27 February 2013

Memorable

I’ll sneak in another of my gigs, this time for our instrumental quartet, the Jazz Republic. There were many ways that this gig will be memorable. Firstly, Miroslav Bukovsky sat in for our wounded saxist, Richard (nothing terminal). How wonderful to play with a musician of such skills and long experience. It was a surprise when Miro told me after the gig that he’d taught Richard at the Sydney Con years before. How small is this jazz world. We were also playing this gig for the Canberra 100 Musical Offering, which is coordinated by Don Aitkin and Helen Moore. Helen wasn’t there, but Don and Bev, his wife, were. It turns out that Don plays a mean Brubeck piano by ear, having played professionally way back before his days in academia. We also had a mate of Mike’s in attendance, APRA and double-EMMY award winning composer and musician, Art Phillips, originally from LA and now resident in Sydney. If I’d realised he’d written songs for Minnie Ripperton, and played guitar for Barry Manilow and directed music for the likes of Demis Roussos, Dory Previn and John Rowles, I might have been more nervous. But nerves serve little purpose. Enough just to play, even if only one set of a few standards, latins and one of Mike’s original ballads. Good fun and thanks especially to Miro for sitting in. The band appeared as the Jazz Republic with Mike Dooley (piano), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums).

  • Canberra 100 Musical Offering
  • Art Phillips Music Design
  • Don Aitkin's blog
  • 25 February 2013

    As the alembic


    I was recording, and with the first notes I worried that I’d set the gain control too high. This is a band, after all, with drums. You expect some volume. But the Casey Golden trio was playing at a level that I virtually strained to hear. The drummer was Ed and I know his so-subtle stick play, restrained in volume with an uncommonly intimate contact with the skins. And bassist Bill was there, too, clear but understated, each note precise and with intent and absolutely without superfluity. These days, his playing is sparse, although occasionally visited with little fills of teeming lines or repeated notes or dropping into fast passages and walks when required. And Casey himself, bent over the piano, delicately laying out sequences or melodies or standing as foil to a written bass line of simple clarity. The members moved the focus around the band but virtually without signal, sometimes a short bass solo, or piano featuring but unobtrusively, or a mild ostinato and one of Ed’s blisteringly developed solos. Given the restrained presence, I got to wondering about the PA: one wedge as a monitor for Ed and one feeding the audience and balancing the piano on the left of the stage. Chris Deacon was recording; was it ArtSound’s? It turned out to be Ed’s, with mics for bass and piano, presumably placed to ensure everyone, on and off stage, heard the subtlest details. The result was so slight that you hardly noticed, but it’s an indicator of the detail and distillation of this music. Distilled is the adjective I kept thinking: pure, clean, perfected, tight as, shorn of surplus and the low volume level was indicative. These were highly developed skills, playing detail with precision and control, notes when required and only then, everything considered and limited to the necessary. They played Dolphin Dance and a bop head for an intro, but otherwise this was original music by Casey. The progressions were often quite simple. I’ll enjoy listening back to the recording to better understand the melodies and broader structures, like the unison lines and starts and stops of the arrangements. But the effect was pure: delicately formed and subtle jazz. How good is this? Casey Golden (piano) performed with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums) for too small an audience at Canberra Grammar Gallery.

    23 February 2013

    A minor gem returns


    My monthly St Albans lunchtime concert is a little gem that I look forward to. It’s relaxed, intimate, small and features some very capable musicians coordinated by Louise Page. I missed it while in recess over Christmas, but it returned this week with the Lorenz Duo, pianist Wendy and violinist Andrew, performing Blake, Beethoven and an encore by Kreisler. This pair has serious history, performing internationally, leading several orchestras and teaching at conservatoria. They are now living in Canberra and performing with David Pereira in the Trio Empyrean and presumably otherwise.

