27 June 2010

Bassoons & tarogato, everyday for CJ

It was a very different sound experience for me. I don’t often hear bassoon at close quarters, and I’d never even heard of a tarogato. But Niels had mentioned this to me, I’d got a Facebook invitation and it piqued my interest. It was nothing like what I’d expected, but then I really didn’t have expectations.

The session started with a Piazzola arrangement for bassoon, tarogato and soprano sax. I felt at home with this, especially with the bassoon playing what was essentially a bass line. Apparently, it was pretty much the baritone sax line from another arrangement. Then two Bach inventions for bassoon and tarogato. They were short but comfy enough. Then we started getting adventurous. Firstly, a difficult work in several movements by Ross Edwards called Ecstatic dances. The first movement was tarogato and soprano sax bouncing fast rising lines back and forth. Thereafter, some neat counterpoint. The Ross Edwards I’ve heard before sounds of the Bush, and, at least the first movement was nothing if not like flittering birds. Then another Ross Edwards called Water spirit song, this time on solo bassoon. Bassoons don’t lend themselves to bird flight, but this was bouncy to some degree, although more of an inquisitive animal than birdsong. Then two compositions by Ian Blake. The first was bassoon and female vocals (both by Zoey Pepper). Zoey had previously multitracked layers of voices and bassoons, against which she performed live bassoon and vocal parts. I had trouble with the balance and the recording didn’t match the purity of the live sounds. Also, I know no German, so the Rilke poetry just flew by me, as did the underlying story of Orpheus and Euridice. But some of the vocal work was particularly beautiful and I found it an eye-opener to the modern possibilities of echo and tracking and effects. I know of all this, of course, but to hear a classical acoustic instrument next to richly effected recorded instruments and voices obviates the new sonic possibilities we now have to play with. Then another Ian Blake composition for bassoon and tarogato. The concert ended with more modern effects: Col on effected percussion and Miro on trumpet improvising with tarogato.

Sound Bites were performed by Zoey Pepper (bassoon), Ian Blake (feature composer; soprano saxophone), Nicole Canham (tarogato; clarinet), Niels Rosendahl (soprano saxophone), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet) and Col Hoorweg (e-percussion). And in case you’re still wondering, a tarogato is a Hungarian wooden wind instrument with conical bore using a single reed, and sounding somewhere between a soprano sax and an English horn.

This is CJBlog post no. 500.

Motion underscored

I thought the three piece format - drums, sax, keys; no bass - was intentional, to underscore a different mix of players and a different sound. But _motion usually performs with a bassist; he’s just not been well and had to drop out of the tour. Their music, though, still ranged widely. They mention influences from jazz, contemporary classical, experimental rock and minimalism. The music was clearly from the jazz world, but there was evidence of more, especially the minimalism. The first tune on the ArtSound broadcast sounded common enough – a lively up swing of the 60s era with nicely striding solos from sax and piano then into thoughtful sax against a piano pedal, then out on a melody. Very nice. But then a minimalist balladic piece, and another piece with sax and melodica out front and soloing together. There was some bass backing here, perhaps a left hand on the Nord, but lack of a bassist was evident here. Then a few with piano that said 20th Century classical to me. The first was an original, but then a rendition of You are my sunshine, with a very nice, unadulterated melody on sax. Lovely. The second set returned to open balladism then a lively rocker called “Liberty stole my shoes” (interesting title). I was in the studio for this, and the band and especially drummer Hugh was obviously letting go on and there were some cheers of encouragement within the band at the end of this one. Then another ballad, and some impressionist piano to finish, clearly benefitting from the Yamaha grand in ArtSound’s studio. Pianist Berish commented on the piano, noting that it was nicely in tune. Knowing my battles with an acoustic piano at home, I can appreciate his pleasure.

Andrew Brooks played with watery alto tone that fitted nicely with the ballads and the introspection. Berish Bilander had Nord and the grand piano at the ready. I particularly enjoyed his gentle solos that took advantage of the clarity of the grand. Hugh Harvey was more widely interpretive than I’ve heard him before and also let go with rocky energy on a few tunes. Interestingly, the band has Perth connections. I think I’m right to say they all (other than Hugh) met while studying at WAPA in Perth. They are now resident in Melbourne, and doing a short tour to promote their first CD, Presence. They return for two concerts next week: Tuesday at Front Café with Austin Bucket, and Wednesday at Trinity. These concerts feature Abel Cross of Trio Apoplectic filling in on bass. Catch them if you can. It will be interesting to hear, this time with bass.

