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Brisbane International Jazz Festival 2015

Ian Patterson By

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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.

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