16 April 2015

Horse needs course

I guess we've been spoiled over the years. The Jazz School; Loft; Smiths. Now we're back to Hippo for our jazz. I don't mind the venue for chatter and a few drinks. That's its role and it does it well with the cocktail making and notable whiskeys and the hipster beards and the pretty young things. But noone would claim it as a listening venue. Last night was Vulkan, a blend of Danish and Australian musicians featuring ex-locals Luke Sweeting and Max Alduca. This was a very nice band. I heard CTI with mid-tempo grooves and syncopated swing, the distinctive Rhodes, some busy chord changes along with lengthy solo spots on one chord or changes each 8 bars or so and a wonderfully open and clear sound. Very attractive and inviting, but also musically clean and capable and interesting. Think Freddie Hubbard or Milt Jackson. Vulkan is blessed with three composers Jakob, Jens and Luke. The first tune was smooth and driving with solos all round and clear Rhodes accompaniment in 6; there was one in 4 with dotted feel and unison taps; another yearning and with guitar chords softened with slow attack; another slow in 4 with heavy entry and guitar packing; and Days of wine and roses, for an old fave. I liked what they were doing, but struggled to hear any detail so just one set. I just long to be spoiled some more. A very nice band that deserved a closer listen.

Vulkan are a Denish-Australian collaboration with Jakob Sørensen (DK, trumpet, composer), Jens Fisker (DK, guitar, composer), Luke Sweeting (Aus, piano, composer), Max Alduca (Aus, bass), Harry Day (Aus, drums).

15 April 2015


I'm a bloke and I read current affairs and the like, so attending a launch of Marion Halligan's latest novel by Carmel Bird was, well, novel. But I enjoyed the event and I am drawn to read the book. The book is Goodbye Sweetheart. Its plot is based on a bon vivant lawyer who dies suddenly and the discoveries made by his wife and ex-wives and lover and kids. MH is renowned for her detail of daily life - food and drink and the rest - although chapter headings suggest the mundane: "Helen comes home late" or "Barbara drinks the last of the wine". As Carmel said, while "surfaces of life [are] followed in detail ... a darker undertow works in the depth". As you'd imagine from the various families, these are "grand themes of sex and love and betrayal" dealing with "how to behave and to mourn". Marion's take is that she "writes about hard, difficult things without making the book hard and difficult". But at the end is a "delightful coincidence that suggests love and hope". Sounds a good read. MH is a renowned Canberra author. I met some literary friends there, but also (only half unexpectedly) a musician mate who happens to live next door to Marion. A novel's launch is a different thing from that of a political memoir or socio-political commentary. This was an interesting visit to a more literary and personal world.

Carmel Bird launched Goodbye Sweetheart, the latest novel by Marion Halligan, at Paperchain Bookshop.

14 April 2015

Thinking Pinball

Tilt is the name of this new incarnation as we try to make a funkier take on jazz. It's a long time from post-bop and, although we maintain a love for it, it's nice to fiddle with the inherent grooves and feels. Also nice to get out an electric bass (and how much easier is the lug). This was my 1970s fretless Maton. It's a tiny fingerboard after practicing in recent years on a double bass, but the satiny, silky, sensuous feel of a fretless fingerboard remains. This was our first outing, in a trio format. We played two short sets at an artists' exhibition launch complete with prizes and presentations by notables. The group was the Artists Society of Canberra and the launch was for a Native Grasslands exhibition. The location was notable, too: in the foyer of the ActewAGL building amongst the forest of 37 illuminated "ossolites" of the Robert Frost sculpture called "the Journey". Slam tilt or nudge; funky and fun.

Tilt comprised James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums). Tilt played amongst the Robert Frost Journey ossolites.

