Van Morrison's Masterpieces | Vince Jones and the Astral OrchestraLeft – Vince Jones. Photo – Laki Sideris

The 2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival included a concert by Australian jazz vocalist and trumpeter Vince Jones performing Van Morrison’s seminal albums Astral Weeks and Moondance at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Playing to a capacity, mainly baby-boomer crowd, Jones was backed by a cracking band led by Sydney pianist Matt McMahon  and featuring the cream of Melbourne jazz players: Tim Wilson on flute and tenor saxophone, trumpeter Eugene Ball, guitarist Stephen Magnusson, Tony Floyd on drums, bassist Ben Robertson, a two-piece string section of violinists Atilla Kuti and Naomi Durston, with Gian Slater coming on to add vocals in the second half. You got a strong sense of how Jones tunes in to musical director Matt McMahon on stage, Jones initially locking eyes with his pianist before humming a snatch of melody and tuning up his voice before each song like it was another instrument in the band.

Jones is a deeply musical interpreter with a breathy, silken-voiced approach to this night's repertoire; standout moments included his slow, emotional jazz version of Madame George and hearing his superb signature phrasing on songs such as Slim Slow Slider.

The softly-spoken Jones introduced most of the songs by talking about their meaning to his own life – Morrison’s Like Lovers Do reminded him of his teenage longing for a girlfriend ­– adding to the intimate nostalgic but not indulgent feel of the night. Astral Weeks, as he’s said elsewhere, was amongst the first five albums he’d ever purchased, something he would have had in common with many of the people listening to him. Jones shared that this may well have been the hardest gig he’d ever taken on. The specially formed seven-piece Astral Orchestra formed a low-key presence, creating a textured musical fabric showcasing Jones’ vocals. Members of the ensemble only stepped forward in their designated solo spots which shone with the musicality of Tim Wilson’s flute and Stephen Magnusson’s restrained guitar.

Jones and band returned after interval to perform Morrison’s Moondance, perhaps a less memorable album in terms of standout songs and a more soul, folk or even country feel than the mercurial Astral Weeks. Gian Slater as sometime solo singer joined Jones on backing vocals; a soft delivery sometimes in interestingly different time phrasing to Jones’ leads.

Jones’ version of Morrison’s Into The Mystic captured the poetic beauty of the original while trumpeter Eugene Ball’s solo on Brand New Day was another highlight. At the close of the concert Jones returned to sing an Irish farewell song as a nod to the Celtic mood of Morrison’s work, featuring himself on flugelhorn accompanied by Matt McMahon’s pristine piano.

2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Van Morrison's Masterpieces
featuring Vince Jones and the Astral Orchestra

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre | Corner Southbank Boulevard & Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 10 & 14 June 2016
Tickets: $79 – $61

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