To describe Sophie Brous’s vision for this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival as ambitious would rest firmly in the realms of understatement.
“I’m more interested than ever in trying to make every event possess a kind of transformative potential,” she offers simply, pausing as if to let the proposition settle.
Now in her third year as program director, the precocious 25-year-old vocalist and musician has grand plans for the festival, which under her stewardship has helped extend perceptions of contemporary jazz to exotic and often tangential new territories. Following the great successes of 2010’s roster of more lateral events – including the inauguration of Overground, an improvisational and experimental music “festival within a festival” which saw the likes of German free-jazz legends Peter Brotzmann and Mani Neumeier trade shots with Australian noise makers like Oren Ambarchi and Marco Fusinato within the Melbourne Town Hall – this year’s festival places a premium on participatory engagement.
“Festivals and musical performances can so often be about an audience member being delivered a show,” says Sophie. “I want to help empower people with participatory events. So whether it be a free, participatory event or whether the concerts themselves have that kind of experiential or visceral quality, I’m interested in the kind of things that remind us that we’re all living and active and involved in creativity.”
Indeed, alongside performance coups such as the Australian debuts of legendary German Krautrock purveyors Faust and iconoclastic New York minimalists Charlemagne Palestine and Tony Conrad as well as Jason Moran and the Bandwagon, Sun Ra Arkestra and celebrated bassist Ron Carter, a host of audience-activated events will mark this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival.
The opening night’s free Big Jam concert aims to have the entire population of Federation Square on their feet. The daily Sonic Showers, which will play out each morning at 8.30am at Federation Square, will see members of the public hold pitch together in a communal aural experience. Landscape architect and acoustic ecologist Anthony Magen, meanwhile, will lead punters on nightly Evening Sound Walks around Melbourne. For Sophie, it all adheres to Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s adventurous sensibility. “So often our interest in things and what determines what we go and see is context and how it is packaged,” she says. “Festivals like ours provide a special opportunity in which people are more willing to trust and go out and try something new. They may not like every single thing, but they will leave having been genuinely affected in some way.”
Friday, June 10, 8.30pm
$34 / $24 concession
It’s impossible to put a price on Faust’s contribution to music’s cultural currency. Well into their fourth decade as a band, the German Krautrock legends have forged an ever-curious path through any number of noise-rich, cacophonous musical strains, leaving their trace with artists as divergent as experimental industrialists Throbbing Gristle through to contemporary electronic practitioners such as Christian Fennesz and art-pop icons Stereolab. Comprising a current line-up of co-founders Werner Franz Diermaier (drums, percussion) and Jean-Herv Frederic Peron (bass, trumpet, vocals), Brigid Swayne (vocals, guitar, organ, visuals) and James Fraser Johnson (guitar, organ), this fascinating, elliptical act will impart a barrage for the senses. On their maiden voyage to Australia, Faust perform with the support of renowned avant-gardists Thymolphthalein (Australia/France).
Sun Ra Arkestra
Sunday, June 5, 8.30pm
$46 / $39 concession
Six decades into their performing life and 17 years since their namesake left the Earth, Sun Ra Arkestra bring their inimitable, electrifying live experience to the Australian stage for the first time. A true freethinker, composer and musician, Ra is rightly considered one of the great innovatory figures of the jazz idiom. Beginning work in the 1930s before rising to prominence in the 1950s, he peppered his musical adventures with traditional mythology and unabashed futurism alike. Through perhaps he and his Arkestra’s most prolific period in the 1960s and 1970s, he introduced primitive electric keys to jazz alongside mystic chants and freewheeling improvisations. Led by central Sun Ra collaborator and Arkestra member since 1958, Marshall Allen, Ra’s remaining big band of “tone scientists” will take Australian audiences to the astral plane.
An Evening with Sonny Rollins
Melbourne Town Hall
Monday, June 6, 8pm
$119 / $111 concession (A reserve)
$101 / $93 concession (B reserve)
$79 / $71 concession (C reserve)
There’s little that can be said about seminal jazzman Sonny Rollins that hasn’t been uttered at length already. Arguably the greatest saxophonists in the genre’s history, the now 80-year-old jazz giant has worked with everyone who is anyone in modern jazz and has effectively steered the wider musical vernacular in new directions. His collaborations with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk in the 1950s set new precedents in bebop and hard bop, while his 1960s recordings for legendary imprint RCA still stand up today as some of music’s most important. Despite his years, the tenor sax colossus continues to perform live to this day and An Evening with Sonny Rollins is Melbourne’s best chance yet to catch the legend in action.
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Tuesday, June 7, 9pm
$29 / $24 concession
Chicago-raised, New York-based band of brothers Hypnotic Brass Ensemble come from prodigious musical stock. The eight siblings who comprise the band hail from a musical lineage bookended by their father Philip Cohran’s seminal work with Sun Ra in Chicago in the 1950s and their own childhood love of East and West Coast hip-hop protagonists like Public Enemy and NWA. It’s apparent in their music, which straddles avant-garde jazz angularity, big fervour and hip-hop groove. It’s no mistake that the likes of Mos Def and Erykah Badu have enlisted the octet to support them on tour. With the recent release of their widely acclaimed debut album, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble arrive on our shores as one of the world’s must see acts.
Melbourne Town Hall
Sunday, June 12, 3pm–9pm
Now in its second year, Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s “festival within a festival” is set to tear holes in many a self-respecting eardrum at the Melbourne Town Hall. Playing out in various halls and rooms within the building over six hours, Overground will draw on the cream of the local and international experimental community to craft an afternoon of improvisational ear-candy, exploratory abnormalities and impromptu, noise-drenched collaborations. It will feature the legendary Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine (US), Yoshida Tatsuya and Satoku Fujii (Japan), French musique concrete purveyor Jerome Noetinger, instrument builder Jim Denley, Oren Ambarchi, Robin Fox, Fabulous Diamonds, Kes, Hi God People and countless others.
Melbourne International Jazz Festival runs from June 4–13 in various venues around Melbourne.
Visit melbournjazz.com for venue and ticketing information.