Brisbane International Jazz Festival 2015

Ian Patterson By

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Returning to her town of Cairns after many years abroad, Reading followed a new direction by taking up teaching. Now, after a decade or so out of the spotlight, Reading is back on stage singing jazz, just as she did over fifty years ago in Brisbane.

The Andrew Butt Trio + warmed up the audience with a couple of tunes, beginning with "The Alligator Escalotor," a breezy, tenor saxophone-led instrumental from Butt's CD Here and Now (2013), which won a Queensland Music Award in the year of release. Butt demonstrated equal facility on soprano saxophone on "Summer '14," with bassist Peter Walters and pianist Kellee Green also stretching out over Dave Cotgreave's light, propulsive rhythms.

The stage was set for the arrival of Reading, still looking stunning all these years later. Swing was the order of the day, with Reading showing rhythmic nous on "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Don't Get around Much Anymore," Ellington tunes that Reading had played with the man himself—a boast that very few living singers can make. The tempo slowed on "Lush Life," with Reading—and Butt's sympathetic tenor—capturing the night-life weariness of Billy Strayhorn's lyrics.

Reading's pipes were stretched on the Charles Fox/Norman Gimbel hit "Killing Me Softly" but she was still commanding—and more nuanced—on slower bluesy fare like the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler number "Stormy Weather"—which featured a fine solo from Green—and the J. Frederick Coots/Haven Gillespie tune "You Go to My Head."

Inevitably, it was another Ellington tune that closed the concert. Reading tripped up on Bob Russell's lyrics but Butt's trio saved the day with its swing and pizzazz. Reading can be forgiven a little ring rustiness after an extended hiatus from the live arena and hopefully this historic Queenslander will find a second wind on the back of this BIJF performance.

Day Five


The contemporary electro-acoustic-jazz band Lateo is led by drummer Joe Marchisella, who has played with Aussie greats James Morrison, Joe Chindamo, Paul Grabowski and Tommy Emmanuel, as well as American saxophone legend Ernie Watts and Cuban pianist Marialy Pacheco.

With electric bassist Dave Galea and Marchisella keeping in-the-pocket grooves, pianist Cleon Barraclough and guitarist Toby Wren toggled between comping and lead lines during a lively performance of mostly covers. The quartet's animated interpretation of Bill Frisell's knotty groover "Resistor"—with Barraclough and Wren in full flight—was a reminder of how rare it is to hear a Frisell cover, which is odd given his status as one of the most influential guitarists of the past thirty years.

There were plenty of individual sparks on Galea's "Siam Valley" and "Shadow Dance"—the latter propelled by fast-walking bass and chittering ride cymbal—but it was the collective energy and tight interplay of Lateo that left the most lasting impression.

Jimmy Rowles "The Peacocks" brought a welcome change in gear to a slower tempo, where Barraclough and Wren's lyricism could be better appreciated. The Youn Sun Nah/Ulf Wakenius show-stopper "Momento Magico" closed out the second set; racing unison lines of tremendous precision bookended stirring solos from Galea and Wren. A few more originals perhaps and Lateo should have all the ingredients for a CD worthy of their talents.

Near East Quartet

Without a doubt the revelation of BIJF 2015 was South Korean group Near East Quartet, whose stunning fusion of traditional Korean forms, jazz improvisation and ambient sounds proved a great hit. Formed in 2010 by saxophonist Sungjae Son, guitarist Suwuk Chong and former members percussionist Dongwong Kim and bassist Soonyong Lee, the band recorded an instrumental album, Chaosmos (2010), which has disappeared almost without trace.

The addition of pansori singer Yulhee Kim and jazz drummer Jungyoung Song significantly transformed the group dynamics, bringing new power and rhythmic flexibility to the fascinating East-West hybrid.

Kim's haunting vocals and pulsing gong introduced a traditional song wishing good health. Song's hands on drum skin, Son's puffs-of-air tenor and Chong's subtle guitar effects combined to produce an ambiance that was both lulling and hypnotic. "Mul-Le Tareong" was framed around simple guitar arpeggios and motifs, with softly voiced saxophone and rumbling mallets underpinning Kim's plaintive balladeering.

Layered guitar atmospherics and probing drums largely defined "Earth and Humanity," with saxophone contributing a melodic coda. Son and Chong in tandem conjured the sculpted soundscapes of Jan Garbarek and Eivind Aarset, whereas the slow-burning blues "Arirang," with Kim returning on vocals, could have come from a Ry Cooder session, had he been born Korean. The group's contrasting dynamics of mellow lyricism and powerful waves came together in the instrumental "Shattered Dream."

The balance between instrumental and vocal numbers was a strength of the group's dynamics, as Kim upped the ante each time she featured. The pansori singer trained with the great Bae Il Dong—whose collaboration with Simon Barker and Scott Tinkler Chiri (Kinmara Records, 2010) remains one of the most compelling cross-over experiments of recent years—and her technical reach and sheer power were matched by the emotional impact of her delivery.

The final song of the set "Hung-Bu Ga" was based on a traditional pansori melody but with a significant twist. Riffing guitar, insistent drum rhythms, Kim's spoken-sung delivery and chattering saxophone grew to a heady crescendo, with the group's chalks well and truly discarded. It was a riveting finale to an unforgettable performance.

