24 April 2017


catholic as in tastes. Jess half apologised that Pheno was not jazz but we knew that (I was there; Geoff wasn't) but then she went on to say the first track was jazzish. It started with a steady drum beat in 4, then moved to a syncopated guitar line accompanied with Jess on a unison vocal (George Benson?), then a synth wash in the background, some harmonies, some African-like crossing rhythms, a heavy synth bass line and layered lines from Jess' looper. Looking very good. Rock steady, unforced, easy to hear and a lovely intro: welcoming, insinuating. That one was called Little toys. Next up was There are voices, a long tune, some dirty 4/4 drums and distorted rock guitar, some relieving refrains, developing percussion from a stick claps then overlaid vocals, floating spaces, into 3/4 bars with drum fills to bar ends. There are just three players, but they sound big, what with unrelenting drums and synth shimmers and electronic bass and varied guitar effects and loops and the three layers of vocals. All women, which is nice to see. It's too infrequent in jazz; more frequent outside. I expect Jess writes all the music - as I understand, Jess is Pheno. I think I feel a woman's awareness of life, here's a discrete one: "I am old, I'm from the beginning, you were once a gill-beater like me ... come down deep where the secrets are living, I want you to return to the sea". Next up was Slingshot, heavy, guitary, less structured like the last. Little thing was a personal song from Jess alone on stage with guitar and mic, dedicated to daughter and coming son. Dragon year was a good old-fashioned rock tune in 4 with dirty guitar and singing against kick drum and punkish twisted phrases and a touch of beach. Jess is well trained and well experienced and the professionalism shows a mile, and she's got a deliciously understated but capable offsiders, Alyx and Bonnie. Wonderfully inventive pop, she calls it Afro-Sci. This was the tour for a new EP, presumably the tracks of the new EP, to be performed the following day at Cobargo Folk Festival and elsewhere. I'm sure it would have gone down a treat - it certainly did at Smiths. Folk? Jazz? Afro-Sci? We are all catholics these days and this was a huge treat. I loved it.

Jess Green (guitar, vocals) is Pheno. Pheno performed at Smiths with Alyx Dennison (keys, vocals) and Bonnie Stewart (drums, vocals).

23 April 2017


It was Luciana Harrison who was the warmup for Pheno. Luciana is part of a renowned local outfit, Pocket Fox and another called Orange. I've yet to really hear them, but Luciana was an impressive lure. She's essentially a singer-songwriter, original songs accompanied on electric guitar, but what songs! I was impressed. Heart-felt and sensitive, colourful lyrics; varied musical structures, unexpected intervals in melody and added or lost beats in rhythm. Intelligent stuff. Luciana was accompanied for a few tunes by a fellow PF alumnus, Nicola Hearn, providing tight harmonies and even attempting one she'd not heard before (bravely with some strange faces). But I was taken by the clever music. Not for nothing that Pocket Fox was TripleJ Unearthed. A band featuring Luciana's songs with a range of jazz and otherwise trained players: a winner.

Luciana Harrison (vocals, guitar) was accompanied by Nicola Hearn (vocals) at Smiths.

18 April 2017

Aussie volk

First up I wondered if I'd run into some religious sect, this being Easter Sunday and the dress being conservative and out of time. It certainly wasn't the Blues Club that I'd expected to be on at the Harmonie German Club that afternoon. But it turned out to be much more noisy and joyous: Volktanzfest 2017. It's a biennial get together of German, Swiss and Austrian folk dance clubs from around Australia, this year with a visiting group from Austria. How inviting and how much fun this was! It was the second day and I left 90 mins into the program that would go on to the evening, after many beers and lots of good friendly cheer. Plenty of slap dancing and playful claps; one bell ringing performance; piggy in the middle dances (the guy in the middle misses out on a girl so sweeps the middle with a broom until the next break of music); hints at Sound of Music (really this was mostly Eidelweiss but one group did the Farewell song from SoM); all ages, all sexes. As is generally common in any Australian dancing, guys were short so sometimes girls danced boy roles (some innocent non-binary here if not at the ANU). Some groups had their own band (mostly various accordions), perhaps with drums; some had recorded music; sometimes we clapped or sang along (Wooden heart, Eidelweiss) but this was mostly waltzes and, I guess, polkas. Lots of dressing up. I particularly like the guys' gear, the lederhosen and tassled hats, mostly decked out with multiple badges. I was told the difference between braids and plaits (braids are close to the skull). There was plenty of braiding in the audience in preparation for performance. [PS: after later checking the Net, I find no agreement on the difference between braids or plaits, if there is any difference]. So, no blues or folk festival, but I had a great time at Volktanzfest. The next one is Volktanzfest 2019 in Brisbane.