For the ArtSound broadcast, _motion were Andrew Brooks (alto, soprano sax), Berish Bilander (keys) and Hugh Harvey (drums). Normally they include Nick Abbey (bass).

24 June 2010

What a news day!

Ben Panucci was a restrained interlude amongst all the other happenings of the evening, although I didn’t realise it until afterwards. I arrived home after one set to find there was a Labor Party spill in progress. Megan arrived home to say she’d been at a restaurant in Kingston with Bill Shorten at the next table and that something had obviously been happening: TV cameras waiting outside, and Shorten and mates with mobiles to their ears, even one mobile per ear. Thus is the way of Canberra on these big political days: you can often catch the action if you’re out for dinner in Kingston or Manuka. Also, the story of McChrystal being rolled by Obama after his very unfortunate comments getting through to Rolling Stone mag. And then the Australian World Cup Final game against Serbia to come at 4.30am the following morning. And overnight at Wimbledon, the longest tennis game ever! It was 59-59 in the fifth set when it was stopped for the day, after over 10 hours. The final set alone was over 6 hours by then. All go!

Ben Panucci was relaxed and comfy next to all that. Ben’s style is pretty quiet and thoughtful anyway. Clear tone, lots of chordal work including on solos, quite a few fast lines, mostly diatonic, although occasionally descending to the nether regions of dissonance. Sam Dobson was clear and solid in support, and had a good run of generous solos. Trios leave plenty of space, of course. I enjoyed his clear chordal statements in solos, mostly against standard harmonic structures. He was strong, too, loud and out front. That was partly because of Jodi Michael’s quiet drumming. She was busy filling the spaces and adept at a percussive patina that enriched the sound and I particularly enjoyed a later solo when she drastically mashed the time, but I didn’t hear her as particularly driving or forceful. That may be the style that Ben’s seeking: a crisp guitar, neo-swing style, if there’s such a thing.

There was some very mainstream swinging, but “I’ll be seeing you” developed into a passage with bass pedal and busy, ethereal drums supported a very dissonant guitar. Benny Carter’s “When lights are low” was just plain delicious swing. They also played originals which were again restrained but more modal in style and interpretation. I remember one that started quiet and spacey with staccato guitar notes leading to a chordal solo passage. Less commonly, they also played a Bob Dylan tune. I like to hear pop tunes treated in jazz - after all, the standards were pop tunes of their era - but I found these I-IV-V chords just too limited. They band played with time and interplays, but there wasn’t much underlying complexity to work with.

So it was quite a memorable night when Ben came to play in Canberra. Ben Panucci (guitar) played with Sam Dobson (bass) and Jodi Michael (drums). Bill Shorten, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Barack Obama, Stanley McChystal, Tim Cahill and others had bit parts.

19 June 2010

Guitars in the cold

I feel for guitarists in the cold. It wasn’t too extreme, but Dave had heavy ski gloves ready to don at the end of the set. Comfy! Dave was playing with Stuart King. I enjoyed the playing of each of them, although they present very different styles. Dave is more the calm, fatter-sounding, more melodically-concerned player; Stuart is more crisp, fast and fluid. I just heard part of Wes Montgomery’s Four on six and the ballad Sonny while waiting for my cappuccino, but then they stopped for breakfast. Nice playing from both guitarists, a richer interplay and presumably a more chatty and entertaining gig for Dave who otherwise plays solo. Dave Rodriguez (guitar) played a duo set with Stuart King (guitar).

17 June 2010

Out of the West

It was cold outside, and it must have kept most punters away. Too bad, because the Tom O’Halloran Trio were hot – complex playing, lots of fast unison lines, interesting solo passages but supported with the fluidity of a band of equals who bounce freely off eachother. The members of the trio have been dispersed recently (Tom in Sydney, Peter in Perth and I think Daniel was in Hawaii) but they had the feeling of musicians who know eachother well. Their history includes a few CDs and lots of playing together in Perth. The tour must have refreshed their musical relationships, and it was impressive.

This is a modern piano trio, so there’s lots of space for each member to perform. Style-wise, I heard 1960s Corea several times, but there was a fabulously exciting and authentic latin dedicated to Gonzalo Rubalcaba and some piano mates were hearing a range of influences. The first tunes felt calm and undemonstrative in their steadiness and ease of performance, but there was still an underlying liveliness and intensity. By the time of the latin at the end of the night, the masterful control and musical freedom was still there, but the band was hotter, the volume was louder, the interactions were more intense and sharper. But it was always the intense interaction and the group performance. Also impressive was the composition. The tunes were presumably all originals. There were a few simpler chordal structures, but more common were the devilishly difficult unison lines from piano and bass, and the complex ostinatos behind drum solos that must have been written. And no charts on show, so the tunes were all well assimilated.

