24 December 2015

Advent


Musicians coming home to visit the family. Old ANU bands getting together to play their greatest hits. Some great jazz from musos that we hear developing further year by year, in Canberra or elsewhere. Same Hippo. Such a pleasure to be part of all this at this time. The latest was Reuben Lewis & the Snake Charmers. Reuben was back from Melbourne. Aidan for a second recent concert in recent days, was back from Berlin. Both dropping in for Christmas cheers. Both with old sparing partners, Simon and Matt, in a format they have all played frequently. Tunes by the band, Reuben and Simon, with occasional covers. Bjork Hyperballad for one. Otherwise, I recognised old favourites through the set: a groove in 3 with just 2 chords, tom-heavy drums and fingerpicking guitar accompaniment and simple but gorgeously effective melody; a rock groove with four falling chords over 16 bars; a reggae; a rural theme that reminded me of horse-riding, lazy, with A and B sections; a medium -up latin. All so nicely played. Simon holding exemplary, simple bass lines that just work. Great guitar solos from Matt and unaffected variations from Aidan and clarity of melodic purpose from Reuben. Such a pleasure. Original tunes; modern yet firmly planted in a sweep of musical history; relaxed but complex and satisfying. At Hippo for the 23rd day of Advent.

Reuben Lewis (trumpet) led the Snake Charmers at Hippo. The Snake Charmers were Matt Lustri (guitar), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

21 December 2015

Enabling the indie song


These guys are all jazz trained but I had no expectation to hear Jazz. That's how things are these days. I like it like that. There's a catholicity in music and especially amongst young trained jazzers and it shows. This was Matilda Abraham with Carl Morgan and, at the last moment, as he was in town from Berlin and his other gig was called off, Aidan Lowe. I also like this like that. Jazz trained performers are, well, trained, so Aidan could get called in to do an indie-pop set with complex written syncopations, some of which he'd have to introduce, and do a perfectly capable job. But this was Matilda's show. They were mainly her originals, in a Triple-J style that I call indie or maybe experimental pop. This was underlying sequenced instrumentation and even harmonies with voice and additional keys and bass or guitar and drums overlaid for the immediacy that make live music live. Matilda's writing is personal, often venting emotions, clear in intent although I didn't catch all the lyrics. One told of annoyance after a bad party; another a feminist line against Abbott as Minister for Women; (aside: Abbott's gone so recently but I can hardly frame the ignorance of slogans and attacks on the weak that he represented - and his complete lack of self-awareness suggested by his recent claims to good government; a dangerous man beyond an idiotic manliness); another feminist song entitled Fill the sink; an intimate love song to a Monk tune (I wonder how singers can so expose themselves through the intimacy of love songs). There were some more complex tunes, some covers - The Bird and the Bee Lifespan of a fly, Nate Wood Ocean floor, Julia Holtor When the sea calls me home (nice line this: "I can't swim, it's lucidity / so clear"). There's both an evenness and honesty in the music that Matilda writes and also in the covers she selects. There were odd times and odd beats and time changes and even a few slowish disco grooves. There was some great playing in accompaniment and just one solo each from Carl and Tom Fell, who sat in for a fat bluesy solo on the final tune. Both solos were beautifully stated, superbly developed and neatly released at the end. Aidan was just stunning to take on just a task at such short notice. And Matilda spoke to us with truth and purpose and some great song-making and an even, clear voice. A poorly tuned piano was a disappointment, but she soldiered through this. I'm enamoured by the moves of well trained jazzers into popular fields, with indie like this the most authentic. This was short songs of the 3 minute variety with intelligence and purpose and deeply attractive beats and some refreshingly twisted melodies. I may stick to RN and BBC for my radio but I loved this live.

Matilda Abraham (voice, piano, compositions) led a trio with Carl Morgan (guitar, bass, keyboard bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) at the Ainslie Arts Centre for the Confluence jazz series. Tom Fell (tenor) sat in for a solo on the final tune. BTW, Confluence Jazz returns in 2016 monthly from 14 January.

