22 May 2018

Not shirking, waving

You can't say Maruki Orchestra shirks at challenges. After all, it's a local, community orchestra but it takes on the big, real works and gathers them into intimidating programs. This concert was a star example. First set was Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain, a demanding, often virtuosic tone poem with all manner of feels throughout. Apparently telling a story of a gathering of witches: the assembly; chatter and gossip; Satan's cortege; Black mass; Sabbath. Then a symphony, no less, before interval. This was a little cutie, Bizet Symphony in C major, written when he was aged 17 and only performed after his death. It's a lively thing, pretty, reminiscent at times of horse riding. I thought little of it early on, but it grew on me. Then interval and afternoon tea. Then the continuation of an unusually built program. Bach Concerto for Oboe d'amore BMV1055r played by Ben Stewart. Bach is deceptive, sounding lithe and light and bouncy so apparently easy, but it never lets up and there are always some tricky phrases. No less here, especially in the quick first movement. The second is lovely; the third quick again but more malleable. Ben did a great job on his first concerto outing on this relatively rare instrument. Then, to finish, the most challenging piece of the day, Elgar Enigma variations. Everyone knows Nimrod, of course, and it's deliciously inviting. Enigma is a work of 14 variations on a simple theme that's outlined first up with each movement is dedicated or influenced by someone known to Elgar. Some are hugely tricky or quick or varied. There are accelerandoes to cause fear and polyrhythms and all manner of intricacies appearing to just disappear with another variation. Not easy but well known. The orchestra always rises to performance, playing remarkably better on stage. Not professional, of course, but presentable. The feels were solid and time didn't drag although some intonation wasn't quite perfect. But a worthy outing and an excellent immersion in a huge classical program. Thanks to John and all.

Maruki Community Orchestra performed Mussorgsky, Bizet, Bach and Elgar under John Gould (conductor) at the Albert Hall. Ben Stewart (oboe d'amore) soloed in the Bach concerto.

20 May 2018

Pizza with the lot

Of course, Italian pizzas aren't offered "with the lot" - they are far more refined and tasteful than that. But I was surprised to find our pizza at Antica Ricetta in Manuka came with a singer from Milano. Just vocals with a backing track from a mobile phone. We caught a string of standards, Night and Day, Cat Stevens, don't remember the others, with a delightful northern Italian accent and that certain seriousness the Italians give to having fun. Nice. Mara Presti was the performer and the pizzas were great and the grog (6 Italian beers; a string of Italian wines) was all Italian at reasonable prices so I was happy.

Mara Presti (vocals) sang at Antica Ricetta pizzeria in Manuka. My apologies: I originally misnamed the restaurant as Antica Rustica. It's actually Antica Ricetta and the change is in place.

19 May 2018

Best of company anywhere

I was unavoidably late for Miro's amusingly named local band, the Burley Griffins, but was hugely gratified that I made it. The BGs are Miro with John and Hugh and Brendan and Mark. A local jazz supergroup if ever there was one. I amuse myself by wondering what some of the Indie acts or listeners think as they enter or pass by Smiths hearing this intense, virtuosic music in evidence. This is music that would comfortably grace any jazz festival stage and it's just a Thursday night in Canberra. I came as they were playing some simply structured bluesy hard-bop of '50s style. I was floored to hear this clarity and relaxation with intensity. Brendan settling the groove but with easy augmentation; Mark all percussive enumerations; Hugh adding restrained colour and rhythm; Miro's melody; John's intensity and overwhelming harmonic excursions. These days it's from another era but it's music all raw but hugely elaborated and deeply intellectual. Bird said it with his practice all day then forget it all and just play. Then one of Miro's originals of deep beauty, his meditation in 9/8 called Dakkar. Then some seldom-played masterpieces of the modern era, Zawinul In a silent way and Wayne Shorter Pinocchio. Then to end, the uber-common modern jazz standard, Footprints. I missed the adventure of the earlier tunes , but they played Footprints with a ravishing energy that again stunned me. So, a night with the locals. I know how good they are but it's still a surprise. Why is it so? Another stunner at Smiths.

The Burley Griffins were led by Miro Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn) with John Mackey (tenor), Hugh Barrett (Rhodes), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths.

18 May 2018

Not drowning

For me coming up are three weekends with five gigs: three classical and two jazz. It's busy but I'm enjoying it immensely. Hope to see someone at one or another. Just a pic of the Forrest National Chamber Orchestra in rehearsal. I'm providing bass for a friend who had to pull out so not much preparation but some lovely music by Handel, Faure, Marcello and Sibelius with Dvorak Serenade for Strings as the feature. It's all new to me, but this is a fabulous piece.

