23 October 2006

Moruya Festival 2007

Moruya staged its annual jazz festival over the weekend. Moruya’s a small and pleasant town on the South Coast. Like the town, the event is intimate and entertaining. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with as many musicians as audience (or perhaps more musicians), esp given the presence of the full Jazz School and several large ensembles and choirs. The ANU School of Music is the mainstay of the festival: they presented their three large ensembles and lots of smaller bands. But there are also various other regulars, several school ensembles, a surprising number of vocal groups, and a few feature acts.

The ANUSM (ANU School of Music) Big Band played on Friday night and wowed the crowd at the local Golf Club. The played a sleek, professional performance. They’ve been playing out a lot recently, and it shows. Their upcoming performance at Wangaratta should be a worthy one. The Commercial and Recording Ensembles played in the Air Raid Tavern. I saw only parts of each performance. The Tavern is a smaller venue, and the volume was pretty intense, and I thought maybe some members were a bit tired after plenty of playing, but both gave powerful and interesting performances. (In case you read my earlier post on the three ensembles, my current favourite is the Big Band :->)

Isomorphism was a drum-free trio led by Hannah James (bass) with Patrick Hutchins (tenor sax) and Matthew Lustri (guitar). They played nice versions of standards and latin tunes, and opened the festival for me with good straight ahead soloing.

Team Zissou were an interesting piano trio comprising Phill Jenkins (bass), Ben Foster (piano) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). They started with the beautiful and touching Beatles tune “She’s leaving home”, so it was an obvious winner for me. I spoke to Phill later about playing modern pop songs in jazz, and he mentioned several CDs which were influential for this band: Herbie Hancock’s “New standards”, and Brad Mehldau’s “Day is done”. Team Zissou are gentle and inventive, with solos moving smoothly between the very competent players. I liked this one.

Swinging Affair was another Jazz School band. They played standards, mostly vocals-based, but with a few instrumentals. On the day, SA comprised Alison Flett (vocals), Matt Sykes (drums), Joseph Lloyd (alto sax), and two players who sat in: Carl Morgan (guitar) and Hannah James (bass). Alison has a strong voice, and selected some great songs. I especially liked “End of the love affair”, previously performed by Billie Holliday and others and Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile. This band created and held a steady, insistent swing, and performed some great solos. Carl shows real talent, despite only being a first year student, and he’s obviously being watched by other students with admiration. He’s playing fast and interesting solo lines with odd but satisfying twists. Hannah, too, is playing great, solid bass lines, and is ever-reliable in that role. Matt and Jo were also impressive. This was enjoyable and it kept a good-sized audience for the whole hour, despite some very cool winds blustering around the Monarch Beer Garden. Nice one.

Overhead Project is Jazz School-related, being led by, and made up partly of, ex-students. OP plays a smooth style of modern jazz that I associate with the US West-Coast: smooth guitar; gentle tempos; laid-back but exploratory soloing. Michael Coggins (guitar) leads the band, with Valdis Thomann (trombone), Gareth Hill (bass) and Ben Braithwaite (drums). This was music to loll you into musings and deep thought: very satisfying and very far from post-bop. As a bass player, I’ll single out Gareth Hill. His solos were perfect for the context, and he was later to impress in a few other bands as a very able bop player (at breakneck speeds for long durations) and a tasteful electric bassist. My drummer mate loved Ben’s subtle drumming in this band, and I enjoyed both Michael’s soft and supremely tasteful solos, and Valdis’ well-structured solos showing considerable chops on this difficult instrument.

Straight Up performed brilliantly as always. I’ve written elsewhere about this trio, and I can’t help but rave. Eric Ajaye (bass) is the leader and a revered player around town, as are the ubiquitous Michael Azzopardi (piano) and Chris Thwaite (drums). No attitude here: all supportive smiles, intense activity and great performances. Michael bends over the piano, working it with his immensely fast solos, classical overtones of flailing hands, occasional synth slides and frequent outside playing. Eric matches with fluent bass support and fast and complex solos at the highest level of the art (he played acoustic double bass for this set). Chris accompanies the others with sharp and apt playing and always smiling and watching and aware of the others. These guys are masters. My piano mate wondered how the piano stands up to the beating, and my drummer mate commented on the pertinent drumming. As a bassist, I just sit in awe! Straight Up performs the festival circuit. See them if you can.

