John Clare reviews Jazzgroove Summer Fiesta

JazzgrooveSummerFiesta2015Sydney’s Jazzgroove association fifth Summer Fiesta was spread over three venues in Ultimo: Foundry616, Lord Wolseley (I was judged too declassé to admit here) and APRA (I can’t understand it, but I failed the audition, or am I thinking of NIDA?) from Jan 16 to 18. In fact the cross section of bands that was most useful for review purposes was indeed at Foundry, where they’ll admit even the hoi polloi.

This year’s artistic directors were Ben Panucci and Thomas Botting, who worked with the smallest budget ever to give us a concentrated view of Jazzgroove excellence.

The first band I heard was Good Evans. Though the wit was a bit subtle for me, the band itself was indeed subtle and strong. The rhythms were either contemporary swing feels or funk with some of the accents we will all have heard on Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder. The young tenor saxophonist Evan Harris was remarkably developed in terms of concept and control of same. His sound was beautiful – and beautifully in tune – on slower melodies. Not unlike that of Bill Perkins if you can remember that far back – and on faster vehicles he developed power and momentum through volume increases in which the tone remained handsome and solid, and through intent accumulations of elegantly stepping patterns with a deliberate controlled crowding at times to push the listener along.

Now guitarist and singer Oli Thorpe is, yes, the man who stripped to underdungers during the jam at Wangaratta. Hmm. Clearly we have here an extrovert with an introvert struggling to get out (that is my diagnosis – no charge). His guitar playing had in fact a pleasing atmospheric moderate echo effect and his ideas were intriguing and replete with forceful electric clashes. The rhythm team  of bassist James Heazlewood-Dale (whom I’ve heard a bit lately) Dale, and drummer Oli Nelson was first rate. This is a band that is not trying to be startlingly different but has a very definite concept and feeling for all that. They are also very consistent, strong and solid.

As I have some peculiar ailment that takes hold unexpectedly I went home at this point.

Next night I caught the end (surprise early start, sorry) of Arrow who were if anything even harder driving than Good Evans, with electric rocky and funk components derived however distantly from Miles (for a start). Paul Derricott was the explosive drummer, the always formidable Ben Hauptmann the guitarist, Tom Botting the intense bassist and a very fiery Eamon Dilworth the trumpeter. Well you would be fiery with that scrum packed down around you. Apologies to Victorian readers. It is true that both rugby codes are stupid. But then so are those high- stepping ponces of line umpires in Rules. They are all stupid, stupid, stupid and I have enjoyed playing all including Socrates. Eh?

Perhaps the absolute highlight for me was the Gian Slater Trio with trumpeter Phil Slater and pianist Matt McMahon.  Vocalist G. Slater was an interstate guest and a brilliantly chosen one.

At times P. Slater played so quietly that Gian’s was the leading edge in extremely soft unisons. All three joined at just above whisper level in series of intricate and intimate rhythmic patterns that held the audience at an even quieter level – silence in fact. A few mezzo forte notes from Phil were a startling contrast in the circumstances. Throughout, Gian’s musicality shone in successful expositions of a contemporary version of scat singing. This was, dynamically, a chamber music recital and there was nothing precious about the intense interactions and the deep listening they inspired.

A release was provided if anyone needed it by the infectious Ethiopian rampage from Mister Ott. Ignon, if you are wondering. Here I will mention the highly pleasing Spanish sound of Ellen Kirkwood’s trumpet, if for no other reason than its contrast with Phil Slater’s sound.

The final night brought us the trance-like progress toward the limits of inner space by bassist Mike Majkowski, European pianist Cor Fulher, drummer James Waples and on this occasion electric keyboard manipulations of Chris Abrahams. Also the Ben Hauptmann Trio with Gian Slater. James Hauptmann, drums and Phil Stack on double bass. This was a far more energised and sonically packed space than Gian’s previous setting. She more than held her own. Originals and two standards were presented. First of these was ‘Willow Weep For Me’, The tune I loved more than any other to play on the trumpet. Slater seemed to share my enjoyment at the opening octave drop – the reverse of ‘Over The Rainbow’.

Then there was ‘My Secret Love’. This song has been given the treatment that ensued many times, but strangely enough it worked once more. That is to say the opening delicate waltzing and swinging exposition suddenly gave way to a burst of swing speed that hit terminal velocity. Ben Hauptmann’s solo was the kind of exhilarating exhibition that made even young jazz players point at him and shake their heads in incredulity. This sort of thing can be justified/explained/ apologised for afterward as some fun. It can also seem quite profound, as if the whole universe was rushing past you.


Jazzgroove Association on the web