28 December 2010

Not so qt@Xmas

Jazz-wise it’s quiet for me this Christmas. I’m in Adelaide and haven’t managed to find any gigs at suitable times and haven’t happened on any bands. But the buskers had me thinking how cultured and interesting is our street life these days. Rundle Mall is the main shopping street in Adelaide and I caught this capricious mix of styles. The Australian Girls Choir was singing lovely harmonies with massed high voices. They were obviously well prepared and well practised and singing a predictable repertoire of Christmas songs. Appropriate to the season but a bit tame for me. Then a small group of young tap dancers. Tap returns! I liked this, mostly for its life and excitement and rarity. Great fun and excellent exercise although some of the rhythms were just a bit out. The kids playing nice Christmas tunes on violin and guitar were predictable but lovely to hear. Then the Asian links. I’ve just been reading of Asian connections in Australia jazz and how this is a feature of the Australian art (Eric Griswold in conversation with Peter Knight, in Extempore, no. 5, 2010, p.34-46). There were two Asian links that I heard this day. First was a bloke with an Asian hat, a dulcimer-like instrument played like a guitar and plenty of loops and effects. Second was shamisen player and Japanese singer, Noriko Tadano. I really liked Noriko with her harsh Japanese vocals and that banjo-like three string shamisen. I later discovered she’s appeared at WOMAdelaide and various Melbourne jazz events and even won awards for her shamisen playing in Japan. See some videos of Noriko on YouTube. It’s not a normal sound for my ears, but I found it refreshingly new and fascinating. To finish the night, I caught an escapologist at the Bay. What a wonderfully eclectic mix of buskers … such a lively street life.

23 December 2010

Ice ice

This was a nice little gig. Cognac Lounge played again at Adore Tea. It was unseasonally cold and raining, so ice ice is not inappropriate. But that’s not all. CL is currently moving to smooth lounge with Sadé grooves and music in the style of the pop jazz ladies, like Diana Krall and Madeleine Peyroux, and even some minimalist dance tunes like Ice Ice Baby and Tainted love. I like the simple chords (Ice… has two, but these tunes often have just one) and the miasmic repetition and the simple but insistent hook. I’m suggesting we harden up a little with interesting pop numbers from the likes of Prince and Nirvana. But either way it’s an entertaining diversion from the standards: fewer and simpler chords, more hypnotic minimalism, more popular and well received. Entertainment is meeting the punters’ preferences, and I’m happy to do it. Cognac Lounge are Monica Moore (vocals), Peter Kirkup (keys), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums).

17 December 2010

What a difference a day makes

Or maybe a few days or maybe a venue. Last weekend Daniel Hunter and his band broadcast from ArtSound. Last night it was Dan’s band live, with perhaps another practice, in the much more relaxed environment of the Loft. At least to me, the ease and comfort showed. From the top, they were calm, alive, committed and wonderfully musical in their approach to the charts. Not that the broadcast was poor, but there’s a tension in a studio that I didn’t feel at this friendly gig. Here the grooves were harder and more muscular; the solos were more irrepressible, and a few smiles showed the enjoyment by the band. Aidan later told me it was his third gig for the day and he was worn out, but there’s musicality in this exhaustion: the Round Midnight effect that is cheered and sought after. I certainly didn’t notice, savouring delicious rolls that just oozed like jelly from Aidan’s sticks. I was thoroughly enjoying his drumming: steady, informed and rhythmically and intellectually satisfying when the fours rolled around. Dan was leading with his often complex compositions. It’s a challenge to count some of these. I counted five and three and four and seven in one. I wondered if I’d got it right: I had, they were all there. I noticed Phill and Niels intent on the charts for this one. Dan had them down – no charts – playing the heads with ease and joy, then laying into a jagged and busy and turbulent guitar style, leavened with chordal fills and occasional blues or rock lines. One solo ended on a distorted rock scream that seemed to even surprise Dan. I just laughed. Niels was quite a contrast. Steady and lyrical, building solos from the most correct of lyrical statements with lovely tone and carefully formed notes, laying down eighth notes patterns that cruised through the changes, down then up to nicely formed high notes, and descending into devilish dissonance and speed and a return to the lyrical. I spoke to Niels about microtonality on the sax. I didn’t know of an established set of fingering for an additional 12 micronotes, almost like another instrument, but with new awareness I could hear them: not frequent, but effectively ending phrases or embellishing notes, always with that strange, unworldly (or should I say un-Western) effect. And bassist Phill. I always hear him as eminently solid and reliable: high praise, doubly so in a bassist. Great tone (Phill is known locally for his exploration of gear), always present with reliable grooves in the rich-sounding low positions and a frequent smile that confirmed my impressions on the night.

