30 March 2009

Nice little gig

It was no big deal, but it was a nice gig yesterday when I got to play with Joe Taylor, Olivia Henderson and Brenton Holmes at Pangaea. Thanks to all; much enjoyed. And good on Pangaea for booking jazz on Sunday afternoons in this great weather.

28 March 2009

Out of Melbourne multiculture

Dan Bau and Dan Tranh featured the other night when Way Out West visited the Gods. Dan Bau and Dan Tranh are traditional Vietnamese musical instruments. They’re not common in Canberra, and they are not even particularly common in Vietnam these days. You hear them in recorded music, but mostly I just saw them live at upmarket restaurants and tourist haunts when I was there. They were always being played by slim women in that most refined Vietnamese dress, the Ao Dai. They are zithers of a type. The Dan Bau is a single stringed instrument with a vertical joystick mechanism for stretching the string. The Dan Tranh is a 16-string instrument on which the strings are exposed, plucked with one hand and bent with the other hand out past individual bridges. I felt those strings, and they were surprisingly low in tension, nothing like a guitar despite the high pitch.

But Way Out West is more than just these uncommon instruments. It’s a group that formed out west in the Melbourne suburbs and seeks to represent the multicultural world they formed from. So there’s the sound of Vietnam, but also the Afro-Cuban sound of rich percussion from Ray Pereira and tonalities and melodies that were distinctly worldly that I often heard as Middle Eastern. And even the standard jazz instruments, trumpet and tenor, had individual sounds in this outfit: the trumpet soft and smooth, like a flugelhorn rather than edgy, and the tenor also less hard-edged.

So this was worldly music. To me, the grooves of percussion/bass/drums underlaid and defined it all with rich cross-rhythms and regular, sometime hypnotic bass lines, often in odd times, like 13 or 10. Raj’s drums were pretty straightforward, necessarily to fit with the layer of percussion, and the resulting patterns of beats, especially in a later percussion solo, were wildly infective so that I found myself bopping in the corner. Over this, the melodies were sometimes short, often unison giving way to obvious but effective harmonies. Dung would play Dan Bau or Dan Tranh as a feature (especially being relatively quiet instruments), or played the most Asian-influenced of guitars as accompaniment or solo or melody. I noticed later he had deep scalloping on all frets on the neck of his strat-style guitar, presumably to allow the pitch bends that are so evident in Vietnamese music, and this carried across to his guitar style.

In fact, there were many more ways in which this band’s equipment was unique: the kiddy-coloured, minimal drum kit; the radically remade, scroll-less double bass; the surprisingly effective and good-sounding opening percussion played by Ray on a Peter’s son’s $4 tambourine. There was even poetry from Peter, “teeing off on the Moon … divots of Moon dust”, in a tune that oozed sun-drenched Hawaiian rhythms.

They played music from various albums. Mostly they were tunes, although with arrangements that saw fills and accompaniments by the horns in harmony, and more complex movements of parts between instruments. And there was one extended work, a suite of four tunes called Old grooves for new streets, which was symphonic in extent. Always energetic and melodic; often arranged and communal. Layer on layer creating a dense landscape of colour and patterns and interactions. Like a city or a diverse community, which is what they are picturing in their music, and is so fabulously imaged on the CD cover of Old grooves for new streets.

It was an infectious night of rich rhythms and worldly, melodic tones, and a wonderful depiction of a busy, multicultural patch of Australia.

Way Out West comprise Peter Knight (trumpet), Adam Simmons (tenor sax), Dung Nguyen (modified electric guitar, dan tranh, dan bau), Ray Pereira (percussion), Howard Cairns (acoustic bass), Rajiv Jayaweera (drums).

