31 May 2009

Smooth or funky, whatever

I played with my smooth jazz cum 70s R&B outfit, Stolen Moments, at Pangaea today. It was cold. We were inside, but once the sun went down you remembered what Canberra winter was like, although the light rain reminded me of Melbourne. I enjoy this popular style: the Sinatra cool, the steady walks, the Jobim bossas and Nicky’s tongue in cheek Peggy Lee and Dusty Springfield and the like. I was playing double for the first sets, but strapped on the electric for last R&B set. I get a feature on Higher and higher and just a little one on Sade’s Smooth Operator. Otherwise, it’s finger funk playing: solid sixteenth note syncopation and long rests for drum fills, and I like it immensely. We’ve got a great little outfit, although James was missing today on sax. Peter plays all manner of keyboard sounds, although mostly piano for this outing. Mick is a sharp and rock-steady drummer who ornaments with wonderful precision, and Nicky was upfront with her alluring alto voice. Good fun and much enjoyed.

Stolen Moments was led by Nicky King (vocals) with Peter Kirkup (keyboards), Eric Pozza (acoustic and electric basses) and Mick Schow (drums). James Hoogstadt (tenor) was missing on the day.

28 May 2009

Muscular

Muscular was the word that came to me while thinking of Cameron Undy’s bass playing at Trinity the other night. He played both double and electric, and it was always with strength and verve and energy, and an indelible sense of syncopation. He started on double with one of his own tunes. This was energy from the top, more gung-ho than pensive, just confirming these impressions. His sound was always strong and present, although I didn’t find it particularly unique. But his playing was essential and strong as he moved freely across the whole of the fingerboard, well into thumb positions and down to the lowest tones, rapidly moving body and arm so the full range was one, the chords richly expressed from the lowest to the highest notes. Fast but not purposeless, this was hugely effective and impressive playing. The next tune was Andy’s, then Reuben’s, then continuing for another round. Cameron continued to form and portray the tunes of others with the panache he showed with his own tunes. He likes busy-ness, and he likes dramatic moves from high to low pitches (like those wonderfully quick and long dropping scalar runs from high G-string to low E-string), and he likes to break up the rhythms with his muscular syncopation. And I found amusing that mid-way through one of the later tunes in the first set, he stopped playing, put down the double bass, swapped to electric, and continued with a similarly syncopated style and a parallel tonality, but with the speed ratcheted up a notch. A wonderfully impressive display. The CV of players he’s performed with is well deserved. I’ve written highly of Cameron’s playing before on CJ, and this night was just confirmation.

The band was good too. Evan Dorrian subtly interpreted the rhythms with his characteristic intimacy and flow. He really did sit comfortably with Cameron, with a freedom to play over and through the beats for great subtlety and a modern rhythmic conception. Andy Campbell played several of his intriguing but too modest solos. He’s got a good sense of melodic adventure and extravagance, but is still determinedly restrained. And Reuben Lewis has an impressive sense of statement. I enjoyed hearing a recording of Reuben’s band at Jazz Uncovered. The trumpet is a regal instrument, powerful and governing, and it can express itself with simple narratives. I felt that with Reuben: purpose with few notes. There were some moments of imprecision, but there’s interest there.

Cameron Undy (double and electric bass) led a quartet at Trinity Bar with Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Andy Campbell (guitar) and Evan Dorrian (drums).

24 May 2009

Soulfull farewell

I hear the Soul Bar is closing its Friday evening gigs next week, hopefully just for the winter months. It’s a comfortable little venue and short evening gig for a Friday afternoon, to entertain the Woden APS consort who drop in for drinks at week’s end. I played there last night with Toucani, and it was memorable for me – a first gig on the double bass. Double bass is a lovely sound for jazz, and really much more true: softly spoken and deep. It was a pleasant night with Daniel, John and Mark Body who sat in in the absence Brenton interstate, playing standards and several originals by Daniel and me.