    The performance was of two pieces. Firstly, Howard Blake’s Penillion variations. This is modelled on a Welsh style of singing improvised verses over well-known melodies. The variations were bookmarked by an attractive folky melody in triple time with the slices sounding of gypsy-folk with double stops, floating mystical watery interludes, piano / violin conversations, rising and falling piano chords with overlaid melody and more. Then the major work, Beethoven’s Violin sonata no.10 in G major. This was composed in 1812 and was his last sonata, following the Archduke. It’s written in four movements: the first is spacious and mature and quite lengthy; the second, classically profound; the third, a fast accented scherzo; the fourth, a series of variations on various folk-like themes. The duo returned for a quick encore on Fritz Kreisler’s Ladies light, a romantic work in 3/4. How pleasant was this chamber concert. The Lorenzes play with vivid intimacy and with interpretation that is romantic and joyous and openly physical. The glances are occasional as they wait to come in together and the smiles are easy towards the end of a successful concert. So it was here. A very nice chamber outing to start another St Albans series. Wendy Lorenz (piano) and Andrew Lorenz (violin) performed as the Lorenz Duo at St Albans.

    20 February 2013

    Where’s Satin Doll

    I bought a CD download for the Marc Hannaford trio after their Loft gig and discovered an introduction by Jason Moran. This is good company. There were not too many people at the Loft for Marc’s gig and the start time was skewhiff due to travel and availability of gear on loan and the rest, but the gig was a great pleasure of abstruse compositions and instrumental vivacity and intimate presence. Marc mentioned that the second set felt like playing in the lounge-room and this was true, but the intensity and complexity were not something for relaxation: this was more for intellectual and emotional stimulation. I’m intrigued and dumbfounded by just how they do this. To my ears, these are the sounds of fine music of early C20 classical, the dissonance and intervals and intensity. I heard bassist Sam playing piano before the gig. His piano also sounded of that era and I asked him what was behind that music. He played a few basic chords underlying his improvisation, just three note chords perhaps based on fourths, and talked of how he interpreted it rather than of scales or harmonies. I talked of it with Paul dal Broi in a break and we decided the notes are clipped (not always true) and the lines tend to staccato, there are sequences and long intervals, and I always think of the symmetrical scales (diminished and whole tones), but perhaps the attack or note formation is one key. It’s not non-harmonic music, but it is dissonant. It’s also composed. The first set was a medley lasting about and hour and when it finished, Marc listed five tunes that they’d played. Similarly, the second set was two tunes over about 30 minutes. The solos merge with the heads in this music. It was only at the end that I became aware of a recurring head, when bass and piano left hand came into alignment, but even then I wondered if this was just particularly responsive improv. Earlier, I’d noticed Sam stop to find charts so that was obviously the start of a tune. It’s easy to just fall into the immensity of concept and energy of performance. I found most value when I did just this: close my eyes and open my mind. The written melody that I caught was quite similar to Marc’s solo lines, but distilled and clarified; but picking these heads is nothing like identifying Satin Doll. Jason Moran was positive but undescriptive when writing of Marc’s music. It’s got reams of influences and references but it’s also complex and challenging and something quite personal in conception. Best to just close eyes and go with the flow. There’s a hurricane blowing outside but it can be calm and revealing at the eye if you go with it. Marc Hannaford (piano) performed with Sam Pankhurst (bass) and James McLean (drums) at the Loft. And just for interest and further astonishment, all three of them were playing on borrowed instruments.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 19 February 2013

    Just a gig


    I haven’t mentioned many of my own gigs recently, but there’s some interest here. Firstly, a different drummer as Brenton was not available. Rhys Lintern sat in and thanks to him for pleasant company and some nicely settled rhythms. Otherwise, I enjoyed a technical breakthrough with my right hand, which is only of interest to bassists. I’ll refrain here from the details (not easy), but happy to chat at any time to bassists about strings and technique and the like. Who am I kidding? I’m usually the one who brings the subject up, anyway.

