Friday 27 May 2011
Leigh Barker & the New Sheiks played at Chapel Off Chapel on Friday night as part of the Stonnington Jazz Festival. Bopstretch were in support, playing their usual mix of lush ballads and fast-and-furious bebop, with trumpeter Eamon McNelis moonlighting after the interval with the main act.
Bassist-composer Leigh Barker was joined onstage by the New Sheiks: Don Stewart (trombone), Anthony Schulz (piano) and Al Kerr (drums), along with the aforementioned McNelis. The band were resplendent in suits, looking every inch the professionals they were, and they quickly showed it with some superb polyrhythmic work off their new self-titled album. ‘Be Still Hold On Tight’ by Melbourne guitarist John Scurry was a particular stand-out as the band locked down the groove and stretched out.
For the second half of their set they were joined by guest vocalist Heather Stewart, and the night clicked into another gear. A solid cover of ‘She Ain’t No Good’ by the Mississippi Sheiks eased Stewart into the set, Schulz’s staccato piano playing complementing the bluesy vibe nicely. The singer pulled out her fiddle too on a Cajun-sounding ‘Funeral Blues’, swinging as tight as the band did as they rounded out the show with more tunes from their latest album. Continue reading
Sunday 22 May 2011
Teeing off the Stonnington Jazz Festival’s run of shows at Chapel Off Chapel in Prahran, legendary Australian drummer Allan Browne was joined by the members of both his quintet and trio for a “program of musical portraits and poems”. Quite what to expect was somewhat a mystery, but the audience’s questions were answered as Browne settled in, sharing anecdotes of his days playing with jazz legends including Teddy Wilson and Milt Jackson before setting off on some fantastic musical performances. Browne read snippets of poetry between songs too, often accompanied by one of his musicians, making for laconic Australian spoken word.
The first set was blistering, with one ten-minute jam beginning its life as a 1920s New Orleans rag before melding seamlessly into a slice of Charlie Parker-esque bebop, then finishing with a soul jazz swirl.
Guitarist Geoff Hughes was versatile throughout, equal parts George Benson and Lee Underwood, Tim Buckley’s long-time collaborator. His moody playing helped set the tone for the sadder tales Browne shared throughout the show. Continue reading
I am not entirely clear of when I first got into jazz. And yes, this will be one of those retrospective essays where the writer always knows where they are heading, but pretends to discover gems along the way, walking blindly towards an obvious outcome. Yes, indeed.
In all honesty, it wasn’t until writing this down that I remembered the first story about myself and jazz. I was back at school, during assembly, and a friend of mine played a song on piano entitled something titular like Jazz for Teens or Jazz Hearts Start Young– something stupid. I remember thinking it sounded awful.
And that was my earliest memory of live jazz. Not a great one, but it sparked a series of moments that formed my early understanding of the genre, as follows:
1. Lisa Simpson of The Simpsons
Lisa is at a venue called the Jazz Hole. She is in the crowd watching an electrical violinist on stage.
Guy: [Unimpressed] Hmph, sounds like she’s hitting a baby with a cat.
Lisa: You have to listen to the notes she’s NOT playing.
Guy: [Still unimpressed] Pssh, I can do that at home. Continue reading
Uptown Jazz Café
177 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
The Uptown Jazz Café is a fine establishment just north of the Melbourne CBD. Surrounded by pubs and boutique shops, it is a little hard to find- a small white sign next to an open doorway is the sole visual cue- but the sound of jazz pouring down the stairwell is a giveaway.
Climbing the stairs you enter the bar and are immediately taken to another time and place. The décor is warm and inviting, candles cast a red glow over the tables, and a wall-length mirror gives a feeling of space.
The staff are friendly and the bar is stocked with the usual array of spirits and bottled beer. Peckish patrons can also order Japanese snacks and meals at the bar, with Uptown billing the traditional flavours of the fare ‘Tokyo style’. Continue reading