They may be old mates, but after years out of town, this is now a pickup band for Daniel’s interesting original music. I don’t know to what degree the music is Geneva- or Paris-influenced, but it’s mature and effective: bluesy grooves, modern swings, revisited bops, seductive ballads. This was a very enjoyable and satisfying night at the Loft. Daniel Hunter (guitar) provided the music and led the band comprising Niels Rosendahl (tenor, soprano sax), Phill Jenkins (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

15 December 2010

U Can Two

Gossips have recently played two private gigs at the University of Canberra. They were amusing and pleasant gigs, although the role was background and the music considerably toned down. But we had a good time anyway. Here are a few pics from the gigs, a unrecognisable mix of pics from the two gigs (the performances were in the same room). Good fun and some cool swing - just hope for many more.

11 December 2010

Chrissie, family time

Geneva-based guitarist Daniel Hunter is over for a family Christmas. It’s great when the local jazz family returns. The old bands reform with old off-siders coming out of the woodwork and maybe a few interlopers to replace unavailable players. The old tunes are revisited, more mature and developed in the mind of the leader, along with a swag of new numbers in the genre. Daniel’s outing was just this. Niels and Phill were of Daniel’s era. I think Aidan is a later invitee. The Daniel Hunter [Canberra] Group were performing for a Friday Night Live broadcast for ArtSound.

Phill was outside as I arrived at ArtSound. I commented on the original material. He mentioned the counting. Daniel’s tunes can be like that. Not contorted, but presumably led by melody, so the bars change with the flow of the tune. It makes for a direct and true relationship with the melody but it can be a cad to read. But there’s also plenty of space for solos. The formats are still head-solos-melody, although not obviously, and they still break out in solos and swap fours and the like. Daniel’s got a dirty sound, with an obvious bluesy, gritty Scofield influence (Daniel’s tribute Sco-feel gives this away). It’s earthy and authentic: not shredding, but true in form and lyricism and with comfy rhythmic sense. Niels is a lovely, strong and often understated player, but so reliable and honest and always ready to bend the harmonies to good effect. Rufus Reid says a bassist must be “at home, minding the store”, meaning he must independently state the pulse and the harmony. Phill may have played a solo during the set (I didn’t hear a solo but I didn’t hear both full sets) but I feel comfortable when he’s minding the store – he’s solid and capably reliable, not fancy notes but right ones. Aidan is the go-to drummer around the jazz school and his solidity and aptness showed with precise fills against up bop swing on Circulation, or mallets on the more pensive L’alchemiste.

This was a very nice get-together with original tunes in a sophisticated but earthy guitar-based style. Very nice. Daniel Hunter (guitar) led Niels Rosendahl (tenor, soprano saxes), Phill Jenkins (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) as the Daniel Hunter Group. Catch them this coming Thursday (16 Dec) at the Loft.

9 December 2010

Cool and hot

Text and pics by Mandy See

mBASS are not new in Canberra – leader John Mackey said they’d been playing as a band for a year – but we haven’t heard them until now. The band is made up of the best of local musicians, mostly teachers at the Music School. The format is close to the famous bands of the cool era with an additional tenor sax player. This extra player gives the band a richer harmony and also an extra soloist. They also play music of the cool era, at least this night, as well as their own. In fact, the first set was a tribute to the most famous album of the cool era: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. It’s beautiful to hear the strains of this much-loved album from such good musicians with such affinity for the music. Someone told me he’d bought the 50-th anniversary commemoration album. Kind of Blue is like that, the classic of all classics, the album that defined the cool era. The next set was short after the long first set. They played an original song from Miroslav, then Eighty-one, which was written by Miles Davis with his bassist Ron Carter, and the beautiful Body and Soul. A lovely evening of music that took many of us back to our first jazz experiences. Cool music but also hot playing.

6 December 2010

Audio indulgences

The weekend was one of audio indulgences. One was the overwhelming sounds of a pipe organ (or at least its digital equivalent) playing Bach and the repertoire. Mark Sever played the Allen Organ at Llewellyn Hall for its first solo performance. The School of Music has had this organ for several months, and I’d heard it in performance, but obviously not as a solo instrument. This is a fully digital instrument. I found the sounds very authentic, although perhaps not as thunderous or reverberantly complex as organs I’ve heard in smaller European churches. This is a big space and not busy like many old churches. Every instrument has its unique characteristics, of course, and organs are delightful for those soft-edged tones and smaller pipe sounds and those deep and pure fundamentals.

