Horn’s presence this year signals that great jazz is always just a phone call away. Horn deserves to become an international star of the art form.

Photo top: Jazzmeia Horn. Photo Jacob Blickenstaff

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Five musicians in formal wear sit on a couch, with tasselled lamps and rustic brick backdrop
Jazz, News, Reviews

Sassafras satisfies

Fringe World review: Sassafras: Under Paris Skies⋅
Ellington Jazz Club, January 24⋅
Review by Steve Baitz⋅

Acoustic gypsy-jazz band Sassafras presented a world-class musical performance to the capacity audience that filled Ellington’s Jazz Club on Thursday night. The five-piece band entered as the lights dimmed and, before our eyes could adjust to the darkness, launched into a haunting rendition of Jacques Brel’s Le diable (Ça va), evoking the Paris of Picasso, Dali and Matisse.

Jessie Gordon fronted the band, her scintillating vocals coaxing the audience into involuntary rhythmic finger snapping and tapping our emotions. The musicians fed off each other’s energy as well as that of the room with tight synchronicity. A rendition of Je t’aime highlighted the skills of Pete Jeavons on double bass. Sidney Bechet’s Si tu vois ma mere allowed Adrian Galante to shine with a clarinet solo that absolutely wowed the appreciative audience.  Aaron Deacon and Lachlan Gear kicked in with excellent guitar work, ably anchored by Jeavons on bass. The title song, Under Paris skies was released gently to the crowd followed by Le deux guitares, Spencer Williams’ I’ve found a new baby, and of course, Edith Piaf’s La vie en rose. The audience applause was eventually interrupted by the final number, Toute ma joie. Gordon aptly described the night’s musical journey as 75% emotional agony and 25% joy.

Club manager, Tony Wallace, kept operations smooth with an unobtrusive food and beverage service to a responsive and respectful crowd – a perfect venue for Sassafras’s performance. This proved to be a most enjoyable hour. I went in quite grumpy from a tough day and left feeling light and satisfied.

Picture Top: The musicians from Sassafras. Photo: Corey James

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Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz pianists battle it out

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival ⋅
Perth Cultural Centre/State Theatre Centre, November 10 ⋅
Review by Steve Baitz ⋅

It was a warm afternoon at the Perth Cultural Centre Wetlands and the area had new vibrancy with the advent of the Perth International Jazz Festival. The Gemma Farrell Quintet took the stage and the interest escalated among the people milling around. The band comprised Farrell on saxophone, Christopher Sealy on guitar, Kate Pass on bass, Ryan Daunt playing drums and the band’s newcomer Tom Salleo handling the trombone.

The music was tight, well-rehearsed and the band obviously comfortable with each other. Much of the music played was from Farrell’s new album Organised Chaos and revealed something of the composer’s character. Each number was dedicated to an important person or an event like the birth of her third child. As the music filtered through the air the audience grew with each captivated passer-by.

Gemma Farrell with her tenor, flanked by the attentive Chris Sealey on guitar and Tom Salleo on trombone
L-R Kate Pass,Gemma Farrell, Chris Sealey and Tom Salleo perform at the Wetlands stage. Photo Nathan Bullivant

The crowd was well rewarded with warm, easy on the ears sounds. Stand out numbers were Reflections and One for Fresh written in honour of what Farrell called ‘probably her best teacher’. Each of the band members handled very strong solo’s and newcomer Tom Salleo did not disappoint. All the music was original but kept that familiar feeling of belonging. A pleasure to hear.

Moving from the family-friendly ease of the Wetlands to the State Theatre Rehearsal Room was quite a transition. The Wetlands invites you to soak in the surrounding movement of people in the area; the Rehearsal Room demands your attention. The venue is intimate, moodily lit and with near perfect acoustics. Drapes hang across the walls and the grand piano in the far-left corner takes pride of place.  About to begin was ‘Solo Piano – Fujii, O’Halloran, Barry’.

