International Jazz Day (April 30) has celebrated jazz’s role in helping unite people the world over since 2011. This year, when the host nation was to have been South Africa, it was, instead, another reminder of a community splintered into an epidemic of isolation. But, thanks to a commendable collaboration between Sydney Improvised Music Association and Johnston St Jazz, a 140-minute mini-festival occurred via two live streams and one pre-recorded concert.
If the bands chosen could have more thoroughly reflected the sheer diversity of what passes for jazz, they were all able to bridge the live-stream remoteness. Over half the time was allotted to the final act, the Jeremy Rose Quartet, with Rose having become a composer of note, especially via his major work, Iron in the Blood, which was included in the distant memory that is this year’s Sydney Festival.
Although Rose’s work for his quartet stays much closer to the jazz mainstream than does Iron in the Blood, he still finds fresh compositional ideas with which to prod the idiom and to stimulate improvising options. In the piano solo on the meditative Religion, for instance, Steve Barry could deploy all his capacity to tease, suspend or subvert the listener’s expectations. The dark, edgy and aptly named Precipice began with solo bass from Noel Mason, which beckoned Rose’s bass clarinet, the instrument on which he has developed his most distinctive voice and widest palette of colours. On the brilliantly evocative Aktau, Mason’s bass seemed to convey the enormity of Kazakhstan’s White Mountains, Rose’s tenor the altitude, Barry’s piano the crystalline air, and Alex Hirlian’s drums the excitement.
The Mezza/Ginsburg Ensemble, a collaboration co-led by Italian pianist Vittorio Mezza and Australian saxophonist Mark Ginsburg (with bassist Karl Dunnicliff and drummer Tim Firth) was filmed at last year’s Sydney Con International Jazz Festival, and suddenly it was novel to see an audience on hand! Dunnicliff produced notably fine solos on two of Ginsburg’s pieces: the gentle For You and Common Purpose, the latter made lush with the addition of a substantial choir.
Vocalist Kate Wadey, pianist Andrew Scott and bassist Sam Dobson opened the celebration and, while Wadey’s breathy, unforced singing was especially effective on I’ve Got a Crush on You, with the piano dancing behind her, the rest of the performance proved more uneven.