The Sydney Conservatorium International Jazz Festival
Sydney Conservatorium, Sunday 4 June 2017
Never since I came back from Japan some time ago have I felt the Sydney CBD to be such a horrible place. You cannot navigate a relaxed spacious course through the debris of roadworks. Yet within the auspices of the Sydney Conservatorium’s Jazz Festival auras sprang up that were as magical as some which transparently encircled events in Japan or Melbourne. Of course Sydney’s Son et Lumiere event (Vivid) also sprang up as I began to lumber off home at the end, searching for an accessible bus stop. Searching also for something that would bring back to some degree the time when Osby and Steve Coleman were the new and compulsively listenable voices of their time. Never mind, I’ll walk to Glebe, freezing as I am and beginning to experience the symptoms of yet another haemorrhagic stroke (fairly mild this time).
Time-limited by these symptoms I missed Phil Slater but caught Scott Tinkler and master drummer Simon Barker. Paul Grabowsky recently pronounced Slater and Tinkler the most interesting trumpeters in the world, and I agree. I did catch distinguished American alto saxophonist Greg Osby’s master class. I quite rightly sat back in the audience and not among the students. Therefore Osby’s soft deep voice was a mild strain to follow, but his alto sound was beautifully pure and dynamically edged. His local ensemble – Jamie Oehlers, tenor sax, Phil Stack, contrabass, Tim Firth, drums, and New York-based pianist Tal Cohen were excellent in all aspects.
Although I was even further away from Tinkler’s master class, the peculiarities and humour of his observations made his vocal offering more enjoyable and interesting than Osby’s. To hear them pay together – Tinkler and Osby that is – would surely have been memorable. Scott’s massive shattering tone made the room ring and cauterised some of my ailments.
Incidentally mention of Japan reminds me of the day of the dead. They walked among us in the night. I did not see them but surely felt their presence in the city and in the night a small crowd in Kyoto sang and chanted as they escorted a ghost or spirit across the road to a new house. Toward the end of this piece I will briefly describe a local ensemble who had most definitely some of the mysterious feeling of such events.
The festival incidentally was the first of its kind in many details. It was organized and selected as to participants by tenor saxophonist David Theak, who is now head of the Con’s jazz course, and master percussionist Barker. Incidentally my condition should be briefly identified. My strokes are the result of small blood vessels rupturing so that, virtually, my brain bleeds, contracting me memory at times and playing havoc with my balance and logic. Okay. the recurrences are a mystery when all my readings – blood pressure, oxygen diffusion through the blood, heart rate etc are good and I am fit enough to race on my bike up practically all steep hills that Sydney has to offer. Enough.
Back to the festival. I found Speedball, a big band (of somewhat reduced size) rugged and exciting, especially as I listened from a gallery above them in the jazz cafe. The high trumpet forays seemed to lift me even higher in my seat.
The Sydney Women’s Jazz Collective were as interesting and at time as rawly exciting. The superb guest was the great saxophonist and composer Sandy Evans.
As I am running out of time I will go straight to the band that made the most profound impression on me. This was the Hieronymus Trio (no blood connection to the Sunrise program’s host) with guest vocalist Gian Slater. Anyone as deeply stricken, in years as I am will remember that feeling of mysterious recognition that rises when you hear the new generation, the new thing, the rising cadre of talent. If you are old enough, think back to Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton, Fin Ryan, Julian Wilson, Mark Simmonds et al (These are still with us and will always lift me higher than the gallery seats.( With all those who have enriched our lives walking with me I urgently encourage you to hear also the Hieronymus Trio whenever you can. The leader, pianist and composer is Emma Stephenson . Double bassist and drummer are respectively Nick Henderson, and Oliver Nelson.
Emma plays brilliantly, brightly and strongly, and her compositions are so strong that myself as well as others were for no particular reason near tears. The songs lie somewhere between mysticism and powerful visceral emotion. The lyrics are, let us say, very convincingly cosmic.
Gian Slater seems to have taken on more power since i last heard her. her high notes are stronger, in fact chillingly powerful. This appearance of the band was in part to promote their new record “Where The Rest Of The World Begins” Gian is one of the few singers in our age who can improvise meaningfully.
Finally, the bass and drums are sometimes traditionally integrated with the ensemble, sometimes paired explorers, sometimes lone rangers as it were. Like other facets of the band they can seem almost supernatural, traditional elements give foundation and strength to the new and mysterious, the unpredictable. This is something to be heard and seen. In the deeply preoccupied dance of their approach to and handling of their instruments they have a mysterious dual charisma.
At times the ensemble stays on the same tonality, even the same note, like an incantation or chant, then the lines move away from each other and return.
Due to certain symptoms I go to bed once I am home. Thus I see none of Vivid. In about half an hour after midnight I wake and rise and write what is before you. Apart from remaining lights on the near hill of the city there is blackness and apart from a distant sound of a car or truck on bitumen there is silence. This is where the rest of the world begins.