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Brisbane International Jazz Festival 2015

Ian Patterson By

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Brisbane International Jazz Festival
Various locations
Brisbane, Australia
June 3-8, 2015

Celebrating its third edition, the Brisbane International Jazz Festival may be one of Australia's youngest jazz festivals but the state of Queensland is no stranger to jazz. The non-profit organisation Jazz Queensland has been curating concerts, developing audiences and working with media and promotors to develop a sustainable jazz community in Australia's second largest state since the early 1980s.

The BIJF, which comes under the umbrella of Jazz Queensland's broad range of activities, has replaced the biennial Valley Jazz Festival, which ran for five editions from 2004. The ambition, it seems, is greater than before. BIJF aims to provide a more regular platform for national artists and, at the same time, seeks to raise the profile of Brisbane as an international city of the arts and culture.

The BIJF's baby steps have thus far been very impressive. International acts of the calibre of Ernie Watts, Julian Arguelles and the Tord Gustavsen Quartet have ensured a high media profile for the festival from the beginning. But the BIJF is more than just another 'international' festival, as Australian jazz in all its myriad forms is a cornerstone of the six-day program.

Award-winning artists such as Trichotomy, Louise Denson, Stephen Magnusson, James Sherlock, Mike Nock and Angela Davis, for example, point to the range and depth of talent in Australia that the BIJF has given its backing to. However, the vision of Artistic Director Lynette Irwin goes beyond merely packing the program with home-grown talent—though there's certainly no shortage—and the commissioning of new music from Queensland artists is an essential element too. For Irwin, investing in the future of the music is a big part of the mission.

Day One: Mal Wood's Bowery Hot Five/Jam Session

The festival got under way with little in the way of fanfare—a local band in a downtown pub. It was, however, true to the spirit of BIJF that the opening night should throw the spotlight on one of Brisbane's long-standing residency gigs—Mal Wood's Bowery Hot Five, which has played every Wednesday in this unassuming pub, The Bowery, for the past ten years.

The Bowery is named after the bohemian New York street and neighbourhood that has been home at various times to Béla Bartók, William Burroughs, Joey Ramone and a host of artist types. It was fitting therefore, that the Hot Five's jazz was predominantly the old school standards, swing and bebop that resonated in New York's clubs and dive bars back in the day. It was, above all, a laid back social occasion to welcome new friends, wet the whistle and start BIJF 2015 off on the right footing—the sort of bash that Aussies do exceptionally well.

A jam session went on until late, with the notable participation of the Hiroyuki Minowa Trio from Japan. Bassist Minowa has played with the likes of James Moody, Diane Schuur, Sir Roland Hanna, Bucky Pizzarelli and Lee Konitz and he captivated the crowd with his scintillating chops. Drummer Makoto Rikitake and pianist Mitsuaki Kishi were no less impressive and brought a palpable sense of joy to the jam.

An elderly gentleman sitting at the bar nursing his grog related how he had been coming every Wednesday for ten years to listen to the jazz. "It keeps me alive," he said smiling. Good reason to carry on the tradition.

Day Two

Hiroyuki Minowa Trio

It was the Hiroyuki Minowa Trio that got the ball rolling on day two of the BIJF 2015, slap bang in the middle of Brisbane's commercial district. The open-air stage was in the middle of Queen's Street Mall, a busy shopping street. Flanked by tall, silver-walled malls on either side, with the canopy of the blue sky above and huge trees at either end of the thoroughfare, the stage seemed like the altar of a great, avant-garde cathedral.

The Queen's Street Mall gigs that took place every day were free to the public, part of the BIJF and Queensland Jazz' efforts to make quality jazz accessible to the general public. Minowa knows better than most about bringing jazz to the people; as festival director of the Takatsuki Jazz Street Festival Minowa stages a staggering 750+ free gigs on fifty stages over two days in his city of Takatsuki every year.

From Cole Porter's hard-swinging "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," Minowa's trio worked its way through a set of familiar standards. Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" swayed at a lulling bossa nova tempo, featuring a delightfully flowing solo from the impressive Kishi—one of Japan's most revered jazz pianists—and another, sinewy solo from the leader.

Mixing up the tempos nicely, the trio played a steaming, double-time version of Sigmund Romberg/Oscar Hammerstein's "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise"—originally written as a tango in 1928—with Rikitake's slick brush and stick work truly compelling. The first set closed with a refreshingly relaxed take on Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," where the trio's slow groove embraced the blues that was such a large part of Parker's musical DNA.

After a short break the trio pounced with a swinging version of Billy Strayhorn's Fletcher Henderson-inspired "Take the A Train." Taking things down a notch, the blues was at the heart of Frederic Weatherly's ballad "Danny Boy"—with Kishi's caressing solo a highlight of the set. African rhythms and swing shared protagonism on Porter's skipping "What is this thing Called Love? The second set closed with a boogie-woogie/swing take on Jimmie Davis/Charles Mitchell's "You Are my Sunshine."

