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Jazz Festival Review: Closing Night Special

Jazz Festival Review: Closing Night Special

Review by Tyler Hersey

The New Zealand
Dominion Centenary Concert Band
Click to enlarge

The New Zealand Dominion Centenary Concert Band

Closing Night Special
The Frontroom
November 11, 8pm

Opening the final show of the Wellington Jazz Festival was the amusing yet inscrutable New Zealand Dominion Centenary Concert Band, who combined drums and brass with inflated balloons and dry humour. Dressed in an array of military uniforms, the group fiddled about on their instruments while calling out names of New Zealand icons such as Dick Hubbard and Ed Hillary. Not your normal jazz fest fare; band leader John T Bell conceded that the group was more accustomed to playing "official events, such as pedestrian crossing openings and gallery closings". After a strange run through a Korean pop song which featured a well-played reed melody by Choi Jae Kyung, the performance closed with a particularly un-rousing version of "God Save the Queen", complete with words mumbled by a crowd who appreciated this satire of pomp and circumstance.

The evening's main event was a set by New York imports Susie Ibarra and Roberto Roderigez, who have worked in the Downtown Manhattan avant garde jazz scene with such diverse performers as acclaimed contemporary composer John Zorn and art noise rockers Sonic Youth. While their laptop and percussion soundscapes did evoke some interesting scenes, Ibarra's compositions stayed firmly rooted in the realm of generic downbeat world music. The performance caused wave after wave of shuffling and yawning amongst the audience, who probably expected something a lot more upbeat and engaging from the Saturday night grand finale.

The most interesting part of the Ibarra/Roderiguez collaboration was the electronic treatments of Ibarra's kulintang instrument, which consisted of a series of inverted metal bowls of varying sizes that are played somewhat like a xylophone. Sharing the same lineage as Indonesian Gamelan, Ibarra describes the result as "Filipino trance music", which is a fairly accurate assessment. Unfortunately, the trance was a little too deep for the meagre crowd, even with the occasional addition of heavy, Latin-inspired drum beats by Rodriguez. The duo has developed an interesting project, but they were not a good fit for their time slot. By the time the band took an encore, the venue was emptying out. Booked for a Sunday evening or a smaller gig in the confines of Happy, the show could have gone over quite well.

Finishing off the evening was the New Pacific Music Ensemble, who combined the heavy percussion of log drums with lilting ukulele strums and a latin-flavoured rhythm section. It was a joy to see Wellington's best drummer, Chris O'Connor, drive the music, but the songwriting of leader Andrew McMillan failed to capture the audience as well as it had during their sunny afternoon show in Frank Kitts Park. Once again, an interesting project which could be very rewarding if it possessed more compelling melodies and an appropriate time slot.

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Wellington International Jazz festival homepage: www.jazzfestival.co.nz

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