27 February 2014

Then there were only three


I didn't write up another gig for a drummer-less trio a few weeks ago, but here's another. It's a strange conjunction but pleasant enough. Play without drums and the sound is more open, but also there's a more demanding role to lay down a beat and hold it. Interesting for a bassist, but also for piano. The rhythm section is missing its heart and the response is both a challenge and a pleasure. Last time was the Old Parliament House cafe with Richard and Mike and me. This time was ANU Arts Centre, for a cocktail party-styled, pre-event get-together. I enjoyed both gigs. The OPH gig conflicted with something or other, so was not too well attended. This night at ANU was a buzz of activity and free drinks and chatter so we could play to ourselves and enjoy the outing and entertain a crowd. This was James and Richard and me. Standards, suits, even a few friends appearing from the crowd while we played. That's not always so easy ... at least for the altered or diminished chords. And an audience that was more interested in chatting, so leaving us to extensive solos and such indulgences. The only problem was that it stopped too soon. But then, as I tell myself, this is work, after all. It can't all be a bed of roses. James Woodman (piano), Richard Manderson (saxes) and Eric Pozza (bass) played at the ANU Arts Centre.

25 February 2014

A salon of their own


Six women meet in a beauty salon in a town in Louisiana. Truvy has had her garage converted to the salon. Her slogan is "There is no such thing as natural beauty " (it's good for business). She's in a little town. Annelle is doing Truvy's hair as the show begins, and she gets the job as Truvy's offsider. Annelle's quiet and needs a job. Daughter Shelby is getting married that day. Mother M'Lynn also comes to prepare for the wedding. There are a few stories - one of Annelle, which is oddly undeveloped, and mostly the story of Shelby - which wend through four scenes spread over a few years. There's sadness, intimacy, female friendship and support. There's also good humour, occasional short tempers, some fear and hope and discovery and most of all, quipping. These are friends but not too conspicuously. It's a small town. The wealthy Clairee eventually owns a radio station and expands her horizons with travel to NYC then Paris. Shelby and M'Lynn go through tragedy. Annelle is born again and she eventually finds accord with her more mainstream friends. I'd heard of the work from the movie with that mega cast - Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts - but I hadn't seen it. The script was written by a man, living in NYC, following the death of his sister with diabetes, in just 10 days. The play was a buzz off Broadway and within a few years was filmed on location in the original town, Natchitoches. Here, Canberra Rep did it, and the Canberra Times gave it a great review, so we went. What thoughts? It's a pleasant drama with some depth and emotional resonances, so it's satisfying and presentable. I felt this was very, very well acted. The program gave a long list of acronyms and achievements, NIDA, WAAPA, STC, Q, Belvoir, All Saints, TV and more. Strangely, we are the salon's mirror and the cast often gazes at the audience. The accents were a test at first, and occasionally relaxed into Aussie nasal, but we got used to it soon enough. There are quips throughout, but not too many belly laughs from an Aussie audience. I'm not sure it's our style. This is wisecracking southern USA, somewhat parochial but nonetheless wise. I imagine our rural or smallish town life may be the similar. This is not Chicago or NYC or even Canberra but neither is it hick. This is women's wisdom, earthy, and wise and supportive. Author Robert Best was interviewed and spoke of steel magnolias as beauty made in very strong stuff. And of southern women as "while gorgeous, they are fragile and bruise easily" but with "a tensile strength stronger than anything [he] could muster". I understand. These are wise but wisecracking women and impressive. As was the Rep performance.

Steel Magnolias was performed for Canberra Rep by Karen Vickery (M'Lynn), Nell Shipley (Shelby), Amy Dunham (Annelle), Judi Crane (Ouiser), Liz Bradley (Clairee) and Rose Braybrook (Truvy) under Jordan Best (director).

