A Canberran in Paris returns home with his jazz quintet

A Canberran in Paris returns home with his jazz quintet

Aftermath. The Alex Stuart Quintet. The Street Theatre. Saturday, October 20, 2018, 8pm. 62471223 or thestreet.org.au.

The Alex Stuart Quintet, from left: Irving Acao - Tenor Saxophone and Keyboards ; Alex Stuart - Guitar, compositions; Arno de Casanove - Trumpet, Voice and Keyboards; Antoine Banville – Drums; Ouriel Ellert - Bass.

The Alex Stuart Quintet, from left: Irving Acao - Tenor Saxophone and Keyboards ; Alex Stuart - Guitar, compositions; Arno de Casanove - Trumpet, Voice and Keyboards; Antoine Banville – Drums; Ouriel Ellert - Bass.

Canberra-born composer and jazz guitarist Alex Stuart has not been back to his home town since 2014. Some might say that's understandable, given the life he's made for himself in Paris. But that's set to change very soon.

Stuart, 35, will be returning, with his eponymous quintet, as the first stop of the Australian launch tour of his fourth album, Aftermath.

Performing with him will be fellow Parisians Irving Acao (tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove (trumpet, voice and keyboards), Antoine Banville (drums) and Ouriel Ellert (bass). Acao is a Cuban now living in Paris - the other three are French-born). Nico Dri also played keyboards on Aftermath but is not on the tour.


Stuart says the title track of Aftermath was inspired by the November 2015 terrorist attacks on Paris. He wrote the piece a few months later, still thinking about the event.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart

"It felt like a turning point," he says. In the wake of the attack - which followed others around the world in the previous few years - he says the state of the world seemed to change.

With right-wing parties on the rise in Europe and Donald Trump as US president, he says the present feels 'volatile ... and it's getting bigger - it's a bit of a fearful moment."

The music, while containing drama, is ultimately positive and hopeful in feeling, he says. It's not just fear and uncertainty that surround us - there's beauty too.

Non-musical influences include Paris's urban landscapes and the wild coasts of Australia but these aren't the only geographical touchpoints: among the other tracks are Perfume River, named after the river in Vietnam (his mother's homeland ) and Pluie Basque, inspired by Basque country.

Stuart came by his Francophilia honestly. As a child, he moved to Paris with his family after his father secured a job there.

"I was there from my fifth year to my ninth year," he says. "I learned to speak French fluently."

The family returned to Canberra and Stuart kept on learning French formally at Telopea Park School until he was 15.

By then he was already well into pursuing another love: music.

He had started learning the piano while in France but dropped it when he was 10.

"My parents were keen to get me playing another instrument," he says.

He considered drums but his parents, he says, weren't keen, thinking of the noise. There was a guitar at home so they suggested he try it. He was 13 at the time.

"I gave it a shot; I really, really liked it," he says.

Stuart started off playing grunge and hip hop but when he was 15, discovered jazz. It became his great passion, although he didn't entirely abandon the genres he had previously played and says they influenced his later music as a composer.

He says he is also inspired by modern jazz including guitarist Bill Frisell, rock musicians like Dirty Projectors, Bjork and Grizzly Bear, and the various music styles and forms of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

After another couple of visits to France as a teenager, he says, "I fell in love with Paris all over again."

Stuart studied at the ANU School of Music with jazz guitarist Mike Price and recorded his first album, Waves, in Sydney in 2005. It featured jazz musicians including Eric Ajaye, Miroslav Bukovsky and James Hauptmann.

Although he could have stayed in Australia and tried to pursue a career here, Stuart couldn't resist the allure of Paris. He went there, also in 2005, with a grant from arts ACT to study further wanting to "make something happen". He says, "I was really, really lucky."

Stuart settled into the life of a musician in Paris but was always keen to keep learning. He had a stint in Abakuya, led by Camerounian Francois Essindi, exploring West African music and a 2009 residency in India with sarodist Anindya Banerjee provided immersion in the Hindustani classical tradition.

In 2010 his second album, Around, was released: he recorded it with The Alex Stuart Quartet featuring Guillaume Perret on the saxophone, Yoann Serra on the drums and Juan-Sebastien Jimenez on the bass.

In July 2011, the quartet won the competition Jazz A Juan Revelation and received the Grand Jury Prize. Previous winners include American jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah and Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma.

In 2015 he formed another ensemble, The Alex Stuart Group and released his fourth, well-received album, Place To Be. The other msusicians were Acao on the saxophone, Christophe Wallemme on the bass, Antoine Banvillle on the drums and special guest Stephane Guillaume on the saxophone.

His Quartet and more recent Quintet have performed at festivals and venues internationally. The current Australian tour will be extensive but the gig in Bermagui will be particularly special: his parents, the people who got him into guitar in the first place, now live there.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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