Pianist Steve Barry leans towards the piano keyboard, his face is reflected in the piano lid.
Pianist Steve Barry. Photo Mohammad Hosseini

Time was limited with the three performers playing solo in turn and each could play only one or two of their original compositions. Sydney composer Steve Barry took the stage first and displayed masterful expertise, playing music from his recent solo album Hatch. His music was good evidence of his multi award winning talent. He started with a soft melodic number that transported me into a harmonious sense of peace. Then followed the cheeky insertion of a delightful interlude he described as ‘a little something’ followed by a tribute to Thelonious Monk. The tribute was more atonal but still not jarring on the ears, interrupted only by the sound of someone’s errant mobile giving walking instructions to the State Theatre. There’s always one in every crowd!

Pianist Tom OHalloran. Photo Mohammad Hosseini

Perth’s well-loved Tom O’Halloran took the second spot, transfixing the audience with two improvisations, one tonal and the second atonal, both exploring atmosphere and texture. His music was atmospheric and almost tactile, like a patchwork quilt with individual sections coalescing into what will soon become one of your favourite blankets.

The diminutive Satoko Fujii then took the stage, claiming rightly the pressure Steve Barry’s and Tom O’Halloran’s performances put on her solo. The Japanese pianist took immediate possession of the grand piano. The keyboard was not a sufficient interface for her and she almost climbed into the body of the piano converting it to a percussion instrument and a harp. She stretched the piano far beyond its normal playing method and I could imagine the blood draining out of the faces of piano tuners and agents responsible for the insurance of the instrument. The piano under her ministrations took on the guise of a full orchestra. Definitely avant-garde, Fujii produced an exciting harmony of both gentle and thumping sounds that I would never have considered belong together. How well it worked.

Festival artistic director Dr Mace Francis thanked the artists for their ‘expose of the human condition’. My only complaint is that the performance was only given once.

Pictured top: Satoko Fujii. Photo: Mohammad Hosseini

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Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Jazz takes over the city

Review: Perth International Jazz Festival ·
State Theatre Centre Courtyard, November 9 ·
Review by Rosalind Appleby ·

The Perth International Jazz Festival kicked off last night with the first of over 60 performances. For one weekend the city has turned into a jazz hotspot, with grooves spilling out of doorways and a good chance of bumping into Perth-born legends like Mat Jodrell and Sam Anning or the hottest young things from the US like singer Charenee Wade and Sara McDonald.

On Friday night the State Theatre Centre Courtyard was at capacity for Kate Ceberano and Carl Mackey’s tribute to the 1961 soul jazz album ‘Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderly’. Their clean, relaxed take on jazz standards like Happy Talk, A Sleepin Bee and Never Will I Marry eased festival goers into the weekend.

Ceberano channelled Nancy Wilson with luscious sliding phrases and dramatic storytelling. What really lit up the hour-long session was her megawatt smile and obvious delight at working with the musicians. And why not with saxophonist Carl Mackey leading an all-star quartet of Grant Windsor on piano, Sam Anning on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums. For some reason the band was missing a cornet player (Nat Adderley on the original album) but still delivered a punchy, fun version of the instrumental number Teaneck with glimpses of Speedball in the clean groove and the unexpected tangents in Windsor’s piano solos.

Big smiles from the entire band as Kate Ceberano and Carl Mackey perform
Kate Ceberano and Carl Mackey light up the stage at the Perth International Jazz Festival. Photo Nathan Bullivant

A high point was the ballad The Masquerade is Over where Ceberano’s gift for storytelling had the crowd hanging on every note. Her voice was breathy, strong, scratchy and elastic all at once, cushioned by the wash of brushes on snare, sparse piano and restrained bass.

Wilson’s rhythmic inflections and sense of pacing in the fast tunes wasn’t Ceberano’s strong point (as she was the first to admit) but she nailed the soulful character of the album, crooning responses to Windsor’s tasteful piano solos and paying tribute to an album that had inspired her since the age of 16.

