24 July 2020


I expect there are a lot of musicians out there in Covid-land who are a little rusty With the best intentions, we mostly don't manage to practice all day even when we have the time. We miss those upcoming gigs that prompt the preparation. So it was, to some degree, when I got to a return Royal Society of Church Music (RSCM) organ recital. The planned organist pulled out due to lack of preparation. Bill Fraser, a stalwart of the local organ scene, filled in. He told me he was missing the normal preparation himself, but he did a worthy job on a string of interesting pieces from Baroque through to last C19th. The concert was in St Peter's Lutheran Church, Reid, with a German-made baroque organ that sounded great to me and filled the A-frame church nicely. Interestingly, Bill told me this is a mechanical organ, so keys are linked with bars to pipes. The more common current style is electro-mechanical with actuators controlling airflow; presumably cheaper and easier but not always preferred. just closed my eyes and enjoyed it immensely. Organ is so satisfying, big and full and sweetly toned, and this concert had a series of apt tunes, a Corelli violin sonata transcribed and an early Bach Prelude and Fugue and two choral preludes by Merkel and Brahms. We heard a Mendelssohn allegro taken from a manuscript, called the Berlin-Krakow, of uncertain ownership like various other removals from Germany after WW2. I remember seeing a few remaining pieces of the plunder of Troy in Berlin, with reference to the rest of the collection being held in Russia. Again, conflicts over ownership. Of course, there could also be some query over Germany's ownership in the first place. At least they are not lost to humanity. And a few late C19th Australian works, religious and very satisfying. So the gigs are up again, perhaps only while they last. Let's catch what we can, within the limits of social distancing, of course.

Bill Fraser performed for the RSCM (ACT Branch) at St Peter's Lutheran Church, Reid.

20 July 2020

Cautiously in concert

The return of live music is now judicious, especially with the second wave of CV19 in Melbourne and, as I write this, Bateman's Bay. That's Canberra playground territory, so we are all a little apprehensive. But this Limestone Consort concert was planned a month or more back and it went ahead. With sparse seating and limited numbers, as planned. And without the cello we expected, but that was due to a slip in the kitchen; not at all to do with the pandemic. So just Lauren on violin with James on harpsichord. Clara could just turn the pages (I don't envy Clara: finger skin injuries may be temporary but they stop your playing and they can be very painful). The program was Schmelzer for two numbers and Handel, Biber and Bach. Lauren noted that Schmelzer was appropriate for the program, given he died in a Plague. Certainly apt. Lauren always gives informative background introductions, social or musical. Another comment was on the Biber piece, Mystery (Rosary) sonata no.5 (Jesus in the temple). Apparently Biber was hugely inventive, even predating atonal composition. Here it was scoradatura, so the violin (a new and powerful-sounding baroque violin on loan from Hugh Withycombe) was tuned to an A major chord. Apparently the notation was for standard finger positions so the tones surprised the ear. Otherwise, there were two solo harpsichord pieces (Handel Voluntaries and fugues no. 3, 8 and Bach Toccata in Dminor (not that renowned Toccata and fugue - BWV913 not 565). In all, a lovely outing, small and sadly missing the cello, not least in the Schmelzer Cucu sonata, but a welcome return to live classical gigs.

On the day, Limestone Consort appeared as a duo comprising Lauren Davis (violin) and James Porteous (harpsichord), playing Schmelter, Handel, Biber and Bach.

16 July 2020

Ellingtonia, Strayhornia

Once again back at Molly for another Covid gig, this time with three of our local heroes playing music of another pair of heroes, Ellington and Strayhorn. The local heroes were Tom Fell, Wayne Kelly and James Luke. I chatted for some of it, but was floored by some understated then immensely melodic bari sax and a similar melodicity on bass and Wayne's lovely bluesy response. Floored is an apt word. James is so lithe in his playing, but also relaxed and diverse and satisfyingly lyrical. And with a lovely, rounded tone. Tom spelled the tunes so effectively then the solos with clear reference to the originals. I guess there was a good bit of transcription in his history, but if not, a good ear and some solid listening. Wayne plays piano, so chordal, so bunches of notes in his raunchy style that contrasted to some degree, but complemented with ease. These guys know each other well and it shows. This was easy and wonderfully effective. The pics weren't so good, they had turned the stage lights off. Well, it is jazz in a speakeasy. A wonderfully satisfying evening with superb playing and a deep knowledge and respect for the classic tunes they were portraying. Fabulous. Not sure what the musicologists would make of my title, though.

