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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

Lateo

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.

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