21 September 2008

Floriade (Too much on, 1)

There’s been so much jazz on recently it’s impossible to hear everything. If you have broader interests (film, theatre, poetry, politics), it’s literally impossible. Yesterday I managed a visit to my luthier, then catch James Morrison at Floriade, and AFATM at Folkus, and missed John Mackey’s Saxessions at the Street Theatre due to a family booking. It’s been like that all this week and looks like continuing for some time. Blame it on Spring and our prolific Jazz School, but also on our intelligent and surprisingly prolific little city, Canberra.

James Morrison was playing for Floriade, and it was a magnificent, sunny day. Floriade is a mass of colour in people and flowers, and it’s featuring plenty of jazz through the weeks. Today was James Morrison and band with Emma Pask at Stage88. I hadn’t heard JM for decades, so I was interested. When I arrived I found a huge PA and a fabulous band comprising some of the best musos in Australia. This is not challenging music, so they seemed a bit underutilised. But it’s always good to hear this quality, even if they’re playing Bye bye blackbird or Route 66 or (I shudder) Tea for two. They even took requests at one stage. At least I liked Shadow of your smile: it really is very beautiful. Blaine Whittaker is a favourite of mine, and he played some lovely bop-influenced solos on Cherokee and elsewhere. James Muller never looks interested (even in artful contexts like Mothership Orchestra) but he was continually throwing in little blissbomb fills, as is his way. He never seems to take long solos, but you just melt when you hear his lines: lithe, smooth, inevitable, chromatic, dissonant, he’s truly international. Phil Stack is a great player, and did a wonderful job on everything, although rather tamer than the session with Zac Hurren recently at Hippo. Emma Pask sang strongly, was a pleasant character, and did some very good Ella-style scat. James Morrison was excellent of course as the multi-instrumentalist (trumpet, trombone, piano on the day) with Dizzy-ingly fast (and authentic) bop lines and high notes. John, his brother, played drums. Emma and James had a droll patter going for the masses, and it gets them good work. Overall, it was pretty soft, but wonderfully played. Just the thing for people who don’t really follow jazz. They certainly went down well on the day. So, madly professional and capable, but tame.

James Morrison wasn’t the only music in the park. On the way in, I heard Dan and Debbie playing a sugu from Mali on various African drums. Sounded great, as African drum patterns do. They were obviously enjoying their performance. Presumably, the sugu is a pretty complex rhythm to maintain, because they beamed when they finished it. I also caught that lovely Australia Fair Street Organ that appears in Canberra each year for Floriade. It’s an antique bellow-driven organ with tunes controlled by complex paper rolls very much like big pianola rolls. It’s uber-cute, and it has a fabulous repertoire of show tunes stacked away in shelves. Catch it if you can, or perhaps buy the CD! You can only fall in love with this puffy blast from the past.

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