13 April 2015

Reflecting infinity

Minimalism seems right to explore infinity. Infinity is a modern commonplace but a difficult concept and I can't imagine that it lends itself to the passionate encounter of a Beethoven. Nick Tsiavos presented a 45-minute solo bass piece at the National Portrait Gallery which was written in response to a 6 year old son asking "What is infinity?". They joke that you start a bass solo to get married partners talking, but this was intriguing and involving: not at all something to ignore and chat over. Nick had laid four manuscript sheets on the floor in front of him as a guide. It seemed essentially a sketch with space for improvisation, but the movements of minimalism were obviously there. Lots of harmonics and repeating bowings and occasional change; ringing bow tones with interspersed passages of jazz pizz on open strings or melodic snippets; chromatic chordal changes and patterns of harmonics moved a fourth. There were a series of sections or movements, each holding its own conception or groove or distant tone and bowing pattern. The 45 minutes were easily reached by Nick and audience and even sat easily despite some noise in the open and reverberant NPG foyer. Nick is also a composer and this was his work; he was in Canberra from Melbourne to record soundtrack for a local film on refugees. So politics for good and good music. I'm inspired.

Nick Tsiavos (double bass, composer) performed "100 months, third of east" for solo double bass in the foyer of the National Portrait Gallery.

This is CJBlog post no. 1400

10 April 2015

His way, now on his way

He's a country bloke but he seems a good honest, well intentioned country bloke. I went to the launch of Tony Windsor's book, Windsor's way. He wrote with assistance. He admitted he'd only written one speech and that was in 1981. Yet he was farewelled with someone imploring "we need more people like you" and "I beg you to stand [again]". He's respected for his independent stance. He respected Julia Gillard: "I have nothing but respect for her" noting he never saw her angry, just crying once the day before she lost office. He obviously has little respect for Rudd and feels for Gillard who suffered Rudd as "the second opposition leader [with] a third in Murdoch". "Abbott is a child of the Howard years ... but doesn't have the capacity". He criticises Gillard Labor for a failure to market its policy successes, but it was also saddled with leaks, a hostile press and Abbott as a "brilliant" opposition. He has much time for Greg Combet: "one of the smartest people in the building" who "did some extraordinary work on climate change packages". He worries that citizens are losing involvement: "the last thing we want is people more disillusioned" because "the world is run by those who turn up". The NFF is "absolutely useless", the "Nationals will fade" and the "major parties are making the Greens look good". He's obviously concerned about the big issues, not least climate change and the scare campaign that destroyed the Gillard response. The truth of the carbon tax is "the absolute opposite of the scare campaign". An example was a meat processing company that's become far more efficient with concern for effluent ponds and methane: so efficient that it now has a competitive advantage (Australia will rue Abbott's ignorance when we realise we've taken a dumb and inefficient path: think renewables with negligible input costs vs coal with stuff to be dug up and transported). "The world will just murder us, still trying to sell coal" (So, so, so true). But Labor created its own problems. "Kevin Rudd created Abbott" by attacking Turnbull relentlessly. He talked of the need for Gonski and the value of the NBN, the "17 days of the decision-making process" (Gillard or Abbott or election in 2010). Apparently Rob Oakeshott designed the decision process and recorded it in detail. As we've heard, Abbott "begged for the [PM] position a number of times" saying he'd do "virtually anything" but Bronwyn Bishop said later that commitments would likely not be kept before a return to election in 5 months. Finally, TW offered support for a Parliament where the Executive didn't have control, ie, a hung parliament empowering backbenchers (both government and opposition) as well as the Senate. I can only say all strength to a more consultative, consensus, negotiated government. It was interesting to hear TW in the flesh. He's a farmer, seemingly honest and committed; not an intellectual but a parliamentarian we can respect and value. More strength to him and his like.

Tony Windsor launched his book, Windsor's way, at Paperchain.

