25 January 2015

Gary

I blog first gigs with any players and last night's gig with Rachel and the Republicans was one of them. It was the first time I've played with Gary France and he was a blast. Confident and correct, tack sharp and snap loud snare on some grooving funk, luscious and easy swing and some stunning eights and other solo passages. All a bit loud, but this was fun. The Republicans were driving. Rachel floored me with power and delivery and Mike and Rachel with their have developed a neat and witty harmony interplay on a string of tunes. Rach and Mike have been working frequently as the duo, In 2 Deep, as well as having recently recorded an album; it shows. I didn't manage to take all this in, concentrating on my own part, but Richard, too, was intriguing in a string of solos, and neatly inserting fills and comping at other times. As for me, it was double bass all night, big sound and some very satisfying grooves but a few same old same old habits in soloing. This was great fun with some impressive playing on standards but also a string of wonderful tunes from Mike's pen. My thanks to all. It's a pleasure and a privilege to perform with such players.

Rachel and the Republicans were Rachel Thorne (vocals), Mike Dooley (piano, vocals), Richard Manderson (saxes), Gary France (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass).

19 January 2015

Beer Belgian


Jef Neve was passing through Canberra again and it was Belgian beer for a performance at the Belgian Embassy. I notice Jef is also playing on this tour with the JazzGroove Mothership Orchestra. He's written for, and performed with a dance studio in Antwerp Belgium. His new CD, One, has a photo of one of these dancers and includes tracks written for them. But also interesting was chatter about recording several tracks for that CD in Studio 2 (the Beatles studio) at Abbey Road: talk about what pianos there are, mic stores, who was recording following him (Shirley Bassey), minutiae of a musician's fascinations. Jef played two sets. The first was tracks from this CD, entitled One. These were all originals except for a take on Lush life. Jef is classically trained, and it's obvious in his playing. A friend suggested a resemblance to Chopin (I heard Gershwin at times) but it was definitely a virtuosic style with roiling left hand arpeggios and rapidly repeating notes and flourishing right hand licks and a heavy, broody atmosphere and intense, lengthy crescendos and releases. All full handed chords and rich arpeggiation and dissonant blends thrown in fairly often to colour the intensity of it all. So it was a surprise to hear some more standard jazz piano in the second set with John Mackey, when Jef dropped into stride and left hand bass lines and sax-line solos. John sounded airy and understated at first and you could hear the two players developing together, melding, coming to an understanding as they played through a few standards - Monk, Body & soul, All the things you are, Sentimental mood, Tenor madness. Just a short set and not long enough but it was an interesting match. Then a final original to end. You could wonder how loud a piano can be. It can be loud and, as I say, it can be an orchestra in a box. Jef's piano is like this, loud and self-contained as a soloist, but there's plenty of awareness and divergent skills to sit with others, especially a sensitive player like John. So this was two sides of Jeff and a wonderful pairing to boot. ArtSound was recording so you can expect to hear the concert sometime soon on Friday Night Live with Chris Deacon. And just to justify an oblique title, Jef is Belgian and this concert was at the Belgian Embassy and the beer was Belgian. Jef Neve (piano) played solo and with John Mackey (tenor) t the Belgian Embassy.

18 January 2015

NGA news


The good news first, or the bad? We visited the National Gallery, a week or so back, to check out another Indian antiquity that will return in short order. This one is the Kushan Dynasty, Uttar Pradesh, Seated Buddha of the 2nd Century. We'd caught the first notable loss, Shiva as Nataraja Lord of the Dance, just a day or two before it disappeared from display. We'd seen both before, of course, but these seedy goings-on add a mix of notoriety and distress to the visits. Both were purchased from New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor. I read that there may be more returns to come. Otherwise, this was just a walk in the park to while some time. Megan caught her strange favourite, the Ambum Stone of PNG, the oldest dated sculpture form the Pacific at 1,500-6,000BCE. These are unknown cultures to most of us but they are intriguing. I was surprised by several sculptures in the Middle East / Asian gallery that had Greek references. The Head of Bodhisattva (also a purchase from Kapoor) had a Medusa-like headdress and there was an Atlas (the Greek god) which is portrayed in this region with wings. These similarities speak to interactions across the Middle East from Alexander or the Silk Road or other. All strange and how fascinating. Then a temporary exhibition of sketches by Frenchman Daumier. Many were good for a laugh, like the South American (sic) kangaroo. I felt a real affinity with the cellist following his music. The good news is that the NGA now allows photography (obviously without flash). Nice, but I must pace myself.

