Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 – All Along The Jazz Continuum

Melbourne International Jazz Festival has again succeeded in bringing some of the world’s greatest musical innovators to perform on stages throughout Melbourne over 10 days; creators from all along the jazz continuum – some whose music we’ve known and loved for our entire lifetime so far, others whose new music we’ll benefit from knowing better and may very well love for the rest of our lifetime to come.

Amongst the 129 festival events making up the musical feast on offer, opening weekend saw performances by the Robert Glasper Trio and Gary Bartz Quartet; as well as a screening of the film Miles Ahead– which has only just arrived in a few Australian cinemas.

The final days of the festival feast, the ones I was blessed to experience first-hand, included live performances by “modern masters” Eddie Palmieri and the Wayne Shorter Quartet – and contemporary “jazz explorers” Snarky Puppy and Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life. Every single musician who performed with those groups, representing 60+ decades of music, was an absolute delight to hear live.

Wayne Shorter Quartet live concert 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet

Puerto Rican-born Eddie Palmieri has over 60 years experience as a piano player, composer, bandleader and innovator in Latin jazz and salsa music. His performance at Hamer Hall stunningly showcased the full breadth and depth of that experience.

He began his MIJF show with a piano solo of “Life” – a deeply moving song written for his wife before she passed. From the first of every magnificent note he played during those first few minutes I was completely immersed in the experience; present in the heart-wrenching emotions his playing stirred up inside me.

Those feelings quickly turned to joy when Eddie Palmieri’s seasoned band joined him on stage for the second song – beginning an upbeat, energetic party that didn’t stop until the last beat of the encore.

Eddie Palmieri Septet live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Eddie Palmieri Septet at Hamer Hall

Jonathan Powell on trumpet – Louis Fouche on alto saxophone – Vincente “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas – Camilo Molina on timbales – Nicky Marrero on bongo/timbalitos and Luques Curtis (the youngest in the group) on bass.

When the party started many sitting in the theatre crowd were quick to grab the rare opportunity to move onto the dance floor created front-of stage for this show only.

Appreciators of the group’s musicianship got to watch the hands, feet, faces and smiles of the seven musicians on stage up-close and in awe. Dedicated salsa dancers became frustrated at the lack of space to dance “salsa-proper” with a partner. But most people got to dance exactly how they wanted – salsa, Australian-Style – ie. any way they feel to. This inspired Eddie Palmieri to say something I wasn’t surprised by – “You don’t dance like any other crowd I’ve seen before”.

Eddie Palmieri Septet live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Check out video snippets from the show here:


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Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life 

Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life shows is one of countless examples of Melbourne International Jazz Festival keeping its finger on the contemporary music pulse; always maintaining a revolving door of interconnected performing artists ready to share their new music projects. Having performed at the 2015 festival with Chris Dave and the Drumhedz  Marcus Strickland went home to the U.S. and finished recording his new album Nihil Novi with Bob Power, Meshell Ndegeocello and Twi-Life. In their good judgment the festival brought him back in 2016 to share those new sounds with Melbourne audiences.

Marcus Strickland live concert 2016

Marcus Strickland at Bennetts Lane

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Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life performed four intimate shows at Bennetts Lane: featuring Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Charles Haynes on drums, Kyle Miles on bass and Mitch Henry on organ and keys.

Mitch Henry live concert with Twi-Life 2016

Mitch Henry at Bennetts Lane

The connection between these five musicians and the inspiration they gleaned from playing together was palpable. They share a lot including a long personal and professional history together; experience in composing and producing as well as playing, and importantly; a shared view that music is music – an expression of themselves and the combined sum of all their many musical and other influences- free from the limitations of genre labels, expectations and boundaries imposed by others.

All that matters is that they express their voices in music – and that people feel it. And judging from the good-vibes mood and big smiles on everyone’s faces (including mine), I’d say Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life most definitely achieved that in abundance at Bennetts Lane.


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Marcus Strickland audiences got the special bonus of hearing he and Twi-Life perform a beautifully-haunting new song by Keyon Harrold called “Lullabye” (video footage of the first half of the song below). And folks who made it to the Arts Centre for MzRizk’s daytime interview with Strickland and Harrold were played a recording of another new killer track from Keyon Harrold’s forthcoming album, featuring prolific hip hop producer and vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow. 

Keyon Harrold live concert 2016

Keyon Harrold at Bennetts Lane

It seems only natural that the revolving festival door will bring Keyon Harrold back in 2017 to perform his new album live.  

Click on these links to read interviews with Marcus Strickland and Keyon Harrold in the lead-up to Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016.

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Snarky Puppy

I’m not gonna talk about the music Snarky Puppy played at The Forum– except to say I appreciated it and the musicianship with which it was played. Check out a tiny video snippet from the show yourself:

Instead I want to share something else I appreciated about my Snarky Puppy experience. And that’s the encouragement bandleader and bass player Michael League gave the crowd throughout the night to make the right choices in supporting music and the artists who make it.

Snarky Puppy concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Michael League at The Forum

It began with Canadian support act Michelle Willis. She was accompanied by League on bass and Mark Lettieri on guitar – with League introducing her as a talented independent artist they kidnapped to bring on tour with them so people could hear her music.

Michelle Willis live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

Michael Lettieri & Michelle Willis at The Forum

More encouraging words came during Snarky Puppy’s set when League took time to talk about the ways people choose to consume music today, the importance of supporting artists by going to their shows and buying albums – and the efforts the group makes to support independent artists through their own GroundUP Music Label.

Hopefully it ended up with everyone buying a Snarky Puppy, Bill Laurance, Mark Lettieri, Charlie Hunter or GroundUP compilation cd on their way out of the venue. If so they would’ve been in the foyer with the band to hear and smile at the “woh-oh-ohhh-oh-oh-ohhh” melody from the song “Shofukan (We Like It Here)” which a group of fans coming from the show spontaneously broke into.

Listen here to a dirty mp3-only sample of a Snarky Puppy song from their latest album Culcha Vulcha– and buy an uncompressed, hard copy of the complete album here.

“Grown Folks” by Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy - Culcha Vulcha (2016)

Culcha Vulcha (2016)

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Wayne Shorter Quartet

Joining Wayne Shorter on stage at Hamer Hall on closing night of the festival was Brian Blade on drums, Danilo Pérez on piano and John Patitucci on bass.

Wayne Shorter Quartet live concert 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet at Hamer Hall

The one and only word I need to describe the 90-minute musical journey with the Quartet that followed is exquisite.

It was a joy to see and hear the pleasure and inspiration all four musicians took in listening to each other, playing and bouncing off each together and in connecting – with each other and by consequence, the audience.

Check out some video snippets from the show here:

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Future Modern Masters of Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Every live music experience I had at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 left me feeling happy, high, energised and inspired…as live music experiences should. Blessed am I and every other festival participant for their own experiences.

I’m certain many of this year’s performing artists are making music now that will be known, loved, remembered and cherished for a very long time to come, maybe even forever-after. I guess that in 20 years+ time some of the “modern masters” programmed at future festivals will be the “jazz explorers” performing in these years now. That makes me excited about all Melbourne International Jazz Festivals still to come.

Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life live concert 2016

Marcus Strickland & Keyon Harrold at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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Marcus Strickland – From Twi-Life To One Life

No music artist likes the constraints of genre-boxes or external expectations. And Marcus Strickland is no exception.

For over 15 years he’s been known and respected as a “jazz” saxophonist and composer – not daring to step outside that box. Until recently.