Forrest National Chamber Orchestra (FNCO) is performing under Gillian Bailey-Graham (conductor) with Rebecca Lovett (concertmaster) at CGGS Chapel 2pm 27 May.

16 May 2018

In the mix

What a pleasure to be asked to record Igitur nos. I've recorded them many times in concert, of course, but this was in rehearsal, in the organ loft at St Paul's. I was there with them, veritably engulfed in the sounds so that individual parts, especially the higher voices, the tenors and sopranos, were clear and immediate, and with forceful pipe organ driving it all from just metres away. This is blissful when all is prepared and they are going for a decent take. There were some stops and starts, some practices of segments, but also some terrific takes on various religious musics: 2 psalms, Palestrina and 2 from Stanford. Mostly in English. They are to be recordings for demos. Such a pleasure to be amongst it all.

Igitur nos was led in rehearsal by Matthew Stuckings (conductor) in the organ loft of St Paul's Manuka.

8 May 2018

An end

I attended too few events for this CIMF but I did get to the finale and it was stunningly and deeply interesting. The first half was particularly a challenge for some. For that, read contemporary! First up, Ned McGowan performed a solo flute piece, Salvatore Sciarrino Come vengono prodotti gli incantesimi. It was to be performed on bass flute, but was on standard concert flute in the end. This was all tonguing and valve slapping and occasional sudden crescendoes. More rhythm then melody. Then a premiere by resident composer Mary Finsterer called In praise of darkness inspired by Jorge Luis Borges' book of the same name about his loss of sight. Played by the Festival Sinfonia and directed by Roland Peelman. Five movements, often a tuned percussion background (marimba?) with strings in slow crescendoes and sudden decrescendoes (in synth parlance, where we most hear this, long attacks and sudden releases), occasional manic church (tubular) bells accompanied with sudden green lighting then hand drumming; later angry whale sounds, long notes over a choppy semiquaver rhythmic phrase, Chinese gongs and woodwinds and bass drums. I guessed the work was mainly in 6/4, but I could be wrong. Counting must have been hard. It was extended (~40mins) and some questioned that but I liked it, all darkness and depth and anguish and resolution. Then interval then Alice Giles featuring with a string section on two Debussy Dances sacrées et profane. Deliciously played and closer to home for some of the audience. And to finish, the Festival Sinfonia appeared again under Roland with solo violinist Tim Fain playing Bernstein Serenade (after Plato's Symposium). This was a new work to me and several others I talked to, but still familiar. The colours and instrumental combinations of West Side Story (think Rumble or Krupke) were evident. And the references were classic too, if older than WSS's Romeo & Juliet. It comprised five movements named for characters and themed about love and formed as an unlikely violin concerto. Tim Fain was strong and comfortable and I thought he looked very satisfied at the end. But a fascinating work that will get a workout on my Naxos or Spotify streams. Then an after-party for the players and supporters. There's fun in that, of course. Next year is CIMF no.25. A truly impressive tradition that I can only hope grows and grows.

The CIMF2018 Festival Finale at the Fitters' Workshop featured Ned McGowan (flute), Alice Giles (harp), Tim Fain (violin) with the Festival Sinfonia under Roland Peelman (conductor) playing Sciarrino, Finsterer, Debussy and Bernstein.

6 May 2018

Ciao Cecilia

Our CIMF this year was quiet in terms of concerts, not least because of other commitments, but was none-the-less involved. We are part of the crew that billets and drives musicians for the festival and it keeps us busy. This year we were blessed with billetting Dutch/Italian violinist Cecilia Bernardini, a lovely guest and a stunning performer. I may have bored her with amateur chatter about music, but she was gracious and informative: about violins and the lovely one she was performing with (an Amati from Cremona's golden age); tech matters like the various bows she uses for different musics and how frequently she changes her (gut) strings; her life on the road as a professional musician; her partner's and family's relationships with music; her involvements with various groups. She plays regularly with Scotland's Dunedin Consort and also in groups in Rome and Paris (ah, modern European life! Why Brexit, I wonder?) and has twice led Canada's Tafelmusik which is visiting Canberra for Musica Viva in a few weeks time. And just those friendly discussions of life and the rest that ordinary people indulge in. The sound of her practising was a pleasure: a serious performer on a serious instrument preparing Beethoven and Schubert and the like. It's wonderful to welcome guests, musical or otherwise, and a great pleasure and honour to host Cecilia.

Cecilia Bernadini (violin) was our guest for the Canberra International Music Festival 2018. BTW, Cecilia is the in the middle, in green, in the pic above.

