17 March 2018

How good was that

Canberra has had a minor influx of players in the last year or so and we've been well served by it. Barrett, Clarke & Sutton are amongst the best anywhere and we had it, just a trio, mostly playing jazz written by others, but with a level of ability that was stunning. This is Hugh Barrett, Brendan Clarke and Mark Sutton. All three renowned throughout Australia and now resident here. There were a few originals; there was lots of hard swing and passed fours and bass solos and vamps. All the standard take on jazz tunes, but with such facility, such immense awareness and fluidity. I was laid low by Brendan's solos, gasped at Hugh's earlier dissonances developing into flowing waves of notes, grinned at the ease of Mark's telling stories on drums, not least surprised by those extra bars at the end of I remember Hugh/you. They mostly played music by others but the tunes weren't too obvious. There was Coltrane but it was a blues called Just for the love; there was a string of tunes by pianists: Mulgrew Miller, Benny Barron, Kenny Werner, Bud Powell, Stephen Scott; there were a few by Cole Porter and Billy Strayhorn. Hugh provided two: Big staircase and his take on I remember you which easily took the nickname I remember Hugh. And I was floored by Hugh's solo intro to Lush Life: just right, in style and harmony with just a tasteful touch of dissonance with some diminished fills (if I heard right). Floored all round by some incredibly capable playing mixing seriousness with good cheer. Barrett, Clarke & Sutton just floored me. It wasn't totally unexpected.

Hugh Barrett (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) performed at Smiths Alternative.

16 March 2018

Laying claim

It was a big claim to make (and presumably a playful throw-away) that this was "one of the most beautiful pieces ever written" but it was lovely and the playing was easily up to it. This was a group led by BJ Gilby performing Brahms Clarinet Quintet Bmin Op.115 at Wesley. I left with Pip and she said playing chamber music with friends was the best way to spend an afternoon. I could understand that whether the music is best ever or not. But how nice was this? The gentle interplay of a string quartet with the oddly insistent and unrelenting tone of the clarinet. I hear clarinets often enough but here it was frequent and prominent and that tone was so diverse from the strings: sustained but fatter, rounder, touching on mediaeval I thought. And the playing was lovely, not unexpectedly. Relaxed and easy but done with awareness and care. Barbara is leading us in MdC at the moment and I'm seeing her approach to preparing a group: slowly, highlighting surroundings and other players and understanding how the lines fit together, interweave, respond to each other. Not at all bull-at-gate, take it from the top. The performance was like this. Clear in intent, spacious and ready for changing lines and leads. So, if it was the most beautiful music eva, maybe so, but I just sunk into the pleasure of an afternoon of melody and interplay done with thought and awareness. That's my greatest ever.

Eloise Fisher (clarinet), Barbara Jane Gilby and Pip Thompson (violins), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola) and Samuel Payne (cello) performed Brahms at Wesley.

14 March 2018

One of many

If I search it right, IMSLP offers a list of 89 Stabat Maters by different composers so the annual SM performance by Adhoc Baroque has a few years to run yet. This year the composer was Alessandro Scarlatti (his son, Domenico, later wrote a better known setting). The text was by Jacopone del Todi and recounts the grief of mother Mary at the cross of Jesus. It's a deeply touching thought and thus taken frequently as a theme. The work itself comprises 19 short stanzas, sung by soprano and mezzo-soprano, Greta and Maartje, with accompaniment from organ, two violins and cello. The movements were short, often just a single reading of the text, perhaps a minute or two, sung by one or other or both vocalists. I particularly enjoyed the harmonised singing. Greta and Maartje both present well as soloists but I was particularly taken by their harmony singing in this performance: harmonising, contrapuntal, always clear and well formed, deliciously intoned and fluidly melding. The accompanying organ was discrete, the two higher strings playful and the cello firm and forward moving. In the notes, Peter highlights harmonic and melodic twists in this music with echoes in more modern music: he specifically mentions an off-beat melody in one movement which I remember hearing as an oddity (or error?) on the day. Otherwise, the group, with cello replaced by viola da gamba, performed three pieces before interval - a melancholy motet by Stradella, one of 1750 surviving church cantatas from Telemann and a lively playful piece from Buxtehude - with mezzo, soprano and paired voices. Again, some great playing and very satisfying singing of this unpretentious and deeply faithful C17th music. May the series continue till its natural end!

Adhoc Baroque performed Stradella, Telemann, Buxtehude and a Stabat Mater by Alessandro Scarlatti at St Paul's Manuka. The group comprised Greta Claringbould (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (mezzo-soprano), Lauren Davis and Michelle Hicks (violins), Rachel Walker (viola da gamba), Clara Teniswood (cello) and Peter Young (organ, director).

