Bunbury International Jazz Festival
10-11 May

For the second year running the City of Bunbury has sponsored an international Jazz festival. The City has a winner. This year the festival attracted a balanced and exciting program of local, national and international artists and, importantly, a good audience of music lovers.

The major concert of the festival on Saturday night featured Hank Marvin. Marvin was the lead guitarist of the Shadows, that iconic group of the 60s and 70s which backed Cliff Richards and was an influential instrumental group in its own right.

Marvin began as a skiffle player and so jazz was in his blood, especially after an early introduction to the music of Django Reinhardt. However, his hugely successful rock ‘n roll career overshadowed, as it were, this curiosity until retirement in Perth in 1986 allowed him time to rediscover this music through Sidney Bechet’s ‘Petit Fleur,’ an unexpected hit for him in Britain in 2002.

It is a small step from Bechet to the gypsy jazz of the 1930s of Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Marvin has been exploring that step more or less privately, until persuaded to go public through this performance with his new band Gypsy Jazz. What a performance it was.

Playing to a packed house, Gypsy Jazz with Marvin on lead guitar, Gary Taylor on rhythm guitar, Roy Martinez on bass and Nuncio Mondia on piano accordion, interpreted the music with obvious affection and enthusiasm. Importantly, the players have mastered the split second timing that raises eyebrows and lights up smiles.

Marvin’s gypsy jazz is not, however, museum music. The band brought a freshness and the essential jazz idiom of improvisation to the music of the Quintette. This was jazz in its most contemporary form while being true to its historical idiom.

Marvin probably doesn’t want or need a second career as a jazz guitarist, but it would be tragic if this tilt into a fresh genre was a one-off. Astoundingly, Marvin’s most creative days may still be before him. If Saturday’s reaction is an indication, there is a willing audience for this new and exciting direction as the leader of Gypsy Jazz.

Other international acts included the American guitarist Royce Campbell and trombonist Jim Pugh. Campbell performed an impeccable if somewhat reverential tribute to Wes Montgomery. Pugh was outstanding in his contribution to Mace Francis’s Orchestra. Both his playing and his humility in taking a rank and file chair to play along side Francis’s rising stars, such as trombonist Catherine Noblet and tenor sax Alistair McEvoy, was magnificent.

The point of a Jazz festival however, is not only to experience the headliners in concert, but to discover the new and to experience the unexpected.

New to this side of the country at least is Kristin Berardi. Berardi is hardly a new talent, however, having won the Montreux Jazz Festival’s 2006 Shure Vocal Competition. She is now a staple on the Sydney scene.

Berardi’s style is both winsome and wistful. Her intonation is flawless and her voice is at once intimate and powerful. Her style is reminiscent of the Canadian Patricia Barber. However any similarity with Barber ends with crystal clear diction, intriguing, thoughtful and poetic lyrics and innovative and inspired arrangements that give full reign to her voice. Her vocal style is unique and is complimented by the remarkable use of her body, with dips, stretches and hand gestures, to express the emotions of the music. She was accompanied brilliantly by guitarist James Sherlock and, at times, saxophonist (and husband) David Theak.

It has been said that jazz is a verb and not a noun because jazz is about doing rather than being. Nothing could illustrate this better than the contribution of veteran Melbourne pianist and Don Banks award winner, Bob Sedergreen. His performances delineated what separates a festival from a concert.

Twice on Sunday, Sedergreen brilliantly demonstrated exactly what defines jazz, namely improvisation. Playing with Dane Alderson on electric base, Troy Roberts on tenor and soprano saxes and drummer, Sonja Horbelt, all immensely talented musicians, Sedergreen stopped the session to ‘workshop’ a tune unfamiliar to Alderson and Roberts. Sedergreen played a few notes of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Calling the Children’ to Alderson and Roberts in turn, and then said “let’s play.” The result was 15 minutes of virtuosic improvisation about the melody of Ibrahim’s tune. This was quintessential jazz.

Later at the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, Sedergreen and Horbelt played nearly an hour of dazzling freely improvised music inspired by the art of Laurel Nannup that illustrates haunting scenes from her stolen generation childhood. Again the audience was given a first class lesson in the meaning of jazz.

This was a very well-programmed, well-executed and well-attended festival of contemporary jazz. It should provide the City of Bunbury with continuing evidence that its support of an international jazz festival is well founded, both artistically and economically.

Hash Varsani is the owner of The Jazz Directory, a network of sites related to jazz, travel and everything else he loves. He also runs a selection of jazz related sites including Jazz Club Jury, a jazz club and festival review site. Check out his Google+ Profile, to see what else he's up to...probably setting up another website from one of his many passions.