Review / Hometown start to ‘astonishing’ jazz tour

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From left, Ouriel Ellert (bass), Antoine Banville (drums), Alex Stuart (guitar), Irving Acao (tenor sax and piano), Arno de Casanove (trumpet, keys and voice).
From left, Ouriel Ellert (bass), Antoine Banville (drums), Alex Stuart (guitar), Irving Acao (tenor sax and piano), Arno de Casanove (trumpet, keys and voice).
WHEN Paris-based jazz guitarist chose Canberra as the launch pad for his quintet’s Australian tour it showed respect for his Canberran roots. It’s also testament to the once-great teaching brilliance of the ANU School of Music. He graduated from there in 2005 and moved straight to Paris. On the back of that, he has built a successful international career.

Stuart’s outfit has released a new album, “Aftermath”, which was, his website says: “Inspired by the dark turning point the world is facing today, but also by the omnipresent and evident beauty that surrounds us.”

In his mind were the urban landscapes of Paris as the wild coasts of Australia.

With Stuart was Irving Acao (tenor sax and piano), Arno de Casanove (trumpet, keys and voice), Ouriel Ellert (bass) and Antoine Banville (drums).

Their playing style is quintessentially contemporary jazz, but it traverses many genres from rock to blues to world. Underlying it all is the rock-solid foundation of the jazz tradition.

“Aftermath” is a collection of Stuart originals, each inspired by events and places in his life. The title track was his first composition after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.

Tight as a drum, the Alex Stuart Quintet is as brilliant collectively as each artist is individually. Some of the tunes build from a quiet simplicity to ear-bending complexities and back again, while others build on repetitive, relentless rhythms to masterful improvisations, soaring in volume only to be cut clean and swift at the end.

Improvisations from all five players were jaw-dropping amazing, but Acao’s sax playing stole the show in “Perfume River”. Here his incredible dexterity, flying up and down the keys and levers was perfection personified. But it was only a taste of what was to come later.

Banville’s drumming was show-stopping as well. His kit, including half a dozen cymbals, got gripping workouts several times.

Assisted by some pretty smart technology, de Casanove had his trumpet, at one moment, crooning like Chris Botti’s and, at the next, screaming like James Morrison’s. De Casanove’s improvs stretched his instrument’s range to the max.

And Stuart himself showed incredible flexibility, being, at one moment, the rhythm guitarist, giving understated support, and, at another, the lead guitarist, launching headlong into absorbing and complex improvisations.

This was an astonishing gig. How lucky we are, as Canberrans, to be able to call Alex Stuart one of our own.

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