    18 February 2013

    #3, reading the tango


    It amused me, to catch every Canberra gig by a visiting international band. I knew early of Andreas Böhlen playing at the Loft, but the Bite to Eat gig was unexpected, then to be invited to another gig when I was free, a performance for the Tango Social Club of Canberra was amusing.
    In the end, I didn’t take Megan, but it was a pleasant outing and I learnt lots about tango from, what, the President (?), and I caught Andreas, Sebastian and Jakob obviously working hard reading the dots. Tango is an enchanting dance with a fascinating history and committed adherents. The gig was at the Bogong Theatre at the Gorman Arts Centre. Not big, but nicely intimate, age ranged and partner swapped (thinking only of dancing partners, of course). I was intrigued by female legs twisting around male ankles and the sinuous flow of this dance around the floor. It was hard work for the band, though, obviously concentrating on the dots and carefully checked by a dancing audience that demands the groove stays right. A short outing and intriguing. The band’s now off to Melbourne and Bennett’s Lane so there’s no gig #4. Next time will just have to be in Hamburg… Andreas Böhlen (alto), Sebastian Böhlen (guitar) and Jakob Dreyer (bass) played for the Tango Social Club of Canberra at the Bogong Theatre.

    17 February 2013

    Loving to death



    Camille Paglia listed the Star Wars saga as one of 100 key works of Western art*. I prefer to include West Side Story. We saw Free Rein Theatre Company performing WSS last night at the Q Theatre and it was sensational. Remember, this is a semi-professional company, so its show was pulled together from a range of skills from schoolkids up. And schoolkids is appropriate. WSS is an undated Romeo & Juliet, and the central characters are kids. Who else can love so strongly? But what a story of tragedy, of slips and errors, of social conditions and misunderstandings and at the end, perhaps of hope for a better future. All accompanied by the hugely infectious music of Bernstein. Not for nothing that this work is so loved. I have a copy of the red sleeved LP and it’s played to death so the words are inpinged on my mind. I feel every musical line from the first dots of the overture. I know most of the spoken lines, too. So I was a bit surprised to find a few unexpected segments: a strangely unrecognised musical intro to one tune (was it I feel pretty?); a repeat of the rumble death scene and a dance scene in red and black that I couldn’t place; only girls singing America. That’s perhaps the difference between the stage and film versions. I’ve read of a few scene changes from Broadway to film.

    But what of this performance? I could not believe the effectiveness and joy of the dancing. They had limited space on stage but this was hugely vibrant and capable. Plenty of angled ankles displayed extensive training. Similarly the fun and details, like Maria’s three mates, Rosalia, Consuela and Francisca, in the I feel pretty scene. The love was believable and the tragedy was deeply felt, accepting the fantasy of theatre; the confusion and cock-sure offense of the kids was willing. The two gangs, the Jets and Sharks, were effective, although I have to give it to the Sharks for dignity and presentation: latins just have sexier moves than us whites. The voices were stunning at times, well in tune, powerful and wonderfully amplified and true to the original, even if some high notes were a struggle. I loved the operatic counterpoint of a few scenes, although I preferred the street, pop voices to operatic styles. This is art of the streets and the purity of opera voices seems out of place (I disliked the concert version by Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras although it’s conducted by Berstein himself, but loved the quirky Songs of West Side Story with artists including Chick Corea, Patte LaBelle, Steve Vai, Aretha Franklin, Brian Setzer and Little Richard singing I feel pretty). Soprano Maria is young, even if wise in love, so actually less interesting to me than alto, Anita, the older, worldier girlfrend of Maria’s brother. It’s Anita who learns from the purity of Maria, but it’s Anita who lives in the world. She’s the one who leads the Sharks girls in singing for America. What a great scene. As was Gee Officer Krupke, that witty play on justice and delinquency. There were so many good voices, but I have to mention the guys, lover Tony, Jets Riff and Action and Shark Bernardo. They were outstanding. Anita was a blast, too. Maria was just lovely in her too-early lost innocence. Plenty of great dancers but Anybody’s, the tomboy hanger-on to the Jets, was prominent and boyish, and sometimes even dignified when out of role for a bit. Feminists might not like her suddenly womanly as she walks Maria out at the end (Tony: “you’re a girl, act like a girl”). As for the music, this is Bernstein. It’s busy and balladic, frantic and occasionally floating, melodious and dissonant, syncopated and presumably hell to read, fabulously orchestrated. It has melodies that cut to your heart and energy that has you out of your seat. Which brings me to the musicians. This was an orchestra of 19 plus conductor. Admittedly, I concentrated on words and vision, but this was hugely impressive. I heard a few wobbly bits, but this was played with verve and love that this music demands. Great!