With his latest creation Nihil Novi, Strickland has moved beyond the expectations of others and opinions of music purists to create the “music” he wanted to create; music that embraces the many different parts of himself and the world around him.

In an interview this week before his upcoming performances at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016 Marcus Strickland explained that by doing so he’s been liberated from living his “Twi-Life” to living his one life.

Marcus Strickland

Marcus Strickland

You’re coming back to Australia next month to perform for a second time at Melbourne International Jazz Festival. But this time around as bandleader with Twi-Life, on the heels of your newly-released album Nihil Novi.

MS: Yes this is a very exciting time for me. I did a project that I’d kind of wanted to do for a long time but didn’t really have the means to do it until now. And now that the ball’s going it’s like I can’t stop it. I’m already thinking about the second record for this band.

I’m looking forward to sharing it with the Australian people cause I had such great time before, and I think it will be an even better time this time.

Mantra by Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life - Nihil Novi (2016)

Nihil Novi (2016)

I understand Nihil Novi is a Latin term for “nothing new under the sun”. How does that phrase relate to this body of music?

MS: It’s kind of a realisation that I’ve come to. I think a lot of times as an artist or any kind of creative I think we’re expected to come up with something out of the blue. When actually it doesn’t work that way. It’s always inspired by what’s around us, especially what our environment is. I think that goes for many different things, many different inventions.

It kind of reminded me of something my father taught me a long time ago. He’s very familiar with Latin terms because he’s a lawyer. And also he’s very familiar with the book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible. I’m not a very religious person. I just think it’s an incredible book.

King Solomon in that book, he said after experiencing many trials and tribulations and basically becoming King of Kings, the most wise kings that all the other kings looked up to. After becoming that and experiencing all he did, he came up with the conclusion that there’s nothing new under the sun. I think that’s a very compelling tale, whether it’s true or not.

So that kind of coincided with how I felt about this record you know. Just coming to that realisation and just saying “hey, this is what’s around me and I’m just gonna create from what’s around me” – instead of thinking of what’s expected, or trying to come up with something out of the blue that is not connected to anything. It set me on the right path to think that way.

People are most familiar with your work as saxophone player but Nihil Novi has a strong beats-focus. Tell us about your beat-making life past, present and going into the future?

MS: It started out as almost like, I called it a hobby. Even though it’s music-based, it seemed like a hobby to me because I didn’t dare mix it with my professional saxophone and composing career until recently.

I could see influences in past records I’ve done but not until now have I totally just embraced that as part of Me, you know, instead of this separate thing. That’s kind of where the title Twi-Life came from for the group because I felt like I was leading a double life almost.

But it’s really all one life now. And I’m really enjoying it. I’m gonna keep going down this path. I really love it. It’s liberating. I’m no longer being scared of the jazz purists, or purists of any other sorts. And it’s just leading me down a very fun path.

So you feel a new-found freedom in your music-making?

MS: Definitely. And I have a feeling it affects everyone too, especially the audience actually. That’s who it’s for. There might be somebody in the audience that was expecting me to play a Gershwin tune. Or there might be someone in the audience who was expecting us to just have a straight-up R&B set.

But I like the fact that several audiences that we’ve had in Europe have already been taken aback. They’re like “Yeah, we have no idea what to expect”. And that’s the great thing about it you know – to go beyond expectations and just do exactly what you want to do. So I really find it amusing to see reactions. I love them all.

There are so many incredible artists who contributed to Nihil NoviMeshell Ndegeocello who produced it, co-wrote and played bass on some tracks; Pino Palladino on bass also, Chris Dave, Robert Glasper, Keyon Harrold – all superb musicians and innovative artists in the world of contemporary R&B, funk and jazz.  

I’d love to hear about your experiences of working with all those artists but I’m most curious to hear about Bob Power – who of course is well known, respected and admired for his prolific contributions to R&B and to hip hop way back since the days of The Native Tongues Collective [incl. The Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest & De La Soul]. 

What did Bob Power bring to Nihil Novi that was unique and what did you take away from the experience of working with him in terms of your own creative development? 

MS: It was incredibly easy to work with him. First of all he’s just a very chilled dude. He’s like the nicest guy in the world and you would never know he is the genius that he is. I think that’s the very telling thing. Even though he’s basically done everything there is to do sonically, he is still open to new things and trying new things and very excited about the unknown. And that’s exactly who should have captured this record.

I really applaud Meshell [Ndegeocello] on choosing him. I had no idea that I would have access to Bob Power. But of course I was working with Meshell, and by working with her it gave me access to the great Bob Power. I really appreciate all of it and I’m glad to have that under my belt. I’m not sure if that’s even possible again but at least I’ve had that experience to work with such a master.

A lot of what went into this record was what I’d thought of sonically in my head. Like I had a very particular idea of what I wanted the bass to sound like. And it just so happens that Kyle Miles started playing the bass line for “Tic Toc”. I think at that time I was taking a nap in the middle of the session when Bob got him to play the bass-line and just lay it down. And I wake up and it’s exactly the kind of bass sound that I’d imagined on that song. He was playing it. And I was like “Ok, he’s hired. Whoever that is, he’s hired”. LOL.

“Tic Toc” by Marcus Strickland

Mantra by Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life - Nihil Novi (2016)

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A lot of it was very sonically-based so to have someone who was such a wizard at frequencies as Bob Power and have so much….I mean he has an incredible roster of just pure raw experiences. So to have him in there, it made me feel much more comfortable. It didn’t matter what experimentation we were doing, he could handle it you know. So that was great. It was a blessing.

Can you talk about the significance of the track “Mantra”? 

MS: “Mantra” is definitely something I was imagining as the way to deal with any kind of adversity. It doesn’t even matter what level of adversity it is.

I think a lot of times what we as humans do in order to get through difficult situations is to repeat over and over and over again something that motivates us, gets us through. Whether that be prayer or a little voice inside that says “It’s gonna be ok”. Anything like that. So that’s kind of like the meaning behind that song and it’s definitely applied to many of the things that I’ve experienced and many of my friends have experienced as black Americans.

A lot of people think that there’s such thing as post-racism. I don’t think so. I think as long as there’s a human condition there’s gonna be some flaws along with it. And since whenever I can even imagine, people do get treated differently based on how they look. It’s unfortunate. But it happens. Yeah, so I really enjoyed the words that Keyon said.

The genius of Meshell [Ndegeocello] is that she captured the message in a very casual way. She just called up Keyon Harrold out of the blue and said “Hey Keyon, I hope you don’t mind if I record this conversation. I just wanna talk to you for a little bit”. And they started talking. And somewhere in that conversation he said what’s on that track. And it’s the most natural way to communicate it other than writing the speech out or something like that, which is what I was thinking in the beginning. That’s the great thing about having a producer like Meshell – she thinks outside the box.

So Im very happy with how that ended up.

“Mantra” by Marcus Strickland

Mantra by Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life - Nihil Novi (2016)

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I ask you about “Mantra” because you’re amongst other contemporary artists, like D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar, using their musical voices to discuss African-American experiences of oppression, violence and racism in a very frank and (positively) confronting way. What do you think is the ripple-on effect of those voices being expressed and heard?

MS: I think it’s gonna affect the right people in the right way.

There’s definitely a lot of struggle associated with purely how we look. It’s just a fact of life. All you have to do is talk to an African-American parent about the first time that they had to explain to their child why they were treated differently than all the other kids that didn’t look like them. It’s a fact of life. We still have to go through it.