19 December 2015

Esterhazy at Albert


It was the dynamics that most impressed me about Australian Haydn Ensemble this time. I've seen them as a smaller group, perhaps 6 players, and once or twice in a larger format. This was probably the largest I've seen: 22 players. But I know how difficult it is to concentrate on dynamics when you are struggling to catch the notes but it's essential and it worked gloriously here. Detailed, gentility, gentleness, the quietest of passages, the frequent glances that make all this happen. I could see this, up close. There's no conductor, of course, so those glances go to the concertmaster, in this case Canadian Marc Destrubé, or to the co-director, Eric Helyard on harpsichord for the night. The other thing I melted over was Jacqueline's bass lines, rapid and clear as they were demanded, disturbingly easily played. But I'll give you that that's a concern of a fellow bassist. Perhaps not just me. Bass is a strangely popular instrument and I noticed several people eyeing off Jacqueline's aged bass in the breaks. But the fast lines in the final presto movement of Haydn's Le soir, Symphony no.9, were stunners and she played them out with aplomb. It wasn't just bass, of course. Bassoon was wonderfully expressive at times, even once in a duo with bass; the baroque horns were mightily satisfying, so much more than modern brass, if only for this outing. Marc Destrubé's subtle and delicate phrasing was a telling lead. And the flute of Melissa Farrow for her parts. All delicate, detailed, precise, understanding, dynamic. I loved this concert: one of the best of the AHE. The period tones right for this music; the place right, being Albert Hall, our oddly monarchical place that hosts carpet sales and mineral displays and any fine music that warms to the rich reverb. So, what did they play? A string of pieces from the orchestra of the Esterhazy Palace. I'm told they were originally played with a smaller ensemble but expanded here. All Haydn: Symphonies 6,7,8 (Le Matin, Le Midi, Le Soir) and the Harpsichord concerto in D major featuring Erin Helyard. The harpsichord was a somewhat lost in this space, despite Erin's always vibrant and immediate performance (at least from where I was sitting, although not in the recording I made form a more central location). All on period instruments, of course: gut and valve-free horns and different bows, all soft and tender in tone. This outfit will be recording soon, I think for ABC. Expect a well developed and nicely understood performance. These are mates of mine but also greatly admired.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed Haydn at the Albert Hall. Performers were Erin Helyard (harpsichord, co-director), Marc Destrubé (violin, co-director), Skye Mcintosh (artistic director, violin), Matthew Greco, Simone Slattery, Anne McMichael, Catherine Shugg, Raphael Font (violins), Shelley Sorenson, John Ma, James Eccles (violas), Daniel Yeadon, Anton Baba, Anthony Albrecht (cellos), Jacqueline Dossor (bass), Melissa Farrow, Mikaela Oberg (flutes), Amy Power, Julia Bauer (oboes), Simon Rickard (bassoon), Darryl Poulson, Doree Dixon (horns).

18 December 2015

Paris


I write this only a few days after the end of the Paris Climate Change convention (more formally COP21 and more). My despair over climate change had smouldered for a few months leading up to this event, obviously hoping for some positive outcome, late as it would be. Through the 2 weeks, the messages seemed to be good. In the end, there was much cheering and satisfaction. This looked positive, although there were nay-sayers too, on both left and right. There was even a staunch denialist letter to the Canberra Times arguing the cooling line, as I remember (it makes you wonder, but Trump is also unseemingly popular). I read some articles, but largely awaited this event at ANU. The event was "Deciphering the Paris Climate talks : where to next?" coordinated by the ANU Climate Change Institute featuring 5 people (all men, noted by several woman around me) who had attended Paris, so this was informed. They were: Assoc Prof Frank Jotzo, Dep Dir, Crawford School, Dir, Centre for Climate Economics & Policy; Adj Prof Howard Bamsey, formerly Australia’s Special Envoy on Climate Change; Luke Kemp, lecturer and finishing PhD student at ANU with a focus on climate negotiations (the young one); Doug McInnes, Dept of Foreign Affairs & Trade; Alex Gosman, CEO, Australian Industry Greenhouse Network. Chaired by Prof Mark Howden, Dir, ANU Climate Change Institute; introduced by H.E Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Australia; summarised by Prof Brian Schmidt, Leader of the Mainau Declaration on Climate Change (and soon to be ANU's VC, and our fave local Nobel prizewinner). A powerful team, it must be admitted! Each spoke for a few minutes, then some questions, then the summary. The session didn't summarise the agreement so much as talk of why and how success was reached and suggestions for what was now required. Here's my summary.

