Friday 5 June, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club
As I enter Bennetts Lane in the heart of the city, I am greeted by a long line of patrons keenly anticipating what will no doubt be the showcase to conclude this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival. New York heavy-weight tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano is reuniting talents with well-respected and notable pianist Paul Grabowsky, accompanied by fellow Australians Philip Rex (double bass) and Dave Beck (drums).
As the crowd awaits the group to board the bandstand, the atmosphere inside the club is electric, buzzing with casual banter, some nervous grins and the clinking of wine glasses.
From the moment his horn receives it’s first breath, Lovano’s robust energy and vitality are evident. His tone is characterised by warmth, resonance, fullness and sensitivity. The first tune “Folk Art” starts with a solo introduction on tenor, accompanied by the piano and then joined by the drums and inter-weaving conversation between bassist Philip Rex and Grabowsky. The free-falling improvisation is punctuated by highly-charged melody and motif; developed and reworked throughout the piece.
Lovano’s improvisation is forged on an assured foundation of melody, steeped in the tradition of the arts forefathers, but modernised by his approach to rhythm, through displacement, embellishment, and ever-present awareness of self.
The groups rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is an unassuming ballad, featuring the nuances and sensibilities shared between the tenor saxophone and the piano before a segue into Rex’s bass solo, highlighting his wonderfully lyrical sound and melodic approach.
The combined forces of Beck and Rex is formidable. The section works in unison like a single-minded machine, organically complementing the free- spirited style of playing of both Grabowsky and Lovano. Collectively they could not have grooved harder if they tried. This is the reason we play jazz!
Floating through this journey of contrasting textures, psychedelic colours, intensity and fidelity we come to Rodgers and Hart’s emotional “It’s Easy to Remember”. It reminds me of a 1960’s Blue Note recording with it’s raw beauty and earthy soul. Finally, our night ends on a literal high with the uplifting gospel-influenced, groove-injected version of the tenorist’s “Fort Worth” which again demonstrates creativity and artistry at it’s pinnacle.
There couldn’t have been a more fitting conclusion to celebrate the end of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and on a slightly sadder note, the end of an era for our great town’s most iconic Jazz Club Bennetts Lane. The crowd’s enthusiastic applause not enough to coax a reprise…leaving us satisfied but wanting more.
Reviewer Lee Moore is a Melbourne based saxophonist. He has spent time living and playing in both Adelaide and Chile.