I missed the ArtSound live broadcast, but heard a little of Dave Rodriguez (guitar) playing standards with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums), playing as the Dave, Bill and Ed Trio. They are a great little trio with a long residency at the Belgian Beer Café and so considerable experience in playing together. This is their band to honour and explore the standards, in the tradition of Bill Evans, or the band they mentioned as a current influence, Gilad Hekselman Trio. Lovely, soulful standards played with the close interaction that comes from a regular gig. Sorry I have no pics of the night.

Daniel Wild (piano), John Baczynski (tenor), Eric Pozza (bass) and visitor Mark Body (drums) played as Toucani.

20 May 2009

The power of the voice

It was a pensive evening of worldly awareness and sincere concern as Vince Jones introduced his band and made a varied way through a range of original and standard tunes. Vince and the band are all staff at the Jazz School, so the playing was mature and informed. Vince’s bands are always capable and considered. There were plenty of tunes from the VJ songbook: thoughtful, expressions of Vince’s concerns and politics, as were the introductions. Often Matt McMahon tinkling as Vince talked his way into a tune, took a drink, perhaps hummed a little of the melody, before coming in with a gruff voice, singing a melody of complexity and often unexpected intervals, against a rich chordal structure. Often triple times, 3/4s or 6/8s, often slow, always heartfelt. His singing against standards was similarly expressive, with melodies that were richly reworked from the Real Book lines. These were instrumental lines, improvised, searched for, with a gruffness that reminded of a mute. It’s fitting, as he also plays trumpet and flugelhorn (although pretty rarely on the night) and I seem to remember a Harmon mute on the trumpet. So, I heard vocals which were musical and exploratory like vocalese but written from the top as lyrics with purpose and meaning. This instrumental voice was enchanting and well deserved our listening for detail, as he pulled back from mic for effect. So, beautiful and expressive and intriguing singing. Similarly, his lyrics. I didn’t listen carefully enough to the stories as I concentrated on melody, but snippets of lines would impact, as would his introductions: The nature of power (“it’s the power of love, not the love of the power”) with its anthemic call of respect for Nelson Mandela; his boogaloo blast at “Banksters” with “I can’t afford to live, now I can’t afford to die”; his lyrics to Horace Silver’s beautiful tune, Peace; his touching remembrance of WW1 family victims in Rainbow Cake; his jaunty attack on Murdoch and media in Don’t jettison everything. Vince has purpose for his tunes, and the honesty is evident and worn proudly and openly.

It just shows the power of voice and purpose that I’ve only written about Vince till now. His band fitted with comfort to the restrained style of play. I particularly noted solos from Eric Ajaye and John Mackey, and I much enjoyed Stella which started the second set. But it was a night for voice and political purpose, and much enjoyed for that: enjoyed not just by me, but by a full house of musical (and perhaps political) fellow travellers.

Vince Jones (vocals, flugelhorn, trumpet) led a band of Canberra friends from the Jazz School faculty in various combinations: Matt McMahon (piano), Mike Price (guitar), John Mackey (tenor sax), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

17 May 2009

Western Cultural Icon live

It was the Canberra Symphony Orchestra Gala last night and Megan and I got early tickets and close seats. I‘d expected something special, but was nowhere near ready for 300 performers and Beethoven’s Ninth. Reading in preparation, I realised just how central it is to modern European culture, so much so it’s taken as the anthem for the EU. And it’s so filled with quotes that it’s locked into our consciousness.

