Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Various locations, October 14-16
After two years of canceled or heavily reduced programmes, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival came to life over the weekend with an impressive line-up of events to sold-out venues.
On Friday night, The Jazzlab hosted two startlingly different acts: Ecosystem by saxophonist Flora Carbo followed by B+K (Brett Williams and Kate Kelsey-Sugg). Carbo is the festival’s Take Note leader for 2022 and presented a specially commissioned piece – When everything moves – featuring three alto saxophones and three voices that subtly intertwine, creating an ever-changing kaleidoscope of textures.
Vocalist Kelsey-Sugg and pianist/keyboardist Brett Williams co-led a quartet that exuded warmth and positive energy. Their original songs wavered between genres, often backed by a relaxed, soulful backbeat with jazz-tinged solos. Kelsey is an effortless communicator whose lyrics exude authenticity, and Williams’ perfectly judged accompaniment ranged from mellow melodies to mellow synth beds and bluesily emphatic two-hand chords.
Saturday’s main event – a day-long festival within a festival – was the biggest and most ambitious show ever put on by the MIJF. Appropriately named Big Saturday, the event took over the Myer Music Bowl and featured a shrewd selection of acts designed to expand the reach of the festival. Judging by the roars of approval from the ability crowd, it was a gamble that paid off. Even the weather gods played their part, refusing the rain to fall on the festival parade.
Jazz purposely gave way to soul, funk and R&B, as the momentum and energy gradually built over afternoon sets from Harry James Angus, Emma Donovan and The Putbacks and The Bamboos.
As night fell, headline hit Fat Freddy’s Drop embraced the soul-funk vibe and added generous doses of dub, reggae, techno and disco, producing a two-hour extravaganza that saw the crowd of 9,000 transform into a sea of throbbing bodies. While jazz may not be Fat Freddy’s raison d’etre, improvisation is at the heart of the Wellington band’s gigs, and most of their songs have become extended practice sessions peppered with overactive horns. , haunting rhythms and psychedelic synths.
The epic finale was an immersive journey through Shivermanpunctuated by the hypnotic vocal riffs of Dallas Tamaira and featuring the irrepressible Joe “Hopepa” Lindsay (dressed – or undressed – in a sparkly singlet and shorts) who went from harmonica to trombone to tuba, and interspersed his solos with a manic sprint through the adoring crowd.