Melbourne Jazz Festival 2007
Melbourne Jazz Festival 2007
May 3-12, 2007
With jazz increasingly the international language, it should come as no surprise that even distant Melbourne, Australia (an approximate 25-hour-flight from NYC) boasts the bevy of talent, both young and old, that it does. A few more-than-qualifying "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition candidates hail from Down Under, including pianist Aaron Choulai, vocalist Julie O'Hara and saxophonist Jamie Oehlers. Each was featured at this year's Melbourne Jazz Festival, a showcase for national talent and with global representation from at least nine countries (amongst them Israel, Ethiopia, North Korea, Cuba, Germany, Brazil, Denmark, Sweden), including a decent American contingentmore as ticket draws than standout performances (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, McCoy Tyner and Pharoah Sanders). The evident void of avant-garde- leaning jazz wound up ably and conveniently taken care of by the briefly overlapping Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival (Apr. 26th-May 6th) that featured such Aussie standouts as trumpeter Scott Tinkler and drummer Simon Barker. If it helps, the MJF contrasts with MJFF much like here in NYC with the corporate-backed JVC furnishing a foil to the grass roots, more experimental Vision Festival.
With festival banners noticeably strewn throughout the city, the buzz of jazz activity centered more on a small portion of Melbourne (all but one venue within a 10-minute walk along the scenic Yara River). It reminded one much more of what is commonly associated with Montreal's Jazz Festival than, say, Copenhagen's (given far fewer venues and performances than either), with its events centrally located. The programming was set so that listeners could conveniently go with minimal overlap from one event to the nextcatching everything scheduled (the positive end) but with no other choice (the negative side)from the extravagant concert hall, Hamer Hall, which in its multi-tier design seats 2,700 to Bennett's Lane, the city's only dedicated jazz club (the Village Vanguard of Melbourne with its quiet policy and bar size). Bennett's surprisingly holds a packed house nearing 200 people. A smaller adjacent room fits closer to 90, though it was not utilized as much as it should have been, including as potential host for the late night jam which mistakenly was instead held at the Crown's Live, more a dance club/bar vibe than jazz club.
Though the festival conditions were ideal for the festival organizers, performers and concert attendees particularly for the passers-by that caught a few notes of the daily free outdoor events (along the Yara in Federation Square various jazz and non-jazz acts; and outside the Crown Casino featured band Ken Schroder's Moovin' and Groovin' Orchestra) Australia is in midst of a very serious 5+ year drought, so locals couldn't be over-pleased.
Dubbed "Crown Melbourne Jazz," the festival's primary sponsor being the Crown Hotel (you'd think you've gone to Vegas and died with slot machines, Elvis impersonators, Go Go Girls and glitz galore), their Casino's large show ballroom, The Palms, had frequent near-sellouts of 700-800. It was, however, the visually and acoustically stunning BMW's The Edge Theatre, much like our Zankel and Merkin Halls (additionally with spectacular views of the outside along the Yara), that provided for some of the festival's most pleasant, relaxing and musical listening experiences. Comfortably seating 270, rarely did this venue's afternoon and early evening shows get three-quarters full, though. And one minor quibblethe hall entrance phone really needed to be muted, not just manned, as it occasionally and inevitably disturbed many preciously quiet moments.