26 December 2014

New films ACT


I must mark the release of two local films - The Competition and Locks of Love - because they are local, but mainly because some mates did the music for them. I'm not a film-goer but I caught one and will keep an eye out for the other.

Firstly, Locks of Love. This is the one I missed. I understand it will appear on TV for Valentine's Day and perhaps other times. It's a compilation of "11 tales by 11 storytellers linked by 1 gate", gathered around that romantic (but destructive and annoying) habit of putting padlocks on bridges to represent eternal love. See local scenery and places and hear musicians including Aron Lyon and Sally Greenaway. Also hear the gloriously poignant theme, Edge of time, in the film's trailer sung by Rachel Thorne and composed and accompanied by Mike Dooley. Mike and Rachel had to turn down a gig to attend the red carpet launch a few weeks back. Very cool. And congrats to Sally Greenaway as Musical Director for another labour of love.

Secondly, The Competition. This one I saw. It's described as "a warm-hearted story about following dreams" and it's true. It's gentle and touching and has an earthy truth about it. Nice. It's also been accepted for Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals so has some recognition. Steffie Waters is a singer living in the musically-endowed country town, Orgella Creek. Two ageing judges come to town and Steffie has to decide her future. Greg Stott is musical director and has several feature tunes and appears occasionally. As do a series of others that I recognise (James Luke, John Mackey, Dan McLean...) and quite a few Indie types that I recognise only by name. How's this as a feature list of the local indie scene: Dubba Rukki, Julia & The Deep Sea Sirens, Fire On The Hill, Casual Projects, Fuelers, Steve & Ray Amosa, Chanel Cole, Owen Campbell. Not great or deep, annoying for one period of hand-held camera, entrancing for a view of talented locals, challenging to determine the location (Gunning?), cute and nicely done and heartwarming but not totally syrupy. Just drop me off at the Sydney Con, because entry seems surprisingly easy.

Congrats to the teams who made the films, to the various musical performers, directors, composers and the rest, and to the ACT Government for ScreenACT which supports this current flourishing of local film.

  • Edge of time / Rachel Thorne, Mike Dooley - Listen & buy 99c
  • Locks of love website
  • The Competition website
  • 24 December 2014

    Never rains, but pours


    It's pouring concerts, and later in the day, it rained. Terry Riley's In C was 50 years old on 22 Dec 2014 and to celebrate a string of music groups streamed performances on the Net under the moniker A Worldwide day of In C. An invitation to the local performance, led by Charles Martin in the ANU Band Room, dropped in my intray a few hours before I was to go shopping in Civic (not last minute yet; I still have 2 days). So, unexpectedly I was at another concert. The audience was tiny, at least the physical audience; I expect there were (many) others on the Net. I had a copy of music. It comprises 53 snippets of melody in C major, of differing durations and some instructions. All instruments play all snippets in order, breaks allowed, repetition is up to the individual, musos must listen, group dynamics are expected. It ran for ~55 minutes. It's strange and hypnotic; unending; you hear beats that are not written but develop amongst the various interacting lines. It all works and grows and fades and eventually ends. I could pick out some lines easily enough, especially when an instrument was prominent. I suggested to Tom Fell that the 1 moves, but he replied there is no 1. I expect both are right; every snippet has a 1, or at least a start, and every beat is someone's 1 even if there's no formal time signature. I noticed Tom and others were tapping feet. Whatever, it's mystical and hypnotic and it's interesting to read with the music in front of you. I identified most lines but there were ones I missed, including the long 35. I guess because it was less repetitive, so less evident and seemed to merge with the rest. But it's a fascinating exercise and formative and attractive minimalism. Nice one.

    Charles Martin led a performance of Terry Riley's In C in the Band Room and streamed to the Net for the Worldwide day of In C on the 50th anniversary of the piece.

