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Brisbane International Jazz Festival 2015

Ian Patterson By

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Angela Davis & Steve Newcomb

Two Australians who have studied and worked in New York, saxophonist Angela Davis and pianist Steve Newcomb united on home soil for what was certainly the most intimate gig of BIJF 2015. Davis' debut as leader, The Art of the Melody (Self Produced, 2013) was aptly titled, as the saxophonist demonstrated from the opening number "Consentia" her ability to weave a continuously evolving melodic improvisation. Newcomb, following suit, was equally adept in that department.

Inevitably, given the reduced instrumentation, the heads were generally followed by one solo then another, but at no time did the format grow stale—testament to the duo's creativity. With impeccable timing and a pronounced sense of rhythm it was almost possible to imagine a walking bass and hi-hat on the swinging "Forty One St. Nich," one of two songs that featured Kristin Beradi. The singer brought harmonic depth and improvisational flare to this song and Thad Jones's pretty ditty "Lady Luck."

Whether at medium/fast tempos, as on "A Thousand Feet From Bergen Street" or the more relaxed pace of "Waltz for Nola" and James Taylor's "Sweet Baby Jane," Davis' clean, mellifluous lines evoked the great Lee Konitz. Davis has studied with Konitz and paid direct tribute to him with a nippy version of his Charlie Parker-esque tune "Subconscious Lee" and—perhaps with indirect tribute—closed a delightful set with a caressing interpretation of the 19th century hymn "Abide with Me." Given the post-lunch slot, there was a modest crowd in attendance, which nevertheless was privy to a wonderfully intimate dialog from Davis and Newcomb -one laced with well crafted, melody-driven improvisations marked by grace and passion.

Hiroyuki Minowa Trio

The evening's double-header in the Queensland Multicultural Centre was a treat for the jazz purists but perhaps tread just a little too much in nostalgia for the modernists.

The Hiroyuki Minowa Trio gave an undeniably energetic performance demonstrating plenty of outstanding chops, choosing to stay entirely within the boundaries of the jazz standards repertoire.

It was striking just how close the instruments were set up in relation to each other on the stage, much in the vein of Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal's trios, though Minowa's musical inspiration seemed to stem predominantly from the former, particularly in pianist Mitsuaki Kishi's tasteful, fluid solos. Great instrumentalists all, the trio brushed down and made shine old favorites like "Autumn Leaves" and "Fly Me to The Moon"—with a nod to Charlie Parker—, shaking up the set list from its Thursday morning gig in Queens Street Mall.

The trio was joined by guitarist Bruce Woodward and vocalist Melissa Forbes mid-set. Forbes classy rendition of the Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz number "Alone Together" featured a tasteful solo from Woodward. The guitarist also jazzed-up Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste" with another fine intervention, though the interpretation was a tad too breezy to capture the melancholy of the original.

Forbes was more commanding on a swinging, Sheila Jordan-inspired version of Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You," which featured a Toots Thielemans-esque melodica solo from the consistently impressive Kishi. The quintet collaboration was rounded out with a, dreamy brushes-led interpretation of the Jimmy Van Heusen/Phil Silvers ballad "Nancy with the Laughing Face" followed by the sultry Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer number "Blues in the Night."

The final word went to Minowa's trio. A double-time, workman-like version of "It Don't Mean a Thing" was enlivened by a solo from the exemplary time-keeper Rikitake. An enjoyable set ended with a celebratory take on Oscar Peterson's gospel-laced, civil rights anthem "Hymn to Freedom" and a standing ovation for jazz ambassadors Minowa, Kishi and Rikitake.

Wilma Reading & Andrew Butt Trio

It was something of a homecoming celebration for veteran singer Wilma Reading. Perhaps better known abroad—where she has spent most of her career—than in her native Australia, Reading is a historically important Australian singer. Her career began as a teenager in the late 1950 and her natural talents eventually led her to New York where, in 1966 she was auditioned by Billy Strayhorn. Reading passed the test and soon found herself singing with Duke Ellington's orchestra.

Her Indigenous Australian background—she also has Irish and Jamaican ancestory—was no obstacle to a successful career in Brisbane and then abroad. Reading sang on television in the USA and the UK—where she became something of a national star—and performed with international orchestras throughout Europe.

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