Volktanzfest 2017 (German Folk Dancing festival) was held at the Harmonie German Club over two days in Easter.

16 April 2017


It was pot luck to catch up with Daniel Hunter and Victor Rufus playing at the Fyshwick market when I dropped in to shop on Easter Saturday. Especially good luck as they are both about to go overseas. In a stroke of happenstance, they both leave on Tuesday. Daniel's going back to Paris where he's resided for a decade; Victor's off to NYC for a several months. I joked I'd see him on the SmallsLive video feed sometime. (It happens: I recently saw a bassist I met in New Orleans on the Smalls feed). Their playing was a huge pleasure. I sat to listen to a few standards and a Daniel original. Such interesting guitar playing, sharing lead or comping or sometimes soloing together. Daniel the quicker and less distorted; Victor the dirtier and bluesier-edged; both finger picking for comps. Different but a pleasure together. I quipped we were losing all our guitarists on one day. Not quite (there are a few others...). It's a background gig and most just go about their shopping, but a cappuccio on such a nice day with such capable music is a great pleasure.

Daniel Hunter and Victor Rufus (guitars) played at the Fyshwick Market.

13 April 2017

Who where

The answer is Molly's, -35°16′46.45″S 149°7′35.23″E. It's an amusing twist for this bar of considerable discretion (speakeasies are like that). Molly has a website and a FB page but its address is its latitude and longitude. And when (if) you arrive, there's just a pale period light above a door and a cement stairway to a basement. Amusing. But it's noisy and alive inside. So, a great little gig. Molly's has jazz on Tuesdays 7-10pm. And jazz also at Hippo Wednesdays 8-11pm and Smiths Alternative Thursdays 7-9pm. Mid-weeks are jazz nights. Whatever, we had a good time and the audience was attentive. And cheers to Pal dal Broi who was there on the night. All good fun.

Tilt played at Molly's. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

11 April 2017

Family affairs

This was great fun, like a family get-together. Elise Walsh out front, releasing her new Bella Groove album. With her regular band of Victor, John and Steve. With various guests invited for her CD and to play at the release, John, Miro, Eric, Hugh and backing singers Francine and Juanita and Sharon who doubled on vocals and keys. A big performance of a series of tunes from Elise's CD including some originals. Should we (dance) was a love song; City of yes was an ode to politcal involvement; Open your mind was an affirmation; City lights celebrated city life. Also original lyrics to modern jazz tunes and some borrowings from Mike Murphy and even some funky Motown originally from the Messengers. Eric apparently grew up listening to that one on the radio. Nice to hear an old favourite that's not too common, Coltrane's Naima. But this was like family. Everyone knew someone or many others, so some good cheer. So much so, the red wine expired and the local pub was mentioned for afters. And a lovely twist: included with entry was a copy of the CD. What a great idea to get your work out. There was some seriously good playing, too, from some seriously good players. There was good sound and a video recording, but mostly the good cheer of Elise and her wide jazz family having a good time. I'm looking forward to sitting down with the CD. Until then, good cheers and some very nice music.

Elise Walsh (vocals, flute) released an album under her band name, Bella Groove, at Ainslie Arts Centre. With here were her normal band, Victor Rufus (guitar), John Burgess (bass) and Steve Fitzgerald (drums) and guests John Mackey (tenor), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eric Ajaye (bass), Hugh Barrett (piano), Francine Minjoy and Juanita Cucinotta (vocals) and Sharon Robinson (vocals, keyboard).

