Posts Tagged ‘Elana Stone’

One of the true delights of any music festival is that, for a few days – or even just a few precious hours – you are in a strange and beautiful new world, away from the tangle and hum of city life. The 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival reigned over Sydney’s Redfern-Surry Hills Delta for four days in January, staking out the territory in the name of modern composition, improvised music and the jazz life.

And what a strange and beautiful world they conjured for us among the bricks and grime, the litter and the 7-11 Stores.

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I was fortunate to start at the very beginning, with Tom O’Halloran’s solo piano opener on Thursday at Surry Hills’ Tom Mann Theatre. A smart choice to open the Festival, O’Halloran’s sure touch made the piano sigh and glitter. His closer, a sparkling ‘No More Blues’ served as a teasing appetiser for a weekend of stellar music.

jazzgroove mothership orc

And stellar was the word (a TV sports cliché yes, but too apt to not use here) for Jonathan Zwartz’s band, up next. A Dream Team of players – Slater, Maegraith, Greening, Julien Wilson blowing (his and) our minds, Dewhurst, Matt McMahon, Hamish Stuart and percussionista Fabian Hevia holding it down with the calm river that is Zwartz himself. And from that calm river flowed strong and sure compositions, with melodic lines that were often country-simple but Gospel-true. From the opener ‘Shimmer’ through to ‘Henry’s High Life’, it was transfixing soul-blues that had the soloists reaching within – Phil Slater and Richard Maegraith especially going deep on the latter tune – leaving the audience at Tom Mann visibly affected. Like all true wisdom there was very little flash, but a universe of quiet fire.

The opening night was climaxed by the mighty Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, paying tribute to genius jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer (who sadly passed from this earthly plane last year). Even though the Orchestra bristles with astounding soloists, it was the Festival’s International Guest Artist (I suppose Aotearoa counts as international) tenor magus Roger Manins that was featured on all charts. The Orchestra is truly a national treasure and for this, their 10th anniversary gig, they played better than I have ever heard them – snapping and roiling on the fiery pieces and painting colour washed mists on the quieter pieces such as the lovely ‘Fireflies’. Manins stood toe-to-toe with the band on the blasting finale, ‘See Saw’, his tenor sassing back and cajoling the Mothership. Big kudos to drummer Jamie Cameron who rode the roaring beast on all pieces with great style and verve.

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Friday was Fusion Day for me as I took in the electro-jazz of the Alcohotlicks at 505 and later, the flamenco-jazz of Steve Hunter’s Translators down the road at the Gaelic. It had been Sydney’s hottest day ever (!) on record and the evening was still dripping from the day.alcohotlicks

At 505, The Alcohotlicks’ Evan Mannell admitted to ‘shitting himself’ at the prospect of working without a drum kit. He then won us all over with a beautiful funky groove, cut-up on his sample box from Jimi Hendrix’s throaty ‘Who Knows’ riff. Joined by Ben Hauptmann on MIDI guitar and laptop, and Aaron Flower (the hoary traditionalist of the group who merely plays a guitar through an amp) the trio – winners of the inaugural Jazzgroove Association Recording Artist Award  – astounded with tracks from their album Danaïdes. ‘Neon’ was neo-NEU! motorik funk; ‘Baader’ was Goldfrapp/Moroder replicant-porn boogie. Did I sense a few members of the 505 audience shifting in their seats during the Alcohotlicks set? Artists such as these are the ones who move any music forward and all kudos to them for working at the edge of the Jazz comfort zone. A little seat shifting is always a good sign.

steve hunter, the translatorsDown the steaming street to the Gaelic. By now slightly drunk on the merlot and the humidity, I was taken away completely by The Translators. Too loud for the room – not a bad thing at all – electric bass toreador Steve Hunter and the quartet blazed through a set of flamenco-flecked originals that had Míro dancing with Manitas de Plata, Chick Corea dancing with de Falla in my swirling head. At times Ben Hauptmann’s electric mandolin solos sounded like a 70’s micro-Moog, the otherworldly tone beautifully offset by Damien Wright’s flamenco gut-string. ‘Turquoise’ was blue in green in orange. ‘The Last Trannie’ was Madrid via Soweto. Always a fiery and sparkling group, tonight – after not playing together for two years – The Translators shone like a Catalonian sun and lit all our faces with broad smiles. Not so long between sangrias next time, please amigos!