Tom was easy and inventive in his improvisations, ranging widely, sometimes toying with the keys with scalar runs, sometimes playing the most complex of extended chords, but responsive and malleable in his statements. I noticed how he watched the others, obviously comfortable without needing to watch the keyboard. Peter was accurate in intonation and sharp with melody lines right into the thumb positions. I noticed some beautifully formed classic handshapes on the fingerboard (bass players stretch the index finger up from the other fingers which are perpendicular to the fingerboard, although jazz players are more lax than classical). There were some excellent solos with lines that were considered and not too fast. Daniel was busy, supporting but also highlighting or contrasting with sharp snaps or soft cymbals and rich dynamics. He also showed a readiness to play across and through the beats: I was stunned by some sustained polyrhythms. His solos seemed to become more common later in the night, culminating with a beauty on the final latin tune with snare off for a timbale effect. The small audience may have been a bit dispiriting and Tom was easy-going although not particularly talkative, but there was good cheer in the band, and they was happy to chat in the breaks. So, it was serious playing and a seriously impressive performance, but a casual event. It was a beauty; too bad if you missed it. Tom O’Halloran (piano) played with Peter Jeavons (bass) and Daniel Susnjar (drums).

15 June 2010

Fever in the freezer

The predictions were for a cold weekend (Min -3C, Max 12C. Fine, early frost) and we were playing outside, even if undercover. I was dreading freezing up with cold hands on my double bass. But in the end it was sunny and free of breezes and the fingerless gloves did their job. Quiros Street Collective played Adore Tea with a singer this time. I like playing with a singer. The tunes settle better, the less that is more is much easier to achieve, and the message or wit of the song is manifest. It just feels as it should be, voice being the personal and human thing that it is. It suits gigs like this, too. The public connect with a singer in a way they don’t with instruments. Instrumentalists have their own technical fascinations and a closeness to pure sound and can forget that most people don’t share this fascination. They see the band as just the support for the story teller, the singer. And fair enough too, if they are your interests. Of course, venues often feel the same way, because their customers like songs, especially ones they recognise. So it was when we played.

Monica Moore was singing. Peter plays with Monica in a local pop band, but she also enjoys the jazz standards and the malleable structures of jazz. Musicians sometimes reject standards in the search for originality. That’s OK, but the standards remain huge markers in the jazz tradition, examples of the very best of song-writing, and people who play them seriously argue for their capacity as training vehicles. Whatever, I just melt with the beauty of some tunes, even if their ubiquity can make them seem kitsch. Nothing particularly unusual, but we had a great time playing tunes like Georgia, The look of love, Secret love, Recordame, Summertime, You don’t know what love is, Joyspring, Fever and the like. Nothing unusual, but every one a long established work that was closer to its original purpose due to the vocals. Thanks, Monica, much enjoyed. We’ll do it again.

This time round, Quiros Street Collective was Monica Moore (vocals), Peter Kirkup (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums).

13 June 2010

Beat, b-box

I have to admit my ignorance. Hip hop is of another era, and I’m rather confused by the terms. I attended the Canberra heats for the Australian Hip Hop championships the other night. I’d expected rap and verse and perhaps the battles we saw in that surprisingly interesting film, Eminem’s 8 mile. But the main content was dance groups performing in that street style, reminiscent of Michael Jackson and moonwalking and the like. But there was also a smattering of other hip hop culture: some feature rappers, a beatboxer, a b-boy competition, and a DJ. I can dig the rappers with their down-to-earth street poetry. The beatboxers are amazing, sounding so percussively authentic. The PA’s gain is up high with distortion a-plenty for a fatter and more compressed sound, and that is obviously a secret. The b-boys are great to watch with their lithe movements and cocky interactions and handstands and the like. (Why no b-girls? There were none on the night.) I was interested that there were so many competitions, but maybe the b-boy comp was also part of the championships. I like DJs when the do something to the music, like scratching or looping, but mainly it’s just selecting CDs and matching beats and I fail to be excited by this. The skills seem elsewhere. The main part of the night was the dance sequences. There were a couple of groups in the Varsity level, and perhaps five at the Open level. Several were chosen to attend the national championships at the Crown Casino in Melbourne. I enjoyed the dancing. Good, wholesome, energetic fun and some cool choreography. Lots of friendly support between dancers and b-boys, despite the cock-sure, individualist reputation of this youth culture. The audience was engaged and friendly, and the excitement of the performers was real. My kids weren’t there, so I didn’t get quite so involved as some parents (there were quite a few parents there), but this was an interesting exposure to a perfectly presentable, if poorly respected youth culture. Much enjoyed, even if I felt just a little out of the scene.

