Category: Music

Review: High Tea Live – Steaming Jazz with Stevenson’s Rockets 

Toe-tapping jazz that’s good for the soul

By Narelle Wood

There is perhaps no better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne than sitting in The Pavilion at the Arts Centre, overlooking the city, eating scrumptious food and listening to “Steaming Jazz” with Stevenson’s Rockets.

The Stevenson’s Rockets are as smooth as they come, entertaining with numbers such as Scott Joplin’s Solace and the more laid back Riverside Blues, mixing it up with jazz styles from songs with upbeat Latin-American rhythms, to the Dixieland stylings of Ice cream. The quartet, consisting of Jo Stevenson (reeds), Steve Grant (piano), Chris Ludowyk (bass, trombone) and Ian Smith (drums, trumpet and vocals), effortlessly moved between styles, instruments, and solos, each song just as entertaining as the last.

This is perhaps to be expected given that Stevenson’s Rockets have been around for some time. But what added to this already stellar performance was that the Stevenson, Grant, Ludowyk and Smith also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, the music, and each other’s company, as well as the performance itself.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a rocketing-rendition of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, compete with Smith on the washboard. It was certainly a crowd pleaser that left me wondering where exactly one might find a washboard.

If the toe-tapping Jazz performances are not quite enough to tempt you into purchasing as ticket, then the addition of high tea should certainly seal the deal. There are bubbles on arrival, with non-alcoholic options also available, and continuous tea and coffee refills. There are both sweet and savoury options, of sandwiches, pastries and cakes. And of course, any high tea wouldn’t be complete without scones, jam and cream.

So if you’re looking to spend a couple of hours soothing the soul, decadently eating and listening to, not just good, but great music, I highly recommend high tea on a Sunday afternoon at The Arts Centre.

Venue: The Pavilion, The Arts Centre, Melbourne

Tickets: from $79

To book tickets for the November or December High Tea Live go to www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

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Review: Amazing Grace

Just Franklin and the power of her voice

By Narelle Wood

Some 47 years after filming, the documentary capturing Aretha Franklin’s seminal gospel recording of Amazing Grace has finally made it to screen.

In 1972, over two nights, Franklin, along with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir (directed by Alexander Hamilton), recorded live gospel songs such as Precious Memories, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and, of course, Amazing Grace. Keen on making it an authentic experience, Franklin insisted that the recording take place inside the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in front of a congregation; a congregation including Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and gospel singer Clara Ward.

In an attempt to capture what would become a landmark event – the album going on to be the biggest selling gospel album of all time – Warner Bros commissioned director Sydney Pollack to document the recording. Pollack, an experience director, was not however accustomed to making documentaries, and this is where the trouble with the film begins. The original delay in the film’s release were due to ‘technical difficulties’; Pollack hadn’t used clapboards to mark sections of the film, making the task of syncing the visuals and sound almost impossible. Eventually Alan Elliot would take on the project and work tirelessly to bring it together, even amidst threats of legal action from Franklin herself due to missing contracts and payment disputes.

What Elliot and editor Jeff Buchanan have created is an immersive experience, giving an all to brief glimpse into the immense talent of Aretha Franklin and her voice’s ability to literally move people. Pollack’s lack of experience as a documentary maker is evident; it feels like the cameras have been given to some random onlookers with the only mandate to ‘hit record and capture this’. The footage is sometimes blurry and often jerky as a camera man moves from one location to the next. Some of the close-ups are uncomfortably close, and some of the camera angles are really awkward. But Elliot and Buchanan capitalise on this lack of polish, reminding the audience that this was first and foremost a recording session, and a documentary last.

The film hits all the right notes, quite literally. The pacing is good and there are a few cutaways that provide momentary insights into the work behind the scenes to produce such an event. There are no experts or commentary on Franklin other than that which occurred during at the original taping. It focusses purely on the recording and Franklin’s performance, which does not disappoint. My favourite part was seeing just how excited the choir was to be a part of the two night event.

In a time where stylised and sleek recreations of the lives of musical legends’ have begun to grace our screen, Amazing Grace offers a refreshing contrast with its authentic 70’s hair and clothing, offering no narrative and no explanation. It’s just Franklin and the power of her voice.

Amazing Grace is now playing in cinemas such as the Classic, Lido and Palace. Check websites for listings and prices.

