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6 September 2012

Jazz in Australia # 3

Miriam Zolin's jazz column

Jazz in Australia # 3

This month, I posted a clip on Facebook of a YouTube video from 2001, of The Pulse, a program on ABC Television that showcased Australian jazz and improvised music. Among the comments it generated were many wishing we could have something like that again in this country. Hear, hear! Hint, hint!

But meanwhile, the music continues - a seeming whirlwind of it some weeks. We'd need a much more regular column to cover everything - and who has the time to write more regularly, when there's so much music to listen to! Here's a snippet of just a few of the things that have been happening in Australian jazz and improvised music.

Hard-core improvisation showcase

August in Melbourne can be shiveringly cold, but on four Thursdays this month, things heated up at Bennetts Lane as AAO associate artistic director, Scott Tinkler, curated an Australian Art Orchestra residency. Named 'Hard Core on the Fly', a feature of the residency was Tinkler's focus on what he sees as an under-appreciation of improvisation in the wider non-specialist world of music funding and infrastructure. In an interview just prior to the residency, he spoke about the idea of improvised music and explained why he thinks it's misunderstood.

AAO's improvisation showcase
Each night of 'Hard Core on the Fly' featured established AAO musicians
as well as gifted younger players.
Photo © Jeni Howland / AAO

'Whether you're applying for funding or writing a commission,' he says, 'there are metrics and structures in place around payment, and the "value" of a line of music or the number of voices. By its very nature, improvisation is a difficult art to quantify. Without an understanding of what improvisation really is, it can appear to have less value than music composed on paper.'

The residency was an adventure on two fronts. Firstly, the format was kept quite open. Individual musicians were invited to 'lead' segments of each of the four concerts, so Tinkler's curatorial role was that of a practical, guiding visionary rather than dictating the order of proceedings. Musicians invited to lead were welcome to do whatever they wanted in the space they'd been allocated. Secondly, the ensembles created for the residency were an unapologetic exercise in mentoring. Each night of Hard Core on the Fly featured a core group of established AAO musicians and a number of gifted younger musicians, 'virtuosic performers' who, it was hoped, would bring something vibrant to the music-making as well as taking away some new knowledge, skills and connections.

There was always going to be a risk that things would go wrong. But then again, we were in safe hands, with some of the country's best improvisers. And AAO members, the other musicians, audience members - some familiar with the Art Orchestra and others not so much - all came away exhilarated.

Callum G'Froerer, a young trumpeter who played through the residency says, 'a good thing I got out of it was that rather than focusing solely on my own contributions to the music, I felt that over time I was able to let go and really start to hear the overall feeling of the group as a whole…' Sounds like a pretty special kind of improvised mentoring.

Australian Art Orchestra website

Solo In Red

At the other end of the improvising scale was Kynan Robinson's work Solo In Red, which premiered at the Melbourne Writers Festival and was a very personal musical statement, inspired by the uniquely stark words and worlds of writer Cormac McCarthy. The MWF, and notably the festival's outgoing director Steve Grimwade, has been trailblazing in this area, unashamedly enthusiastic about the possibilities that open up for both audiences and performers with programming that celebrates the range of connections between the literary and the musical.

Solo in Red - performance
Solo in Red performance, enchanced by multimedia

This piece - performed by Collider, which Robinson co-leads with saxophonist Adam Simmons - was very different to last year's effort, which was an inspired performance by Ben Walsh's Orkestra of the Underground of Shaun Tan's award-winning graphic novel The Arrival. Different yet also capable of immersing the listener in a unique, complex and evocative soundscape, enhanced also by multimedia components that added an extra dimension of visual stimulation.

Robinson admits that his music for Solo In Red is highly composed and strictly a response to McCarthy's writing rather than an accompaniment or soundtrack to it. He's working through some big, personally significant ideas and his approach in this case was to create music that's quite structured and notated.

Melbourne Jazz Fringe this year featured the APRA-funded composition by Tilman Robinson, which drew on Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller. Perhaps there's room for one of the more established jazz festivals to pick up the thread and open up to the possibilities of putting these two art forms of literature and music on stage together.

'Talking about my new composition Solo in Red' (Kynan Robinson's website)

Freedman Fellowship

Congratulations to Chris Hale, the 2012 Freedman Fellow, who has taken away the fellowship with a project that builds on mentorship and cross-cultural collaboration. He'll be working with Simon Barker, whose quest for knowledge from a Korean master was documented a couple of years ago in Intangible Asset # 82 by Australian filmmaker Emma Franz. The thread of learning looks to be continuing with Hale.

'Simon has absorbed the approach of Korean drumming into an improvising language distinctly his own, with a depth and beauty that is well known', says Hale. 'He has been very encouraging of my ideas and the possibilities for this music for the bass, and has introduced me to many musicians in Korea who are on similar quests of adapting traditional techniques and awareness to improvisation in the jazz orbit.'

The Freedman this year featured a lineup of diverse and interesting projects, including Queensland saxophonist Zac Hurren's proposal to work with local Australian musicians to build on a unique 'Australian vernacular' that he hears in our jazz and improvised music. Sydney saxophonist Jeremy Rose proposed a project that included the creation of works inspired by Balkan Brass Music. Sydney-based drummer Evan Mannell is keen to build a recording studio with a focus on high production values and a superior quality sound experience. The Freedman Fellowship finals concert, held in The Studio at the Sydney Opera House is always an intense and inspiring gig, featuring music of the highest calibre in a space that sounds great. Long may the Freedmans continue.

'Christopher Hale wins the 2012 Freedman Fellowship' (Resonate 13 August 2012)
More information about the Freedman Fellowships (Music Council of Australia website)

Congratulations to Marialy Pacheco

Huge congratulations to Brisbane-based musician Marialy Pacheco, originally from Cuba and this year the winner of the Montreux Solo Jazz Piano Competition. A feature interview with Marialy has been posted on AllAboutJazz.com. Well worth the read!

Interview with Marialy Pacheco (AllAboutJazz.com)
News article about the competition on the Montreux Jazz Music Blog

Miriam Zolin is the publisher and editor at extempore and jazz-planet.com. She has enjoyed listening to a broad spectrum of jazz and improvised music for a number of years. As well as regular writing about Australian musicians and their music, Miriam has recently contributed to PenTales, Griffith Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Australian Book Review and The Sleepers Almanac.


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