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February-March 2003

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In this column:

  • Summer means festivals
  • A heap of new albums taking out last year and starting the new


SUMMER JAZZ

The return of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, joining the Fremantle festival and jazz events as pat of the Sydney cultural festival, means the jazz calendar is back to full strength again this year.

While these festivals are mostly in January, the roster of visiting acts looked healthy well before the end of the year, not only with signings of the headline artists for the festivals but in touring activity independent of the fests. Chief among them was Sheila Jordan, Ralph Towner and Dave Douglas.

Husky-voiced Scandinavian singer Katrine Madsen, touring for Henk van Leeuwen, was one of the main attractions at the Fremantle festival in Perth. Other highlights were Perth percussionist Michael Pigneguy’s commissioned 40-minute opus based on C.Y. O’Connor, the civil engineer responsible for taking water to remote parts of Western Australia. British guitarist Gary Potter was also a festival highlight, as was New York’s Virginia Mayhew Quartet. It looks like festival manager Helen Matthews has consolidated the success of the inaugural event last year and it already is a valuable event in adding to tour possibilities for visiting artists doing the rounds in other parts of the country.

But missing from the likes of Katrine Madsen on the festival circuit is Chucho Valdes, the headline act for the Melbourne and Fremantle festivals and a leading drawcard in Sydney too. The Cuban pianist had to cancel, reportedly due to high blood pressure problems, having been advised by his doctors not to travel. He was replaced in the Fremantle festival by pianist Monty Alexander from New York.

“It’s the main act jinx,” cracked John Weber to the Age newspaper, the American pianist who was among the foreigners to make it ashore. It was his sixth visit to Australia. Singing legend Andy Bey was another highlight, here on his first visit.

Again the festival was richly studded with local artists from trad heroes – it continues to be highly popular – to celebrated contemporary acts that included the Australian Art Orchestra.
Like Madsen touring for Henk van Leeuwen’s oganisation, still to come in February is Joonatoivanen Trio from Finland, playing the capitals (except Sydney) and some regional places like Burnie, Townsville, Wollongong, Hobart and Cairns. They kick off in Perth on Feb 17.

And Norah Jones, Blue Note’s new star, is due to play in Sydney in February.
CUBAN INSPIRATION

Deep. Red Fish Blue. (Jazzhead) 9 stars: The Santeria religion of Cuba has inspired many musicians over the years, including our own Barney McAll on his album “33” from a couple of years ago. This is another set to find the energy and purpose of this Cuban music an irresistible platform. Melbourne pianist Sam Keevers is already well versed in the subject from working with his own Los Cabrones outfit in Melbourne, whose percussionist, Javier Fredes, is a feature of this new disc, which also includes prominent Sydney drummer Simon Barker and equally noted bassist Brett Hirst. Between them they bring vast and diverse musical experience, not just of jazz but folk forms such as Korean drumming. The folk aspect of this album is implicit in this set of tunes, which nevertheless also has an urbane and outright jazz feel to it, as you’d expect. The first cut, “Elegua” – appropriately the god of entrances — regularly states a portentous and slightly grave little theme that ushers in a fresh round of solos over a distance of nearly 18 minutes, the first swinging but latter ones harder and more intense. Keevers’ intensely melodic playing dominates the mid-tempo jewel that is “An Angel Fell From The Sky”, another lengthy outing at 12 minutes, which also shows off the same facility in Hirst’s extended bass solo. Simmering Latin rhythms suffuse the lovely title track, based on a gorgeous thematic statement by Keevers, as is the even lovelier “Deeper” a few tracks further on. The very sound of the piano – beautifully rich and sonorous – is not least of its appeal here. The mellifluous flow of music is interrupted by the angular and terse “Judder Bar”, a Hirst tune with clipped crossrhythms and an intriguingly constricted character which makes it one of the most inventive and interesting tacks on the disc, which as a whole is brimming with riches.


BLOWING THE HOUSE DOWN


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