18 July 2017

When words speak

I met Sandie White when she came to Smiths to hear the impeccable Michelle Nicole. This was Sandie's return to play the room, on a Sunday afternoon, down from Sydney, with Welsh import Esmond Selwyn on guitar and our own local, Eric Ajaye on bass. When IU listen to jazz singers, I remember that songs have themes, words, meanings that are evident, often sentimental or maudlin, occasionally tender. The songs of the jazz era were like that, but I love it. Sandie sang some lesser-knowns like Peggy Lee I never knew, Lee Wiley Oh look at me now, Nat King Cole Just me just me, along with Misty and September in the rain and the like. All lovely, all poignant, but the jazz improv showed through, too. Sandie sang several scats that rang with jazz movement. Nice. Esmond accompanied with celerity, all staccato chords and lithe, hasty lines and sweeps, and a free take on one-man improv especially over the ballads. And how great to hear Eric again - it's too seldom these days. All smooth and flowing and mellifluous, but quick and endlessly conversational. Loved it. A pleasure to hear in such an intimate, drummerless grouping. Great that Sandie discovered Smiths and came for the outing. Perhaps next time, for an evening with a more generous gathering: it may have been warm within, from heating and an inviting performance, but the sunny arvo had a bitter breeze.

Sandie White (vocals) performed at Smiths with Esmond Selwyn (guitar) and Eric Ajaye (bass).

16 July 2017

Daily duties

It was an orchestral practice interrupted to set up for a Tilt gig. I was sorry for the first, enjoying Mendelssohn and missing a Tchaikovsky symphony (no.2 - it's great). But duty calls in the form of a gig at Mercure Canberra, long known as the Ainslie Pub, for the Canberra Truffle Festival. Truffles in an adjacent room; bar through another door. We had the stately lounge for jazz and it was a blow from the first. Busy, some dancing, easy chatting and a few listeners. We played jazz and standards and blues and some modern with substitutions and polyrhythms and the like, and also some jazz-twisted pop tunes, not least a new one from Daft Punk. At least new to me. I'm a great believer that everyone should have something they recognise: when they do they come onside and are open to standards, Shorter, Miles, whatever. I sometimes wonder how we can get paid to do this, but they like it and so do we.

Then next day, the Smiths jazz blow. Strong on bassists. Brendan Clarke was playing as I arrived. Eric Ajaye was inside to play a gig after the jam session. The house bassist was Jace Henderson with fellow bandsters Josh Buckler, Hugh Barrett and Mark Levers. I played a few tunes with a singer, not least Honeysuckle Rose, then Beatrice again to finish off. Thanks again to Josh and co.

12 July 2017

Distant ecospheres

We were in Adelaide for a few days and caught the Kegelstatt Ensemble playing very locally, at Burnside Ballroom. They were seriously satisfying, playing to a small audience of 50-or-so in a heritage '50s ballroom, performing four works in four different combinations, all modern and testy and challenging. There's lots to note, but much of interest was how unknown these players were to me. Adelaide is a good distance from Canberra, so we get few visitors from there. This group was interested in touring to Canberra if promoted - they were playing this program at the Melbourne Recital Centre salon in a few weeks, but that's relatively close. Like many groups, no doubt. Canberra shares some of the Sydney scene for both jazz and classical, given its proximity, and occasionally the Melbourne scene, given its location on the path to Sydney. I remember a few Brisbane and Adelaide and Hobart and even Perth visitors, but that's dropped away with the diminishment of our music school. So no surprise that I didn't know of this group. But they were interesting and capable. A challenging program of modern works: Schulhoff, Elliott Carter, Ginastera and Prokofiev, and a capable series of players, presumably out of Adelaide or graduates of the Elder Con, some now interstate, playing for the Adelaide and Melbourne Symph Orchs amongst others. And interesting for the techniques of modern works. The Elliott Carter Esprit rude esprit doux was introduced with examples of polyrhythms that suffuse the work and demanded much practice (30-hours for 4-minutes); the example was 6 against 5. I'm amused when I discover the crossovers between jazz and classical, like diminished runs in Beethoven, and polyrhythms are common in contemporary jazz circles. I've attended several workshops on jazz polyrhythms and written them up on CJ (Will Vinson, Ari Hoenig). The Prokofiev Quintet Op.39 was a favourite, six short movements, some rabidly challenging writing performed with lithe clarity. I noticed especially on the strings, which I understand better, and especially from bassist Esther Toh, so sharp and well timed semiquaver runs and capable up into stratospheric harmonics and high thumb positions, and with such a satisfying tone from a determined bow and her modern Italian bass. It all happened in a little decorated '50s ballroom where my mother has danced, red piping with rope features, timber floor, rest bays and an odd inverted-V bandstand with a glowing aquamarine double border. It's the location for the Ballroom Series concerts of Adelaide's CMA (Chamber Music Adelaide). All unknown to me, from Canberra, quite far and in a different arts ecosystem. All worthy discoveries out of this fabulous concert.

