30 May 2010

Cerebration

A mate described it as introspective, and I think the music of Matt McMahon is that. Matt is in Canberra for two concerts this weekend. The first was last night at Street 2 with later year students on bass and drums: Rafael Jerjen and Aidan Lowe. The other is tonight with Eric Ajaye. I’ve been watching Matt through a series of concerts. He’s here reasonably frequently now, given his gig as piano teacher at the Jazz School [PS. My mistake and my apologies due here. I've mixed up the two Matt pianists. Matt McMahon is from Sydney; Matt Thompson is the keys teaches at the ANU Jazz School. And their styles are quite different. MT is restrained; MMcM is much less so. Eric, Sept 2010], and he otherwise pops up in numerous different circumstances. He’s always capable but also understated, even minimalist, so somewhat difficult for me to comprehend. Introspection is not my musical style. But I felt last night I could understand him better. I had heard touches of it before, but some post-bop pieces displayed considerable fluency and inventiveness in harmony and an impressive ease with sequences through scales, that speaks of skills and perhaps classical background. I see he’s trained with Mike Nock but also with Peter Sculthorpe. I’m listening to tracks from his MySpace site as I write this, and it is introspection I hear, even beyond last night’s performance.

The gig started with a repeating single note on bass and piano in 6/8 with busy drums. It sounded of free jazz, but then some chordal movements appeared and we had a written tune. Time for a bass solo and those heavily improvising drums while Matt remained in the background. I thought waterdrops, given the light feel of Matt’s playing. Then Carl’s coat, referencing Carl Dewhurst, and another pensive piece called Ceremony. I was trying to decide just what ceremony it might refer to. Thoughtful and pensive: not a wedding, perhaps celebrating a birth. In the end, Matt said it was written after watching the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony. Matt spoke of how you try to write for a purpose, but something else comes. It was certainly more serious than are such public spectacles. I thought I counted 4-4-4-2 bars then 4-4-4 repeating: hardly the stuff of pop anthems. Heft followed, a straight 4/4 swing in modern style with a repeated 16 bar head. I enjoyed Raf’s walks on these faster swinging numbers. I guessed Raf felt most comfortable there. Given they’d only met that afternoon, I’m not surprised. Aidan impressed me as observant and very comfortable throughout. Nicely enriching the grooves; easily dropping into a more front line role when required. It looked pretty relaxed and easy, but worked nicely.

The second half started with a tune by Raf, For Leo, then another few tunes McMahon originals and a finish with Matt’s tune Relief, which was more introspective piano morphing to up-tempo modern swing. Matt showed his chops on the up-tempo with cascading sequences, irrespective of bar lines and such obstructions. A nice way to end the concert.

Matt McMahon (piano) played with Rafael Jerjen (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) at Street Theatre 2.

22 May 2010

Neville’s magic

It’s not really magic, of course, but skills and understanding and training and a feel for timber and sounds. I took my bass up to Neville Whitehead a few weeks ago and collected it last night. I was astounded at the change from the first ringing notes. I’d thought the strings were old and dull, but both strings and instrument seemed restored. Virtually a new instrument. Neville did a fairly big job on the bass. It’s a Reghin flat-backed timber instrument: decent but not particularly special. Reghin is a town of about 35,000 in Bulgaria and the home of Vasile Gliga. Gliga produced instruments under his own name, but most output was released to sell under other names. Presumably this is one of those lines. Neville removed the belly and did various internal tasks, then set the bass up (reshaped the fingerboard and built and fitted a new bridge and a few other tasks). Now constructed for the long term.

But what a change! Suddenly there’s a top end that I’d only heard on recordings and clarity throughout the frequencies; a growl when the action’s set low, or a firmness with slightly higher action. And an ease of playing that’s new. I’m experimenting: inevitable with what is essentially a new instrument. Learning about this feel and sound, and also watching it change with humidity and temperature. These things breathe, unlike electric basses. Acoustic is the musical journey that people speak of. BTW, Neville has quite a history as a bassist, not just as a luthier: stories of Tony Bennett, Daly Willson Big Band, Keith Tippett and more. He’d just had a session with Sandy Evans the night before. Well worth a long chat. Thanks to Neville, and I’ll be seeing you again.