5 May 2018

Beyond basics

This was a favourite concert from the CSO and not just because of the double bass concerto, but it had an array of musics. Beethoven Symphony no.2. Beethoven is always good and this was a blow out. Nicely played, tight, neat, together, with some prodigiously fast lines in bass. The Ninth has its moments but perhaps this has more. I'll have to revisit the 9th to check. Beethoven was the last thing for the night. First up was Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis. Again neat and thoughtful playing. I noticed the four string principals playing a string quartet role but the orchestra also entered as well as a reduced orchestra of first desks. The Tallis theme is played three times and a secondary theme appears on solo viola and forms the climax. Prior to Beethoven was a short work in three movements by Paul Stanhope called Morning Star written as his response to Indigenous music in Arnhem Land. The double bass concerto was a star for me, obviously. Phoebe Russell played Vanhal Double bass concerto Dmaj. PR is trained in Victoria, VYO, ANAM and two years on a scholarship associated with the Berlin Phil, no less. Only 24 and she's returned, seasoned, as the Principal bass in the Queenland Symphony. A modicum of both talent and hard work, no doubt. I unavoidably missed her recent solo concert but was in the front row for this one. Some technical matters: a very small double bass from 1700 with large F-holes and 40" scale (I'm told), just less than 3/4; flat back; narrow neck that suggested to me a conversion from 3 strings; classical bow; Belcanto strings? (orange wrapping). I loved her technique, too: flexible and apt to the phrasing; thumb and some freer techniques up high; harmonics beyond the neck; third finger used on some vibrato; neat finger changes to hold notes or continue phrases. A pleasant and gentle tone with form if not too loud. Seriously intriguing playing throughout. Long practice and some serious training shows, and I think a preparedness for technique to be flexible subject to notes and phrasing. Not sure I'm saying much, but a great pleasure for me with a great view. And an attractive piece. Perhaps I'm coming around to double bass as a solo instrument, at least in hands like these. A great pleasure as was the concert itself: a great pleasure all round.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Vanhal and Paul Stanhope. Johannes Fritzsch (conductor) conducted and Phoebe Russell (double bass) soloed on the Vanhal Double Bass concerto in D major.

3 May 2018


Another chat session, this time with two Australian string quartets: Orava and Pietra. Orava played the other day so I know them for that. They are the seniors (relatively) having established themselves, studied in the US with the Takacs Quartet, got an agent and a CD with Deutsche Grammophon Australia (impressive) playing Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, making their name at festivals, committed and needing to eat. The Pietra Quartet are still students at Sydney Con, developing the group, still to decide on a whole range of things like their image and style and key repertoire. I know violist Justin as he performed the Stamitz concerto on our Musica da Camera CD. Younger and developing but on the path. This all came out in discussion with moderator Vincent Plush, ABC radio presenter, ex-music lecturer and the rest. The discussions were brief but relevant: identity and presentation; naming (Orava means squirrel in Finnish); getting together and staying together; approaches to music and sound; choosing repertoire; experiences with the Australian repertoire; interestingly, "where is home"; AYO in their development (most had been AYO performers); cultivating audience; women in string quartets (not at all an issue for youth, but some historical relevance); instruments, old and new; Queensland's Year 3 string program; performing live vs recording. Lots of thoughts there, so no time for any short performance. I didn't ask my question, but it would have been "do you still play weddings", or, survival skills for musicians. Lots of interesting chatter.

Vincent Plush (moderator) interviewed the Orava and Pietra String Quartets. Orava comprises Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno (violins), Thomas Chawner (viola) and Karol Kowalik (cello). Pietra comprises Anna Da Silva Chen and Ben Tjoa (violins), Justin Julian (viola) and Miles Mullin-Chivers (cello).

1 May 2018

The classics

The concerts at CIMF are varied, often with mixes of performers. This was called Classic Souvenir: obviously classical but again well varied. First up was Schubert on fortepiano, then Beethoven on fortepiano and violin, then a string sextet from Tchaikovsky. Perhaps he's romantic, but it's related. Keiko Shichijo performed Schubert Impromptu op.90 no.3 in the damnable key of Gbmajor. But then it's different on piano. It was likely developed from improvisation but the effect is an attractive melody with a busy left hand. Then Cecilia Bernardini joined for Beethoven Sonata for violin and piano in G major. Now here's a gentle key! It was written for the Archduke and a specific violinist as a "musical dialogue with refined classic gestures" (Roland Peelman from the notes). There was a lovely and generous musical playfulness and awareness between these two musicians who play together in Europe. They are capable, mature players and their ease together and deep skills are evident in the comfort of the interaction. I've noticed the best players are something like transparent as the music speaks through them. This was like that: easy and evident. The final work was a somewhat odd: a string quartet extrapolated to a sextet, with paired violins, violas and cellos. It changes the standard form of first and second violin by expanding this relationship to the lower instruments. It's quite a fascination to hear two cellos talking different lines, sounding moderately different. Otherwise, a busy and intense work presented by the Orava (String) Quartet with friends. Someone commented that it couldn't have been played by women as it carried evident testosterone. Not sure of that one, but it was busy and energetic and approached with rabid glee. Either way, a fascinating and different take on the classics theme.

