20 July 2018

What a blast

Another Canberra Symphony Orchestra concert but special. The music was accessible and well known and not too challenging, but it was special, at least for me. It was the first time I'd attended a concert where I'd played all the pieces before. I find my appreciation of a piece is immeasurably deeper when I've played it before: the structure becomes more visible; the lines (most prominently the bass lines) are expected and the harmonies and melodic and rhythmic plays with other parts are at front of mind. Nothing too surprising in that, but it's a revelation. The program was Brahms Academic Festival overture, Beethoven Triple concerto for violin cello piano and Elgar Enigma variations which I've played over time with Maruki and NCO. I'd played the Brahms twice, with Maruki and Brindabella. All exciting. And the soloists were Dimity Hall, Julian Smiles and Piers Lane. I'd played with Dimity and Julian at Llewellyn with NCO. All very exciting. The second half was on the program as just Enigma variations, so short, but the CSO encored with that English soul stirrer, Elgar Pomp & circumstance march no.1, also known for its lyricisation as Land of Hope and Glory. I'd played that too, with Maruki, one December. It took all my willpower not to stand and squat in rhythm as the upper class twits do in (London's) Albert Hall for the final night of the Proms (see YouTube). I was beaming and singing as I left. But what of the orchestra? BJ Gilby was missing from her seat and Maria Lindsay took that spot with Pop Thompson to her side. Lots of common faces but a few new and young ones too. Five basses this time, led by Kyle and Dave in the core of the back line. Nicholas Milton up front. I loved the program; I loved the playing. The Brahms is lively and fun; the Beethoven couldn't be by anyone else and Julian's cello playing was a revelation (my take of this was BJ Glby, David Pereira and Edward Neeman but I was too busy playing and too far from the sightlines to appreciate it like this night); the Elgar was really nicely done, dynamics, relaxation, intensity, variation, good all round. Then the final Elgar Pomp&Circ was just nicely played and is such an infectious blast. I just sat nodding time and grinning. So, suffice to say I really enjoyed this concert, not for intellect or adventurousness so much as for affinity and simple pleasure.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Milton (conductor) performed Brahms, Beethoven, Elgar and Elgar at Llewellyn with soloists Dimity Hall (violin), Julian Smiles (cello) and Piers Lane (piano).

14 July 2018

Where samba's from

Gary France gave one answer: from a tune on Cal Tjader's album called Soul Sauce, thus Samba. Wikipedia locates it in NYC in the 1960s and mentions Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, Rubén Blades, Eddie Palmieri and others, but not Cal Tjader. My trivia session the other day said Brazil and I knew that was wrong. Whatever, it's fabulous music that moves the body and soul and sounds a million and Gary led a CD release concert dedicated to Cal Tjader the other night at the ANU Pop-Up Bar. The band is called Vibellicious and it is delicious, on the CD and live. This was his Canberra version with Perth visitor Daniel Susjnar and our best locals, John and Miro, Hugh and Brendan and Sinuhe. The CD is mostly Gary with Daniel's Perth band but features one track with this Canberra collection. The grooves were to die for, the solos were inventive and modern, the feel was luscious and infectious. That mix of percussion is sensuous: deep complexity made from mixed syncopations. The regularity is also insinuating, like Hugh's montuno or Brendan's solo passage that was just a busy but angular bass clave. But then there were solos that thrilled with variation, again Hugh with right hand rhythms and left hand melodies and floating chords or Brendan's rapturous blow. And the front liners, John and Miro, snapping melodies and responses and passing solo passages or just laying down ecstatic runs and leader Gary comping with two or four mallets on vibes behind or soloing out front with immense authority. Then a percussion solo with swaps from drums to congas, snapping, chatting, and that sense to time and accent from Daniel's splash cymbal. All delightful for some joyful music. Perhaps too loud over that PA and sometimes not too clear and the piano wasn't great, but what a great night! A blow out.

Vibellicious was led by Gary France (vibes) with Daniel Susnjar (drums), Sinuhe Pacheco (congas), Brendan Clarke (bass), Hugh Barrett (piano), John Mackey (tenor) and Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet).