And to pretend like it doesn’t exist or to not even include that in the music, is kind of pretending. There is a saying that “art imitates life” and that’s what we’re doing. We’re just playing our life. We’re singing our life. We’re expressing our life.

I think when music is used as a means of communication, it becomes much more than music. It’s actually speaking to people. It’s almost like a conversation rather just playing some notes and not having any meaning behind them.

One of the people who inspired this record the most is Bazoumana Sissoko. That’s who “Sissoko’s Voyage” was written for. He’s a Malian percussionist and singer. He has the most amazing and powerful voice and the first time I heard his record, I was totally moved. I think I might have got a little misty.

I think the reason for that is because he is what they call in West Africa a “griot”. Griots tell history orally. They don’t write it down. They perform it in front of the people. They’re highly respected. They have a very important role in society. And I think a lot of what inspires African-Americans in America is that we’ve kind of adopted or kept that entity in our being.

I mean when I listen to Kendrick Lamar he sounds like a modern griot to me. He is telling our story. He is telling our relationship with prisons, with drugs, with oppression. I feel the same way with D’Angelo. I feel the same way with anybody who’s regarded as an incredible artist today. David Bowie, I think he was a griot too. He had very important messages in his music. Coltrane too. Even though he was just dealing with more the sonic side. He hardly had any lyrics but when he did have lyrics, they were very meaningful.

I think it’s all the sound and the language of our people. That’s the connection. I don’t think it ever should be broken.

How does Nihil Novi translate in the live performance space?

MS: I think there’s a lot of jazz journalists out there that don’t really understand how to write about this record because I wasn’t even thinking about how we were going to possibly perform it live. I just wanted to do the record that I exactly wanted to do without being hung up on what the possibilities are.

And as a result it has inspired what I feel is a very experimental way of performing. I feel like it’s basically a live production. And I can’t wait to have like maybe a dvd set or something of live performances because live performances take what the record does and multiples it times ten.

Because the musicians I have surrounding me are all producers in their own right. And they’re also very much live performers. They all have a jazz background to some extent. And also they’re familiar with all kinds of other black American music such as hip hop, R&B, soul, gospel, funk, all that stuff. So it all gets displayed all at once.

And because I’m so open to including all that in the performance, I think it’s exciting for them. Because finally they’re not on stage with someone who’s like “We’re an R&B band so just play R&B”; or somebody who’s just like “We’re just jazz so you just better just swing and not do anything else”. They’re on the stage with somebody who’s just like “Look man, be You. Just do this. Let’s have fun. It’s a playground”. It’s very exciting.

Thanks for your time today Marcus. Folks going to your festival shows should be excited to hear you and Twi-Life perform live.

MS: Yeah, it’s gonna be a party. I’m really looking forward to it.

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Marcus Strickland and Twi-Life (Keyon Harrold on trumpet; Mitch Henry on piano; Kyle Miles on bass; Charles Haynes on drums) play four shows at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club on 11 and 12th June 2016. Buy tickets here and check out the complete MIJF program here.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2016

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D’Angelo Live In Australia – One, Two, Three, Four

After experiencing the first three of D’Angelo’s four incredible Australian shows, I was mysteriously left feeling less than fully satisfied. It didn’t make sense when D’Angelo and The mini Vanguard touring with him had just delivered flawless, stunning performances to Melbourne, Sydney and Byron Bay Bluesfest audiences.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

#1 – Melbourne’s Palais Theatre

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

# 2 – Sydney Opera House

D'Angelo live concert - Bluesfest 2016

# 3 – Byron Bay Bluesfest

 

 

 

 

 

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D’Angelo, Every Time

D’Angelo’s phenomenal vocal range and delivery as well as his skills on piano and guitar, are unquestionable. They are simply and absolutely sublime to hear live – every time.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

So is Michael “D’Angelo” Archer’s joyful high energy and super-smooth, confident engagement with the crowd. Man or woman, even if you only care about the sounds of music, who out there wouldn’t blush if D’angelo looked you in the eye and pointed at you while ever-so-naturally singing “I feel like makin’ love to you” in his voice from on high?

D'Angelo concert - Bluesfest 2016, Australia

At all his Australian shows D’Angelo undoubtedly demonstrated he’s a musician, artist and performer of equal wonder to the legendary R&B, funk and soul artists who influenced and shaped him. Some of them he payed tribute to in his sets (“She’s Always In My Hair” by Prince, “Red Hot Mama” by Funkadelic and “Brent Fischer Interlude” by Black Messiah collaborator Brent Fischer). D’Angelo does all those artists and their music justice, and then some. And how many contemporary artists can we say that about in 2016?

D'Angelo live concert Australia 2016

No I don’t think my slight and mysterious dissatisfaction was about D’Angelo’s performances. They made me smile from ear to ear in awe.

The [mini] Vanguard 

Did I miss hearing the distinctive bass sounds of Pino Palladino, the live horns and the gorgeous complementary female vocals of Kendra Foster or Joi Gilliam usually heard with The Vanguard? Sure I did. But their absence alone wasn’t leaving me with that feeling.

Because technically the seven insanely-skilled musicians on stage with D’Angelo played and sang almost flawlessly. Although he appeared nervous or daunted at times, Pino’s son Rocco Palladino did an admirable job on bass. And any opportunity to hear Chris “Daddy” Dave on drums, Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey on guitars, Bobby Ray Sparks on keys/samples or Jermaine Holmes and Charles “Red” Middleton on background vocals…is a blessed one I would gleefully take any time. They all killed it. And I appreciated hearing every note they played and sang on Australian stages.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

Chris Dave (l) – Isaiah Sharkey (m)

Jesse Johnson - D'Angelo & The Vanguard 2016

Jesse Johnson

Rocco Palladino with The Vanguard- Bluesfest 2016

Rocco Palladino

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert Australia 2016

Bobby Sparks (r)

Jermaine Holmes - D'Angelo concert 2016

Jermaine Holmes

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert Australia 2016

Red Middleton (l) – Chris Dave (m) – Isaiah Sharkey (r)

Looking Back

Was it the group’s set-list choices that left me wanting more? Maybe a little. In my world every song they played is a “Beloved Forever-After Song”. It’s true that all were arranged and delivered in funked-up, rocked-out, soulful brilliance. And hearing each one made me happy.

But a set made up of “Brown Sugar”; three/four jams on other artists’ songs, four/five songs from Voodoo (“Devil’s Pie”“Chicken Grease”“Untitled (How Does It Feel)”“Left & Right”, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”); and only three from Black Messiah (“The Charade”“Really Love”“Back To The Future”/ “Sugah Daddy” at Bluesfest)…curiously felt like a look back to the distant (albeit magnificent) past.

D'Angelo concert Australia 2016

Objectively the set choice might’ve been the safe bet when playing to Australian audiences made up of admirers from different D’Angelo eras. But for disciples who love every song he and his collaborators ever created, but appreciate the group’s artistry even more since the release of Black Messiah; and for newer disciples (including many young musicians there) because of Black Messiah, only hearing a small part of that album felt strange. Especially after they spent the past year promoting it through North America and Europe on The Second Coming Tour.

DAngelo - Black Messiah (2014)

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“Aint That Easy” – Black Messiah (2014)

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“The Show”

Maybe my mysterious feeling was about being delivered a “show”. I guess when you reach the professional playing levels D’Angelo And The Vanguard have, with their intense tour schedule performing show after show in different cities, having a pre-formulated, programmed “show” for perfect and tight execution on cue by a lot of musicians and crew might be more necessary, or pragmatic, or safer.