9 April 2015

Nostalgia but more

Easter was a visit to family in Adelaide and no arts except a few hours to fritter at the Art Gallery of SA and a walk through my old university. I was drawn to AGSA for a few special exhibits but the institution is a hugely attractive and moderately sized place and I enjoy my visits immensely. There are some old favourites. Circe, who appears in two guises - a Bertram McKennal bronze that I admired during my university years (this one is diminutive; there's a life-sized take in Melbourne) and a painting by JW Waterhouse (the great grandfather of a friend at university). The real-world body-shape of the Jean Broome-Norton Torso amused me, being just opposite the slender male-envisioned Circe. There was just a thin representation of Greco-Roman sculpture, Renaissance Italian, Flemish, mediaeval, a Pompei fresco, a Pointillist Pissaro landscape (the newest acquisition), several Rodins, some Islamic and Japanese and Chinese art, a wonderful pre-Raphaelite-era decorative arts room with William Morris and Tiffany glass (thanks to a major local collector of the time). Then the other side of the building, decorated in Victorian colours, busy with works from the earlier colonial days through Australian impressionists to modernists and contemporary and indigenous (Boyd, Bunny, Frome, Glover, Heysen, Namatjira, Nolan, Roberts, Smart, Tjapaltjarri, Yunupingu) in all formats with some fabulous early decorative arts. The cafe was a buzz, the exhibition of Piranesi prints of decayed Rome (printed for the Grand Tourists of the 16th Century) was a pleasant nostalgia and a personal journey exhibition of Adelaide-based Magnum photographer Trent Parke demanded more time than I had to give it. AGSA is a great little gallery; visit if you have the chance. To end, here's a pic of the main reading room of the Barr Smith Library at Adelaide University, just another blast from my past.

  • AGSA
  • 7 April 2015

    A Finnish sesquicentennial

    A Canberra Symphony Orchestra concert is always such a pleasure. It’s our local orchestra, humble as it is, but like family with faces to recognise and visiting cousins who are new. Nicholas Milton was conducting, welcoming the audience in the informal way that orchestras now do, despite the black bowties. There’s good support from the Canberra community, too, with the CSO series being almost sold out on subscriptions, and often also support from foreign legations based in Canberra. Not that it’s highly funded by Federal sources (it’s very poorly funded compared to other major city orchestras) and it must be suffering from a lesser informal support after changes at the ANU School of Music. Nonetheless, the concerts are capable and well received.

    This one had Finnish Embassy support and a Sibelius 150th anniversary theme. The major work was Sibelius 5th Symphony in Eb major. Nice key. The Fifth is life affirming and very different from preceding symphonies. It’s written through the years of WW1 so life-affirming seems an unexpected outcome but Sibelius was individual and methodical. I was interested to read of variations on rhythmic patterns rather than a melodic theme and the “swinging horn theme” and the six “adamant” final chords. Before the interval were Schubert Rosamunde overture which was actually performed for the Magic Harp, which remains classical despite occasional “Italian style” and Dvorak Cello concerto in B minor which was performed by New Zealand cellist Edward King. A single cello can be lost in this space and especially when seeking delicacy against a backdrop of fifty other players, but I enjoyed the Bohemian pentatonics and aaB phrases and an addition that pays sad tribute to his lost sister.

    The Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Sibelius, Dvorak and Schubert under Nicholas Milton (conductor) and with soloist Edward King (cello).

    5 April 2015

    New noises of a string quartet

    I walked in to a full Band Room for an improvising fine music ensemble. I must say I was surprised but also pleased. The band was The Noise, a string quartet that is the ensemble in residence at the ANU School of Music for 2015. We know viola James and the members have played in a string of ensembles covering baroque and classical and romantic musics, so their chops are formed in a more sedate scene. But his was improv and they did a great job. Improv out of the classical scene is mostly different from jazz improv, although there are similarities with free jazz. I can find open music of this form distant and without sense of purpose but it can also be enlivening and exciting and exhilarating. I found most of this like that. I was not the only one to prefer the first set which James said was "more accessible". Probably it was: the harmonies were whatever, the feel often minimalist with some evident melody and rhythm. Stream had rhythm and percussion and a heavy beat. Ghungroo was delightful with interacting swells played traditionally with bows. Night music was pizz and slides and bouncing bows following a conventional entrance of jazz-like cello bass line. Playground was just that: whistles and dotted crotchet rhythm and lithe violin lightly reminiscent of gypsy. The second set was an improv toying with effects, cello and viola amplified and fatter and echo-repeated, and the main work, written for The Noise for this new CD, Force fields by Alex Pozniak. James suggested similarities to Zenakis (an earlier tune was likened to Bartok). This was group attacks and decays, spaces, buzzes and taps on strings, some fabulous rising lines and unrelenting feedback to end.

    This was new and challenging but also skilled and approachable music. I felt real enjoyment and enchantment rather than just intellectual stimulation, so The Noise was a pleasurable gig for me. I would love to know how the SOM Friends and others found it, but we'll know that soon enough when they play their next concert. Highly recommended for new and open ears and, at least for this concert, ear plugs were supplied (although really not needed; most films are louder these days).