    So, to put it simply, I’m in awe of this show. Both of the work of Gershwin and Laurents and Sondheim and Robbins, and of this semi-professional but long-standing company that can pull it off so well. The highest of praise from your emotionally devastated reporter. Catch it if you possibly can.

    I can’t list everyone, but West Side Story was presented by the Free-Rain Theatre Company with Anne Somes (director), John Yoon (musical director), Lisa Buckley (choreographer). Key actors were Lachlan Whan (Tony), Nicola Hall (Maria), Zack Drury (Riff), Jordan Kelly (Bernardo), Amy Dunham (Anita), Michelle Norris (Anybody’s), Max Gambale (Action). The orchestra comprised Major Geoff Grey (conductor), Bernadette Evans, Tony Barker, Jess Stewart, Steve Hally-Burton, Jordan London (reeds), Carly Brown (French horn), Cameron Smith, Claire Leske (trumpets), Matt Ricketts/Simon Hukin (trombone), Elizabeth Charlton, Elysia Fisher, Jane Bairnsfather (violins), Annie Collett (cello), Jace Henderson (bass), Rhys Mottley (guitar), Steve Richards (drums), Alicia Perritt (percussion), Matt Rankin (synthesiser) and John Yoon (piano).


  • * Glittering images : a journey through art from Egypt to Star Wars / Camille Paglia. New York : Pantheon Books, c2012.
  • 16 February 2013

    #2, the chalk or the cheese?



    It’s chalk and cheese to hear Andreas Böhlen at Bite to Eat café one day and the Loft another. Bite to Eat is chatty and noisy and bigger. The Loft is quiet and small and the audience is ready for a more challenging outing. That said, the band played plenty of their original material at B2E and it went down well. Also at the Loft, of course, but I missed the bustle of a lively environment. Quiet is better for listening, but the playing can be more relaxed and outgoing in a noisy environment: musos can perform for themselves, worry less about the audience, possibly be more indulgent. Perhaps because of the Swiss Embassy connection (thanks to the Swiss government for funding the flights) there were some new faces, including the ambassador and partner. It’s nice to see, even if the numbers of the locals were down. Given the changes at the Music School, I expect the aspiring students will be in short supply in future, but good luck to the Loft, regardless.