But the flip-side to that is a loss of organic spontaneity – musically and otherwise. As an audience member I still crave that spontaneity no matter how incredible the show is. No matter how amusing it might be to see D’Angelo mimic kissing a woman “way down there”; or how much I like seeing he, Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey come together with their guitars in those moments. It makes me wonder if creative artists performing on stage also crave it at some point on their touring road.

D'Angelo And The Vanguard concert Australia 2016

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Fourth, Final, Full Satisfaction

Whatever the mysterious, probably unreasonable thing that left me feeling not-quite-full after three incredible D’Angelo shows, it disappeared and mattered not once the the fourth and final Australian show happened on Saturday night at Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016.

D'Angelo concert - Bluesfest 2016, Australia

# 4 – Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Finally and inexplicably all seemed as it naturally should be at a D’Angelo gig. With everyone seemingly vibin’ on the experience, together. The set-list was nearly the same but as a Byron Bay sider might say: there was some indescribably-different type of musical and energetic magic that happened at Saturday’s closing show…leaving peeps there connected, loved-up and on high. It was created collectively by everyone there of course, hopefully felt by them too.

D'Angelo live concert - Bluesfest 2016

Everyone at Melbourne, Sydney and Bluesfest shows (and others around the world) had their very own experience of D’Angelo And The Vanguard live. Maybe it was nothing at all like mine. Surely it was special.

Leave a comment if you want to share yours – we wanna hear it!

D'Angelo live concert Australia 2016

Visit Beaver on the Beats on Facebook for more photos from these & other D’Angelo And The Vanguard shows; click a link for individual shows: London Roundhouse (2015) –  Melbourne Soulfest 2014 Brisbane Soulfest 2014; and check back here soon for Byron Bay Bluesfest’s dream main stage line-up with Kendrick Lamar, D’Angelo, Kamasi Washington & West Coast Get Down and Hiatus Kaiyote.

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015: Herbie Hancock & All Who Followed

Ever so perfectly, this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival opened its eleven-day program with a performance at Hamer Hall by two of jazz history’s most influential and pioneering artists: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. One of them, Herbie Hancock, is a musical hero in the life of Chick Corea, me and millions of other people around the world living, passed and yet born.

Herbie Hancock at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock: “My friend and inspiration”

Chick Corea introduced Herbie Hancock to the Melbourne audience as “his friend and inspiration”. Two days earlier at their Brisbane show, Chick told a story of the epiphany he’d had when first hearing Herbie Hancock play live after Chick moved to New York in the 60s. “Sure, he was playing jazz and blues and stuff” Chick reminisced, “but way over there” (gesturing to a distant place). “This guy opened my imagination to all that’s possible”.

Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Chick Corea (r)

I imagine if you asked the hundreds of diverse international and Australian festival artists who performed in the ten days after opening night, they’d have their own stories to tell about the profound inspiration and influence of Herbie Hancock and his music in their world. And judging from the multi-generational audience’s response to the pair’s arrival on stage and to each part of the flawlessly-played 90 minute performance that followed, I’d bet too that all those audience members could add many more stories of Herbie Goodness.

Herbie Hancock concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

This current world tour is Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s first together since 1978. This time around they bought electronic keyboards/synthesisers to sit alongside their pianos – utilised most at the start of the show with an improvised piece which made us feel like we were hearing the score to a weird and wonderful sci-fi movie being created live right before our eyes.

From there they moved into revamped renditions of well-known seminal classics from each of their long musical histories including Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and the greatest grooving blessing of the night, Cantaloupe Island.  The show finished with a version of Chick Corea’s Spain where they enlisted the audience in five-part vocal harmonies and a piano call-and-vocal response exercise which if nothing else, highlighted the distinctive playing styles of these two artists: Chick’s the straighter, more percussive and confined (easier for the audience to mimic) – Herbie’s the looser swinging melodic phrases full of slurs, chords and metric modulations challenging for even the highly-musical Melbourne audience to replicate.

Chick Corea live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Both in their mid-70’s, the chops of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea remain impeccable, superb to hear. Just to be in the audience and ponder the vast wealth of their combined musical experiences in our jazz history (well over a century), was awe-inspiring. Their long-standing connectivity in music and friendship evident in their banter, their playing and the looks and smiles exchanged between them, was a pleasure to witness.

Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Before this show Herbie Hancock was one of only a few living artists left on my Live Music Bucket List. Hearing the sounds of his hands creating music right before my eyes was an experience for which I will definitely die much happier.

Herbie Hancock at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

If you didn’t make it to Herbie and Chick’s sell-out Melbourne shows, get a glimpse of the experience with footage here from their Brisbane show two days earlier- the first utilising synths- the second a snippet from Cantaloupe Island

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Then remind yourself here of just two of so many reasons Herbie Hancock deserves so much praise from Chick Corea, Beaver and everyone else…

Herbie Hancock in 1973…

‘Watermelon Man’ – Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973)
Herbie Hancock - Head Hunters (1973)

Head Hunters (1973)

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Herbie Hancock in 2014, in collaboration with Flying Lotus…

‘Tesla’ – Flying Lotus (feat. Herbie Hancock) – You’re Dead
Flying Lotus - You're Dead! (2014)

You’re Dead! (2014)

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival Artists Who Followed

During ten festival days after opening night venues throughout Melbourne, including historical jazz club Bennetts Lane in its final days, hosted performances by hundreds of diverse, genre-bending jazz artists.

Eric Harland Voyager

Day two began with a free concert in Federation Square which gave folks in Melbourne a teeny taste of festival performances to come including The Bad Plus (U.S.A) – The Hoodangers (Melbourne) – and Eric Harland Voyager (U.S.A) whose musical skills and group cohesiveness seemed unaffected by their arrival to the gig fresh off the plane from the other side of the world.

Eric Harland live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Eric Harland

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Eric Harland Voyager live at Federation Square – with Walter Smith III (sax), Julian Lage (guitar), Harish Raghavan (double bass) and Taylor Eigsti (piano)…

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Richard Bona

The final Melbourne International Jazz Festival performance I can share the goodness of was the Richard Bona Quintet show at Coopers Malthouse Theatre.

I’d enjoyed Richard Bona’s recorded music on cd, seen online videos of his phenomenal virtuoso skills on bass, and recently spoken with him about the long-lasting memorable experience he hopes audiences will have at his shows. The actual live Richard Bona experience was another thing all together though – a reflection of all that and so much more.

Richard Bona concert - Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Richard Bona Quintet

As you’d expect from this world fusion artist, Richard Bona’s set was made up of diverse musical flavours from jazz through to funk, salsa and classical Indian. Many songs were performed by the full band, including Shiva Mantra (video below) and a tribute to his inspiration Jaco Pastorius in the form of Teen Town.  Others were performed by Richard Bona solo – a cappella or with a loop pedal – perfectly highlighting his phenomenal musicality as well as his angelic voice. Threading all those songs together were the very funny stories and anecdotes shared by Richard Bona – and all of it combined left the audience with wide smiles, gratitude and joy.

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival returns in May 2016 for another 11 days of musical goodness.

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Ngaiire Live & Revamped

During her show at Howler in Melbourne last week, Sydney-based soulstress Ngaiire talked of a time not so long ago when she questioned the value in continuing on her musical path. Thankfully Ngaiire found a way over that hump and is set this month to release her new single Once – with the full album Blastoma due out in September.