12 March 2018

Our turn to Enlighten

Thanks to CJ's Belgian foreign correspondent for a few pics. Foreign correspondent? Well, Neal has reported for CJ from jazz festivals in Belgium. This time, Neal and Anne Gowan turned up at our Tilt gig at ANU Enlighten and provided some videos. Nice to see friends at a gig although I find it the most nerve-wracking of any visitors. It was a perfect night for it; the PA was supplied; there were lights and even B&W movies projected above us; we enjoyed playing. I played double and was enjoying it so much I didn't manage my funk-switch to e-bass. We met various audience, not least a Swiss PhD student of dwarf galaxies over for a visit to Mt Stromlo. He'd just flown in, learning of the hell of the flight to/from Europe, and told of being amazed by the local wildlife. Europe's left that way in the past. Enlightened.

Tilt Trio played at the ANU Enlighten festival. Thanks to Kathryn Wells for pics. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass)

11 March 2018

What makes a group

I sat in admiration listening to the Australian Haydn Ensemble this night. It's not the first time, but it surprises me each time. I'm playing music like this now so I can feel just how difficult and inspirational is this close interaction. They all play wonderfully, of course, but the stunning thing for me was the dynamics and the close interplay. This is a group thing, a matter of togetherness, shared understanding, often of friendship or at least musical closeness. Simone shows it openly, with frequent smiles and grins. The others smile and glace less obviously or frequently but they are all eyes and ears, too. You see it as they come to a pause, or the end of a phrase, how they look up to Skye or each other. Then the exact attack, the shared fortes or denouements, at the most detailed level, within and between phrases. This is close playing and it's a key to chamber music with its intimate scale and unprotected exposure. They just did it so well and so comfortably. Jacqueline was unavailable so this was played without bass, interestingly, as much of this early classical music was written. The program was all Haydn: London Trio (flute, violin and cello), a string quartet and the Symphony no.104 London. The trio was written for home playing. I could only sit aghast thinking of the demands placed on home musos. But there was no TV in those days, so plenty of time for practice for the comfortable classes. Some lines just flawed me: from Anton's cello, or Skye's lead or Simone's responses or just how the whole group stopped then seemed to float for a lengthy pause, twice, I think, in the final movement of the symphony. I've said much of this group as they are friends and I've seen them numerous times, but I am never unsurprised. Truly lovely stuff.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed in the Great Hall at ANU University House. AHE were Skye McIntosh (violin 1), Simone Slattery (violin 2), James Eccles (viola), Anton Baba (cello), Melissa Farrow (flute) and Nathan Cox (fortepiano).

9 March 2018


We were off to a classical gig but the ANU was enlightened for the Enlighten Festival and we ended up snacking outside listening to As Famous As The Moon. This was opportune as Tilt was to play there the next night, so I could survey the joint. But best was their playing, of course. These are seriously satisfying players. Dirk was on leave so Joseph Taylor was filling in for the night, with the standard drummerless pairing of Lachlan and Graham. These guys have played innumerable gigs (actually, they are counted and AFATM are well over 3,000) and continue to do so, regularly, as a local institution. The tunes are standards and the playing was exemplary. Lachlan's quick 6-string bass work and Graham's crisp guitar and Joe's exploratory and often insouciant and lithe tenor and soprano. This was some stunning playing and just another proof of the potential of the standards repertoire (as if we need that). AFATM may serve a lovely background but it's worthy of some intense listening, too.

As Famous As The Moon appeared at ANU Enlighten festival with Joseph Taylor (tenor, soprano saxes), Graham Monger (guitar) and Lachlan Coventry (6-string e-bass).

26 February 2018

Fringe fare

I was in Adelaide and the Festival Fringe was on (the Adelaide Festival and Fringe is every year these days). I didn't manage any shows but we did hang around one evening at the East End of Rundle Street, generally a cool area at any time, but at this time the location for the Garden of Unearthly Delights and its food and drink and buskers and also some paid shows in tents and the like. Around the corner was the now common light show on the stately stone buildings of North Terrace. Down the road were the closed streets for the Clipsal 5000 road race, due sometime soon Most excitedly, Dweezil Zappa (son of Frank) was playing a few night later (sadly when I was flying back to Canberra) and over the following week, the reformed Cold Chisel (another excellent Adelaide-originated band) and Grace Jones on the Wednesday. Sad to miss this stream of favourites. I did catch a few loud notes of the Meatbeaters (see pic) but in a room too small and at a volume too loud. Here are just a few pics to display ambience.