  • A Worldwide day of In C website
  • 23 December 2014

    Get it while you can


    That great philosopher, Janis Joplin, once sang Get it while you can. It's like that at Christmas, with a string of concerts, before the lull of Boxing day and January. From the High Court, it was a short walk to the National Portrait Gallery for Tobias Cole's choral quartet, Clarion, performing for Evensong. Just a little concert and only for the most hard-core audience who survived Helen's long show. But this was a thing of great perfection, of satisfying beauty. Just four voices, in skilled harmony, sometimes close and edgy, singing in a quiet space. Something to treasure. The concert started in front of a portrait of James Morrison in Gallery 6, but the music was wildly different, perhaps more commensurate with the works of Paul Grabowski, whose portrait hung just nearby. I guess this was SATB with female soprano and males performing the other parts. They sang three tunes, then journeyed to the foyer for a few (I missed these) then returned for some more and a final move to the foyer. The final foyer piece was with a mostly-children's quartet. [Thinking back afterwards, I think this was Katie Cole and kids / Ed.] There was a harp, so I expect Meriel Owen played for the first foyer outing. The first piece was modern and religious, close harmonies and chromatic bass lines. Then In the bleak midwinter, slow and sweet and rural feeling. Then a stunning Sculthorpe, starting with dotted bass and line and a coloured patch then dissonant melody. Then a break. On return I recognised Byrd's Lullaby my sweet little baby in three parts, then a piece on the notorious Genesis apple and There is no rose of such virtue with interleaved lines. Finally a move to the foyer and Hodie Christus natus est, all of dignified, cathedral-worthy latin adoration, performed by eight singers in two choirs. A worthy and very satisfying Christmas outing sung with great precision.

    Clarion was led by Tobias Cole (presumably alto in this outing) with Nathalie O'Toole (soprano), Paul Eldon (tenor) and Peter Tregear (bass).

    22 December 2014

    Helen presents


    Click on this image! Helen Moore coordinated the final performance of the year in the High Court foyer series, and it was big. Long enough that it required an interval; complex enough that it required a running list; populated enough that there were instructions for where any performer had to be at any time. Two choirs; trumpets; piano; harp; singers; conductors. All spread throughout the space; necks craning to find where a song or fanfare or mediaeval ballad was sourced from. And what an audience! I came moderately early and noted the stream of people striding to the building. Inside, it was chockers, people on every surface with a view, unknowing passers-by peering through the glass walls during the show. And we could singalong. I love Christmas for the singing, although a little more church might help with the words and phrasing. Most singers got the common carols: While shepherds watched, Joy to the world, First nowell, O come all ye faithful, and the like. There was an Aussie carol that just didn't do it for me. The falling line in Ding dong merrily on high was a tongue twister with its vowel form. The finale of Handel's Hallelujah chorus was an invitation if you wished to join in, but it was more complex that I'd carelessly remembered. As for the performers, Trumpet club were fun and enlivening as always, with their clear, bell-like tones. They were a immensely joyous on fanfares and a blast when they entered on the final choruses of the carols. I particularly noted Byrd's Exultation. There were two choirs, Resonants and "Toby's choir" (I only have the running notes, not the program). I ticked Eatneman vuelie by the Resonants but there was more, including a take on David Yardley's Letabundus exaltet. Everyone loved Louise Page and Tobias Cole singing Twelve days after Christmas, a mirror to the days before with various damages done, cartidges to blasted partridges and the rest. Meriel Owen's harp was lovely but to largely lost to my ears in this big space with lots of audience to sop up the tones. I'd expected a smaller attendance - Canberra can get quiet at Christmas - but this was huge in every way. Just a measure of the success of these free concerts in the High Court foyer.

    Helen Moore presented Trumpet Club, Louise Page (soprano), Tobias Cole (counter-tenor), The Resonants, "Toby's choir", Phillipa Candy (piano), Meriel Owen (harp) for a Christmas concert in the High Court foyer.

    21 December 2014

    AHE swells


    I'd seen the stage set up, but I was still surprised when the augmented Australian Haydn Ensemble entered from the rear of the Sitsky room. This was 21 musicians; far larger than I'd seen before from this group. They just kept coming. This was not the only surprise. The 2 keyboards, plucked and hammered, at centre and the version of Haydn that seemed not to have been recorded before. Then straight into that unrecorded work: the Vernier version of Haydn Symphony no.22 The Philosopher in Ebmajor, apparently rearranged in the vibrant Paris of the time, using flutes in place of cor anglais. My recording may be a world premiere; that's exciting. The rest of the program comprised 3 works by CPE Bach to end the AHE's celebration of his 300th anniversary year. Firstly, his Concerto for harpsichord and fortepiano, utilising the two keyboards again, also in Ebmajor. After the interval, two pieces without accidentals (near enough), his Sinfonia in C major and Cello concerto in A minor featuring cello soloist Daniel Yeadon. The AHE has established itself in remarkably short time: this is only its second year. Proof is their welcoming of significant names in period music and their role as ensemble in residence at ANU this year. As well as Erin Helyard conducting from the harpsichord, Daniel Yeadon and Neal Peres Da Costa on the fortepiano, this concert featured Catherine Mackintosh (of Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal College of Music, and much more) as guest leader. Many AHE guests are new names to me, but the discoveries are a pleasure. This is all courtly, dignified music, although with its share of humour and pleasure and even profundity, although it's never too obviously displayed. THis was just a wildly successful performance. There were a few slips but all was welcomed with joy and verve and this is of so much more importance in my book. This is not at all staid. Erin was vibrant and mobile; Neal was all eyes, to Erin and Catherine and further; I think it was Simone who was buoyant with joy at the pleasure of it all; AHE stands, so there's constant movement. I noticed myself moving with this music: it's alive, vibrant, it invites movement so you squirm in your seat. The pleasure was evident as the musicians left and in their joy after. A wonderful, musically populated, enlivening concert.