There were three elements for the successful outcome (and it is certainly seen as successful): Ambition (<2degC, targetting 1.5degC); commitment (transparency through INDCs, 5-yearly reviews, regular overall reports and a mechanism to ramp up ambitions by individual countries); solidarity (support for developing countries and the commitment to $100b pa transfers). The success was a function of France's "masterclass in diplomacy" (day 1 commitment by heads of government then transparent, inclusive shuttle diplomacy; a multilayered approach; good planning with a tight team; the writing and release of the draft then final texts). Also, the involvement of the USA ("a vindication of Obama"); Kerry's "masterful intervention"; the pre-G20 US/China deal that so flummoxed Abbott as "instrumental"; the behind-the-scenes bilaterals. But also important was the "alignment of the stars": Trudeau cheered for "Canada is back"; Australia "in from the cold" and winning only one Fossil of the Day award (oddly, a good result!); Obama not Republicans, more. And public scrutiny: all public events being televised thus limiting negativism and promoting positive ambition; the Paris Action Agenda of commitments by 800 businesses and NGOs. Amusingly, there was talk of calling the Pope to speak to the one country with a flag up approaching the final gavel, but he was unavailable, in Mass. It was recognised that this agreement comes nowhere near 2degC (I read variously 2.7-3.5degC) but it codifies existing efforts, sends signals to industries and commits to a mechanism to ramp up action. There's a certain optimism here, but it's reasonably founded and the outcome is more than might have been hoped for. A carbon price was not included (but that's a domestic decision) and neither was decarbonisation mentioned in the text (but it's an inevitable implication). The INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) are not legally binding, but the process of 5-yearly reports and ramped up actions apparently is binding and the burden of change has been shared to some degree by all parties, developed and developing. It was "heartwarming" that Australia was back in the process and apparently we did good work, even Greg Hunt (who would'a thunk it). The plan is for net zero emissions by end-century (or was it 2050?) and this requires all manner of actions to be used, including carbon sequestration (although I imagine that's an increasingly relatively costly option). ACT presented well as a subnational government but most others displayed good intentions and talk rather than action. Carbon Tracker ( http://www.carbontracker.org/ ) is a useful incentive for divestment and BHP did well by publishing its carbon risk; carbon risk will become increasingly recognised by business. Brian Schmidt observed that "humanity is pretty good at close problems (eg, nuclear war) ... this is long term, therefore a great achievement". That this is a framework but there are challenges ahead. That technology will be important but also the social sciences and humanities. That the ANU Climate Change Institute does great work. That this is the defining issue of our times and that it requires coordinated, long term generational effort without immediate gain (mmm, that's a worrying thought).

So it's clear that Paris was a great achievement but there's still plenty of work to do and possibility of failure and, despite the worthy target, we may not win. I still mull over the ~2.1degC positive forcing in place against the ~0.7degC negative forcing and how this fits, but the broad scientific view appears to be that there's still hope to avoid runaway climate change. That's the biggy: when the positive feedback loops start up and we lose the ability to turn things around, when those tipping points are reached, then it's game over. Paris suggests we may not get there: it seems there's hope yet. And then there are the denialists who will presumably still rant away. That should be frustrating but increasingly just an amusement for the rest of humanity.