9 April 2017

It comes to us all

It was the start of the 50th anniversary season for the Canberra Youth Orchestra and it was jazz. Well, jazz as crossed over via film and classics but close enough. The guests were The Idea of North, once formed in this very institution, now a seriously capable vocal quartet. They were backed by the orchestra for most songs, but did one or some parts alone. I liked them best then, when I could really luxuriate in the fabulously precise and complex harmonies. That's the great pleasure of a vocal group and it can be lost to some degree, from backing and from a necessary but intrusive PA. (I have learned that all PAs are intrusive to acoustic sounds; to my ears, only some mega-costly outdoor PAs have come very close to transparency. Not that I don't love PAs but that's another story). The orchestra was a pleasure even if it inevitably intruded on the sublimity of isolated vocals. They played with care and interaction and a good sense of swing, often playing the role of a massive big band. For big they were: ~77 players. But best from the orchestra was their solo spots, two from Bernstein, his Overture to Candide, but more so, the tragic and dramatic mix that is his Symphonic dances from West Side Story. WSS is a personal lifetime highlight, the film, the tragic and touching music, the fabulous dance, the mirroring of the Romeo & Juliet story, the politically-relevant themes. The symphonic work plays with this, calling up stories and images from the film (and presumably the original Broadway show), the rumbles, the loves, the losses. Tragic and touching, sentimental but real. I love it dearly and I loved to hear it live and they did it with gusto and a slightly rough edge at times. CYO came more to date with the Suite from How to train you dragon, but it's too late a film for my experience. Otherwise, the songs were standards, again some of my favourites: Secret love, Smile. A final Mas que nada, a '60s latin hit. A take on It don't mean a thing that was arranged by Naomi Crellin and conductor Leonard Weiss. Interesting and effective. Also a lovely take on Send in the clowns. But entertainment was never far from the surface; these are professional singers and they have to make a buck. So one song featured beatboxing vocal drumming from bass Andrew Piper. Another was a funny song mixing and contrasting F with F#. Not an easy mix, especially one line midway that wasn't just the tonics. And a encore on Isn't she lovely that had the audience and orchestra split into four parts singing harmony. The pitch suited me so I enjoyed that. And perhaps the quirkiest of all, the orchestra playing a Bach fugue, only to be stopped by IoN for them to play it on kazoos. I guess kazoo playing relies on vocals so it worked harmonically, if not so much tonally. So, lots of classy entertainment and a poignant and stirring piece of Bernstein. Nice.

The Idea of North and Canberra Youth Orchestra under Leonard Weiss (conductor) performed at LLewellyn Hall. Idea of North comprised Trish Delaney-Brown (soprano), Naomi Crellin (alto), Nick Begbie (tenor) and Andrew Piper (bass).

7 April 2017


Gareth Hill was back in town with a band he called Slow Code, if only for the night. But what music! Since the virtual demise of jazz in Canberra following the virtual demise of the School of Music, touring visitors are increasingly rare and especially intellectual and musical challenges like this. It was difficult stuff - Jack Beeche was warning me of that before, as one of the performers. Gareth was launching his CD called Slow Code. It's a product of his PhD research into the music of Henry Threadgill, renowned contemporary jazz composer. I once caught HT in a workshop at the Jazz Gallery in NYC and reported it on CJ but I found it pretty metaphorical or maybe over-encompassing stuff. The spiel for Gareth's gig spoke of alternative harmonies, form modulation, improvised counterpoint. Jack showed me a chart and it comprised three staves of heavily syncopated lines for bass, guitar and sax. I had the impression Aaron on drums was also looking at some chart, perhaps that for the others. But this was a base only, a guide for playing or improvising at will. I think Gareth also gave advice on order of solos, etc, so that's the form modulation. He certainly spoke of HT changing tunes most time he plays them. As Jack joked, this was not a gig for after a few drinks. I might add, for the audience too. This was highly rich in harmony and dissonance, fleet of foot with change and improvisation, highly interactive with guides but also glances. Everyone played with great competence. Gareth, with his lovely rounded tone, not particularly speedy but wonderfully inventive in intervals and rhythmic play; Dan all speedy on guitar, dropping in harmonics or finger picking clusters; Jack with a wonderfully satisfying alto tone, sometimes quick, often slower and considered and thoughtful; Aaron strong but anomalous with unexpected hits and only toying with standard grooves. It was a stunningly inventive and difficult but satisfying exploration of rhythm and harmony and interplay. Mostly the tunes were Gareth's following HT, other than Dan's Sermon and Jack's Scooping and Monk's Ugly beauty, perhaps via Bernie McGann. A fabulous and enlivening detour through some of the most inventive of music.

