Darling Harbour Jazz & Blues festival

It’s Here Again

RF and I have a custom that we head down to Darling Harbour for the Jazz Festival each year. Somewhere along the way we got into the habit of just rocking up and having a listen to what’s on offer, coffee in hand, shivering in the winter wind.

Sometimes the acts are big, sometimes they are not so big. In our experience, the better moments seem to happen at the smaller amphitheatre, thanks to its proximity  to the crowd and overall cosiness. It’s easy to get a good spot, and it’s free live music, so you really can’t complain – but you sure can critique. 🙂

This year’s sortie threw up some interesting band. The most notable would be the Ed Bronson Quartet. These guys featured 2 accordion players who doubled on a vairiety of saxophones; a Cello player who would alternately bow and pluck and filling in on bass duties as well as some beautiful bowed sections; plus a drummer. They played non-stop, and worked the crowd into a frenzy.

Elena Stone was more Indie 90s pop than Jazz or Blues. She looked like she was fished off King St., Newtown and her band had the effect of sending me packing for another coffee. I don’t know, but it seemed to be stretching the definition of Jazz and Blues quite a long way to accommodate her style. I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea today.

James Valentine Quartet came on and played a really tame sort of set where it never worked up a sweat but occasionally veered towards something adventurous. Their rhythm section was great – the bass player really held it down nicely and the drummer had a lot of style,but the overall effect of the music was staidness. I’d never seen a set up like Ed Bronson’s. I’ve seen a gamut of bands with a similar set as the JVQ, and it struck me that they wouldn’t crack the Top 10 list of those sorts of bands. It’s a shame because James Valentine is a witty guy and the musicians are good.

Dave Brewer Band came on to play a set of stuff that sounded like Robert Cray Band. That’s a nice way of saying it, but they sounded like they should be playing rock. When a guy plays a strat through a Fender amp with a clean tone and is all over the whammy bar, you tend to wonder if his playing is actually suited to the music he thinks he wants to play. There’s an observation that when rock guitarists age, they either go country, blues or jazz. This band made it seem like not growing old is the best option. The music wasn’t bad, but again it was too generic. That sort of thing.

The crowd this year was also subdued. I’ve always wondered about a crowd that turns up to listen to jazz combos in Darling Harbour in the middle of winter, but each year they seem to get greyer and greyer. They also have a distinctly unimaginative variety of middle-class vibe, as if jazz music is meant to be better than other types of music and so they force themselves to turn up. They were that joyless today.

It made me think that may be the formulaic jazz of James Valentine Quartet and David Brewer band go hand in hand with a certain kind of music-demographic that is rather emotionally stilted and largely self-unaware. After all, Jazz in Australia is a bit like white people wanting to be white people in American who want to be black people.

When all was said and done today, it was more disappointing than other years but I guess I’ll be going again.

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