Marko played an interesting repertoire. Firstly, JS Bachs’ Toccata & Fugue in F major. Not explosive like the D minor, but obviously Bach, and interestingly with passages of solo bass melodies played with feet. Then three Bach preludes and Fantasia a gusto Italiano by Krebs. Gusto Italiano obviously means lively temperament for Krebs because this had big, ebullient chords. Then one that sounded closed with crumhorn-type sounds: Introduction and Passacaglia by Reger. Another Italianate work, Sicilienne by Duruflé which occasionally sounded to me of male choirs. Then a few more modern pieces. Moto ostinato by Eben that sounded of damsels frollicking in the woods but with the lurking dangers inherent in clear and true bass fundamentals. Then a disjointed, filmic sounding piece by Brumby and an encore of Widor’s Toccata from Symphony no.5 with big and unexpected dynamics. Great music and a very informative repertoire. And special thanks to Bob Compton who has been instrumental in this instrument getting to the Llewellyn. BTW, the Mandela signature is from the signature wall of the Green Room at the ANU School of Music.

The other audio indulgence was to listen to a string of CDs and LPs on a 5-way hi-fi system of about 1,000 watts. This is hi-fi as few of us experience it. Suddenly you understand why audiophiles prefer analogue vinyl: it’s just sweeter, although I hear the best A-D converters can improve CDs. Quite an experience. Thanks to Paul.

3 December 2010

Rain, rain go away (but not forever)

Are tropical rains the idea of north? It was certainly wet and soggy at the Art School for this year’s ANU Summer Reception, but there was still a decent crowd for Idea of North performing a short set and the Liam Budge trio playing as support. I luxuriated in the lovely voices and the vibrant presence of the North. Changing front line singers with tasteful backing lines, grooving to steady vocal bass lines and occasional solos (this set had a vocal harmonica solo from tenor and a drum solo from bass). I wondered if the singers were SATB. They confirmed they are, but a jazz SATB is rather different from a classical choir of the same format. The bassist is the most different, taking on genuine double bass-type syncopations rather than low-pitch vocal harmonies, and sometime beatbox drums. And other players performing occasional “instrumental” solos, or at least the tenor did in this set. It seemed they all took time in the limelight, someone coming out front for each tune to feature as melody. There was a bit of friendly patter on stage, and constant movement for these front lines changes and a huddle between songs (I guess this was a pretty informal gig for them) and the grooving and moving that singers do when there’s a good beat going. And the beat was good. I really felt comfortable with the bass. Andrew is described as “bass / percussion” and he certainly carried the groove with aplomb. But then he’s been doing this for 17 years. They only sang one set, and I didn’t hear it all, but these were popular modern numbers done with great skill, great groove, wonderfully accurate voices and sharp arrangements. One tune was Aretha Franklin; another (with the harmonica solo) was Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t she lovely. Just fabulously classy vocals and great entertainment. Would love to have heard more.

I also caught Liam Budge fronting Caleb Wearne and Callum Stewart with nice vocal interpretations of the standards and a nod to his teacher, Vince Jones. But a university reception is mostly everything but the music. It’s chatting with friends, spotting the academic celebrities, battling for a bite, checking out the latest student art and enjoying free grog, so just few words on the music.

Idea of North are Sally Cameron (soprano), Naomi Crellin (alto), Nick Begbie (tenor) and Andrew Piper (bass, percussion). Liam Budge (vocals) sang with support of Caleb Wearne (bass) and Callum Stewart (piano).

