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Jazz festival heats up

09 Jun 2016

Jazz festival heats up Image

Mid-season review by Sean Car

Southbank’s Melbourne Recital Centre absolutely lit up over the opening weekend of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

The festival’s grand unveiling came on Friday, June 3 with the legendary Gary Bartz Quartet, which simply had listeners mesmerised for more than an hour of blistering and uninterrupted jazz.

Having shared the stage with the likes of Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Pharaoh Sanders just to name a few, the saxophone of Gary Bartz is something magical to behold – pure and pitch-perfect.

At the beginning of his set he announced to the audience: “We’re going to start playing, and once we start we’re not going to stop …” That was fine with us Gary!

And from there on in it was a non-stop scintillating display of John Coltrane-inspired virtuosic jams! It was so good your mind was often left trailing off as the music swept through you like an ocean tide.

But of course to create such a wave, it takes a quartet.

Melbourne’s very own Barney McAll, who Gary Bartz first met at Bennetts Lane, has to be one of the best pianists I’ve ever seen. His regular solos drew raptures of applause from the spellbound audience.

Drummer Greg Bandy stunned listeners with some lighting drum speeds, while bassist James King kept the rhythm bopping on the double bass.

It was nothing short of a privilege to witness such talent. This really was a show for jazz purists and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Festival director Michael Tortoni said this year’s festival was a celebration of the ongoing evolution of jazz – the genre’s ability to constantly adapt and stay relevant.

He said his approach to arranging this year’s festival was all about capturing a moment in time and nothing reflected this notion more accurately than the main event on Saturday, June 4 – again, at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Enter the Robert Glasper Trio. Anyone who’s followed Glasper’s music for a long time might normally associate the influential American artist, producer and collaborator with hip-hop and R&B. He’s played alongside a host of legends from Herbie Hanckock through to Kendrick Lamar.

However, with his trio, the prodigiously talented pianist is with his roots. Long-term friends and collaborators Vicente Archer (bass) and Damion Reid (drums) reunited to bring the audience a smooth and soulful taste of jazz.

To complement the music, Glasper was as fun, charismatic and engaging as they come. His 10-minute medley of famous piano riffs, broken up by unpredictably-timed, split-second key jams tested his drummer’s reactions and had the crowd in stitches. He certainly wasn’t afraid to stop for a chat with the audience either.

More importantly, in Glasper’s trio, listeners found a resounding sense of versatility in the narrative of the music. One minute it was fast and scintillating, the next it was slow and moving.

It capped off an epic opening to this year’s Jazz Festival. The best thing is, there’s still A LOT more to come.

Whether you want to experience Southbank’s Arts Precinct or one of the CBD’s classic jazz venues such as Bennetts Lane, there is something for everyone.

To check out what else is in store or to book tickets head to melbournejazz.com.

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