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Review: Vince Jones, Orange Civic Theatre, June 10, 2022

(L-R): James Hauptman, John Mackey, Karl Dunnicliff, Vince Jones, Matt McMahon on stage at Orange Civic Theatre, June 10, 2022. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

What a treat for Orange to play host on Friday night to two acclaimed creative forces - 94-year-old artist John Olsen, and 68-year-old jazz singer, songwriter and musician Vince Jones.

While Olsen held court at an event at the art gallery, just across the way Jones opened the Orange Winter Jazz Festival with an 80-minute show at the civic theatre.

After a welcome to country by Michael Newman and an introduction from 2BL Sydney breakfast host James Valentine, himself a saxophonist, Vince Jones and his four-piece band (drums, saxophone, double bass, piano) sauntered on stage.

Jones has been playing in bands for 50 years, and yet he still doesn't appear totally at ease in the spotlight.

He didn't play his flugelhorn as much as some may have hoped throughout the show, focusing instead on singing. His light, sandy voice is a delight. Time has diluted some of its purity, yes, but not so much as to matter. And what you lose in smoothness you gain in a few serrated edges that speak to a life lived.

Singing these songs - with their unusual melodic twists and sustained high notes - is no small feat. Jones has a lovely voice, but he doesn't come across as a natural born singer who can nail challenging melodies without great focus.

The band was marvellous. It's unfair to say they carried Jones, because they certainly did not, but it was as if this was a truly democratic performance, with no one star.

Jones is a generous frontman and gave his gifted band all the space they needed. Each musician took excellent solos.

The fingers of double bassist Karl Dunnicliff bounced, slid and formed shapes around the neck like a dancing huntsman spider.

Drummer James Hauptman - using sticks, brushes and timpani mallets - was busy as a bee but played with great subtlety and dynamic range.

Aside from Jones, saxophonist John Mackey was the least busy musician on the stage, but he played some lovely parts and solos.

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Pianist Matt McMahon was superb, whether playing straight grooves or twinkling around the keys like an Antipodean Ralph Sharon.

Which leaves the one and only Mr Jones.

His is an idiosyncratic performance style. Before each song Jones tells a little back story. A relative. A budgie. His first band, a group of potheads called Stash. Walking in New York and hearing Gil Scott-Heron playing piano. Regrets over not performing a Sinatra song on one of the few times his dad came to see him play.

I don't know whether he repeats these same stories over and over during shows as part of well-worn patter, or whether he ad-libs, but each story is delivered as if for the first time.

As Jones spoke, McMahon noodled softly on piano.

Jones sings with his hands behind his back, or holding his instrument. When particularly challenging high notes were called for, he would tilt sideways away from the mic.

At one stage he apologised for a duff note, but the audience didn't care. Perfection is for studio recordings.

There is a droll, low-key humour at play in some of the songs, and a line about not marrying a man who didn't know how to grow tomatoes scored a big laugh.

Jones' music has passing shades of rhythm and blues, and pop, but at its core is a jazz sensibility, with the songs taken down strange and curious pathways.

Jones is a bit of a hippie and a leftie. I was hoping he'd do the up tempo classic Luncheon With The President ("I said it's my right to stand up and protest ... my right to join the picket line") but with some 20 albums under his belt the chances were greater that he probably wouldn't do all or any of the songs you were hoping to hear.

You pays your money ...

The crowd called the combo back for a well-deserved encore; Jones performed one song with the full band, then closed out the show backed just by McMahon on piano.

The Orange Winter Jazz festival continues across the weekend.


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