Vince Jones: The Monash Sessions (Jazzhead)
Vince Jones with students from Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University
Review by John Shand
Australia has produced hardly any jazz singers of real substance. No great surprise there: nor has the rest of the world! One of the few, Kerrie Biddell, died recently. Thank the stars we still have Vince Jones. Jones is the real thing. He doesn’t clutter the music with idle melismata; he doesn’t torture syllables into losing their meaning; he doesn’t think scatting is a form of showing off. He has ears to hear harmonies that evade others, and can pitch the notes he hears. Hell, he even has an in-built rhythmic impetus that neither starts nor resolves on down-beats, and is not dependent on accompaniment for a free ride.
But in a way all those attributes are peripheral. The essence of why Jones’s art is significant is simply that he can tap into the essence of Jones the man. Nothing he sings is just skimming the surface of the music. He is digging in; making himself vulnerable; reaching out to engage with both his collaborators and his audience. The quality that most artists miss is the vulnerability. Unless you are brave enough to expose something of your core you will never touch the core of another.
But then Jones has never lacked courage. I’ve witnessed the heckling that his gentle ‘tween-song spiels against greed and destruction have drawn, especially once egocentricity became an epidemic in the late 1990s. And that was before the selfie!
So what a brilliant idea it was to invite Jones to join the list of distinguished guest artists to record with students at Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. What insights for those with the wit and empathy to understand that what was on the table was not a master-class in music or singing or anything so mundane. No this was much more important: a master-class in artistry, which is to say a lesson in life.
After so many, many years of only hearing Jones accompanied by his long-term musical director and song-writing collaborator Matt McMahon it requires a little adjustment to hear that voice surrounded by other people, instruments, ideas and voicings. This is especially the case on songs such as ‘This Is The Woman’, ‘Between Your Eyes’, ‘Union Man’ and ‘Wonderworld’ co-written with McMahon. But Jones takes it all in his stride, and sounds like he is enjoying himself – as he should, because the calibre of playing is exemplary from the large pool of players that swaps around between tracks. On five songs he has the pleasure of reuniting with the brilliant pianist Sam Keevers (the project’s overall MD), and on ‘Blue’ they are joined by and the powerful tenor saxophone of Monash staff member Rob Bourke.
The album was recorded live at Bennetts Lane a year ago, and the quality is excellent. My only reservation is about the addition of the Monash University Vocal Ensemble on three songs. Although it is an imaginative touch, it reduces the music’s suppleness, perhaps working best on ‘Union Man’ (which also contains an attractive solo from guitarist Jonathan Skourletos). But I guess you have to try these things.
Vocals – Vince Jones
Bass – Joshua Manusama, Jordan Tarento, Oscar Neyland
Drums – Keiran Rafferty, Rohan Moore, Chris Cameron
Piano – Sam Keevers, Joel Trigg, Daniel Mougerman
Guitar – Tom Biffin, Jonathan Skourletos, Tom Mansfield
Tenor saxophone – Robert Bourke, Paul Cornelius, Steven Blyth
Alto saxophone – Liam Werrett, Joe McEvily, Josh Kelly
Trumpet – Niran Dasika, Brae Grimes
Monash University Vocal Ensemble directed by Jacqueline Gawler
Listen and purchase
Vince Jones on Jazzhead www.jazzhead.com/vincejones
Vince Jones website www.vincejones.com.au
Jazz and populur studies at the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music artsonline.monash.edu/music-performance-studies/jazz-popular-studies