Deciphering the Paris Climate talks : where to next? was presented by the ANU Climate Change Institute and featured Frank Jotzo, Howard Bamsey, Luke Kemp, Doug McInnes, Alex Gosman, Mark Howden, Sem Fabrizi and Brian Schmidt.

17 December 2015

Sandwich


Mother Jack were sandwiched by two performances at Smiths. It was a veritable feast of music for a lowly $10. I guess this is how these cafes present their music, although I have no idea how they pay their musos. But thus has been the way of musos for some time. Before MJ was Chris Finnigan appearing as Fossil Rabbit. Chris played a solo guitar (Squier strat) with all a raft of foot switches and loops and a laptop to the side. It's not a music of instrumental virtuosity so much of feel and mood and presence. I like the drone-like continuance, the minimalist change, the relationships created in short-term recorded space. From a jazz perspective, this is a strange world, but it's involving and contemporary. I like it.

The other slice of the sandwich was a choir formed at ANU (at a least they practice there), SATB, vibrant and attractive, only new but already with a few performances under the belt and even a half-page write-up sometime in the Canberra Times. But I couldn't stay so I still wait to hear them.

Three bands; $10. A steal, maybe also for the musos. Chris Finnigan (guitar, electronics) was Fossil Rabbit. I missed Choir! (yes, with the exclamation mark).

16 December 2015

Bad mutha


Bad as good: demanding, intriguing, sometimes virtuosic, onerous on memory and a very big and satisfying performance from just 2 players. This is Mother Jack. MJ is the pop-experimental duo of Casey Moir and Johan Moir. The pair returns to Canberra every so often. Casey studied at the ANU School of Music in its best days and has family in Australia. Casey and Johan now live in Sweden. They occasionally join with Luke Sweeting and others to tour as Svelia, as international combination, in Australia or Europe or Scandinavia (Sveglia plays this Saturday night, 19 Dec, at Groove Warehouse - recommended). MJ played just a single set, but what a committed, unyielding, demanding set it was. MJ is centred on Casey's hugely adventurous voice and, I think, her compositions. Casey also fills with glockenspiel or drums and loops. Johan on essentially jazz or groove bass with octaver and more and some harmony or accompanying voice. This music has purpose: adamant and assertive lyrics telling true emotions and stories, expressed with the most searching of vocal effects. Time changes, repetition, insistence, loops, echo and a a richly processed sound from just 2 players. I'm fine is about how you answer that barren question with gritted teeth; So empty is of emotional bleakness; Everyone dies is, strangely, a reminder to live life to the full while you can; You just don't get me is a frustration; others are Problems and Talking and Lost. Homing birds was a thing of great beauty, with voice authentically mimicking cooing pigeons. The last tune was a driver contending that I cannot oblige (with some expectations of others). Serious stuff, worthy of the listen for both the poetry and the intriguing musicality. I melted to hear Casey form a pure chord with the looper, so clear, so choral. It's strange to be listening to clear and repetitive voices and look up to see no singer/s, just the machine repeating the human product. But all this is not easy: Casey mentioned how much she had to remember to play this music. No doubt; not much spontaneity possible here. There are touches of jazz and more, but indie has to describe it. More JJJ than JazzTrack but a stunner.

Mother Jack is Casey Moir (vocals, percussion, glockenspiel, electronics, loops) and Johan Moir (bass, effects). MJ performed at Smiths.

13 December 2015

Playing for Paul


Tilt played a gig at Adore Tea and we were pleased when Paul dal Broi turned up. We were playing well enough so that's OK. It's a relaxed gig and its considerable fun. Nice to play a gig like that. And nice that Paul came to a gig like this. Paul was James' teacher for yonks so there's water under that bridge. Otherwise, Paul is a local jazz identity, much respected by me and others. G'day Paul. But what about the gig? Pretty standard: standards, latins, some pop numbers, a few originals. We are still developing consistent takes on some numbers, but the grooves are rock solid and the funk is bouncy and the swing is driving and all the grooves are tight as. I enjoy the space for numerous solos (what do they say about bass solos, again?) and playing e-bass is an indulgent release after practice and performance on double. Finger style can be so, so machine-gun rapid and so extravagant. Then there's the traded fours and more extensive drums solos and James ever leading with head and first solos. All nice and much entertainment for the band and we wish for the audience. All finished off with a few songs, some gloriously pretty Beatles and grungy Nirvana and stories of walking the dangerous streets of New Orleans. Jazz as taking life is ones' hands. In NOLA if not so much at Adore.

Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums). Tilt played for Paul dal Broi and others at Adore Tea.

11 December 2015

The insiders


It was an end-of-year let-hair-down take on Politics in the Pub. An insiders' affair. Rob Harris and Alice Workman are journalists, for the Sun Herald and TripleJ, Murdoch and ABC. They present the Silent Majority podcast. I hadn't heard of them before but they are a hoot and are apparently a hit around Parliament House. It's not unexpected or unlikely. Parliament House is a close and intense environment and these things develop in such an environment. I should listen (I haven't) and I'd probably learn a lot: about the characters and their backgrounds and motivations. They mentioned names and stories and it humanised some of the most ardent of representatives. That's good. We do tend to understand our politics in a different, distant, argumentative way. This is all useful. I guess. But I noticed I was not the only one who felt a little out of the joke. A few people left early and I felt like it but didn't. Not sure I was in the mood for frivolity anyway. That's how parties (as in Christmas, not political) can be. There was talk of parties, quips of broken tables informed by insider gossip. All enlightening and interesting. The questionners were often recognised, as a journo for this paper or that radio station. I was amused when Mark Colvin asked the final question. I turned around, didn't recognise him, then listened. I knew that voice almost intimately but I am an ardent radio buff. There were insights aplenty, if expressed in a jovial, thankfully not ironic, way. About "chocolate-gate" (new term for me), Johnny Depp's dogs, knights and dames, eating onions (we all eat raw onions in salads if not as apples with skin), karaoke. Ricky Muir got a worthy mention as "the standout", which he clearly deserves, but the political class more generally got some support. David Leyonhjelm apparently supports freedom for nudity and even sex in public, not just guns and his Nanny State enquiry. Unexpectedly given the polls, Bill Shorten is still standing while his opponents are all gone. Then talks of odd couples (friendships/relationships esp across parties) in Parliament. I won't mention those here although they are presumably quite innocent and actually heartening. Who was how generous at their Christmas parties. The Greens and their "spill of the year" which no-one had any inkling of and the subsequent transformation of the party (not just Labors but "lots of Libs are very worried about diNatale" and his appeal to the educated comfortable classes - include me here). And various unexpectedrevelations, like John Madigan's awareness of issues in West Papua. Even a warning about locking up daughters. There were further mentions and questions of diversity in Parliamentarians, Annabel Crabb and Kitchen Cabinet, the NT port lease, Hockey as ambassador (and Kevin Andrews wishing for another), and finally Mark Colvin asking about journalism in the new Parliament House. It's an old story, how the Old Parliament House was small, how journos overheard mutterings (I hadn't heard about the toilet cubicle ruse after party meetings), how Abbott closed off the Exec Wing but it's reopened under Turnbull. Rob Harris was sensible or optimistic in arguing there are new opportunities and you have to go with change. But in essence, the pair had been sensible throughout although with many a chuckle. So the PitP year end with a party of sorts. I still felt somewhat an interloper but thanks for the invitation.

Rob Harris and Alice Workman of the Silent Majority podcast chatted with Ben Oquist at Politics in the Pub hosted by the Australia Institute.