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the fantastic terrific munkle

Saturday my hangover needed the peace of Prince Alfred Park and the gentle afternoon humour of The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Cool breezes blew, people picnicked on the grass, and from between two huge trees, The Munkle – powered by Sam Golding’s tuba and the (snake-)charming clarinet of Jeremy Rose – wove their musical tales of whimsy, recalling ragtime, Dixie, weird old blues and French salon jazz. The song announcements were made through a megaphone, the guitar amp was powered by solar panels and guitarist Julian Curwin wore thongs. It was all so sweetly organic, it made the afternoon time stand beautifully still.

Too much daylight – bah! Back into the night and the Steve Barry Trio with Alex Boneham and the quicksilver Tim Firth at 505. This is the trio that played on Barry’s recent album, Steve Barry – a startling album made (conjured from the elements, rather) by this startling combination of players. All the telepathic play and spiritual-empathic magic that lights up the album was here on stage tonight. Reminding me of Bill Evans’ trios or Keith Jarrett’s ‘standards’ trios, Barry-Boneham-Firth could spat and spar – as on opener ‘B.W.’ – or dissipate like evening mist across an introspective ballad such as the lovely ‘Epiphany’. Some of the most fluidly intelligent music in jazz has been made within the piano trio format and groups such as Steve Barry’s trio remind me why.

After the rollicking fun of altoist Ross Harrington’s vibey, young and fun Midnight Tea Party – Dixie, klemzer, ska flavours; a huge hit with the 505 crowd – we were treated to the Andrew Gander Band.

richard maegraithIn a Festival line-up luminescent with musical wonders, I can unreservedly say the Andrew Gander Band was the highlight for me – and I am sure many there would agree. His five-piece group hit their jaw-dropping stride from the first note and ascended from there. I had already seen each of Gander’s sidemen in other Festival groups but playing with Gander seemed to push each of them into the deeper reaches of their own musical universe. Tenor player Richard Maegraith seemed particularly inspired, blowing hard into the white-hot areas of his horn’s capabilties. (My friend, CC – who knows about such things – said after one of Maegraith’s solos “I could see his aura and light flashing off him!”) Bassist Brett Hirst twinned with Gander through all of the music’s twists and turns almost preternaturally. Steve Barry would smartly sit out during guitarist Carl Morgan’s solos, allowing the drum-bass-guitar trio to stretch the harmonies and rhythms into new fluid shapes. The Gander originals such as ‘Retrograde’ (with one of those sizzling rock feels that Billy Cobham does so well) and the 5/4 roller coaster ride of ‘Prism’ were just eaten alive by the band, who also managed great takes on radically reshaped standards such as ‘Star Eyes’ and Dizzy’s ‘Con Alma’.

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ben hauptmann, zoe and the buttercups

Where to go from there? Thankfully the Sunday program offered sweet soul relief in the form of Festival Guest Roger Manins and the original lineup of his soul-jazz champions, Hip Flask. To a packed 505, Manins’ testifying tenor led the quintet through ‘Bang’, ‘Big Sis’, ‘John Scon’ and others from their Jazzgroove catalogue. Against the indigo-blue Hammond of Stu Hunter, Adam Ponting’s peppery shards of piano dissonance put Hip Flask in their own category without losing any soul-jazz juice. The intro to ‘Blues for Adam Ponting’ moved in and out of harmonic focus until Manins brought us back to the planet with some real deep earth. (Manins was also one of the drollest bandleaders of the Festival, his tongue popping almost through his cheek at times during his stage announcements…)

By now saturated to the brim with music and fine 505 merlot, I took one last rolling stroll down Chalmers Street, climbing the stairs to the Gaelic to bid the Festival adieu with Zoe Hauptmann and her Buttercups. The six piece snapped my jaded mind awake with their patented country-soul stomp and Tele-blaster Aaron Flower’s always-exhilarating chicken-pickin’. Watching Ms Hauptmann leading her Buttercups up there, a question swam into my mind: Where were all the women musicians at the 4th Summer Festival? Ok, there was Zoe H and new bassist Hannah James (yes, Elana Stone too, but I am not counting vocalists in this equation) – that’s two out of an awful lot of male musicians. This is not a polemic point, nor is the question rhetoric; it is an honest query. The Con and other institutions turn out many many women musicians, musicians who have graduated alongside their male contemporaries, women musicians who are out there any night of the week paying as many gig dues as the guys. So why, when you get to the highest levels of jazz in this country – such as the annual Jazzgroove Festival – are women so insignificantly spoken for?