28 November 2010

Hannah matters

So decided Dr Paul Langley in the play Lies, love and Hitler. I saw it last night at the Street Theatre and was intrigued by the moral complexities it mulls over. Certainly Hannah matters, but I’m not sure I would have taken the path the Paul Langley chose … but then I’m no great romantic. The blurb talks of the moral complexities of truth and lies and moral and emotional commitment and places them in the context of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is now well-known in Australia after Rudd laid claim to him before the 2009 election which rolled Howard. He was a theologian who was involved in an attempt to kill Hitler. There’s an obvious moral dilemma here: can a person committed to God kill or, on a lesser plane, tell lies to prevent exposure of the plot? The utilitarian says yes, the moral purist says no. It’s not hard to sympathise in a black and white case like Hitler and I’m comfortable that the balance of evils supports Bonhoeffer. But there were other thoughts that occurred to me during the play. Bonhoeffer (39) was engaged to a younger woman (19) at short notice and this seems very demanding, but then Bonhoeffer’s world was pretty extreme. The play uses his letters to his fiancee within the plot to parallel theologian and lecturer Langley’s relationship with his student Hannah Summers. (Lecturer/student relationship alert! We are in the vicinity of a university, but there’s another related plot twist that I won’t reveal.) Langley pines that he hasn’t had the momentous experiences of Bonhoeffer, to which I thought of the curse of living in interesting times. War may be exciting and anything but trivial, but I reckon our relatively sleepy comfort is more productive and probably more satisfying if used effectively. The decision to “sin boldly” was a fabulous line, but it didn’t sit quite right with me in that context (although I may be rethinking my first impressions). I noticed a few lines that jarred with cliches and was surprised that the play was long enough to support an interval. A friend lamented the audience’s laughs at times of pressure, but a little black humour seems to me a sensible response to some difficult quandaries. But these are trivial comments. This was a lively, verbal, searching work that succeeded in outlining some quandaries that will always be with us. I’m stunned that this is a local work, one of the “Made in Canberra” theatre series at the Street Theatre. Great work and thoroughly well presented and very fulfilling. Congratulations to all involved, especially playwright Elizabeth Scott, cast Dallas Bland (Bonhoeffer), Hanna Cormick (Hannah) and James Scott (Langley) and the Street Theatre for supporting such great local works.

Out & about Canberra

There are times you are surprised by your own city. This is one of them. I write after hearing some mates playing at the National Press Club the other night. Andy Butler, James Luke and Evan Dorrian were performing. This was a standards gig, and I heard just a few tunes, but it was subtle and inventive, nicely settled and richly interpreted with sparse piano that searched honestly for lines, James’ open and gently funky bass and Evan’s busy and telling solos. This is just a club gig, but the band gave such a satisfying and exploratory response. Great stuff. That was Friday evening. Then Saturday morning, I had a very Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie moment. I was driving around Manuka and I spied a little walking group led by a guitar with Graham Monger attached. There was a big black bass bag with player by his side (who? Phill Jenkins, perhaps?) and a third person behind who must have been Dirk. They were obviously looking around for a house Auction notice, and there was one only a few houses away. I know how much I enjoy their playing, but they were only seen not heard this time. Then Saturday night, I attended a play at the Street Theatre: Truth, lies and Hitler, which was very, very impressive. I knew it to be written by a Canberra playwright, and that was impressive. Then I realised it’s part of a series called “Made in Canberra” that’s running at the Street Theatre. Just how much is there around this town! If you look, that is. I suppose most comfortable wealthy cities have similarly impressive arts communities, but I remain blown out by our own. If only there were more time. Congratulations to our little but vibrant community.

26 November 2010

Onyabike

I hadn’t heard of Pan Francis, but I knew I’d like them. They were a visiting band from Melbourne. They were in a favourite configuration: sax trio with that open, unbordered sound that comes from not having a chordal instrument and with the strong and more equal role for each player. They had interesting and varied backgrounds, including National Jazz Awards and classical training and even Big Day Out. They had a promotional pic that was wonderfully amusing and sharp and primary colourful. Talk of collective improvisation, quirky melodies, thumping beats and deconstructions of rock and pop classics had me sure to be in the audience. When the first tune was from Bad Plus, I was sold. These guys are busy and vibrant and well versed in their instruments. But also playful and aware of music of their less jazz-obsessed peers and they are having a good time. Not that it’s an easy listen, but it’s capable and interesting and contemporary and aware and I like that.

Jon played alto sax, which fitted nicely for a lighter, more flighty sound than would a tenor. He’s classically trained and a finalist at the National Jazz Awards and an Arts Council grant recipient, so he’s got chops. You could hear it in the extended range and the sequences that spoke of a harmonic awareness at the level of each note he played, but there were also squeaks and screams for the passion. I was intrigued by long intervals of solos in whole note triplets, one time with a bass playing on 1-3- for a strangely floating effect. Michael was strong and edgy on bass with a lovely rig borrowed from Phil Jenkins (Acoustic Image & EA). His role is bliss for an adventurous bassist: free to improvise as an equal, often holding the groove, but also passing it to drums or even sax for ostinato lines, and lots of solo time. He’d busily range rapidly over the fingerboard with nice intonation, but equally drop to the quietest of repeated notes for effect. Very nice, and he was so obviously having a great time. Also busy and inventive was drummer Nick. He’s the one with history at Big Day Out, so has a rock heritage. I certainly felt it: matched grip on the sticks and some rock-style rolls and fills. There was a clear jazz sensibility there in his freedom, but it was not gentle and subdued from jazz training but more loud and grubby. It was a nice blend for a gritty band crossing over into pop deconstructions.

