Curated by the indefatigable Sonja Horbelt, the 2020 MWIJF was pulled together in a matter of weeks without funding and in a climate of constant uncertainty. There were no international acts on the bill, and Horbelt was determined to provide opportunities for local musicians in a year when there have been few.
Friday’s opening-night program featured concerts by two supremely gifted young artists who have gathered many accolades in their relatively brief careers. Singer Amelia Evans (a finalist in this year’s National Jazz Awards) presented an all-Australian repertoire focused mainly on female composers.
Evans’ beautifully controlled vibrato never gets in the way of emotional authenticity, and she can slip in and out of wordless scats without interfering with the mood of a piece, gliding from phrase to phrase.
Everything she does seems effortless. Her interpretation of Sharny Russell’s When the Real Begins ached with tenderness, while Judy Bailey’s Colours of My Dream morphed from a sweepingly lyrical introduction into an effervescent Latin dance, buoyed by Evans’ empathetic rhythm section.
Saxophonist Holly Moore is the Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s “Take Note” artist for 2020, and she appeared in that festival’s online program in July.
Friday night marked her first live show post-lockdown, and she expressed her delight at not being confined to playing in her bedroom.
She’d composed a whole set of new music in less than a month. Despite having only one rehearsal to nail the new material, Moore and her band were utterly persuasive as they negotiated each tune, from the soulful roll of Windy Ridge to the propulsive drive of Now You See Me, Now You Don’t.
The irresistible Fresh Air made a perfect closer, conjuring an air of unmistakeable optimism – in short supply this year – and reminding us that the alchemical exchange between artists and audiences should never be taken for granted.
- The Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival continues at The Jazzlab until Monday.