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In his Sunday night wrap-up speech, Jazzgroove President (and Buttercup trombonist) John Hibbard admitted that this year’s Summer Festival almost didn’t happen. The committee had sat around Matt McMahon’s dining table and voted on going through with it or not. It was that dire. After four days of wonderfully attended gigs by our best and brightest – and some performances that seriously deserve to pass into myth and legend – it is hard to believe that meeting ever took place. But positive energy ruled that day – the vote was to go ahead – and that same positive energy ruled the 4th Jazzgroove  Summer Festival.

And thank God, Miles and Duke that it did.

The Jazzgroove website is here.

Published January 2103 on australianjazz.net 

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Many great works are made in prison. Whether it be a prison of brick walls, a prison of melancholy or a prison of ill-health and pain, the hermetically sealed private world can create a universe of black planets or an efflorescent garden of delights.

Sydney singer-songwriter Liz Martin spent six months in a room recuperating from painful hip surgery, dealing with her father’s death, lying still. And that room became the garden from which flowered her third album Dance A Little, Live A Little. And what a garden the twelve track collection is – tropical vines grow around blood-red European roses, sunflowers sunnily melt snowdrop edelweiss. Varieties grow all over.

Proof that Martin’s spirit is a strong one is in the first tune, ‘So Long’ – a tune that seems to have grown out of a sunny childhood rather than a dismal sick bed. ‘I’ve been trippin’ along’ – it’s infectious and radiant, name checking Jiminy Cricket as it sweetly bounces down its afternoon road. The vibe continues through ‘Be What May’ with its New Orleans slightly tipsy brass.

The title track ‘Dance A Little, Live A Little’ is a piece of country rock’n’roll that is part mission-statement, part-call-to-arms. To think it was written and worked up while Martin was forbade to even tap a toe by her surgeons is pretty amazing.

Drummer Hamish Stuart and double bassist David Symes set up beautifully the spry groove for Martin’s cover of David Bowie’s ‘Sound & Vision’. The initial vocal lines are sung by guest Mr Percival to great effect – so that when Liz Martin enters the piece goes to a new place. As faithful in verse form as this is to the original, this version is truly Martin’s – a delight of jazz-pop lounge swing.

But not all is sun, fun and Low covers. The moodier pieces on Dance A Little, Live A Little are entirely captivating and deeply effecting – one can hear the isolation they were created in. ‘Olives and Wine’ with its lovely uncurling, softly crying viola line is intimacy itself. ‘Night Time’ is ragged shards of raw dead black guitar hung on a black sky. ‘Darling’ is one of those preciously held moments where a singer and a song are all you need for a few minutes.

Martin and arranger-producer David Symes have framed each piece perfectly – whether piano and strings, Allen Toussaint swaggerin’ horns or rock guitar trio – each song is given all it needs to live. The musicians who make these arrangements spark and roll are among Australia’s finest – jazz go-to guy Hamish Stuart shines on everything he touches here and Stu Hunter’s piano goes beyond ideas of restraint and colour to organically breathe through its teeth throughout the album.

Liz Martin is touring Dance A Little, Live A Little national wide over the May and June with a crack band featuring Dirk Kruithof and Elana Stone. It will be a pleasure to hear these songs that were born is a small, shaded room played in bigger, brighter rooms all across Australia.


Liz Martin’s website is www.lizmartin.com.au     

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Prior to posting this review, TheOrangePress asked Liz Martin six questions about Dance A Little, Live A Little. Here are her responses.