22 March 2009

In awe

I dropped in at Minque Manuka to record Luke Sweeting’s trio, with Ed and Bill. What can I say other than I was in awe. This was a beautiful, lyrical outing with clear vision and close interaction. Luke voices with the sounds of the sixties - it’s a sound I love to hear - and his solos are clear in intent and inventive. I just sank into the intimacy of the piano trio and enjoyed it all immensely. We all know that Bill and Ed work together so well. This just extends to Luke in the trio format: an immediacy of communication that’s such a pleasure. Clear interpretations and dense but true interactions. They played some originals, but also standards like Recordame and even C-Jam blues. There was no audience to speak of, although tons of people walked by and stopped to look. Obviously they took note, but too few stopped for a beer. But there was real respect from the punters, and an awareness they were hearing something of profundity and class. Bill accompanied with considerable freedom, and laid down some very fast solos. He was more laid back later; he’s not simply enamoured with speed. Ed was mostly in accompaniment, with his classic intimate and savoured responses. Really, I know little to say about it, other than that I found it profound and hugely capable in a well-trained, 60s style. It’s an era I love and the performance was impressive. Luke’s Trio plays early at Jazz Uncovered. Be there early to catch them. Believe me, it’s worth it. BTW, I got a good recording too, if you ignore the sputtering Harleys putting on their show in Manuka.

Luke Sweeting (piano) played with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums) at the Minque Bar in Manuka.

21 March 2009

Busy night

I’ve been busy, but with few gigs, so I enjoyed getting out last night. This one cost me a chance to sit in on Joe Lloyd’s band at ArtSound, at least for the full session, but your dutiful reporter managed a few pics anyway.

First, the gig. This one was a quartet pulled together at the last minute to fill an offered spot. I’d named the outfit The Crispians expecting it to be made up of members of my commercial band, Crisp, but only pianist Peter was available in the end. Neveen from the Jazz School filled the tenor role and Robert Nesci of Kooky Fandango filled in on drums. We chose from the Real Book, had a great time, and even played with considerable liveliness. The gig was on the pavement at King O’Malley’s, with plenty of drinkers and passers-by, and later a big band in competition (Blamey Street BB started playing towards the end of our gig on the Garema Place stage). That just brought out the aggro, and we all turned up and played with that much more vigour. Much enjoyed and thanks to fellow Crispians.

Neveen Byrnes (tenor) played with Peter Kirkup (piano), Robert Nesci (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass) as the Crispians.

I caught Joe Lloyd’s Quintet on ArtSound’s Friday Night Live on radio, then another a few minutes in the studio for some pics. They play music of an era that I love immensely. I think Joe had written all the charts. I’ve heard this band once before and was hugely impressed both times. They play a modal style with pretty simple underlying harmonies, thoughtful heads, and intriguingly dissonant solos. To me, this is bliss. There were three saxes out front (Joe leading on alto, with John Mackey and Sebastian Macintosh on tenors) and a piano trio rhythm section (Luke Sweeting, Hannah James and Ed Rodrigues). Ed was sitting in for Matt Sykes for the night, and John was a featured extra. Listening on car radio is fraught, so I didn’t manage the subtleties. But all horns were playing an exploratory, open, harmonically inventive style. I noticed Joe and Seb drop into screaming outbursts, while John tended to hold more within (always mobile) harmonic statements with nice historical leanings. Luke was masterful with modern fourths sounds and jagged lines. Ed was pushing the band with incredible energy, and I felt the style suited Hannah, because it was a very comfortable and solid bass underlying the solos and melodies. JLQ is playing at Jazz Uncovered so catch them if you can.

Joe Lloyd (alto) led a quintet with John Mackey (tenor), Sebastian McIntosh (tenor), Luke Sweeting (piano), Hannah James (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums).

19 March 2009

Revisiting

Just a few pics of Carl Dewhurst playing with Dave Rodriguez trio at the Belgian Beer Cellar tonight. Another exciting outing before Carl returns to Sydney. BTW, Carl was telling me he graduated from the Canberra School of Music (Jazz Faculty) back in 1990, with a slew of notable players. And strangely, the group had gone through the same school: Phillip College (now Canberra College). It must have been a memorable era at the Jazz School.

Carl played with Dave Rodriguez (guitar), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodriguez (drums).

18 March 2009

Di-vers-atility

I was about to comment on the many styles that Carl Dewhurst plays, when I overheard someone say just the same thing: “How versatile. He plays everything”. It was the end of the second set, and Carl and Chris Pound and Hugh Deacon had just finished a jumpy blues number, after a beauteous solo guitar version of Moonlight in Vermont. Before that, Wes Montgomery’s Full house was played with a dense and extended chordal solo. All the things you are was the base for a modern interpretation with contrasting rhythmic structures throughout. Baggy green was an original by Carl with a lovely bouncing bass and intriguing melodious chords. Well you needn’t and Summertime are common throwaways, but this time done with a modern freedom that we heard in All the things… There was another unnamed original that had Carl toying with tone, rough distortions with deadened sustain, and autowahs contrasting with sweet jazz guitar styles. I noted Chris’s ear here when he mirrored a few of Carl’s less furious melodies.