John Mackey’s quintet became a sextet when Miroslav Bukovsky was able to arrive earlier than expected. It was another eye-opener of intense, loud, sometimes frantic post-bop. John Mackey (tenor sax) was leader, with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet) in the front line, and a rhythm section comprising Michael Azzopardi (piano), Sam Young (drums), Gareth Hill (bass) and Carl Morgan (guitar). John played with speed and rabid, screaming passion, as always. But he opened my ears again with a long and more gentle closing solo passage on a ballad (don’t remember which). It was intensely beautiful, and a reminder of the more soothing side of 1960s impassioned jazz. Miro played lovely fast solos, and contributed several wonderful originals, including one modal piece that I loved. (I didn’t keep notes on the night, so can’t provide titles). I’ve written above of Garth’s hot bop playing (it was impressive, and displayed that incredible stamina needed for a bop bassist), and Carl’s great playing over the weekend (hard to believe he’s a first year student), and Michael’s always hot. Sam’s playing impressed both me and my drummer friend. He was playing his heart out with triplets and interesting forms and a great solo at the end. So, this was a powerful performance at the end of the night that left everyone elated, stunned and a bit exhausted.

I heard a lot of other bands for short periods, but not enough to provide an opinion here. Llama were a soul/modern band fronted by a sister and brother pair: Jenny Lee (vocals, trumpet) and Rob Lee (trombone). Pierre’s Dream Banned featured some old colleagues, Pierre Kammacher (saxes) and Ron Lucas (piano). Pierre is a regular on the festival scene and I’m always amused by the punny band names he uses. The Strange Weather Gospel Choir is another regular at Moruya. It’s a big mob, which had to be broken into three separate parts to perform the small Monarch Lounge, and so lost some of the power of ~50 voices when I saw them last year. Nonetheless, they are impressive. Moondance played a hard-swinging Euro-folk set, as I remember, and it went down well. Mike Hallam’s Hot Six is the patron of the Moruya Festival. It’s a very competent trad outfit comprising some members with international tours under their belts. Mother’s Ruin are mates of mine. They played an interesting set comprising several originals in the Ragtime tradition – quite a change for me, mired as I am in modern, and seldom hearing anything earlier than bop. I also caught the Radford College Band at the Saturday picnic in the park, and was impressed by its competence. I was sorry I missed the band called New Vibes Express. They are a group of middle-aged jazzers out of Sydney with long experience. My drummer mate caught a few minutes and spoke well of the drummer’s brushes technique and the vibrophonist’s dual mallets. The drummer’s broken left leg (!) meant his hi-hat work didn’t match his brushes, but high praise none-the-less. I was also sorry to miss Madeline Hawke’s Madeline 4, but I wasn’t surprised to hear good reports of her singing.

George Washingmachine, Psycho Zydeco and Al Davey’s & the monStars were feature bands. I saw a few minutes of the first two. They both impressed as entertaining and professional, as you would expect, and had great followings. I missed the monStars.

I played with two bands. I was happy with my playing on the day, so all was right with the Moruya world. Deja Who played one set of modern jazz with a nod to the more adventurous. DW were Liam Wilson (piano), Scott Young (drums), Michael Cleaver (alto sax, midi wind instrument), Alistair Clarke (trombone) and Eric Pozza (bass). The band was thrown together for the event, and only Michael knew Alistair before the day, but it worked, and was fun. I’ll remember this episode with amusement. When I introduced Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” as “something more adventurous”, a trad/mainstream audience member sounded surprised. She obviously thought our pretty standard version of Coltrane’s “Equinox” was daring enough. But she stayed to the end, and we got some interested glances from a younger audience through the windows, so “Teen spirit” was at least a moderate success. I also played twice with Sandias, another project of Oliver Hague. Sandias are a jazz/latin outfit with Oliver Hague (saxes), Margaret Hancocks (flute), Liam Wilson (piano), Mike Smith (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). We played well, and better than our Wagga outing, and did some interesting experimental rhythmic variations on Chameleon. It was fun. And congratulations to Oliver Hague for his excellent original tune “Mujer Holgada” which I’m always proud to play.

So, Moruya was a relaxed outing in a pleasant little town with lots of good music especially out of the Jazz School. Recommended.

Moruya Jazz Fest website

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