It was standing room only at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club as the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra raised the roof with a lively evening of Big Band jazz.

Formed in 2003, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra boasts some of Sydney's finest jazz musicians, on a mission to raise the profile of the jazz orchestra medium by acting as a platform for jazz orchestra composers to have their works published and performed.

Also on stage was renowned Belgian trumpeter and jazz composer Bert Joris, who joined in as a special guest for the second half of the show.

Kicking off a set of original compositions from around the country, the 17-piece orchestra jumped straight into a toe-tapping number with a delightful tenor sax solo by the talented Matt Keegan. Pianist Hugh Barrett set the tone for the second piece with a gentler, almost haunting caress of the keys.

For me, the highlight of the first set was a piece called 'Anfang', which is Dutch for 'beginning'. Graceful and contemplative, the orchestra soared on the tones of this sedately joyous soundscape.

"That's about as sensitive as the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra gets", said Musical Director David Theak afterwards, and promptly launched into a rousing, brassy number called Gathering Momentum featuring a frenetic tenor sax solo.

Together the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra make a charmingly cohesive group - playful yet professional. If there were any doubt about any of these qualities, the final number of the first set, called Mean MF, surely put them to rest. A powerful piece laden with piano and trombone, this gave the audience plenty to talk about during the break and made sure we were fully warmed up for the second half.

Special guest Bert Joris wrote all the compositions in the second set, leading off in classic big band style with Mr Dodo, a piece with a catchy brass refrain and a trombone solo which had the audience cheering.

Bert then endeared himself to everyone by explaining, through a thick Belgian accent, how the next piece was dedicated to his cat, whom he doesn't like very much but has learned to get used to. Sure enough, the band served up a number redolent of the swanky, self-assurance of cats everywhere, topped off by Bert's smug trumpet solo.

Fans of a strong melody would have enjoyed Innocent Blues, a smooth progression featuring soft trombones mixed with energetic big band moments and an impressively difficult piano solo by Hugh Barrett, finally fading out with Bert's gentle trumpet solo.

For those with more experimental tastes, Magone was perhaps the most interesting. Written in loving memory of a good friend, this unusual piece began with a rather unsettling double bass solo with led into a sorrowful orchestral lament. The bass riff started to get into the soul while soft, yearning guitar suddenly broke out into an angry, distorted solo performed with feeling by guitarist Aaron Flower.

The band finished off the set with Warp 9, which, as the name implies, was fast, frantic and loud, with an opportunity for everyone in the band to show off with a final solo. After nearly two hours of great jazz, the audience still hadn't had enough so the band came out for one more number.

The encore piece, entitled Blue Alert, was a feelgood, big band tune with plenty of piano and playful call and response solos from Bert Joris on trumpet and alto saxophonist David Theak.

"It's a gift to have some of the most world-class musicians among us", said softly-spoken and completely charming club manager Megg Evans. She's right. If you get a chance, don't miss an opportunity to see the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra, or as Musical Director David Theak suggested none-too-subtly several times, buy one of their CDs. It's big band jazz at its best.

With Bert Joris

Venue: Bennetts Lane Jazz Club
Date/Time: Thursday April 30 2009, 8pm
Tickets: Full $30, Concession $25

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