Carl’s a master of the guitar in Australia, appearing in a string of influential outfits in Sydney. He strides with fluent and fast guitar runs and alluring melodic work that explores the attributes of each scale, starting on any degree and finishing on ever-changing beats after runs of ever-varying length. But I was also taken by his clashing chords and tonal investigations, which seemed so unique and personal. Then again, his versatility shows in sweet, mainstream guitar and even chordal solos. None of this was short and bounded; his solos are long and intriguing explorations, and this just confirms his craft. Chris continues to blow me out. This was searching playing with considerable rhythmic and scalar freedom. There are walks but the essence is more open and free, and there’s a good deal of ear to guide this freedom, and a great sound to carry it over, clear and rounded with short sustain. Decent chops, too, but that’s taken for granted. Hugh is playing punchy and clean, moving rhythmic patterns around, soloing with sharp tones and exploring repetition, and I noted a lovely snare snap.

Trinity just keeps getting better at the moment. This is where the local jazz school crowd hangs out, with intriguing music, a comfortable environment, free entry and reasonable drink prices. One major local jazz club is a bit on the nose at the moment with complaints about pay and volume and noisy patrons. Trinity seems to do this well, with different areas for chatting and listening, and a decent listening audience. The stage is in a strange little corner, but it’s a good night and Candy’s doing a great job as organiser. A visiting master like Carl just adds to Trinity’s reputation. Recommended.

Carl Dewhurst (guitar) led a trio with Chris Pound (bass) and Hugh Deacon (drums) at Trinity Bar, Dickson. Carl plays again at the Belgian Beer Cellar at 6.30pm, Thurs 19 March. It’s late notice, but if you read this in time, get down there to catch one of Australia’s best jazz guitarists. Again, free entrance.

15 March 2009

Not yet arboreal

What can you say about the Arboretum? It will be wonderful in 20 years, providing we have enough water in this post-climate-change world to keep the trees alive. I can only hope we do, but fear otherwise. But despite the bare grounds and infrequent plantings, it was a good afternoon with bands on the Open Day. Windy, mainly due to a lack of tree breaks. (But now I am being naughty!). The Lethals were playing as I arrived: Leigh “Lethal” Miller (bass) with Hugh Deacon (drums) and Matt Lustri (guitar). It sounded boomy from a distance, but it stopped by the time I got anywhere near the stage, so nothing to report.

But I was there for Katie Noonan, famed classically trained singer, and front person for george and Paul Grabowski and now a Beatles cover album. Highly trained, able to sing from the highest balcony. This was Katie and she did not disappoint. She was basically singing pop for this incarnation: grooves, a few repeated chords without complex extensions, straight drums holding it together. But the voice was magical in its quality and expressiveness and range; the grooves were strong and of complexity; the guitar was effected and echoed and often clangingly dissonant with chordal solos that decried jazz lines; Stu Hunter’s keyboard bass lines were richly polyrhythmic and almost uncountable at times. Yeah, it was pop, but at such a level of sophistication that I was embraced. This lithe voice (she joked of Kate Bush fantasies) that pirouetted over the often unreadable and always dramatic understory, with lyrics of love and loss and the profundities of the personal. There were tunes from george, and tunes from a new album they are preparing. All originals; all with lust for life and a parallel despair. Apparently Katie is a greenie, recently moving to the bush with her family. More prosaically, Stu is Weston boy, and the band had eaten breakfast locally with Mum and Dad that morning. This was essentially pop, but done with some purpose and profundity that it was a work of art. Lovely, touching music. Perhaps too much boofy bass and volume, but what can you expect of a hired PA?

Katie Noonan (vocals, keyboards) played with Stu Hunter (keyboards, keyboard bass), Captain Cameron Dale (guitar) and Declan Kelly (drums) appearing as the Captains.

I just caught a few tunes from Blamey Street Big Band before I left. This is a local outfit led by Ian McLean. They play the mainstream repertoire of BB tunes: All of me, Boogie woogie bugle boy, Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, and the like. Rachel Thorne was out front for the tunes I heard, and she was strong and capable. The band itself warmed to the task, and was playing straight but pretty reliably as I left. They are a common sight around town: CSCC, festivals, other gigs. Catch them for a mainstream hoot. A big, traditional big band in the style of Glen Miller and Basie and Ellington. Hard to maintain, but a great local resource.

