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Review: Greg Phillips Photos: Jason Rosewarne

For much of 2022 Stanley Jordan has been performing in trio mode with his Stanley Plays Jimi show, a tribute to guitar great Jimi Hendrix. However, we get to experience Stanley the solo artist for his first Australian tour, a format in which he tells us he feels closest to his audience.

I knew from our pre-tour zoom video interview that Stanley likes to be alone and chill into a show zone before his solo performances. This was the second Stanley Jordan performance of the evening at Melbourne’s premier jazz club, The Jazz Lab in Brunswick. The earlier show was recorded and live streamed for, so he could easily be forgiven for being 20 minutes late to the stage. Without saying a word, Stanley opened with a dark, lamenting tune, feeling his way into the show, perhaps not quite into that zone he was seeking. The next piece was also a little blue, accentuated occasionally by striking baritone bass notes, used almost as launching points for a new exploration of ideas. Finally he spoke briefly and quietly to inform us he would play All The Children from his Magic Touch album, which he did beautifully but then announced, after a mere 20 minutes of performance consisting of only three tunes, that he’d be having a short break and would return soon. It would be easy to assume that all was not well in Stanley’s world tonight but during the post-show chat (more of that later), he told us that he was suffering severe jet lag from flying in this morning and found it hard to find his usual performance headspace.

However, all of that became a moot point as the second half of the show was soon to provide many moments of jaw-dropping genius. In an attempt to shake off the cobwebs, Jordan came out punching with an intriguing version of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer. With his two hand tapping playing technique, Stanley waltzes with his instrument, his right hand dancing swan-like across the fretboard. His hand movements mirror those of a demonstrative classical pianist and then he announces he will in fact now play the Yamaha grand sitting side stage. Unsurprisingly, he’s a master of the piano keys too. His note choices create a sense of wonder, taking us along with him on his journey to some beautiful sonic destinations. I did forget to mention that all of this time he is playing piano, he hasn’t stopped playing guitar, one hand on the keys, the other on the fretboard as he serenades us in the process. Then he adds vocals to the equation with a gorgeous extended version of Sting’s Fragile. From Sting on piano, he stands to offer a little Mozart, “a 200 year old pop song” on his Vigier guitar.

Returning to the Magic Touch album, Stanley offered us the opening track The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby but not like any other version you’ve ever heard. His improvisational passages range from the abstract and challenging, to such breathtaking moments where you think you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world than here in these precious few minutes of time. A standing ovation immediately followed from an audience which collectively understood and appreciated the complexity and beauty of the art which had just been conjured by one of the world’s true music innovators.

Rather than play some more, Stanley decided to chat, calling on questions from the audience. There were a few but the impromptu Q&A quickly turned into an existential speech about the sounds that the universe was emitting and he linked that to his thoughts on how an artistic approach to anything could help cure many of the world’s woes. For those interested in following his esoteric train of thought, he suggested we check out the Integral Arts Academy section of his website. It was an interesting insight into the mind of a unique and gifted artist, one who had just delivered a musical performance which will be hard to ever forget.

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