There is something quite romantic in the idea of making a trip out of town to attend a music festival, especially in the middle of winter to one of the coldest places close to Melbourne, Woodend. The weather was bright but oh so chilly, while the church hall was warm and resonant with great music making. In between concerts we found ourselves an open fire and Glühwein at some of the local establishments.
The first thing that impressed us at Hofland Music, were the excellent acoustics of the Ambrose Church hall. The high domed ceiling and rectangular shape was reminiscent of fine concert halls like the Wigmore in London or the Konzerthalle in Berlin, though on a much more intimate scale. The sound was resonant and warm, all the way to the last pew. I did entertain a fantasy of ripping out the hard wooden church pews and replacing them with some lovely concert hall seating to complete the analogy.
I was lucky to sit up close and intimate to the booming rich accordion as played by the Italian Pietro Roffi. This instrument was an orchestra in a box, and Pietro had such a wonderful control of the bellows it was inspiring to watch. He gave a varied concert of "classical favorites" transcriptions and some exciting original music written for the instrument. The most interesting for me was a piece entitled Gernika by Gorka Hermosa. It was inspired by the Picasso painting of the same name. The piece captured the wrenching conflict, mirroring the chaos of the painting, the sheer terror and the beauty as well of the human spirit. He also played Astor Piazolla, a composer that is highly suited to the gypsy sound of this instrument, and Wladislaw Zolotarjov.
In the evening I got up close and personal to the big shiny black Steinway in the St Ambrose Hall. For a plain hall it was packed with atmosphere through its soft lighting, and warming heaters. The piano was placed well inside the semi circle of chairs. The audience surrounded pianist Clarence Lee, who came out looking the part in full concert regalia. His playing was big and exciting tackling the debussy Estampes, Chopin Ballade No 4 and Liszt Transcendental Etude No 8, Schubert Fantasie in C Major. He played with amazing attention to detail as well bringing out the music. I don't think he put a note wrong, and he captured the imagination of the audience, who almost wouldn't let him go. They cheered and stamped their feet until he gave two beautiful encores, graciously thanking the audience. By the end of the performance he was physically spent and dripping with sweat. A remarkable evening that would have stood its own in a much grander location but was all the more enjoyable for being in this intimate space.
The curator of the Melbourne Jazz festival introduced Hiromi trio project as a group playing at the forefront of modern jazz.
I’ve come back for a second concert, as I really enjoyed her incredible energy and technique when I was introduced to her in Singapore a few years ago. She attacks the piano with energy and joy, her fingers showing perfect classical technique, which she employs to create her spectacularly fast yet almost minimalist jazz. Usually she plays like one possessed by Satan. Yet in her reflective moments is angelic and delicate, and almost tuneful.
The music she plays is quite an intellectual challenge. Some of it seems to be merely in order to display the trio’s incredible precision. No matter how fast or complex the rhythms, the three players were glued together in the pocket. At its core the music could be described as Phillip Glass on speed. It was all repetition and texture with hardly a tune to be revealed. Due to the super hot drum playing, which in the final analysis was far to loud in the mix, Hiromi didn’t have the chance to display the emotional range that she did in Singapore. It felt a bit like a competition between the piano and drummer, with the big black Yamaha losing out in the end despite a bank of microphones pointed to the massive soundboard. How can you win against a towering drum kit with about 100 inviting things to hit hard? The drummer has played with a lot of rock bands including The Who. The poor old guy on bass never had a look in despite some pretty vigorous strumming. If you have watched the film whiplash you would get an idea of the intensity of drumming on display. There was one big cymbal at the front of this massive tower of a kit, which I was just aching for him to hit. Finally in the last piece he got around to it, and it boomed out like a gong at a Buddhist temple.
Having made my complaint about drummers who abuse their fire power, there was a lot to like about the concert. At times it was almost mesmerizing as the trio were so seamlessly together. Hiromi is a rare talent sitting at the piano, punk hair in a tangle of pseudo dreadlocks that point to the sky. Her face flits between elfish and devil as she shows complete mastery of the keys. Her connection with the audience consisted of impish stares and wide-eyed delight as the notes rolled away in a whirling dervish. She augmented the piano with a small electric number sitting on the deck, usually playing one up and one down, never one to sit still long. The audience loved the show, but from what I overheard were split between, the drummer being the wickedest thing since the Rollin Stones or that he was just too much. But all agreed Hiromi is a little dynamic wonder, the energy behind this little band of opposites.
A few weeks ago I indulged in a little guilty pleasure of going to see Baby et Lulu, a cute group I discovered at the Port Fairy folk festival. This was a singing duet of powerful ladies again having an all male band behind them. The name is a hint to the fact that this group likes to be a little bit French, and they are as retro as Hiromi Trio Project is modern. They delight in presenting a humorous faux French front. They switch cleverly between faux French accents and broad Australian accents. To keep the audience feeling smug with itself, they throw in enough French that we all know, to make us feel like we are in on the joke as well. They sing many classic French Chanson in the vein of Serge Gainsbourg and Eidth Piaff, as well as songs they have written in the same style.
The patter is funny, sometimes a little awkward, always very knowing. Sometimes it’s a little play on cliché, the sexual innuendo is light, with the joke mainly being on the boys. But it’s the perfect interlude to some very good singing. Musically the band shines. Beautiful voices, well suited to the repertoire, with very even French intonation. The piano a bass player and a small drum kit complete the picture. The bass player is very funny, and the pianist chimes in occasionally as well.
This very retro show played perfectly in the caravan club which is itself super retro. A gem to discover down in suburban Oakleigh. Looking forward to more shows down here.