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Review: Freedman Concert Displays the Best of New Australian Jazz- And a Winner

By: undefined undefinedSeptember 05, 2022

The Freedman Fellowship Concert at Sydney Opera House Saturday 3 September 2022

Reviewed by Mick Paddon from Time & Space

If you want to hear what Australia’s emerging jazz musicians are up to there is no better place to be than the concert for the finalists for the Freedman Jazz Fellowship.  On Saturday September 3rd, trumpeter Tom Avgenicos, alto saxophonist Flora Carbo and percussionist/producer Holly Conner shared their musical creativity with a full house at the Opera House’s Studio.   To even get to this point, they have been through a competitive vetting by the three judges which whittled down 16 nominees from across Australia, to the final short list of three.  As each of them, and the evening’s MC James Valentine, acknowledged, getting this far is already a real achievement, and an endorsement of how highly their music is valued by fellow jazz musicians.

This was the 20th time the Fellowship has been awarded since its inception in 2000.  It’s intended to give financial support for a jazz musician under 35 to develop, perform and record a project which will take her or his career to another level.  Previous recipients are among Australian’s finest, established jazz musicians.  They include Andrea Keller, Matt McMahon, Julien Wilson and, one of this year’s judges, Andrew Robson.  The judges are always, themselves, jazz musicians with a national and international reputation.  This year, sax player Andrew Robson was joined by vocalist Virna Sanzone and pianist Steve Barry.

Photo:Karl Schwerdtfeger

The final performance at the Opera House is just one of the things on which the judges base their final decision about the Fellowship.  It is not a just test of the finalists’ virtuosity on their chosen instrument(s).  It gives them a chance, through selecting their repertoire and the musicians to perform with them, to put their musical ideas on display and give a taste of how they could develop their chosen project.

Whether this was intentional or not, the three finalists performed in alphabetical order.  So, first up was Tom Avgenicos, leading a quartet of trumpet, piano, bass and drums, augmented by a string quartet.  With the help of electronics to provide some loops and swirls they performed three pieces without a pause, Detached, I’ll Go Where You Go and Stymie.

Flora Carbo on alto saxophone, also chose to play the two pieces in her set, Sing Something and Holy Moly, What a Nice day, straight through.  Again, what on paper might look like a conventional trio of alto, bass and drums, was given a different texture with the help of Eitan Ritz’s modular synthesiser.

Holly Conner’s towering, shimmering kit was pushed out into the performance space on its own plinth.  It would not do it justice to call it a solo performance, though she used her first piece, Fives/Sevens, for a full work out across the kit.  For her second and third pieces, Sun Gongs and Haze, she used drums and percussion to play around and through her electronic samples with a visual accompaniment from Patrick Harris’s Projections.

As James Valentine joked, none of the performances carried the sound of the “classic” jazz line up of horns with a rhythm section but it was music taking off in its own direction.  This was contemporary “jazz” or contemporary improvised music as it is now developing.  And there was nothing which felt competitive about the performances . Each musician made a point of saying how honoured he/she was to share the concert with the other finalists and how much they were looking forward to hearing each other’s work.

However, as the old cliché goes there can ultimately only be one winner.  Tom Avgenicos was awarded the Freedman Jazz Fellowship for 2022.  He will now be able to use the $21,000 award to develop a multidisciplinary project with the ensemble which performed with him at the Opera House, a contemporary dancer/choreographer, and a graphic artist.  The work, “Ghost Between Streams’ will premiere in Sydney and will be released as a multi media album.  So there is plenty more to listen out for from the Freedman Jazz Fellowship award

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