17 January 2015

Temptation


Bellagroove have been playing around Canberra frequently of late. I finally got a gig to find the band is a string of mates from the jazz scene, fronted by singer Elise. Elise, at least, was new to me. Bellagroove play the jazz standards and more with a funky, rocky, electric twist. Take standards and some favourite rock and pop tunes, add electric bass and choppy guitar, drums and tenor, and a voice over with flute for a softer colour. It's a good night out and these are nice players. John sounded all fat and punchy, very satisfying, improvising and walking and taking plenty of solos. Stew cut through all choppy and clear and edgy with sharp comping chords and blues-tinged solos. Noddy was just plain effective, soloing at will; not needing to read this stuff, although they tell me he can read fly specks on the wall when he needs to. Joe on tenor was the most adventurous, but that's a sax trait: starting his solos with melodic interpretations but soon vearing out in harmony and rhythm; his solos were also the longest. And Elise, firm voiced singer and comfortable leader, stood the front line when not taking flute melodies or solos. I'd missed Beatrice, but I heard Tom Waits' Temptation, CC Rider, Dindi, Old devil moon and Stolen moments. I was sorry to have to leave early. I was bopping. A comfy band playing great tunes making for a night out and a few drinks.

Bellagroove are Elise Walsh (vocals, flute) with Joe Taylor (tenor), Stewart King (guitar), John Burgess (bass) and Noddy Brassington (drums) and they were playing at Hippo.

16 January 2015

Locally iconic


Ballarat was the richest metropolitan area for 2 years at the time of the Gold Rush, 1851-late1860s. You can see it in the architecture. It’s grand, Victorian, sturdy, has lots of churches, wide boulevards, a stately railway station. What’s left of it, that it. The developers will get in to make a quick buck when they can and they have on plenty of buildings. My heritage architect host walks the streets with stories of lost and saved history and inept design. But there’s still plenty to admire. Like any self-respecting Victorian community, Ballarat also has its art gallery, and it’s a little gem. I’d seen the Eureka Flag there about 20 years back, but now it’s moved, to a democracy museum near Eureka Stockade, so still in Ballarat. Now the gallery has had an extension, so it’s a worthy and bigger visit. We went for the current blockbuster, Eicōn : icons of the Orthodox Christian World. It’s small, in 3 rooms, perhaps 70 icons dated over a millennium. It’s all religious, all Saints and martyrs and Jesus and Mary, mostly painted gesso on linen with a strangely curved and indented surface. I admired the miniature-like details, how the best would glow with skin tones and single black lines would define a face. I was amused that so many Madonnas and children and Assumptions were laid out the same. I noticed just one Pietà. I admired the effective lighting and also the significant crowd that was in attendance. We wondered at a lack of variation over time and place. But to see such a group of icons, together, for comparison, was fascinating.

But the Gallery offered more, too. The permanent collection is small but impressive, including plenty of names, spread over the last 150 years or so. I admired the ships and sturdy citizens and mythical themes of the 19th century. Then the artistic exploration of the 20th century and the quizzical approach of today and a few impressive Aboriginal paintings. The collection tends to local (Victorian) and they are seriously worthy pieces. There were several other temporary exhibits on show that we could just pass through. One was prints, mainly from the collection of the Baillieu Library at the Univ of Melbourne; again, lots of mythology and history and featuring many European names like Rembrandt and Dürer. This was an excellent and expansive display. Another was of the Lindsay family. We all know Norman of the Magic Pudding and the seductive nudes, but the family of 10 children and four noted sibling artists were from Creswick, 18km from Ballarat. Their family living room is recreated in the gallery, accompanied by a string of paintings. I can’t resist including a pic of one particularly alluring work by Norman. The third exhibition was the 46th Ballarat National Photographic Exhibition. I found it mostly technically competent but predictable stuff (as I find most photography competitions) but there was some genuine humour and social responsiveness in a few of the works.

This is only my second visit to the Art Gallery of Ballarat and it impressed me beyond my fond memories. A good sign. Ballarat has a worthy little gallery and it’s a highly recommended visit in my book.

15 January 2015

Last of a batch


Trio Streeton was our sixth and last concert for this festival this year and it was delightful. We’re still talking of the variation in concerts: every one of the six have been vastly different. This final concert was classical / romantic, down the line. A renowned Australian piano trio (piano, violin, cello) playing Haydn, Debussy and Schumann, with an encore on our Aussie fave, Elena Katz-Chernin’s Russian Rag. The Haydn was his Gypsy Trio, no.39 in G Major; delicate, perfect, chamberly, pretty. Then a Debussy piano trio in G Major with 4 movements; cello arpeggios and passed melodies; introduced as an early work (aged 18 at the time?) and clearly that when you knew. Then a Schumann Piano trio no.1 in D minor, again in 4 movements: moody, mulling, emotive, intriguing canon in the second movement, a bouncy rhythmic theme and some deadly bowing; an emotionally composed and presumably mature work after the youthful work by Debussy. Then the encore that identified the LNL listeners (a moderate number clapped on announcement). The trio was great: expressive, uncluttered, nicely welcoming with their chatter. This is despite one replacement on the night: Teije Hylkema, principal cellist of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra was sitting in. He did a great job. I wonder at the reading and preparation skills of such players, who can perform a challenging program at concert level and justify it presumably for just one gig. I liked this small format, too, with the few instruments of different timbres always clearly spoken and with evenly balanced roles. I tend to steer clear of the romantics but this was a delightful concert and I enjoyed it immensely. The historical venue and the Elena’s hugely catchy tune were just icing on the cake.