The final set followed the pattern of what had gone before. The trio swung gently on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," a little more robustly on Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields' "The Sunny Side of the Street" and flirted with Latin rhythms on Hugo Blanco's 1958 tune "Moliendo Café -a number one hit in Japan in 1961; on the latter, the trio's light, dancing groove evoked Ahmad Jamal's great trio from that period. Juan Tizol's "Caravan" closed the concert with some individual and collective fire.

Most of the songs, dating from the first half of the twentieth century, will have been familiar to the seated audience and the passers-by who stopped to check out the music. That the standards of the jazz cannon still captivate says much about the quality of the songwriting. And, when played with the passion and verve of the Hiroyuki Minowa Trio, who could ask for more?

Artur Dutkiewicz Trio

Artur Dutkiewicz, it's reasonably safe to say, is probably one of Poland's busiest jazz musicians. In a little over half a year he has played in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Poland, Brazil, Portugal, and on this current tour in Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia. That he and his trio of bassist Michal Baranski and drummer Grzegorz Grzyb are in such demand internationally will have come as no surprise to the full house that witnessed this highly memorable gig at JMI Live on Thursday evening.

JMI is Jazz Music Institute, the only jazz studies course in Australia that offers a degree program. Performance is an important part of the JMI program and what better education could there be for jazz students than to watch the world class Artur Dutkiewicz Trio in action?

The trio felt its way slowly into "Passage" where the flow in dynamics was as striking as the musicianship itself. Spare bass slipped into a grooving ostinato, whispering brushes gave way to ever more vibrant stick work and Dutkiewicz' spacious impressionism soon gained wings, flying and tumbling playfully. A hypnotic solo intervention showed why Baranski has been voted Best Bass Player by the readers of Poland's legendary Jazz Forum magazine, with the trio then reuniting briefly for one final hurrah.

Equally convincing at slower tempos, the trio's lyricism was to the fore on a lovely interpretation of a Polish mazurka. Dutkiewicz has recorded an entire solo album of mazurkas—Mazurki (Pianoart, 2012)—and his playing shared some of the folk-cum-classical nuance of Czech jazz master Emil Viklicky.

An up-tempo burner followed; Baranski fulfilled an anchoring role as Grzyb's explosive drumming fired Dutkiewicz to thrilling improvisations that swept the length of the keyboard. A quiet passage framed a delicate solo from Baranski before Dutkiewicz revisited the melody. The trio went into the break on the back of a blues 'n' funk mid-tempo workout, with Grzyb employing hands then sticks.

The second set began with a sultry, blues-drenched slow number, with brushes, mallets and spacious bass underpinning Dutkiewicz's flowing lines. Baranski—first call bassist for Bennie Maupin when touring Europe—took another exquisite solo, eventually ushering the other two in, though it was Dutkiewicz who had the final say with an extended solo meditation of some finesse.

The trio was at its most dynamic on "Prana," the title track of Dutkiewicz's latest CD. From the stirring bass ostinato of the intro, the music unfolded in undulating waves of intensity. High energy trio dialog, brooding impressionism and freewheeling improvisation rotated in an absorbing musical carousel. By contrast, the simple elegance of a Hindu-inspired tune could almost have come from the Abdullah Ibrahim school of hymnal jazz.

Baranski provided the fulcrum on "Warsaw Oberek"—another Polish folk-dance-inspired number—with Grzyb's muscular invention the blue touch paper to Dutkiewicz's animated improvisations. Grzyb's extended solo provided some fireworks before the trio revisited the head and then took their bows.

For the encore the trio gave a jaunty interpretation of Jimi Hendrix's "Up from the Skies." Dutkiewicz recorded an entire album of Hendrix tunes before—Hendrix Piano (Pianoart, 2010)—and clearly shares an affinity with the legendary guitarist for the blues, not to mention exhilarating chops. Bass and drums both enjoyed late flings before Dutkiewicz steered the trio once more back to the head and out.

The Artur Dutkiewicz Trio's tremendous concert at JMI Live will go down in the annals of the BIJF as a classy demonstration of the art of the piano trio.

Day Three

Brisbane has long lain in the shadow of the east coast's two larger cities of Sydney and Melbourne and over the years has received the unwelcome tag of being a big country town. This despite the fact that Brisbane was home to the 1982 Commonwealth Games, the World Expo 1988, played a major role in the 2003 rugby World Cup and hosted the G-20 Summit 2014. An international jazz festival sits well with this cosmopolitan city, and, if the public response to the first three editions of the BIJF is any indication, then it looks set to cement its place as one of the blue ribbon events in the cultural calendar.

Built on the banks of the curling river that gives it its name, Brisbane is an undeniably handsome city, with tropical greenery, extensive riverside walkways served well by shaded cafes and restaurants, beautiful botanical gardens and an architectural landscape of both colonial and modern design that's pleasing to the eye. The ten or so venues hosting gigs at BIJF 2015 were situated on both sides of the river and moving about from jazz club and Chinatown bar to hotel or auditorium, and from open-air mall to jazz school jam sessions certainly allowed jazz fans to really get a feel for the city.
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