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PERTH INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL @ various venues gets 7.5/10

Perth International Jazz Festival @ various venues
Sunday, November 11, 2018


It’s always special to experience music in a new space, and the Perth International Jazz Fest offered Perth music lovers new rooms to flex their listening ears. Hosted over three days between the State Theatre, The Bird and Ellington Jazz Club, the festival saw acts from close and very far shimmy up together to entice long time jazz lovers and intrigued newcomers.

Entry to the Rehearsal Room (at the State Theatre Centre) felt very backstage and exclusive, with an usher outside the door checking our tickets before leading us down 2 flights of stairs. On the walls surrounding us were photos from previous jazz performances, with icons like Nai Palm and local legends. We entered a beautifully lit room to the energy of Jamie Oehlers Night Music (pictured above), a dynamic saxophonist and composer. The interactions between the band members were endearing, as they each shared smiles and eye contact between impressive solos.

Upstairs in the Courtyard Charenee Wade played to an unfortunately small crowd. This world class performer was all smiles as she beamed to her audience, making loud moves with a band of just two other musicians. She encouraged the crowd to sing along and hit some pretty ridiculous notes, which perhaps would have worked better in the larger crowds which she no doubt is more accustomed to playing to.

Daniel Susnjar Afro Peruvian Jazz Group

Daniel Susnjar Afro Peruvian Jazz Group was a strange case of déjà vu, with his backing band matching some of those who played with Jamie Oehlers. They must be the best in the Perth jazz world, or perhaps it’s just a strange coincidence that they all played so close together on the same night. The recently appointed ‘Best Drummer in Perth’ at the WAMAwards brought passion to each of his compositions, at one point holding up a skull which he explained had influenced the melodies in his next song. It was both fascinating and jarring to watch him while drumming; such intense and rapid drumming results in some intense and jarring facial expressions. The levels throughout the performance were impressive, at times high in intensity and later soft and gentle, with tones going so quiet you felt the audience leaning closer to hear. A standout was the guitarist’s solo.

Brooklyn’s Sara McDonald was the headline act of the night, closing out the courtyard and the festival. Her set was off to a slow start with a delayed sound check, as the crew could not have been prepared for the 22-piece progressive jazz orchestra she employed to play alongside her, a Perth version of the NYChillharmonic. Fifteen minutes in and the music started, with the first song sounding strangely close to a Coldplay song. McDonald maintained great control over her orchestra, who were an impressive mix of genders and fresh talent that had only learnt the songs in two days. The sound was more swing or commercial than experimental, which made for somewhat easy listening. Her comment that she would “Go and hug some koalas” was kind of endearing, but also was a stark reminder to the small audience that she was a big American star playing what may have been just another Australian show.

Sara McDonald

A few metres away at Perth music hub The Bird, Grievous Bodily Calm created a semi circle of awe both onstage and off, as a packed crowd stood mesmerised by what is without a doubt one of the most exciting bands in the contemporary Perth music scene. In a space with the least ego of any act on the night, Grievous communicated to each other and the audience through their impressive, eclectic sounds. Alex Reid was a standout of talent; his drumming chops were on point to match a 150 bpm house track, while his banter offered lightness and laughter. Jessiah on keys is an energetic and smiling contrast to his somewhat timid band mates. This band was a strong standout of the festival and shows that jazz has its own unique home and style in Perth.

Grievous Bodily Calm

The final Jazz Jam session at the Ellington was promised as the exciting last hurrah, with the best international acts all set to show their freestyle chops in collaboration with each other. The Ellington has a great vibe; a venue with true style and flair matched to a few era’s before. It would be odd to see a punter sitting on their phone if not to film an impressive solo onstage. Yet it was disappointing to see only one female with the confidence and support to get onstage and jam. Giane Hladin was a standout in Sara McDonalnd’s orchestra, and made her mark as one of Perth’s best jazz drummers in the Jazz Jam. Her confidence after months of practice in the USA as well as a WAAPA degree and countless gigs of experience was so exciting to see. While her hits were gentle in comparison to the booming wacks of her fellow drummers, she showed that you don’t have to be harder or louder to make the most impressive sounds. Her calmness and gentleness was refreshing to see, and sent impressed whispered through the crowd. Zac Grafton was another standout; playing his 4th gig of the night on bass. It’s easy to see why this skilled musician is first choice as bassist for most in Perth jazz curators.


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