The Streeton Trio comprised Benjamin Kapp (piano) and Emma Jardine (violin) with Teije Hylkema (cello) sitting in for the night.

14 January 2015

Liedism


Italian it and I may be, but I don’t get opera and neither do I get its German chamber offshoot, lieder or art song. I love combined voices as in choirs; I love oratorios with soloists (although they are said to be opera without acting); I love a pure soprano singing early music or a matron singing blues or gospel or a skilled jazz singer. But Schubert’s songs leave me flat. Maybe I’ll learn one day but I tried again with tenor David Hobson accompanied on piano by Catherine Day and it’s not yet. Not my scene. He’s much loved, a star of Carols by Candlelight and opera and Messiah and Spicks and Specks. He has a career; his voice is trained and he’s sung repertoire that I love. But these were songs of love and loss and longing and the words were of a period-piece worldview (the trusty tree, the oak that broke, the fading love like morning dew) and they were mostly in German anyway and this style has lots of vibrato. I hear the voice and admire the control. Much the same for the piano. Nice playing and supportive and quite vibrant in some later pieces (Britten?). So this is the fifth concert in this festival and it’s another very different style but it didn’t connect for me. Let the operistas judge this one for I don’t have the heart (or the interest) to. These players deserve better than I can give them. But then, “if you want anymore you can sing it youself, hee-haw” (Britten).

David Hobson (tenor) with accompaniment by Catherine Day (piano) sang songs of love, loss and longing at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

13 January 2015

Endless variations


I’ve now been to four concerts at this Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival and the differences between them have been immense: a big Bach masterwork, a fine early trio with soprano and cornetto, a grand pipe organ and now a concert of recorder and accordion that ventures from Baroque through Scottish and Spanish and into contemporary Australian commissioned works. Wow. Who’d’a thunk it, doubly so on these instruments, but it worked a treat. The Ortiz and traditional Scottish tunes were more folky and harmonically simpler. Palestrina and Bach and Locke (I was less clear on the Locke) took us back centuries to a music that is obvious for the recorder. But this pair are far more adventurous. I was most taken by two contemporary Australian pieces. Firstly, Andrea Keller’s Where is everybody? It’s a meditation on the universe and our lonely place amongst infinite expansion. Genevieve played bass then sopranino then bass recorders, pairing notes of varying intervals over an accordion soundscape, then melody over shifting chords and mutating arpeggios. Andrea Keller. That’s Melbourne jazz territory; it just shows the wealth of crossovers in contemporary music. Then Damien Barbaler’s Shadow box, two excerpts from a 40-minute piece with video about memories and echoes. I was unsure how much improv was here, but it seemed frequent, especially in James’ response to Genevieve’s leads. In style, Megan thought Stravinsky, I thought Debussy or Ravel. Neither are anywhere near common recorder or accordion territory. So this concert was surprising and a huge eye-opener and a thing of wonder with its fine playing and inclusive pallette. Otherwise, I thought of the family of recorders, wondered at the ornate, Francophilic Loreto chapel the concert was performed in, committed to read up about the range of accordions and their various technical matters (not all have piano keyboards and this one didn’t). This was one fascinating outing.

Genevieve Lacey (recorders) and James Crabb (classical accordion) performed a vast range of musical styles at the Loreto Chapel in Ballarat.

12 January 2015

An organ at the festival


It took until the third concert to hear a genuine concert on one of the installed church organ of Ballarat. This was the Fincham & Sons organ at the Ballarat Central Uniting Church. I’m staying with a heritage architect who tells me this organ is of historical significance and protected on a State Government register ( “there are not many organs on that register, I can tell you”). The programmed organist, Italian Ferruccio Bartoletti, was sick and unable to travel. Anthony Halliday replaced him, amazingly with the same program with just one change. This was a program of Buxtehude followed by JS Bach. Standard names but varied. I enjoyed the sine-wave-like purity of the deep notes and considered the more edgy overtone-rich higher tones. I wondered about the sense of timing that follows those slow attacks on low notes. I chatted about the multiple manuals and the rows of switches for different pipes and pipe lengths and was surprised when I saw the range of other switches close up. I was amused to think how unprepossessing it is as a visual spectacle, just one organist with his back to audience, despite the impressive machine that’s under control. I followed tunes of interweaving counterpoint or sturdy bass lines or more chordal orientations. I enjoyed the Buxtehude but deeply responded to the inevitability of every Bach invention, with its ideas that never jarred, being always carried through to resolution. But mostly I liked the big, swelling tones when the machine let go. There was a little of this earlier on, but the Bach Passacaglia BWV582 was the summit of the day, all insistent and unyielding and just plain big. Obviously this sells organs to others, too, because it was the final piece. That was fun.