23 February 2014

Bowties


Steve Barry and Alex Boneham arrived in white shirts and bowties. I felt underdressed. They had played at the opening event for a new suburb. A musician's life is a string of diverse experiences. They were there to play with Alex Raupach and Mark Sutton. At least they looked casual. Not that the music is casual. As expected, this is deadly serious, even if with a jazz nonchalance.
The dress sense gradually dissipated, but the music didn't lose a beat. They started with Ron Carter's Eighty one. It's just a blues, but with a luscious Milesian floating feel with a sudden flourish in the head. Then a few standards and a few originals from Alex R. There were walks in some standards, but also interpretation that grew out of but almost concealed the underlying tune. Alone together was introduced with a bass solo, presumably in the D min key but it was some time before I even recognised this old favourite. Also Just friends and Wayne Shorter's Fall from Miles' album Nefertiti. Steve took an early solo with a long-sustained right hand 8th note line that ran on and on through choruses and gradually grew in dissonance. I was wondering how he'd escape. Eventually he doubled time for a few choruses on 16th notes then dissolved into chords. Fabulous. He set a bit of a theme for the night. Alex B had played a perfectly melodic and richly phrased solo earlier, but then dropped into his own sustained 8th notes on bass, although for one a few choruses. Ales R had a go later, too. Otherwise, he felt more Miles ethereal or sometimes boppy. Mark just laid out lovely steady grooves with tasteful fills and embellishments, always precise and neat. This is just so nice to play with: driving and unpretentious. I only remember one drum solo, of swapped 8s or 16s, again sharp and precise and free of flash. This is professional stuff and I'm in awe. I looked around out the windows at Smiths a few times, expecting the passersby to be peeking in in awe. Some do look; some come in. But too many just pass by on their way to bars or moshpits. Sad, that, but thus is the state of our rich and varied and too often too commercialised civilisation.

Alex Raupach (trumpet) led a quartet with Sydney visitors Steve Barry (piano) and Alex Boneham (bass) and local Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths.

22 February 2014

School's in

It's that time. The ANU School of Music and Friends launched the New Year at the Sitsky Room on Thursday with champagnes and beers and chatter and a sneak preview of the concert program for the coming year and a few student performances. It's a promotion for the Friends, but the deal is good: a decent discount on all performances and some special, invitation-only events, so it looks good on financial as well as artistic grounds if you are a concert goer, but then you may as well be. The International Chopin Piano Competition returns in September; there's a performance of Monteverdi's opera, L'Orpheo in August; The Australian Haydn Ensemble is appearing in four concerts and providing workshops as the ANU Ensemble in Residence; there are various other prizes, for accompaniment, chamber music, jazz/contemporary music; there's a concert series and Ensemble performances and recitals and public lectures. As for performances, Ciaran Edwards-McKeown (guitar) played Rodrigo, Aaron Chew (piano) played a Schubert Impromptu and Tate Sheridan (piano) and Calum Builder (alto sax) did a take on Scarborough Fair. Calum played some indistinct, breathy alto and I was amused to be asked if it was a jazz technique. It's pretty standard, of course, and nowhere near the experimentation of SoundOut and the like. Another reason why there's strength in combing the musical streams.

17 February 2014

Wrapping in the Rain

Not quite rapping, but definitely WRAP. We are in Beechworth for a few days with some mates. Beechworth is famous for Ned Kelly and gold and being a deliciously cute town. When we looked at what’s on, we found the Writers, Readers and Poets’ Weekend, an annual event in Beechworth. It’s not so big. A few public readings and a few workshops. A few locals and some decent imports: Tony Birch wrote Shadowboxing and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin; Beverley Lello is a local from Yackandandah who’s written short stories and for anthologies and more; Eddie Paterson teaches scriptwriting at UMelb; Kevin Brophy has published 13 books of poetry, fiction and essays; Kate Rotherham teaches Creative Fiction and has published in Best Australian short stories and elsewhere. There are others. There are workshops and they are small and intimate, at least one we looked in on. We mainly just attended one public reading, in a light rain by the main roundabout in Beechworth so somewhat noisy, but it places poetry and culture at the heart of the real world, so good. We heard Jeff Braithwaite (?) with some political statements in poetry, about refugees and environment: “Where is your heart, Australia / Have you a red hot centre / Or just a cold hard stone”. I liked his honest ethics and open challenge to our current malaise. Then Lisa Ride who was associated with ANU (perhaps in the past) and was reading publicly for the first time. She rushed a bit, as early performers are wont to, but she was wily and amusing with a poem about commercialisation of Christmas then another about the centre aisle at Aldi, with its urgent specials. I associated easily with this: I have a USB microscope that was a great deal and is a story that amuses me no end, but which I’ve never used. Then Jean Memory (?), with several poems, A woman for all seasons (last line: “clever, thoughtful, well designed”), and Rachel and the fairies (about mother Rachel and baby) and another tongue-in-cheek suggestive one about janitors with clean premises and dirty minds. Then Amy Brown. Dr Amy teaches Creative writing at UMelb and has published several books, including Odour of sanctity, which she read from. OoS is an epic poem about six saints. She read lines about saint Rumwald of Buckingham, born 662CE, lived 3 days, spoke “Sum Christianus” as his first words before dying just days later. The 3-day speaking baby saint. Fascinating and richly lyrical language. Then Ro (?) with two poems on Trees and a humourous one on Molly the Moth. I am no poetry buff, despite hearing Les Murray at Poetry at the Gods only days before. There’s something in this, though, and it’s worthwhile. I’ll try for more. In the meantime, that’s a WRAP.