9 December 2015

The world seen from Finland


Kokko seems a strange name for a Finnish band, but Kokko Quartet it was. I liked it lots. This is a fairly young quartet performing music that they've written (three of four had written for the band). It was all original compositions, other than two short Finnish folk tunes for an intro and encore. They displayed a breadth of styles in composition and performance with a generous sprinkling of latin grooves. Thus Kokko, perhaps. But as I said, I was enamoured with this band. Kaisa, our front on alto and occasional soprano sax and flute and bamboo flute, played calm and melodic with a delicious alto tone: not shredding, but thoughtful, purposeful. One of her tunes was about hearing a train while in India (she has obviously travelled well, with tunes about India and China) and the tones she drew from the sax were deliciously evocative of passing trains and blown horns. Against this, Johanna's piano was a great pleasure. I thought of the frenzied atonality of Myra Melford at times although the dissonance was not so thorough, chromatic sequences, sidestepping or just big handfuls on mostly tonal notes, but the excitement was exposing itself. I loved this frenzied tonality against the Kaisa's carefulness. Behind was a firm and insistent rhythm section, bass and drums, with several bass solos and some occasional flurries from drums. But it was the compositions that I most enjoyed: changing times; frequent latin feels and one solid samba from bassist Timo; really effective story-telling or picture-forming; a few tunes from Johanna in response to Finnish myths mentioning forging swords and the like (the long focus is evident: not something we white Australians understand or can in any way lay claim to). They are young but the band's been developing for five years and it has character. Maybe it was the cosmopolitan feel of it all that I so warmed to, well structured and worldly and with a nice balance of neat and ecstatic. Much enjoyed.

Kokko Quartet are Kaisa Siirala (alto, soprano, flute, wooden flute), Johanna Pitkanen (piano, African thumb piano), Timo Tuppurainen (bass) and Risto Takala (drums). They played at the Finnish Embassy for Henk van Leeuwen. Kokko Quartet, Kaisa Siirala, Johanna Pitkanen, Timo Tuppurainen, Risto Takala

8 December 2015

3gt5


The Fifth had its difficulties but it was nothing like the Third. Maruki played its final concert for the year and the main work was Beethoven Symphony no.3 Eroica, the one dedicated to Napoleon then renounced. It's a mammoth work, revolutionary in its time and full of plenty of fast and tricky passages all round, not least for the basses. Little rest here. And some neat diminisheds runs. It's great to be able to claim a performance but I would need to work on it for some time to satisfy myself that it was mastered. All part of the thrill and spills. We were three basses for this performance, Jennifer and me joined by eminently capable CYO player Matthew a few weeks before the performance. Maruki grows for a performance, presumably from CYO or other ringins, perhaps to provide an instrument we don't have (eg, harp) or to fill out a section. Maruki was 59 players for this performance. And what a program to join into; not for the feint hearted. Beethoven 3 plus an unrelenting Bach Orchestral suite no.3, a lively and humourous Brahms Academic Festival overture (interestingly also on the recent program for Brindabella) and the race-horse tempo Glinka Ruslan and Ludmilla overture. A hefty workout on the day and a demanding learning schedule over recent months. Maruki played better than in any practice - it's the way with the commitment of performance, of course - although can still improve. We are not professionals, after all, despite the program, but it's an exhilarating and music-educational experience. Much enjoyed and thanks to John and all.

Maruki Community Orchestra performed Beethoven 3, Bach, Glinka and Brahms at the Albert Hall under John Gould (conductor). The bass section comprised Jennifer Groom, Matthew Gambrill and Eric Pozza.

7 December 2015

I try


I recently discovered a new company around town, Canberra Opera. It's another community organisation, small scale attempting big things, supporting the development of singers and performance of opera in Canberra. Their latest production was La Boheme, staged with piano accompaniment at the Ainslie Arts Centre. Not a big production in a big hall with orchestra, but the real thing nonetheless. Four acts; presumably all the parts and lyrics and music and a full evening's outing. I warmed to the duo of Puccini's Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi when performed a few years back by ANUSM then struggled with an Australian Opera performance in the Sydney Opera House sometime later. I thought it was time to revisit opera. But I'm afraid, despite an Italian background, I find it difficult to warm to the theatrical device that is opera, this story no less than others. But many do. I did enjoy aspects of this performance, though, not least the two strong performers playing the two key female parts, Louise Keast as Mimi, seamstress dying of consumption and loved one of poet Rudolfo, and Karen Dalzell as flirty Musetta, old flame of painter Marcello. Congrats also to pianist Kathleen Loh who played unceasingly throughout the full performance and even between acts. And cast and company.