Review: Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy

An evening of absolute pleasure and beauty

By Bradley Storer

Video game fans braved the icy weather and rain for the first ever presentation of ‘Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy’ in Melbourne, and their dedication was well rewarded. From the first glorious strains of the harp, the 100 piece Distant Worlds Orchestra and Chorus cast a spell over the attentive and enthusiastic audience.

Conductor Archie Roth was electric and energetic in his handling of the orchestra, and in between he was charming and affable in his introductions to all of the numbers (often calling out for the fans of each specific iteration to cheer). An incredibly special treat on the night was the presence of the legendary Yoko Shimomura, composer for the Kingdom Hearts series and Final Fantasy XV (the latest in the series), and her compositions ‘Somnus’ and ‘Apocalypsis Noctis’ were two of the highlights of the evening.

The first half of the concert was a mixture of selections from across the series. The program began with the opening theme of Final Fantasy VIII, drawing gasps of pleasurable recognition before segueing into the operatic ‘Liberi Fatali’ which utilized the chorus to brilliant effect. Composer Nubuo Uematsu (the main composer of the Final Fantasy series) was well represented across the board, the brilliance and beauty of his dramatic melodies – as well as the quirkiness and distinctiveness of his more character driven themes – brought completely to life by the orchestra. Masayoshi Soken’s ‘Heavensward’ from Final Fantasy XIV was absolutely riveting with its celestial soprano solo blossoming into a full choral and orchestral climax, alongside Hitoshi Sakamoto’s brutal and bombastic ‘Flash of Steel’ from Final Fantasy XII.

The second part of the evening was dedicated mainly to the score of Final Fantasy VII, which can be justified in light of both the game’s importance musically to the series in addition to its importance to the global canon of video gaming. The video projections screened through every piece were at their most effective here, mixing together visuals from both the original FFVII, the subsequent spin-offs and even newly remastered footage from the upcoming remake (which drew delighted squeals across the audience). The iconic opening Bombing Mission, the emotional and heart-rending Aerith’s Theme, the commanding Cosmo Canyon and charming Cinco de Chocobo finally leading into the terrifying JENOVA COMPLETE and the series’ most recognizable and masterful musical moment, One Winged Angel.

An evening of absolute pleasure and beauty for fans of the beloved video game series!

Venue: Melbourne Arena, Olympic Blvd.

Date: Saturday 24th August

Time: 7:45pm

 

Review: Ghost Quartet

Electrifying staging of beautiful music NOT to be missed

By Owen James

I’ll begin with a disclaimer: I have been a huge fan of the cast recording for Ghost Quartet for many years, and was very excited to see this staging as the Australian Premiere. Dave Malloy’s score is delightful and odd, filled with moments of beauty and confusion alike. Antipodes Theatre, relatively new on the Melbournian theatre scene, have proven they are one to watch with this beautiful and haunting production.

Director and designer Brandon Pape has conjured (no pun intended) an atmosphere that is playful and eerie for Ghost Quartet to enchant its audiences with numerous entangling tales and characters. This song cycle about “love, death, and whisky” is sometimes relaxing, sometimes humorous, and sometimes genuinely chilling – but always enchanting. Storytelling is at the heart of Ghost Quartet, and Pape’s loungeroom-reminiscent setting – a place we often feel most comfortable – becomes the home of unnerving spectres as both original and familiar fables unravel. Malloy’s text must be mined for meaning, and Pape has translated layers of riddles into a moving and theatrically rich staging.

Musical Director David Butler has masterfully interpreted Dave Malloy’s malleable (or Malloyable?) score with grit and slickly rehearsed precision. You would be hard-pressed to find four voices that harmonise and blend as seamlessly as this cast who also play every note live: across piano, cello, drums, ukulele, synthesizers, organ, and other musical oddities. Not only have these four performers memorised the entire 90-minute score (a feat many pit musicians would struggle with), but perform an entire fifteen-minute section in pitch darkness. Audience members are also sometimes given the chance to contribute with percussive instrumentation – take the invitation if it’s offered.

