Tony Hillier

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Issue #5 October 20th 2009: Cairns and all that Jazz


Cairns jazz buffs have been spoilt rotten over the years.

The city, of course, has had its own jazz club for at least four decades, probably a good deal longer. Based at the Crown Hotel when your columnist first hit town as a backpacker back in the early ‘eighties, it enjoyed a long and glorious tenure at the Yacht Club until that historic establishment was brusquely and controversially dismantled last year. The Cairns Tropic Jazz Club is currently operating from the North Cairns Footy Oval’s well-appointed clubhouse, the Tiger’s Den (located at Behan St, Manunda) on Thursday nights (from 8pm), where for a modest cover charge — $5 the last time I popped my head in — punters can see some of the finest local players strut their stuff. Meals and drinks are available at very reasonable prices. The 9-10 pm time showcase slot is available by arrangement for visiting and non-rostered acts (phone 0418 774 175). Eight Cairns bands currently make up the duty roster.
For more information, plus an up-to-date gig guide, proceed to:

Mark Isaacs Resurgence BandMark Isaac’s Resurgence Band

Far North audiences have also enjoyed top interstate and international jazz over the years. The trend started in earnest in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with the big hotels picking up Aussie aces such as James Morrison, Dale Barlow, Vince Jones and Don Burrows, and American players of the calibre of pianist Joanne Brackeen and saxman Gary Smulyan. The pace picked up with a series of concerts at the Hilton, and the International Hotel’s ‘Jazz in June’ festival, later resurrected at the Tradewinds. It reached a new peak with the partnership between Melbourne agent Henk van Leeuwen and Kuranda entrepreneur John Howell, which lured some superlative Scandinavian acts to our neck of the woods, including Finland’s Trio Töykeät, Denmark’s New Jungle Orchestra and Palle Mikkelborg Trio and the Swedish guitar duo Ulf Wakenius & Peter Almqvist.

When John Howell returned to his home town, Adelaide, the Tanks Arts Centre (then managed by Nicholas Mills) picked up the baton and hosted return visits by Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra and Trio Töykeät, and concerts by Finland’s clarinet maestro Antti Sarpila and the Joona Toivanen Trio, and the outstanding Danish jazz singers Trine-Lise Væring and Katrine Madsen.

While the Nordic connection, sadly, has since been severed, the Tanks continues to promote top quality national acts under the ‘Jazz Up North’ aegis. The current series started on a high note in March with a sell-out show featuring the incomparable talents of Brisbane songbird Katie Noonan, showcasing her Beatles’ covers album. Melbourne’s Way Out West (April) and the trio Oehlers, Grabowsky & Beck (June), Sydney’s The Vampires (May), Brisbane’s West End Composers (July), and Perth’s Grace Knight (September), the last-named valiantly battling a dose of flue, more than upheld the promise of that flying start. Grabowsky & co’s totally improvised set represented one of the year’s most absorbing concerts for this reviewer (although it doubtless challenged those who prefer their jazz a little more mainstream!).

Next year’s ‘Jazz Up North’ series, which again starts in March, promises to be just as good. While no names have been released yet, I know The Catholics (one of my favourite bands and one of Australia’s most eclectic world-oriented jazz collectives) is on the hit list. The series subscription, which represents outstanding value for money, will be available from ticketLiNK in January:

In the interim, ’09 subscribers and walk-up jazz buffs can anticipate a great concert to wind up this year’s series — Mark Isaac’s Resurgence Band, on Friday November 6th.

One of Australia’s finest jazz pianists and composers, Mark is no stranger to the Far North He has family here and has played in Cairns in various configurations over the years, from solo to quartet. I have not seen the Resurgence Band live, but those that have rave about them. That they have secured a second ARIA award nomination in three years speaks for itself.

The seeds for the band were sown in 2007 when Mark recorded ‘Resurgence’, an Australian/American collaboration in Los Angeles, featuring Mark's compositions and musicians such as fellow Sydneysider, guitarist James Muller, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and saxophonist Bob Sheppard. The all-Aussie Mark Isaacs Resurgence Band was formed in the wake of that release. It has since toured extensively in South East Asia and showcased at several major festivals. The band’s latest album, ‘Tell It Like It Is’, was released on ABC Records in May of this year, followed by an extensive Australian tour and an appearance at the 2009 Tokyo Jazz Festival in September. Tracks from the CD can be heard at:

With the incomparable Muller on guitar and the talented Matt Keegan on soprano, alto and tenor saxophone sharing solos with their leader, the Resurgence Band is not short on firepower. Bassman Brett Hirst and drummer Tim Firth provide a solid rhythm base for the soloists to shine from. The Resurgence Band fuses jazz, soul, gospel, blues, Latin, classical and R&B influences into a sound that has led to the group being named by the distinguished Sydney jazz critic John Shand as Mark’s finest group to date. It seems that the Band’s forte is being able to make complex music utterly accessible.  Don’t miss them, jazzos!

Tony Hillier