  • http://www.nevillewhitehead.com/
  • 20 May 2010

    Pities of Poland

    It is with respect and some shared sadness that I write about the performance of Henryk Gorecki’s …songs are sung… last night in the foyer of the National Museum. The request that the audience not applaud was indicative of the gravity of the event. Gorecki wrote this piece in memory of Poland’s World War 2 experiences and the aftermath, then held it back for many years before finally allowing it to be premiered by the Kronos Quartet. This performance was claimed as a “premiere performance … for string orchestra”, presumably for this arrangement. The Polish Ambassador set the scene by reminding us, if necessary, of the harrowing contemporary history of Poland, the memory of the Katyn massacre and the recent loss of a large number of the political class travelling to memorialise that event. So this was not a performance to be treated lightly. It wasn’t: a quiet and respectful audience, candles, heavy and deeply moving music.

    The piece is in five movements lasting about 45 minutes. A goodly number of strings (I judge by the number of double basses: there were four) and a string quartet. I didn’t particularly notice the quartet in physical layout or in the music (other than a key cello part at the start of the fifth movement). I notice the program says the quartet included Max McBride on bass. I didn’t see Max but he may have been there. Bass would make it an unusual string quartet and no parallel to Kronos. The musicians performed in silhouette with candles, and I was down the back and had eyes closed most of the time. You couldn’t listen to this concert with your eyes. The music was often contemplative with long notes on deep bass and cellos. There was a hint of leavening at times, with simple and pleasant major lines, but they inevitably fell to a flattened note at the end for minor key sadness. Each hopeful line cut off after the shortest of possibilities. Brooding music, telling of people who know their losses and are pained by them. Not a music of ignorance, but of occasional hope being promptly and reliably trampled and low volumes speaking of self-preservation in a hostile environment. But it was surprisingly not music of resignation, more of the recognition of horror and of survival. Both profound and memorable.

    Coincidence. I was listening to Radio National as I arrived at the National Museum. An Iraqi was comparing Iraq to Poland, saying they had similar, tragic experiences due to their geography, both being located between power blocks where armies pass through. I’m an unrestrained rationalist, but I admit to the unnerving coincidence.

    Gorecki’s …songs are sung… was performed by the Canberra Camerata with the NZ String Quartet.

    17 May 2010

    Out of the woodwork

    I’m constantly amazed how musicians keep coming out of the woodwork – good ones; capable ones. Yesterday I heard Linda Tinney’s band, Blue in Red, at the Yacht Club. Linda and husband Graeme have been in Beijing for the last few years, but before they left, they were one of the first reported bands on CJ, and I used a pic of their band, Zip, as the header for the site. So Linda has a place in CJ’s history, and I was interested in hearing her again. But Linda’s accompaniment were all new to these pages.

    Linda was up front on vocals and piano. It’s a blues-infested gig that this band plays, although with some jazz training and sensibilities. Linda carries the show off with lively good will and an easy interaction with the audience. It’s a great skill, and makes for good entertainment. The tunes were well chosen and diverse, too. Famed ballads for the mellow times, like The nearness of your and Time after time, lively swing standards like My baby just cares for me and I got rhythm, soul and R&B including the Aretha Franklin’s spine-tingling People get ready, some funky earthy New Orleans grooves, and a few originals. Linda’s lively but also committed in voice: closed eyes, plaintive high notes, well formed phrasing, emotive dynamics. She’s similarly rollicking and solid at the keyboard, although there was a more subdued touch in the ballads. But overall, this is the blues, and there’s emotion a plenty on show. I loved it and I was not alone.

