With an emphasis on improvisation, The Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) explores the meeting points between disciplines and cultures, and imagines new musical forms to reflect the energy and diversity of 21st century Australia.
Founded by Paul Grabowsky in 1994 the AAO is one of Australia’s leading contemporary ensembles. Now led by daring composer/trumpeter/sound artist Peter Knight, its work constantly seeks to stretch genres and break down the barriers separating disciplines, forms and cultures. It explores the interstices between the avant-garde and the traditional, between art and popular music, between electronic and acoustic approaches, and creates music that traverse the continuum between improvised and notated forms.
The Australian Art Orchestra nods to the hugely influential, Art Ensemble of Chicago in its name, as do a number of other famous groups including the Vienna Art Orchestra, and in doing so it builds on a set of ideas that stretch back to the beginnings of jazz. These ideas in turn drew on an extraordinary collision of cultures, ways of thinking, and folk traditions that are so old that their beginnings are untraceable. The AAO’s music may sound very little like American jazz these days but the restless energy that made jazz such a force in the twentieth century still drives the projects it makes, including with the traditional songmen from Ngukurr in Arnhem Land (Crossing Roper Bar), with Bae Il Dong, the Korean p’ansori singer (The Return of Spring), with Guru Kaaraikkudi R. Mani from Chennai (Two Oceans), with Nicole Lizee, Alvin Lucier (Exit Ceremonies) and with an extraordinary range of Australian artists from a range of disciplines. This is Australian ‘jazz’ in 2018!
The Australian Art Orchestra has won many awards, nominations and much praise for its work. Most recently Diomira, composed by Peter Knight, won the 2016 Albert H Maggs composition prize and was nominated for the APRA/AMCOS Art Music Awards ‘Work of the Year’, while Erik Griswold’s Sichuan inspired, Water Pushes Sand, was nominated for the 2017 ARIA for Jazz Album of the Year. The group has also won three Australian Jazz Bell awards (most recently in 2014), the 2014 AMC/APRA Art Music Award ‘Excellence by an Organisation’, 2013 AMC/APRA Art Music Award ‘Performance of the Year’, a 2010 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards (Group Award), the H C Coombs Creative Arts Fellowship (2010), a Helpmann Award (2004), and a 2009 Classical Music award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Australian Music in a Regional Area’. The AAO regularly tours both locally and internationally with recent highlights including the 2018 London Jazz Festival, and 2018 Jazztopad Wroclaw (Poland).
‘Thrilling and daunting in equal measure. . . the AAO’s boldness of vision remains intact as it heads into its third decade.’ The Age November 2014
‘Words were intoned, usually as text-poems, with slow steps made by the players, densities gradually increasing, coated with thick electronic tones, several members using effects devices. Fanfare horns and boom drums made them sound like a thicker Necks, or a Liberation Music Orchestra with Reichian pulses, or a stately Nyman preen, climaxing with drum solo thunder, garrulous trombone interjections and a megaphone vocal crackle.’ Jazzwise review of ‘The Plains’ at Jazztopad Poland 2018