After hearing Ngaiire perform older and new songs to the made-happy Melbourne crowd clapping for more at the set’s end, there is no doubt in my mind of the incredibly-high value of her music in this world.

NGAIIRE live at Howler, Melbourne 2015

Ngaiire live at Howler 2015

From past experience the number and names of musicians on stage with Ngaiire at her live shows has been a fluid thing. The revamped, rejuvenated Ngaiire Camp of the Blastoma era is her on vocals and sample pads, Andrew Bruce on synth and long-time collaborator Jack Britten remaining by her side on keys and synth (and also co-producing Blastoma with Paul Mac).

Andrew Bruce w/ NGAIIRE live at The Howler, Melbourne 2015

Andrew Bruce

w/ NGAIIRE live at The Howler, Melbourne 2015

Jack Britten

My preference in any music is always for as much live instrumentation as possible – and at Melbourne’s show I surely missed the sounds of human hands on drums and bass. But truth be told when it comes to Ngaiire and her music, any combination of players on stage with her is a delightful experience for the fact that it includes Ngaiire front and centre: She who commands you to smile in awe at her powerful and emotive vocals; at the humility and humanity oozing from every word sung and spoken to the crowd; and too at her outrageouly-wonderful outfits (care of Sydney designer Amelia Vivash at Howler).

NGAIIRE live at The Howler, Melbourne 2015

All the better that the musicians and singers Ngaiire does choose to have by her side are also a highly-creative and skilled part of the musical whole – including back-up vocalists at Howler, Christian Hemara and Bille McCarthy.

w/ NGAIIRE live at The Howler, Melbourne 2015

Bille McCarthy

w/ NGAIIRE live at The Howler, Melbourne 2015

Christian Hemara

The group played songs beloved to those familiar with Ngaiire’s last album Lamentations – including Uranus (sampled below) – a duet encore performance of ABCD with Andrew Bruce on keys – and Dirty Hercules minus the original accompanying vocals of Nai Palm, who’s currently in the U.S. touring the new Hiatus Kaiyote album Choose Your Weapon, and whose achievements Ngaiire took the time to express pride in.

And finally the Melbourne crowd were treated to hearing 3 new tracks from Blastoma – including the first single Once which was co-written by Australian artist Megan Washington.

NGAIIRE live at The Howler, Melbourne 2015

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Blastoma is new music from Ngaiire. Ngaiire’s voice and what she does with it, are divine. And three album/EPs later she’s given me no reason not  to trust in the musical goodness of what she’s delivering next.

Until it comes we’ve got Ngaiire Music Past to keep us good company. Here you have a sample track from her last album in compressed mp3 format – and of course the blessed amongst us with hard copies have so many more Ngaiire & co. sounds to hear and treasure 🙂 .

‘Uranus’ by NGAIIRE –  Lamentations (2013)
Lamentations (2013) - Ngaiire

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An Inspiring Conversation With Eric Harland

If you’re not already familiar with the impressive musical history of Eric Harland you only have to read on to get a sense of why he is considered to be one of the world’s greatest contemporary drummers in the jazz sphere.

Eric Harland returns to Australia next week with Voyager to play four shows at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015. And after a late Wednesday night gig at New York’s Blue Note, he was gracious enough to start his Thursday morning with an inspiring rave with me about his love of Melbourne’s iconic jazz venue Bennetts Lane, the openness he finds in Australian audiences versus those in the States, a jazz centre run by people working solely for their love of music and the other-worldy realms music can take us to – and took he and Wayne Shorter to when they played ‘Footprints’ together in 2008.

Eric Harland

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In Conversation With Eric Harland…

Beaver: How’s your day looking on that side of the world?

Eric Harland: It’s great. I’m playing this week at the Blue Note in New York and we do these late nights cause we’re playing two sets. So you know, late hours and early mornings.

Beaver: A morning interview to start your day is probably not so ideal then.

Eric Harland: No, it’s good. I’m sure I would have been up anyway cause I just got back from Europe. Once you come back to the States from Europe you just tend to wake up early anyway from that time change.

Beaver: And into another timezone next week for your Australian shows?

Eric Harland: Yeah, that’s gonna be fun. I love Australia. The people there are always great. Optimistic is the word that comes to mind about them. I love their openness.

It’s very different to here in the States where people tend to be more judgmental about a lot of of different things. So I love playing there. It’s very similar to playing in Europe where people are really into the music and are ready to hear what’s about to transpire without coming into the situation with a preconceived notion or expectation of something that’s gonna happen. It takes a big pressure off playing.

Beaver: Could it be that people in Australia are thirstier for live music compared to the States where there’s more of a saturation of music and artists playing it?

Eric Harland: You know what, I think you hit the nail right on the head. There’s just so much music here and so many artists that are doing the craft.

“in other countries music is…the act of expression”

I also think it’s a difference in what we see the craft as. In other countries like Australia the lifestyle and living is taken care of on a base level. But in the States it’s not the same. Just living here won’t get you any money; and won’t get you health care and schooling. I think people here really utilize whatever they have to try and better their life financially, just because they want to ensure they have somewhere to live and a job and stuff.

I feel like in other countries music is more ‘the act of expression’: using artists’ ears; speaking with one another – ‘What are you saying today?’ ‘What is the sound coming from your soul?’ It’s great.

Beaver: So playing music and having to be the best at it in the States is like a survival mechanism?

Eric Harland: Yeah it’s totally that. You see it all the time. A lot of musicians don’t go within to see what actually resonates with them personally. A lot of them tend to come from a standpoint of “What’s popular? I better recreate that so I can guarantee people will like it”.

I think that if you come authentically from within, people will resonate with it anyway. And that’s why we’re so attracted to the really great musicians who have stood the test of time. It’s because they really come from a unique sound that was within the person – like a statement – a music statement – a life statement – a soul statement, that they really wanted to express.

And we love being a part of that journey. I’m happy for all the opportunities I have today to be able to express myself musically and just see what happens.

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“one of my favorite places in the world” 

Beaver: I see that three out of your four festival shows next week are sold out.

Eric Harland: Wow, that’s so great. I love Bennetts Lane. I remember hearing Chris Dave there last year. And also playing there with Jamie Oehlers, Paul Grabowsky and Reuben Rogers. It’s a great listening room and a great atmosphere. I love the way the people really wrap around the stage. It’s not quite a half circle but just that nice round-about. You feel the energy is really coming at you from all angles, especially where the drums are. And the acoustic of sounds really travels from the stage. There’s a certain magic in that room, acoustically and feeling-wise. And I’m sure the feeling just comes from the openness of the people. But I really really do enjoy playing there, it’s amazing.

Beaver: Yeah Bennetts Lane is a special place. Did you know that on the weekend after the festival ends, it’s closing its doors after 22 years? It’s a huge cultural loss.

Eric Harland: Oh yeah, when I heard that I was like “Oh my god. Nooooo”. In a way I feel honored to be able to play there. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

Beaver: Do you think that Bennetts Lane struggle to stay open and closure is reflective of what’s going on elsewhere in the world?

Eric Harland: Well you know that’s one I will say about the States. Clubs close and then they reopen under different management. Hopefully the same will happen at Bennetts Lane.

In New York we definitely have an over-saturation problem.

Beaver: Of venues?

Erica Harland: Yeah. There’s a lot of different venues. And a lot of them I personally try and avoid.