Keiko Shichijo (fortepiano) played Schubert solo then Beethoven with Cecilia Bernardini (violin). The Orava Quartet with friends played Tchaikovsky. The Orava quartet are Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno (violins), Thomas Chawner (viola) and Karol Kowalik (cello) and their friends were James Wannan (viola) and Miles Mullin-Chivers (cello).

30 April 2018

Saints all

I find it hard to say no, so I said yes to the Rookwood Ensemble playing Bach and Vivaldi. Not least because the Bach was JS's Oboe and Violin concerto which I know well from LNL and otherwise. In the end, being bass, I played a limited role, dropping out for the soft segments and hammering in for the mfs, fs, ffs and the like. But what a piece. The counterpoint and melodies and that restrained pizz second movement were a blast. The Vivaldi was his Concerto in D for violin organ and strings: not bad itself. Otherwise, we had several pieces without the string accompaniment, from Quantz, Handel and Scarlatti, played by continuo, recorder, violin, oboe or the relevant mix. We were playing with the mechanical pipe organ at All Saints so we were in the Loft and the pitch rose and fell with the state of the organ on the day (presumably due to humidity and temperature). We got various favourable comments, even from audience who had attended the CIMF Bach at the Fitters' by Bach Akademie Australia. Cool. And we enjoyed it and we raised a few dollars for the All Saints music fund. It's a grand old church for Canberra (built Sydney 1868 for Rookwood Cemetery and transported to Canberra 1958, if I read the plaques correctly). What a pleasure. Thanks to my fellow performers on the day.

The Rookwood Ensemble comprised Heng Lin Yeap (violin), Caroline Fargher (oboe), Ann Neville (recorder) and Terry Norman (organ) with string section John Dobson and Heather Shelley (violins), Paul Whitbread (viola), Teresa Neeman (cello) and Eric Pozza (bass).

29 April 2018


Blanc de Blanc reminded me of cruise ships although plenty more risque. It's a popular entertainment: humourous, no claim on seriousness, lots of sex and indelicate language and suggestive patter and the central theme of alcohol, even if that's in the sophisticated form of champers. The champers actually forms a parallel with the show itself, bubbly and light but with those profound underlying skills and very vibrant and busy surface. That's nice and it goes over a treat. The audience is involved, sometime cajoled into involvement. The cheers and laughter and applause is also communal, if directed at and by the cast. The cast is nine performers with a very loud (dance party capable) sound system and a smallish stage with a few levels and a few props but they also come into the audience, to grab people or lead laughter. A large part of such a show will be the bodies and they were impressive. Strong, athletic, not so much lithe as muscular. There were some moves that were positively otherworldly, so difficult, so physically demanding, so strong or bent or balanced. We could wonder if these are aliens given the extremes. But no, just people, circus people in that role. But then there was burlesques and the pre-war cabaret. I think Weimar German, but I know little of this. Perhaps Polish or French or other. Popular music with suggestive humour, some "tits and bums" (as someone suggested waiting in line to enter), all in the apt space of a smoky Spiegeltent. I don't know to what degree we attend such theatre to see those tits and bums, or to see the circus and unbelievable contortions, or to hear the commentary and themes or to relieve daily life. Maybe there's someone for all those things, or maybe not in Canberra in 2018. We have lots and we can know lots historically and yet we often know little, given our comfort and ease. Something might change our awareness, but in the meantime, it may be just another cruise entertainment, although wondrously capable and on steady ground. Just incredible, wondrous, entertainment. Blanc de Blanc is apparently the "Champagne of choice among serious oenophiles" (WSJ, https://www.wsj.com/articles/blanc-de-blancs-the-wine-insiders-favorite-champagne-1450369557, viewed 28 Apr 2018). However you take it, this was a stunning show and people with audience in tight rows and partaking with gusto. Fun and perhaps portending more desperate times. Maybe climate or Dutton or other will give us those and BdB's themes will be more than just bubbly drink and stunning entertainment. Let's hope not; for all our sakes, better that it remains just incredible entertainment.

Blanc de Blanc was performed at the Spiegeltent outside the Canberra Theatre Centre.

Promotional pic from Blanc de Blanc by David James McCarthy.

28 April 2018

Violins talk

The Canberra International Music Festival is on again. The first thing I managed was a talk session with two violinists: Roland Peelman as host with internationals Cecilia Bernardini and Tim Fain. The chatter was of violins (of course), why they took up their instruments, what specific instruments they play, how are they different, but also into period music, especially its development over recent decades and the huge upheaval it caused. Interestingly, too, we heard the two violins live in comparison. Both are seriously impressive instruments, both from the classic source, Cremona. Cecilia plays Amati; I didn't catch Tim's family. Tim's is set up as modern; Cecilia's is set up for period playing, with gut. She uses the period bow, but also a transitional bow for classical music. We heard the differences between instruments and between Cecilia's bows. Fascinating and truly a rare opportunity.

