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Live Reviews

June-July 2004

By Published: June 22, 2004
Michelle Nicole is one of the most instantly recognisable vocalists in Australian jazz. Noted (with multi-awards) for her range, technique, interpretation and, particularly, her improvisation, she uses her voice like just another instrument in the band. Well, the 'just another' tag gives much too little credit, but you get the idea. Perhaps because of her improvisational talent, learned through transcribing Miles, Bird and Dizzy, just like a horn player, her choice of material for her latest CD is a bit of a surprise. She has taken a dozen pieces from the movies, several instantly recognisable, and rearranged them for her usual trio of Geoff Hughes on guitar, Howard Cairns on bass (with Ben Robertson deputising on a couple of tracks) and Ronny Ferella on drums . They are joined by twelve others in various combinations on seven of the tracks, adding to the instrumentation and interpretation which is at its richest with the brass quartet playing on Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" (which if you didn't know featured in the movie Trainspotting). This is the most recent of the movies from which she has chosen the tracks. The oldest is Chaplin's composition "Smile" for his 1936 classic Modern Times. The range of music this suggests gives the key to the CD. It is as strong as the pieces selected, which despite Michelle's skills as an arranger and talent as a performer, means stronger in some cases than in others. She says she has done least with "To Sir, With Love" which is why it still bears the imprint of the 60s rock version by Lulu. Lulu herself turned up recently on film belting out a number in Mike Fidges contribution about the UK to the series produced by Martin Scorsese to celebrate that musical tradition of the blues. One of the most convincing of Michelle's transformations on this CD is to turn "Something Good" from the Sound of Music into a gospel infused blues. I always make it a rule to see Michelle Nicolle whenever she is in Sydney as she is such a wonderful vocal-instrumentalist. Perhaps because of the unevenness of the sources, I found it was with a little less enthusiasm than usual when she performed the material from this CD.

Mike Nock's Big Small Band

Live (ABC Jazz)

Mike Nock occupies a position in Australian jazz something like that of Art Blakey (though he himself would be the first to deride any such suggestion or comparison). Over nearly two decades his big and small ensembles have given playing opportunities and exposure to a generation of younger musicians in Sydney many of whom have worked with him at the Conservatorium of Music. In recent years, though, his trio has become something of a fixture as a preferred style of playing and interpretation. They provide the predictably assured rhythm section to this rousing live CD recorded in Wollongong in 2002, with Mike himself on keyboards, Brett Hirst on bass and Toby Hall on drums. The writing (all but one of the eight pieces are written by Nock) and the arrangements are intended by him to be an extension of one of his quartets, which is why, he says, this ten-piece is a BigSmallBand. All of the horn players and soloists are now well established in their own rights - Roger Manins is a Wangaratta competition winner on tenor; just last year altoist Andrew Robson won the Freedman Jazz Fellowship; while Dave Panichi worked in the USA with the likes of the Buddy Rich Big Band and Mel Lewis Orchestra. They all add up to a Band that is even more than the sum of these considerable parts. The pieces run through the full repertoire of contemporary big (well largish) band performance at its best. As Mike Nock can be heard to enthuse over the final applause "What a Band!".

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Reviews by Adrian Jackson

Adrian Jackson is a well-known Australian jazz writer and the Director of the award-winning TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. All of Adrian Jackson's reviews that appear in this column were originally published in The Bulletin and are reprinted here with their kind permission.

Way Out West
Footscray Station (Newmarket)

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