I was dumbfounded. Powerful, passionate, intense, moody, emotionally dense and overwhelming. I spoke to several people who talked of tears in their eyes or goose-pimples. Certainly, it’s something different and new to hear it live, with that upwelling of 300 voices, or counterpoint of bassoons against cellos and basses, or that renowned horn section, or those overwhelming orchestral hits. It’s the length of a CD (in an apocryphal story, the reason CDs are 74mins in length), but the time just flew. Orchestral tuning intro, then full-on orchestra in flight and volume, then the oddly placed scherzo cum march of the second movement. It all seemed so well played, with comfortable timing and harmonies sitting sweetly with good intonation. Then the third, pensive movement. I felt slightly uncomfortable here; the orchestra felt just a little wary. But then the massive fourth movement, with its restatements of themes, again those presto bass lines that floored me, the SATB frontline (perhaps a little unbalanced, although not unlike the version I have at home) and that massive SATB choir in echo. I was head back, eyes closed, stunned by the power and the ecstatic passages of melody passed around the orchestra, horns or violins or brass or that mediaeval-sounding pair of bassoons that sat upright behind the violas, in front of the massed rows of female SAs and male TBs. I most experience music with my eyes close, but I had a great view of the bassists, and I marvelled at some of the phrases. Classical/jazz crossovers Gareth Hill and Leigh Miller were in bass seats 2 and 3 following Max McBride. And along with many others in the audience, I had mates in the choir: five women I had sung with in Healthy Voices, the Department of Health Choir: Annette Quay, Jill Buckley-Smith, Janet Wardman, Julie Carmody and Catherine Ryan. I caught my singing mates after the show, and they were similarly excited and reported big emotional responses from this most perfect of classical/romantic-cusp statements. BTW, the conductor was Nicholas Milton, the vocal soloists were from Opera Australia and the choir was the Canberra Combined Choir.

But the Ninth was not all. The night included a more important performance before the interval: Australian music and world premiere. This was orchestral selections from Richard Meale's 1986 opera, Voss, based on the Patrick White novel. There were no voices here, so none of David Malouf’s libretto, but there were impressionistic images of desert and animals that seemed eerily correct to my ears (and were mentioned to me by others without prompting), but this developed to a richly volumed end which was presumably the espressionist statement of the doomed Voss expedition. But it was still more restrained than the bombastic Beethoven. I felt the orchestra struggled more with this one. I guess the harmonies were more challenging and the tunes wouldn’t have been anywhere near as ingrained as the Ninth.

But I cavil, for this is our poorly funded, part-time orchestra that has to get by with part-funded rehearsals. They do an excellent job, doubly so given the circumstances, and this was a fabulous night and will be a very special memory.

14 May 2009

Miro’s mob

Miro gathered a band of students and staff from the jazz school last night for a Trinity gig. A nice blow session, with some lovely playing from experienced, challenging staff and some of the hottest of the current students. And nice, well known tunes from Wayne Shorter and Miles and the like from that most famous era, 50s post bop: well-known melodies and straightforward charts and lots of room for extravagance and dissonance. Nothing like some jazz-based performances which I missed at the CIMF (Canberra International Music Festival) in the last week: a conglomeration of national jazz players at the Street Theatre for “To the Moon and back again”, and a concert of Sculthorpe’s music performed in a jazz idiom. I caught some of the Moon performance on ABCFM. It was certainly adventurous. The performance was billed as a “film score in 10 chapters to accompany the NASA Apollo missions’ footage”. It might have worked more comfortably in person and with the visuals, but on radio I found it was formidable with nary an obvious melody in sight. Worthy, but a demanding listen. But back to Miro: melodic, well-known tunes, loose and open and a nice base for improv. I hardly need to speak of these players, as they appear so many times on this site. I was mostly chatting, but formed a few impressions. Miro has a lovely, rounded tone, and it was clear and flowing this night. John Mackey’s tenor was fluent and fast, but tuneful and expressive. He’s always like that. I wondered: is sax particularly suited to fast playing, due to fingering or tonguing? Certainly, the fingering is vastly different from brass valve control, and I don’t think it has the harmonic structure you play with brass instruments and that bell-like mouthpiece. Mark Sutton is sounding so solid and heavy these days with fusion-like snares. It’s masterful and reliable playing, and he’s so in control. Drummer Evan recently said to me that Chris Pound has “big ears”. Yeah, that explains it. Lovely, expressive, flowing playing that provides such a strong harmonic infrastructure, with this deadened bass tonality. He’s quick enough, but that’s not what you notice. It’s more the aptness of the playing, the interesting playing on inversions and scales, the moving rhythms and grooves. Andy Campbell’s playing with panache now, too. Long, complex phrases, and somewhat intellectual. So these were both worthy musical experiences, but so very different and an interesting contrast. But just another few busy musical days for Canberra. Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet) led a band with John Mackey (tenor sax), Andy Campbell (guitar), Chris Pound (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at the Trinity Bar, Dickson. “To the Moon and back again” was a performance for the CIMF at the Street Theatre and was broadcast live on ABCFM. Bill Risby (piano) wrote the music, and performers were Timothy Constable (percussion, vocals), Michael Askill (percussion), Phil Slater (trumpet), Matt McMahon (piano), Simon Barker (drums), Steve Elphick (bass), Carl Dewhurst (guitar), William Barton (didgeridoo, guitar), Chris Latham (violin) and Bob Scott (sound design, electronic processing).