21 February 2018

Canberra is south for Sydney

Sunday, first blues jam of the year I don't get to too many, but I enjoy the simple immediacy and the great gear these guys inevitably provide. My bass sounds so nice. My fave was Mesa-Boogie with 6x12 (?) Today it was a quad box with a digital head. Strong and fat; great gear. The host band was excellent, too. The Pat Powell band, with Pat Powell singing, our local stalwart Mitch Preston and Sydneysiders Rowan Lane and Illya Szwec. Some great vocals, heavily thumbed bass (Rowan plays reggae, too) and some very slick guitar from Illya. I was seriously impressed by some wah guitar later, but generally this was very sweet., Otherwise, a string of blues jam bands, not least the one I played in. Perhaps the feature was the reformation for the day of Whistler's Father (now Grandfather) playing Hendrix. How can any blues fan not swoon? Lots of fun if perhaps too loud for my tender ears. Here are pics of all the bands other than mine. I was too busy for obvious reasons.

The Canberra Blues Society hosts a jam on the 3rd Sunday of each month, Harmonie German Club, 2-5.30pm. Today's host band was Pat Powell (vocals) with Illya Szwec (guitar), Rowan Lane (bass) and Mitch Preston (drums).

20 February 2018

Something for all

Chris Botti has something for everyone. But passing comment caught my attention, about learning how to introduce songs. He'd watched some big names that he'd played with to learn how he now chats and mixes with the audience. There's nothing worse than "that was ..., now we'll play..." It's hard to avoid, but he did. He's obviously got some standard takes. Like the balcony joke that only Canberra understood... And the young drummer who's invited onstage. He did this at his 2011 Canberra concert (although this drummer was younger - 7 years old). How does he find them? And there's a string of feature performers that appear through the night doing all manner of styles. Here it was an acrobatic violinist (as last time), a female soul singer (as last time) and an operatic tenor. The tenor was new but the songs weren't: Time to say goodbye and Nessun dorma, no less. The pop hits of tenor arias. We duly clapped when we recognised the tunes. And a string of massively popular film tunes, Cinema Paradiso and Gabriel's oboe, and popular tunes, The look of love and Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, and some jazz, My funny valentine as an encore and Blue in green from Kind of Blue (at his 2011 Canberra concert, the Kind of Blue quote was Flamenco sketches). And he came down to the audience, this time playing only a few seats and one row from us. As did singer Sy Smith. Our seats were great: 4th row, centre. And in refreshingly non-corporate style, he invited pics and videos, jokingly requesting that we don't publish a video if he plays flat. Not that I thought he did. The musicians were impressive and very professional and part of the show: some up front, jokey, showy; some quiet but present; the guitarist just plain latin cool. I was surrounded by middle-aged who wouldn't attend jazz, but they were exposed to some piano chromatics and driving jazz rhythms and searing fusion guitar when the core band played. The piano trio was great and easily dissolved into some sinuous contemporary jazz behind Botti's melodious and often quick trumpet and this quartet was augmented with keys and guitar for more ordered but often searing blows. There's nothing like a searing guitar solo. The violin and various vocals added for their features. So, this was underlaid by jazz but sourcing input from a panoply of popular forms. And it worked. Everyone (yes, virtually everyone in the theatre) was up clapping on 2-4 at the end (we were warned against 1-3). All well presented, well played and well insinuated and downright entertaining. Not high art, perhaps, but worthy and capable and involving and great fun. And they are playing throughout the world on an almost daily basis and filling houses and all the while insinuating some impressive jazz musicianship. I'm on board. In fact, I stood up too.

Chris Botti (trumpet) appeared at the Playhouse with Geoffrey Keezer (piano), Reggie Hamilton (bass), Lee Pearson (drums), Leonardo Amuedo (guitar), Rachel Eckroth (keyboards, organ) and feature players Sandy Cameron (violin), Sy Smith (vocals) and Rafael Moras (operatic tenor).