15 February 2014

The Other Gods


I’ve finally got to Geoff Page’s Poetry at the Gods for the first night of 2014 with Les Murray. Here’s my pic with thoughts from Sue Terry, a friend and lit blogger at Whispering Gums.

Whispering Gums

Linked with permission … thanks to Sue, nicely done.

12 February 2014

On the touring circuit


There's an industry for popular classical recitals in churches or small halls throughout European tourist cities, Paris, London, Rome, Vienna, Venice, and it's reached Canberra. We've been to a few there. They usually feature popular classics. There's a journeyman musicians' feel to them, like a jazz player at a cafe standards gig. This was the Kammer Philharmonie Köln (Chamber Philharmonic Cologne) playing at St Christopher's. There was a Vivaldi Season (Summer) and a Bach concerto (BWV1042 in E major) from which even I recognised two movements. I liked this one. There was Mozart (Saltzburg Symphony) and Boccherini's Fandango. The ensemble was 3xviolins, viola, cello, bass, guitar/theorbo. The guitar/theorbo surprised me in this context but they performed a few appropriate works. The Boccherini featured guitars as did another Vivaldi guitar concerto in D major RV93. These guys were there to please and they did please a large audience. St Christophers is not small and it was almost full. This was a popular repertoire and perhaps lightweight, but it was entertaining and sometimes showy. Concertmaster Sergey was on his feet for some great flashy violin parts which he did with admirable skills. My favourite was the Tchaikovsky Andante Cantabile with some blaring demisemiquaver passages from Dmitri on cello. Nice. I was amused, too, but the senior of the team, bassist Alexander who leant back on the altar with experienced non-chalance between strong pizzicato and capable German bowing. And what an international crew! The one woman was on violin and perhaps was joining for this tour, Elisabeth from Melbourne. Otherwise the players were from St Petersburg, Cologne, London, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan. Journeyman indeed. Light and entertaining, but well received and I left with a big smile after three encores. That's doing the business. Glad to see that Canberra's now on the touring circuit.

Kammer Philharmonie Köln (Chamber Philharmonic Cologne) was led by Sergey Didorenko (violin) with Adam Solta (guitar, theorbo), Dmitri Gornovsky (cello), Anton Georg Goelle (violin), Elisabeth Cooney (violin), Sam Harding (viola) and Alexander Tschernoussov (bass)

9 February 2014

Again so soon


Twice in one week ; another stunner although a very different concert. This was Steve Barry playing a trio set with Alex Boneham and Tim Firth. I heard this as contemporary original compositions and a few standards; long right hand solo lines from piano with sparse left hand chordings; richly effective syncopated feels from bass with exciting drums of flow and dynamics and gushing fills; several long and tortuous written heads played unison by piano and bass; dynamics that moved gradually to surprise with their intensity.
Steve had written one tune from two favourite standards, Conception and East of the Sun West of the Moon, and two tunes influenced by books, Plato's Republic and Kundera's Unbearable lightness of being. Joe Henderson's Inner urge was just a hard swing workout at considerable pace. More than you know was one standard more than I knew and they played it with slow, heavy, unrelenting walking eight-to-the-bar swing. The standard rewrite of Conception/East-West reimagined with a contemporary latin-ish bass. I asked the barrista how she found it. She was obviously not a jazz freak but she responded that she liked it, as she does all good music. I'm more one-eyed. This was a technical tour-de-force and I can't compare with contemporary indie or other, despite a good feel or intelligent lyrics. This was music pure and simple played with abounding skills. Twice in three nights; great! This trio is going in the studio later this month to record another album. It will clearly deserve a listen.

Steve Barry (piano) led a trio with Alex Boneham (busiest bass) and Tim Firth (drums) at Smiths.