I mentioned Bad Plus’ Bugs (or more fully, Keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your ass [sic]). Other non-originals were a Bud Powell bebop called Wail, which sounded very contemporary and un-‘40s although hinting at its history. I was searching for the reasons here: the alto that was more fluid and indefinite or the bass lines that seemed more 2 note patterns rather than bebop 4s and that avoided the obvious statements of chords. Then a fabulously complex Paul Williamson tune with a complex time feel and unison staccato melody, and a funky 12-bar feel from band Fly. Then Spiderbait’s Buy me a pony and Pink Floyd’s Bike [obscure title alert] which I particularly enjoyed for its jolly, melodious tune with deceptive twists. There were originals by both Michael and Jon. Jon’s Loneliness was balladic. Jon’s Untitled (and due anytime now) was a dark ballad with a film noir flavour. Michael’s J’s track was a slow rocky feel with latin accent. I think I got the title wrong, because Michael’s Obituary didn’t feel to me at all funereal, but more light and cloudy with a contemporary melody that reminded me of Ornette.

All round, an interesting journey from capable players in a this open and adventurous format. Not easy, but I enjoyed it immensely. Jon Crompton (alto sax), Michael Story (bass) and Nick Martyn (drums, percussion) played as Pan Francis at the Loft.

16 November 2010

Kelly country

I was in Beechworth for the weekend, now a tourist town of restaurants and B&Bs and boutique breweries and once a gold town and a haunt of Ned Kelly. There was jazz here, too, in the guise of John Bisignano. I hear that John is a music store owner and music teacher in Wangaratta, another town in the region and one of great annual interest to readers of CJ. John was playing at the very busy and successful Beechworth Bakery, upstairs on the open verandah. I heard a melange of instruments going up the stairs, but there was just one guy performing. But John records his own arrangements, and after a few tunes, I was impressed by his multi-instrumentalism and convinced he probably plays everything on his backing tracks. As I arrived, he was singing a ‘40s pop song with a very attractive voice. But on request, he switched through the various other instruments on stage: conga, tenor and guitar. The conga was pretty straightforward; the tenor playing was authentic, well phrased and with a decent tone; the guitar was bluesy, strident, even searing, again a good tone. But voice is the main means of musical communication and John sang warmly and with nice effect and a rounded, expressive voice. It was a nice interlude from touristing, although a delay before that boutique brewery. John Bisignano (voice, guitar, tenor, congas, more …) came down from Wangaratta to perform standards and early pop tunes at the Beechworth Bakery.

13 November 2010

Brassy

The opening of a new venue is a night of anticipation. Thus it was when Legends opened for the first night with our local New Orleans-inspired strolling brass band, Brass’ere. This venue looks like it will be catholic in its tastes, with Ax Long playing a more post-bop style next week and Latin on weekends. But Brass’ere’s influences and the fact they can be mobile shouldn’t suggest something from lost past. They played Michael Jackson and Honky Tonk Woman as well as St James Infirmary and even threw in a miked and distorted trombone for a guitar solo (through a genuine Zoom guitar pedal, no less). But of course, the essence of the loud and strident brass tone was always there from pairs of trumpets and trombones and a thumping, billowing sousaphone. Sousa’s a great big, round sound with no sustain and lovely to hear and it even works with funk. But there were a few ringins in this brass band. I could hear the drums easily enough, and Mi Tierra’s percussionist was sitting in for the night, but there was one reed: Nathan on baritone sax. I only thought of this later, too late to isolate the tone, and brass purists may not be happy. But the clear, bell-like tone was predominant, so all is well. Courtney appeared on a few songs, but there were plenty of instrumentals, including some light and friendly originals like The song that could. I’m looking forward to hearing the strolling band. Even drummer Nesci walks with a snare. That’s the final and definitive connection with New Orleans and jazz funerals and the rest. I assume they drop the rock tunes from the repertoire for a genuine funereal march. But I jest, which fits the good humour on stage on the night and the effervescent nature of a brass band.

Brass’ere played the opening Thursday night of Legends Jazz Bar, upstairs at Manuka. Cameron Smith (trumpet, vocals), Zach Raffan (trumpet), Michael Bailey (trombone), John Gosling (trombone), David Abkiewicz (tuba, sousaphone), Nathan Sciberras (baritone sax), Robert Nesci (drums), Courtney Stark (vocals) and Francisco Meza (percussion) sat in for the night.