Mimi Jones – Camille Thurman Quartet

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Mimi Jones and Camille Thurman. Photo: Angeline Marmion.

From the opening bar vitality spilt from this music like beer from a jug. The piece was the standard My Shining Hour, and it was certainly part of the shiniest hour I heard in this year’s Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival. If the purpose of arts festivals is to expose audiences to the new rather than reinforce the old, here was an ideal act. Having never been here before Americans Camille Thurman (tenor saxophone, flute, vocals) and Mimi Jones (bass, vocals) will go home having made many converts.

Combining visiting and local musicians can be tricky, but this blend of Thurman and Jones with locals Steve Barry (piano) and Jodie Michael (drums) knitted together like a permanent band.

As was common enough 30 years ago (before fading in the stampede towards conservatism), Thurman and Jones drew on different eras of the music, as well as exploiting the unique aspects of their own artistry and also looking forward. Both exuded a natural musicality: nothing they attempted sounded false or forced.

As good a saxophonist as Thurman was she proved an even better singer, with an upper-register extension of quite startling impact. Jones was the more distinctive instrumentalist. Her ensemble playing was infused with catalysing propulsion, and her exciting solos contained such dynamic extremes that some light glissandi were merely whispering in the ear of silence, and other notes rocked the building’s foundations. When she took the lead vocal on her own Sista her singing was potent and moving, preceding a bulldozing tenor solo, and with Michael’s spirited drumming and Barry’s scintillating piano this was rich and primal music.

The second set never reached such heights. Jones swapped from double bass to electric for much of it, and the music stayed within tighter confines. But across the night the group cohesion was outstanding, with Michael deploying beautiful touch while being consistently inventive (and very occasionally too busy), and Barry dazzling in his harmonic adventurousness, melodic resourcefulness, switchback rhythmic ideas and non-bombastic sense of drama.