The Blamey Street Big Band was led by Ian McLean with Rachel Thorne on vocals.

Mikado @ Philo

I’ve been busy with family visits and an upcoming jazz event (attendance is essential, see JazzUncovered.net) so CJ has suffered of late, but my musical outings picked up over this weekend. Friday evening was to be a Toucani gig, but that ended up as a double booking, so it was a free night and they owe us one.

But Saturday was more productive: an outing to comic opera, Savoy opera as in Gilbert & Sullivan. It was surprisingly good and quite funny. It took me some time to adjust to the style, the Victorian themes, and settling in to the skills of catching the lyrics, but it turned out to be a very satisfying night. My 21st Century mind found the theme of executions a challenge, but it was also a cute love story, and works out OK in the end: as long as you accept that the matching of meek Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko, with the she-wolf, Katisha, is acceptable. I love the duets with tenor and soprano harmonies, and there were some lively choral parts. Joseph McGrail-Bateup played the central charater of Ko-Ko. He has years of experience in Dirty Dick’s theatre and it shows. He minced around as this innocent executioner who couldn’t swat a fly, to the hilarity of all. Erika Tolano, as one of the three little girls, was hilarious throughout. Robyn Collins and Yum-Yum, and Grant Pegg as Nanki-Poo were well voiced; not that I felt their love so intensely, but it is comedy. Peter Dark was in great humour as the corrupt public servant, Pooh-Bah, with his all-knowing bass voice. Miriam Miley-Read as Katisha was imposing and fearful; no longer a sweet nun in Puccini’s Suor Angelica. The theatre was a surprise, too. Erindale Theatre is well presented, well raked, well provided with a little phased-array PA and a decent orchestra pit: most impressive. We all know of Canberra Philharmonic, but I must admit this is my first outing. This is a semi-professional group, but their output is worthy. I enjoyed the night immensely, and I trust it’s not my last. They are doing my favourite musical in Aug/Sept, West Side Story, so I must pencil that in.

5 March 2009

To the Moon and back again

The Canberra International Music Festival certainly is aiming high this year! I may jest, but they certainly are aiming to be a major festival, and what I’ve seen is impressive.

I’ve just attended the launch of the program for this year’s CIMF. It was a busy affair at Pialligo with plants all around and a crowd of classical enthusiasts. There were speeches by Don Aitken and Festival Director, Chris Latham (as well as nice wines, of course). The feature of the night was a presentation of sketches from a bigger work by Elena Kats-Chernin which will have its premiere at the National Museum during the festival. I say a sketch, because it’s to be played by goodly set of players, rather than just piano. Elena introduced the piece, discussed the various parts, and played one part and snippets from some others. It was a wonderfully intimate experience, which is perhaps enjoyed regularly by students, but not one most listeners get to experience. Much enjoyed. And it was surprising to me just how relevant and close this music was to the modern jazz that I mostly hear. There were some occasional chordal movements that were unexpected, but mostly they would have been at home in the music I know. Also, the interpretation was written as dots rather than improvised, but again, was not madly different from my jazz. I’d had this feeling with Marcela Fiorillo when she played Piazolla. Modern Western musics are increasingly intermingling, and also various world musics. This was just a confirmation to me. I found it very a satisfying piece and a very intimate and memorable experience.

BTW, CIMF has a few jazz events of note. One is a multimedia piece with film and jazz. It features an array of renowned Australian jazz players (Phil Slater, Matt McMahon, Carl Dewhurst, Simon Barker, Steve Elphick, Bill Risby) with several players who I think are from other fields (Timothy Constable, Michael Askill, Bob Scott, Chris Latham). The show is called “From the Earth to the Moon and back again”, and is a celebration of the International Year of Astronomy and the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings in 1969. A similar set of players also present the Sculthorpe Songbook, a show that reimagines Sculthorpe's music as jazz standards. There's also a History of Sound which features several of our local jazzers surveying the evolution of music for this year, Darwin's 200th anniversary.

