There was a touch of New York’s Blue Note jazz club at WAAPA the other evening, as cool vibes filled the Geoff Gibbs Theatre.
Guest pianist and composer Barney McAll fired up a stage brimming with budding talent, courtesy of the Academy’s best and brightest instrumentalists and vocalists.
The Aria-winning Australian jazzman ran through a scintillating selection of his works, which span the galaxy of soul, swing, fusion, Afro-Cuban, Dixieland and spiritual.
There were sweet vocals, choral harmonies, piano trios, swinging solos and the driving walls of brass that defined the 1940s Big Band era.
Yet through it all were the distinctive McAll piano, melodies, tonal variations, progressions and luscious touches that have had many critics call the Melbourne-raised musician a master of the genre.
Throughout the concert, sponsored by philanthropists Brigid and Ronald Woss, McAll’s trademark complex sound pathways would joyously resolve into the heart of melody, revealing a jazz composer with a deep, insightful feel for the beauty of alluring and evocative arrangement.
There was also some fine improvisation, the essence of great jazz, performed with pizzazz and confidence by all the musicians.
McAll regularly praised his young charges and informed a thrilled audience that they were witnessing the future of jazz music.
Between pieces he related a bit about his own life, including many formative years spent in the US. He also told a few yarns between tunes, some about his heroes, including the great Thelonius Monk.
McAll completed his Bachelor of Music at the Victorian College of Arts in Melbourne before moving to New York City in 1997 to join saxophonist Gary Bartz’s band.
He also played with the Josh Roseman Unit, Fred Wesley and the JB’s, Groove Collective, and Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Heartcore. Seeking greater knowledge and inspiration he went on to study in Cuba, and has played with the many of the Who’s Who of the modern US jazz scene.
Hence McAll has accrued extensive musical knowlegde, and the subtle influences and nuances of the greats shine through in his sparkling repertoire.
In 2015, he was the recipient of the Peggy Glanvill-Hicks composer residency in Sydney. He has headed up several of Australia’s best jazz ensembles and has produced a string of albums while regularly performing internationally.
At the 2015 Aria Awards McAll won Best Jazz Album for Mooroolbark, from which he played a piece at WAAPA the other night.
It was a fantastic night under the spell of an Australian jazz maestro, with many of us departing humming a catchy or haunting McAll refrain.
To see what’s coming up in the WAAPA performance program, go to https://www.waapa.ecu.edu.au