The Bowery Hot Five – Thursday November 16th, 2023

The Bowery Hot Five – Thursday November 16th, 2023

Across four nights each week, for 51 weeks of every year, the Brisbane Jazz Club presents a melting pot of Jazz styles…complemented by an occasional pinch of the Blues, a touch of Soul, or a shot of Rhythm and Blues.

And every night, the experience is enhanced by the magic of our unique riverside location and vibe.

Now, should you be looking and listening for one performance among many, to perfectly showcase what our Club is all about, then tonight would be a great place to start….

On the outside, it’s a hot and steamy late-Spring Thursday night. On the inside, it is even hotter…and oh, so cooool…because The Bowery Hot Five are in the house.

With a set-list that bounces, bumps and glides through…‘a little Swing, some fresh Latin, a sprinkle of Groove, a touch of Blues, a taste of Country, a pinch of Gospel and mix it up with a lotta love and good vibes’….

…The Bowery Hot Five are…

Mal Wood on trumpet, vocals, Tibetan singing bowl, ventriloquy, stand-up comedy, and a non-stop, two-step-shuffle.

John Reeves on piano and accordion.

Cassie Whitehead on tenor and alto saxes.

Elliot Parker on double bass.

Rodney Ford on drums, vocals and sit-down comedy.

This band has been around for a long time. In many, and ever-changing combinations.

Mal joined what was then, the Matt Murphy Hammond Combo, twenty years ago. Eventually morphing into today’s Bowery Hot Five, they have always been a shape-changing jigsaw puzzle; ‘a band of band leaders’.

And tonight, five great local musicians, playing in this combination for the first time, led us through a little bit of everything, musically…and at the same time, gave us a bit of a Geography lesson.

Around the world in 80 Days?  Well, 150 minutes.

There were lots of tunes from the Home of Jazz…the good ol’ U.S. of A…including Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose, Shelton Brooks’ Darktown Strutters Ball, and Ray Henderson’s Bye Bye Blackbird.

We were in New York City, for the Miles/Trane classic, All Blues, before heading down to New Orleans for Iko Iko, and into the Deep South for Sweet Georgia Brown. Then across to California, for a swinging, Jazzed-up version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary, on which Rod provided the vocal…after first coaxing and coaching an enthusiastic audience into providing and maintaining a slick and well executed bass line.

Then they took us across the Atlantic for a sweet little nod to Edith Piaf’s Paris at the end of a John Reeves accordion solo, and a visit to Montreux, for Eddie Harris’ Cold Duck Time.

There was a taste of the Caribbean, with a reggae-rhythm take on, ‘A Closer Walk With Thee’, before heading to South Africa for some Cape Town Jazz, on African Marketplace.

Was that really John on piano and Mal trumpet, or were we hearing Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela?

From there, they took us high into the Himalayas…to Tibet…for a sublimely slow, low and hauntingly atmospheric, Singing Bowl Concerto…which, led my Mal on the Singing Bowl, was composed and improvised, there and then, on the spot. Beautiful!!

‘Is that bowl in D? Nah. Let’s go with E’. 

What a great night!!

We appreciated many stand-out moments, such as when Rod, comfy and chilled, stepped up to a stool for a vocal solo, for Nancy Wilson’s, Save Your Love For Me.

We applauded every flawless solo. We laughed along with Mal and Rod’s cheeky interplay schtick.

We loved it all!!

Thank you, Mal, John, Cassie, Elliot and Rod.

As Mal sang….

I like Jazz and you like Jazz. Iko Iko an day.

Will you come down to the Brisbane Jazz Club,

And dance the night away?

Jocomo fee nan nay.


Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club

Shenzo Gregorio Quartet and Melissa Western – Saturday November 27 2021

Shenzo Gregorio Quartet and Melissa Western – Saturday November 27 2021

Imagine, if you will, a Parisian street scape. An all-night café. Shot glasses of absinthe. Smoke slowly rising from a Gauloise.

Close your eyes. Sense, feel, hear the spirit, the presence…of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. And is that Ernest Hemingway sitting quietly in the corner, with his head in a notebook?

Well, that’s how it all felt, as we settled in for the Saturday night session of Oz Manouche 2021, at the Brisbane Jazz Club.

And while ‘Paris’ may have been the first word that came to mind as these musicians slipped into their performance…it was quickly followed by words like…‘sublime’…and ‘exquisite’. And ‘Wow!!’

The Shenzo Gregorio Quartet is Shenzo on guitar and violin. (Cameron James aka) Camaron De La Vega on guitar. John Reeves on piano accordion. And Peter Walters on his Bob Manzaneres custom, electric double bass…which he thinks might be radioactive, as it was built in Los Alamos, New Mexico!!

Radioactive? Maybe. Electric and hot? Oh, yes!! This awesome foursome of talented musicians had those forty fingers charged up and absolutely sparking across their instruments!!

They gave us Jazz manouche classics like Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘Danse Macabre’ and Django’s ‘Swing 42’. And they gave us great originals such as ‘N’Awlins’  and ‘Sahara Swing’…all before introducing their vocalist…former BJC President and darling of the Edinburgh Festival…Melissa Western.

And in introducing her, bass-man Peter waxed lyrical about Melissa’s outstanding contribution to the Club’s development…including being President at the time that the late, great, much-missed Ewan Mackenzie brought to the Club, his ideas for the very first Oz Manouche Gypsy Jazz Festival…16 years ago!!

And so now, there were five instruments on our stage.

Whether delivering the heart-felt lyric of Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’, or scatting in support of Brahms’ ‘Hungarian Dance’, Melissa’s incredible power, range, control and high-octane vocal gymnastics soared beautifully…in flawless synch with the violin, guitar, accordion and bass.