Melissa David’s voice is a powerhouse of passion, delivering mesmerising numbers such as ‘Starchild’ and finalé ‘The Wind and Rain’ with both severity and sensitivity. Willow Sizer’s bewitchingly unique voice can seemingly transcend substance and style, becoming a terrifying instrument of its own amid the darkness. David Butler charms with improvised dialogue and delivers striking, dynamic and controlled vocals, and Patrick Schnur is cellist extraordinaire (turn a cello on its side and it can become a quasi-banjo, who knew?), often rounding out the quartet with invigorating baritone vocals.

Lighting design by Brandon Pape and Lachlan McLean is some of the most effective and evocative I have ever seen. Each song has a distinct and specific flavour, and the intimate Studio space of Gasworks transforms seamlessly into countless locations, both physical and conceptual. Sound Designer Jedd Schaeche is presented with a difficult challenge – an audience seated in the round with acoustic instruments playing in the same space live makes replicating the same balance for every seat near impossible. Unfortunately this means lyrics are often difficult to hear when the music is driving hard, a hinderance to an already oftentimes confusing and complicated book by Malloy.

To quote one audience member as they were leaving the theatre, “that last section has left me feeling sleepy, like I’m in a trance.” Ghost Quartet is a warmly hypnotic experience and a rare gem of a show, which this cast and creative team have brought to life with perfection.

Playing only until August 23rd at Gasworks Arts Park (finishing with a special ghostly 10pm show on the Friday). Tickets: https://antipodestheatre.com/ghostquartet

Photography by Lauren Boeren

Gothic: a journey through Gothicism in music

Oh, to go a little Goth

By Leeor Adar

It conjures up images of storming nights, the occult, hauntings, and everything else in between. If you walk a little along the dark side, you’ll have found yourself drawn into the stream of this poetic and imaginative underworld.

I for one found nothing more delightful than a late afternoon of music inspired by the Gothic; namely stories and imagery conveyed by words and sounds that evoke feelings that excite and terrify us. Gothic is brought to us by experimental music maven, Andrée Greenwell, whose arrangements and compositions of such varied works of the dark-kind delight and scintillate.

It began with the death of the young wife of Victorian Gothic poet, Edgar Allan Poe in Annabel Lee, a whimsical poem of death and the sea, and wonderfully brought to life through the visual design and animation of Michaela French. French’s beautiful and hypnotic animations, which were projected onto three arched windows, are a Gothic architectural throwback that served as a perfect visual world to fall into as the music played.

We quickly leaped into a modern transformation of the Gothic in an arrangement of The Cure’s A Forest, an atmospheric piece of the Gothic rock band that draws the listener into the dark.  We steadily moved deeper into the morbid world and the added vocals of the operatic Jessica O’Donoghue contributed to the sense of drama. The pieces chosen are starkly different, yet completely cohesive when assembled together by this talented group of musicians which included Andrea Keeble and Kyle Morrigan (on violins), Joshua Stilwell on viola, Noella Yan on cello and David Trumpmanis on electric guitar and on-stage audio.

The Birds, a short story of Daphne du Maurier’s and later known for its Hitchcock grandeur makes for a screeching segue into Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, a most beloved revival of Emily Brontë’s book of the same name. O’Donoghue performs the piece in a far more sombre manner and it is here that I was hoping for the pitch of Greenwell’s voice to soar instead.

Gothic took off suddenly from the ethereal into a far more disfigured terrain with Chosen, written by Maryanne Lynch and Andrée Greenwell, which bases itself on the entrapment of Kerstin Fritzl, whose walls were her world until she was 19. This progresses to the seedy world of a suicide at a motel with Death at the Beach Motel, focusing on the death of artist Brett Whiteley. The feel of this piece takes on a more Southern Gothic feel of urban decay.

Swiftly back into the land of goose bumps, all forms of Nosferatu and night creepers were projected in snippets of film as the troupe performed Thriller. And finally, after all the excitement I was glad to return to the ethereal with Edgar Allan Poe in The Bells, capping off with the strange beauty of the theme from Twin Peaks, a work by film composer Angelo Badalamenti and performed to perfection by the troupe.

Badalamenti’s Fallen was the perfect closure to the evening, giving me the sense that I’d woken from a dream. Gothic was exactly what I always wanted and never thought to envisage. Thanks to Greenwell and her team, I was able to say my cravings for Poe and Twin Peak binges had at last made sense: I am of the Gothic kind.

