Estampa Review @ Brisbane Jazz Club

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Estampa played Brisbane Jazz Club 11 July, 2019. Estampa played Brisbane Jazz Club 11 July, 2019. Image © Joanna Funk

Fancy some wine at a Parisian brasserie, or sharing tapas at a café in Rio? We packed suitcases, headed for the Brisbane Jazz Club (11 July) and boarded a plane with Estampa for a musical sojourn of samba, gypsy jazz, and bal-musette.


Estampa took us far afield with even a township song and a Swedish polska. “Estampa means stamp in Spanish,” Rebecca Karlen (violin, voice) says.

“It has a mixture of meanings for us: stamp like in a passport, because we are from many parts of the world, and the music we play reflects that. Stamp is also like our stamp on the music: it’s our own way of playing a style of music. Finally the word stamp has a nice sound! It makes you think of rhythm and the enjoyment of music.”

Well we certainly did lots of stamping and enjoying, whooping and clapping. But we also sat very still and listened carefully.

We wanted to catch all the delightful meanderings of John Reeve’s accordion in ‘La Javanaise’, with Karlen singing French in her warm voice, and soloing on her violin.

In the musette ‘Swing Valse’ the musicians took their turns to solo. There were flourishes of brilliance, and we enjoyed Paul Henderson’s effortless guitar solo, supported by the full, richness of Sam Maguire’s lovely acoustic double bass.

We cried into our beers for ‘Alphonsina y e Mar’. With the sparsest accompaniment, Karlen sang mournfully in Spanish about Alphonsina, a lady who walked into the ocean, and Maguire was merciless as he bowed aching melancholy out of his double bass. Oh dear.

Then we were happy again! An upbeat Swedish polska which, to my untrained ears, captured all the joy of an Irish jig; fast and jaunty, with a high, pretty melody on violin and everyone’s variation on that theme. This one was a wedding polska, Karlen explained, and she’s Swedish so she would know. Bless the merry couple with a song like that.

In one superbly eerie song, everyone’s melody kept wandering away from where you expected it to land. A note would stray a semitone higher or lower, creating a gorgeous oddness. We loved that! Then a gentle shaker started a Jobimesque rhythm, and Estampa played a pretty samba, with expressive improvisations from all and winding up with a cute tierce de picardie.

Karlen introduced us to her traditional Swedish key fiddle, a large rectangular stringed instrument which she held and bowed like a violin, but pressed typewriter-style keys with her left hand, instead of the frets directly. Estampa played a song staying in one key, but moving in and out from the major to the minor. It had a groovy Middle Eastern feel to it, and built up to quite a frenzy, to more whoops and cheers.

Reeves said they wanted to try an Estampa version of a song he usually played on piano. They played Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘African Marketplace’, with a rhythmic, township lilt and accordion chords, and plenty of harmonic interplay between the musicians. The audience swayed contentedly.

Lots of pizzicato in a gypsy jazz number, and more storytelling in French song ‘La Foule’.

Estampa put their mark all over the BJC, or should I say the Queensland Russian Community Centre in Woolloongabba, which has been host to the BJC until they move back to their newly renovated premises next week.

What a superb band of musicians. Estampa. Go and see them.

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