Jazz festival raises the bar
Kate Ceberano. Picture: Tara Dunn

Kate Ceberano helped articulate the feeling that something has been happening on the Perth jazz scene for the past couple of decades.

"Maybe it's to do with the WAAPA jazz course, or just the culture of the city," Ceberano suggested from the stage of the Perth Concert Hall.

"Whatever it is, Perth is very special right now in the jazz scene, with some wonderful musicians living and playing here."

Ceberano is right, of course, Perth is a vigorous and adventurous city for jazz, as those who attended the opening concert of the second Perth International Jazz Festival will attest.

Festival organisers booked Ceberano as the star turn of the concert hall gig, teaming her with the PIJF All-Stars Big Band, which consists entirely of home-grown talent trained in WAAPA's prestigious jazz studies course.

Many of these alumni have gained further experience overseas, and some of them do in fact live and play jazz in places like New York. But the jazz festival is a chance to come home, reunite with old mates and play jazz that is no longer local but international in scope and talent.

It was appropriate that Ceberano agreed to headline the big band opener because, as she pointed out, her career as a jazz singer began in her teens 30 years ago when she appeared at the Festival of Perth's late-night jazz club, which, in those days, just happened to be in the upper foyer of the concert hall.

So, in a sense, the opening concert was a return to where it all began for Ceberano as a jazz artist.

And Ceberano certainly set the tone for the second Perth jazz festival: an accomplished, engaging trip into the classic songs of vocal jazz, delivered with plenty of humour, zest and some fine singing.

While Ceberano delivered on vocals, the big band sound of the All-Stars under the subtle direction of Mace Francis was a perfect example of an ensemble at the top of its form.

There is probably no finer line-up than these WA artists on the entire Australian jazz scene. It's not being parochial to make that assessment.

If last year's inaugural jazz festival was a learning curve, then this time round was a time for consolidation and even more adventurousness.

The international guests - saxophonist Greg Osby (immaculate in both phrasing and dress sense) and guitarist Peter Bernstein (apologising for his clothing being lost on the long flight from New York) played their parts to perfection, teaming with local musicians as if they had been playing together for years.

The festival was fortunate to have such fine weather, even if the outdoor venues around the Art Gallery of WA were a little chilly for the evening concerts. It's taking a punt on the weather to program outdoor events in May but the weather gods were happy to oblige.

The only concession to the autumn chill was to move the Singers Lounge inside to the underground studio of the State Theatre Centre instead of the open-air courtyard. Its basement atmosphere contributed to the success of singers Kristin Berardi, Josh Kyle and Christine McNulty.

While the free outdoor concerts attracted healthy crowds to the afternoon and evening events (and some even on a Sunday morning), the concerts at the Ellington Jazz Club were also well patronised, as might be expected.

There was a healthy stream of jazz fans through the fenced-off Brookfield Place on St Georges Terrace on Sunday as the festival concluded with four hours of jazz on three separate stages - each one outside a bar on this upmarket entertainment strip.

There, fans could sample the smorgasbord of jazz talent on offer over the entire festival - from those steeped in bebop playing New Orleans traditional styles to gypsy jazz (Bellville) and rock-jazz and funk courtesy of a re-formed Manteca, and Afro-Peruvian music from Daniel Susjnar and his Latin-inspired band.

This was no "difficult second festival" but a highly successful and efficiently organised expansion of the original idea, suggesting that Perth jazz fans should be able to enjoy such an immense array of talent for years to come.

The West Australian

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