John McBeath’s five 2010 highlights

We’re asking people to tell us their top five musical experiences for 2010. John McBeath responded enthusiastically with the following list.

  1. This was the year the Melbourne International Jazz Festival surpassed the Wangaratta event as the foremost Australian jazz festival and there were many memorable moments. An absolute standout was US saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet Sangam in a finale performance with Indian tabla master Zukir Hassain climaxing in a frenetic series of exchanges between tablas and a western drumkit superbly manned by Eric Harland. It was Indo-European rhythmic fusion taken to a virtuosic level.
    Mike Nock – photo by Marc Bongers
  2. I was fortunate to score a trip to Japan (my first) to review the 2010 Tokyo Jazz Festival and was pleasantly surprised by Tokyo, a city of 13 million where politeness and a gleaming spotlessness seem mandatory; even the banks of fire hydrant outlets in the streets are polished, and proverbially, you could eat your sushi off the floors of all public transport. The festival’s auditorium seats 5,000 and an army of operators provided the best audio-visual production I’ve ever seen.
  3. Wangaratta’s 21st anniversary program looked a little light-on for fresh overseas drawcards this year, but despite heavy rain the festival had some great moments. Grand Old Master of Australasian jazz Mike Nock, part of the festival since its beginnings, opened festivities with his new quintet and his always descriptive compositions, notably one entitled ‘Choices’ which made liberal use of elements from what used to be called ‘free jazz’.
  4. Have to include two more of many fine impressions from Wangaratta 2010: Stu Hunter’s epic masterpiece The Gathering had the Performing Arts Centre capacity audience spellbound for an hour. The stellar Australian group featured world-class soloists, especially bassist Jonathon Zwartz and drummer Simon Barker, but a blow-away solo, possibly the best I heard at the entire festival, came from James Greening’s rocket-propelled trombone. The star attraction and finale concert was by US vocalist Kurt Elling whose vocalese, phrasing, musical artistry and sheer professionalism – not to mention great backing players – rejuvenated a slightly festivalled-out crowd.
  5. Perhaps the best gig this year in my home-base town of Adelaide – yes, there is a widespread jazz scene here with cliches about ‘the city of churches’ about as relevant as a rotary dial telephone – took place at a smart little venue, The Promethean, universally known as The Prom. It featured Jamie Oehlers and George Garzone, two tenor saxophonists who drove each other to rarified heights. At times during their set we could have been listening to John Coltrane paired with Branford Marsalis.

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John McBeath began as jazz critic for The Australian and Adelaide Advertiser newspapers in 2003 and has won national awards for travel writing and jazz criticism. He has also been published in The Herald Sun, The Republican, The Adelaide Review and The Bulletin. As a teenager he studied piano, clarinet, alto sax and music theory which introduced him to jazz, providing a lifelong mainstay. He worked in commercial radio in NSW for five years, announcing, programming and copywriting. After four years of dropping out in India he returned to Australia in 1989 and spent eight years in community radio, managing community stations in Cairns and Alice Springs and writing on music for local newspapers. He strongly supports jazz and improvised contemporary music, especially the Australian variety.