Canberra Opera presented Puccini La Boheme at the Ainslie Arts Centre. Louise Keast (Mimi), Karen Dalzell (Musetta) and company were accompanied by Kathleen Loh (piano).

6 December 2015

This was fun


This was tons of fun. Wayne Kelly and Tom Fell sat in with Dave and me for another night at Red Hill Primary School. It's a twice-a-year get-together for parents and kids with sausage sizzles. We play on a deck and kids romp around and parents chat and eat. Much more fun than you'd expect. In fact, a worthy indulgence. Wayne set a cracking pace so it was hot from the top. There's lots of power and invention and good cheer in this man. Tom's tone was there with legendary fatness and plenty of tightly developed solos. Dave pulled grooves from his collection (not least a mean New Orleans funk) behind a few songs from Wayne and I found at least one nice new sound from a new multieffectory toy. That brought a very synthy response from Wayne for a later solo (what was it, pitch wheel on clavinet?). Big sounds, lots of driving grooves, ballads not very balladic, plenty of solos, sometimes loose but always mightily energetic. Great gig. Thanks to all. Too busy to get a pic.

Wayne Kelly (piano) and Tom Fell (tenor) played with Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass) at Red Hill Primary School.

5 December 2015

Songs of love and despair


Rose Costi and Ben Forte performed in the late morning, for the U3A Jazz Appreciation group, in a smallish room in a club around Canberra, and it was a delicate pleasure. Just voice and guitar; no drum machine or electronics. Good solid time feel but pretty sparse for the single note solos. Nice for clarity and lyrics and a duo fellowship. Rose's gentle and thoughtful voice helped, too. No screams, much delicacy, only a few more forced lines. The tunes lent themselves to this, too. Ballads from the standards repertoire. Some were joyous or lively, like Sqeeze me don't tease me or East of the Sun west of the Moon of I hear music or How deep the ocean. Quite a few love songs, unsurprisingly. Some latin, Gentle rain, No more blues. Two sleepy people is just a huge pleasure; Don't explain is Billy Holliday at her more desperate - that one touched home. This was a lovely little concert for a quiet and appreciative and pretty knowledgeable group. Glad I got the invitation, and thanks to Rose and Ben for the great pleasure.

Rose Costi (vocals) and Ben Forte (guitar) performed songs as an unaccompanied duo for teh U3A JAG.

4 December 2015

The unity of performance


Well, Liam Budge was not so uninfluenced by improvisation and instrumentalism, but it serves as a neat counterpoint to Tom and his mates the night before. Liam Budge returned to Canberra for a gig at Smiths. This was the complete performance, a merging of patter and songs and thoughts (thoughts of love or migration with a smattering of tongue in cheek standards), of instrumental heights through solos and the most exquisitely detailed and driving backing. I had been chatting to a jazz piano mate about his recent interests, how he'd returned to songwriting from improv (not denigrating either, but enjoying a change), how a beautiful melody denies embellishment, so I was thinking on these lines. But I was unprepared for the first notes, driving groove from the first dot, calm but pregnant with power, then a light intro voice line, then a song of love and ongoing growing power, then into a neat, quiet solo from Luke and everpresent insistent groove from Tim and Tom. I was floored from the first bars. The night went on like this, a complete performance. Luke playing quietly in the background, chatter from Liam, interesting tunes, some known, either Liam's earlier songs that we'd heard or standards or new songs previously unheard. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, the newer ones seemed less distilled, but that's the essence of new. Their time will come with time. This was not a long performance, but it was engrossing. A very different approach to performance. I forgot to mention Beryl, a continuing theme for the night, or the standards that did appear (old cuties Bye bye blackbird and Squeeze me don't tease me and an airy take on There will never be another you; and a Tom Waits cover). Or about each muso, but the performances were so gelled that it's hard to highlight anyone of them. All wonderful; all so nicely in synch. A complete package. And nice to be back at Smiths.