6 February 2014

Doyens


Jonathan Zwartz used the word to describe his band, that they were doyens of the Australian jazz scene. No doubt! This was a display of such excellence and skills. I was flabbergasted. There were time I sat back in wonder. The music was composed and structured, although not so complex. The harmonies from the front line horns may move with tiny steps, minimally. what that did at times.
Or they could site with whale calls or breathing but never forced of uncomfortable. There were solos and they glowed, but what I noticed was that they never jarred. Every line was just right, whether blaring with notes or just laying out a substitute melody. These guys all played together frequently, I guess, in different incarnations, but this was more: intonation, intent, interplay always just so right. And this band could just sit. It's actually hard to just sit with purposes. It can seem uninteresting or unresponsive but this glowed because it just sat when it should, never jarring although maybe playing madly with tension. Some drum fills just went on forever and welled with tension and its release. Then the piano would drop chords of unwavering precision. But then all this was just that: unwavering precision with taste to embellish. There were solos but this was more the compositions than the solos to my ears. The sustained perfection, the lengthy crescendoes and endless last fade were like a recording although with the immediacy of live music. It may come from the goodwill: Jonathan was smiling lots and the others too. Or from the seriousness of the compositions: all had a story behind them, of family or feelings. There were varied influences: everyone mentioned Bitches Brew for one tune where the horns explored seemingly free and there was a Donny Hathaway soul tribute with a blistering guitar solo that moved through free and screams. There were some ballads that had trumpet speaking with delicacy and another with a delicious combination of trombone and bass clarinet. And another that was free over a sustained but malleable bowed bass ostinato. This is about as good as it gets, Australian or otherwise. Music that's wise and emotionally informed played by doyens of the art. Spectacular. Gasps are in order.

Jonathan Zwartz (bass) led a sextet with Phil Slater (trumpet), Richard Maegraith (tenor, bass clarinet), James Greening (trombone), Matt McMahon (Rhodes piano), Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and Tim Firth (drums).

5 February 2014

Clubbing trumpets ... what could possibly go wrong


The High Court was a hit during the C100 festivities with its acoustics, modernist magnificence and its Sunday afternoon concerts. All manner of performers performed there - plenty of choirs and smaller classical and world music ensembles. They will continue with fortnightly concerts in 2014 and Trumpet Club presented the first of this series. Trumpet Club are just that: trumpets (although a timpani and some occasional percussion sneaked into this concert). They play classical and jazz.
This was mostly classical, from Verdi fanfares through concerti and Lauridsen's O Magnum Magisteria to a few modern pieces, by Marlat and Lopresti. Then just a touch of jazz in one of two encores. The numbers varied for different pieces, but at most there were about a dozen trumpets, including one bass trumpet. They played form balconies high above the audience and I heard full, echoed sound of mediaeval halls. They on steps above, clear, and best right in front of the audience for the brazen blasts that are the nature of trumpets. It was a first concert after the Christmas break and Zach talked of embouchures needing a run-in. This is a factor of brass playing that others don't appreciate. But a satisfying concert that ranged from royal splendour to mystical and threatening and plain groovy with that jazz piece. I can't help but like this band. What could go wrong?

Trumpet Club varies in members, but on the day they were: Louisa Batts, Cameron Smith, Kate Walker, Matt Nichols, Brooke Zotti, Corey Booth, Kate Thompson, Alex Ross, Kevin Knapp, Zach Raffan, Farzana Choudhury, (trumpets), Michael Bailey (bass trumpet), Christina Hopgood (timpani)

4 February 2014

Stories


It's a story of history and encounters, but I heard Brett Galt-Smith performing at Beyond Q Bookshop the other day. He's a singer-songwriter. I recognised half the songs but he writes many of his own. About love and about events in life: one was thoughts on an abduction Bret's got a good voice to tell these stories and accompanies with effective guitar. He plays fortnightly on Sunday mornings at Beyond Q. Obviously a music of commitment so worthy.

3 February 2014

G'day


We might say g'day but the French say Salut. I thought it was from Salute, or health, and etymologically it is, but in this incarnation, it's like Italian Ciao, a general greeting , meaning Hello or Goodbye. Handy. We heard Salut! Baroque at the Albert Hall. They are a baroque group playing period instruments and they are from Sydney, so Hello and Goodbye is apt. But we'll see them again; they visit quarterly.