Near East Quartet is due to record with this line-up and it could be the release that launches them globally. An original group whose potent music would grace any stage in the world.

Enthusiastic Musicians Orchestra featuring Dale Barlow

The participation of saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Dale Barlow with the sixteen-piece Enthusiastic Musicians' Orchestra (EMO) brought something of a gala feel to the closing concert of the fifth day of BIJF 2015. Barlow played in one of the final incarnations of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, appearing on Chippin' In (Timeless, 1990) and the drumming legend's final studio recording One for All (A&M, 1990).

It's probably been Barlow's highest profile gig but in a distinguished career he's also collaborated with A-listers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Helen Merrill, Gil Evans, Cedar Walton and Billy Cobham—to name just a few—while composing half a dozen recordings as a leader in his own right.

However, it was trombonist Matt White who stole the early limelight on an atmospheric arrangement of Skip James' 1931 blues "Devil Got My Woman." Barlow was soon in the thick of things, his bluesy tenor improvisation lifting "Haircut Strut," a breezy tune with a lush, Neil Hefti-ish grace. Barlow was more expansive on pianist Steve Newcomb's arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Night Dreamer," flying on the big-band's currents.

With over a hundred and fifty charts in its book the EMO can cover a lot of ground stylistically, and whether swinging on "Minor Detour," or caressing ballads such as Stevie Wonder's "You and I" and Thelonious Monk's pretty "Reflections," Barlow was in the thick of things. The EMO, however, boasts plenty of fine soloists and pianist John Reeves, guitarist Lachlan Bell and trumpeter Shannon Marshall were all notable.

Barlow took a breather during a couple of charts by Danish composer Lars Moeller, returning to unleash a wonderfully fluid improvisation on flute on the Josh Hatcher composition "Duality." For the final track, "East Village Sublet," Barlow shared protagonism with trumpeter Dan Quigley.

The EMO is a young Brisbane institution, but in just seven years it has provided a vehicle for upcoming musicians, composers and arrangers. Collaborations like this one with Dale Barlow can only can only raise the collective bar and help nourish the flourishing jazz scene in Queensland.

Day Six

Near East Quartet

The final day of BIJF 2015 began in the Queens Street Mall with two gigs. The Near East Quartet gave another electrifying performance, playing a slightly modified set from the previous evening that included a beautiful reworking of a 1960s Korean pop ballad. Perhaps it had something to do with the outdoor acoustics but Kim's extraordinary voice—on both intimate balladry and more intense pansori-based material—captivated all the more and the music on the whole seemed more visceral.

John Reeves Quartet

The John Reeves Trio, with bassist Andrew Shaw and drummer Paul Hudson delivered an upbeat set of infectious originals full of rhythmic zest and uplifting melodies. Lilting Caribbean colors tinged Reeves swinging, rhythmically pronounced two-handed approach and a real sense of joy permeated both the compositions and the trio's intuitive play. Reeve's music stemmed very much from the jazz tradition but his vibrancy and originality brought freshness to the idiom. A recording is surely a must.

The Primitif requests the pleasure...

The final act of BIJF paid tribute to one of Brisbane's legendary venues, The Primitif, and to Peter Hackworth, the remarkable woman who ran it between 1957 and 1974. The Primitif was Brisbane's first expresso-style coffee bar and was an alternative haunt for youth in an age when the legal age for drinking was twenty one. Not only did The Primitif employ Italian baristas and a French chef but it also hosted live jazz on Sunday at a time when live music on the Sabbath was banned.

Needless to say, the Primitif immediately earned a reputation as an alternative venue for young people and attracted a bohemian crowd looking to spice up their lives.

In a mood of celebration, the foyer of the Queens Multicultural Centre was taken over by a lively crowd of folk, most of whom had frequented The Primitif during its glory years. A jazz trio swung in one corner, the kitchen served up tasty nosh from another and the drink was flowing everywhere as people reminisced about a golden era. Photo montages of The Primitif over the years lined the wall and told a tale of high times and surprisingly varied entertainment. From folk music and vaudevillian acts to jazz and risqué dance, The Primitif packed in the crowds, all of whom seemed to be halving an absolute blast in the black and white photos.

As a teenager, Wilma Reading, who would go on to sing with Duke Ellington's Orchestra a decade later, effectively began her career at The Primitif. The Bee Gees played in the Prim Junior, a live venue upstairs. Many singers and jazz musicians got their starts at The Primitif, but it was, perhaps above all, a place to hang out.

Having turned eighty, Peter Hackworth remains an indefatigable force in the hospitality industry. Sitting outside, taking in the fresh air, she recalled The Primitif's halcyon days with obvious affection, breaking off to greet people coming and going. The Primitif went under—quite literally—in the Brisbane flood of 1974, which marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Hackworth went on to establish several iconic Brisbane restaurants, pioneered the Riverside Markets and generally led Brisbane into the modern era of good dining and hip culture.

It must have given Hackworth great satisfaction to see—over forty years after the closure of the Primitif—how much it still means to many in Brisbane.

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