    The Noise are Veronique Serret (violin 1), Liisa Pallandi (violin 2), James Eccles (viola) and Oliver Miller (cello). And various effects and amplification.

    3 April 2015

    Knowing more of Anna B

    Most people only knew Anna Bligh from her response to the Queensland floods and perhaps privatising railways. The state premiers are not so well known outside their states. This was Anna Bligh chatting with Tanya Plibersek to leach Anna's new book, Anna Bligh : Through the wall. It was moved to Manning Clarke Theatre 1 for the bookings and this was virtually full. I expect both Anna and Tanya were of interest to this crowd, me included. The discussion covered various aspects of AB's life in politics and out. Through the wall refers to the difficulty of the first person in any field, here, a woman premier. The Queensland emergencies, a flood, then two weeks later another flood, then soon after, Cyclone Yasi (the worst Australian cyclone ever) were six weeks of rolling emergencies. Everyone remembers AB for one famous press interview. "Leadership is what happens when the rule book runs out". Here, leadership is a duty: there is no choice. Interestingly, she compared it to childbirth: an obvious and apt woman's view. TP asked about her background: oldest of four children; early divorce' mother died at 12yo (or 14?); influence of her convent education, 3 years with the gentle Franciscan nuns, then the rest with the Sisters of (joke: Show No) Mercy who expected students to strive and to excel despite community expectations that girls would leave school after Year 10. It all formed a person valuing and presenting a "voice for the voiceless:, strong and independent, valuing "powerful truth ... exposed to sunlight". [I'm liking this woman]. She talked of the Labor Party, slaughtering sacred cows, privatisation of rail (in the end, she just privatised the subsidised railways for coal delivery). This is the context of the huge drought then GFC then natural crises: a tough time for government. She sounds practical: "Sometimes in government, serious principles conflict" so decisions are required. Recognising education as the key to the future, she added one year to schooling to match the rest of Australia. She spoke of her time at university, of attending parties but preferring a friendly debate over social policy. Her advice to a young AB was on both sides: "keep going [at political action]" but also "go out and party". But recognise entrenched change takes time to bring people with you (the adult way). She talked of skills built with experience and her new commitment to YMCA. And finally of her brush with cancer as "humbling, levelling". Otherwise, politics has "no clear path in ... no clear path out". TP quoted Keating: "One way or another, they carry you out".

    Questions related to using experiences and skills. How to serve people coming with anger: she noted that "mobs can be frightening". She didn't want any other system, but "our democracy has some nasty aspects", "bagging the premier/PM is a national past-time". She came from a very devout family (nuns, priests) but is no longer an active Catholic although the influences of Vatican II still influences her sense of social justice and provides a progressive base. How to deal with politics as an "extreme emotional rollercoaster, a profoundly emotional business". But politicians seek it: "there are no such things as accidental premiers". Although not specifically commenting on Billy Gordon and Premier Palaszczuk, she noted that "political parties are reliant on honesty [funny, that, they don't always seem so open themselves].

    Penny Wensley, once Governor of Queensland now ACT citizen, gave a generous vote of thanks: "AB "is a brave, clear speaking woman" and interestingly "a book deserves a good story and a story needs something to say".

    Anna Bligh was in conversation with Tanya Plibersek at the ANU to leach AB's new book. Colin Steele introduced and Penny Wensley gave the vote of thanks.

    1 April 2015

    SSO playalong

    My concern over climate change is more scientific and desperate than the gentler public face of Earth Hour but perhaps not as influential. I guess you need both. Anyway, this year I took part in Earth Hour if as a personal indulgence. (Lots of Earth Hour is like that as is the way with many public campaigns; think candle-lit dinners). I played with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, if only privately in my practice room. SSO were playing Holst Planets suite in the Opera House. They were conducted by David Robertson on Conductor-Cam. It's repetitive and not overly difficult, at least for bass. There were various messages to start sections on the screen and bar numbering in the top right corner. Numerous local performances were webcast over 24-hours around the world as the Global Orchestra. Amusing and good sight reading practice.

    The Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Global Orchestra under David Robertson performed Holst Planets suite for Earth Hour and this was webcast as the Concert for the planet.