    Graeme usually plays bass, but had done himself some minor injury so Jared was in his place on double (from Melbourne luthier, Ross Anderson) and electric basses. He’s currently at the Jazz School and has some previous classical background, so he had chops aplenty for some nice fills. He also played a mammoth e-bass solo that was nicely done, although perhaps a bit challenging for the blues format. I enjoyed Jon Jones’ drumming. It just sat so nicely with easy temperament: nothing fancy, but spot on. I’m sure I’ve seen him with playing with Annie’s Armadillos, but he’s not alone there. And nice to see the old Ludwig label. Ringo played Ludwig and it was a big name in the past; not so common now. Another new name for me was Demetri Neidorf. He played a range of saxes - soprano, alto, tenor - and I hear tell he can put his chops to a range of other instruments, too. His playing was subtle and effective, soloing easily and very capably, dropping little fillers at apt times, even swapping saxes for effect at different times during a tune. I read this as very mature performance, restrained and nicely in place. Dimitri plays in Word made flesh, a band I must catch for a report sometime.

    Blue in Red was infectious with life and vigour and musical competence; not formal or intellectualised, but great entertainment and a pleasure to spend an afternoon with. On the day, Blue in Red was Linda Tinney (vocals, piano) with Jared Plane (bass), Jon Jones (drums) and Demetri Neidorf (saxes).

    Under the House

    Text by Daniel Wild; Pic by Sisiely Wong

    Nestled in the bowels of the Opera House is The Studio, the perfect venue for variety show Late Night Lounge. Comedy, cabaret, death defying stunts, magic and good wine is the order of the night. Eclectic music accompanies many of the performances – folkish music, tongue in cheek rock and modern lieder with a gothic twist keeps the audience challenged and smiling. Intriguing for music lovers is the House Band – read whoever’s in town. Tonight we were treated to jazz musicians Matt McMahon, Jonathan Zwartz, Carl Dewhurst and drummer Evan Mannell. I wasn’t expecting to see so many top-flight musicians earning their crust in such a variegated fashion. Mannell certainly had the best view for a number of notorious acts – he kept the beat while stockinged buttock cheeks flapped in his peripheral vision during a voluptuous rendition of Turn Back Time. His concentration and courage should not go unrecognised.

    The House Band under the direction of McMahon accompanied guitar duo Dog Trumpet – Peter O’Doherty and Reg Mombassa, founding members of Mental as Anything – as they plied their original material from 2007 album anti-social tendencies. Zwartz executed a rollicking bass line while Dewhurst added texture on the third guitar. McMahon has great dynamic sense, knowing when to bring the piano into prominence and when to fade it into that zone where it can just be heard.

    In the interval the intimate cabaret action turned jazz club; while patrons procured more champers and beer, the house band played Nostalgia in Times Square. How many people in the audience knew what they were listening to? Such is the nature of jazz that it can add atmosphere, class and communicate directly with people who prick up their ears at such moments. A sharp nine chord can draw the attention of someone waiting at the bar, while a pentatonic run can just as quickly sooth them back into complacency. This laid back style of jazz is perfect for encouraging the audience to mingle, chill and prepare themselves for another descent into heavenly seediness.

    If you want to be surprised, shocked and lulled by the beauty of midnight song, get tickets to Late Night Lounge – they sell fast – and be entertained by the sheer (literally) variety of song, dance and provocation that takes place every month under Sydney’s iconic ‘House’. You never know who will turn up, and it’s a good place to see what musicians do best – getting a pile of sheet music and told to play, swing and rock.

    16 May 2010

    Sprogis and Woods

    Sprogis and Woods are presumably the sponsors for the new jazz composition competition associated with the Canberra International Music Festival. This seems to be its first year. It’s judged by Bill Risby, Miroslav Bukovsky and Mike Price. There are associated gigs at the Kingston Markets. Locals Austin Benjamin, Andy Butler, Andy Campbell, Nick Combe, Reuben Lewis, Ben Marston, Matt Lustri, Jack Palmer, Alex Raupach, Neils Rosendahl and Luke Sweeting are in the running. I know compositions from most of this crew, and they are worthy works. I’m glad to hear the judgements are not made from performance at the Kingston Markets. It’s not the place for a serious presentation, being busy and noisy and with the music treated as background. But as a laid back gig, it’s OK. Worth a visit to hear whoever is performing at the time. I think, for the actual competition, there’s a short-listing from CD, then a decision at the finals in the Fitters’ Workshop (of the renowned acoustics). Sadly I can’t make it, but will be interested in the outcome. Someone get there for me… Fitter’s Workshop, Kingston, 4.30pm, Sunday 23 May.