12 July 2018

Passed time to worry

It's time well passed to worry about Climate Change, although you wouldn't believe it listening to our dreadful politicians. They still don't get it or if they do they suffer internal machinations ones who don't - or they have just sold out. I've been just preparing a session for a discussion group today on "Death of democracy". Attending a discussion like this illuminates much. The Climate Change update 2018 was presented by Professor Mark Howden of the ANU Climate Change Institute. He's also Vice Chair, IPCC Working Group II and it's in this role that he is a Nobel Prize winner (with others). Of course, some say IPCC are the corrupt ones ripping us off for $billions according to the deniers (as I was told by a NZer recently, almost without prompting). But let's look at this summary of recent science: CO2 emissions rising; Methane rising; temperatures rising; Canberra temps rising; sea temps, levels and volumes rising; catastophes rising; Australian greenhouse gases rising; heat stress rising. What's going down? Our time to act; not much else. Some startling factoids? Atmospheric CO2 352ppm(2006)>407(2017); CO2 emissions 1990-99 +1.1%pa>2000-2009 +3.3%pa; Sea level rise +2mmpa(1993)>+3.4mmpa(2017); World-wide climate-related catastrophes (Munich Re 2018) ~250(1980)>~720(2017); Perth's dam flows ~340Gl (1911-1971)>~40gL (2011-) . Mark's response to the denialist meme "It's all happened before" was "Rubbish". Who else is warning about climate? Oh, let's see ... Munich Re (reinsurer); Bank of England; APRA. And a day or so ago, so is the tourist industry on the Great Barrier Reef - finally they've got it - and the NFF. There were questions about ice loss, paralysis by uncertainty, tipping points, Paris agreement, short termism, etc. Fascinating and informed but nothing was a joy. Follow it up. I've linked Prof Howden's overheads below.

Professor Mark Howden of the ANU Climate Change Institute presented on Climate Update 2018.

  • http://climate.anu.edu.au/files/Mark-Howden-ANU-Climate-Update.pdf
  • 8 July 2018


    Sandie White appeared at Eric Ajaye's (and Bucky and Jeffro's) new Jazz Haus venue with Eric and Matt McMahon and Jim Piesse. These are all seasoned performers with long experience. And experience together: Eric has played with Sandie for 7 years. He likes singers. I understand. Words are keys to meaning and singers spell out a performance. There's a hierarchy in performance, and the immediacy and meaning of vocals places it at the top. Then variously sax for its vocal qualities or piano for its orchestral qualities, or depending on context, even bass for its combined rhythmic and harmonic qualities. This was a string of standards, some moderately obscure, from Nice work if you can get it and Night and day, through to Ballad of Thelonious Monk and Mr Paganini. And a touch of the last few decades with Sting Practical arrangement. That's one I hadn't heard before but is touching in its wistful theme and desperate longing. Sandie's been singing for long and it's a tribute to her experience and commitment. There's a YouTube video to watch of her at Sydney Town Hall in the 1980's with Chris Qua and others belting out standards. There's still the lilt in the ballads and the animation in the bop lines and some wonderful scatting, if not with with the energy of the 1980's. And the band was the epitome of quiet professional backing: melding with her patter and reading her charts and, especially Matt and Eric, laying down some exquisite solos. This is not the bleeding edge of modern jazz but the essence of supremely sophisticated entertainment and I can come at that very easily.

    Sandie White (vocals) appeared with Matt McMahon (piano), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Jim Piesse (drums) at Eric and Bucky and Jeffro's new venue, the Jazz Haus, at the Austrian Club.

