29 September 2010

My JU2010 / 1

There were 22 bands appearing this year at Jazz Uncovered over 3 stages, and an additional two school bands that performed on the Blackboard stage. There were 8 visitors from the Sydney scene, and additionally at least one recent ex-student who’s now in Sydney. What was most impressive this year was the variety of styles: capable playing in all manner of styles. The variety hints at a vibrant and exploratory scene here, mainly centred on the ANU Jazz school but also in the broader jazz community. So how did I find it? Here are just some minor, immediate and little-considered jottings.

The two first sets on the Main stage were broadcast live to ArtSound. Andy Campbell’s band, Jubb, was first on, playing Andy’s originals: loping, thoughtful, relaxed music with titles that speak of Andy’s life in Canberra.

Then Rachael Thoms and Luke Sweeting for a deliciously different set. Rachael is trained as a classical singer (lyric soprano) so brings a vision to songs that sits beautifully with Luke’s tasteful playing. This was a lovely and effecting set.

Meanwhile, Jono Lake’s Lakeside Circus was performing next door. This is richly orchestrated circus music, simple grooves, testing hits and melodies, dissonant front line harmonies. It’s a challenging melange of sound built on the most playful of entertaining grooves. I love this stuff; totally infectious and intellectually satisfying. A bit rough around the edges, but I can’t imagine it any other way.

By this time Matt Lustri’s In all languages has started up downstairs. There was a little mutual interference between a social lunch of a large gathering of Vicentini and this band playing very challenging, very unlunchlike music. Unlunchlike? One tune was a dedication to Charles Ives. Got the picture? But it all worked out in the end, with some very unexpected Italian stage patter from Alex Raupach and a gift of crostoli (a Venetian biscuit delicacy) from some very decent Vicentini at the end of the set.

More or Leske performed on the Main stage. Claire Leske leads a group composed of siblings and others playing originals and others in the cool to hard-bop tradition. Interesting here was the appearance of marimba, a big, timber mallet-percussion instrument with a thuddy wooden tone.

Then Olivia Henderson with her Olivia Trio. This was a particular favourite with the punters and with me. Olivia was supported by Hannah James and Evan Dorrian. I hadn’t known that Evan was back from London so this was a surprise. Ed Rodrigues was to play this set, but had to pull out following recent bike-riding injury. Not surprising were the solid interpretations, good feels, and selection of interesting original tunes and non-originals from Wayne Shorter and the like. A wonderfully expressed set with free flowing harmonies and well felt solos.

In the meantime, Reuben Lewis was playing downstairs with his Quintet cut back to a quartet. I just caught Reuben, but I like his compositions and his band and I noticed his soloing on the day was better than ever, fluent and lyrical and clearly formed.

bellicose was a touch of free. I was unsure if there was any structure. This was the glory of tone: the bell-like authentic Rhodes piano of leader Austin Bucket, with simple ringing percussive bells and airy and unforced sax. The euphony was lovely. The demands of such immediate and unregulated sound were not for the fainthearted but with closed eyes it takes on a perfection and inevitability that takes you beyond time.

My JU2010 / 2

The ANU Recording Ensemble is a favourite of mine and I was excited that they could perform. It’s not always easy to get such a large ensemble together. They had to squeeze on the Lowe/Milman stage (so named because drummer Aidan Lowe and bassist Simon Milman played virtually every set on this stage). I missed most of this set, but what snippets I heard seemed more minimalist and expressionist than I had heard from them before.

Utopia Collective was to feature excellent Sydney bassist, Jonathon Zwartz, but a software glitch at Virgin Blue ticketing detained him. Eric Ajaye sat in and did an excellent job, of course. I was to observe later just how different were the styles of these two wonderful bassists. Possibly because of the changed bass seat, Utopia played a more standards-based set than usual, although with its funky fusion soul always on show. This is steaming, ecstatic, extroverted music played by a supremely competent set of players: long solos, screaming guitars, speed and unapologetic excitement. Great playing and great fun.

Mates and JU committee members featured in Kooky Fandango. Cam Smith and Courtney Stark were on the committee for JU2009, and Cam was on again this year. This is a collection of mates (Sarah Nielsen sitting in for this performance) playing gentle funky tunes with a touch of blues, and interestingly without a chordal instrument other than Peter Barta’s 6-string bass. An unusual and gently funky approach.

It’s inevitable that you can’t catch everything when there are multiple stages. I caught just a few bars of Alex Raupach’s band, enough for a pic, but I remember them from an ArtSound broadcast. The outfit is a vehicle for Alex’s lyrical originals, where brass is wonderfully matched to Rachael Thoms’ lyric soprano voice.

In the meantime, a few school bands appeared on the Blackboard stage. Here are a few pics.

