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.

    11 March 2020

    Blue eyed


    They say that Miles perused each Frank Sinatra record when it was released, especially for his phrasing, so I've been interested in the man and his music. Otherwise, I felt he was a rather unappealing character and the show Sinatra:Raw hasn't really changed my thoughts on that count. But life for a working class man of Italian origin form Hoboken NJ who reaches such stardom is never going to be mild and mannered. Just the name of his mates in performance, the Rat Pack, suggests something of that. But he was an interesting character and a fighter, presumably a function of his upbringing, and a lover, not least of Ava Gardner for whom he left his first wife Nancy (yes, another Nancy Sinatra). He had two more wives. We heard of these stories and they were interesting. The performance was supposedly his final somewhere for friends and others. We heard otherwise of some decency in his politics, of his gloom, perhaps anger, with the arrival of rock and roll, of his comebacks, especially with the film From here to eternity, of his mates, not least the Rat Pack (and how it was named), a touch on alleged clime links and of his break with Capitol records and his creation of Reprise (thus "Chairman of the Board"). But most revealing was his voice, his phrasing, his expression of the tunes. I'd heard of this, but it took a real meaning in some of live event. So we listened after to Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. SDJr was close; DM much simpler and on the beat. Nothing was mentioned on the ruckus around his last Australian visit. It was the subject of an ABC radio story that I heard once while driving to Adelaide. But maybe not even known to this pair from West End London and Edinburgh Fringe. The performers were Richard Shelton as Frank accompanied by Mark Ferguson as FS's pianist, Bill Miller. The playing and singing really was good, convincing, authentic at least to my ear, and the storytelling seemed similarly believable. The attendant quotes from various reviews supported that. So what were the songs? All or nothing at all; I've got you under my skin; It was a very good year; My foolish heart (dedicated to Ava Gardner, as a string of songs were); I need you; Angel eyes; That's life; Summer wind; Strangers in the night; SOme fly with me; My way. One was a cappella and very nicely sung; the last ones were by request; New York New York didn't make the grade, as it was released after this mythical intimate last concert. So a fascinating show. No pics, so this bare stage setting must suffice.

    Richard Shelton (vocals, acting) played Frank Sinatra accompanied by Mark Ferguson (piano) as his accompanist Bill Miller in the show Sinatra:Raw in Spiegel Zelt, one of four Spiegeltents at the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

    6 March 2020

    For Greta


    I'd known Andrew Glikson for some time but I hadn't realised he's an authority on asteroid collisions. I found this out when he was introduced. It's relevant to his current theme of climate change and tipping points given historical strikes and related climate change. Asteroid collisions are a branch of geology, so Andrew has that understanding of time that is non-human, so changes that we see in a lifetime are instantaneous. In fact changes over hundreds of years or thousands are still instantaneous to a geologist (given Earth's age of 4.5b years). It's relevant to climate, for the changes we are now seeing are instantaneous and, when compared to various events in our planet's past, the K-T boundary or PETM 1 or 2, the changes are not just fast but immense. He showed us estimates of rates of change of CO2 in the atmosphere: K-T +0.18ppm pa or PETM 1 +0.1 and PETM 2 +0.12. Now it's 1750-2018 was +0.48ppm pa (ave.) and still quickening: +2.69ppm CO2 pa (2018-29) (gasp!). I wrote something just a few years back and we had just reached 400ppm. We are now at 413.4ppm. It was then commonly estimated that we'd hit tipping points (non-linear, out of human control) at 450ppm (~+2degC). At +2.69ppm pa that's 14 years, ~2033. Mmm. That's with no change, essentially like LNP's Australia. So time to worry? Past it, I reckon. Andrew's a scientist so he's wary of claims and aware of the literature and evidence, and he still said things like: "so fast, now an abrupt event" and "rate of change ... [is] virtually instantaneous"; although there's still uncertainty of tipping points (there are many and they tip at different temperatures and temperatures vary over the globe) "[some] tipping points are already triggered". He also introduced topics like extreme weather as an amplifying feedback and weakened boundaries and migration of climate zones (eg, Jet Stream and the intense cold experienced in recent years in North America) and Stadial cold, where temporary cold spells (in geological time) follow quick temperature rises from CO2 levels. He provided charts showing sunspots matching global temperatures, at least until our Anthropocene, when they diverge, and another chart of used, known and possible (?) reserves of fossil fuels and the implications if they are burnt. It's not something to ponder and avoid despair, but suffice to say, there's enough to promote Venusian temperatures (+10s of degrees C). Apparently we are already committed to +10m sea level rise (from evidence of sea levels in the Eamian era at +1degC) and the emergence of the next ice age is delayed by 50K years with a possible 750ppm CO2 level before then. Andrew noted that the Holocene has been good for us, but we are the one species that has mastered fire and look what it's got us (not all bad, but all now threatened). Then some questions on civilisation, abrupt events and the Methane time bomb, possibilities of returning CO2 to the earth (big job, there!), individual and government responses. Hopefully, my understandings here are correct, but, regardless, the message was clear. And a final dedication to Greta Thunberg. I can only share that. Good luck to us all.