    5 July 2018

    Touching base

    There's too little jazz in my life these days but I got to the Hauptmann Trio last night and it was stunningly good. It was actually the Trio+1, the 1 being John Mackey. The trio are siblings, big sis Zoe and two brothers Ben and James. Zoe couldn't make it but they still kept it in the family: cus Nick Hoorweg sat in on bass. John had been one of their teachers in the past at the ANUSOM and the whole crew are well known to local jazz aficionados, so it was very much a family affair. How these students mature with time in the workforce! Nick told me of leaving Canberra immediately on finishing his degree to start a 6-month gig with a Motown show. Zoe's now in the big time touring scene and I guess James and Ben are there, too. So they should be. Ben really led the show, offering favourite tunes and being the front man. There were common jazz tunes - Chelsea Bridge, Secret love, Caravan, Willow weep for me, Meditation - and a few outliers, not least the very lovely Mancini Moon River and a gentle Bill Frisell and a Stan Turrentine burner. Ben put some interesting edges to all, eg, a synth tone bookending Chelsea Bridge (?) and a 12/8 groove to introduce Meditation. And some fabulously interesting guitar, well controlled and infrequent out-playing, biting and intriguing solos and some choppy country-like feels reminiscent of Frisell. James was just driving, enjoying the floor tom for his solos, and grabbing wayward drums as he attacked the kit. Nick was neat, sometimes just unobtrusively spelling the chords with tonics and the like, otherwise walking, sometimes soloing, again with a nice freedom. And John up front, quick witted and always inquisitive on both melodies and solos. Because it's an unusual choice and also because it's such a pretty tune, I noticed Moon River. John's simple statement of melody was to die for. But I felt that for multiple tunes on the night. These are guys (in the absence of the gal) who are at the top of their craft and supremely interesting. Just a fabulous outing.

    The Hauptmann Trio + 1 played at the ANU Reunion Pop-Up Village. They comprised Ben Hauptmann (guitar), Nick Hoorweg (bass), James Hauptmann (drums) and John Mackey (tenor).

    3 July 2018


    Every few months I go on tour. This last one was to Gunning. Before, it's been to Cooma and Goulburn. Big time ... not at all, but entertaining if unpaid. Musica da Camera is my string orchestra that plays three of four times each year pairing its concerts with one at Cook on Saturday and a repeat at a local country town on Sunday. Each concert is directed by an invited musical director, perhaps with an invited soloist. If not, by a member of the group. MdC has been around for 40 years and it's been working this way for sometime (well before my time which is only ~18 months back). And this group is good, comprising various teachers and professionals and serious amateurs and inviting some great local guests. This concert was directed by Jonathan McFeat, now of Sydney, with early jazz banjo/guitarist, Liam O'Connell. A possible commission fell through but the program was fascinating none-the-less: Vivaldi, Faure, Warlock, Handel, Mendelssohn, Sibelius. The Vivaldi and Handel were par for the course and always much loved. The Mendelssohn was a blast, his Symphony no.10 that combines three movements into a single whole and drives along at a mighty pace. The Faure was his widely known Pavane, and the Sibelius, his Impromptu no.5&6, was a pairing played as one and the most well received of all from the comments I heard. It was beautiful. But perhaps the Warlock Capriol suite was the most unexpected of all. Harking back to medieaval or old folk with twisted dance sequences, a pavane but also a Bransles and a Tordion and a Mattachins (?), all jumpy and unexpected. I liked it all, partly because it was so tricky. But the prize for the unexpected probably goes to the guitar and strings arrangement of Faure Pavane and even more to the solo banjo rendition of Lionel Belasco Miranda, jazz/calypso from ~1915. Banjo and strings. A strange combination but it's all music. Congratulations and thanks too all: great music all round.

    Musica da Camera performed at Cook and Gunning under Jonathan McFeat (conductor) with Liam O'Connell (guitar, banjo).

    1 July 2018

    Love and other stories

    I enjoy my Harmonia Monday choir for the opportunity to learn to sing (it's a slow process!) but I wouldn't if it weren't for the music. Admittedly we can struggle with it. The Messiah choruses are complex and fast and sometimes get up high. The parallel but temporally moved lines of canon singing can be an worthy challenge. Finding the harmony and not dropping into another part, not least struggling with the soprano melody, is a playful task. I like all that. This last open day featured a string of interesting tunes in 4-or-more part harmony from baroque to modern, many in religious traditions (it seems that's where a lot of choral music comes from). Music from Mozart Missa Brevis, Handel Messiah, Bach B minor mass, Hassler Dixit Maria. Music as far back as Greensleeves in harmony, attributed to that great lover Henry VIII. Through a string of love songs (love has ever been a theme of popular songs): Go lovely rose, My sweetheart's like Venus, She's like the swallow, The shower, and one more seductive, Fine knacks for ladies (their seductions were discrete compared to ours). And a final return to religious singing, but modern: Lauridsen from Lux Aeterna. A fine program directed by our two conductors, Shiela Thompson and Oliver Raymond, with our repetiteur, Jenny Kain.