Roland Peelman interviewed Cecilia Bernardini and Tim Fain (violinists) at the Ainslie Arts Centre.

27 April 2018


Great to hear Wayne at Smiths with Brendan and Mark. Wayne's our own driving, informed pianist. I remember first hearing him in a room at the Canberra Theatre back in the '80s and the memory remains. We lost him for a time to various venues and casinos in China, but he's been back for several years and playing the storm we know. There's intensity in Wayne's playing, informed, varied, modern with a blues influence, and that intensity and drive that comes with such ease and a good ear and informed listening. He was with that great rhythm section that's getting such a workout recently, both also Canberra products from pretty much the same era. Mark has been around town mostly over the years, but Brendan was lost to Sydney for 18 years but now returned. So, a blessed trio. They played a few Wayne originals, the mesmeric and mallet-drum-fenced King of Kings and the homage to his great piano influence, Mr Hank Jones. The others were common enough, but brought to life with some stunning solos all round and a deep understanding between the participants: Four, Monk Think of one, Cedar Walton Clockwise, In your own sweet way. Also two from Bird, Relaxing at the Camarillo and Yardbird suite. And my fave, Alone together, introduced with a solo bass extravaganza. And Wayne playing solo piano for Ellington prelude to a kiss. Some great tunes with a few originals. These three are local stars and the audience obviously holds them close, too, chatting back and forth from stage and whooping with amiable intimacy. Another vision of NYC coming to Canberra.

Wayne Kelly (piano) performed with Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths.

26 April 2018

Golly Molly

Molly has moved and this was the first gig we'd done in the new venue. One only knows the location of this speakeasy by its lat&long (unless you have Google maps). Anyway, we found it. The entry is suitable discrete, under the period light in Odgers Lane. Up the stairs past the bank vaults, opening into a larger space than before with a larger array of whiskies but still dark, still noisy. Comfy. Now there's a grand piano (old but decently tuned) and a PA and a stage. Tilt had a great time. The dark must suit us as we played hard from the start, ranging through our transcriptions and standards and originals. The audience seemed to especially respond to the hot numbers. It was loud but the whole place is loud and our addition didn't seem problematic. Maybe Molly tilts with Tilt. Whatever, it was a great night. Hot and hard work but much enjoyed.

Tilt played at Molly bar. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). Thanks to Richard Pozza for pics.

25 April 2018

Ford not Fordism

Many know Andrew Ford from his voice on radio. He's the Music Show on ABCRN, endlessly knowledgeable about all manner or musics, interviewing visitors and locals from pop through jazz to classics. A musician and composer and broadcaster for all seasons. He's now the ANU Coombs Creative Arts Fellow (for 2018)so we had a lecture and a concert in the last few days. I got to the concert. Several staff performers from the ANU SOM playing a string of works by AF including one premiere. First up, Once upon a time were two brothers... with Sally Walker on flute telling a grim Grimm Fairy tale and accompanying herself on flute. It's another of those out-of-time stories with a moral message. King offers daughter's hand for anyone who will slay the boar; one of two brothers receives a magic spear and kills it; other brother gets first brother drunk, steals the dead boar and claims the maiden; a blind minstrel carves the first brother's bone into a flute that accuses the other brother who is condemned to death by being buried alive. Like I said, otherworldly: there are few boars around Canberra. Peter & the Wolf came to mind: doesn't that feature flute? There were times I could hear the dancing or drinking of travelling in the music. So, interesting and nicely played/recited. And with some backing harmonic drones from violin and cello. Then several piano works played by Edward Neeman. Broadway Boogie-Woogie is like a Mondrian painting, highly constructed with notes tied to place then a free tune overwritten in the right hand and with the existential rhythms of jazz. And Fear no more..., a commission commemorating the Bali bombings influenced by AH's visit to the Washington DC Vietnam memorial. Slow and sparse; extremes of pitch against mid-range notes and chords; sometimes heavy and mournful; later atonal and light in 2 single lines; references and self-reflection. Edward Neeman remained to play Cradle song with Tom Fromyhr on violin: a lullaby in 3/4 passacaglia form with ground bass and a floating violin over, initially playing harmonics, then melody, then a return to harmonics. The premiere was Hearing voices performed by David Pereira which explored bowing - over the fingerboard, normal position and at the bridge, mixing the three as a type of counterpoint. David did this seriously well. All interesting; all played very well by some local masters. For me, it will be the Boogie-woogie and the cello bowing that I will most retain. A fascinating outing of modern, Andrew Fordian composition.