    Andrew Glikson (geologist, climate research, ANU) spoke at ANU on "Beyond tipping points : Fire and the changing face of Planet Earth".

    4 March 2020

    Hear words

    I forget often enough, but it comes back with an avalanche when I hear standards sung, especially when they are sung well. Standards are mostly songs of a era of great wit and informed songwriting and they speak truth although none too directly. They are clever and immensely satisfying. They can be that often enough with a bop take that explores their harmonic structure and perhaps, but not necessarily, their melodies. That is good and clever and can be satisfying, if in an intellectual way. Nothing wrong with that, but the intellectual whimsy and emotional depth of one of these songs sung is something else, even something more. I caught Sally Marett and Lachlan Coventry performing at Fenway Public House, a new venue for jazz on Tuesday nights, in the heart of Woden shops. It's a modern venue, with big screens and complex arrangements of drinking and eating areas. My beer was good. I could even watch Sally and Lachlan on a big screen, perhaps seeing the better that way than on a contrastily lit stage. These two are always committed and expert in their delivery, guitar and voice and solo guitar in between. Sally tells me that Hugh Barrett appears with her on alternate weeks. He's a deeply satisfying pianist, so another opportunity. The tunes were variously known and slightly lesser know, from Love for sale and Our love is here to stay, through Cheek to cheek and Just the two of us to Spring can really hang you up the most and Miss Celie's blues. All known to the ear but not necessarily first-called tunes. They were gloriously performed to experience their contrasting deep and playful purposes. I could only melt to this stuff. Hear words.

    Sally Marett (vocals) and Lachlan Coventry (guitar) performed at Fenway Public House.

    1 March 2020

    Getting out

    I've had a quiet few weeks but it was a lovely day and the jam was on a Smiths. It's a nice time, Sunday afternoon, for a beer and a relaxed chat. This time I got in a few good chats and a few tunes, not least a few ballads with a female singer (name unknown) including the Nearness of you. Also truly lovely. Anthony and Peter were on bass. I met Jay Lee and spoke to him on his Brazilian Choro and his drawings. I've watched a string of people drawing jazz players so it's good to see the craft in Canberra too. His pen pics appear often enough on FB. So, a wonderful way to wile away and warm afternoon post-smoke

    Smiths Jazz jam is held weekly on Sunday afternoons, 1-3.30pm. Jay Lee (guitar, pins) portrayed.

    19 February 2020

    Filling in for James


    Canberra is full of jazz bassists I admire, not least the local seniors of our craft including James and Eric A and Brendan. It was truly a buzz to sit in for James Luke who was unavailable for a gig with pianist James W and Mark Levers. I play with James W at other times, as Tilt Trio, but he's running through musicians with gig invitations in place of the more standard jam attendances. It a good idea made obvious by the understanding I got from playing with Mark ... and it pays. I've played with Mark often enough at jam sessions, but a gig is longer (3 sets over 3.5 hours) with a bigger and somewhat more demanding string of tunes; mostly standards but including a few of James' originals. It makes for a more intimate and certainly more dynamic music as you get in synch and chat between sets over a beer beer and find time to harmonise. Mark did a great job, picking up new and obscure tunes, spelling melodies through solos, playing the most delicate of brushes and sticks. So it was a wonderful night, playing a full gig with Mark and sitting in for a much admired James L. And thanks to James W for the call.