Gareth Hill (bass) launched his album Slow Code influenced by the music of Henry Threadgill at Smiths. The band was Gareth with Jack Beeche (alto), Dan Mamrot (guitar) and Aaron McCoullough (drums) and was called Slow Code, if only for the night.

4 April 2017

Paris on tap

Family matters had me caught up and I heard too little, but what I did hear was a huge pleasure. Just a duo, Canberra-sourced now Paris-based Daniel Hunter returning home with offsider Warren Walker. This was just a duo setting, intimate and restrained, but I was taken by the strong time from the two or just from Daniel playing alone and the sturdy and fat sonority of Daniel's guitar and Warren's delicate, light, even flighty lines (sometimes a little lost against the amplified guitar). The interaction was easy and close, with melody lines dropping together with great comfort or solos that just felt right together. I liked Daniel's big dirty presence if a mate preferred clarity and cleanliness. I thought the dirt gave a rockish, insurgent presence and I was pleased by Daniel's easy precision in setting time. The tunes were originals from Daniel's albums and his life, one following the Bataclan incident (it was a real connection: a guitar tech he'd known had been injured). This was an intimate concert in Sally Greenaway's new studio, with an opportunity to chat with audience and performers after, so a nice space and a pleasant event. Daniel plays again in quartet format, in Sydney and Canberra, but I can't make it.

Daniel Hunter (guitar) and Warren Walker (tenor) performed at the Greenaway Studio.

  • Thanks to fellow music-goer Bob Howe for the main pic
  • 2 April 2017

    Big city burn

    We were down to Sydney for other matters but I fit in a visit to Venue 505, no knowing who was playing. And what a lovely surprise. A few sets of some terrific jazz with some of the best of the locals. Warwick Alder was just stunning on the most fluent of jazz trumpets. Relaxed, lightly toughed and hugely flight-of-foot. Danny Carmichael joined in for a few tunes late in the night and Warwick just upped the level. Not that Danny was weak: very different, firm toned, clear tonal and atonal lines. Greg Coffin was on piano which I could hear clearly up close for some pics but less well further back where some chair were free. Cameron Undy was stunningly fleet over the extent of the bass neck, moving freely and very easily well into thumb positions. Clearly intentioned in solos, hugely quick, fabulously well spoken in support. I guess pentatonics and much more, but never an uncomfortable note and some very fast solo and walk lines. James Waples was on drums, distinctively open and mobile on the kit and free from a stock swing take. I was in awe, the music was beautifully played, the door was free and there was a constant movement. Not quiet, so not so easy to listen with intent, but lively. I missed some subtleties, mostly on piano which didn't cut through at my location, but a great city burn none-the-less. Much enjoyed.

    Cameron Undy (bass) led a quartet with Warwick Alder (trumpet), Greg Coffin (piano) and James Waples (drums) at Bar 505 in Sydney. Danny Carmichael (trumpet) sat in late in the night.