    The band played a string of tunes in contemporary style: difficult counts, 7/4s and 5/4s, interpolated bars of 2/4, latin feels and occasional swing, some lovely ballads with obtuse changes into faster paces, some altered blues and cycles that had clear historical references but were distinctly modern. There was a very interesting excursion into microtonality which Andreas described well as both a technical and an aesthetic challenge for Western ears. I could hear the close intervals on sax, but wondered if the guitar was just chromatic (it’s got frets and didn’t seem to be bending notes) and maybe also the acoustic bass. I found the whole gig quite loud and busy, perhaps I could say youthful and energetic, especially the guitar and drums that were busily filling spaces. They also revealed their generation with grunge/indie guitar, sometimes chordal that hinted at metal, sometime effected and sounding like electronica, sometimes solos straight from an indie songbook. These refreshings of the concept and ear of jazz are gems to my ears. I conceive jazz as a catholic and inclusive art, the serious music of syncopated rhythms (that also includes improv) and these exploits fit perfectly. In fact, I heard in Sebastian’s guitar quite a frantic melange of ideas pouring forth: a post-modern conception of rattled difference and inclusive variety. Brother Andreas was more ordered and settled. His solos were rapid sweeps of notes coloured with melody and mostly in a settled tonality and with occasional low honks and high imploring screeches. The alto doesn’t have the earthiness of the tenor, but I’m hearing more of it and feeling it’s more of this age, which may be just my conceit. Andreas happens to also play SATB recorders in early music, so he has feet in several camps and I think the discipline of the dots shows. Jakob’s bass was wonderful. Solos that spoke uncannily like a sax, not a bass; a speedy fluency in the thumb positions which he’d settle into for much of the time while soloing, as well as easy crossing of strings, long intervals and long scales using low strings high on the neck (not too common) and nice mix of open strings with higher notes, double stops, harmonics and the rest. A very impressive outing for someone just 3 years out of training. I heard drummer Severin as busy in accompaniment but more settled in solos: one principally on cymbals, another on drums, both quite airy and flowing and internally consistent.

    It’s a pleasure to hear visitors like this and quite exciting for venues like the Loft and Bite to Eat (B2E’s first international performers). They are busily touring with around 14 gigs, including SIMA and Bennett’s Lane. They are busy. I hope they can hear some Australian jazz wile they’re here. Quality is everywhere and communication and influence can only spread the word. Andreas Böhlen (alto) led a quartet with Sebastian Böhlen (guitar), Jakob Dreyer (bass) and Severin Rauch (drums) at the Loft.

    10 February 2013

    #1

    What a strange one! I was expecting to hear the Andreas Böhling Quartet at the Loft on Thursday, then I heard they were playing at Bite to Eat. It’s seldom that you can see a visiting international band several times and B2E is a lovely café and this was a Sunday afternoon, so this was hard to turn down. Here are just a few pics. I’ll be hearing them again, in a quieter environment at the Loft. I may even see them a third time, but that’s another story for another time. So I’ll take B2E as a relaxed outing. Suffice to say, this is a very competent band with contemporary originals and some great playing, not least from Andreas’ fluent, fast yet melodious alto. B2E is not a listening gig, with kids and food and drinks and chatter, but the band did draw attention and applause. They played a first set of originals, which was perhaps daring, then a more popular second set including standards, But not for me and Skylark. These were beautifully expressed with lively or redolent swing and quite fascinating in contrast to the more modern grooves of the originals. I realised how few recent gigs have mixed originals and standards. We left on perhaps the last tune, a flying bebop. This is a capable and lively band and I look forward to the listening gig at the Loft. See you Thursday. Andreas Böhlen (alto) led a band with Sebastian Böhlen (guitar), Jakob Dreyer (bass) and Severin Rauch (drums).