Later that night international guests the Melissa Aldana Quartet took to the stage with a set list of material from their yet-to-be-released album. The Chilean tenor saxophonist was the first female and first South American to win the Thelonious Monk competition in 2013. Her original compositions are built around predictable harmonies coloured with unpredictable melody lines and occasional sections of Latin groove. Aldana’s incredibly lyrical fluidity across the entire range of the tenor saxophone meant her sizzling fingerwork had velveteen smoothness. Her sinuous golden lines were the perfect foil to the fast dense activity of the trio: Sam Harris on piano, Rick Rosato on bass and Felix Lecaros on drums.

Melissa Aldana's focused energy as she plays tenor saxophone
Chilean saxophonist and composer Melissa Aldana. Photo Nathan Bullivant

The quartet performed four substantial works composed by Aldana. Two were movements from the suite Visions, inspired by the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s artwork is known for its magical realism, a brightly-coloured blend of fantasy and photographic realism. It was possible to hear the beauty of Kahlo’s work in Aldana’s clean saxophone lines inflected with moments of deep emotion expressed in particular through the mighty piano solos by Harris.

Aldana was self effacing, allowing her music to do the talking. Her playing revealed a thoughtful musician with an ear for beauty and originality. Aldana will perform with her quartet tonight at The Ellington and you can catch Carl Mackey, Grant Windsor and Sam Anning performing as part of Speedball tonight at the State Theatre Courtyard. There are also free concerts at the Perth Cultural Centre Wetlands Stage plus shows Downstairs at the Maj, open rehearsals and artists in conversation. Don’t miss out on the weekend when jazz takes over our city.

The Perth International Jazz Festival continues until Sunday November 11th.

Pictured top L-R: Kate Ceberano and Sam Anning. Photo Nathan Bullivant.

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Calendar, Jazz, Music, Performing arts, September

Jazz: Album Launch – Fiona Lawe Davies 4

8 September 2017, 7pm @ The Ellington Jazz Club

Fiona Lawe Davies is launching her second jazz album, “Imaginary Grace”.

The songs she sings are the stories she wants to tell. If honest, audacious reimaginings of indie and jazz classics are what you want to hear, then this is the place you’ll want to be.

For more than 15 years, Fiona has been honing her craft on Perth’s stages, including regular performances at Perth’s premier jazz venue, The Ellington Jazz Club. Fiona’s unique vocal ability is both pure and sultry, with a rhythmic lilt and intimate style. She draws inspiration from classic jazz artists such as Joe Williams and Julie London, modern jazz icons like Shirley Horn and Brad Mehldau and a slew of heart-rending indie artists including Rufus Wainwright, Damien Rice and Portishead.

The album was conceived and recorded with her long-time collaborators, Chris Foster (piano), Nick Abbey (double bass) and Daniel Susnjar (drums). These extraordinary musicians and composers are leading lights in the Australian music scene and their resumes are bursting with international performance credits, recordings and awards. In concert with Fiona, their energy, generosity and spontaneity will capture your heart and delight your senses.

“Fiona has such a great connection with the music that she chooses and composes. Her jazz and pop integrity run deep throughout the eclectic mix of material which showcases a beautiful and unique voice.” – Russell Holmes, jazz pianist and composer

“Performing with Fiona Lawe Davies is always a joyful experience, an emotional state which has been clearly captured on her album.” – Daniel Susnjar – drummer, percussionist, composer and educator

“Sassy, sophisticated, soulful and sexy… just a few words to describe the brilliance of Fiona Lawe Davies……Her singing voice is sultry and soulful, transporting you back to a time when the only music playing on the radio was cool Jazz. I love her stripped down versions of modern music and I can’t wait to hear the new album for a once in a lifetime, magical and unique voice that touches your soul.” – Caroline Watson, Operations Manager, Robert Oatley Vineyard

More info: www.ellingtonjazz.com.au
Email: fi@fionalawedavies.com

Photo: Corey James Photography

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