Sally Walker (flute), Edward Neeman (piano), Tom Fromyhr (violin) and David Pereira (cello) performed compositions by Andrew Ford (composer, ANU Coombs Creative Arts Fellow 2018)

24 April 2018

Sunday jam

We have three regular jazz jam sessions that I know of in Canberra at the moment but it's the Sunday afternoon one that most suits me. I'm busy Sat arvos and Wed evenings. So this Sunday I got to Smiths. It was inside, preparing for winter, so on stage, later with Bevan and his PA. The band playing when I arrived was Wayne Kelly, Anthony Irving, Mark Levers and Sandy Ekert. Sandy on tenor was new to me. I sat in for a few tunes. Andrew Howard sat in on djembe and later on drums. The tunes were a string from the fake books: Impressions, Caravan, Just friends, Nardis, interestingly Horace Silver Peace which is so beautiful but unexpected here. I'd missed Alone together and no doubt other common tunes. Anthony is playing a storm. Wayne is the stalwart and centre of easy confidence as always. Andrew's djembe were very cool, capably offering some percussive richness. Sandy was new to me but comfortable with the charts. Mark is ever-reliable. Add a beer and a techo chat with Bevan and it was a very pleasant afternoon outing. They could just do with a few more jammers.

Wayne Kelly (piano), Anthony Irving (bass), Mark Levers (drums), Sandy Ekert (tenor), Andrew Howard (drums, percussion) and Eric Pozza (bass) jammed at Smiths

22 April 2018

Who needs NYC

Yeah, it's a big call and somewhat in jest, but there's great music in any decently sized city that I've visited and I saw some truly great music the other night at Smiths. It was Warwick Alder, Sydneysider, with our local cream, Brendan Clarke, John Mackey and Mark Sutton. Suffice to say, this was stunningly good and presentable on any stage anywhere. The style was somewhere around hard-bop-cum-post-bop with a touch of free from John. The skills were exemplary. The clarity of vision and inherent humour and good nature along with the awareness of history and a deep personal history of all players were evident. These guys just play like gods and I could just sit and smile. There was a certain bluster, not least as Warwick joked with the audience, but clear was the immense knowledge and long experience of all the players. Just stunning solos all round. Fabulously easy harmonies thrown out by the front line. Strong shared eights and fours from Mark. Blissful solos at all time from Brendan. Clarity of intent from Warwick and yearning sheaves of colour from John. Warwick was the melodic one, but trumpeters always are. There's something about trumpet that makes for melody. On the other hand, sax is all flourishes and screeds and colour and John does that with consonant or easily dissonant chops at will. Brendan just plays the most easy but adventurous embellishments and the most deceptively simple solos. And Mark who lays busyness and washes over settled grooves and then takes eights and fours with ease and variety. And this is over the most standard of American standards: I'll be seeing you, Darn that dream, Quasimodo. Interestingly, starting the first set with a trumpet trio (trumpet, bass, drums playing I'll be seeing you) and the second set with a duo (trumpet and bass playing Falling in love with love). Plus a fast blues (an Ellington gig requirement) by Warwick and a funkier, distinctly '70s jazz tune called Message song by a influence of Warwick's (Dave van Kriedt, mate of Brubeck and Paul Desmond, who had visited Australia to lecture at Wollongong when jazz studies started up here) and Brownsville, by Warwick's long-term bandleader and national jazz elder, Bernie McGann. What to say other than that this was a world-worthy night in our intimate venue. We were blessed.

Warwick Alder (trumpet) led a quartet with John Mackey (tenor), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths.

21 April 2018

Hints of refluoresence

I've got the story, several times over recent weeks, that the ANU School of Music is chuffing along. Apparently they had 80 new students this year after 30 the previous year (or thereabouts?). Plenty of jazz and contemporary players who are getting jazz harmony training and showing interest in the demanding arts. Nice. I haven't seen too many over recent years, but maybe they are coming out of the woodwork. Before Warwick Alder we had one such band as a warmup. The band was Gravy 'Trane. The composition was sax, piano, bass, drums. The tunes were both covers and originals, interestingly by a few members. All looking up. Gravy waltz, Naima, a Cedar Walton tune and Stephen Scott Like a child at play are covers. In addition, three originals by sax, piano and bass. The players were decent, too. Obviously fairly new but with an understanding and awareness of the music and instrumental history. I enjoyed some nicely structured sax lines, some very confident bass, aware and responsive piano and drums. I noticed in the past that the early year students tended to be in the background; the more mature, developed players, some second, but mostly third year and honours, were out and about and doing some impressive, creative, personally relevant stuff. With any luck, that's where we are going, so expect any flowering to show over a few years. Looking forward to it. Gravy 'Trane are a promising opener.

