Just got back from Grampians Jazz Festival and what a terrific trip. A beautiful setting, wonderful people, excellent music and fine food and wine - all the right ingredients for a great time. And they were all there in spades at Hall's Gap this last weekend.
What follows is as much a timeline of the entire weekend, so it features far more words on the music than wine.
I left Canberra early last Thursday with a car chock-a-block of musical gear and a box of nice wine and drove to Bendigo in central Victoria to stay the night with great friends, Bill and Margie Beasley. Cracked an almost ok 1995 Dom Perignon (with one of Marg's delicious savoury vegetarian crepes) that unveiled probably the mildest cork taint I've ever experienced. If it had not been for this annoying faint mustiness the wine may have scored in the low 90's. In this instance, we still enjoyed what was in the glass - light and fluffy, yeasty pastry shop smells, a little autolysis character mixed with bright acids, a little citrus and grated ginger and then, of course, the totally forgettable miniscule mustiness. The palate displayed a remarkable lightness, dancing like a miniature prima ballerina in full swing all around the mouth and then unravelling with equilibrium and class on a similarly impressive finish, just marred ever so slightly by our old friend, Mr TCA. Still, worthy of about 86 points from me. Bill whipped up a mixed grill on the barbeque and I decided to open a 1988 John Riddoch that looked somewhat jaded at first but improved dramatically in the glass with an, ultimately, delicious combo of blackcurrant, damp earth, capsicum, herbs, cedar and black olive. The wine displays a most excellent fully resolved structure & was very easy to drink. 90 points. If you have any, drink it over the next several years.
Friday morning we put the finishing touches on a few tunes to be played in Bill's band, "1947" - so named due to all the original members being born in that year. Over several years, the original line-up has changed considerably and now only a couple of "authentic" 1947er's remain. I left for Hall's Gap about mid-morning and arrived at about 1pm. The village was already buzzing with musos and delegates and I set up my gear in the Black Panther Cafe for my three day residency over the course of the jazz festival. A couple of nice sessions went down until I had to do my first gig at 5pm with the Double A Jazz Band at the enormous Seppelt Marquee (holds about 800 people with overflow of several hundred if required either side). The gig started quite shakily but fired up as the set progressed. Then it was back to the cafe for one of the best steak and pepper pies I've ever eaten with a crunchy fresh garden salad and piping hot tasty chips. Due to a very busy schedule that night (4 gigs), I decided to try a local beer, a Three Troupers Pale Ale and was most impressed. After dinner I took the shortish walk back to the big tent and played with a very popular Victorian working jazz band, The Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble, a well-established and competent group but with me added at the last moment to replace their seriously ill band leader and pianist, Rueben. The set went off well - the front line are fabulous entertainers and I felt comfortable throughout the bulk of the set. I then had to rush off to play up the Country Plaza Motel with my band, The Milenberg Joys - a set that went very well, especially our rendition of Jelly Roll Morton's challenging composition "Froggie Moore Rag" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlhNDaP_ZFI
), then back to the big tent to do our second set of the night with Double A (which went much better than our first set a bit earlier). We did manage to try my first bottle of 2004 Leo Buring Eden Valley Leonay Riesling DW 17 - simply gorgeous with awesome fruit, structure and balance - and brimming with intense lime juice/grapefruit pith aromas and flavour. Drink now or keep for a decade or more. 93
Saturday morning I was down at the cafe at 9am playing my digital piano after breakfast with a huge influx of people coming in from the mid-morning traditional street march. The fabulous pianist Kim Harris dropped in for a bite to eat and took up my offer of having a tinkle. What a fine player! At midday, I did a somewhat mediocre set with an unrehearsed band doing charts transcribed from a Dan Barrett and George Masso (both top US trombonists) album called Two Friends. Luckily the next day, the band, called "T N T" (Trom 'n' Trom), performed its second set of the weekend, mostly from the same album with the band "finding its feet" and performing far better. Also trombone guru, Harry Price (82 years young) sat in, so effectively, we were Three Troms. Back to the cafe for lunch and a great afternoon of mixed blowing with several fine musicians including Joe Pryke (trumpet), Nicola Shaw (trombone) and Danny Sowter (guitar). Later in evening I did 4 sets in a row - Maryborough, Milenberg Joys, 1947 (all mentioned before) and my first set with the wonderful trumpet player, Graham Eames. His band, called "JIG" (Jazz In the Gap), played very well, especially with most of the band reading the music for the first time on stage. Once my band commitments were fulfilled I opened a most delicious bottle of red burgundy. J. J. Confuron's Nuits-St.-Georges Aux Boudot 1993 is an amazingly fresh, subtle, feminine wine with layers of smoothly textured plum, cherry, cola, sap and perfectly-judged (i.e. delicate) complimentary spicy/savoury oak. It's drinking brilliantly today but somehow I think it has some way to go. Its line, depth, breadth and length are without fault. 93. A truly memorable drinking experience,
Sunday dawned with the fine warm weather repeating itself for the third day in a row and the mandatory early morning breakfast/music performance at the "Panther". The TNT gig I mentioned happened at midday and a truly memorable blow with Bill Beasley at the Black panther over lunch was followed by a very quick gear decommissioning in the restaurant and then my two final blows of the festival with JIG and 1947. I did manage to open a Leasingham Classic Clare Aged Release Watervale Clare Valley Riesling 2002 during the afternoon - a truly outstanding white with enormous reserves of intense lime and crunchy green apple fruit. Indelible, complex minerally acidity and an amazing path through the mouth lead to a long riveting clean and crisp finish. Will live for another decade, at least. 94. The Maryborough guys had a gig that night at the nearby Parkgate resort and with things working out with the band over the weekend, I was invited to play with them on Sunday night. It was a blast. The crowd were every bit as receptive as in the big tent and at one stage I counted about ten people in their seats and well over a hundred having a ball on the very large dance floor. Thanks be to the band for having me and I look forward to going all the way back to Victoria the weekend after next to do two more gigs with them.
After an enjoyable Monday morning socialising with heaps of good people in and around the confines of the Panther, I motored back to Bendigo in the early afternoon to Bill and Marg’s for another overnighter to break up the long trip home. We drank the remnants of a 2005 Leasingham Classic Clare Riesling I had opened the night before. Unlike the unreadiness present the previous evening, this was now singing like a nightingale. Somewhat similar to their 2002, this vintage is higher in acid and currently has a tighter, linear fruit profile. It is, potentially, a most outstanding wine but leave it for 5 years if you have any. With sumptuous eye fillet medallions in a mushroom, red wine and garlic sauce, I opened the wine of the trip and true testimony to the terroir from which it was borne. Henschke’s 1991 Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon is a true star. Supremely elegant but with a solid core of delectable sweet blackcurrant fruit, this superior cabernet displays exemplary colour for its age, a superb nose oozing with aged complexity over almost floral (violets) black fruit (-currants and -berries) followed by a quite thrilling mature and complex palate showing resolution, precision and sensuality. I asked Bill how I would rate it. He answered “94” and he was right. This bottle could last another decade if well kept. Another blast from the past for me.
The drive home yesterday afternoon was long and not that boring as I managed to pick up some more work with the Canberra Jazz Club and another gig in Victoria.
If anyone reading this likes any of the jazz genres, I can assure you a good time in Hall’s Gap every February. Over 4,000 attend and I am yet to meet a person who disliked a festival weekend. The only problem is getting accommodation, although with an aging trad jazz audience cancellations are becoming more common.
I'm already booked for next year's festival.