Liam Budge (vocals) led a quartet with Luke Sweeting (piano, Rhodes), Tom Botting (bass) and Tim Firth (drums) at Smiths.

3 December 2015

The jazz vision


Two days, two performances, two approaches. First was Tom Fell leading a quartet at the Gods with Miroslav Bukovsky and Lachlan Coventry and Mark Sutton playing the music of Gerry Mulligan and his pianoless quartet. This is the jazz vision, together but essentially individual. Improvisation, counterpoint, the centrality of the instrumental. A glorious vision of beauty in pure sonority. Tom and mates did a great job, and it could not have been a little one. The counterpoint lines in the heads were true. I don't think the solos were transcribed but they were in style and aligned with the originals. It's a great act of love and of learning to perform works so closely, especially an album or a set of pieces. Like the originals, this was quietly spoken (well not always, think Jeru) and delicate music. The blending of trumpet with bari sax, or even better, flugelhorn with bari, was delicious. The swing was nicely restrained, in line with the original period. This was a jazz treat and a pleasurable return to the early '50s and the cooling after bop and, I guess, a world war.

Tom Fell (baritone sax) led a quartet with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lachlan Coventry (bass, guitar) and Mark Sutton (drums) playing the music of Gerry Mulligan and his pianoless quartet at the Gods.

1 December 2015

Brinda and climate


I had a clash, the People's Climate March with Brindabella Orchestra's final concert of the year. I chose the immediate (and much enjoyed) concert, of course, as one must, but in spirit I was also on the streets for climate. Before Brinda, once more my summary of the climate predicament:

All you really need to know about climate change. We're one big civilisation and climate is changing fast given a sudden imbalance of carbon since the industrial revolution. The mechanism of greenhouse gasses has been known to science for 150 years or so and we're at 400ppm and adding another couple each year, and 2 degrees warming (guessed to come at 450ppm) is a rough, perhaps optimistic, estimate of where runaway climate change could happen given various feedback loops (the ubiquitous "tipping points") and it looks to me like we've got Buckley's chance of staying within 2 degrees. With business as usual, IPCC estimates 3-6 degrees rise by 2100. That's just 85 years. Scientists provide the proof of all this for honest readers. To me it looks like game over and sooner than we think. I just hope I'm wrong because nobody wins an argument with physics.

At least my family went to the march. Back to Brinda. On this topic, I was amused to find a denier of anthropogenic climate change amongst the Brinda performers ... but it takes all types. My response was warming so I left the counter to a calmer voice currently studying for an ANU science doctorate. But to Brinda...

This was Brindabella Orchestra's final concert for 2015. It was entitled Dominant tonic; held again at Qbn Uniting Church (nice acoustics); conducted by Peter Shaw. The program was significantly more demanding than previous and the outcome confirmed the choice. Ensemble playing was impressive with nice shared senses of dynamics, time feels and intonation. The composers were the real thing: Beethoven Creature of Prometheus overture, Faure Elegy for cello and orchestra, Dvorak Symphonic variations, Brahms Academic Festival overture, Bizet L'Arlesienne no.2 and some music theatre, Lloyd Webber Selections from Phantom of the Opera. Challenging but not impossible. I even enjoyed the last amongst the more historical fare. We had visitors: brass from Western Winds (Peter also directs this ensemble, so a happy coincidence) and Jennifer Wurtzel, guest soloist from NY via NCO to play the cello part in Faure. This was a happy and very successful concert that I reckon brings Brindabella to a new level. Congrats to Peter and all.

Brindabella Orchestra performed Beethoven, Faure, Dvorak, Brahms, Bizet and Lloyd Webber under Peter Shaw (conductor). Jennifer Wurtzel (cello) soloed in the Faure Elegy.

Thanks to Phuong Dang for some of the pics