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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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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