    The Australian Haydn Ensemble finished its year at ANU with a CPE Bach 300th anniversary concert in the Larry Sitsky room. Erin Helyard (director, harpsichord) led 21 musicians: Catherine Mackintosh, Matthew Greco, Stephen Freeman, Mayee Clohessy, Anna McMichael, Skye McIntosh, Simone Slattery, Raphael Font, Cath Shugg (violins), James Eccles, Heather Lloyd (violas), Daniel Yeadon, Anthea Cottee, Anthony Albrecht (cellos), Jacqueline Dossor (bass), Melissa Farrow, Mikaela Oberg (flutes), Darryl Poulsen, Doree Dixon (horns), Neal Peres Da Costa (fortepiano). Daniel Yeadon performed the cello solo; Catherine Mackintosh was quest leader.

    20 December 2014

    Carols are for Christmas


    This was just a quickie for Coro; a concert at Christmas with one rehearsal. But these guys are good. They sang in the Grand Stairwell at Hotel Hotel. All cool and woody and earthy. Hip. But both Coro and this hotel have depth and quality. They started with a favourite, Ding dong merrily on high which is a classic Christmas carol and one of my favourites for that endlessly falling chorus, Gloria ... Hosanna in excelsis. Then a few more obscure pieces and a few better known ones: Poulenc's Videntes Stellam, Byrd's Lullaby my sweet little baby, Orff, Charles Ives, Silent night, finally Irving Berlin's White Christmas. There were just two singers per part, so 8 performers; just 7 while a bass had to go off to collect his wife (Christmas is a busy time, after all; this was Saturday; perhaps she was shopping). But 8 singers made the parts clear. I particularly noticed some very high but easy tenor lines. And those sopranos that always ring in the heavens. And the more complex harmonies sung by the altos and the basses that undergird all this. It was somewhat of a throwaway concert, but these are quality singers so any performance is worthy. Just carols at Christmas, but I left blissed out. Capable voices, diverse repertoire, unique environment, relaxed atmosphere: a winner all round.

    Coro sang carols at the Grand Staircase at Hotel Hotel in New Acton. Just eight singers this day: Hannah Bleby, Gemma Dashwood (sopranos), Rebecca Alexander, Maartje Sevenster (altos), Paul Eldon, Ian Mills (tenors), Adam Coin, Daniel Sanderson (basses).

    19 December 2014

    Standards and Scriabin


    I thought I was hearing substitutions over chromatics in Andy Butler's playing and I chatted with him later about playing, listening and the like. He doesn't listen to tons of music; the most recent was Frank Sinatra. Most of his recent gigs have been more experimental. He mostly plays and practices classical. He mentioned Scriabin Preludes as transferable to jazz. May I was hearing Scriabin. Certainly, there was little of the right hand lines against left hand chording that is standard bop and later jazz soloing style. This was chordal, full handed style. Classical is like that. I heard block chords, a mobility with time and placement of beats, feels well behind the beat, chromaticism and chromatic movements, heavy pedalling (unusually using several pedals), some almost endless solo lines, considerable freedom in harmony. He was playing standards but bending them wildly, at least when he wasn't just spelling a beautiful balladic melody. This is all something I love: great music treated with frequent, trained abandon. Andy was playing with Simon Milman and Aidan Lowe. Simon took plenty of solos, sometimes searching for, or with the help of, the melody; not so fast but exploratory. Nice. Aidan was frequent smiles, finding ways to respond to some daring takes, quick witted, driving, sensitive and aware. Great drumming, as usual. Just standards. Set 1: How deep is the ocean, Groovin' high, I fall in love too easily (a lovely tune and not common), Slow boat to China (how cute, but perfectly effective and innocently swinging), Foggy day (at a quick pace). Then set 2: If I were a bell, I thought about you, Darn that dream, Oleo, Straight no chaser. Great to see Andy again; great to hear a string of standards played with a considerable learned transgression; great to hear a decent piano trio. If only Andy had brought his own Steinway.