Gravy 'Trane were Thomas Coleman-Bell (alto), Caleb Campbell (piano), Isaac Said (bass) and Hugh Magri-Bull (drums).

19 April 2018

Vale Brenton

Brenton Holmes was our friend and a drummer for numerous gigs. He died the other day and his old band played to his memory at his wake: Richard Manderson, Mike Dooley, Leanne Dempsey and me. A friend said at the funeral service that he sought "a life of the mind". That was so close to Brenton as Renaissance man but he was also deeply welcoming and had a strong sense of ethics built on humane principles. He died too young, not yet 70, after having to give up drums a few years earlier. Vale Brenton, you are well remembered.
RIP Brenton Holmes 1950-2018

17 April 2018

A return to old haunts

Musica da Camera played the High Court on Sunday and it was a return to an old venue. MdC is in its 40th year this year and they played the first concert held in the High Court, well before the recent series that has continued since Canberra's Centenary year. I'd heard that from an original member of the group, but on the day, I also heard it from a friend who I know otherwise who had attended that first concert. Circles within circles. It was the Running Festival that day, so access was a chore, but the audience was a nice size and the acoustics were flattering - just a nice degree of reverb where we were located. MdC was also celebrating the launch of its first CD (again, after 40 years) but I've mentioned the CD in another post. For this concert, MdC invited several CSO members: Barbara Jane Gilby (CSO concertmaster), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (CSO violist and soloist for two works) and Kyle Ramsay-Daniel (CSO principal bass). The program was varied although had a melancholy tinge. Vivaldi (Concerto in G All Rustica) started it all with a lively spin, but then Hindemith Trauermusik was the first to commemorate a death. Then Elgar Serendae for Strings livened things up a little but Puccini Crisantemi memorialised another death. Then two recent Australian compositions: James Grant Waltz for Betz was a waltz offered to his wife for a Valentine's Day (lots of bass pizz and pretty solo melody line) and Graeme Koehner Whirling dance was polyrhythmic modernist work (I liked this one but not too easy to follow, especially while transposing up the sub-low-E notes on bass). Then, as encore, Morricone Gabriel's oboe (theme from The Mission), everyone's memorable favourite. That's the sort of composition you could retire on. Lucy played the solo parts on Hindemith and Grant. Barbara led from the first violin seat (standing like the higher strings and Kyle). Kyle just stood beside me a blasted his way through the music with some great reading and convincing playing. So that's what it takes to be a principal bass. He did a great job. We'd played the program through on Friday and I'd preferred that take, but others didn't agree. It just shows how we judge group performances by our performance. But what a pleasure to play with these professionals and this excellent string orchestra and to play in the High Court to a generous audience. And thanks to Karina who organises this concert series.

Musica da Camera performed at the High Court. Invited guests were Barbara Jane Gilby (musical director), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola soloist) and Kyle Ramsay-Daniel (bass).

15 April 2018

A teaser

Just a note to go with this pic. This is Rookwood Ensemble in rehearsal. RE will be playing at All Saints on 29 April for the Heritage Festival. I was lucky enough to have been invited to play. I was particularly taken in by the music, a Vivaldi concerto (Dmin, RV541) but especially a Bach concerto (for oboe and violin, BWV1060R). The Bach is a piece I know well from ABCRN Late Night Live, a perennial listen of mine. So I was hooked. It's also the first time I've played with a pipe organ, meaning tuning can be skewed by temperature and more, and the first time I've inhabited the organ loft for a gig. All interesting and the music is a dream. More after the gig.

Rookwood Ensemble play Bach and Vivaldi at All Saints Ainslie on 29 April.

14 April 2018

Why every band needs a singer

I've said it before and I felt it again at this gig. Sally Marett was playing with the cream of our local players, Brendan Clarke, Hugh Barrett and Mark Sutton. John Mackey sat in for a few tunes, too. We could expect some incredibly capable and interesting playing and we got it. But beyond that, this was alive with the words of tunes we've all played from fake books knowing just the first line or so. These were songs not tunes. They were all standards, from the renowned American songbook, the popular music of the films and mid-20th Century US. We reel in response to some lyrics that sound so inane and yet there's depth and humour and subtly here. Rhymes, maybe, but we've learned that rhymes can express: no less than current uber-popular rap does that. The movies seemed all straight with defined roles and the rest, but there was depth expressed. I think of Romeo and Juliet as Maria and Tony but that's just my fave. "Beautiful love / what have you done to me"; "It's only a canvas sky / hanging over a muslin tree / but it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me"; "Flamin' with all the glow of sunrise / burning kiss is sealing / the vow that all betray". Words and themes the musos don't know. And the contact with audience that a singer creates. Words and thoughts are passions and immediacy. Far more than the indistinct, uncertain noises that are instrumental music. Not to put that down, but it's not so immediate, so shared, so understood. Play with a singer and experience the difference. Your playing is immediately just support, for the singer, the story and the emotions. Suffice to say I like that. Of course, Sally did a truly excellent job, up front, entertaining, great voice and contact. Of course, the band did a similarly excellent job, fabulously inventive and capable and quick and responsive and on top of it all, responding to each other and Sally. John sat in and did wonders, flourishing widely and busily and ingeniously on Softly. So all round, this was a massive treat. I sat with a smile on my face throughout. Sally mentioned the arts scene in Canberra as busy and satisfying. That night was just a dazzling example. Playful, fun, ruefully true in its period lyrics, a blowout and truly excellent entertainment.

