Melbourne Jazz Festival 2007
Of the plethora of vocalists (from McNulty to Aussies Elana Stone and Janet Seidel), Julie O'Hara was undoubtedly the stand-out. At Bennett's, listeners waited with baited breath for each turn the vocalist spontaneously took in lyric and scat. Unlike many contemporary jazz vocalists, her scatting is an essential not novelingredient to her style, as much as her lyrical and highly rhythmic sensibilities. An outstanding singer who brings to mind the glory days of the late Anita O'Day, her approach is as if she were an instrument herself (much like another one of today's most promising vocal stars Roberta Gambarini), frequently inserting herself into the horn section, doubling up to blow backing choruses with instrumental prowess. Not surprisingly her vocalese project's repertoire was filled with hornplayer tunes, from Dizzy Gillespie's "Birk's Works and "Groovin' High to Hank Mobley's "Soul Station," Gigi Gryce's "Minority," Teddy Edwards' "Nothin' But The Truth," Sonny Rollins' "Why Don't I," and Cannonball Adderley's "Spontaneous Combustion." Her original lyrics to Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers were hysterical (basically about falling in love with four brothers!) and of course musical as ever, speeding up the tempo in the second set of lyrics and culminating with a trading of fours with drummer Edward York before culminating with an á la beyond Brady Bunch lyric: "One, Two, Three, Four?Why not make make it Five?! Given lyrics to an original instrumental composition commonly compromise the original's tempo and flow, but O'Hara's word selection and horn-like delivery easily communicates and flows a musicality so convincingly and thoroughly that it became easy to forget many of these numbers either never had lyrics or previously had others. The set closer, an of course blazing rendition of "Cherokee," featured the entire band: Ben Winkelman (piano), Leigh Barker (bass), Carl Barbaro (tenor sax) and Eamon McNalis (trumpet) as well as the demanding tempo maintenance provided by York. Everyone on and off stage had a blast that evening, with those offstage clapping and hollering for more encores deep into the night.
Vocalist McNulty performed primarily for a small family and friends affair at The Edge in duo with guitarist Bollenback, a venue that may have been a mismatch (McNulty affectionately and accurately called us "a small but appreciative audience ). Late night almost every night, however, her shows at Live at the Crown found her accompanied by her strong US-based quartet of Bollenback, Mark Soskin (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Jeremy Clemons (drums) preceding a sometimes jam session that wason nightscurtailed, simply mismanaged by the venue early in the festival (reportedly Winther's drummer Terzic was literally dragged away from the drumkit one night!) The group's rendition of "I Should Care gave the standard perhaps one of its most distinctive modern treatments, starting out in as-expected ballad tempo, but then turning into an up-tempo groovy romp. Soskin and Clemons, in particular, impressively and rhythmically connected, with McNulty taking the driver's seat, delivering lyrics with an authority in range that perhaps revealed her not always noticeable accent (perhaps this was the unique draw to this selection in her repertoire in particular, as otherwise her Aussie-ness as a vocalist isn't so evident).
Overall, the Melbourne Jazz Festival was enjoyable and memorable with some unique moments as yet to be experienced in New Yorknot an easy thing to say since it seems most everyone, eventually if not inevitably, makes a stop here. Perfect examples are Abate and Aaron Choulai's rare and special duo project, and Julie O'Haraone of the most talented-yet-unheard of jazz vocalists today: will we get to hear either project stateside? Only time will tell. Given the state of economics in getting to the States for starters, let alone the embarrassing artist fees (if that), it's no wonder we never or hardly ever hear what Aussie jazz has to offerit's a pricey and LONG trip! And if they can't make it out to us given the cost of such a ticket, you're going to have to go out there to hear them live for yourself. Just start looking now for those flight package deals, and once the reservation's made for next year's Melbourne Jazz Fest '08, be sure to get some rest on the plane flight over; otherwise you'll sleep through all the excitement (remember you also cross the international date line, so you arrive basically two days after you left!).
In the meantime, you can visit the websites of two of the more popular Aussie jazz labels to get clued in: New Market Music and Jazzhead. So go onget tempted to get on board for next year's excursion Down Under.