Tag: Michael Tortoni

REVIEW: Melbourne Jazz Festival and CASSANDRA WILSON

Innovative, iconoclastic and exquisite

By Anastasia and Peter Slipper

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival certainly brought out the star power for their closing night last night with a standing ovation for singer Cassandra Wilson at Hamer Hall.

Cassandra Wilson

Wilson’s voice – honey-smooth, seductive and powerful – had the entire audience under her spell for two deceptively long sets, so that it almost seemed that she had the power to control time itself. Infused with the swampy blues sound of her native Mississippi, her performance showcased songs ranging from her early career to her latest album, Another Country, released last year. Wilson’s performances of covers were as heartfelt and individual as that of her own material, and the encore of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time was a masterpiece.

She is known as a performer who transcends genre, and this performance was no exception, although the blues were never far away. The backing ensemble of bass, percussion, guitar, violin and harmonica wove elements of latin, country and folk around jazz- and blues-based grooves in a perfect synergy. Arrangements were often sparse, providing plenty of opportunities for the five musicians to show off their improvisatory prowess – exciting and very much in-the-moment.

Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret was an absolute stand-out, kicking off the gig with his version of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants. Often compared with Wonder, Maret created supple tendrils of sound from his chromatic harmonica, building into virtuosic extended solos.

The diversity of Wilson’s performance reflected the nature of jazz in the twenty-first century – it doesn’t fit into neat little boxes of genre, or exist in isolation, but is one of many musical styles constantly evolving and adapting with new influences and innovation.  Under the stewardship of Michael Tortoni the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is to be commended for reflecting this diversity in the programming for 2013 – and these reviewers are certainly looking forward to what delights next year’s festival may bring.

Cassandra Wilson performed at Hamer Hall on June 9 2013 for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

REVIEW: Melbourne Jazz Festival Presents SNARKY PUPPY

Top dogs won new fans

By Anastasia and Peter Slipper

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival audience was treated to a genre-hopping jazz-fusion spectacle by young US band Snarky Puppy at the Forum last night. Perhaps serendipitously, numbers were boosted for this still relatively obscure ensemble by jilted ticket-holders who missed out on seeing legendary New Orleans band Rebirth Brass Band after they had to suddenly pull out of the festival. However disappointed the punters may have been to miss the Rebirth second-line parade earlier in the day, they were certainly not disappointed by the end of the night!


Vocalist Alison Wedding (who was first responsible for alerting festival Artistic Director Michael Tortoni to the existence of the band) warmed up the room with a short set of her own material. “Too Tight” was a stand-out, reggae-inspired declaration against unhealthy body image.

After a short break, the band again took the stage, this time sans vocalist, lead by bass player extraordinaire Michael League. His whole body became part of the instrument, as he impressed the audience with extended virtuosic solos, and laid down some seriously funky grooves.

Each member of the band had plenty of chances to shine as they worked their way through a labyrinth of constantly changing styles and moods. Every solo was thoughtfully constructed and carefully built towards an exciting climax, and even in their supporting roles, all band members were responsive, showing how tightly knit they are after years of touring. Crowd-favourite “Quarter Master” was a highlight of the night, switching from New Orleans second line-eque grooves to gospel harmonies.

Throughout the gig, time changes and horn stabs were super-tight, but the band never drifted into vulgar displays of virtuosity. A special mention must go to Justin Stanton, who consistently excelled, whether on trumpet, moog synth or Hammond organ. An epic drum and percussion solo from Nate Werth and Robert Searight was musically and dramatically exciting, while never migrating into self-indulgence.

If you like funky grooves, a few 80s-synth effects, and exciting twists and turns Snarky Puppy are one to keep an eye out for!

Snarky Puppy performed at The Forum Theatre on Saturday 1 June for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival which ends June 9.