    30 March 2015

    Drinking chai to Tchaikovsky

    It's always good to see muso mates out for a gig. In the past it has been jazz, but with the state of jazz in Canberra, well... This time it was Tchai Quartet, a string quartet formed from members of my other orchestra, Maruki. Tchai plays weddings, parties and everything. I caught them at a gig in Civic for friends. The music ranged over the centuries from the expected (Vivaldi, Handel, Pachelbel, Mozart) to the unanticipated (Stand by me) with a few Beatles in there too (Hey Jude, Let it be, Here there and everywhere). The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was majestic; one of Handel's Four seasons was sprightly with birds and gust of wind evident; the Pachelbel Canon was calming as ever; Stand by me was surprisingly effective with a cello slap bass line and a second take with vocals (Antonietta and Liz, I think). Hey Jude was more appealing than I'd expected, mercifully leaving the ending cut short. Here there and everywhere was just delightful. It is so, so pretty: the delicate and delightful writing of Paul McCartney. Much enjoyed.

    Tchai Quartet are Mark Lim (1st violin), Janet Fabbri (2nd violin), Linden Orr (viola) and Rachel Towson (cello).

    28 March 2015

    Performance passes

    Music is a performance art. It's performed, it passes, it's lost. Sometimes it's recorded. I was disappointed that Tom Vincent's concert was lost. Tom is an agile pianist with ideas that appear in proliferation. He plays standards, but these are not everyday tunes and melodies. They are re-visions of great tunes and harmonies, dense with fluency and variation and invention. Fabulous in all senses of the word. Wondrous, animated, exhilarating. He often plays with local-now-Melbourne bassist, Leigh Barker, who's able to follow Tom's exquisite wonderings, perhaps taking a solo on a whim or changing tempo or interpretation on an instant. There's an understanding here and a great capability to use his ear. The first time I saw the two together Tom was leading through long medleys and Leigh was there with him with only the slightest of delays to pick the tune. This concert was more standard, no medleys, although the quotes proliferate. Their drummer was Alf Jackson on the most minimal of kits, just kick, snare, sock, cymbal. It's enough; there's plenty of rhythmic action available and plenty of tone variation, too, using brushes and sticks and rimshots. It's a traditional approach, unamplified bass with gut, unamplified acoustic piano (here a Yamaha U1 upright sounding great) and the minimal kit. Just skills and ears and immense variety and playfulness. Great gig. Too bad it was lost to posterity, but you can't preserve everything.

    Tom Vincent (piano) led a trio with Leigh Barker (bass) and Alf Jackson (drums) at Vivaldi.

    27 March 2015

    Majors or minors

    Is Minority government as better way? There must be many who think so, given the low voting for major parties. If it weren't for compulsory voting and two-party preferences they may be in trouble. Richard Denniss and Brenton Prosser have written a book - Minority Policy : Rethinking governance when parliament matters - and they presented it at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute. There's a stream of conservatism here, but the major parties may not see it that way. Richard: "Frankly, you can't do democracy without politics", so a politician's job is to represent and doing numbers is part of that. There were stories that illustrated that, like Natasha Stott Despoja to Peter Costello when he didn't get his way with his Intergenerational Report: "Look at the numbers ... I have, Peter, and you don't have them in the Senate". The role of the PM is not to just wake up in the morning and have a brain fart; it is to negotiate policy, with the party, with Parliament and ultimately with the electorate. So Gillard was actually very successful, passing more legislation than Howard. Abbott is not so successful; he may learn but at the election he refused to deal with minor parties (and yet, he's in coalition with a very minor party). Something I didn't know: Fraser was planning a new party before he dies; what may come of that. But thinking Fraser, it was the Liberals that rolled an elected government by denying supply in the Senate. The Constitution doesn't mention major parties (or any parties or the PM for that matter). So what's the future of major parties? Will they adapt to the demands of the electorate or manipulate it through self-perpetuating legislation (many examples, including ACT, Tassie, Qld, Commonwealth that I can remember). There was talk of CPyne and Cathy McGowan (only the latter displaying a path to a future). "For democracy to work well, we need to be prepared to change our mind when a party really disappoints" or this telling quote from Richard "Preselect the wrong people and there's no such thing as a safe seat". John Key in NZ shows that Minority government can work; the approach of our major parties is unsupported by evidence. JK is in a fourth term and implementing change. Communication is the key, let alone a source of better legislation. It was interesting to hear of negotiations within and across parties to improve legislation (ministers from one party may suggest amendments to another party to achieve change the party room might not otherwise agree to). Some evidence: only ~30% of all voting population votes for the major parties; this gives 10% representation for minor parties (5% Reps, 8% Senate); at the last Federal election, 25% of the adult population didn't vote (no shows, informals or not enrolled); of the total Australian adult population, 2-party preferred, 33% voted Liberal and 25% Labor; 5% for Nationals. Richard suggested we need a Parliamentary enquiry into the state of our democracy (but don't expect one!). ACT is the most under-represented territory/state (2 Reps, 2 Senators); Tassie has 5 Reps (in the Constitution!), 12 Senators, let alone all the state and local pollies. Change requires electoral pressure but the electorate doesn't understand the voting system. Consultation is not a problem ; it's slower but policy is more considered and effective. The Media denies complexity and the most interesting parts of politics. And to end, some fascinating comments, that "Rudd broke our polity" and Abbott learned the lesson. Opposition leader used to learn to be PM through a difficult job of influencing front and back bench and party and developing policies. RUdd just "made the words" to "lead ... from the wilderness". Gillard "did an amazing job in minority government" although her public communications were poor.