    Harmonia Monday sang under Shiela Thompson and Oliver Raymond (conductors) and accompanied by Jenny Kain (piano).

    28 June 2018

    A mixed bag

    I'm starting to see my error in not attending ACO concerts before now. They are seriously good, if in a unique and identifiable way. Lovely sound and great energy and reliable togetherness. Not sure how period-authentic is the performance but so what. I loved the final Haydn London symphony with its well shared understandings of dynamics within and between phrases, but I just doubt a court orchestra would have done it quite like that (although I think this was first performed in a commercial theatre). So what? The period movement is interesting, but we don't have recordings so the performances can't be other than affected by our experiences, and anyway, why shouldn't our modern performances be influenced by what's happened in the last 250 years? It's the nature of art, society and everything to change. So I drooled over their London symphony. There were two world premieres on the program, too. One by Samuel Adams (son of one of the John Adams). That was jumpy piece built on continuing triplet motifs moving through the ensemble and exploring issues of interpersonal dynamics. I liked it well enough but would like to hear it again to gain some acquaintance. More traditional others were not so generous. The second world premiere was by our own Uzbekistan-Aussie, the much loved Elena Katz-Chernin. This was a work in four movements about an escape from tyranny to Australia. Far more melodic, gentle, evident, accessible and accepted by our traditional friends. Me too. The major work of the night was Shostakovich Cello concerto no.1 Ebmaj played by Steven Isserlis. Great work; great player. There was easy responsiveness between enhanced orchestra (featuring horn and other woodwinds) and the solo cello, even if I felt the cello was sometimes lost under the sound of 35-or-so ensemble players. But then SI did not seem particularly loud even at his loudest. But a fabulous work played really well. And the pre-concert talk was a good introduction, not least by interviewing Sam Adams, composer and jazz bassist. So, a great night. BTW, we ate before (pub food: fish'n'chips; burger'n'chips) in the Wig & Pen downstairs. They deserve more support from Llewellyn attendees.

    The Australian Chamber Orchestra performed works by Sam Adams, Shostakovich, Elena Katz-Chernin and Haydn. The Sam Adams and Elena Katz-Chernin were world premieres. Steven Isserlis (cello) played the Shostakovich Cello Concerto no.1 Ebmaj.

    27 June 2018

    Sun princess others

    What else musical? There were several other acts, some pretty decent, that I didn't follow. Chris Powley appeared with orchestra in a vocal showcase. I only caught a few minutes where he was singing tunes in the styles of various famous artists. Amusing. I did catch Chris Gable, an Australian multi-instrumentalist with a good line in patter. He played a string of light jazz numbers on alto sax (?) and clarinet with the orchestra. His playing was quick and good and his sax playing had a wonderful tone. There was a young piano/vocalist who was popular but to my ear destroyed every song. His antics were popular but his interpretations of some supremely lovely ballads were indulgent and disrespectful ... to my ears. Perhaps it says as much about me as him. I won't mention his name. There was an in-port Penang Folkloric show featuring local instruments and songs, local melodies, gamelan, percussion and the rest and several dancers. Interesting but perhaps requires some understanding. I particularly liked the gamelan player. There was a solo guitar/singer called Danny Shamess and a clever covers duo called Galaxy Duo. Galaxy was female singer and male guitar with recorded backing and some searing guitar solos. Nice. Sounding much bigger than the pair of players on stage. What else? There was a DJ bar and Karaoke in the early evening. Some of the Voice performers appeared here, of course. There were some flunkies but mostly decent singers amongst them: no doubt regulars at the local karaoke pub. Indicative of cruise life, a lively dinner table partner, Poppy, tried to get me up for a duet but no avail. There's other stuff, too, not least bars and pools and ports and food but that's for another blog. I lost most of my pics of the artists, so just two from Singapore.

