Gretchen Parlato & Mark Guiliana/Julien Wilson/Luca Ciarla

These Digital Times, May 30

Streaming just doesn’t quite cut it, does it? When Gretchen Parlato performed in the cavernous Verbrugghen Hall two years ago, I suggested that, given her work’s smaller-than-life ethos, a more appropriate venue may have been a living room. Well, here she was streaming from her own one in New York, and I was wrong. Where she could shrink Verbrugghen Hall with her flair for intimacy, rhythmic intricacy and silken, Brazilian-flavoured singing, she seemed disappointingly one-dimensional when filling a screen.

Gretchen Parlato. Photo supplied. Top: Julien Wilson and Stock. Photo: Kym Schrieber.

Her duo performance was actually lifted by her husband, the drummer Mark Guiliana. Many years ago in Sydney he revealed a striking capacity to render complexity with such ease that you barely noticed you were being force-fed the improbable. Consequently leaders as diverse as David Bowie and jazz pianist Brad Mehldau leapt upon his talents. Now here he was with a stripped-down kit, deepening the grooves behind the dippy, new-age lyrics of Parlato’s originals, and realising Jobim’s Chega de Saudade with genuinely Brazilian fluidity.

Don’t get me wrong: These Digital Times is a marvellous initiative by Melbourne International Jazz Festival in the current context, but the Parlato/Guiliana duo struggled to become airborne without an audience – unlike Stock, led by Melbourne saxophonist/composer Julien Wilson, which was aided no end by having a stage and lights – remember them? – rather than a domestic setting. Countless musicians crave the same opportunity.

In launching its eponymous debut album, Stock presented a nexus between improvisation, the R&B-influenced jazz of early-’70s Miles Davis and Radiohead’s nihilist rock. In addition to Craig Fermanis’ spiky guitar, Christopher Hale’s electric bass and Hugh Harvey’s drums, Wilson extensively applied a frosting of electronic treatments to his tenor. But that was the icing rather than the cake. The cake was the rare nobility of sound that Wilson extracts from the instrument, in a lineage dating back to Coleman Hawkins. It is a sound that held up the melodies like trophies, while the band cut through the streaming divide.

Italian violinist Luca Ciarla offered a solo performance of surprising range, partly thanks to his extensive use of looping, and partly his distinctive blend of goofy playfulness and affecting pensiveness. Singer Kate Ceberano was at her best on Wild Is the Wind, fronting a band that included impressive guitarist Kathleen Halloran.

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