It’s getting later in the day by now, and we are starting to see some of the visitors. Firstly, the Hauptmann Trio. Zoe, Ben and James Hauptmann are well known in Sydney and equally known here in Canberra as local products. They are very well respected in various fields, but often seem to exude a feel of rock or blues or country that has obviously informed their playing. It’s an attractive and infectious sound. Here, in the family trio, Ben seemed to lead with his guitar defining so much of the melody and feel and providing the patter on stage. But the grooves were strong and steady (there’s an authority in the grooves from both Zoe and James) and Ben’s playing was looped and effected and his solos were rock hard and overdrive-screaming. I have enough rock background to love such indulgence! And the choice of Moon River for one of their reworkings was memorable. It’s such a lovely, sentimental tune.

As Famous as the Moon appeared without drums for this incarnation, playing as a trio of tenor, guitar and bass guitar. AFATM is perhaps the premier smooth jazz outfit around Canberra. I’ve played a few gigs with them and enjoyed them immensely. This outfit is so mature and easy going and liquid and well versed. This is one for the cocktail hours: smooth but in no way lacking in purpose or beauty or seriousness.

My JU2010 / 3

On the other hand, John Mackey’s anything but smooth. John’s a virtuoso player with heart on his sleeve exuding passion. This time he was teamed with Mark Sutton (on the Sutton stage; named for the same reason as the Lowe/Milman stage) and the stunning bassist Jonathon Zwartz. John M was clearly not even sure what they would play: they ended up to be standards but these are performances of individual brilliance and group cohesion. Have you met Miss Jones, a blues, In a sentimental mood and one other: all fabulous and energetic and harmonically rich. John would take lines that just soared through and around the harmonies. Jonathon would hold the harmonies then solo fast and furious, or steady and lyrical, throwing in extended bass chords on the way. A lesson in jazz double bass. Mark’s no slouch either.

I just caught the last few bars of Matilda Abraham’s Quintet, but wish I’d been able to hear more. Carl Morgan was in full flight with a fast and expressive but guitar-clean solo, and Matilda finished up with cool and calm voice. What I heard sounded good, well attended, and on the best stage in the place, the relaxed and very jazz-apt bar. But it’s a long day, and I was flagging a bit.

Next was Luke Sweeting with a sextet on the Main stage. This was three horns up front (trumpet, alto and tenor) playing Luke’s compositions. Good and interesting and room for solos. I especially noted alto sax player Matt Handel. It’s a name I’d heard but I didn’t know him. His solos were a dream: well formed, nicely punctuated between outpourings and lyrical introversion. I caught a pic of his two offsiders in the front line watching his solo: evidence of respect. I must catch more of Matt. But the band overall was swinging nicely with Hannah James and Evan Dorrian in the rhythm section and some very capable front line melodies.

Tangent was a return to experimental. James LeFevre led on tenor and curved soprano sax, with drums and guitar, playing Ornette Coleman and the like. There was no bass, but Matt Lustri played quite a bit of single note bass-like lines on guitar. Again not the easy listen but demanding of a readiness to close eyes and open ears.

Matt Thompson returned with another bass-less outfit, but again there was a bass line from his organ playing. The lack of an acoustic or electric bass player is not unusual in organ outfits, of course. This displayed Matt’s typical uber-cool, distilled approach. Banish the unnecessary, maximise the value of every note. He was accompanied by drums and a front line of trombone, tenor and alto saxes. Ever cool and understated.

Fingerprints was Eric Ajaye’s trio for the day, featuring Matt McMahon and Mark Sutton. Along with Jonathon Zwartz, this was an education in bass. At this level, it’s not a matter of good or bad, but of style and approach. Eric’s approach was clear and softly spoken, with liberal vibrato or slide. Jonathon’s was soft in tonality, but explosive and expansive over the fingerboard and with some quite unique chordal playing. Fingerprints was a space for expansive solos, but perhaps more in a self-contained way than John’s trio, and also on tunes that were of more modern harmony. I particularly liked their rendition of Crystal silence, with Eric’s crystalline, diatonic solo and Matt’s expansive playing that touched on and toyed with dissonance.

Then to the end. This was a day of variety, and Zoe’s Buttercups finished it off with due deference and immense and appropriate joy. The Buttercups are popular and simple and involving beats meets jazz sensibility: crossover cum world cum fusion that entertains but also nourishes the intelligence. Sweet grooves from Zoe and brother James, searing guitars from the award-winners Ben Hauptmann and Aaron Flower, tinkling banjo from Ben, jaunty harmonies from the two horns and some really capable soloing that reminded you that this was not just everyday rockabilly but a cut above. I had wondered if this would work, but after a long day of intensity, this was the perfect joyful, jovial ending. Zoe and the boys, it was a great outing and much, much enjoyed.

So that was my JU2010. That is, apart from the preparation and committee meetings and the eventual clearing up and thoughts of a possible followup in 2011. What a day! What an intellectual and emotional treat! But how sad that more punters didn’t share it with us.

More scenes from JU2010

Scenes from JU2010