    Excuse the mess of comments and ideas, but the concept of minority government deserves much better here and also in public observations. Let's hope it gets it because the cause of the major parties is suffering immensely and we don't want democracy to go with it. Richard Denniss and Brenton Prosser presented their new book, Minority Policy : Rethinking governance when parliament matters, at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

    26 March 2015

    I should be so lucky

    Another concert. This one by local James Huntingford, pianist and two-times winner of the relevant National Eisteddfod. Locally born and bred and student of various local schools and presumably school music departments, as well as ANU. He's capable, young, energetic and played capable, energetic music with admirable skills. Interestingly, James introduced the concert with his own, milder, slower and more musing prelude. The big work was five movements of Liszt, his Piano sonata in B minor. This requires undeniably virtuoso skills. It's moody but quick and also energetic and flowing with quick scales and phrases. Every now and again, there's a stop for pause, but it's mostly busy in a romantic diatonic way. At one point it stopped, I hoped for a b5 but got a more predictable b7. This is the period and no argument there, but with an ear exposed to twentieth century, I was just a touch disappointed. But no question about the performance. This is big, powerful, unrelenting. It works through five movements and plenty of pages. No time to turn pages, so a turner required. James is a source of pride for our local, decaying music scene. I can only admire his capability and commitment and hope our senior music school can keep producing them.

    James Huntingford (piano) performed Liszt and his own prelude at Wesley.

    25 March 2015

    The musician's bane

    Injuries are disasters for musicians - unexpected and one-off or repetitive strains. Either way, they are dreaded, they prevent practice and degrade performances and mar the job or the pleasurable pursuit. I was mightily impressed by Gilbert De Greeve's performance at the Belgian Embassy but I could tell something was wrong. In the end, he had to excuse himself from the last tune, a Chopin waltz, due to a finger injury he'd had in the last day or so. Gilbert is an emeritus professor, once Director of the State Music Academy in Antwerp, an honorary professor of other conservatories. He travels the world presenting concerts and workshops and lectures. He's a highly trained musician and a very nice guy to boot, so it was with some sadness that he was inflicted for this concert. He played Mozart, Brahms, a series of Chopin waltzes and works from two Belgian composers, Benoit and Mortelmans. He was most happy with the Brahms that was more gentle, less demanding of finger pyrotechnics and strength. He was most concerned with the Chopin, coming last, loud and lively and gymnastic, to the extent that he had to apologise and drop the final item on the program. An unfortunate end to a concert that was otherwise firm and powerful and insightful and played fully from memory. I can only hope to catch Gilbert sometime in the future. It was his seventh trip to Australia, so with any luck, I will.

    Gilbert De Greeve (piano) played Mozart, Brahms, Benoit, Mortelmans and Chopin at the Belgian Embassy.