Melissa Western and Friends – Saturday November 11 2017

Melissa Western has a lot of friends. And with good reason. She is a sparkling personality and a consummate professional performer.

Tonight, five of those friends were on stage with her, providing a crisp and dynamic platform for her exquisite vocals.

Chris Poulsen, with his quirky, minimalist improv, was at the piano. Helen Svoboda was super-cool as always on upright bass. Nathan Goldman was at his silky best on the drums. While John Smallcombe on Sax and Lachlan Mackenzie on trumpet pushed it along from the horn section.

Now, there are many things that you remember about a Melissa Western performance.

You can’t forget the Pocket Rocket with the big, big voice which belies her tiny frame. Tiny Dynamite. The diminutive dynamo with the amazing vocal range. And wow, what a range!!

Then there are her beautiful smiles; miles and miles of them.

There is her self-evident gratitude for, and generosity with her musicians, as she stands, absorbed and grooving through their fills and solos.

There are her perfect diction and her fascinating scatting style, with which she deliciously delivers her songs. With energy. With honesty. With raunchy. With cruisy. With crisp. With clean. With honey.

And there is her shining personal power, which leaps from the stage; at times, almost independent of the classy quintet behind her.

Tonight, Melissa and her friends shared with us a coooool selection of Blues, Latin, Swing and gentle ballads, and powerful top-of-the-register screamers such as The Work Song.

They shared their kicks, from Chicago to LA, with vocals, scatting and a high-pitched ‘bloobing’, (can’t think of a better word), as they cruised down Route 66. They took us further South and into the territory of her beloved Antonio Carlos Jobim, with Dindi and One Note Samba.

At one point, we could have been on the mighty Mississipi ourselves, as the Kookaburra Queen paddled past the club on its way upstream. With Melissa and the band in full cry, it was easy to picture that grand old lady, full of Creole Jazz Men and riverboat gamblers.

Melissa and Friends said thank you and good night with, Bye Bye Blackbird; delivered first in a ‘he’ octave, for the guys to sing along, and then in a ‘she’ octave, for the gals; all of whom joined in enthusiastically.

The final verse was a tribute to the ‘Jazz Possum’, which Melissa recalled, was once a well-known intruder at the Jazz Club. However, it could perhaps have been better billed as the ‘Jazz Chipmunk’, given the amazing, faultless high pitch at which that last verse was delivered. It blew us away!!  As I said earlier, what a range this young lady has!!

Tonight, Melissa stepped on to the Brisbane Jazz Club stage with five friends. When she walked off, she had gathered many, many more in an audience that was entranced, enraptured and delighted. Thank you.

Oh, And That Reminds Me, Melissa…I am looking forward to hearing you sing my favourite Della Reese song at the Brisbane Jazz Club on New Year’s Eve!!  😊

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club

Dave Spicer and Friends – Thursday October 12 2017

There are nights at the Brisbane Jazz Club when world-class musicianship, a tuned-in, appreciative audience, and the lights shimmering across the Brisbane River, swirl into the magical, the mystical, and create a mood and a night to remember. On such a night, we are deeply engaged, captured, enraptured; listening and loving from the first note to the last.

Tonight, with Dave Spicer and Friends, was such a night.

Four musicians. Five instruments.

Dave Spicer’s sparkling piano. Sean Flynn’s bright, crisp, left-handed guitar. Helen Svoboda’s gentle, cruisy double bass. Lachie Hawkins’ ever-right time and touch with sticks and brushes. And Dave’s Jazz lounge voice dancing through them all.

Each instrument stood subtly, tightly, cleanly alone, while combining in a masterful performance by four talented musicians who were playing together in this configuration for the first-time.

Dave Spicer is a much celebrated, long-time member of the Brisbane Jazz community, renowned for his silky skills at the keyboard. 2017 however, sees him dramatically extend and broaden the appeal of his performances by stepping up to the mic, with a unique, under-stated vocal style; delivering fascinating new arrangements of standards and lesser known Jazz tunes, and some well-crafted compositions of his own.

Vocal influences of whom Dave speaks include Harry Connick Jnr, Jamie Cullum, Vince Jones, Bobby McFerrin and local performer, Darren Percival. I would add Michael Franks and Stephen Bishop; two voices that immediately came to mind at this, my first hearing.

In such company, Dave’s performance skills would not be out of place. And while he may not have the vocal range to match the best of them, he knows just how to get the best from his voice; crafting, pitching and phrasing each note beautifully; infusing his musical tales with a deep-felt soul and sensitivity.

Highlights included Dave teaching and doo-wopping his way through a classic Blues progression, a scatted arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Straight No Chaser’, sweet, dreamy versions of Gregory Porter’s ‘Water Under Bridges’ and John Lennon’s ‘Oh My Love’, and unique arrangements of standards such asCome Fly With Me and Almost Like Being In Love.

His own composition ‘Village Voice’ cleverly evoked a time when, as a young musician in New York, he had found himself within walking distance of performances by idols such as Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.

Claire Walters, aka Franky Smart, stepped up for a guest spot with a soaring rendition of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’.

As the BJC’s new President, Paul Day, said at the end of the night; ‘This was world class. This was special’. If you missed it, do yourself a favour, and catch them next time they are here at the Brisbane Jazz Club…or anywhere!!

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club


The River City Aces – Saturday April 1 2017

On Saturday night, April 1st 2017, as the southern states set their clocks back one hour, here at the Brisbane Jazz Club, we were winding ours back by 75 years.

We were back and bopping with the River City Aces and their Jump Blues; a musical style which was popular through the 1940’s and 50’s, and which later morphed seamlessly into R&B and Rock ‘n Roll.

The River Aces, led by tenor sax man, Sean Ballagh, are a fun-loving 8-piece, defined by their loyalty to the music and musicians of the era, and an unstoppable drive to get those good times a-rollin’ out there in the audience.

Alongside Sean were Mark Gibbons and his jumpin’, jivin’ vocals, Jeff Usher’s jelly-rollin’ piano, Harvey Blues’ 12-bar guitar, Brad Esbensen’s wailing trumpet, Papa Joe’s booming baritone sax, Doctor Bob’s big backbeat bass and Steve Robin’s driving drums.

What a combination!! These guys have got the band back together and they are certainly on a mission from somewhere.

The music of masters of the era, including Louis Prima, Louis Jordon, Fats Domino, T Bone Walker and Bull ‘Moose’ Jackson, swung, whooped and chug-a-chugged across the stage; roaring around the Club like a Boogie Train.

And every member of the sell-out audience was on that train; singing and clapping and dancing their way through the first to the very last of those driving arrangements.

‘Don’t care if you’re young or old. Get together and let the good times roll’.

Those good times were really rollin’ tonight. If you missed ‘em, catch ‘em next time. Anywhere, anytime. Get yourself some of those good times, with the River City Aces.

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club