Have Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ or Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless The Child’ ever been done any better? Anywhere? By anyone?

And when they gave us the Duke Ellington classic, ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing, (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’, where on the scale was Melissa scatting at? Just how does she doooo that?

At the end of the evening…which came far too soon…when Melissa asked, ‘Can you handle an encore?’, they gave us Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. And the packed house audience’s response blew the roof off!!

What an enjoyable and memorable performance. Five great musicians, each adding their own personal touch of Django.

It was gentle. It was frantic. It was simple. It was complex. It was all exactly where and when and how it needed to be.

C’est formidable!! Thank you.

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club

Robyn Brown – Sunday November 14 2021

A sweet, glowing halo flitted and shone around the Brisbane Jazz Club today.

Powered by a heavenly band of talented musicians and the powerful rhythms, emotion and enthusiasm of Gospel Music, the halo finally settled above the head of our lady on the stage, Ms. Robyn Brown.

And it touched and moved us all, through Robyn’s angelic voice, her deep, deep conviction, and her great love for this music and its message.

Yes, we were blessed, as Robyn and her six disciples shone their light on an afternoon of musical history: sharing a compelling and captivating journey of soul-stirring vocals, and a This Train load of engaging anecdotes about the genesis and legacy of Gospel Music, and many of its best-known saints and champions.

And we were carried high over Jordan, (aka The Brisbane River), on the wings of those spontaneous, memorable, dancing arrangements of the otherwise modest 1, 2 and 3-chord songs.

So, who was this band of Holy Rollers that held us spell-bound and captivated through an inspiring BJC Sunday session?

Well, up front, Robyn Brown is the vocalist and historian.

At the piano, and playing with a broken left pinkie, that’s David Spicer.             .

Behind the upright bass, under the same tousled, curly hair that he had last time he was at the BJC, (which was some time ago), was Peter Walters.  (Welcome back, Pete!! Great to see you).       .

At the kit, with the perfect mix of driving, rousing and gently understated drumming, that is Max Sportelli.

And blowing us all the way to dem ole Pearly Gates, the Horn Section is Emeritus Professor, Dr. Rob McWilliams on trumpet and flugelhorn, Mark Spencer on tenor saxophone and David Murtough on slide trombone.

So, thank you Robyn and your ensemble. Through your two-set song-list and informative anecdotes, we learnt much about this music, and many of its founders and pioneering influences.

We now know that the story of Gospel Music begins back in the 17th Century, with the African-American spirituals that sprang from the deprivations of the US Slave Trade. And we understand why the songs, which can be low, slow and dramatic, or happy, clappy and uplifting, are so full of biblical narrative and allusion, and the recurring theme of freedom.

Along the way, we met Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) and ‘The Godmother/Grandmother of Rock n Roll’, Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-1973). There was Ethel Waters. The Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Mahalia Jackson. Aretha Franklin. Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers. The Blind Boys Of Alabama. And more.

All of whom had helped lay the foundation for much of the American music that has been popularised since, including Blues, Rock ‘n Roll, Soul, Hip-Hop

…and of course, Jazz

…which leaves the circle unbroken, by eventually leading the faithful to here, our beloved Brisbane Jazz Club, for another beautiful afternoon….Down By The Riverside!!


Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club


Justin Stephenson Ensemble – Friday October 15 2021

What a memorable way to spend my birthday!!

A night at the Brisbane Jazz Club. A great band. A funky front-man. And the flawless delivery of every song from the Grammy Award-winning, Tamla Motown double album, Songs In The Key Of Life.

Released in September 1976, it was the eighteenth studio album…and a masterpiece…for Steveland Hardaway Judkins…later, Steveland Morris…then Little Stevie Wonder…and finally, Stevie Wonder.

And here, paying homage, left to right, across our river-side stage tonight, the Ensemble are:

Up front, in the flat cap, on electronic keyboard, piano and lead vocal…that’s Justin Stephenson, aka J-FUNK.

The tall guy on the custom-built Fender Strat and supporting vocals, is the cruisy, Mr. Bluesy, Aaron West.

At the heart of it all, is the driving Rhythm Section…

On electric bass and backing vocals, is Justin’s long-time friend and collaborator, Robbie Flay.

James Sandon is the oh, so cooool dude on the drum kit. And that’s Mark O’Brien on congas and percussion, with his great assortment of tings, tangs, dongs and tinkles

And adding shrill power and sweet depth when required, is the Horn Section: Matt Christensen on Tenor sax, Cassie Whitehead on Alto sax and Greg Spence on Trumpet.

So, if you are ready…  Let’s power up the turntable.   Slip the vinyl from that colourful cover. Gently ease the stylus down.   Cue the crackle…

And we are away….

From Track 1, Side 1: ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’ to Track 4, Side 4: ‘Another Star’, we are treated in sequence, to every one of the album’s 17 songs. And as a nice little extra…Track 1, Side 1: ‘Saturn’, from the bonus 4-track EP.

And wow!! At times, we could have been back there in ’76, at the The Hit Factory in New York City, or The Record Plant in Hollywood, sitting in with Stevie, his band and big-name cameo guests, at those recording sessions.  It was all so tight…so cool…and so faithful to the original arrangements.

And we really were ‘feelin’ it all o-o-o-ver’…calling for more and roaring our applause, by the time they gave us an encore reprise of Track 1, Side 5: the horns-driven classic, ‘Sir Duke’.

Thank you to the Justin Stephenson Ensemble for another great night at the Brisbane Jazz Club. And thank you for sharing your journey from 2021 back to 1976. That was 45 years in the key of life!!

We loved it!!  Come back soon!!

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club