Melbourne Jazz Festival 2007
Solo pianists included New Zealander and longtime Sydney resident Mike Nock, a one-time fixture on the American jazz scene (you might recall albums from the '60s and '70s he was featured on including those by Yusef Lateef, Steve Marcus, John Handy and the group The Fourth Way with Handy's violinist Michael White). Nock is one of the big names from Down Under that this journalist was very much looking forward to finally having the opportunity to hear live for the first time. To my surprise, he performed solo to an ever-so sparse but quaint and certainly supportive crowd of no more than thirty at The Edge, showing a surprising lack of local appreciation and support for a local legend and living treasure (that said, his young trio with bassist Mike Majkowski and drummer James Waples, the latter who played an empathetic and subtle role given the venue's poor acoustics for sticks, played the next evening to a much better turnout). His solo program at The Edge included a dramatic rendition of "Cry Me A River," lyrical to the point of threading in the melody to "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You with an intense final arm swipe statement across the piano's treble end, and a tribute to an old associate, the late Michael Brecker, which featured a medley including an original composition he recorded with Brecker in the late '70s entitled "The Gift." His impressionistic untitled improvisational ballad interestingly delivered what sounded and felt like the most thoroughly composed piece of the set with an edgy spontaneity intermingling within its multi-movement structure.
Stride king player/composer James P. Johnson served as a musical thread to Nock's solo concert ("Snowy Morning Blues ) from another pianist's the day previous. At the same venue American pianist Jon Weber masterfully worked his characteristically strong dancing left hand into the stride repertoire of James P. Johnson ("The Mule Walk ) and Fats Waller ("I'm Goin' To See My Ma ) as well as stride-inflected renditions of Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan and Duke Jordan's "Jordu." His interpretation of another Waller chestnut, "Handful of Keys (impressively taken by an as-impressive request from an audience member on the spot) quickly revealed Weber's astonishing speed in and ever-musical communication between his hands, layering rhythm over quick-to-detect melody. Weber likes to call the tune a "Boston Marathon piece you need 6 months of training for before you're ready! He must have been due for the run then, as he paced himself and maintained the blistering tempo from the get go! He also humorously incorporated '70s rock group Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water anthem with Jobim's "Wave , and performed Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes at an ever-so slow and engaging tempo. Proving that schizophrenia or split/multiple personalities is a near- essential element to pull off what he was able to during his set of continuous counterpoint and countermelodies, Weber displayed in his strength of stride what was in essence a duo of the different, though complementary, roles between his two hands, and in doing so gave Clarence Williams' "Royal Garden Blues with its progressively doubling up of tempo, one of the tune's more playful renditions.
With regards to the featured festival groups, Chindamo was invited to bring two: one a romantic but rather stiffly performed "string quartet project that played South American and European folk songs and frequently split off into duos and trios comprising of piano, bass, violin and guitar, and certainly exploiting The Edge's acoustics wisely without the use of drums; the other was Chindamo's co-led Aussie/Dutch ensemble with legendary countryman Graeme Lyall (alto sax) at one of several sold-out Palms at the Crown performances.
There was also Chick Corea, who in addition to performing with vibraphonist Burton, brought in his group with guitarist Frank Gambale and the young Sydney sensation, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld. Multi-instrumentalist James Morrison's entertaining but over the top Vegas-y set was presented at Palms at the Crown (certainly appropriate to the venue). Morrison is arguably Australia's most popular and major known jazz performer on par with Wynton Marsalis or Bill Charlap here. Dry ice and an extravagantly distracting light show, in addition to an extremely booming high volume setting and sound mix, set the stage for Morrison's MDT (Morrison Digital Trumpet) which really took things a tad too far. It was as if Peter Frampton came out with a jazz album! The performance catered to and entertained the audience, seemingly.