Festival review by Garry Lee: Perth International Jazz Festival 2014

reviewed by Garry Lee

Jazz and Perth are at first glance an anomaly. Perth, the most isolated city on the planet, is also significantly the most distant from New York City. Add to this the fact that Perth, population 1.6mil, is the capital of Western Australia, pop 2.4 million, and is best known for mining… anything! At 10% of Australia’s population, the state is resident to numerous mining magnates and yet despite this (certainly not because of this) jazz has thrived in Perth, gradually increasing in prominence over the last three decades from when tertiary jazz education commenced at WA Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in 1984.

With Artistic Director Graham Wood and an artistic sub-committee of WAAPA graduates now working there as lecturers and tutors, jazz in Perth is far more closely aligned to its jazz education institution than any other Australian city.

This second Perth International Jazz Festival (PIJF) commencing Friday 9th and concluding Sunday 11th May seemed to be an unqualified success. If key indicators included engaging the populace, developing on last year’s inaugural festival, presenting a variety of styles and venues, presenting music more challenging and innovative than may be heard in Perth on a weekly basis, then all boxes could be ticked.

It is perhaps a further indicator to add that it was impossible to hear every band as there were clashes on every day with 14 venues utilised. For me the most frustrating aspect of programming was that I was unable to hear enough of US alto saxophonist Greg Osby. The 30 minutes part I did hear was outstanding – made even more so by the playing of Perth-born pianist Tal Cohen – a special addition to a special edition.

Kate Ceberano with microphone and Jamie Oehlers with saxophone. photo byTaran Dunn
Kate Ceberano and Jamie Oehlers | photo by Taran Dunn

Described as ‘the jewel in the crown of the 2014 Perth International Jazz Festival’, the Friday concert at the Perth Concert Hall featured Kate Ceberano and PIJF All-Stars under musical direction of Mace Francis (all WAAPA graduates). Perth Concert Hall with a capacity of 1700 is an excellent live music venue and the concert was almost a sell-out. Kate Ceberano is best known as a pop singer and there is no doubt she has a large and loyal following. The two middle-aged women sitting next to me would have been enthralled with Kate singing the telephone directory. They knew nothing about jazz but would attend any Ceberano concert. She is a gifted entertainer whose career started as a jazz singer performing in the foyer of Perth Concert Hall 30 years ago when that space was used as the Festival Club for the Festival of Perth.

Revisiting her jazz roots with a judicious choice of Ellington standards plus the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley collaboration ‘Save Your Love For Me’ there was ample solo space for trumpeters Mat Jodrell, Ricki Malet, trombonist Jordan Murray and saxophonists Jamie Oehlers, James Sandon, Carl Mackey and Troy Roberts.

To really demonstrate her jazz cred, Ceberano performed a vocalese version of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Pent Up House’ featured on her vinyl of nearly three decades ago Like Now. Provocatively lounging on a chaise longue Kate, resplendent in her Aurelio Costanella creation, performed an exquisite duo with pianist Graham Wood on Leon Russell’s ‘A Song For You’. ‘Easy Living’, a la Billie Holiday, provided the encore for a very well-conceived main concert.

Peter Bernstein smiling with guitar. Photo by Tarn Dunn
Peter Bernstein at PIJF | image by Taran Dunn

New York guitarist Peter Bernstein at The Ellington, described by ABC’s Doug Spencer as ‘the finest jazz club in Australia’, was a standout concert. Well accompanied by Tom O’Halloran (piano), Karl Florrison (bass) and Danny Susnjar (drums), Bernstein has this warm toned, lyrical, blues infected style that combines diverse influences including Jim Hall, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. His composition ‘Little Green Men’ based on Green’s ‘Outer Space’ was a highlight.

This second PIJF has added new venues with Universal Bar presenting a young Chris Travaglini-led funk band to a capacity audience on the Saturday afternoon and Northbridge Piazza hosting a ‘History of Jazz’ on the Sunday afternoon featuring Mace Francis Orchestra with Roger Garrood and Garry Lee. This space houses a big screen (think Melbourne’s Federation Square) and the 300 plus audience can lounge on the grass or on supplied bean bags.

On the Sunday from 4 to 9 pm at Brookfield Place an array of Perth talent was on display although some like Mat Jodrell, Troy Roberts and Tal Cohen are living in the US these days. At the same time The Ellington presented vocalist Kristin Berardi with a quartet including Sam Keevers and Jamie Oehlers. This set provided possibly the quote of the festival: electric bassist Rodrigo Araveno managed to drop ‘Smoke on the Water’ into his solo probably because he is now based in Switzerland (where the original was recorded). The amazing Rai Thistlethwaite and Ben Vanderwal followed and clearly possess an eclectic following – the venue was packed to capacity.

Definitely congratulations are in order for Graham Wood, his committee, City of Perth and sponsors. There is scope to further develop the festival in future years, using the Northbridge Piazza, the Mustang Bar and the soon-to-be completed brewery next to the Piazza. These additions would attract new demographics without impacting upon the existing audiences.


Perth International Jazz Festival website

Read another review of the festival – by Vanessa Perica