Tom Fell (baritone sax) led a trio with Wayne Kelly (piano) and James Luke (bass) playing the music of Ellington and Strayhorn at Molly.

15 July 2020

The other side of the stream

We've been stuck inside and doing streams and webinars. Here's something that's a little more active and quite fun: playing together by streams. You can do this as a jam session or live performance, but that has issues of internet lag and I am yet to achieve that. But I have done a few home recordings that are assembled later as a performance. One was with Bernard Duc, a composer in Switzerland, who put out a call for bassists to support a choral performance of Amazing grace on FB. The other followed an invitation emailed around Canberra, for community musicians to play a few tunes with Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Canberra School of Music students. Both provided an audio download to listen to while reading a part. It's much easier to play with the volume and excitement of an orchestra around you, but I managed them. I also tried to record a tenor part for a huge choir with Eric Whitacre (2,000+ singers) but I wasn't comfortable with my solo voice so that one bit the dust. All amusing pastimes. Links below; perhaps more coming.

  • Amazing grace / Bernard Duc
  • CSO Community special
  • 13 July 2020

    Ragtiming Paris

    There's not too much international travel these days, but Heather and Leigh got back from Paris just at the start of the pandemic and they've been down the coast and dropped in to Smiths for a gig. Leigh is Leigh Barker, once local bassist trained here in Canberra. It's a story of a small world, but I know Leigh and his folks through multiple connections. Heather is from rural NSW but I first heard her in Melbourne. They have kids now and have lived in Paris for several years. But back here for the duration, I guess. Their gig was classic early jazz, perhaps the latest tune was from Irving Berlin in 1932. Glorious beauteous melodies, cute and nicely played on violin with guitar or bass, and sung by Heather with a firm and tailored voice intervening with her neat violin melodies with a lovely, understated vibrato and considerable body. There was one ragtime, this being a family-version of Heather's Dirty Ragtimer Duo, along with Maple leaf rag and Carter Family and Louis' Hot 5 and a string of lovely but often sad songs, like Old fashioned love and Lover come back to me and Say it isn't so (that's the Irving Berlin tune from a time when he'd lost much). So, a lovely, touching, period concert (it's arguable that much jazz is that these days) that had me tapping my toes with 2-feels. And some decent guitar and wonderful bass, not least with French bow, spelling 2-feels and early walks and beautifully self-evident and understated solos. It was a change to go to Smiths again, although sadly now sparse, separated listeners, but a pleasure none-the-less. For the audience, some returns; for Leigh and Heather, maybe some more returns, to Paris. Not sure when. But so nice while it lasted.

    Heather Stewart (vocals, violin) performed with Leigh Barker (guitar, bass) as the Dirty Ragtimer Duo at Smiths.

    12 July 2020

    Forever streaming

    Well, here's a change. Not for the streaming, which is common to my daily life these days, but for the event. The International Online Bass Summit. Five days of various seminars, master classes, concerts and the like, various concurrent sessions, international with names I just read about or hear of. Not all good, though. It ran on NYC time, so started ~2am and ran to early morning. Not optimal for we Australians, although we made up a good portion of attendees. I'm still working my way through recordings, but it's not the same. While live, you can flip between sessions and ask questions and thus interact. The recordings are more like YouTube views, private but distant. I've enjoyed orchestral masterclasses, regularly floored when the leader picks up his bass. I particularly enjoyed Derek Jones, a multi-talented studio musician with awareness of getting and keeping the gig, and Kristin Korb who presented various exercises and demonstrations on singing with the double bass. That one was unexpected and little considered. Kieron Hanlon presented some arrangements for Bach cello suites in different keys to suit the double bass. Danny Ziemann presented his crawl, walk, run approach to jazz bass (2-feel, walk, solos) and David Allen Moore presented his fractal fingering approach which I didn't find so convincing, me the traditionalist. And the concerts, Francois Rabbath smiling deeply throughout, and John Clayton with son Gerald, Gary Karr with Christian McBride and more. Some sessions were interesting but not so relevant for me, but I may watch them in coming weeks, and some dealt with technical issues that I'm hanging out to view, like spiccato bowing or Simandl-plus fingering or thumb position. All matters of fascination for the double bassist but unknown otherwise. And Australian Rob Nairn on early music. How could I have missed that till now? It's a strange experience but nice that I could take part. Thanks to Covid-19, I guess, for the opportunity.

    The International Online Bass Summit was held by videoconference on 24-28 June 2020.

    10 July 2020


    Streams are the core of our recent experience. I would find it hard to count the Webinars I've taken part in. A few invited guests speaking of whatever (one webinar included Nobel-prize winner, Stiglitz, no less). But the key, for me, is twofold: people from outside our local area, so a meeting could feature Stiglitz or the like, perhaps from their bedrooms, and the interactivity of the associated chat. That's important in a webinar. You take part in a parallel discussion that can be picked up in the core discussion or can give commentary on that core. So this is an active experience. I don't so much enjoy streamed gigs. Early on, I viewed a few Berlin Phil concerts, ACO, Smalls jazz. But it's passive. So it was good to get out and play that gig at Molly recently and feel the live experience again. We may be waiting a while for a full return to that! Given limited attendance numbers and lack of income for the arts for several months, I notice gigs are dearer, perhaps payment per set, as is the NYC way. But I did see a recent gig that I enjoyed.

    Pheno. I'd missed Jess playing the previous week but caught her solo pop set as Pheno. Loops and guitar and harmonies and synths and repetition and pop simplicity. Her experience shows in the calm simple poppy lines and grooves. And in the song structures. And in the catchy melodies and her capable hands on guitar. The tunes are poppy and immensely attractive. The lyrics suggest depth and personality, but I'm yet to follow them too closely. And interestingly, this was somewhat interactive. She was playing alone on stage at the Canberra Theatre so the experience must have been telling for her, but she did respond to a few comments in her chat screen and got several hearts and cheers for the gig. Not much interaction but maybe all we can expect these days. Whatever, I enjoyed it lots. Check out Pheno on the streaming sites. She's on Spotify, perhaps elsewhere, but expect a search. Much enjoyed Jess!

    Jess Green is Pheno. She performed a live streamed set from the stage of the Canberra Theatre.

    3 July 2020

    The Pots too

    It's about time was a product of climate-induced bushfires before Christmas. Yes, I know, "sunburnt country ... Of droughts and flooding rains" but that's just an excuse for inaction and that's all forgotten now with Covid-19 so The Pots has been active on another CD with another theme and it's called Going viral. This one has the description: "Instrumental and spoken word impressions from within the international COVID-19 pandemic of 2020". Well, Australia is lucky enough to be fairly well outside of the global pandemic, through luck and following science for a change. My cousins in Italy haven't felt quite so relaxed about things. Between the last album and this I've learnt such things as midi (early stage producer here) and more. So it's all a bit rough but this one is better and anyway it's the ideas - and the politics - that count and there's a bit of each here, as in the last album. So I welcome you to have a listen.

    Have a listen to Going viral / The Pots at Youtube Music, Spotify, TripleJ unearthed and more.

    2 July 2020

    The Pots

    Many of the locals and quite a few visitors will know of my recordings on location. They are just live stereo recordings with a good mic and some decent mastering and they work quite well. But in recent months I've been playing with home studio recording, so multiple tracks, midi and the like. Lots of time spent viewing YouTube videos, especially of one very good source on mixing techniques, Musician on a Mission. Here be secrets: The Pots. The Pots is a home studio project of "Bassist EP of Canberra" (sound familiar?). Here's the first album with the theme of climate. Now available on all the streaming services, and even as a signed CD if you particularly wish. It's about time is described as "a mix of electronics, double bass, minimalism and spoken words of despair about climate and more". Mmm, sounds about right and suits the times.

    Have a listen to It's about time / The Pots at Youtube Music, Spotify, TripleJ unearthed and more.

    1 July 2020

    Welcome return

    It's great to be back playing in public again. Tilt played its first post-Covid-19 gig last night. Let's hope that we remain in post-Covid times. Nothing certain there. Molly had a decent turnout, but it can only allow a smaller number to enter. But the stage was good, there's a PA so the lug was reasonable and we played well, so all was well with the world. Strangely, my last pre-Covid report was a Friday night jam on this very stage. I didn't even manage a pic, so I'll pull out an oldie. But nice to be back.  And nice to play a lot of James' tunes and a few fave standards.

    Tilt Trio are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass)

    21 March 2020

    Last chance saloon

    It was something of an act of en-couragement and succour to attend the Molly jam. I hadn't got there before and it's an impressive outing and a bit intimidating for a local player who might be expected to sit in. The room was packed and I didn't expect that. I had a few words to the band and got a beer and sat with decent separation, not being there to party and aware of virus guidelines. The band was fabulous, not unexpectedly. Like the previous night, driving from the top, clear in intent, aware and inventive, fabulous solos. Not sure I've quite felt this before, but host Con spoke through his tenor in wonderful expressive lines but also with a body and internal dynamics like speech. Wayne was a blowout as always; Mark was intelligent and snappy and always unpretentious; James spelt solos with such clarity and vibrancy that I was in awe, nicely constructed super-evident lines and quick chromatically moving frills and fills. Quite awe-inspiring. And with a great sound: fat and omnipresent in support and beautifully woody and clear when unaccompanied. There's a list for players who want to sit in; I was no.2. I got up with the band for Alone together and Caravan and then through various sit-ins, drums and flute and vocals and Lisa Keen taking over from Wayne on piano and sometimes vocals. James wiped/disinfected his bass before and after I played (sensible in these times but I've never seen that before!). Then a few final tunes by the core band to a shrinking audience to end. It can amaze me that we have such players here. They are not just in NYC or Berlin, but I've found that's the nature of jazz: it's truly international and great players are everywhere. Even if they go into remission for the occasional virus.

    Con Campbell (tenor) led the band with Wayne Kelly (piano), James Luke (bass) and Mark Levers (drums) for the Molly friday night jam. Various musicians sat in including Lisa Keen (piano, vocals).

    20 March 2020

    Bop in the time of contagion

    It was so quiet at home that I relented for a distance-aware gig. Justin Buckingham with Wayne and Phil and Mark. It had to be good. It was: a local lesson in take-no-prisoners bop and driving modern styles. Great fun: loud and strong and demanding from the top. There were a couple of tunes from Bird, Ornithology and Billie's Bounce, and a few standards, There is no greater love and Moonglow, which was perhaps the quietest of the lot, and I'll remember April. Great tune and again, unrelenting, solos all round, most tunes with fours or a solo from drums. All pretty standard in structure but demanding in implementation and hot in presence. I particularly like Justin veering off into diminished territory at one stage, all adventurous and somewhere off contratonal (my neologism of the day), and Phil and Mark were always strong and some great solos and Wayne: he's just a local gem, always spelling tunes and embroidering them with delicious solos, then, in the break, talking of playing Rachmaninov piano concerto no.2 . I must hold him to that. If it's anything like Rach symph 2 it will be a shocker to play. Yeah, it's the time of coronavirus and the bar was pretty quiet and one professional muso I spoke to had only one confirmed gig left on his books, but all kept their distance and alcohol sanitisers appeared beside the beers. The music was nice, while it lasts.

    Justin Buckingham (alto) led a quartet with Wayne Kelly (piano), Philip Dick (bass) and Mark Levers (drums) at Blackbird.

    18 March 2020

    Last drinks ... for now

    Tilt played a private gig on Saturday night and I imagine it might be my last gig for some months. My orchestras (NCO, Musica da Camera, Maruki) have all closed, indefinitely or temporarily while they assess the situation. That was painful: I was particularly looking forward to revisiting Beethoven 5 and to playing a Bach keyboard concerto with Katherine Day. That's on top of my daytime activities which were also halted suddenly on Friday night. It was just Monday that events of 500 or more (outside) were banned by government and already (I write on Wednesday) we are down to 100 (inside). Things are moving quickly. How soon will the bans on restaurants and bars seen overseas come into play? Music is a just pleasure and pastime for me, but I am pained for those professional players who need the gigs and those in the industry, the sound people and the people who own and serve in the venues. Presumably Llewellyn in shut. I get emails hourly telling me of another event that's cancelled. I read that SSO is doubly hit by moving from the Opera House during restoration and MSO has instituted a Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, like the Berlin Phil's. [BTW, I read that the Berlin Phil is free online for a while with registration]. Not sure there's so much money in it though. We can all retreat inside and write or record or just practice and listen, and that's worthy but again not immediate cash. So it's a difficult time for musicians. And a difficult time for their supporters. Online is good (I've discovered Kate Tempest and watching her concert at Glastonbury on YouTube right now) but it's nothing like being there. Like the talk of online dinner parties where you eat alone at home but chat by video conference. Again, better than nothing, but not the same. So, I may as well suggest you check out my couple of albums and possibly more coming from ePea Studio (including my unrefined solo effort as The Pots) and there are tons of Canberra jazz and other recordings on Youtube and Bandcamp and elsewhere. At least we can keep some positivity in relation to Coronavirus by recognising it's just a blip next to Climate change. Or is that not such a joyous observation?

    Tilt played a private gig. Tilt comprises James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums). ePea is a home studio in Canberra.

  • ePea Studio
  • 15 March 2020

    Tears and fears

    We were back at Smiths for another Ockham's Razor recording. OR is the famed principle of parsimony but it's also an ABC RN series where invitees speak for ~10 mins on science-related topics of their choice. This session was less well attended than the previous one we attended, presumably given this time of Coronavirus. (I write within the incubation period of that event, but at least I am alone at my desk). There were six speakers in two sets of three, introduced by host Bernie Hobbs. Bec Colvin (ANU) spoke of binaries in the discussion of climate change and the related dysfunctional conflicts. She posited three causes/considerations: ideological bundling, importance of the messenger and importance of framing. Yep, I can see all this and they are all relevant to good discussion, but I thought further of issues of truth and its accepted sources, the obstinate commitment of Tea Party right wing, media and think tanks and funding for climate denial. But fair enough: we agreed on these further issues when we chatted and she only had 10 minutes! Meredith Hope (ANU) spoke about water and the Murray and specifically a project to combine photos, videos and "sonification" of riverine sounds into a public display. The Music School in involved in this. Sadjad Soltanzadeh (UNSW) talked of the power of teams in sports. A classic example is the "Miracle on Ice" where a US team of college-level amateurs with a fitting tactical plan beat a Russian team of professional sporties. The themes were: there's no such thing as a perfect team, numbers are overrated and team cohesion if more important that star players. Michelle McCann (Solarshare and ex-ANU) spoke on the expansion of solar farms offering some hope on climate. Her visit to a huge solar farm led her to call it a "massive array of hope". Michelle has twice held the world record for most efficient solar cells, so she knows something. And a final call: keep anger and have hope (essentially Gramsci's "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"). Clint Therakam (UNSW Space) spoke on satellites, their capabilities, design and build and future, reminding us of small amateur groups who have built satellites. BTW, the requirements are power, comms, computers (from Raspberry Pi up, from $66), sensors, guidance and housing. Not easy but not impossible. Kate Grarock (ANBG) spoke of nature as her "happy place" and retreat, of hiking and species discovery and the sorrows of our recent fires and smoke and hailstorm and the deflation of her environmentally aware friends. This is "just a taste" of our climate future but nature is "incredible at recovery". Of course there's only so much one can impart in 10 minutes and, if you are interested in science, you may be aware of all these matters. Nonetheless, these are fascinating insights and welcoming encounters. For me, the most intriguing aspects were a discussion with Bec at interval where she expanded on issues of climate communications (and promised me a copy of her recent paper) and the intensely touching and revealing fact that two speakers were on the verge of tears while speaking of climate: this in the context of warnings of civilisational collapse. This is telling. Let no-one say we weren't warned.

    ABC Radio National recorded six sessions of Ockham's Razor at Smiths. Bernie Hobbs (host) introduced Bec Colvin, Meredith Hope, Sadjad Soltanzadeh, Michelle McCann, Clint Therakam and Kate Grarock

    14 March 2020

    In one pocket

    It was only a quick listen on the way to something else, but I was really glad that we caught up with Pocket Trio at the National Press Club. They are from Sydney. They'd played Smiths and BentSpoke earlier in the week in Canberra but I was busy. Just a little piano trio with a delightfully joyful take on standards: swinging, capable, light and vibrant. Their playing was a dream but their presence was low key, joyous. Nicely sharp but unobtrusive drums, clear piano spelling tunes, tons of lithe bass solos. Max was once a student at ANU so back home. It's interesting to see people as they grow into the art: he's playing now with great chops and finesse and intelligence. I've only caught Andrew on piano once before; Tim has visited often over the years. Hope to hear them again. Intellectually satisfying and just plain nice music.

    Pocket Trio are Andrew Scott (piano) Maximilian Alduca (bass) and Tim Geldens (drums). They played at the National Press Club.