“no genuine appreciation for the artist”

I don’t feel like the way that they treat musicians is necessarily on a quality level. It seems like a lot of clubs, yeah mainly clubs, treat you like you’re ‘work for hire’. It’s almost like you could be a wedding band. They just want you to fill the room so that they can make money off you. There’s no genuine appreciation for the artist they’re hiring to be in the room.

Now I’m at a point in my life where I have a closer relationships with lots of promoters and venues so it’s different for me now. But I can still clearly see that the venue staff are just there making a check. It’s a great day when you can really wow the staff. But, you know, do you really have to wow them?

I remember hearing stories back in the day where people wanted to work just for the love of music.

“people wanted to work just for the love of music”

Prime example: there’s a club called Kuumbwa Jazz Centre in Santa Cruz, California. Basically the whole club is set up with volunteers who just want to be around music and musicians – just because of the way music makes them feel. So you can instantly feel that love when you walk in the room. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Just the fact that you’re an artist means you’re completely embraced and everyone is like “We’re here for you. Let us know what you need”. Its a family and communal atmosphere that’s contagious. It jumps on you and it just feeds your soul and you’re so happy you’re there.

So there’s Kuumbwa versus playing clubs in New York (and I’m not gonna name names), where the city is expensive and people are a little jaded. They ready to go home, and the night just started. You might need a little something, maybe to place an order for food so you can get some nourishment before the gig and the hostess isn’t interested in serving you. So you’re like “Is this really where we’re playing tonight?” And it really affects the music. It affects the way you feel.

Beaver: Yeah the under-appreciation and payment of musicians is a complete and utter travesty. To make music is one of the most valuable contributions you can make to the world. Kuumbwa sounds amazing. Who owns it?

Eric Harland: It’s a guy called Tim Jackson. He’s also the guy who runs the Monterey Jazz Festival. Kuumbwa is like his baby. He’s been doin’ it since the 70s.

I was fortunate enough to celebrate with them on their 40th anniversary this year. We did a whole ‘Trane band – a one-night special occasion show. It was me and Benny Green, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman and Roy Hargrove. The energy in the room was just off the charts.

“a sense of love for the artists…and music”

When Tim emailed us all and asked if we wanted to be a part of the 40th anniversary, and said he really wanted this particular band to come together and play, you could see the immediate response we all had. Everyone answered his original email within two hours, which says a lot about that place and about Tim as a person: his vision to always maintain a sense of love for the artists and for the music. And how that’s transmitted is beautiful.

Beaver: He sounds like a kindred spirit. It’s really inspiring to hear that a place like that exists in the world.

You have so many great stories from your lifetime of music. Amongst all of those experiences do you want to share a magical, goodness-of-music moment that affected you profoundly?

Eric Harland: Wow. There’s too many. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll start with telling you the first thing that popped into my head.

“Damn – so this realm is available?”

The first time I was in the SF Jazz Collective, we did a show one year honouring Wayne Shorter. That was the first time I got the chance to actually play with him. We were kind of doing a mini-rehearsal/sound check and we started playing some of Wayne’s music. Wayne was at the side, putting his horn together, really chilled and relaxed. We started playing ‘Footprints’. Then Wayne started playing and I felt an immediate connection. It was like “Oh-My-God”. I just felt like we were talking – without using words.

It’s funny cause sometimes you play music and it does get real conceptual at times. You’re throwing out ideas and other guys are listening and they’re responding to that idea. That’s the communication using rhythm and harmonies, and sometimes songs, sometimes phrases. But the experience of playing with Wayne shorter is the same as it is playing with Charles Lloyd: it’s an invitation beyond music.

When Wayne started in on ‘Footprints’ it was just such an ethereal experience. I connected with him so strong and so fast – and it resonated in how he just walked straight over to me and stood right next to me on stage. And we just was playing, and it was just one of the most amazing experiences.

I was taken back because it really felt like we were no longer playing – that we was just like two kids in a bubble just kind of floating up in the air like in space. I felt like I wasn’t even playing. It was just something happening. Physically, my body was making the motions and I could hear the sound, but it didn’t sound the same. It didn’t feel the same. The song was no longer relevant. We were still playing the song but it was just like this moment where I was like “Damn – so this realm is available? Woah. Okay then”. It was another level that I had never really experienced before. That changed my life from that point on.

“screaming…crying…jumping up and down…and weeping”

I remember hearing another great story from a friend about ‘Trane playing at the Village Vanguard. He said it was the most spellbinding thing he had ever seen in his life. He opened the door and just heard people screaming and crying and jumping up and down and weepin’ like the whole room had turned into a church. He made his way through the room and looked up and saw that ‘Trane was in the middle of the stage, on the floor, on his knees with his horn playing into Elvin’s bass drum – and the two of them had worked up such a chant that it shook the whole room. When it was over everyone came together and was crying. When I heard that story I was just like “God Damn”. I know that exact kind of thing happens in church but I was like, “In a jazz club? Really? Man, we got our work cut out for us”.

The mission statement that we have available for us to do, and what we have to contribute to the people, is incredible.

Beaver: I completely agree. And I love hearing good music news stories – thanks so much for sharing yours.

So then, you’re on mission next week at the jazz festival?

Eric Harland: Yeah the Melbourne shows are gonna be great. I don’t have any expectations. I love the guys in the band – Taylor Eigsti [piano], Julian Lage [guitar], Harish Raghavan [double bass] and Walter Smith III [sax]. We’re gonna come and just be available. We’re already excited that everyone’s so ready for us to be there.

We’re gonna play both older and new material – dancing back and forth between – and feeling the flow of the moment – seeing what happens – and remaining available.

Eric Harland - Voyager Live By Night (2010)

Voyager Live By Night (2010)

Eric Harland - Vipassana (2014)

Vipassana (2014)

I’m ecstatic. And ready.

Beaver: Well now I  am too 🙂 . Chatting with you today has been such a pleasure – and super inspiring. Thanks so much. Have a great day and a blessed time on the Bennetts Lane stage in it’s final days.

Eric Harland: Thanks to you. You take care.

[Click here to read the full interview with Eric Harland.]

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Tickets are still available to Eric Harland’s fourth Melbourne International Jazz Festival show at Bennetts Lane next Sunday night. Get them here before they sell out.

Eric Harland VoyagerYou can also hear Eric Harland playing at Bennetts Lane on Friday night with the Walter Smith III Quintet

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Richard Bona: “Music is The Real School of Life”

If you love the sounds of jazz, blues, funk, West African rhythms, flamenco, salsa, bossa and the other diverse musical flavours of the world and you’re not already well acquainted with the vast body of music of Richard Bona, now is the time.

His very long list of collaborators and fans include Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Chaka Khan, Tito Puente and Lauryn Hill. And he is respected by they and music appreciators all around the world for his prolific songwriting skills, innovative fusion music creations, honey-sweet vocals and phenomenal abilities on bass, guitar, percussion, balafon and every other instrument he plays now, or might ever decide to play.

Beyond all that Richard Bona shared in our interview this week that he is simply a lover of this beautiful life in which we’re all different but equal – a fact that music helps remind us of, to embrace and celebrate.

Folks in Australia get their chance to celebrate with him at Melbourne International Jazz Festival on 28 and 29 May 2015 – and in Sydney on 30 May. And people everywhere can read on for the full interview with Richard Bona talking about current music projects, his take on fusion of the world’s sounds, human connection in music and musicians embracing technology in a digital age.

Richard Bona

These Musical Days

Beaver: Apart from your upcoming Australian tour what’s going on in the musical world of Richard Bona these days?

