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Wellington Jazz Festival 8-12 June 2016

By Martyn 24 May 2016

Held between the 8th-12th of June, Wellington Jazz Festival is the capital's largest mid-winter music festival. Hosting 100 shows in five days, it's a smorgasbord of local and international talent for music lovers and a real winter brightener. In celebration of the festival, music journalist Martyn Pepperell speaks with the festival's artistic director Shelagh Magadza about some of the key headline acts from this year's programme.

Wayne Shorter Quartet Credit Dorsay Alavi 1383837678
Wayne Shorter Quartet
Photo credit: Dorsay Alavi

Wayne Shorter Quartet (USA)

Wednesday 8 June, 8pm, Opera House (Tickets)

Experience the searing sax styling of jazz giant and Miles Davis favourite Wayne Shorter. Featuring multi-Grammy Award-winning Shorter alongside Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, the quartet is widely regarded as jazz’s premiere working ensemble, and continues to win fans and awards with its dynamic compositions and electrifying improvisation. From timeless jazz standards like Footprints (1966) through to 2013’s critically acclaimed Blue Note release Without a Net, Shorter continues to be one of music’s most eloquent and influential sax players ever.

"Even though his history is amazing, playing with Miles Davis, Weather Report, and all of those days, what I'm most excited about is the current quartet he is with, the current formation. It's like he has found his meter with them. He's found the Wayne Shorter compositional voice in this period he has had with them. I reckon this is the spot for his career. I think it's the present, not the history that is exciting. It's almost like he did all that stuff, playing with Art Blakely and whoever, he was just figuring things out, then finally let go and started his own compositional thing. He's a very mature voice, but it's still very forward thinking. It's a once in a lifetime thing. I don't think he will come back to New Zealand again. This is it."

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Karrin Allyson
Photo credit: Ingrid Hertfelder

Karrin Allyson with the Tom Warrington Trio and NZSM Big Band (USA/NZ)

Thursday 9 June, 8pm, Opera House (Tickets)

Be swept away by smooth jazz chanteuse Karrin Allyson, joined by the Tom Warrington Trio and New Zealand School of Music Big Band. Known for her impressive musical range, Karrin glides between bittersweet and sassy, covering the greats from Duke Ellington to Dizzy Gillespie with ease. With the experienced trio of bassist Tom Warrington (Buddy Rich Band), drummer Joe La Barbera (Bill Evans Trio) and guitarist Larry Koonse (Seth McFarlane’s big band) performing with her, you’re in for a treat.

"This is a collaboration with the school of music. They have traditionally done the New Zealand School of Music band project as part of their jazz week. Happily this year they decided to amp it up a bit by inviting Karrin Allyson and Tom Warrington's trio with the NZSM Big Band backing them up. I think it is a great project because it gives the school of music kids a chance to fall in with some amazing talent. She is an amazing teacher as well. They're very generous people, and it gives the public a concert that is up a notch."

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Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke with Black Jesus Experience (ETH/AUS)

Friday 10 June, 8pm, Opera House (Tickets)

Take a trip with the father of Ethio jazz Mulatu Astatke. A master of the vibraphone, Mulatu is a world music originator and constant innovator who has combined the exotic sound of his Ethiopian homeland with his love of Latin, Euro and American jazz. From special guest appearances with Duke Ellington in the 1970s to performances at Glastonbury, a Bill Murray movie soundtrack and Kanye West samples in the 2000s, his influence continues to grow. Performing together with his “favourite backing band”, the nine-piece Melbourne-based Black Jesus Experience. Their hypnotic grooves and Afro-beat funk will seduce you.

"This is very sentimental for me. I grew up in Africa. I grew up in the south. The jazz down there was Township Jazz. There was a golden age of jazz in the townships in South Africa. What's not really well known is how big the recording industry was at the time, and how quick and responsive they were. Bands used to record in a studio and then they would have these vans that would play the recording out on the street. Depending on people's responses, they'd go back and press it straight away.

What was really special to me about all of that, Hugh Masekela, etc., all those legends of the time, was the fusion of western and African jazz. I once said to someone, "They've taken the Western jazz influences", and they said, "It's the other way, they've brought African influences into Western jazz." He was quite right. It's been a two-way conversation for much longer than we like to remember. That's what I think Mulatu is for me, that historical pathway of jazz through different cultures and its ability to fuse and come back to things. He has more of a Northern African sound. Ethiopian music is its own thing. It's own unique sound. He seems to have a really great sense of humour. That's what I get from watching him. A humorous exchange between musical forms. I like that he is a multi-instrumentalist on stage.

What's interesting about this is that The Black Jesus Experience, a band of Melbourne musicians are a mixture of white and Ethiopian musicians who run an Ethiopian restaurant. They traveled to Ethiopia, started playing with him, became mates, and have recorded and performed with him. The other thing I love about this is it's a hook-up with the Ethiopian community in New Zealand and Australia, and they have been a significant migrant introduction to this part of the world over the last twenty years. It's great to have that represented in the festival."

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Snarky Puppy

Snarky Puppy (USA)

Saturday 11 June, 8pm, Opera House (Tickets)

This two-time Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn-based outfit is ready to bring the Festival funk with a jazzed up rock concert of synth-driven grooves, “horn-hollering soul hooks, floor-shaking beats and punchy improv” (The Guardian). Snarky Puppy has worked with some of the music industry’s biggest players including Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake, and won fans worldwide including a nod from Downbeat readers as the “Best Jazz Group” of 2015.

"This was a discovery for me via of all people, The Roger Fox Big Band.  A few festivals ago I was at one of their shows, and someone from the school had done a Snarky Puppy arrangement. That piece made me really sit up and listen. After that, I went and found out who they were. I fell in love with them. They're like a cult or a way of love. They have a huge following around the school of music. It's like the Wellington scene, how everyone plays in everyone else's band here.  If Wellington all got together on a good day, it would be like that really. They've got that whole cross-pollination thing going on. I like that."

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Lisa Fischer
Photo credit: Djeneba Aduayom

Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton (USA)

Sunday 12 June, 7pm, Opera House (Tickets)

The huge voice that has backed the Rolling Stones for 25 years and belted out that iconic chorus on Gimme Shelter, Lisa Fischer is now stepping into the spotlight.  Capable of raw power and breathtaking subtlety, she mesmerised movie-goers in the Academy Award-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom, which told the story of her journey as backing vocalist to artists like Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan and Tina Turner. This intimate, one-night-only show brings Lisa together with her new band in a fusion of African and Caribbean rhythms, gospel, soul and rock. A humble and highly inventive performer, this Grammy Award-winning artist heads to Wellington hot off a world tour taking in the Newport and Monterey Jazz Festivals and the legendary Hollywood Bowl.

"We had her booked last festival, and she had to pull out because of Rolling Stones tour delays. This is a carry through. For me, she represents the show for people to go to if they are not sure whether they like hardcore jazz. She has the RnB and soul elements. She's a big warm voice and a big warm heart. A vocalist who has that amazing ability to give you a good night out with songs. She is a powerhouse of performance. She's going to do some workshops at the school of music as well. It will be good."

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