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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.

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