    Andy Butler (piano) led a trio with Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) playing standards at Smiths.

    18 December 2014

    Acclamations of the season


    From the first notes I was enamoured. This was Igitur nos with a small chamber orchestra (2xvln,vla,cl,bs), directed by Matthew Stuckings, playing a Christmas concert in the foyer of the National Portrait Gallery. Lots of light, lots of glass, lots of luscious choral reverb. In this space, I couldn't always pick up Matthew's comments, but the voices swelled beautifully. The first two songs were carols - Ding dong merrily on high and This is the truth sent from above (more obscure) - sung without accompaniment. I noticed sweet harmonies and accurate phrasing and shared enunciations: those final consonants crisply together, the dynamics common to all. This is a very nice choir. Then the chorus, And the glory of the Lord, from Handel's Messiah, all dignified and joyous. Magnificent. This was to repeat as the unplanned encore at the end. Then a English Protestant carol, by Orlando Gibbons regarding John the Baptist, all sparse and upright and clearly enunciated and featuring a solo alto by Rebecca Alexander. Then a few singalongs - Once in Royal David's city and Hark the Herald angel sings. I could see some moving lips but was hearing the choir. Then a very English song, Mine liking, all folky and rural and unadorned, and an English arrangement of the German In dulce iubilo, faithful and straightforward. Matthew introduced the next, by John Rutter, as his conversion to Rutter's compositions. The piece was What sweeter music and I'm sure the orchestra didn't blink at 6 flats. Then Healey Willen on the Epiphany and two more singalongs: O little town of Bethlehem and O come all ye faithful. By then, the audience was more confident, and I, for one, enjoyed the opportunity to join in (reasonably discretely!).

    This was joyous and involving with its carol singalongs, but also remarkably beautiful with the lovely voices blending and expressing as one, and with a receptive string quintet of considerable presence. The space was worked well for the ensemble, even if it also highlighted occasional children's shrieks. So, a worthy acclamation for the Christmas period and a delight for the ears.

    Igitur nos and its accompanying string quintet were directed by Matthew Stuckings. They perfomed a concert of Christmas carols in the foyer of the National Portrait Gallery. Rebecca Alexander (alto) soloed for the Gibbons.

    17 December 2014

    Wasting


    A wise mate once said to me that you should try everything once. I have attended theatre and even poetry readings before, but this was just that bit more hardcore. This was The Waste Land by TS Eliot. Perhaps the great modernist landscape in poetry. So they say. Certainly it was hugely dense and obscure, for me and others. But I could gather some classical references, Tiresias and Carthage and others, pick up some London references, chuckle at some modern allusions and generally gather the sense of despair at life shortly after WW1, like having sex then playing gramophone, of duties and loss and the manic forgetfulness of the flappers and deco. The program summarises WL's theme as "can a world so broken be redeemed". I was not the only one wondering about relevance to our own time, of consumption and short-termism and climate change. (Reading today in the SMH that there are only 5 northern white rhinos left in existence is symbolic*). Waste Land was performed by Hong Kong-Canberran Julian Lamb with cello accompaniment by David Pereira. This was a powerful and committed performance by Julian with gentle and responsive accompaniment from David.

    Cassie Brizzi started the night with a collage of quotes from Spears, Simon, Bowie, Previn, Leunig, Kesey and more gathered by Ernie Glass into a work called Tales of ordinary madness. This was far less obscure than TS Eliot and another worthy piece. A woman tells her story from birth through school, imaginary friends, fears of control, caged bird metaphors, eventually to motherhood and loss of her mother. Nicely done, clear and relevant. Some of the lines strike home for anyone these days, thinking of Orwell and Snowden and corporatism and the rest; others are more specific to eccentricity and insanity. "I'd rather madness / than this sadness / in my heart". "Blue buttons / black machine underground" (admittedly, this one needs context). "Day after day / they steal my friends away". Or the memorable interaction with Mrs Oppenheimer who sees the essential innocent goodness in the character's madness: :"You are crazy woman to be so good" (sic). "Look Mummy, no hands" is the hopeful; "They've got a system / and everyone's gotta fit in" is not.

