In a sea of techno, R&B and indecipherable melds of monotonous beats, one beacon shone brightly on Saturday, dispensing luminous shafts of contemporary jazz on to an eager audience enjoying its third day of the Valley Jazz Festival.
The Judith Wright Centre was the place to be for bold, energetic and sometimes dreamy pieces played by some of Australia’s most skilled improvisers. When their talents were not required, some band members appeared to be blissfully drifting off – not remarkable considering the hectic workload which has seen the 17-piece group travel the length and breadth of the country in little over a fortnight. On the contrary, the relaxed demeanours owed to a clear love of the music, heads nodding and feet tapping. If you can be that unwound whilst at work, good luck to you.
Since the tour began its biggest and most encompassing journey yet, Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra (JMO) has travelled through five states, encountering enthusiastic crowds from Cairns to Hobart. There have been damaged instruments, rescheduled flights and a five minute layover in the red centre yet somehow everything and everyone has made it as far as the biennial festival based in Fortitude Valley.
Joining the men onstage was Bell Award-winning jazz vocalist Kristin Berardi. A gifted singer, teacher and composer, her works have been performed domestically and internationally numerous times. Five of her compositions were exhibited – all available on new release Kristin Berardi Meets the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra
– each showing a different side to the Queensland-native. ‘Moonbeams’ is simply mesmerising; imagine the sound emanating from a timeworn Jazz club, her delicate notes dissipating into wafts of smoke. Striking a similar chord was the warmly received ‘Live Rite’, yet its sultry scat and sporadically frantic Mike Rivett saxophone set it apart.
On a more personal note stood ‘Old Fashioned Way’ and ‘Ode to Oli’, written for Berardi’s grandparents and son respectively. The former is touching and saw the singer lost in the lyrics as if reflecting on closely-held memories (“…Letting him tell stories you’ve heard so many times or more”). The latter expresses cascading lullaby embraces contrasting with big band dynamism to create a multi-tiered dedication filled with pride and love – and all sung with a smile on the face.
‘Mr Jackson’, stemming from a chance laundrette meeting, had to be JMO and its guest at their best. Some soulful singing and orchestration reached inside you, underscoring the elucidative lyrics: “He served in World War Two and The Korean War and from the shrapnel his lungs were scarred but his view of life was more of joy and laughter”. Under the direction of David Theak, JMO continued to impress with the cinema score-ready ‘Teen Adventure’ and ska-like ‘Who Do You Think of Now’, an off-kilter piece highlighted by an avalanching Jamie Cameron drum solo. Capping off the evening was high-tempo party starter ‘Mr Dodo’ featuring Ken Allars’ trumpet and Richard Maegraith’s sax duelling it out.
A lot can be said for JMO: each knows not only his own part impeccably but is fully aware of those around him, which obviously is no small feat given the group’s size. All of this makes for fresh, vivid and well-constructed jazz. The Sydney-based band’s website states that they are “widely acknowledged as Australia’s leading full size jazz orchestra”. With accolades and collaborations coming from all corners of the globe, these accomplished gents are definitely not blowing their own horns.
Reviewed: Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra and Kristin Berardi
Valley Jazz Festival
Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
Brisbane, Saturday 28 May, 2011
By Jack Bartlett