Live review | At his first D.C. show, Albare spikes virtuosic guitar playing with a world of influences

The Australian guitarist Albare is in the midst of an East Coast tour. Courtesy Dennys Ilic

by Ken Avis
CapitalBop contributor

Albare
Blues Alley
Monday, Nov. 19

The Melbourne-based guitarist Albare may be a new face on U.S. stages, but he has devoted his life to music, both as a performer and presenter, while living in three continents. His recently released album, Long Way, features a top-shelf band of musicians from all over the contemporary jazz scene, including the Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez, the American saxophonist George Garzone and the Argentine pianist Leo Genovese.

Born in Morocco and raised in France, Albare (pronounced al-BARE) eventually emigrated to Australia, where he was instrumental in popularizing acid-jazz while in his 20s. Stepping off the stage for a while, he became the artistic director of the Melbourne Jazz Festival, developing it into the country’s premiere jazz event. The festival has an audience of 200,000 today, compared to just 5,000 when Albare first became involved. The success, he said in a recent interview, was built on broadening the musical content and making the event as accessible as possible, with the help of public and private sponsorship. Albare, now 55, also initiated the Australian Jazz Awards program in 2003. Named the Bell Awards in honor of Graeme Bell, one of the continent’s foremost jazz musicians, the awards recognize the strong culture of jazz appreciation and performance that has long been a quiet presence in Australia.

Blues Alley gave Albare a fine welcome on Monday, Nov. 19, at his first-ever D.C. show. A good proportion of the District’s Australian music lovers turned out. They were rewarded by a strong performance of the cross-cultural musical blend created by Albare and his co-writer Evripidis Evripidou. The band consisted of the Venezuelan drummer Pablo Bencid and long-time Melbourne collaborators Phil Turcio on piano and Phil Rex on bass.

He opened with a delicate, fingerpicked solo intro to “October Song,” then the band kicked in with impressive power. Bencid’s polyrhythmic drumming was a revelation, and stayed that way throughout the show, underpinned by imaginative playing from Rex. The mood shifted as things moved into the bowed-bass opening of “Love Again.” At times melancholy and showing classical undertones, the composition provided the canvas for Albare’s fluid and evocative single-note melody, followed by exploratory solo runs.

Despite a few equipment difficulties (Rex’s amplifier cut in and out, and Albare sometimes had a hard time hearing himself in the monitor), the show continued relatively smoothly, continuing to spotlight tunes from Long Way. “Moving On,” “Eagle’s Way” and “You Make Me Smile” are all compositions that reflect the guitarist’s strategy of composing music that spring from moments of personal inspiration. On each song, Albare set out a strong melodic theme, then turned it into a basis for expressive improvisation by all of the band members.

The mood switched again for the final numbers, “Cut to the Chase” and “Funky Girl.” On these pieces, Albare’s background in funk, jazz and rock showed up in both his tone and harmonic sense. The fresh funk feel of the songs gave the band a perfect backdrop to stretch out down the homestretch, leaving the audience sated on its way home.

With the Asian leg of the tour already completed, the band is now playing a handful of shows on the East Coast before continuing on to Europe. The group is only the tip of the iceberg of impressive music in all genres coming from Australia. Artists there are combining a range of styles to present a fresh sound. Just as a guitarist like Tommy Emmanuel is blending country and bluegrass with jazz and collaborating at the highest levels with U.S. musicians such as Frank Vignola, Albare blends his international influences with the aid of a first-class band to provide an engaging sound and satisfying live performance.

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Giovanni Russonello

About Giovanni Russonello

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Giovanni is the founder of CapitalBop, and a music critic for the New York Times. He previously served as a contributor to the Washington Post, the FADER, JazzTimes, NPR Music and others, and hosted “On the Margin,” a books show on WPFW-FM. As head of CapitalBop, he has covered the D.C. jazz scene since 2010. (He is no longer directly involved in the presenting of CapitalBop's concerts.) He graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor’s degree in history, with a focus on African-American history. Reach Giovanni at editor@capitalbop.com. Read him at giovannirussonello.com or nytimes.com/by/giovanni-russonello. Follow him on Twitter at @giorussonello.

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