Richard Bona: I’m working on two separate projects: a flamenco project with gypsy musicians in Spain – and another project called Mandekan Cubano. It’s me with six Cuban musicians. We’re playing and recording that project here in July in the studio of my Paris house.

Summer time is coming so there’s a lot of touring. I’ve got three shows here before I come to Australia. After that I’m going to Holland and will keep playing until August 7.

In terms of putting the record out, I’ve been with Universal with the last five records and I did two before that with Columbia. So right now I don’t have a record company and I’m planning on finally releasing something on my own, to try something different. So that’s the plan right now. When the record will come out, I don’t know yet. I’m shooting for 2016.

Student of Music

Beaver: Many refer to you as a ‘jazz musician’ but your music incorporates so many different styles of music other than jazz. Do you identify yourself with jazz?

Richard Bona: I don’t identify myself as a jazz musician. Jazz is just one part of my thing that I do. I’m a student of music in general. I just love to learn from other music. Like I did when I went to India and recorded with guys in India – and to Brazil to record with guys there. I just love to embrace or approach music that way. I consider music being a school that never ends.

I don’t like routine – it’s just not in my genes. I want to constantly feel like I’m learning something new cause I get bored quickly if I do the same thing. I like to feel with the music that the more I know, the less I know – cause I know, that I don’t know. That’s the beautiful thing about music.

I’m not afraid of difference. I remember last year when I started this flamenco project, a lot of gypsy musicians were like “What? You never played this music” and this and that. But just give me a few months here and I get to learn the basics and all those things. Its just like a language.

That’s what I’m doing lately, and that’s what I’ve been doing for years. Just trying to embrace new things and incorporate them in my music to make up something new.

Fusion Forever

Beaver: The exchange and fusion of cultures (including music) has been happening for all of history. But with rapid advances in technologies during recent decades, that fusion process has rapidly sped up too. With music from all around the world much more accessible, the sounds which artists can and do blend together when creating new music are almost limitless.What do you think we’ve lost and gained in all of that? Some people might say for example it’s been unhelpful in preserving traditional forms of music.

Richard Bona: It’s a very intriguing question. In any situation you gain and lose. We get to gain for example cause as a kid I didn’t even have any idea how Indian musicians sound. I grew up in a tiny rural area in Africa [Cameroon] with no radio or nothing. The chances for me to hear something that a Pakistani or Egyptian guy is doing would be almost impossible – zero. We have access now to things we didn’t even dream of.

In terms of preserving ‘traditional forms of music’ though, the question is preserve what?

What we talk about preserving was also a fusion already. People were doing fusion since people have been traveling and mixing with each other. When the black people were taken from Africa it was already a fusion right there – a lot of music got created then. We’re talking about 400 years ago. So where does the authenticity start and stop? Where’s the line?

They say “that blues is not authentic” but the blues was already a combination of black rhythms and some of the classical European harmonies you hear today, and melodies, that’s what became jazz music too. They were already mixing things.

The moment you put people from different places together, there’s a fusion. It’s been happening for all of time. But in the past 50 years it’s happened more rapidly than 200 years ago because people are traveling faster, moving faster and get their information faster too.

[B: check out Richard Bona’s reflections on the diversity and influence of blues music with these sample tracks from his 2009 album The Ten Shades of Blues…]

Richard Bona - The Ten Shades of Blues (2009)

‘Sona Moyo’ – Richard Bona – The Ten Shades of Blues

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‘Good Times’ – Richard Bona – The Ten Shades of Blues

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Learn The Technology

“one foot in the past and one foot in the future”

Richard Bona: We have definitely lost a lot in terms of a sound. When I record analogue and digital – the difference is night and day.

I still have my foot in an analogue world where I still do things like I used to do when we used to play as a kid. I used to play with my folks in a church, and I still record like that, because the real essence of music is there. So in my house in France I have an analogue studio.

I also think there’s way too many informations now. I was actually lucky as a kid to grow up in a place where I didn’t have a radio, tv or Facebook. Cause too much information kills the information.

Musicians today have to do so many things around music. They have to go and update their Facebook page, and do things that have nothing to do with the music. That’s a loss right there cause its really hard to find time to play these days.

But we gotta get versatile and learn the technology these days because that’s where the world is going. As a musician today you can’t ignore that. We should have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. So in New York I have a digital studio too.

I give you another example of a friend who’s still writing music with a pencil. It takes him a month to write a song, the whole arrangement. His handwriting is perfect. I will never have beautiful handwriting like him, I wish I had. But today you could do the same thing on a computer in one hour. Well, if I have a choice, I will do it one hour. I don’t have one month to sit. But those are the people who never embrace the technology. They look at a computer and just go “Please, No”.

When I come to Australia I’m actually giving classes about that – how modern musicians need to be be connected with technology today.

“Don’t worry…we are live to the bone.”

Today everything is digital, everything is formatted – all the radio, all the tunes, all the singers. When they play live, most of our “super stars” are all in playback, not even singing live.

There are a category of musicians today that just want to sound like they sound on radio. The young people who go to see Beyonce want to hear it exactly how it sounds on the radio. If you change anything, they’re like “Why change it? We heard it like this, just do it like this”. They have to satisfy audience in the masses out there.

That’s a loss right there when people can’t even perform live because they’re so scared to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of that interaction of music. We don’t have to be perfect. That’s what makes music what it is – when we just get to improvise on stage.

But don’t worry – we live. I will never change that when it comes to my performances on stage. We are live to the bone.

Richard Bona

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Connection In Music

Beaver: You agree that music is one of the greatest healing forces in this troubled world of ours?

Richard Bona: Definitely.

Beaver: You were born into a musical family and surrounded by music during a lifetime of playing and composing on your own and collaboratively with phenomenal artists all over the world- ie. a lifetime of blessed music experiences. What’s your take on the goodness of music in people’s lives?

Richard Bona: If our world had the reflection of music then we would probably live in a perfect world. Because music actually has that perfect science.

Music is so rationale. I think it’s even more rationale than mathematics and numbers. If I give you 10 and divide it by 3 for example, you’ll never find the exact number right? But with music, it’s so perfect. You move one finger and get exactly the chord you want. You move another finger and it’s not the same chord anymore. It’s perfect.

For example I will go to India and see someone I never ever met before, and the moment we start playing music we create a bond. It seems like we know each other, are family, instantly.

But you put two politicians together to meet up once year all the time at the U.N. and they barely talk to each other. Or, I just travelled on a plane to Paris. People can sit next to each other on a plane for eight hours and not say a word.

That would never happen in music, never. The moment we play that note right there, boom, we are linked.

Immediately when music comes, you see people dancing together, they don’t even know each other. But if you met that person in the subway or wherever, you might not even say ‘hi’ to them.

Music Transcends Difference

Beaver: What experience do you want audiences at your shows to have?

Richard Bona: I just want my audience to remember the good time they spent when they heard me playing. I want them 20 years from now going “Wow. That was a good moment”. Cause that’s what the music is all about. We should celebrate life, cause this life is beautiful. Music is a tool that helps remind us of that.

And also to remind us that we’re all one in the same boat. That’s what we forget with “I’m from here”, I’m from there”, “Im yellow”, “Im black.” When music starts to kick in, it reminds us that we’re all just humans and we should appreciate this beautiful life.

That’s why I love doing what I’m doing because I get to connect people. And I get to connect myself to people. In music we don’t fear the difference like regular people do. Through music I learn to actually embrace the difference. Cause when you embrace the difference, you become taller.