    James Woodman (piano) led a trio with Mark Levers (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass) at Molly.

    12 February 2020

    Varieties of collectivities

    The Phoenix Collective appears in different incarnations and this was just a duo: violin and piano; Dan Russell and Edward Neeman. Thus a collective rather than a string quartet, which seems to be a more common incarnation. Regardless, this was a wonderful concert with excellent performances for a large audience for a High Court lunchtime concert. They were playing English under the concert title "Ye Olde English". It wasn't so old, really. The opening number was by Delius, commenced in 1905 and completed after WW1. That was my favourite. The Lark ascending, Vaughan Williams' mega-hit, and an Elgar sonata followed. They squeezed in a short Elgar for an encore, too, Chanson de matin, although they were over time. Generous. But these are great local musicians, both well blooded overseas but now settled back here. It showed. Dan is the epitome of the involved violinist, moving freely and sensitively with the melody. Edward sits more steadily, but is similarly deeply involved. This is emotive music but with a strong-upper-lipped intelligence and melodies that speak of rolling hills and countryside. Really quite beautiful and deliciously played. BTW, the program was Delius Sonata for violin and piano no.1, Vaughan Williams Lark ascending, Elgar Sonata for violin and piano Emin Op.83 and Elgar Chanson de matin as encore. Another excellent gig for the High Court.

    Phoenix Collective performed an English program in the High Court foyer. On the day they were a duo comprising Dan Russell(violin) and Edward Neeman (piano).

    11 February 2020

    Beethoven!

    It's Beethoven's year, the 250th anniversary of his birth, so he's out and about in the concert scene. This incarnation was all Beethoven: Symphonies 1,2,3 in one concert by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a larger format with various invited players, tympany and 3 basses and winds. The strings were expanded with ANAM students to 3 basses (2 additional), 7 additional violins, and larger throughout the orchestra. It was the biggest ACO I've seen and maybe it was required for Beethoven. It was a wonderful concert but I had some reservations. This was the first of the series so it may change by Sydney (5 concerts are planned!). I found the sound not so detailed with the extra instruments, but to be expected and probably quite apt for Beethoven symphonies, but not as clear and light. It was fascinating to hear the 3 together and Beethoven's development from 1 to 3. Nothing I can add but that it was fascinating and the change was evident. From the Mozartian elements of the first, through the developing, fevered forces to the accomplished third. Lovely and educative. We had cheaper seats so limited sightlines so I just closed my eyes and listened: that was a revelation, but tends to be rare when you can see well. Sight is just so much stronger a sense than sound. So a great outfit playing fascinating music from a genius and well attended as Beethoven and the big namers tend to be. A concert-going friend noted attendance with the implication that they/all should play the popular repertoire. But ACO seems to get good attendance regardless. They are worth it: good and sexy to boot. The epitome of the modern classical chamber orchestra. Nice.

    Australian Chamber Orchestra played Beethoven 1,2,3 at Llewellyn.

    10 February 2020

    Not at all military


    It's no secret that the world was a different place in the past. The past we are talking of is not so far back, just 250 years or so, the time of Mozart and Haydn, but still it was different. Music was still written for or dedicated to or performed for heads of various courts and often took a related name. I thought this listening to the Australia Haydn Ensemble, in quintet format, playing Mozart and Haydn nominated as The Emperor, First Prussian and The Military. The program had a comely pic of James sporting a revolutionary-styled poster amongst rubbish and a gilt frames. (AHE's 2020 catalogue is a beauty: gloriously presented, deliciously dressed and with a generous touch of whimsy). I missed the opening number by Boccherini (Los Parejas=The Couples, about horse parades). But the Mozart and two Haydns were lovely, attractive baroque pieces, to my ear not at all militaristic, although maybe uniform dress-coded and frolicksomely paradic. And played so nicely by our AHE mates with that baroque sensibility and genial sound in a nicely fitting space of the Wesley Church in Forrest. Just a lovely concert with no bloodshed and little discomfort (other than hard pews). A pleasure enjoyed by AHE's many Canberra followers.