    TS Eliot's The Waste Land was performed by Julian Lamb with accompaniment by David Pereira (cello). Tales of ordinary madness was performed by Cassie Brizzi and devised by Ernie Glass.

  • *SMH: Now only five northern white rhinos left in the world
  • 13 December 2014

    wc


    I was sitting pretty much dumbfounded listening to John Mackey and watching his fingers skate over tenor keys. Quite astounding. To see it from two metres away, and hear it with that immediate acoustic clarity, is awe-inspiring. My mind wondered to that small-town concern, "world class". I don't like to use this term, but I pondered it anyway and decided: "world class" probably means quality to play with the big names and wc players pop up everywhere. The issue in outposts is that there are limited numbers of them, so limited community. Places like NYC or Berlin attract players and the community develops. To some degree, our Jazz School did that. It attracted keen and developing players and provided a string of established masters as mentors / teachers. We have yet to see the medium term outcome of changes at the ANU. It was a decimation, but I wish them well for recovery.

    But getting back to the gig, it wasn't just John who had my attention. I particularly watched Aidan and Tate. Aidan was back from Berlin and I was enamoured by his ever-responsive rhythms. Tate has just finished studies but was a force of extended sequences and easy keyboard knowledge and often playful stylistics. Greg was mammoth in quick guitar lines as always, perhaps more flightly than usual. Lachlan introduces a different presence with the Bass VI. It's remarkable as a melodic take but he's also got a firm touch with sustained ostinatos that works a treat. On the night, and seemingly with little preparation for the band, John introduced a new mode that he's studying a ANU. John can expound further in his thesis, but in short it's built with pentatonics around the lydian mode (if I got it right). He calls it the Talvian mode. All mysterious and intriguing. The band played a few improvs on this tonality over a Bb pedal. Otherwise, the night was a string of stunning takes on standards: a simple blues in Db, All the things, Sophisticated lady, Footprints, Miss Jones, Tenor madness, Freedom jazz dance. These are standard blowing tunes and common at John's gigs. Just a blow outing from some of our wc players. Informal, intimate, friendly, essentially testing and exploratory and a blast. Our best musos would not be out of place at Smalls, but with small numbers, the band would be pretty repetitive after the first night or two.

    John Mackey (tenor) led a quintet with Greg Stott (guitar), Tate Sheridan (piano), Lachlan Coventry (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) at Smith's Alternative.

    11 December 2014

    Ending a busy year for TAI


    Richard Denniss speaks easily and casually and I expect no less, but I was still taken aback by his best line of the night: "Telling the truth is a lot cheaper". He meant this relative to PR campaigns. It was in the context of the Australia Institute's successes over the last year and its approach, which I'd describe as turning on the light by spreading facts that respond to spin and misinformation. Like the small number of people who actually work in mining or Tassie forestry against the impressions of large workforces created by industry and government. Or the details of government reports, like Warburton's review of the RET that showed that reducing renewable power would actually increase electricity prices within few years and result in a large movement of wealth from consumers to owners of coal fired power stations.

    We were at the last Politics in the Pub for the year. It's a wrap-up session and a thanks to the supporters and a chance to meet and chat. He spoke of successes for the year, of TAI's approach, of the possibilities for promoting "progressive ideas" (I hate that term, but don't have another), of the importance of the facts, of hard work by few staff, of their funding (not much!). He spoke of developing a constituency for reform for better governance, policies and longer term thinking. Richard mentioned a merge with Catalyst in Sydney, and attempts to spread events and influence outside Canberra. Also of their approach to politicians, how they inform and persuade. He mentioned their effectiveness on the Shepherd Commission of Audit, Budget measures, the Warburton Review of RET, more. He introduced a meagre list of researchers (how busy must these people be? Look at their website for their activities and publications). He said support could come in dollars, emotional support or by sharing, then expanded on the sharing of ideas to promote that "constituency for reform". He recognised how much could be done or where the research is so-far lacking. To one question, he responded: "Good question ... I don't have a good answer". He raised a new issue, of intra-generational equity to replace arguments of inter-generational equity. (I like this one; let's avoid inter-generational culture wars). But this was a relaxed and informal session. At one stage, Richard commented "Happy to take a few questions or happier to have a beer" so it was apt that I saw a string of beers being offered at the end of the night. It was a nice gesture and too bad he couldn't drink them all. Like many, he was driving.