Anthony Halliday (organ) played a program of Buxtehude and JS Bach on the Fincham organ at the Ballarat Central Uniting Church.

11 January 2015

Way back machinery


Concert 2 was at the Neal St Uniting Church and this time we did hear the Fincham church organ although only as an improvised introduction to the main concert. . It wouldn’t have been heard during the festival otherwise. This was historically an older set and a much more moderate in size. Camerata Antica was a trio of soprano, cornetto and baroque organ and the music was of the sixteenth century with just a bit of the following. There were new techniques to learn and new instruments. I can’t remember hearing a cornetto before: somewhat like a trumpet tone, but curved, timber with leather covering, flute-like no valves, presumably conical. Apparently it was the major treble instrument of the period, before the violin took over. Also divisions and diminutions, which were explained as essentially a type of improvisation of the time. Music was from Byrd, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Bassano, Caccini, De Rore, Nauwach and Corradini, and two from Purcell in the next century. There was a mix of combinations: organ with soprano or with cornetto or with both, and the Gloria from Byrd’s Mass for 3 voices sung by the three performers (as STB?). It all worked in this space: informative intros, varied combinations, antique tones and ornamentations. The modest baroque organ with a brass-like cornetto and Anna’s wonderful, rich, pure soprano voice, high but not stretched, ornamented but not contrived. Lovely concert.

Camerata Antica is based in London with formation members Anna Sandström (soprano) and Matthew Manchester (cornetto). Anna and Matthew were joined here by David Drury (baroque organ).

10 January 2015

Organ evangelists


A mate has moved to Ballarat and we’ve discovered the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival. It sounds quaint, but this is the 20th iteration of this annual festival and the opening concert is a rendition of Bach St Matthew Passion so we were drawn to it for the weekend. It’s an odd time for a passion, this not being Easter, but so be it. The location as good: an impressive stone church from the Goldrush era, St Patricks, built when, for 2 years, Ballarat was the richest metropolitan area in the world. I expect that’s how they can run a festival around church organs: there are lots of sturdy, impressive, imposing buildings here, including churches presumably all with organs. That said, the organs for Bach were two portable baroque organs, with harpsichord, two orchestras, two SATBs and one soprano choir, a range of period instruments, traverso, theorbo, viola da gamba. So we had lighter string sounds and occasionally diverse tones. Of interest to me were two basses, one with each orchestra, one five string, another with C-extension. And an “Evangelist continuo group” and one smaller group that forms from the others to accompany Jesus. It sounded small in the big space to start, but our ears soon adjusted. We’d wondered if this would be truncated somehow, but no, this was the full 3 hours or so. It was sung in German, but the program had an English translation. I’d expected that following the script would interrupt the music, but no, it enlivened the story and the structure and highlighted the language that’s common to Bach and mass and Bible. And, despite Bach’s Protestantism, it’s a work that sits perfectly in the more ornate Catholic traditions, like the B minor mass that we heard recently. It’s a big work, choreographed with various solo singers moving to front and returning to choir. The busy Evangelist is up front, male, tenor, telling the story to Jesus’ bass. Daniel Thompson was Evangelist and he was fabulous, evocative and superbly voiced. Stephen Grant was Christ, central but less featured, well voiced and praised for his performance. Other characters were Peter and Judas and Pilate and a few false witnesses and Pilate’s wife and some others and the whole choir appearing as Jews who damn Christ and save Barabbas and sit in tears at the end which doesn’t quite reach the resurrection. Strange, that. So, in all: story well known; composition stunning and expansive and always dignified; performance impressive and sometimes breathtaking. A great start for a festival if strangely not utilising any of the (church) organs of the Ballarat Goldfields, but so what.

Bach St Matthew Passion was performed as the opening concert of the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields festival. Performers included Gary Ekkel (director), Daniel Thomson (Evangelist) and Stephen Grant (Jesus). The Festival Baroque Orchestra comprises an Evangelist Continuo group and two orchestras led by Cath Shugg and Simone Slattery (violins). Laura Vaughan (viola da gamba) and Greg Dikmans (traverso) featured with others. Also Robert Nicholls and Bill Cawte (basses).