Where I grew up for example, you wash you hands and you go eat with everyone in the same place. If I stay in my village with the same people, we know the same stories, we eat the same food, we eat the same way. But if I meet a Japanese guy he’s going to tell me “I’m gonna teach you how to eat with chopsticks”. “Oh, wait a second, you don’t eat with your hands? You guys eat with chopsticks”. From there I meet a European guy and he says “I’m gonna teach you how to eat with a fork”. So right there you’re expanding your knowledge, and vice versa. Music is exactly the same way.

Music is the real school of life.

Politicians should use music as a tool actually. But maybe they know the power of music so they don’t want it around them 🙂 .

Beaver: I’m sure you’re right 🙂 . Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.

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Richard Bona gives a free workshop at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015 on 28 May and the Richard Bona Quintet performs two live shows on 29 May. The festival kicks off the night before with a performance by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea– ending on 7 June with Dee Bridgewater & Irvin Mayfield with The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. In between those opening and closing shows are 100+ live performances, workshops, talks and films by other superb Australian and international artists in various venues throughout Melbourne. Check out the full festival program here.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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Little Dragon Live Amongst The Lightsabers In Melbourne

Less than a week out from tonights Grammy Awards where they’re nominated for ‘best dance/electronic album’, Sweden’s electro-soul-synthpop group Little Dragon were playing the last of a string of sold-out shows on the other side of the world in Australia.

There I caught them live on stage at 170 Russell St, Melbourne: Fredrik Wallin on bass and synth; Håkan Wirenstrand on keys and synth; Erik Bodin on drums and Yukimi Nagano on vocals – all of them surrounded by a lot of intensely-bright lights akin to Star Wars Lightsabers.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Little Dragon live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne – February 2015

For me the lightsabers were somewhat distracting. But when I managed to refocus my attention on what I was there for: to hear Little Dragon music being played and sung live by each of those four talented artists on their respective instruments, I was happy again.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

The happiest of those Little Dragon stage moments were hearing the sounds of Fredrik Wallin playing the strings of his bass guitar rather than the synth, and the times when the musicians jammed-out on tracks.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Many more special moments came throughout the show when I focused my visual attention on Yukimi Nagano and her beautifully-theatrical stage presence.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Throughout all of the songs performed from each of Little Dragon’s four albums, I was reminded again of the great, great goodness of hearing the chops of those musicians in a live environment – and appreciative to get the experience again.

Little Dragon live in Melbourne, Australia 2015

Check out this footage from Little Dragon’s Melbourne show plus a sample track from their most recent and Grammy-nominated album Nabuma Rubberband.

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Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband (2014)

Nabuma Rubberband (2014)

‘Killing Me’ – Nabuma Rubberband (2014)

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You can also watch videos from Little Dragon’s 2014 Sydney show and hear more Little Dragon sample tracks here.

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Flying Lotus Live In “Melben”

After flight delays from Wellington on Friday, folks in Melbourne had a long wait into the early hours of Saturday morning for their highly-anticipated live Flying Lotus experience.

By the end of his show that long wait seemed worth it for both the die-hard FlyLo disciples with their arms stretched out towards him on the stage during most of his set, and the curious appreciators of his music artistry alike.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne

With the use of some live tools, the art of making his studio music sound fresh, alive and entertaining on stage with just a laptop and some controls, is one that Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) appears to have mastered well.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Live Tools of the Electronic Art
A Visual Extravaganza

The most fundamental of those tools in bringing his music to life was the mesmerizing live 3D lighting and animation that surrounded Flying Lotus throughout his performance. That spectacular alone, made the live show worth experiencing.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Add to that the mask of glowing eyes worn by Ellison for the first part of his set, and the audience was well and truly in fantasy-land.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Movement

Witnessing Flying Lotus behind his laptop moving his body, raising his arms high to the sky and getting off on the music he was playing, helped the audience to get off on it themselves.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Diverse & Fresh Sounds

Creating a set of music melding older beloved tracks from the Flying Lotus discography, songs from his most recently released album You’re Dead! as well as some new ones all together, seemed to satisfy the tastes of everyone. His alterations to the original sound of those tracks, made them sound fresh in the live arena.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Sing It / Rap It

Picking up a microphone to sing or rap those parts of tracks recorded in the studio obviously adds that sought-after extra-special living element to the music. Flying Lotus did this a number of times at his Melbourne show – including singing his ethereal accompanying vocals on ‘Coronus the Terminator’ and rapping Captain Murphy’s part on  ‘Dead Man’s Tetris’.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Relate

For an artist to observe some native idiosyncratic thing about the people of the place they’re performing in, helps an audience to relate and feel connected to that artist performing in their place.  At his Melbourne show Flying Lotus achieved that by expressing both bemusement and amusement about the Australian way of pronouncing the city as “Melben” rather than “Melburn” or “Melborn”.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Tell a Story

An artist relating to the audience some more by telling a story about an experience they had when they last visited that place, makes that connection stronger again. Flying Lotus’ Melbourne story was about the gift of DMT given to him by a punter last time around, pre-empting an on-the-spot gift to him of something from an audience member this time around.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Make More Music

After making those live connections with his Melbourne audience, Flying Lotus got back behind his laptop and knobs to finish the show with more audiovisuals of the fantastical kind – and the job was done – the electronic art in the live arena mastered – and the people moved.

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

Check out these video snippets of the live Flying Lotus experience in Melben + samples of his studio works below if you’re not already familiar with them.



Flying Lotus - You're Dead! (2014)

You’re Dead! (2014)

 ‘Siren Song’ – Flying Lotus feat. Angel Deradoorian – You’re Dead!

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Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

Until The Quiet Comes (2012)

‘Phantasm’ – Flying Lotus feat. Laura Darlington – Until The Quiet Comes

 

Flying Lotus live at 170 Russell St, Melbourne 2015

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Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence

Melbourne is a rich melting-pot of people and cultures from all over the world. Its vibrant music scene is a reflection of that fact, and so too is the make-up and music of Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence.

Band leader, musician, vocalist and dancer Lamine Sonko, rich in his own family history of music, dance and culture-keeping, hails from Senegal.

Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence at Bar Open, Melbourne, 2014

Lamine Sonko

The collective of Lamine Sonko’s fellow Melbourne-based musicians who make up The African Intelligence find their roots in India, Cuba, Senegal, Nigeria and Australia.

Fusing traditional and contemporary African and Latin American rhythms their music is a blend of super-infectious funk, Afrobeat, jazz, soul, reggae and salsa that’s sure to make you smile, move your body and smile some more.

I found this out at their recent Bar Open gig in Melbourne. There Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence were joined on trumpet by Nigeria’s Olugbade Okunade (aka GP Saxy) – former member of Fela and Seun Kuti’s band Egypt 80 and leader of recently formed Melbourne-based Afrobeat group Alárìíyá.

Check out some footage of the Bar Open show here, as well as the sample track below from Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence’s most recent release.

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Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence

‘Voyage’ – Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence

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You can also check out another video here of Lamine Sonko on stage with The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra at their AWME (Australasian Worldwide Music Expo) 2013 show.

Music in Australia is much, much richer and diverse for the contributions of music collectives like these.

If you’re looking for a sure way to feel good, or better than you do; if you need to move your body; or if you just want to celebrate the pure joyfulness of music and dance, find a live Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence gig at a venue or festival when you can.

Lamine Sonko & The African Intelligence live in Melbourne 2014

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