7 May 2009

Subcontinental citizens

Citizens of Earth played at the Gods this week and it was a very different, very worldly set of sounds that we heard. CoE present a fusion crossover of Indian and jazz sounds: the complex flowing hand-drum rhythms of the tablas, the strangely-structured scales (for my ears) of Indian classical vocals and the floating sound of the sitar merged with Western alto clarinet (itself none too common), saxes, bass and drums. I was intrigued and enchanted, especially by the Indian classical music that got a few outings. Friends with some experience in this art had talked of its complexities and richness. We’ve all heard some and perhaps not taken too much notice, but the strangely spaced scales of the voice, its parallel in the sitar, and the richness of the tablas rhythms had me following every note. You could hear and sing the rhythms and patterns of tabla as his finger and hands pounded with all manner of taps and hits. You could feel the guitar-like nature of the sitar as he tuned up, but the intervals were other-wordly (or other-cultural). And the voice subsumed this all, with those odd scales and trill-like inflections. There was one solo where drums and tablas swapped passages, and I found myself stunned by the comparative richness of the tablas: they seemed to speak gently and truly, where the drums were similarly busy and expressive but relatively inelegant. Not the drumming itself, which was very capable, but the Western instrument was by nature less intimate: perhaps more swinging but less sensual (there must be a drummer joke in here somewhere). There was some good, steady bass, and a nicely simple but perfectly intoned solo that ended with chuckles after a lengthy faster passage. There were two woodwinds, Sandy on soprano or tenor sax, and Tony on alto clarinet. They were different tones, but I felt a similar approach in their solos: intellectual, diatonically exploratory, solid, uncompromising, although Tony did verge on emotive squeals in a duo he led. The tunes were mostly by members of the band with a few non-originals, but all were clearly in an Indo-fusion or -classical style. There were memories to me of John McLaughlin’s Shakti era, and someone else mentioned George Harrison and Revolver (presumably for the sitar tones; the Beatles wrote some tunes with slightly odd intervals but nothing so sophisticated or damn fast). There were lots of devilishly fast and complex and interrupted melodies played in unison by several instruments and voice and drums, with those modulating tabla rhythms underlying it all. The tabla, with grooves that were obviously Indian but perfectly understandable (for this read countable, and eminently singable, “dug dugga-dugga dugga-dugga dug”) to Westerners, less foreign than the intervals and scales. I noticed finger snaps that sat on 1-3 in place of a jazz 2-4, but the rhythm made sense to me. So my impression was of a wonderfully rich experience, some good crossover, but especially a memorable exposure to another set of artistic sensibilities in the Indian classical tradition. Much enjoyed and will be well remembered.

Sandy Evans (soprano, tenor saxophones) led Citizens of Earth with Sarangan Sriranganathan (sitar, vocals), Tony Gorman (clarinet), Ben Walsh (percussion), Bobby Singh (tabla) and Steve Elphick (bass).

6 May 2009

Open mic: Wanderlust

I missed Wanderlust at the Band Room on Monday so I’d like to hear your comments on the gig.