    28 March 2017

    A day in the (symphonic) life

    Last Sunday was another National Capital Orchestra concert, this time at TheQ, that lovely and clever little theatre at Queanbeyan. Sixty-or-so players performing a Sibelius tone poem, The Wood Nymph, Glière Horn concerto and Dvorak Symphony no.5. The tone poem was an odd thing, telling the story of Björn, a handsome young chap who catches the eye of the spirits who then lure his to a Skogsrå (wood nymph) who seduces him, leaving him in lifelong despair. So says the program. In practice, it was long, unchanging passages of accompaniment and occasional flourishes, but I liked it. Then our guest, Rob Gladstones, a product of Canberra but now a principal horn player for the WA Symph Orch. This was a romantic piece with some very odd and tricky lines which (I liked but which were very slippery) and plenty of accidentals, not least otherwise infrequent double sharps. We'd prepared without Rob and hadn't heard his feature solo prior to the performance, so it remained fresh on the night. Some seriously impressive horn playing - someone said over 4 octaves. Then the symphony, Dvorak no.4. It's well known for the lively third movement. A nice, interesting work with some fast and even furious lines but not the trickiness of the Gliere. One other feature of the performance was the bass section, now counting 4 players: Matt, Roger, Geoff and Eric. But what of the day? Set up from 11am (lugging risers and chairs), warm up from 12.30pm, then lunch and return by 2.30pm for performance at 3pm. We hung out in the local pub and not alone in that. What a good day! Here are a few pics of a day in the life.

    National Capital Orchestra performed Dvorak, Gliere and Sibelius at TheQ under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with soloist Rob Gladstones (horn). The bass section comprised Matthew Gambrill, Roger Grime, Geoff Prime and Eric Pozza (basses).

    22 March 2017


    More chalk and cheese. I've heard of Margaret Legge Wilkinson for some time, but I'm only just now writing her up for CJ. She played for a lunchtime concert at Wesley. The chalk was Bach; the cheese was Messiaen. Both fabulous musics, but as diverse as they come. Margaret played the Bach with considerable consistency so a little variation goes a long way, except for those final phrases where lots of rit is not too much, and just occasionally a little variation within the piece. There are terms for this that I've only discovered recently in baroque context . One is "French style, slightly inegale" (in this case, for how you treat a row of quavers). Another was "tripletised" (for a string of dotted quavers with leading semi-quavers). I thought maybe some dotted notes in one Prelude and Fugue may have been more tripletised, but that's interpretation. But the regularity of all this makes great demands on the player, to pull off the multiple contrapuntal lines with sometimes tack-sharp consistency. The Messiaen was different. Not that arch-consistency of repetitive rhythms, but more open in rhythm and harmony. This really was delicious music. Perhaps I should especially say colourful here (which it was, in spades) given the instructions from the score that are expressed literally in colours and were read out by Margaret: oranges and violets and grey; mauve to start, moving through silver, gold to a Prussian blue ending. My recall of suggested colours is inexact but the impression isn't. Interpretation expressed literally in colours. I felt Margaret was more at home here with the lightness and prettiness and subtle movements of harmony and various mixed techniques of this C20th music, if only on this day. Nice. BTW the music played was Bach Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Preludes & Fugues Fmin, Gmaj, Gmin and Messiaen Selections from Preludes for piano.

    Margaret Legge Wilkinson (piano) played Bach and Messiaen at Wesley.

    18 March 2017


    This was an odd concert by the Australian Haydn Ensemble in a number of ways. They mix big with small concerts and this was a smaller one, a quintet. But 2 cellos, a string quartet with double cellos? It's a strange arrangement, but there's music written for it, so it's valid and interesting and strangely satisfying. The two cellos took different roles at different times. One might be playing a bass line while the other plays melody, or unison with viola or even a melody part to respond to a violin or they might just play a line in octaves. So the first item of unusualness was the lineup. Second was the program. Mozart and Boccherini are common names on a baroque program but the works here were different. The Mozart was Fantasy in F minor, K.504 rearranged for "mechanical organ" and it was a strange thing that held little similarity to the ordered, often light, sometimes humourous music of Mozart. The first Boccherini, String quintet op.25 no.6 Amin, was Spanish-influenced and understandable enough in the baroque context but his op.30 "Night music of the streets of Madrid" was anything but. It was written by Boccherini to be performed only in Spain (the Italians are a proud people!) and not to be published outside. But it was, so we have it. It's a programmatic work, with parts named Ave Maria Bell or Soldier's drum or Minuet of blind beggars or Retreat. It tells a story. It also plays the part. First up, a strong rhythmic passage on one note from first violin; a little later, strummed chords on cellos held on laps like guitars (apparently required by the score); still later, a mad viola bowing on one note representing drums and a very challenging bowing over all four strings on violin 2, repeated a few bars later (I was amused to see Caroline's relief after carrying off each of these!). All strange, not particularly contrapuntal or otherwise baroque-like and very resonant of Spain and Flamenco. Thus oddity of this concert. Another, perhaps, was Cambini, a lesser-known baroque composer with a satisfying but fairly uneventful piece. Good to hear music like this occasionally, rather than just the masters: it gives perspective. So, an divergent but satisfying concert, for the notable playing, the humour and interesting journey, but especially for the strange but informative program.