    26 June 2018

    Sun Princess voices

    I might have written this as a matter of ridiculous to sublime but it wasn't so extreme. One side was the Sun Princess pop choir. Pop choirs are one activity that cruise ships may have. They are simple things, volunteers who gather a few times to singalong, mostly in unison but harmonies are allowed but not written. Somewhat like a group karaoke, I guess. This was the best I've done, and given the expectations, it was pretty good. We sang five uber-pop songs: Here comes the sun; Hit the road Jack; Blame it on the boogie; New York New York; Sweet Caroline. All obvious and common. The keys were mostly OK although I found just a few lines in the Boogie problematic, always going high. The Frank Sinatra was damnably hard to carry off, given it's known by such a quintessential jazz singer. Sweet Caroline is always there, but then it's easy and everyone knows the actions (except me). The largely spoken male lines in Hit the Road Jack need confidence. My favourite was Here comes the sun, which was not so much easy as melodious and commonly interpreted. There were clearly numerous choral singers amongst the group. I stood next to a cabaret singer from Adelaide and even a member of my choir, Russell, was onboard. Small world. Later I caught that cabaret singer in The Voice of the Ocean, a takeoff of the TV version (I understand, with rights paid). Six singers performing with orchestra and background singers before judges on rotating seats and the like. I've never seen the TV version but don't need to now. There were heats earlier in the cruise that I didn't pay attention to, and a strange series of judgments, first by three judges, then of the judges by the contestants, then of the chosen contestants by the judges, then by the audience of the final three. There were some decent singers, some with experience and some without, singing some pretty obvious country or soul or crooner songs, mostly cut strangely short. Singers had a limited range of songs to choose from, presumably popular numbers with band charts available. And then the jokes and generous commentary (the singing passenger is always right). I chose a different winner, but so it goes. That was the last night and quite fun.

    25 June 2018

    Sun Princess classics

    More sedate were the classically trained performers playing a mix of classical and popular and jazz music in the bar mostly in the afternoon or early evening. The Grazia String Duo comprised two female violinists from the Ukraine. Lyudmyla Chrstyakova mostly played the first line with Kristina Sandetska playing second, an accompanying harmony or rhythmic line. Again, plenty of mainstream film and show hits (Memory, Shadow of your smile, Hello dolly, Come fly with me and the like( along with the occasional popular classical number. Again, this is not concert hall, but a little gets slipped in. Nice. Grazia's offsider was Russian pianist Olena Konstantinova. Think Misty, All of me, My way along with Lieberstraum and Fur Elise and more. I have each of their CDs as souvenirs. I can only laugh with pleasure at Olena's note: "From funny classical to another funny musician somewhere at the sea ... With best wishes! Olena :)" Lovely. Her English is better than my Russian.<br><br>

    Olena Konstantinova (piano) and the Grazia String Duo, comprising Lyudmyla Chrstyakova and Kristina Sandetska (violins) played on the Sun Princess.

    24 June 2018

    Sun Princess covers

    Sun Princess had perhaps the best pop band I've caught on a ship: Xtasea. Geddit? They were a 5-piece covers band out of the Caribbean. Two singers, male and female, with keys, bass and drums. The singers were great, swapping lead roles and neatly harmonising to each other, the tenor male not wildly below the female, and with a bassist player with a great take on finger funk. To me, he stole the band and others were aware of the bassist, but it takes all to make one. The keys were not so prominent, but obviously essential in laying down the chordal and melodic snippets in backing and the drummer was determined and firm and apparently in charge of calling each tune. I expected they had mini sets or medleys because they ran the songs together with no evident breaks, but no, apparently, they were just called and they knew the tunes well. Very impressive. Their rock was right but attracted me less than their funky sets. Very hot stuff with that prominent funky bass and those nifty vocals. They even had me up dancing once (or maybe it was the drinks package).

    Xtasea performed covers on the Sun Princess. They comprised two vocals (female, male), keys, bass (Charlie Jn Baptiste) and drums.