Albert Hall is probably the best venue for this music in Canberra. It seems of another era; it's reverberent and has touches of decoration and deep velvet curtains. Not sure it's the best for acoustics though. I liked that we formed a semicircle around the players, but I didn't always hear so well. It was only confirmed when Hans-Dieter Michatz spoke to introduce the csakan, a very long instrument that sounded all the world to me like a descant recorder. (But then, I am not intimate with the descant recorded to hear the difference). It's an impressive looking thing, about 1.5 metres long, black and pointy at the bottom, flat beak at the top with a recorder-like ramp and window, as I could make out. There was another new instrument for me, the bass violin. Tuned in 5ths with the open high string the same as the violin. Also called a baroque cello or, interestingly, a single bass. And played with a baroque bow, but underhand, smaller, but held like a German bow on a double bass. Otherwise, the harpsichord, strings, bows, gut and the rest were as expected.

There was music, too, that was obscure. Schütz and Krahmer and Quantz were new names to me. The Handel, CPE and JS Bach and Telemann and Buxtehude are known well enough. Some of the music was well known, too. JS Bach's Oboe Concerto in Dmin, Handel's Lascia ch'io pianga and CPE Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in Dmin. The mix of musicians changed constantly, so the sound also varied. I felt they got the hang of the acoustics in the second set, so lines and interplay was more easy to follow. It had been a bit mushy or indeterminate at the start although the bass violin always cut through. This was also a hot day and Albert Hall is not airconditioned. Another aspect of authentic performance (as well as the tuning). Interesting for the voice, gently attacked but firm and loud. And the three recorders (two and the csakan) were unusual. I felt that Salut! Baroque has a steady but aging followers. Sad, this. We live in a busy present without sense of history and a radical individualism is promoted endlessly. Saying hello to a bit of our past is a worthy remedy.

Salut! Baroque are Jane Sheldon (soprano), Sally Melhuish (recorder), Hans-Dieter Michatz (recorder, csakan), Jane Downer (baroque oboe), Anna McMichael (baroque violin), Julia Russoniello (baroque violin), Valmai Coggins (baroque viola), Tim Blomfeld (baroque cello), Monika Kornel (harpsichord).

1 February 2014

Not the nine-o'clock news

It's an eclectic scene at Smith's. Thursday night is jazz night but even that's indeterminate or a malleable definition. Mixes in musics is a good and (post-) modern thing and musical styles all have common elements anyway, but you can strike the unexpected. This night was that way. Two acts: Carl Morgan / Matilda Abraham and Kerbside Collection.

Firstly Matilda and Carl. They visited from Sydney. Both are well known and respected locally but it seems the audience was more family than the jazz crowd. That's nice. I like these family events. (I discovered that even I had a distant family-ish connection). So this was personal, less performed, more intimate. The music was a duo format with sequencing. More JJJ than DigJazz, but informed by their jazz training, so clever, rich and complex. No hot solos from Carl in this incarnation. He mostly played chordal accompaniment to synth basses and washes and organ tones. There was little percussion here. It was only later in the set I realised there were no drums, and I wondered if I'd heard any earlier. (Listening back to the recordings, 2 of 7 had distinct percussion/drum lines). So this was floating music with occasional choppy grooves. Matilda sang Bjork and Lewis Cole and but mostly her own songs with themes like the excitement of new love, physical entropy and life metaphors and female companionships, so worthy of a listen. These meaningful, if electronically presented, messages remind me of '60 folk authenticity and recent singer-songwriter indie artists, but with that much modernised underlying sound. I particularly liked Matilda's voice on a more poppy tune where she sang firmer and stronger, but the night was mostly less emphatic tones. A fascinating duo set indicating an alternative indie path for this pair. Looking forward to my sons discovering them on JJJ.

The family cleared out, the people of the street and the chatter arrived, Kerbside Collection took to stage. KC were a guitar trio (they seem to also play with organ as a quartet) from Brisbane with some jazz background. I only managed the first set, so I missed their funkier incarnation. This jazz set was touched by tradition. The repertoire was there - Summertime, Blues for Alice, Coltrane's Impressions - but this music was very reformulated in their style. That's good. I heard arrangement, solid and unrelenting bass (apparently with an authentic 1963 Hofner Beatles bass), steady and authoritative drums, and guitar and solos. I heard rimshots on 1-3 and rock and funk feels and a touch of Afro influence. Essentially this was a rock-funk guitar trio with danceable, reliable steadiness. Entertaining, tight, ordered and with solos but without the all-in improvised complexity of the jazz world.

Matilda Abraham (voice, sequencing) and Carl Morgan (guitar, sequencing) played the first set and Kerbside Collection played the next two sets at Smiths.