 

Gothic was performed  25 November 2018 at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photograph: supplied

Mojo Juju Sings ‘Native Tongue’

Mojo Juju previews unreleased album ‘Native Tongue’ live 


By Lois Maskiell

Mojo Juju’s voice has the smoothness of velvet and the texture of gravel and based on the live preview of her upcoming album, ‘Native Tongue’, it’s clear her voice is as rich and dynamic as ever. Mojo ‘Juju’ Ruiz de Luzuriaga’s voice is doubly rich in music and message, her latest show – which is part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Big World, Up Close program – features a collection of profoundly personal songs that unearth her heritage growing up in the small town of Dubbo with her mother of Wiradjuri decent and Filipino father. Using storytelling and autobiography, this musical protest is a show of eclectic and soulful tunes that celebrate family and diversity, while also raising a fist against social inequalities.

With four albums under her belt, Mojo’s signature twang has evolved over the course of two albums with the punk-speakeasy outfit, The Snake Oil Merchants, and two solo albums (Mojo Juju, Seeing Red/Feeling Blue). The show opens with her latest single, ‘Native Tongue’ – see here for the film clip – which is a potent number backed by the Pasefika Vitoria Choir. Accompanied by her brother, Steven Ruiz de Luzuriaga on drums and Yeo on base, the music is an original concoction of live and electronic instruments that mix organic and voltaic sounds.

Mojo’s driving riffs could easily have a dance floor pumping, though she can still deliver a ballad with intoxicating charm. ‘One Thousand Years’ filled the auditorium with its languorous melody and dense tenderness that could only be experienced live. A seasoned frontwoman, Mojo segues from one song to another, inserting anecdotes about life in Dubbo and how otherness, racism and feelings of not belonging shaped her youth. One twist in Mojo’s lineage involves a long-hidden relationship between her great-grandmother and a Wiradjuri man that significantly affected her mother’s family. Mojo reveals herself as a supreme storyteller by skillfully recounting the situation via three songs, each told from a different perspective. It’s a haunting tale of young love and heartache, that plunges deep into her family history.

The storytelling and autobiography embedded in Mojo’s songwriting carry a crucial social message: to unashamedly speak up against racism and discrimination. “If you want to call me something, call it to my face. But I will not apologise for taking up this space,” she sings.  Mojo reminds her audience that her story is not special, but rather common for many living in Australia. Though uniquely, Mojo’s talent as a singer, songwriter and performer brings these common experiences to audiences today.

Mojo Juju: Native Tongue performs in:
Melbourne 8 – 11 August at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Big World, Up Close. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.
Sydney 19 August at Sydney Opera House as part of UnWrapped. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 02 9250 7111.

Guy Pearce Live: The Nomad

Guy Pearce launches second album

By Owen James

Guy Pearce is well known for his work on the silver screen: he is undeniably a cherished, locally grown talent. (Born in Geelong!) But how many people know that this household name has an incredible voice and writes powerful, original music?

For one night only, Guy Pearce launched his second album, The Nomad, surrounded by a group of very talented musicians at Arts Centre Melbourne. He peppered stories and conversation between most songs, often explaining the emotional history behind each tune. Guy Pearce is so comfortable onstage it relaxes every person in this room of hundreds, allowing every word of storytelling – spoken or musical – to find its truth.

If you’ve never heard it (and you should), Guy Pearce’s music and his unique, powerful voice remind me most of classic ‘70’s Bowie. Pearce’s music soars as if it’s flying – sometimes through a clear sky, and sometimes through heavy, grey clouds. He declares many times throughout that The Nomad was born out of heartache and despair, after his marriage ended in 2015 – and while most tunes are undoubtedly melancholy, Pearce’s raw joy in performing them for us is empowering and uplifting.

Pearce’s lyrics are an exploration of truth and humanity. He thrusts his whole heart into these songs as a true performer, but still carefully allows the lyrics space to breathe, giving us a chance to reflect on their meaning and our own interpretation.

The gorgeous set by Jacob Battista could have been straight out of Twin Peaks, and really created the comfortable atmosphere for the night. Dozens of lampshades were suspended above the stage, and when joined with armchairs, curtains, and a faux brick wall, the relaxed, conversational loungeroom atmosphere truly came to life.

Guy Pearce performed 8 July at Arts Centre Melbourne. His album The Nomad is available now on streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music) and for purchase both digitally and in-store.