    8 February 2013

    Being there

    Mike Nock’s Quintet, his trio with two friends, was an interesting gig. Right from the top it felt like comfortable old times. The lines and melodies and grooves were old family: jazz rock, Miles, Herbie and the like. I could hear the same piano accompaniment. I could feel the mildly mutating rhythm section as it settled behind the front line with a choppy ocean busy-ness. The chords flowed by slowly, perhaps 4 bars to one chord, regularly changing and gently paced, leaving the soloist plenty of time to feel the changes. These were post-hippy times, still gentle and emotionally committed. This feels good to my ears. I think of Buster Williams and some favourite albums. Nick Garbett’s new to the band, smiling, enjoying the outing and playing wonderfully structured solos, a cry, a pause, a volley of falling notes. Miles again, space and notes that crawl against the backing. Karl fills the space more, but does a similar take with falling lines although somewhat more blues infected. Mike is adventurous, taking an idea and extending it over long ranges, or stopping and finding some unexpected and obtuse take on the chords before reimagining lines into contrary scalar movements. There was a blues starting with a bass solo that could have started a Mingus tune and leading into a slow, deep Southern langour. Here, Karl’s solos are all bends and blues and Nick’s are wakeup calls of sudden high staccato and some florid, some languid fills. Then TBA, a bouncy contemporary feel with concurrent solos from the horns and clavinet from Mike. Somewhere, James had taken a solo against a piano/bass phrase. This was all punchy with neat rudiment-induced divisions of the beat and triplets that delay the feel and rolls tat explode into cymbals. Explosive for a jazz solo; Nick smiled some more. The second set started with the band settling into a D minor bass groove and settling into a slow funk for the solos. Slow news day was more story telling, with a floating intro and pensive melody: portraying a lazy news room or perhaps some personal relief at a benign nightly news. Not surprisingly, the first solo was from bass then sax, the softer horn. Last tune of the night was Colours, long with feverish walks and rabid collective improv and slips into free jazz. Nice gig. Mike Nock (piano) led a quintet with Nick Garbett (trumpet), Karl Laskowski (tenor), Brett Hirst (bass) and James Waples (drums).

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 6 February 2013

    Musing and perusing (SO2)

    SoundOut 2013 day 2, in which he continues to muse on the nature of this strangeness. I continue to be uncertain over this music. I listen with my eyes closed and it can be fascinating. Some players spark references to traditions and I respond to that. When Luiz dropped into a slow bass walk that was quite free of tonality, I felt comforted. I’m not so settled with some of the bowing and slapping and other techniques. In his clock-conducted piece from Saturday, Jon Rose gave instructions to do something and eating was one option. On Sunday, he improvised by picking up a broom and sweeping the premises and later closed and opened a piano lid and discussed it with a colleague. He also presented a talk of two parties, a woman seemingly uninvited at the mic, he sitting and chatting, talking of marriage and music and more. This was interesting but odd as a music performance (agreed, words are sounds, but they have defined meanings that music doesn’t have). I enjoyed this but was frustrated by trying to catch two related but different conversions at once, but then, that’s probably one theme. I discussed these dilemmas with various friends and performers. One saw this music as taking away all the traditions and using what’s left. He remains a hard-bop devotee. One performer flummoxed me by saying that this music has its own traditions now (almost a century of Cage, Bartók, Stockhausen and the like) and that all the performers are out of jazz or classical training anyway. That certainly had me thinking. Another spoke of texture as a concern, of having no interest in a tonal centre, let alone harmony, how it didn’t matter which strings are muted with bluetak. It sounded chaotic but I loved her playing that ranged from delicate with repeated fingered patterns to loud and tumultuous with impassioned tone clusters that ranged over the keyboard. But then, another player slammed heavy hands on a keyboard with none of her skills and subtlety. It worked and she responded effectively, but it further confused my responses.

    So what did we hear on the evening session of day 2? A few group improvisations that were floating and indeterminate to my ears. A combination with the Sydney rhythm section of Mike Majkowski and James Waples floated at first, but took off on top of wonderful rhythmic power from James. This was nowhere near a groove, but well-formed heavy notes with oblique overlays of stick play. I particularly enjoyed Hermione Johnson on piano in several outings. First with Jon Rose and Luiz where Jon’s humour and unconventionality and virtuosity, Luiz’s commitment, bowing and occasional pizz and Hermione’s densely passionate and expansive tone clusters were invigourating and emotionally satisfying. Hermione also impressed me when backing Super-8 experimental film artist, Louise Curham, along with Jeff Henderson on calls and wails on baritone sax. The whole show ended with the Barcode Quartet returning for a set and a welcome to all the other musos to join in to end the festival.

    I have lots to learn of post-tonal music. This was a vivid exposure to a field and a happy one with a range of interesting and friendly performers from across the world. I have some reading to do in preparation for next year. And one last cheer to Richard Johnson for his great work in pulling this together for the fourth time.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  •