12 June 2010

Milonga on air

It was like a broadcast milonga. Tunes broken into tandas (that set of tunes for a tango dance) separated with cortinas (the disparate “curtain” music that allows the dancers to swap partners at a social dance, ie, at a milonga). So it was when Los Jovenes del Tango performed last night for ArtSound’s Friday Night Live. Actually, I’m cheating. I’d never heard of a milonga or a cortina (other than Cortina d’Ampezzo) before last night, but I’d heard some tango, and we all know how seductive it is (musically and otherwise). This music of the bordillos of Argentina is the music of prostitutes and the lower classes that was later taken on by French upper classes, and became an international music, impinging on jazz and classics. I’ve written on CJ of Marcella Fiorillo, Canberra’s wonderful link to Argentina, performing a tango opera of Astor Piazzolla, Maria de Buenos Aires. This was less formal and less classically-composed, but still ordered and complex with emotional crescendos, some unexpected time signatures and the inevitable words of passion. During the intermission interview, Natalya quoted one line: “I slit my wrists and bleed at your feet”. Not light hearted and not writing of the middle classes, other than perhaps their impassioned teenagers. But unlike teenagers with their passions, this feels true. This feels of backstreets and desperation. I can hear why people get so committed.

The band was an uncommon mix, too (as was Marcella’s Piazolla orchestra). The backing was Simon on a steady double bass and Liena on a classical pedal harp that performed various lines for guitar and others. There was no bandenoneon, but Valdis drew notes of heart-on-the-shoulder emotions from the bellows of an accordion and Lathika’s violin generously emoted each impassioned line. I particularly noticed both the violin and accordion for these intimately voiced melodic snippets. Valdis swapped for trombone at one stage and that fit nicely too. Natalya provided the voice. I found the tango voice strangely enervated but I expect that’s the nature of tango singing: a world-weariness that we also recognise in cabaret, perhaps a European equivalent with a similar dark history. But it’s lovely music of rhythm and passion but also with an end-of-time edge.

Los Jovenes perform regularly for milongas of the Tango Social Club of Canberra, so if you have always wanted to indulge in dancing this Argentinian passion, chase them up. Link below. Los Jovenes del Tango are Natalya Tacheci (vocals), Lathika Vithanage (violin), Valdis Thomann (accordion, trombone), Liena Lacey (harp, viola) and Simon Milman (contrabass).

  • Tango Social Club of Canberra
  • 10 June 2010

    Other than th’yarts

    I get most of my awareness of political and current affairs from radio (I love talk radio, esp. ABC Radio National). I’d been searching for some time for live radio, ie, seminar-type events around Canberra. A few have occurred in Canberra over the years, but The Australia Institute (TAI) has now established an ongoing series of monthly Politics in the Pub nights at the Uni Pub in its salubrious 3rd floor Lounge Bar. I learnt about it on the morning of the event from an aside in a Canberra Times article by Jack Waterford. This shows you how hard it can be to track down events (that’s why I started CJ). Someone mentioned that he’d heard of it through RiotACT, hidden amongst the masses of other content there. Whatever, it’s good to see we now have a regular PitP.

    Don Russell spoke on the decline of the US and touched on implications for Australia. DR was Paul Keating’s principal advisor and also an ambassador to the US, so his observations were informed. He spoke in the context of Paul Kennedy’s Rise and fall of the great powers. This book was published in 1989 and looked at relationships of the great powers from 1500 to 2000. He essentially found that state interactions were anarchic and egotistic, and that the world is constantly rearranging with victory going to the country with the strongest economy. Also that imperial decline (“overreach”) is not well received by states, which then indulge in more non-productive military expenditure, a less healthy economy, and a consequently accelerated decline. Don asked whether this changed after 1945 and the rise of the USA as the core superpower. He suggested “the US is different” because of the influence of the European Enlightenment at the time of its formation. In the US, “sovereignty belongs to the mass of ordinary people” rather than the state and this is locked into the constitution through balances of powers. Thus, the President is weak except for foreign affairs and defence issues, but also “America goes to war for a principle” rather than an interest. While this remains the case, the US will be afforded a leadership role in international affairs. DR recognised that this resort to idealism may collapse if resources or wealth are challenged (“if the economy turns bad, watch out”), but he noted that the US corporate sector remains in good shape despite the GFC, productivity continues to improve and innovation is “hard wired into the US system”. He also noted that you can expect a response if you attack the US, but that the US military is educated and “learns from its mistakes”. What of the environment? BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries are rising as they’ve decided that the move of power to direct the economy from the state to individuals allows market/investment responsiveness, and that peace and stability is essential for this growth (“the opportunity cost of capricious behaviour” is high). This understanding is different from that of the imperial 19th Century. The US learns, and had learnt this, and thus didn’t repeat the imperial powers’ Treaty of Versaille after WW2, but developed a different agreement at Yalta. Given the above, “in the last 100 years, the world has become a better place”, improved from the picture of state anarchy and egotism outlined by Paul Kennedy.

