Simon Barker

Band: Various – Eric Harland, Allan Browne, Marc Hannaford, Joe Lovano, Barney McAll, Stefano Bollani, Hamilton de Holanda, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irvin Mayfield, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
Venue: various – Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Date:  May 28 – June 07


Festival organisers must often be tempted to re-program box office successes. Perhaps that explains why this year’s MIJF featured at least ten overseas headliners who’ve all appeared previously. If that implies populism, then drummer Eric Harland’s Voyager is the opposite end of the jazz spectrum. At a club session, scene of the festival’s most advanced jazz, Voyager, a US quintuple of serious talent, played pieces from two albums, segueing beautifully between numbers. Amongst standout solos, there was a magical duo improvisation by transitory piano and contrapuntal guitar.

Melbourne drummer Allan Browne launched his latest suite based on literary works: Ithaca Bound, a portrayal of Homer’s Odyssey. The club session quintet delivered this contemporary work with verve and numerous blazing solos.

Another club session featured pianist Marc Hannaford’s Quartet with local virtuoso trumpeter Scott Tinkler and two US musicians: the thoughtfully angular tenor sax of Ellery Eskelin and inventive percussive playing from drummer Tom Rainey. Hannaford’s exploratory piano led atonal, A-grade, cutting-edge music.

Distinguished as all club sessions were, top ratings must go to US tenor saxophone giant Joe Lovano. Backed by stellar Australian players, pianist Paul Grabowsky, bassist Philip Rex, and the intelligent drumming of Dave Beck, the quartet held a sold-out crowd spellbound. From the uptempo opener, Lovano poured out ceaseless high-speed inventions of staggering power.

Lovano had appeared earlier leading groups of Monash Jazz Studies students, tutoring and inspiring many talented youngsters.

Pianist and composer Barney McAll’s quintet presented a concert from his new album, Mooroolbark. These sophisticated compositions were interpreted brilliantly by saxophonist Julien Wilson, Stephen Magnusson on guitar, plus one of the best Australian rhythm duos, bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Simon Barker on drums. A trio number Appletree, an absolute apex of all-out funk brought the house down.

On Friday night an unusual collaboration featuring Italian pianist Stefano Bollani with Hamilton de Holanda on bandolim, a Brazilian mandolin, played a joyous collection of Latin music. The perfectly synchronised pair shared ensembles and solos in fast-running South American rhythms.

Sunday’s festival finale by US vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater was a re-run of the closing event from 2012, but accompanied by Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. In fact this band with many soloists and several vocalists took the spotlight more than Bridgewater, who has a fine strong voice of the sassy, brassy school. Unless you were a clap-along enthusiast, or enjoyed repetitive exhortations for ever louder applause, you might have been disappointed.

Image top Eric Harland

Right middle – Simon Barker

Right bottom – Marc Hannaford and Ellery Eskelin