Sally Marett (vocals) led her band comprising Hugh Barrett (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums). John Mackey (tenor) sat in for a few tunes.

12 April 2018

This year's primer

It's an annual outing and one that I look forward to with anticipation. It's Roland Peelman's intro to the upcoming Canberra International Music Festival. Roland is a fine musician so the performances are intense, informed, virtuosic, but they are more than that. They are also seminars in the history, background, intent of the composers, with just a touch of the technical, too. This year it was Schubert, Satie and Debussy. We heard of Schubert's intimate gatherings in the environment of repression under Metternich. Roland played three Moments musicaux, apparently written as last thoughts by this social character. Then Satie, who lived a solitary life on the margins. His compositions were simple, he was self-taught, no virtuosity of grand harmonic structures, saying much with little, at a time when Wagner's complex and saturated music was in vogue in France. Roland played three of his Avant-dernieres pensees, just short pieces, mostly with deep melody in the left hand against staccatos or arpeggios in the right. Then the etudes from Debussy. Apparently he had admired Wagner for a short time, but came to be influenced by Satie. It was Debussy who orchestrated Satie's Gymnopédies. Debussy explored harmonies freed from traditional tonal and functional relationships through variations of register, orchestration and the like. Roland played etudes exploring repeated notes, opposing sonorities and composite arpeggios. In this context, Roland talked of the piano's ability to handle repeated notes as the hammer doesn't fully retract and its importance as a development from earlier keyboard instruments. That was a new one on me. All fascinating and all so well played. And from memory. It's one aspect of music that it becomes imbued in people. Roland displays that, not least with his memory in performance. Playing from memory displays a deep connection and only assists in performance. So, a fabulously interesting and capable concert and a intro to the upcoming CIMF, no doubt to be as impressive as ever.

Roland Peelman (piano) performed Schubert, Satie and Debussy at Wesley.

10 April 2018

Evening at TheL

Now in black and at Llewellyn. First up is composer Jessica Wells giving a pre-concert talk. She spoke of her experiences as a composer and especially in film, supporting various renowned names on major projects as well as doing her own compositions. Also of the development of this piece of 12 short movements picturing the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar. She had used it to experiment with different compositional tools, layering, colours, parts and combinations, various percussion and their uses and shapes for a workshop with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. It's an interesting and surprisingly challenging piece: for the basses, especially for Snake with its slithering odd time and exposed bottom end. Jessica mentioned she was originally from Brooklyn and we chatted about Park Slope and Seventh Ave afterwards. Then the serious work of the night: the concert. First up, Zodiac Animalia, a world premier performance, then a stage move and Matt Withers soloing on Castelnouvo-Tedesco Guitar concerto. Then interval and Rodrigo Concerto Madrigal with Matt and Callum Henshaw, another stage move and Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol. Other than Jessica's starter, this was a Spanish heavy night. I hadn't expected to enjoy it as much as I did, but it went over stunningly well and I was surprisingly taken by the music, or at least the performance. Megan was in Madrid that night so I dedicated it to her. I shouldn't be surprised - this is a seriously decent non-professional orchestra with an impressive conductor and some very decent players. I am often surprised by the skills on stage or in rehearsal at NCO: easy sight-reading, impressive chops and the two guitars were hugely impressive, seemingly joined at the hip for the pairing in Rodrigo. And how could you not be taken in by the finish of the Rimsky-Korsakov? The turnout at Llewellyn was decent and the whole was professionally videoed, so we can expect to see at least some on YouTube sometime. Just another wonderfully satisfying outing with NCO. And the inevitable party after. A big day and massive fun.

Jessica Wells (composer) gave the pre-concert talk. National Capital Orchestra performed Wells Zodiac Animalia (world premiere), Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Radrigo and Rimsky-Korsakov. Leonard Weiss (conductor) led with soloists Matt Withers and Callum Henshaw (guitars).