Keith Penhallow received 2nd prize in the 2007 National Jazz Writing Competition. This is one of his submitted winning reviews.
The Gods Cafe in the grounds of the Australian National University is the nearest thing to the classic jazz cellar.
It is the ideal place for Canberra poet and playwright Geoff Page to share his love of jazz with other like-minded people. Once a month for six months of the year, Goeff organises a jazz concert. The series is a clever mix of interstate and local musicians. Often the bands are put together for a one-off performance. Such was the case for the August concert when we were treated to the Sylvia Mitchell Trio a.k.a. Slyvia and the Sidekicks. Sylvia played alto saxophone accompanied by Zoe Hauptmann, bass player with Wanderlust and King Curly and guitarist Jess Green, known for her own bands katook and The Green Septet.
The gig started with Hey Mama, an angular swinging Jess Green original. The lack of drums was noticeable, missing but not missed, giving a clean chamber jazz sound with space between the notes.
The second number was a surprise. After nearly ten years of watching the Green talent blossoming with not just her guitar playing but also her composing and arranging skills, I was introduce to another facet. She can sing! What Is This Thing Called Love by Cole Porter was the choice. The song began with just guitar and bass accompaniment and Sylvia introducing the alto with a solo. As a singer, Jess needs a spot of polish but the quality of her voice is such that she will shine – not the high pure characterless soprano of so many young so-called jazz singers but a sultry Black Coffee kind of a voice. I want to hear more.
Sylvia followed with a short and sweet version of Charly Parker’s Confirmation, proving her chops and supported by Zoe’s rollicking bass, her fingers dancing over the strings like two tarantulas in a mating ritual. Yes, I know, but she was cooking. We were treated to Cheeky Chappie, a Jess original with a calypso feel; Miles Davis’ All Blues; Jess singing Willow Weep For Me with stinging shards of guitar in duet with Zoe; a couple of originals from Zoe’s CD called Zoe and the Buttercups. The band played Steve Coleman’s Aftrican Lullaby, a song with three melodies; a couple of exquisite originals by Sylvia from a play called Drumming on Water by Geoff Page, in which she is currently appearing. A highlight was Jess’ Rainsong, written for the people of Togo where she spent some time a few years ago, and featured on The Greeen Septet CD The Singing Fish.
I have watched Jess and Zoe develop over the years into the confident and competent professional musicians they are today. I am ore familiar with Jess’ work but I have always been aware of Zoe’s stalwart playing. At this gig Zoe astounded me with her inventive playing.
Somehow I have missed Sylvia in the past, a traged. For a twenty four year old she displays a wonderful talent. Not the lowdown, mean and dirty sound of a sweaty jazz cellar but a cool, clean, precise yet swinging sound – ideal for a drummerless band. They finished as they started with another angular swinging number but this one well known, Thelonius Monk’s I Mean You. So ended a satisfying concert featuring an intelligent selection of songs. – standards, jazz classics and originals – a perfect mix.