    My thoughts? I was amazed by some stats. The US was the one country that came out of WW2 richer, and in 1943 the US was producing 1 ship per day and 1 plane every 5 minutes (!). I warmed to DR’s overall thesis. I don’t find the US quite the ogre it’s sometimes viewed by the left and I think that perhaps the current world is looking up providing we don’t destroy it through climate change, lack of water, resources, etc. But I also felt DR was too generous to the US, as have been several other US-history buffs from the Labor Party (eg, Kim Beazley, Bob Carr). I guess this is because the enlightenment political philosophy is attractive to social democrats (as it is to me). DR told a story of the British ambassador obtaining armaments for the Falklands War by speaking directly to the American people via TV from steps somewhere in Washington DC as indicative that “sovereignty belongs to the mass of ordinary people”. I can’t imagine citizen-influence through elections is really so different from ours, and DR had already stated that the President has most power in areas of Foreign Policy. The story was good, but seemed rather a big call as evidence. But then, he’d been an ambassador, and obviously took the story seriously. Otherwise, I thought the history of the US’s good luck which is said to explain their optimism (in easy expansion across a wonderfully rich country, in the War of Independence, in the resultant rapid rise as the superpower) was too little recognised. Similarly the extensive history of interventions by the US military (Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2007 / Richard F. Grimmett, Congressional Research Service, updated 2008). I expect the US is (relatively) idealistic in foreign policy because it can (or has been able to) afford to be. But then DR recognised that when he said “if the economy turns bad, watch out”.

    Suffice to say it was an intellectually invigorating outing and a challenging way to pass an hour or so. TAI’s Politics in the Pub sessions are held ~monthly and are free. Time is 5.30pm for 6pm start; talk and questions to 7pm, then chat to 8pm. To get on the mailing list for Politics in the Pub, ring Serena 0421 759 262.

    8 June 2010

    Tranquil Lakeside, not

    There’s always a touch of bent genius in the circus and often enough in composers. A challenge to the designed surroundings of Canberra and a rational APS. I was thinking this as I listened to Jono Lake’s Lakeside Circus. The music was all circus exuberance and jovial rhythms and riffs and bass lines, merged and manipulated and toyed with. Absurd, varied, jokey, malleable and entertaining. Entertaining: that word that musicians often forget at their own expense. Even between tunes it was a rollicking show. One tune was Candy Berry, obviously named for Canberra. Shouts of “I love Valium” and offers of solos “How ‘bout you … solos … [pointing]“ “Ready .. 1,2,1234”. This was loony tunes of the discordant harmonies. The out-of-tunality might sound like poor playing to uninformed ears, but it’s not like that at all. This is purposeful, but irony is the purpose. This is on the beat and square, boxy and tonally clashing, with just the odd touch of swing and sweet soloing to lighten the effect. This is not music to highlight performers, but music of composition. Jono’s the composer and concertmaster and performer out front (every circus needs performers). All excitement and urgent invention that dismays and constantly pushes his Circus. I noticed quotes from All the things you are and even Giant steps, but these are just that, quotes. The bebop as stride was more indicative of his style. There were mainstream solos from Max and Shane and John and Andrew, and some quite fitful but exploratory ones from Jono. But always that challenge to the comfortable and the overtly serious. Well practised to be rough as guts and hot as hell. I loved it. I tired a bit as the night wore on, so maybe it could have some more contrasting, tuneful interludes. I found the occasional break into a capable swing solo was a joyful release. But this was Mingus-like in the passion of the playing, and demands (even Mingal shouts) of the leader, the roughness and bluesy urgency and the playfulness. Refreshing, despite the demands it places on the listener. Lakeside Circus is Jono Lake (piano, compositions), Shane Spellman (trumpet), Andrew Fedorovich (alto sax), Max Williams (tenor sax), Patrick Langdon (trombone), Alec Coulson (bass) and Mark Levers (drums).