The third and final instalment of These Digital Times (the Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s 2020 online program) opened with a blast of musical sunshine from Perth, where 12 members of the Junkadelic Brass Band were permitted to gather — in the same room! — to share their irresistible take on New Orleans street music and show off their ingenious recycled instruments. Who knew a toilet seat could sound so good?
American keyboardist-producer Taylor McFerrin and drummer Marcus Gilmore recorded their iso-performance in separate studios in New York and LA, with Gilmore responding to McFerrin’s sampled beats and synth patterns. The pre-determined rhythmic structures didn’t leave the drummer much room to move, but the set was a timely display of creative resourcefulness in the COVID-19 era.
The local, live-streamed component of the program began with an atmospheric set from drummer David Jones and his trio. Ensconced in near darkness that all but obscured Jones’ beatific smile, the trio embarked on an evocative journey encompassing ghostly resonance, grainy funk and intuitive exchanges that favoured texture over timekeeping.
Young saxophonist Holly Moore (leader of this year’s artist development program Take Note) assembled an impressive sextet to premiere a suite of works culminating in Under The Cobblestones, The Beach, a majestic piece filled with tenderness and warmth.
Paul Grabowsky turned inwards for his solo piano performance, masterfully reshaping some of most beloved compositions (including the evergreen Angel) via imaginative chord voicings and unexpected harmonic progressions.
Barney McAll was part-pianist part-shaman as he explored themes from upcoming album Precious Energy, darting from acoustic piano to spacey ‘70s keys as he channelled sounds from Melbourne’s neo-soul scene.
Then there was the dazzling accordionist Vince Abbracciante, who radiated joy as he conjured airy waltzes and visceral tangos that pulsed with genuine drama. Beamed from Italy, Abbracciante had something the other acts lacked: a live audience. Small, yes, and unseen, but clearly heard and felt, and a reminder that the energy between performers and audiences is perhaps the most precious energy of all.