    Richard Denniss spoke at the final Politics in the Pub of 2014 for the Australia Institute.

    7 December 2014

    A world away in Civic


    Tate Sheridan was just a few hours later and a few km away, at Smiths, but this was another world. Tate was launching his CD. Again, this was a piano trio, Tate with James Luke and Aidan Lowe, but there were no standards here. The music was much more moody, more punctuated and arranged, more melodic or minimalist, rather than changes through chords. There were still solos passed between players although less obviously than in standards territory. There were passages of solo piano that led to some complex compositions. There were more ostinatos, more edgy arrangements and stops and starts, but they were playing arrangements that were prepared for a CD. There were stories and references. Final hour was a story of a 240km, month-long Mounties chase culminating in a shootout and the death of the Mad Trapper of Rat River in Northern Canada in 1932. House arrest was a punctuated medium-fast swing. Lone gunman was a ballad, mostly piano solo, but joined later by bass and drums and a wordless vocal overlay from Tate. Baile is Spanish for "to dance" and was a lively number with unison features and later solos over a quick latin groove. Grace was another ballad developing into a repeating rising phrase that Tate said sums up his time in Canberra. Please no questions is another lively swing and Run don't walk is a dedication to Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Tate's piano is developed and skilled and classically formed. James' bass is quick and clear, commonly into thumb positions and melodically phrased. Aidan sits discretely as part of the music, setting grooves with subtlety and always flexible in tone and sharp in accent. This was not a light outing, the music demanded involvement and concentration, but it was a work of seriousness played with requisite skills. Great night. Looking forward to hearing most of this in its recorded form.

    Tate Sheridan (piano) launched his new CD at Smiths with James Luke (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

    6 December 2014

    French luxe down south


    I finally got to Gary France's jazz session at Tuggeranong. Just a trio playing standards but what a great trio and what a luscious location. In the cafe, at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, overlooking the lake. Intimate with low stage fronting a wide room, luxe seating (although I was at a cafe table rather than chaise lounge or curvaceous French settee; where did they find that furniture?). Paul dal Broi, Eric Ajaye, Gary France, three of our best musicians playing for their pleasure and ours. Out of nowhere, How insensitive, Dearly beloved, Tune-up, All the things you are, but also an original ballad by Paul and Coldplay's Pictionary and a discomfortingly heavy take on La Vie en Rose. Was Paul casting a black magic spell with this take? I've missed Eric over the last year, but now I've seen him twice in a few weeks and his luscious, searching, glissando lines were intriguing for the positional moves and guide tones. I was chatting with a classical player after and she was commenting on how much knowledge is required for improv at this level. Of course. This is dense theory and harmonic knowledge, and then enough skills to twist it out of recognition with substitutions and dissonance. Paul was again a master. I was taken aback by one or two particularly clever twists but he's a wealth of this internalised awareness. Gary is just a joy, no doubt as a colleague but also as the MC and outgoing, supportive rhythm machine, ever-present, light and swinging and ready to embellish. This was just a hugely pleasurable outing, intimate, swinging, amongst friends and anyone who attends is that. Enough to get the Inner South boy to make the trip to Tuggers. Gary's series will be recommencing monthly from February. BTW, Gary mentioned a new music service coming to Tuggeranong, the Groove Warehouse, for tuition, gear and more. Keep eyes out for that.

    Paul Dal Broi (piano), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Gary France (drums) played mostly standards at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

    5 December 2014

    A world of recorders


    It's a strangely welcoming sound. This was the U3A Recorder Orchestra performing at Wesley and there was an absolute motza of people on stage and another row or so in front. There was also an audience to match, presumably friends and family, and these can be a big group with such a large set of performers. But what got me about this was the organ-like tone. Recorders are seen as a modest instrument, although director Margaret Wright says they are demanding to play. Every instrument has its own strengths and weaknesses and places its own demands. The recorder seems modest and at least amongst the smaller incarnations, it is. It's a whistle mouthpiece with a body that sounds chromatic notes. I realised the tone is actually just like an organ, mostly like the steam organ, the caliope, but sometimes more majestically, like a smaller pipe organ. It has the same attack and decay and presumably the sine-wave purity. So all together, in various sizes, they make a similar sound when played well and in concert, and it's pretty and pure. Absurd, maybe, given one organist can play all that sound and more, but great as a communal activity and really quite lovely. I expect it's very hard to get the unity of conception and performance but when it came through here it was satisfying.