I didn’t miss them a few weeks ago at Jazz Uncovered. It was a superb gig. There was a good crowd, comfortably ensconced in a large hall with a very good PA, everyone a bit weary after a solidly music-rich day. Wanderlust performed a 90 minute set, so there was no rush. The grooves were steady and evolving, the melodies were those simple but insinuatingly ones that we love from this band. The players were close and interactive, keeping eyes open and smiling freely, and the solos expressed this aurally. John Mackey sat in towards the end, playing his explosive style but perfectly in synch. It was a memorable gig, so it was with some disappointment that I didn’t catch this visit.

But it wasn’t a wasted night. Megan and I went back 400 years to Ben Johnson’s comedy of conmen, The Alchemist, performed with energy and masses of patter, by the Bell Shakespeare and Queensland Theatre Companies. It's a very different experience and quite out of time, despite the claims of relevance in this time of the GFC. And what got me was how verbal plays of this era were. There was just such a massive amount of text: over two hours of rapid fire, non-stop patter. I enjoy language (I’m no film buff; they are too often too visual) and this had one lengthy script. Quite an effort on everyone’s part, but worth a chuckle.

Just click on the comments link below and have your say on Wanderlust, or even The Alchemist if you so desire.

3 May 2009

Again just caught in passing

I only had a few minutes, but this time I managed a few pics of Natalie Magee and her trio. She’s been appearing increasingly frequently around town. I’d heard her at the Dendy recently, but I was there for a movie and didn’t have my camera. The Dendy is an odd venue for a jazz band, being a cinema, but it’s a long-standing gig and presumably brings in punters on a Monday night, so good on Dendy. That night, Natalie was playing with Phill Jenkins and Luke Sweeting. At Minque yesterday she was with Luke and Bill Williams. She’s playing today with Carl Morgan. Natalie sings the great standards repertoire: My foolish heart, Lullaby of Birdland, Foggy day, The very thought of you, and the like. Seriously and emphatically performed, and with a musicians of great panache. Lovely stuff and regularly giggable.

Natalie Magee (vocals) sang with Luke Sweeting (piano) and Bill Williams (bass).

Smash a few tunes … have a cup of tea

So said Simon Milman when interviewed between the sets during the Fats Homicide live broadcast on ArtSound the other night. It was an interview with several quotes, including a key one from Cecil Taylor: “no matter what you do, make sure you have fun”. Jazz can be deadly serious and takes masses of hard work to develop the requisite skills, so I found the references to fun a bit strange. The chuckles in the studio at the end of the second set indicated this band was having fun, but the music certainly wasn’t lightweight. Two non-stop sets of 45 minutes apiece, with tunes well-known to the band morphing one into another, as they explored and played with interactions and improvisations and solos and fills. The relationships were mostly expressed by ear, although a few taps of Matt’s foot on the double bass were needed to catch Simon’s attention to end it all as the time ran down … another source of amusement.

The music was loose and open and searching. Sometimes a clean guitar, sometimes whatever form of effect, lots of bowed bass and sparse drumming. Periods of waiting as repeated figures sat in the air, anticipating contact with a new tonality or effect or a new tune. Drums appearing from the ether amongst digitally-enhanced guitar soundscapes or bouncing bass bows or strained, thin bow strokes. Then relief of the tension as a new melody appears amongst the mist. One melody a sharp country guitar twang, another a clean jazz guitar tonality. Frequent solo passages, again searching and open for thought. Then perhaps some atonal musings. And a few adventurous bass solos that particularly interested me.

I’m not sure who leads this band or if there’s a leader. I’ve heard Matt and Simon in various interesting, exploratory combinations of this nature. I’ve also been particularly interested in some of Simon’s previous outings, with music of Ornette and some interesting original charts for the Melds in this studio. Music of this style is not always successful, and it’s definitely not something you catch at the local bar, but I love the commitment and adventurousness and fun expressed in such a melange of sounds and rhythms and harmonies. So it was another intriguing live broadcast from this terrific Friday Night Live series at ArtSound. Well done Lauren and Isabelle for filling in the most unexpected of circumstances. And a dedication to engineer Kristen who was unable to be there for this session.

Fats Homicide are Matt Lustri (guitar), Simon Milman (bass) and Kay Chinnery (drums).