1. Where did the songs on ‘Dance a Little, Live a Little’  come from?

They come from a particular time when I was hanging in my room for quite a while… around six months.  I’d had some tricky hip surgery done and was told to keep still for quite a while, so it could all set.  I know the walls of my room very very well.  It was a strange time.  And quite a lonely, physically uncomfortable, painful time.  The best thing for distraction, the one thing that could hold my attention and keep my mind off the pain, was writing and recording these songs, adding little horn lines, string parts, experimenting, harmonies.  Just playing.  That was my only intentional thought really.  To be playful and not get all angsty with my situation, but to step outside, to let music be a place of time travel, imagination, to take me outside of myself.  And it worked a treat.  Now that I look back at these songs, they surprise me.  Tom Waits talks about grabbing a song by the tail as it wizzes by, that sometimes it comes out word for word all backwards.  In many ways it’s true.  They have their own life.  You just sit quiet, try not get in the way too much, and…

2. Some of the arrangements are huge – strings, horns etc. Do these arrangements come to mind while writing the song or is it a process conceived later while recording?

Some of the ideas came while I was writing and recording in my room.  I’d sing little horn lines in, play string parts, bass lines, etc.  A lot of the classier arrangements were written by Dave Symes who co-produced the album with me.  His solo string line he wrote for ‘Olives and Wine’, the string quartet for ‘Darling’, the crazy horns on ‘Be What May’ and ‘Long Bad Day’, absolutely beautiful.

3. What prompted the cover of David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’? And why did you have Mr Percival sing on it with you? 

I wanted to have a go at doing a cover.  I’d not really done that many covers in the past – I’d definately never recorded one.  It takes a certain skill to be able to interpret someone else’s song, to bring something new, and to do it well.  Some people are incredible at it.  Nouvelle Vague for example.  And David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ seemed to sum it all up perfectly, my strange little time in my room, the music, the quiet, the mystery –

‘Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live

Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue

I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude, over my head

Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision”

And Mr Percival, he and I had crossed paths a few times in the few months prior to the actual recording of the album and he was the perfect fit.  His voice is warm, but light and playful.  He’s currently doing the rounds on The Voice.  Fingers crossed for him x

4. You have some of Australia’s jazz heavy hitters on the album. Do you prefer to work with jazz musicians? 

No, no preference.  Although it was startling! These guys are amazing players who have total respect for the music.  It’s all about the song, bringing the best to the song.  The album is probably half big jazz heavy weights, and the other half some of Sydney’s finest gypsy players like Veren Grigorov and Dirk Kruithof.  It was an interesting mix.  Basically friends of Dave Symes, and friends of mine, coming together bringing their own elements to the songs, bringing the songs alive.

5. The cover art is particularly striking. What drew you to these Paola Talbert images?

I was looking for an image, an idea, something that would match the spirit of the album, the playfulness, the sensuality, the idea of dancing a little, a quiet celebration… And it was Jacqueline Amidy who is touring with us as special guest, releasing her stunning new album ‘Cut’, who suggested the idea.  Not everyone could suggest I get into the freezing cold waters of Little Bay with nought by a little tiny shiney material and some pearls.  But Jacqueline, whose music is charged, emotional, sensual, rich, of great depth, Jac is just the right sort of person to be able to push, encourage, convince someone of the brilliance of such a plan.  And so it was.  A brilliant idea.  And the result is beautiful.  It’s magic.  The process was freezing, scary, confusing, fast, confronting and a little exhausting.  The end result is dreamy, graceful, titillating (ha), timeless, and free.  Perfect for “Dance a Little, Live a Little”, an album written during scary, uncomfortable, lonely times, and the end result, this beautiful, tender, surprisingly playful album.

6. Do you realise how much fun it is to sing ‘Let’s do the Time Warp again!’ to the chorus of the title track?

Yes!  Nicely spotted.  Totally.  A complete chordal rip-off.  It’s all there.  The tight pants, the ridiculous hair.  We do what we can to join them.  It’s weird… you don’t realise these things at the time… and then a little while later, listening, it’s like,… hang-on… that’s! and yes, it is.  An unintended slip back to another time.  A time warp all of its own.

 

Published May 2012 on theorangepress.net