Review: Billy Childs: Rebirth, Melbourne Recital Centre/MIJF

Raphael Solarsh

A jazz legend pulls out all the tricks in a virtuoso ensemble.
Review: Billy Childs: Rebirth, Melbourne Recital Centre/MIJF

Billy Childs. Image: Raj Naik.

There was little more to do than sit back and enjoy as Billy Childs struck the first notes of an audacious and brilliant performance. What more can really be said of the five-time Grammy winner? That he is an outstanding musician is now taken as read and that his composition and expression are still as vital and interesting as ever is evident almost immediately. Add in cool-as-ice cream Dayna Stephens on saxophone, local boy Alex Boneham on bass, and the ebullient Christian Euman on drums and you have everything you could want a night of jazz to provide.

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The small group format is relatively new for Childs, who prior to Rebirth was used to working with much larger and more complex instrumental groupings. They allowed him to flex his compositional muscle but at the cost of room for improvisation and some clear air for himself on the piano. He clearly relishes being able to direct and riff with similarly gifted musicians but is not afraid to take a step back and let the others take centre stage. This blend of youthful exuberance and Child’s tireless creative energy keeps the energy bubbling and churning.

The music seems to emerge fully formed and without feeling contrived or encumbered by overly prescriptive rehearsal. And yet the thinking that has gone into it is clear. It’s not just unrestrained playing. More like riding a torrent of water down a carefully carved canal.

With tracks like The Starry Night and the closing number, Peace, Childs brings a thoughtfulness that spurs action. These compositions are laced with melancholy but it is the melancholy of a person not afraid or uncomfortable with it. It’s a strange kind of vulnerability where it is the person being shared with rather than the person sharing who feels unguarded and perhaps a little afraid.

Whatever the music evokes, there is certainly no fear on stage. This was ensemble having a damn good time, bringing out the full bag of tricks and wowing the dumbstruck onlookers who could do little more than applaud. It seemed insufficient. Listen to Rebirth. Listen to it again and do whatever it makes you feel.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

Billy Childs: Rebirth
Billy Childs - Piano
Dayna Stephens - Saxophone
Alex Boneham - Bass
Christian Euman - Drums
31 May 2019
Melbourne Recital Centre, as part of Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Tickets $71-$89

About the author

Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories entitled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and blogs at raphaelsolarsh.com and tweets @RS_IndiLit.