    Another thing, Canberra's recorderists, and perhaps the whole recorder orchestra scene, seems to be on an international circuit. Margaret runs an organisation that takes performers from nil to Nardini using the range of instruments and it's a big group with multiple components. [BTW, Margaret's group is not alone: there's another recorder outfit in the ACT, CREMS (Canberra Recorder and Early Music Society)]. I attended another concert of this orchestra where they played a composition written for them by English composer Steve Marshall. One composition this day was written for the Colorado Recorder Orchestra. I imagine these groups know of each other. For such a mild-mannered instrument, there seems to be a real scene here. And the strange box-like new form of the tenor and bass instruments confirms there's innovation amongst respected tradition.

    This concert comprised a Gabrieli Kyrie, a set of three Renaissance dances by Susato, selections from Mendelssohn's Italian symphony (no.4), a modern tone poem called Mountain mosaic and written by Glen Shannon for the Colorado Recorder Orchestra and Biber Sonata pro tabula. The Biber was written for string orchestra and recorders and was accompanied here by the Four Bridges String Quartet plus one. The repertoire remains strong on the early era, and this is stately and dignified and fits the instruments. But the tone poem was quite a variation, starting with paired interacting recorders (perhaps alto and tenor?) then moving through contrasting colours and moods to portray a visit to a mountain, from sunrise, through birds and journey and wildlife and a nap and a climb and stars and rain and a return to sunset with that same pairing of instruments. The Mendelssohn, too, was diverse, jaunty with a sustained crochet bass line (like walking bass, but without the jazz feel) and with structure. But with my limited awareness of the field, the baroque and renaissance courtliness and joviality seem most attractive. The Gabrieli was dignified and devotional. The dances were innocent until the simple drumming appeared. The Biber was my favourite with its interplay with strings and its compositional development.

    It's a very different world from jazz but a fascinating byway in Canberra. Margaret Wright (musical director, conductor) runs the U3A Recorder Orchestra.

    4 December 2014

    Real adults


    James Greening and mates came to Canberra and it was obvious the adults were in charge for the night, at least at the Gods. This was Greening from Ear to Ear. All light and jovial but supremely skilled and in command and well prepared. I wrote notes: respectful of tradition, deeply skilled, open, unpretentious, respectful, communicative (everything other Canberra- visiting adult-pretenders are not). But back to the music. The Gods is undergoing renovation, so we were in the Arts Centre foyer. More square, damply reverberant but nicely fat sounding with the audience. The band was close in one corner. This was a 7-piece band with three horns in front and the writing showed, as did the excellent musicianship. These guys are top of their trade and the harmonies were blissful and the grooves sat with precision, unstressed, seemingly so easy, but that's the skill showing. Playing music as it should be played is deceptively easy, but it takes years to master. These guys had it. These are Sydney masters and I was entranced. The first set was James' Tam O'Shanter Tales suite. He wrote the suite while in Tasmania and it's dedicated to the musical influences in his life: his family, Monk, his wife, Jackie Orszaski, with some less obvious insertions, like Parallel lines (a fabulous little big band chart) and Hazara (of more political relevance). I was stunned by the ease of interaction and perfection of the harmonised sound. These were not easy charts, but always played with easily but sweetly. Then the solos. I loved the Hammond tone from Gary and the fabulously twisting percussion from Fabian. James' solos were perfectly formed and Andrew's were a lesson in melodic statement, embellishment and development. I have admired his sax playing for years and I learnt something here on the night. Paul was more abstruse, less a matter of formal development than an emotional journey. Steve Elphick was sitting in for Brett Hirst and set some firm grooves and was nicely considered in his solo. I don't remember Hamish taking a solo, but every bar was rich with variation and connection. Another lesson. The second set was a few tunes from band members. Fabian played guitar on Domingo, simple descending chord changes over a medium tempo 4 with an Euro street vibe imparted by lovely accordion from Gary. Andrew's 22 degree halo featured Fabian's percussion solo that floored me with its delayed beats and falling rhythmic complexity (Latin training required). Then another then Lowdown, again from Andrew, funky with an odd count. There were changes of instruments: Rhodes - Hammond - accordion, or bass clarinet - tenor, or alto - baritone, or trombone - sousaphone - pocket trumpet (that's an odd combination and quite a challenge of sizes) or double - electric bass. All fabulously played, tight as, perfectly harmonised and blended. This was fabulous and about as good as it gets.