18 February 2018

Much ado

They called it Lakespeare and it was free Shakespeare in Glebe Park. Borrowed from NYC. Not quite the first Shakepeare in the open in Canberra but nice to see it return. This was Much ado about nothing, Shakespeare's comedy of a two couples leading to weddings, playful in intent if often ill influenced by intrigues. Red the plot. His comedies can be reasonably intricate with characters and out-of-time enough for us to chuckle at sexual and social mores (the women in front of us gave out a few belly laughs). But it works out in the end, the pairs of lovers pairing, the intriguers vanquished by the most unlikely of plods. It's out of time with Shakespeare's language that's also dated, but I find it works when it's spoken (harder to read). I felt it was particularly well-staged for the circumstances, all performers mic-ed through a PA, so we heard the lot clearly, and entrances through the audience and even some action, where characters hide an overhear thing, huddled amongst the audience. There was slapstick and family parties and lively repartee and it worked. This was going on 2.5 hours but the audience of 1,000 stayed and laughed throughout. The lighting was limited and the scenery non-existent, but the intent and comedy and action were there and effective and the words easy to follow. So thin was a sinner. I can only look forward to more of it. Lakespeare presented Much ado about nothing in Glebe Park featuring Lexi Sekuless (Beatrice) and Duncan Driver (Benedick).

17 February 2018

Before ado

I once attended the Globe in London and I was amused to find the entertainment, singing and dancing, that accompanied the play. This was Lakespeare, a free public performance of Much ado about nothing, at the public stage in Glebe Park. First up was a popular band led by singer Sunny Amorena. This was interesting popular music, fairly simple rock grooves but the purposeful lyrics. Sadly I mostly missed the lyrics, but some titles were Waiting and Never giving up and one theme was as story that Sunny had experienced in LA, of speeding youths and police (I didn't catch the outcome, but I can guess) and her latest single, Boys like you. All sounding very relevant and personal and well felt. The playing was good. I particularly like some capable guitar solos from Don Miller-Robinson, once of the very successful pop-rock band Dragon. I was up close up for some of the time and was amused by the onstage sound, all drums and some voice and nothing else: they were all using in-ear monitors with no stage monitors or amps (for guitar, bass or drums). But a nice, if short, set from Sonny and mates. Sunny Amorena (vocals, keys) performed before Lakespeare with Don Miller-Robinson (guitar), Tony Mitchell (bass) and Rafael Salem (drums).

12 February 2018


First up at Smiths for a while. This was the Pratt/Price Collective so I knew it would be good but I was unprepared for just how good. Daryl Pratt is renowned and Mike Price was guitar an head of the Jazz School. No slouches. With Brendan Clarke and percussionist Jess Ciampa. I didn't know Jess and no drummer, so odd. So I thought. But this was an evening of latin and Jess was sitting on a cajon with congas and bongos and a string of small instruments and so, so relaxed and precise. As it was all round. Daryl was hugely fluid, perfect time and ease and melodic lines to die for. Mike was quick and lithe and listening back (I recorded) gave such easy and tonal lines, alive with easy quickness. Brendan is just a master of the bass, big toned, perfectly grooving, quick and responsive and well intoned. Jess' accompaniment was the essence of relaxed warm latin lives, sharp, quick with apt fills and elaborations then playful with flows from the bell tree. All so blissful and easy but also sharp and alive. Rhythms to flow with, to dance and mingle and seduce. Earthy and embedded. One tune they had never played, in practice or otherwise, and knowing that, you could pick up some reticence, but still it was good. They used to play together, but that was 18 months back. You wouldn't know it, playing as they did as masters of the craft. They were off to the studio for the next 2 days. What comes out can only be longed for. Fabulous playing, nonchalant poise, insouciant but enticing rhythms of Cuba and the rest. This was latin heaven from original pens.

The Pratt/Price Collective played at Smiths Alternative. The PP Collective comprised Daryl Pratt (vibraphone), Mike Price (guitar), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Jess Ciampa (percussion).

11 February 2018

Freedom in groove

My SoundOut this year was limited to the Sunday afternoon and a workshop. Five groups played: these two seemed to me to reference standard techniques a little more. I say that advisedly, a little more. These were still wildly atonal but notes were played on instruments. The first was loud and driving and outlandish and ridiculously exciting with high skill levels applied with rapacious excess. From the first notes, with little letup. I knew Paal from the workshop and he was driving and intent but still working around clearly underlying rhythms. I found myself tapping away to the strong but disguised grooves. Danish/Berliner bassist Adam was a force of nature, playing acoustic (other than a little condenser mic on a stand), high action with Spirocores, no pickup or amp, German bow intriguingly hanging from a hook on his belt (great idea!). Melbournite Ren Walters on pick and finger-picked guitar and Scott McConnachie on alto and sopranino sax. He did a great job, again wildly atonal but wonderfully formed phrasing and with a sopranino tone t die for, so rich and full. The second band was a mix of brass and deep strings. Johan Moir on bass and Judith Harmann on cello, variously playing open accompaniment or following leads from the brass and fascinating sparing trumpet pair of our local Miro and Austrian Franz Hautzinger. I reckon trumpet is by nature a melodic instrument and we got that here from both players, but also slathers and exclamations and counterpoints and flashes. A seriously interesting interplay from two expert trumpeters and a few very interesting sets.

Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), Adam Pultz-Melbye(bass), Ren Walters (guitar) and Scott McConnachie (alto, sopranino saxes) played a set at SoundOut 2018. So did Miroslav Bukovsky and Franz Hautzinger (trumpets) with Johan Moir (bass) and Judith Harmann (cello).

10 February 2018

Degrees of freedom

It's all free improvisation at SoundOut, but there are degrees of freedom. It's usually played on musical instruments, sounding as expected (and intended?) or not. Sometimes it's played on anything, with mics and various noise sources. Or the instruments are prepared with cloths or bells or clips or other so the strings or bells or tubes don't sound as normal. The sticks on strings and between strings and the clothes line clips and perhaps blutack as classics. Then the range goes through to instruments played as instruments, with various atonalities and implied all. Here I can see the references, the skills and the rest that I admire. Or I think I can. I remember asking a pianist whose playing I'd admired about keys and such technical matters. Nope, nothing. I'd been fooled. Or maybe they just don't talk of that. The workshop talked of all manner of things, but assumed players "know their instruments": a big ask but not the matter of concern. There were several groups who played with noise, with non-instruments or newly electronics.

First up Alexandra Spence, Bonnie Lander and Goh Lee Kwang. Close listening to match voice, (for a little time) drone clarinet, electronics and papers and a mobile phone ap (presumably a sequencer of some type) triggering tones to an old radio as amp. Odd but small, quiet and an easy lug. Then a quartet of Ben Drury, Casey Moir, Julia Reidy and Millie Watson. I was blown out by atonal piano laying by Millie (and singing by Jennifer Nell who sat next to me for this set) at the SoundOut workshop but none of that here. This was plucks and sweeps on piano strings with lightly suggested rhythm from 12-string guitar and double bass noise and restrained but very inventive effected vocals from Casey. Again, fairly quiet but listening. Psithurism Trio are Rhys Butler, John Porter and Richard Johnson and are locals. They played a set with Alexandra Spence, this time on clarinet, and altoist Georg Weissel. A free, open, listening thing with plenty of noises, removed mouthpieces, clacks and drones and taps: noise informed by real instruments. These were the obscure, open, relatively quiet improvs of the Sunday afternoon at SoundOut 2018.

Alexandra Spence (clarinet, electronica), Bonnie Lander (vocals) and Goh Lee Kwang (electronics) performed at SoundOut 2018. Ben Drury (bass), Casey Moir (vocals), Julia Reidy (guitar) and Millie Watson (piano) also performed. Psithurism Trio played with Alexandra Spence (clarinet) and Georg Weissel (alto) at SoundOut 2018. Psithurism Trio are Rhys Butler, John Porter and Richard Johnson.

9 February 2018

Hand of the free

From organs and early music through to experimental improv. Wow! Extreme. This was one workshop that preceded SoundOut. The performers were a duo that had played together for 20 years, Swedish pianist Sten Sandell and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilsen-Love. They started with a relatively short improv and it was stunning. The Steinway helped as it sounded so, so good under Sten's hands. I can find noise-play rather trivial, and it was a large content of the Q&A session, but their playing was richly informed, outrageously atonal but utterly convincing. Both had a rich a history in other musical forms, classical, jazz, rock/pop, but ended here. Both listen to all manner of musics. I enjoyed their interplay but cherished the rich and expansive atonality and their underlying sense of beat. There were plays with sound, plucked strings and harmonics and pedal plays and scraped cymbals but with purpose. Fabulous but too short. The workshop had questions on form, preparations and piano pedals, compositions, influence of audience, this music and venues (eg, jazz clubs and managers), the seeming "contradiction" of recording this music, practice, having fun, being clear in performance, listening. I found it unsatisfying that the discussion about practice and learning this style just assumed that you "know your instrument". I thought this was what the practice was for. And interestingly but perhaps not unsurprising, Sten said he doesn't perform with an e-piano. That must limit venues these days, but this is a special art with its requirements and listeners. Then the workshop. We formed a circle for exercises, passing sounds one to another and, most interestingly, all following or responding to the lead of one player. It was here we got a feel of the effectiveness of this style. But what wonderful playing from these two, atonal and polyrhythmic and the rest but with deep references and the most satisfying and convincing free improv.

Sten Sandell (piano) and Paal Nilsen-Love (drums) have a workshop for SoundOut 2018.