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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Sassafras
Jazz, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Celebrating in style

Review: WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival ·
Various venues, 5-7 July ·
Review by Rosalind Appleby ·

The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra is turning 35 this year and last week they threw an enormous party to celebrate. Over three nights, Australia’s leading youth jazz orchestra turned Perth’s vintage King Street into a bustling festival with 38 jazz acts in four iconic locations. The King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival was an impressive showcase of the breadth of the local talent, many of whom trace their roots back to student days in the WAYJO ensembles.

On Thursday night the festival vibe was in full swing, audience members of all ages spilling from unlikely venues into the bracing winter night for refreshments from one of the many nearby bars before moving to the next show.

Upstairs at Kailis Jewellery, Sassafras kicked off the festival with toe-tapping gypsy jazz. The trio of Lachlan Gear and Aaron Deacon on acoustic guitars, led by the irrepressible Pete Jeavons on string bass, took us back to 1930’s Paris via Django Reinhardt’s fast strummed Feerie, with its picked melody line singing the blues almost rockabilly style. The set continued with standards like Miller’s Bernie’s Tune and Ellington’s Caravan incorporating influences from flamenco to bossa nova along the way. Despite their small acoustic make up, the three-piece provided a driving rhythm section, intricate solo work and sweetly lyrical melodies. It was a great pairing of venue and ensemble; the stylish upstairs room was crowded with an enthusiastic audience and no one wanted it to end.

The lure of Varnish’s boutique bar and hearty food took us back out into the street, and we were refuelled and ready for the big band swagger that hit us Downstairs at the Maj. The Monday Night Orchestra was one of WAYJO’s three big bands featured during the festival and as we arrived the horns were in full swing for Count Basie’s The Queen Bee. The young musicians are the cream of local jazz talent and sat tight under director Ricki Malet. The diverse set list included a sizzling Sunny Side of the Street, led by vocalist Annie Mitchell, and a fabulous rendition of Spring Can Really Hang You Up, featuring trombone soloist Holli Hatherley. WAYJO has intentionally made steps towards gender equity and it was great to see the band populated with female low brass players. To top it off the bracket ended with a piece by Australian composer Jenna Cave whose funk-influenced Jazz Euphoria on Frenchman Street tipped the scales slightly more towards gender parity in the diversity-challenged jazz world.

Alto saxophonist and composer Alana Macpherson is a product of WAYJO and studied composition with its artistic director Mace Francis. Her promise of original compositions performed by string quartet and vocalist Priscilla Gardiner attracted a large audience for the final session Downstairs at the Maj. Macpherson led from saxophone, backed by the close harmonies of the quartet and sweetened by Gardiner’s vocals. There were some haunting solos, with Gardiner’s musky vocals blending with the throaty alto sax to haunting effect. It was an impressive display of a young artist flexing her creative muscle at an already elite level.

Kudos to the very small team at WAYJO for this huge logistical achievement and fingers crossed this will be the first of many King Street jazz festivals.

This review was first published on Noted and appears on Seesaw with kind permission from Rosalind Appleby.

Pictured top is Sassafras. Photo: Rosalind Appleby.

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