    Here are a few pics of competitor Jack Palmer’s band at the Kingston Markets. And thanks form CJ to Sprogis and Woods.

    15 May 2010

    Badass, lyrical

    Note: new themes for the day: badass, lyrical

    Both were apt for Alex Raupach’s Quintet when the played for ArtSound’s Friday Night Live last night. Take lyrical first. I don’t know what it is, but brass players are just more lyrical. Alex’s compositions were melodic and extended and unforced, as was his playing. From languid rolling pieces to freer forms, these were long lines that moved through harmonies with voice led inevitability. Especially so on the flugelhorn, that most languorous of instruments. Most of the concert was comprised of his compositions. First was Little river, a medium latin piece reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard and the Little Sunflower album. Then a freer style with Leave the lone ranger alone, a comment on our political leaders; What is she, a pensive ballad that borrowed words from Dorothy Porter’s verse novel, The monkey's mask; a dedication to Michael Brecker called MB; and Interphase, a slow modern piece that returned to Sunflower territory. The second set featured a few non-originals: Enrico Rava’s Bella, Eric Dolphy’s medium-up Ode to Charlie Parker, and a freestyle version of Stella and more originals: the lively For Kenny [Dorham] and two slower modern tunes, Mamma you wouldn’t believe it and Near people. Alex is a capable composer: complex chordal structures that underlie melodies that move and modulate with ease. Very nice.

    The whole band was comfortable. John Wilton may question that, given he was a ring-in for the night, but he handled the job well with concentration and committed understatement. Rachael Thoms sang Dorothy Porter’s words, but mostly performed voice as instrument, with complex unison melodies and occasional solos, and some expert classically-inspired fills. I was standing behind Andy Butler for some expressive and intense solos and richly complex chords played with gentle touch. He told me he’s uncomfortable with acoustic piano sounds on electric instruments, but he was obviously enjoying the Yamaha grand’s ringing tones. Piano really is the master instrument, and Andy is playing these days with rich sensibility and informed intellect. Simon provided the bass line that growled in reference to Ron Carter’s CTI days. I really enjoyed his solidly supportive playing, but he’s also listened to the likes of William Parker and Ornette so he sneaks in some intriguing complexity at times.

    So I was taken by this concert: by some wonderful playing, but perhaps even more by the attractive and worthy compositions. Alex Raupach (trumpet, flugelhorn, compositions and badass radio voice) led a quintet with Rachael Thom (voice), Andy Butler (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and John Wilton (drums) for ArtSound’s Friday Night Live.

    13 May 2010

    Another Williams

    I’d caught Brother Bill a few days before; this was a night for younger sibling Max. I’ve heard Max a good few times, but I think this was the first as band leader. He’s a thoughtful player - well considered phrasings and content to play slowly and let the notes lead, although he’ll also let go with occasional flourishes. I particularly enjoyed his harmonic concept in a challengingly out tune by Simon called Two forms of liquid. Underlying were Rhythm changes, but the melody was contorted like Monk. Max wasn’t madly comfortable on the melody (he was reading and it would not have been an easy read), but carried the tune off well with plenty of challenging scales and appropriately long intervals and dissonant extensions. Simon backed with fairly straight chordal statements which held it together, then a simple repeating descending chromatic line, then soloed with a strangely minimal statement that moved in triads through changing harmonies. It was very much conceptual rather than virtuosic and apt for such an iconoclastic piece. Otherwise, the band played lively latin that sat nicely with a mobile flow of unadorned chords. Also a few standards: Airegin by Sonny Rollins and Skylark come to mind. It was in these that I noticed Andy’s bop solo phrasing that flowed in long lines over the barlines and ended in little twists: easy and consistent. Aidan sat easily with the various grooves, and showed his individuality with a solo on the latin, but also some amusingly corny responses in Simon’s Two forms… It was an easygoing night and a casual performance by students for fellow students. Nice one and thanks to Other Brother Max. Max Williams (tenor) played with Andy Butler (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) at Trinity.