    The Australian Haydn Ensemble performed Boccherini, Mozart and Haydn at Wesley Church Forrest. On the night, they played as a quintet comprising Skye McIntosh and Matthew Greco (violins), James Eccles (viola), Anton Baba (cello) and Melissa Farrow (flute).

    9 February 2020

    We are blessed


    It was a family evening so Sandy Evans and Andrew Robson was out. What a loss; they are such a capable and inspiring group. But I managed an hour at the National Press Club for Greg's band, and I was blessed. Really, we are all blessed. I've travelled the world and found great musicians scattered throughout. We have our own and Greg and Lachlan and Mark are amongst them. They are not our only ones so we are doubly blessed. I just caught a few tunes (and a cheap beer at the happy hour). I recognised but can't name them, but I was inspired by the playing. Mark just dropped the slightest of solos, but it was bliss: first up polyrhythmic plays, then straighter and sharp as. Greg is out front, being guitar, and slithering through fast, crisp, intriguing solos and, of course, spelling out melodies. And somewhat the same for Lachlan. He plays bass on a Fender 6 and shreds it like a guitar and it's a blissful experience, again also with references to melodies and passing dissonant harmonies. So all round, I was just dumbfounded. These are not our visitors, not troubadours visiting from NYC or Berlin. These are just our locals in the NPC bar on a Friday evening and they are seriously capable and intriguing players. My God, how lucky we are. On the other hand, our pollies are ratshit, so not all is right in the world...

    Greg Stott (guitar) led a trio with Lachlan Coventry (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at the National Press Club.

    8 February 2020

    Avoiding the smoke


    The Climate Rally was enveloped in smoke, probably unnoticed by the pollies within, given their arrivals by car to underground parks and into air-conditioned comfort. Thus is the way of decision makers. But those outside noticed. I eventually escaped to the High Court, hoping to catch the full bench considering a case of particular interest to me: Jenny Hocking's bid to release the letters between Kerr and the Queen, which have been classified as Private and not released to the public. Given this relates to perhaps the major event in Australian constitutional history, I'm interested and I expect they should be released. So I went in. Jenny Hocking was there (I think that was her) and a spattering of visitors and the full bench of 7 judges. I only heard an hour-or-so of presentation. They retired at 4.15 and were to reconvene the following day at 10am. Now it's two days later and I am awaiting further news. I guess a decision will take time. But the air was cleaner inside.

    I had a few moments so caught the Face to Face exhibition in another nicely comfy space, the National Portrait Gallery, knowing that I would miss it otherwise. It was interesting, but to some degree disappointing. Lots of performers (admittedly admired ones) who perhaps make eye connections well, and if not, are of common interest. A few writers and artists. Not sure I saw one politician or judge or scientist or whatever. There was at least one sportswoman. It was just a cursory visit but I'm wondering if it says anything about a celebrity-infused culture. Dunno. I'd need more time and thought and I'm unlikely to revisit before it closes in just a week or so. But one other thing I read while there struck me like a hammer: "Only seventeen of Australia's thirty prime ministers to date are represented in the National Portrait Gallery's collection, with their portraits acquired mostly according to unexpected opportunity". Yes, it's a new collection and Parliament House is unlikely to hand over their portraits (they essentially purloined the National Library's Magna Carta for their spaces) but this is worrying none-the-less. A national portrait gallery without portraits of all PMs? Is nothing sacred? Nonetheless, best of luck to the NPG in gathering this part of its collection.

    Jenny Hocking's bid to release the Palace letters was condiered by the High Court of Australia. Face to Face was an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

  • High Court to hear bid to release the Queen’s secret Whitlam dismissal letters / Jenny Hocking (29 Jan 2020)
  • High Court to determine whether 'Palace letters' written during the Whitlam dismissal should be released / Elizabeth Byrne (upd. 4 Feb 2020)
  • Hocking v. Director-General of the National Archives of Australia [HCA] Case S262/2019
  •