The Kegelstatt Ensemble performed Schulhoff, Elliott Carter, Ginastera and Prokofiev at the Burnside Ballroom in Adelaide. The performers were: Alexandra Castle (flute), Renae Stavely (oboe), Steph Wake-Dyster (clarinet), Emma Perkins (violin), Anna Webb (viola) and Esther Toh (bass).

6 July 2017

Relations devout and otherwise

This may have been the most harmonious Harmonia Monday gig that I've done. It started with a thing of beauty, Saint-Saens Ave verum corpus, then Stravinsky Ave Maria. The Saint-Saens was just heavenly and I liked the Stravinsky for its changing counts and unexpected rhythms and intervals. Then a few Victorian-soundings things that invited apt accents and a strange one, Banchieri Contrapunto bestiale alla mente. That one sounds strange and it was but it amused and was easy to learn and remember, mostly for tenors who just barked (yes, arfs) regularly as a bridge between Fa-la-las. There were tunes from Schubert and Mendelssohn and Grainger and Elgar and the like with themes ranging from religious to indulgent, even carnal. But along with the glorious religious songs above, I fell for a few madrigals dated around 1450, from Morley, Sing we and chant it, and Dowland, Come again sweet love. There's some schmaltz out there, of course, not least from Schubert with lyrics by Shakespeare. Unlikely? Try Who is Sylvia? Lovely, fair, wise and with swainly commendations. But it's a good way to learn something of singing and reading and the music ranges widely and informatively. That's Harmonia Monday.

Harmonia Monday performed its bi-annual open day under Shiela Thompson and Oliver Raymond (conductors).

4 July 2017

Cool jam

The sun was out but it had been -7degC overnight, so it wasn't hot. Nonetheless, the Smiths jam session was outside on the footpath using the public piano with its keys missing a few ivories. Cool out of the sun but it was a great session. The standard tunes. Josh leading with the house band. Sit-ins included recently relocated Brendan Clarke and Wayne Kelly for Miss Jones. I sat in for Beatrice with Hugh and Mark and Josh and others. Anthony Irving is the house bass: first time I've seen him and I was impressed. He's a leftie playing a bass set up as right-handed; think Hendrix. Some really nice music and good cheer and pleasant in the sun, until it got low and the cold set in. Then it was the end. Much enjoyed.

The Smiths Jazz Jam house band was Hugh Barrett (piano), Mark Levers (drums), Anthony John Irving (bass) and Josh Buckler (tenor). Amongst other sit-ins were Brendan Clarke (bass), Wayne Kelly (piano), Eric Pozza (bass).

2 July 2017

Bach to Bush Capital

Two great concerts in two days; a pleasure. The second was Anthony Albrecht on his Bach to the Bush tour of ~20 locations throughout the Eastern states. It's an intimate thing, with a chat and even Q&As on offer, but that's not to diminish the music or its performance. Obviously there's Bach. Anthony played two Bach cello suites, no.1 Gmaj and no.2 Dmin, introducing them with discussions and quotes on the nature of each key. The Gmaj is the best known and joyous and optimisitic. The Dmin is darker: we learnt that Dmin has been described as the "key in which a ghost would speak". Then later, a caprice by Dall-Abbaco written in Ebmaj, an "indescribably gentle" key. Also a Chaconne by Giuseppe Colombi and, at the top, a fascinating introductory piece that was very much out of left field, Reclaiming the spirit by Sarah Hopkins. This work was commissioned and played at the renaming of Uluru and it vividly portrayed Australian bush sounds and the didj. It took mammothly different technique, a readiness to break long training and a regular concert bow to play and was engrossing and convincing. All the tunes had a story as an introduction: a recognition of the local Ngunnawal people; a discussion of the cello's appearance (mid C17th, Italy, as a smaller bass instrument with the new technology of gut strings sheathed in metal); an introduction to Anthony's own 1740s English cello; music as acknowledgement of dark places; of Bach's own history, his loss of 10 from 20 children and his devout religion and composition that was structured in lines with this devotion (eg, in St Matthew's Passion, counted bars, multiplied by the golden mean, bring you to the crucifixion!). All informative but this is not the music. I loved the Hopkins Australian piece, all vivid bush and didj. I was intrigued by Anthony's takes on Bach, light, sometimes flighty across strings, using the more delicate baroque bow. How he paused on the root notes of a phrase, then floated over the arpeggios and scalar phrase that followed. Not the even, determined baroque we sometimes hear or expect moving through exercised sequences, but deeply expressive and delicately phrased, speaking through harmonies of heavenly spheres. Baroque spoken by another age. So, lovely and informed by era and deeply satisfying.

Anthony Albrecht performed at Wesley on his solo Bach to the Bush tour.