    11 May 2010

    Sue’s Mothers’ Day

     My mate at work gave me a few pics from Mothers’ Day. She went out to Adore Tea and FAQ were playing. I haven’t caught FAQ for some time, but they play regularly around town, at the Casino and elsewhere. Sue enjoyed the popular, smooth, recognisable jazz tunes. Happy Mothers’ Day, Sue. FAQ are Sarah Byrne (vocals), James Groves (piano), Peter McDonald (bass, tuba) and Bruce Smyth (drums).

    9 May 2010

    Back to the Belgian

    The Belgian Beer Café has been under the hammer recently for restoration. I couldn’t see the difference, but at least now it’s open and Dave, Bill and Ed have returned. This time, with James sitting in for a set. The DBE trio concentrates on playing the standards, and they play them with real love and conviction. The tunes deserve it. They are standards for a reason: because they are great songs. I caught four tunes: Beatrice, Stella, You don’t know what love is and Solar. Solar was sprightly as a modern up-tempo number; You don’t know… was beautifully gentle as a ballad. Beatrice and Stella were played as medium tempo. Easy but demanding solos all round, including by bass and drums. A thoroughly comfortable but imaginative set. The beers are interesting (and appropriately priced) but there’s no cover charge. If you haven’t caught this gig, get down there (Sundays, 3-6pm, Kingston). It's wonderful, committed playing at a high level. Dave Rodriguez (guitar) plays regularly with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums) and James Le Fevre (tenor) sat in for the first set. I was caught without my camera, so my mobile had to do the honours: just to explain the very modest quality.

    6 May 2010

    Translations

    They were the Translators and they performed at the Gods the other night. It’s an apt name for an unusual mix of instruments that produces a very recognisable and attractive outcome. It’s seldom that I attend a band with electric mandolin, especially one that’s screaming like a Strat, or Spanish guitar played in classical cum Flamenco style, but that’s what was on stage, and it worked comfortably with the sixteenth note grooves from electric bass and the lively drumming. An unusual combination but still with affinities: with Jaco for those bass chords and funky grooves and exquisitely mellifluous bass melodies and with Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia for those nylon strung Spanish guitar sounds. Even the mandolin had references. The fast lines, high pitches, sometimes screaming sounds with overdrive and echo sold it as an instrument with attitude, sounding eerily like studio-based indie guitar soundscapes.

    The elder of the band was Steve Hunter. Steve’s a master electric bassist and wonderful to hear: a great, phat sound; rich and varied chords and fingerstyle sixteenth note funky accompaniment; sweet melodies and some devastatingly fast falling lines. Ben Hauptmann was on the electric mandolin: from sharp and thin mando lines to fast guitar-like solos to complex and richly effected soundscapes. Brother James Hauptmann was on drums: not showy, but strong with busy grooves that grew naturally to peaks with the solos. Damian Wright was the Spanish guitarist. The nylon sound is recognisable (you hear it often enough from players like John McLaughlin, perhaps played with a plectrum) but the style places the band outside the mainstream. This is thumb plucking, fingernail strums, fingerstyle chords. There was some jazz sensibility in the left hand, but the right was in another space altogether. Very capable and perfectly fitting to this context, but still quite unexpected.

    The tunes were originals by various members: Flamenco influences, two chord funky solos, rapid unison melodies, unexpected and dramatic starts and stops. This was energetic and lively music, tons of runs, tons of cleverness and overt Latin passion. At one stage, Geoff Page mentioned that Steve was the bassist who convinced him of the authenticity of the electric bass. It’s easy to concur on Steve’s expertise and musicality, but this night was not just Steve. The performers presented an odd mix of instruments, and a style that we are aware of but that’s not common on the jazz scene in Australia. But it’s infectious and lively and I, for one, would easily hear more.

    The Translators are Steve Hunter (electric bass), Ben Hauptmann (electric mandolin), Damian Wright (Spanish guitar) and James Hauptmann (drums).