    23 June 2018

    Sun Princess shows

    CJ has been on vacation: another cruise with Mum. So what of the music this time? As always I loved the shows. I never attend such things at home: they are entertaining and competent and perhaps too expensive to stage in Canberra, anyway. If I watched the right TV, I guess I might see something on the style. I love them for the skills, for the popular and remembered music, for the energy and dancing. Not so much for the themes. This ship was Sun Princess and there were three or four stage shows over the 12 days-or-so. No shows on days when in port. I've recounted before about selection of performers. We got friendly with one, Cat, a dancer and, as I understood, manager of the dance troupe. The dance troupe was six women and four men. There were also two singers (male, female) and the orchestra. The orchestra were mostly jazz trained, I guess. I met the bassist, Will, from Austin TX. He was playing e-bass on the ship. The orchestras are always professional, being capable readers. This one also played a Dixieland tribute outside the stage context and backed a few visiting artists and the final night's The Voice at Sea. I'd seen some shows before but they remain great joys: Save the last dance; Bravo (operatic faves); British Invasion (songs of the '60s-'70s); Sweet soul music. The dancers also performed a few shows with recorded music, notably two on country music, all line dancing (although choreographed as high level jazz) and gingham and, as I remember, the British Invasion show. The Sun Princess is not a large ship but it does have a theatre and a largish cabaret stage and several other bar stages. Suffice to say, I like the shows and they are a feature of any cruise. Not high art, perhaps, but professional and performed by skilled dancers and singers on rolling seas with admirable skills.

    The Sun Princess Dancers and Singers performed several shows mostly with backed by the Sun Princess Orchestra. The singers were Aja Goes and Steven Major.

    5 June 2018

    Thanks each way

    It was great fun to finally play a gig with Ross Buchanan. We played a piano/bass duo session for a few hours at lunchtime at Brindabella Hills winery. I was covering for Peter Barta who normally plays with this band but it was share and share alike. I hadn't been able to play our Tilt gig the night before so Peter subbed and Mark Levers subbed for Dave. Roundabouts. It's good to play with others - something like a paid jam session: jazz teaches you to do just this and jazzers have a fairly well known shared repertoire to help, too. We played standards and jazz tunes, bossas and swings and blues and one or two ballads. Someone once joked that the gigs like this always started from A in the Real Book so he never got to the later charts. We didn't do that. But how nice to play and to get out to the country to do it. And cheers to Brian, my mate who is winemaker there.

    Ross Buchanan (piano) and Eric Pozza (bass) played at Brindabella Hills winery.

    3 June 2018

    What is this thing called, love

    It's a piece of nostalgia and theatre and comedy as much as music. NCO and CCS and a string of soloists performed Not the Messiah : he's a very naughty boy at Llewellyn last night to a crowded house and everyone had a ball. There's a generation out there that's brought up on Monty Python (I'm of it), so I'm not surprised at the turnout, but to some degree I was surprised at my own enjoyment of the event. I'd gone around thinking this is not Beethoven 9 or Mozart Requiem, especially because of the fairly simple readability of the music. But it's not complexity alone that makes for success in music and I wonder if I'd been snobby about the whole thing. I don't think so but I'd ignored the pleasure of a massed musical outing, of the joy of comedy and the essentially intelligent and well meaning humour of the Python crew and just the effectiveness of our locals to carry all this off.

    120-or-so performers filled the stage physically and the hall aurally with a inundation of sound with the help Llewellyn's new phrased array; the orchestra did its musical job, enhanced even with a rhythm section with electric instruments (gasp); the choir sang a treat but also played up the night with discrete props; the soloists were a roguish joy as well as being wonderfully capable as singers; the brass wore sombreros and the pipers brought the house down. There were smiles and joy everywhere and congrats for jobs well done. Well done to Lenny, of course, who conducted this all and to SarahLouise who had done her parallel part with the choir. A huge turnout and a huge success.

    National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society presented Not the Messiah : he's a very naughty boy by Eric Idle and John du Prez at Llewellyn Hall. Soloists were Louise Page and Demi Smith (sopranos), Nick Begbie (tenor), Tobias Cole (baritone), David Pearson (bass) under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with Ylaria Rogers (director) and SarahLouise Owens (chorus master). The bottom-enders were Roger Grime, Lizzy Collier and Eric Pozza (basses).