  • Canberra International Music Festival
  • Elena Kats-Chernin on MySpace (listen)
  • 2 March 2009

    Pilgrimage

    Before…

    I don’t remember where I was when I heard JFK had died, but I do remember where I was when I heard Mingus had died. Mingus was that huge character in jazz history, famed for many things – his bass playing, his unrelenting and unforgiving personality, his conviction to the art. But mostly I love him for his blues-infested melodies. Those bliss-bomb charts that exude humour and emotions of all sorts, and that are never less than passionate. And for that demanding personality that drew such strength from his performers. Mingus was a monster of the art, and it’s my honour to attend his still-living big band. From beneath the underdog, let my children hear music. I lift my glass to Charles Mingus.

    BTW, I once had a minor encounter with that power: a short and sharp cultural misunderstanding with Danny Richmond, Mingus’ long-term drummer. It’s enough to say that I’d come in contact with a force of nature, not to be toyed with. Not easy, not Adelaide, but I expect that’s part of the power that was Mingus.

    After…

    It was a strange night for me. Hanging out around Circular Quay and the Rocks was pleasant and a mighty preparation for the night, with even some big ships in town to give a festive and international air. The Opera House was new experience, but I was none too impressed. We sat only four rows back, below the level of the stage, and between the PA bins. With no benefit from the PA, the sound was unbalanced and overly reverberant. Then the first band was sadly inappropriate: Ben Fink, once of the Whitlams, playing a sort of West Coast jazz-pop. His MySpace site says soul, but it wasn’t what I know as soul. God knows who booked him, and it was sad he accepted the gig. He was playing with excellent jazzers, Jonathon Zwartz, Toby Hall and Matt McMahon, but there’s only so much you can do with two chords. Sadly inappropriate, and thankfully short. I was thinking pugnacious Mingus would have punched him out. The Opera House also let down with no program, so I didn’t know the names of the players on the night. I’ve since found the list on the Net, but it was a disappointment at the time.

    But the main set was as expected. A cool set of musicians, and a hot swinging bass starting it all with E’s flat A’s flat too. Mingus’ memorable melodies, regular solos of quirkiness and commitment and stylish capability. Each player offering a different personality. I was reading a CD cover on the way down to Sydney. Apparently, Mingus worried less about how his performers soloed than how they performed his charts. The exuberance and skills were certainly there. I hugely enjoyed and bopped along with the tunes, but it was partly from knowing the forms before. The bass was woofy, doubly so with bow. I lost lines on soloists when the band played behind fills, and the clarity of the section pieces suffered. I mentioned the personalities in the solos. Soloists came to the front for their features, and they approached them in such different ways, some with humour, others with technical restraint, others with emotive outpourings. I was going to mention some favoured soloists, but ended up listing the band. I particularly noticed Jaleel Shaw on alto, but there were others equally impressive. Trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy provided extraverted (even Mingal) outpourings and also sang Fables of Faustus and Joni Mitchell’s words to Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Funnily enough, that bastion of pugnacious black pride, Mingus, was played by a white man with a Russian name, Boris Kozlov. I’ve always wondered how someone could take the Mingus role in this band, but he did it well, with technical facility and apt playing, and even taking the leader and MC role. They played E’s flat A’s flat too, Fables of Faustus, Self portrait in three colours, Open letter to Duke, Tension, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Moanin’ and an encore that I didn’t know. Apparently it’s the 50th anniversary year of the albums Blues and roots, Mingus Dynasty and Mingus Ah Um, so the band’s playing that era at the moment. I really haven’t done it justice with this report. It was a great show, there were huge roars of knowledgeable approval throughout, there was commitment and energy and fabulous tunes, and an authentic band to present the show. But big shows leave me feeling it’s all a bit impersonal, with everyone seated in neat rows (at least at jazz you can cough). But the very poor sound and the strange choice of starters and the rest had me walking out feeling not too much more excited than when I’d come in. As if the return to the Quay was uninterrupted by one of the best big bands in the world, and some of the most exciting music in the history of jazz.

    The Mingus Big Band played at the Sydney Opera House. The players were: Keny Rampton, Alex Sipiagin, Tatum Greenblatt (trumpets), Wayne Escoffery, Araham Burton (tenor), Mark Gross, Jaleel Shaw (alto), Jason Marshall (baritone sax), Ku-umba Frank Lacy (trombones & vocals), Andy Hunter (trombone), Earl McIntyre (bass trombone & tuba), Donald Edwards (drums), Boris Kozlov (bass), Orrin Evans (piano), Sue Mingus (producer)