22 January 2013

Two women, two violins, two singers

Two women; two violins; two singers; a largish band formed by a very long-timer who I’d hardly heard before; a sunny afternoon concert in the park. It’s not the recipe for an avant-guard, but it can be entertaining. I tend to come at these event with some trepidation, but it’s what most people know as jazz. And given the company and the easy afternoon and the touch of modern music and the well-played standards, I got won over. This was Bob Sedergreen’s Stonnington Jazz Showband and they featured two female singer/violinists, Fem Belling and Heather Stewart.

They played two sets, each with a few numbers from the band and a few from each of the singers. Their theme tune was a short take on Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4, and from these first exciting lines my ears perked up. Then Miles’ Nardis. Nardis was a bit lumpy and heavy, but this is a band that gets together, without rehearsal, three times a year for these gigs. So said Bob. The band’s later tunes included Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly and it was lovely: uncommonly heard and delicate and relaxed. Bob introduced his saxist as leader of the Army band at some stage. That’s a very good reference. I liked his playing: tonal and slightly austere and harmonically precise; just the right riffs played just right. Very nice. The guitar also struck me as neat and sometimes touching on abandon, and trom was bell-like and well intoned and clear in solistic intention. Same for Mal, I guess Bob’s brother, who initially sounded clarinet-like but laid out some nicely sinuous soprano later. Perhaps it was on Sonny Rollins’ Oleo. Again, well known but also loved by the modern set. Bob himself divulged into dissonance at times, but he seemed mostly concerned with arranging the band in real time, eyes always looking around, never on the keys. Bass was e-bass so loud and proud with plenty of straight-forward, high pitched melodic solos and then third woman on stage, Sonja, drummer, was strong and steady and a ready soloist. I liked her insistent and apt playing.

They were hardly performing for the cognoscenti, so the singers presently easily popular tunes, but they remained authentic and attractive for anyone who likes swing. Heather opened with What a little moonlight can do and a lovely cut-time oldie, After you’ve gone, with clarinet and trad-ethos. Fem’s first set was Ellington’s signature Take the A Train and Dizzy’s Night in Tunisia which was later stylistically and more excitable aurally. The second set was Fem with a very challenging calypso vocalisation and then Ellington’s easily swinging Do nothing till you hear from me. Then Heather with No moon at all and Them there eyes. Then a finale with two violins on Zawinul’s slow funk standard, Mercy mercy mercy, and an old throwaway blues, Swinging shepherd blues. How interesting was this, to see these two together. Both are wonderful singers, both are classically trained, but how different are they! Heather is a lower and fuller voice (alto, I guess) presenting melodies with simplicity and a gloriously apt ‘20’s/’30’s tone and interpretation. Fem is higher pitched soprano, more busy and embellished and improvisatory adventurous. So different, but both so good. Even their violins were different: Fem’s is a 5-string Yamaha electric (low C); Heather’s is standard 4-string acoustic.

So, a warm day in the sun, a big free concert for the locals, a decent repertoire that was mildly educative and touching on adventure. You couldn’t ask for more in such a circumstance. Nice one. The performers were Fem Belling (vocals, violin), Heather Stewart (vocals, violin) with the Stonnington Jazz Showband comprising Bob Sedergreen (keyboard), Dave Palmer (trombone, vocals), Mal Sedergreen (alto, soprano), David Gardner (tenor sax, clarinet), Myles White (guitar), Jon Chidgey (electric bass) and Sonja Horbelt (drums).

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