Jazz In The Vines @ Hunter Valley, 31 October 2009

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There are many worse ways to spend a lazy Saturday than at the annual Jazz in the Vines concert in the Hunter Valley. With exceptional musical talent, wonderful wines, delicious food, and one of the loveliest crowds around, it’s a show that keeps me coming back time and time again.

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The Dixie Jazz Band kicked off proceedings with their crowd-pleasing set of old-fashioned standards. These guys look about 70 in the shade, but those all those years have helped make this act one of the tightest around. I’ve seen them regularly at Newcastle’s Race for Research, and was thrilled to see them on the bill.

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The Australian Army Band kicked things up a notch with their set of originals and classic covers. You know when a band’s made of serviceman that they’re going to be tight. There’s that regimented precision which easily transfers to their music. But don’t think that made the set stuffy. The young talent on show injected a youthful energy into the time-honoured tunes.

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It was back to the old-timers with one of Australia’s most esteemed jazz outfits, Galapagos Duck. My parents have fond memories of seeing these guys in their youth, and they’re just as impressive today. Their set was mostly made of the originals that punctuated their 40 years in the biz. While I wasn’t so familiar with the tunes, watching these masters of jazz weave their magic was a real pleasure.

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The show kicked up a notch with Jazz in the Vines favourite James Morrison. I was incredibly impressed with his set last year, and couldn’t wait to see what he’d pull out in 2009. My questions were answered early on, as his long-time collaborator Darren Percival took to the stage. His smoky vocals were the perfect accompaniment to James’ incredible musical skill. Whether on the trombone, keys, or trumpet (both standard and digital versions mind you), the combination was magic. An energetic cover of my favourite swing standard, “The Way You Look Tonight” was a real highlight in a set that had so many memorable moments.

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James Morrison is a hard act to follow, but the Ladies of Jazz did so admirably. Of course, when you’ve got the might of four Australian divas it makes the task a little easier. The Ladies in question were Monica Trapaga, Grace Knight, Christine Anu, and Paulini, four gorgeous girls united by their love of swinging tunes and toe-tapping beats. They performed several songs together, but the real highlights for me were their solo contributions. Christine Anu sang the pants off “Georgia on My Mind,” and Paulini showed just how far she’s come since Australian Idol with Etta James’ “At Last.” No matter what they turned their hand too, the Ladies came up sparkling.

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Watussi closed the day with their brand of Latin-inspired jazz. They reminded me a little bit of The Cat Empire; there was those same irresistible brassy beats that inspired you to dance. It was a bit of a change of pace from the other acts in the line-up, but one that most folks embraced. Most of the crowds was already on their feet at this point, but plenty of others joined them. What a fitting end to another year of this incredible festival. I can’t wait to see what they serve up next.

Image source: own photos