    This night the Australian Haydn Ensemble comprised Skye McIntosh and Caroline Hopson (violins), James Eccles (viola) and Anton Baba and Daniel Yeadon (cellos).

    16 March 2017

    Things of beauty and joy

    It's not often you fall in love with music. This was one time. Michelle Nicolle was playing with her backing trio at Smiths. Miro came across and sat in. This is with the best. A delightfully easy and soft backing band, firm, clear, decisive but gentle and unassuming. Flighty but perceptive guitar solos. Easy bass, understated but indicative. Ronny on drums, soft and understated at back, but beautifully precise when he dropped in a fill or a roll or whatever. But not too much; never too much. And Michelle. The obvious front line of the show. A strong voice when called for, hugely detailed and precise and inventive, but never forced, always at the service of the song. The song was mostly Ellington and Stayhorn, so it was massively worthy song. And a lively, personal, humourous presence, joking of touring or recounting transcriptions. I think it was for A flower is a lovesome thing that she transcribed the intro verse from Ella and is ever avoiding sounding too much like her. Or the quicklines of John Hendricks that she sang over rhythm changes. Or the glorious beauty of tunes like With a song in my heart. She talked of writing songs, but retreating in awareness of the grand collection of the American songbook. I understand. Or about the song written by Ziggy Elmand and Johnny Mercer, And the angels sing, which she also sang. What a joyous thing of innocent beauty! Perhaps out of place but not unwelcomed was Cold Chisel's Forever now: another great song, but just not American songbook material. Nice to see the crossover and the Australian presence. Then the chatter about Disney princess tunes. It's not something I know anything of (my kids were boys): she sang Upon a dream from Sleeping Beauty, a modern composition in songbook style. A slow take on Caravan; even a final take on There will never be another you. But such a concert! A small but intimate audience following closely. I often wonder about people walking by Smiths when these stunning jazz musicians are performing. How can they pass by? Not sure I could. This was a true stunner. One week with Jonathan Zwartz and Michelle Nicolle, infrequent visitors from big smokes, just shows me how Canberra jazz has tanked over recent years.

    Michelle Nicolle (vocals) led a band with Geoff Hughes (guitar), Tom Lee (bass) and Ronny Ferella (drums) at Smiths to launch her new CD, A flower is a lovesome thing. Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn) sat in for some tunes.

    14 March 2017


    It was an afternoon of two concerts and how different can two concerts be? First up was free improv at the suitably live Drill Hall Gallery with Richard Johnson and Miroslav Bukovsky with Rhys Butler sitting in for the shorter second set. It's an interesting combination. Miro as the more melodic player led Richard to play melody as I've never noticed from Richard before; later Richard led Miro to play clicks and pops as he will on these occasions. I hadn't noticed Richard playing a flute body with sax mouthpiece before, but it worked a treat, sharp with tack-like valves and effective tonality. Miro moved through trumpet and flugelhorn and percussion; Richard also played sax, often into a drum skin, with and without mouthpiece. I found this a particularly successful outing in the open, free, unplanned style. The second set was shorter, with Rhys on alto mostly playing various noises, long notes, clicks and the like. The aircon was a problem with perceptible background hiss against the quieter parts: apparently it can't be turned off. But a very successful outing for an appreciative audience.

    Richard Johnson (soprano, flute) played free improv with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion) at the Drill Hall Gallery. Rhys Butler (alto) sat in for the second set. The concert was in the context of an exhibition by Elisabeth Cummings.