    Greening from Ear to Ear played at the Gods. GfE2E are James Greening (trombone, sousaphone, pocket trumpet), Andrew Robson (alto, baritone sax), Paul Cutlan (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Gary Daley (accordion, organ, piano), Steve Elphick (bass), Fabian Hevia (percussion, guitar) and Hamish Stuart (drums).

    3 December 2014

    What matters


    In the flesh is not a big exhibition. You can visit it in a short time. But it's exquisite in both its super-real presence and its attention to matters of humanity, what it means to be human. The works are in two dimensions, often bright, sometimes monochromatic, or in three, sculptural works big and small. There are two video works. There are some unexpectedly large pieces balanced with unexpectedly small works. There are super-real images of humans, but also of absurd blends of human and other or even imagined species. You respond immediately with surprise at the beauty and realism, but also with emotion and empathy. And the imagined species arouse the same responses. It's a bizarre experience; unexpected and gentle, often twisted, but honest and humane. You may have caught some of the odd images in passing, perfect babies with frogs, lovers lying naked with fox heads, boy with imagined species, distance drawn with superb accuracy, restlessness in miniature detail, a modern Pietà. The themes are intimacy, empathy, transience, transition, vulnerability, alienation, restlessness, reflection, mortality and acceptance. The artists are Jan Nelson, Natasha Bieniek, Patricia Piccinini, Juan Ford, Petrina Hicks, Ron Mueck, Yanni Floros, Sam Jinks, Michael Peck and Robin Eley. A must see, not least as an antidote for the current state of our country and our world. Follow the link below for a preview but attend the real thing for the breathtaking intimacy.

    In the flesh exhibit is at the National Portrait Gallery and features artists Jan Nelson, Natasha Bieniek, Patricia Piccinini, Juan Ford, Petrina Hicks, Ron Mueck, Yanni Floros, Sam Jinks, Michael Peck and Robin Eley.

  • In the flesh (preview) NPG
  • 2 December 2014

    My inaugural orchestral concert


    I missed the August Brindabella Orchestra concert due to prearranged travel but I was determined to perform for the November concert. I made it despite a thong-induced trip and resultant physio and a long pop gig the night before and little practice over the previous week to rest my left hand. But it was fun. There's little musical that will match an orchestra when it's in full flight. Brindabella has about 50 players and most instruments are covered. Our first violins were down on the day and there were a few visitors sitting in for ill members. It's not auditioned, so the playing varies; there are music teachers, amateurs, returnees and the like. We can slacken during some harder passages, don't always play every note, determine that we'll do the dynamics better next time, but it's a blast. We mostly play excerpts, movements of larger works. This concert featured Beethoven Coriolan Overture, movements of Brahms and a superbly pretty movement from Schubert's little symphony in C major (no.6, 4th mvt), Carl Orff, Misty and songs and dances from Britten and Vaughan Williams. Great stuff; not too difficult but still a challenge. I fluffed a few, but there's surprising space to cover the errors amongst so many players. The basses missed a DS and were surprised when everyone kept playing, but at least we did it together. Great fun and recorded for posterity. And BTW, new members are welcome; practices Saturday mornings.

    The Brindabella Orchestra was conducted by Rosalie Hannink.

    1 December 2014

    Future back-tracking


    Great fun night. Jazz Republic plays a backyard for Martina and Jack. This is a crossing the generations gig for crossed generations. A standard mix of jazz and pop but a clear night, a band drenched in chemicals for the mozzies, some considerable fun and one of the only times I've played a party gig and had people sit later in the night to listen. Also amusing to be playing e-bass again. I forget how quick and fluent you can be on this thing, especially after years developing muscles on the ungainly but beautiful double bass. Is this a back to the future experience? Maybe so. Electric basses are hardly the future (dating from ~mid-1950s) but double basses have centuries on them. But much enjoyed. Thanks to all.

    Jazz Republic were Leanne Dempsey (vocals), James Woodman (piano), Richard Manderson (saxes), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums).