18 October 2017

Returns


Finally back to playing after a few weeks off and first gig up was National Press Club Friday evening jazz session. It's an august institution where the cream of local jazzers have played over the years so a great privilege to perform there. We accompanied Josh Knoop, a guitarist with a love of Pat Metheny, softly toned, lithe and malleable. Old friend Lauren Black, once of ArtSound and In Full Swing Big Band, was in the house and we inveigled her into a few jazz numbers. No pic of Lauren this time, but one of the band in front of the monumental and monumentally large photo of Whitlam at the Dismissal, scowling over the shoulder of David Smith on the steps of (now Old) Parliament House. Then another outing the next day for a private function, a significant birthday party (Happy birthday, Alex) so a busy weekend for Tilt. Coming up next weekend, a mix of orchestral and jazz.

Tilt played the National Press Club with Josh Knoop (guitar) and Lauren Black (vocals) sat in. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

16 October 2017

Hearing the same differently


I was back in Canberra and so was the Australian Haydn Ensemble. This concert also continues their work with Neal Peres Da Costa. Together, they are recording the Beethoven's piano concerti, but in a new way and often with new arrangements. Apparently, Skye and the group were intrigued and enamoured by the arrangements of Cimador. They are obscure (the diminutive entry on Cimador in Wikipedia is just proof) but the arrangements are intriguing, true to period and suit AHE, so, with the help of Australian arranger, Mark Vi Kim Ling, they are performing and recording Beethoven piano concerti in this style. The results are intriguing and attractive. On the night, AHE played Beethoven Concerto no.5 Ebmaj 'Emperor'. I played this with NCO earlier a few months back, so I know it reasonably well. Even with similar orchestration, it's fascinating how a piece changes, how new ideas appears and prominences change. Here it was so much greater, like a new vision of the work. The arrangement has parts taken by different instruments, and apparently this is annotated, so a viola line maybe be identified as from oboe or clarinet or whatever. Cimador's forces were two violins, two violas, cello, bass, flute and keyboard. The cello and bass seemed to just take the known lines, presumably also the two violins for the two violin sections, and, I thought, the piano, but the two violas and flute presumably took on any number of lines from woodwinds or brass or whatever. So it was a fascinatingly different but similar piece. So what else did I note? The whole was sweeter and more open than an orchestra. AHE do great dynamics, but still gut and pianoforte doesn't manage the extremes of modern instruments. The tonal colours of lines changed with the different instruments playing them. The violins and flute were a bit quiet, but maybe that's from where I was sitting. There were also odd tones from odd combinations, eg, flute and cello. These are great musicians and I enjoyed the playing immensely. The bass and cello are a firm and committed block and often prominent - Jacqueline's pizz was particularly effusive - and their application was a pleasure. This group always enjoys itself with smiles all round, but I've noted that before. Some interpretation was unexpected, like the slow take on the early part of the third movement. That surprised me but it was effective. And those lithe runs from the strings and complex plays between hands by the piano. All a huge pleasure and intriguing. Otherwise, they played Mozart Symph no39 Prague and Overture to Magic Flute. More staid than the challenging Beethoven but with their own challenges, not least with some devastating lines. So a great pleasure for my return.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed Mozart, Mozart and Beethoven at ANU University House. They comprised Skye McIntosh and Matt Greco (violins), James Eccles and Martin Wiggins (violas), Daniel Yeadon (cello), Jacqueline Dossor (bass), Melissa Farrow (flute) and Neal Peres Da Costa (fortepiano). Australian Haydn Ensemble, Skye McIntosh, Matt Greco, James Eccles, Martin Wiggins, Daniel Yeadon, Jacqueline Dossor, Melissa Farrow, Neal Peres Da Costa

15 October 2017

Princessing the rest

There was more on the Diamond Princess and there was more that I missed. The ship was based in Yokohama, close to Tokyo. In passing, the Ocean Terminal was a fascinating construction of flowing timber floors and green lawned roof and surprisingly effective at processing cruise liners. This is big business. But that's out of CJ's purview. There were several Japanese folk acts, pairs of shamizen players, that Japanese three-stringed banjo-like instrument played with a hand-sized pick. Two women at one port; two men at another. There was a Esashi Oiwake was a Japanese folkloric show out of Hokodate. I missed the original but caught it on cabin-TV after the event. Very staid, settled, perhaps ominous to our ears. Diane Kichijitsu presented a traditional Japanese storytime routine that she amusingly called "sit-down comedy" as Japanese comedians seem to sit and mime activities. The joke was largely based a purported readiness to ask one's age. She was nineteen, it seems. A polished performance and worthy of a decent laugh. There was guitar/vocalist Jelord Pentacase and a few other that I missed, not least classically-trained violinist Katei and magician Daniel Ka. But the stars of my trip, perhaps, were the trio in the Hutorok restaurant/bar in the Russian town of Korsakov. This was a tour. I tend not to take tours (they are expensive and you are herded in buses like cattle) but you couldn't get off the ship independently, so a tour it was. This one drove an hour to see a square and a church and an ice-hockey stadium, but culminated in a meal of Russian goodies - blinies, pirozhki, rassolnik and the like. And vodka. Everyone in traditional dress, of course (nothing like the streetscape) and the entertainment as the star attraction: Russian songs, step dances, solo balalaika playing Hotel California and Bananarama and quoting Smoke on the water. Memorable and musical and amusing. The trio was Yura Vatutin (balalaika, vocals), Olgar Kyznetsova and Anastasia Veselkina (vocals). Much fun. Then a few last memories. One was a museum of music boxes in Otaru, the Otaru Orgel Museum. Thousands of music boxes of all sizes and types and designs for sale, but also a room housing a fascinating collection of music playback machines, not least an pipe organ played with a pianola role and a pianola-like machine playing large removable metal disks. And the finale, the Pop choir. It's my second on a ship. It's a just a few pop songs, sung unison unless you can find a harmony. This one performed in the atrium with a too-loud a sound track but it was fun and it fills the time and saves me from just a few more beers.

14 October 2017

Princessing the bands

I've already mentioned the Diamond Princess Orchestra. They are the reading professionals that back the shows and the various entertainers who come on board for a day or two. They read; they are trained profs in that mould and they impress me mightily. I like this style. Get in for a few hours of rehearsal then do a complex gig once or twice after dinner and carry it off with panache and clarity. The DPO backed several shows of this style on the ship. One was New Orleans pianist/singer Chris May who got in front of a band to play a hometown New Orleans show, all rollicking rhythms and backbeats and syncopations and second liners. The DPO were reading too hard to be a standard first line band, but the groove and intent was there. The DPO did another gig in the Explorers Lounge backing opera soprano Lena McKenzie. I learnt much from this gig. Again a capable band and a competent singer, but the voice was cutting, unbalanced, uneven. This is obviously capable singer, so why? Because of the mic? Sort of. I heard Lena again in a show a day or so later, in the theatre, served by programmed, digital sound and it was great. So ... the value of good sound production. The difference was truly chalk and cheese. Avis Ellis was in the Theatre for her show. I assume her sound would have been quickly setup in rehearsal that afternoon. She sang Motown and the like with lots of energy and Southern Baptist Missionary voice so great. Interestingly, I notice her first recording was two songs a later Norman Connors album when he took on smooth jazz. (I count one of his early recordings, Love from the Sun, as one of my most played albums). And then the dance band, all hot and sweaty and rocky and funky, and they were really a great covers band. The Drop. Strange name but these were burners with a massive repertoire spanning the years. Two singers up front, a funky rhythm section with slap and the rest. I met bassist Sean Taylor. He'd been on ships for a few years, the band morphs every so often with members coming and going (the guitar and female vocals were relatively new) and he'd had years of touring England before. Suffice to say, this was a tight, skilled, entertaining mob.

13 October 2017

Princessing the bars

Bars are a centre of life on a cruise ship. People sit at bars; they talk at bars; they listen at bars and read there. There's like on deck too, especially when it's warm, and the bar scene expands there then, but this wasn't particularly warm and most were inside. Our bar was by the Lobby, central, with the best coffee and perhaps the most passing traffic. A string of performers appeared in the Lobby, on one little stage or on its twin with a grand piano. The Angelic String duo were a favourite of mine. Two Eastern Europeans (it seems all the classical players on ships are Eastern European), Kateryna Radchencko and Syrofenko Luibov, both playing electric violins. Like my NS EUB, the instruments were talked about. They played pop and pop classics with backing tracks and they played with skill. They share the melody line, improvise the counterpoint. Very neat and very capable. They also appeared with the DP Orchestra for some stage shows. Polish pianist Jowita Tabasczewska played popular melodies with easy classically-influenced chordal improvisations at the Lobby Bar but mostly at the Crooners Bar. It's the main spot for piano/vocalists. Pianist singer Chris May also mostly played the Crooners, but would appear later in the New Orleans show with the DP Orchestra. He tended more to jazz improvs and commonly sang. Numerous other appeared at bars, sometimes just in port or for one stage of the cruise. Tui and Maile Letuli were on unexpected choice, he playing Hawaiian guitar and singing, she sometimes singing or playing mandolin, but mostly dancing with lei and hula dress. Perhaps it was the Japan/Hawaii connection. And one I found amusing, like a throw back to long hair and screaming guitars (but quite well done none-the-less), the Italian Luca Cervo, playing rock hits on solo Strat (sometimes singing) with midi backing. One thing to note for the working musos, these guys have repertoire. The theme of rock continued in Korsakov, Russia; more on that later. There were others around the bars that I never heard: Maridor Duo was an enigma, and DJ Kiki unheard.

12 October 2017

Princessing the theatre


CJ has been in recess as I went on a cruise with my mum. That's family but there's always some music to interest CJ. This was the Diamond Princess. The cruise was out of Tokyo/Yokohama to Busan (South Korea) to Yokohama to Korsakov (Russia) to Yokohama. It's a cruise, so it's as more resort than travel although we do touch on places but most of the music is on board, in a bar or theatre or atrium. I always enjoy the theatre shows, mostly pop songs made into a little story, like a light Route 66 road movie. There was one aria-infested light operatic show, all long dresses and suits and even bow ties. Nothing deep, but all good and all superbly professional. I think of Ginger Rogers who did everything Fred did but backwards and in high heels. You'd have to add they all do on a rolling stage, although it was pretty calm for this trip. Eleven dancers (7 women, 4 men) and four singers and the DP Orchestra comprising piano, bass, guitar, drums, sax/flute, trumpet, trombone. They sometimes added two violins. The operatic show really was really mostly modern with hits from the movies, not least a Bond medley, but featured memorables from Carmen and the inevitable Time to say goodbye. The other shows were strings of pop hits, nicely interleaved, not at all broken up or a string of numbers. This is well orchestrated, arranged and presented with some top gear. They use a digital mix, all timed and programmed. I had heard an opera soprano singing in another theatre and hated the uneven and cutting tones, but in the theatre, her sound was spot on. It just shows the value of a good sound person. These are professional players, chosen from large fields and working nightly. The musos take charts from visiting performers and play after a few hours rehearsal. Impressive. I particularly noticed the drummer, Molly, with a fabulous sense of underplay and apt fills, but they were all good. She'd only played onboard for 6 weeks. Suffice to say, I don't attend anything like this otherwise (perhaps musical theatre could come close) but I love it. Nothing deep and meaningful but great skills and catchy tunes.

The Diamond Princess orchestra and dancers included Molly Jones (drums) and Jim Yamakawa (bass).

19 September 2017

An Australian to the world


Canberra has shown me a very international Australia. I didn't have that feeling in Adelaide. It's derivative from the home of Federal government and associated institutions, the diplomatic core and the universities especially ANU, but also the people in our streets. I first noticed it with Frank Gambale, guitarist from the Pro Audio family who played around town in the '80s and has since recorded a string of albums with Chick Corea. And the daughter of a work colleague who was a famed model in Paris and NYC. So, it's no particular surprise that Igitur nos played the music of Penelope Thwaites, of Melbourne but with relatives here, one of whom led and sang at this concert: Veronica Thwaites-Brown. This is modern music but with firm historical awareness - I even heard some jazz harmonies - with themes of Shakespeare and psalms and a missa brevis and a wedding gloria. The performance was beautifully done. Sweet harmonies from a capable choir, clear singing from soprano, mezzo and two tenors, empathetic accompaniment from piano and organ and even drums, and one feature from a children's choir. There's concern for humanity here, chosen to fit events or to express the words of various writers including her late father Michael Thwaites, once of Canberra. It's interesting to compare Michael reading his poem (find it on SoundCloud with music played by Penelope) and Penelope's musical take on this and further, the local interpretation. I enjoyed this concert immensely, but also admired it, for its worthiness and seriousness and all round excellent musicianship, in composition and performance. I find announcements for Penelope's music being performed in London, but nice to see we beat London to the premiere of one of the works, Five Shakespeare songs. Not that it's so important, but it's amusing. Penelope is clearly one very impressive Australian in the world and this was a very impressive array of locals performing her music.

The music of Penelope Thwaites was performed at St Paul's Manuka by Igitur Nos (choir) under Matthew Stuckings (conductor, director) with soloists Veronica Thwaites-Brown (mezzo-soprano), Greta Claringbould (soprano), Ken Goodge and Raphael Hudson (tenors) and the Hawker Harmonists (children's choir). Accompaniment was by Emily Leong (piano) and Colleen Rae-Gerrard (piano, organ) and James Sneddon (drums).

18 September 2017

Satirising ultimate failure


It was the Wharf Revue and the title was the Patriotic Rag and it was at the Playhouse and it was pretty full. The Wharf Revue is an institution and well received in this town, a home to the building and the institutional support of our Federal Parliament and government. The Wharfies are witty, one is a capable pianist, they sing and dance their way through lots of characters who we all recognise, some of whom look surprisingly close to the mark (from distance, Julie Bishop was a ring-in), the skits are quick and well written and mostly well heard from a distance (I just missed a few lines, especially amongst music), the topics are current. It's all eminently professional. There's the problem: the problems they satirise are current and seemingly insurmountable. We read them every day in the paper. We read the disappointments and complaints and failures and lack of policy and you'd think there might somewhere, sometime, be some hope. But no. Just pusilanimous backsliding and Tea Party reaction and obstinacy. Coal is king; science is conspiracy; truth is conditional. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength ... er, my slip-up ... The Left bears some blame with its radical relativity and identity politics that just leaves the field open for reactionary right-thinking and economic self interest. So, housing, climate, energy, democracy, refugees, wars, all failures or failing; all within the context of existential climate, food, water and such threats. And the bomb even makes its reappearance. No joy. It's argued that satire is a powerful weapon. Perhaps, although satire is the nature of much political information these days (eg. Fallon, Colbert) and that's coincided with all this failure of political possibilities. Satire is amusing, especially for those in the know, but is it effective? And I wonder how the Wharfies get away with some things they say. How much is satire protected under law? The identities, individuals or corporates are clear, often named, and ruthlessly shamed and ridiculed. Skits on tax-avoiding multinationals; Trump as Louis XIV, Eliz1 and Vlad the Impaler were stunning; more Trump of course. Dutton as Mr Potatohead, Turnbull as the Working class man, Abbott as the Joker to Wonderwoman Lambie, Hanson, Joyce, Roberts and the rest. Shorten was strangely peripheral, just mentioned, or maybe that's the relevant satire. The CFMEU got a hit along with Michaela Cash. I chuckled but it's all too dark for laughter. The final, terminal song was Let's face the music and dance. It's another great song by Irving Berlin, performed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Follow the Fleet. I watched the YouTube video afterwards. They each, separately, are desperate and suicidal, but meet and instead dance. Thus was the Wharfies' final message for the night.

The Wharf Revue 2017, the Patriotic Rag, was at the Playhouse. It's written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott. They perform with Blazey Best.

16 September 2017

Entanglement with a silent 'b'


Scott chose an intricate name for his band, Tembtanglement, with a silent 'b'. It's tricky, like my canbjazz with another silent 'b'. But the band's not silent. It's a very clever outing by a string of trained and professional players, from the Duntroon band or otherwise, from ANU music School or otherwise. The repertoire is a mix of originals from Scott and an intriguing choice from the pop repertoire. The final tune, Nirvana Teen spirit is a a common choice and a great crowd pleaser. But Kendrick Lamar and Outkast featured with Beyonce and Justin Bieber and Eurythmics and Valerie by Amy Winehouse. Then a string of tunes by Scott, funky or swinging, all scored for three horn parts upfront. My wardrobe exploded on Yamba Drive was a wildy syncopated and odd-timed piece with a common time bridge. Spilt champagne could have been a US TV theme, all jaunty and lightly latin. The playing was solid and steady and strong. Baba was a blow out as he is wont to be, busy and flowing and melodically convincing. Capable solos all round, from Scott and Josh and Clare and a short one from Sim and a long, virtuosic one from Barney on his firmly wooded Warwick. I love a fat, middy-toned bass and this was middy but also niced toned. Lucy Ridge joined for a string of songs, Teen Spirit and Valerie and more. She was polished and neatly embellished and with one satisfying scat spot. A very professional workout on a range of jazz through funk and pop, with lots of obvious prior work on charts.

Tembtanglement played at Smiths. They were Scott Temby (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lucy Ridge (vocals), Josh Hart (trombone), Rouslan (Baba) Babajanov (alto), Clare Fitzgerald (piano), Barnaby Briggs (bass) and Simeon Staker (drums).

13 September 2017

Chalk and cheese

I had two further outings on Sunday and they were mightily diverse. First up was another visit to the jam session at Smiths. It's a comfy time to go out for a beer and a blow. I played a few tunes, poorly, and enjoyed the sun while avoiding the frigid wind. The blow happens outside, under the arches of the Melbourne Building, opposite Jolimont. There's a disparate but interesting crew ensconced, even someone drawing, a common outing in jazz clubs in NYC. How apt. Musos were coming for a gig at 4pm, so Wayne K got called up for a few tunes. All fun. Then 4pm and I thought I could manage a few minutes, with luck, at Wesley for the Hymnfest. It's organised by the RSCM (Royal School of Church Music). Some of the greatest of music is religious so I can enjoy hymns. I enjoyed the singing well enough and managed 30 minutes before it ended, but the hymns were modern and modern religious arts just don't do it for me - syrupy, overt, simple (in case you've never visited it, the Vatican museum's modern art collection is just further evidence). None-the-less, I enjoyed a sing, even if only written as unison, and there were some decent singers and a capable organ accompaniment. But let's face it, this had nothing on Handel.

The jazz jam is weekly on Sundays ~2-4pm at Smiths. The RSCM Hymnfest recurs. This one was at Wesley Church.

11 September 2017

Esthe-tics


Sunday morning was an unusual outing, to the National Portrait Gallery to sit in on an open rehearsal of a Handel Oratorio. It was in the foyer, so very public, led by Tobias Cole with a few familiar faces amongst the 10-or-so singers. Anthony Smith played piano accompaniment (nothing unexpected there) and a choreographer sat next to Anthony, jotting on various papers, occasionally getting up to test some steps. I heard 90 minutes of voice rehearsals. There were to be a few minutes of choreography, but I couldn't stay. The music was divine, of course, and the singers well up to it. Interesting to see the approaches to learning the songs: sometimes just saying phrases to confirm rhythm; most times singing in harmony. These singers are capable, so single sections didn't often need to sing their parts alone, but it did happen. They had music, but they also had eyes for Tobias, the director, and he's active so a very strong guidance. I've had one choir session with him and I can confirm that: learning related skills; playing with dissonances; spelling out rhythms; singing interesting scales, was it diminisheds? This was luscious music with cascading lines of this period and grand, coronational melodies. Lovely, certainly worthy of attendance. This will be Tobias' third Handel oratorio in three years: a worthy pursuit. Looking forward to it in late-October at the Playhouse. And another open rehearsal sometime before then.

Tobias Cole (musical director) led an open rehearsal for Handel Esther in the National Portrait Gallery. Anthony Smith (piano) accompanied.