27 July 2014

Let's hope it remains this way


There are times when you realise the professionals are playing and you sit back in awe. This was one of those times. It was a group from the Music School Faculty. Mostly old mates: John Mackay with Miro and Greg and Mark and newcomer bassist Alec Hunter. Other than Alec, I've seen them all many times and often enough been similarly taken aback. This night was pretty open. They played a few tunes - Straight no chaser and Footprints (on request) and Body & soul. Greg's guitar in B&S was a stunner (as he was for the rest of the night, blaring with overdrive or clear and rapid for solos or laying down modal colours behind melody or solo). But the major works on this night were not so ordered; maybe sketches of melodies but mostly open and improvised. Miro and John were both in great form. I was taken aback by one melody snippet late in the night that came unison out of nowhere, but otherwise they were conversational when playing together or strongly independent when playing alone. Alec plays all manner of musics. This time, he was sturdy but quiet and understated. His solos took the band in a different direction, less brassy and outspoken, more quiet and meditative, often rhythm-based rather than lyrical, and I think it was his riffs that precipitated many of the changes in the longer tunes. And they were long: one lasted 32 minutes. But unmentioned is Mark. He was a stunner on the night, holding grooves but also enlivening with ever precise fills and polyrhythms. He observed after that his era has drummers holding the groove. Much contemporary jazz passes that responsibility to bass and leaves drums to percussive colour and cymbals. Horses for courses; all good. Mark was great. I've seen these guys many times, but they remain eye-openers, doubly so on a good night. John mentioned form stage that Canberra has plenty of good musicians. Let's hope it remains this way, but for now there's quality around, in jazz, other musics and all manner of other interests. Capital cities and academic centres are like that.

John Mackey (tenor), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Greg Stott (guitar), Alec Hunter (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) played a stunner at Smiths.

26 July 2014

Ah the dilemma


They are essential and central to the process of politics but they have a bad name. These are the professional political campaigners that Stephen Mills has written of in his book (The Professionals : Strategy, money and the rise of the political campaigner in Australia / Stephen Mills. Melbourne : Black Inc., 2014) and which he spoke of when he launched his book at Paperchain. He may have launched elsewhere, but it's appropriate there be a launch in Canberra, and apt also that it be in Manuka. This book is the product of a PhD thesis at USYD but it's also a product of Canberra and largely formed here, through interviews and other investigations. This is the story of political campaigning becoming professional and moving from state-based to national, from uncoordinated to nationally managed. Stephen outlined the main stages, from Labor's Federal Executive of 1915, Liberal's national secretariat of 1945, past Cyril Wyndham, Labor and the first paid political operative in Australia, the first marginal seat strategy of 1951, through funding issues and the first real national campaign, Mick Young's "It's time" in 1972, the first public funding, again under Mick Young and introduced by Beasley, through the alignment of policy with electoral strategy in the 1980s (I'll have to read the book to understand this one) and into the digital / social media age and microtargetting ("big data meets door knocking" with a threat of Big Brother). The core concerns of all this are to "centralise, strategise, fundraise". Are these developments good or bad? From voter-land, the message is disillusionment; but from Head office, it's seen to be working. After all, it's their role to win elections and someone does; the pollies can deal with the policy. I think everyone recognised the dilemma. Stephen suggested three remedial actions: changes to public funding, perhaps placing conditions on parties; implementation of an independent commission of leaders' debates; implementation of John Faulkner's proposals for spending caps. [Good first steps, but I imagine more might be required, and the whole schmozzle is a function of the electoral system, and that wasn't up for discussion here]. There were some questions. Is honesty and prerequisite and can we legislate for it? Apparently the High Court knocked down legislation attempting this in 1990. Marginal seat strategy. Stephen noted it was first used (not with sophistication) in 1951 and Bob McMullan has said "Nothing's changed" although things are better and new tools are used. Is party membership so important? No: policy is too complex for amateurs (example: a Labor member boasting that the white line on a beer glass in a pub was a result of a member initiative but things are mostly more complex than that); the role for members is different now. Stephen mulled over union membership requirements for Labor, but suggested a loosening of party discipline on crossing the floor may be more beneficial. Should parties contest every seat? The major parties have to for Senate implications and to show they are major parties. An interesting aside was that hardened rules for party registration may suit the major parties but may be going against the flow of history. All interesting. Then wines and cheese and chatter. I wondered if all this was a view from a 2-party system where someone must win; do the PUPs represent a real challenge or change or is it just another temporary factor? I also noticed some questions were Labor-oriented, perhaps from the location or the (assumed?) fact that Labor voters are more cogitant. The Jocks would just play the man and put it down to the lattes.

Stephen Mills launched his book The Professionals : Strategy, money and the rise of the political campaigner in Australia at Paperchain in Manuka.

25 July 2014

Funkification


It was a last minute change that had PJ Jnr & the Soul Pimps playing at Hippo Co. A double bass gig (James Luke and Lachlan Coventry on two different takes of 6-string electric basses with Mark Sutton drums) was called off at short notice. That was not the only change. I hadn't been to Hippo for some time, but now it's Hippo Co with its new livery of Alaskan bar with snow shoes, wagon wheels, lots of timber and stained glass lights. It still has ranks of cocktail liqueurs but now looking more warm and homely. Still noisy, but the Soul Pimps could handle that. They started with smooth funky takes on some standard modal jazz and this fit the cocktail groove. But then, as somewhat a surprise, Damien laid down some rap and the second half of the longish set moved to original groove tunes with vocals. This was not standard jazz repertoire, but funky and popular and played with the chops of well trained jazzers. Aron played fluently with a clean tone, but there were echoes and I particularly liked the choppy wah guitar chords that are integral to much funk. Damien played piano or Rhodes or organ tones from his Nord and was both fluent and frequent with his solos. Kay was rock solid, resolute, unrelenting with just occasional structural fills and James was his usual inventive self, stating the changes admirably but with liberal melodic embellishments and varying tone-colours. I liked the first tunes, modal made funky: the way the changes were implied and tempos slowed and feels funkified. It's nothing unusual or particularly new, but a living style that enlivens bar-life and it goes well with the original vocals numbers. The songs were decent, too: repeating structures, sparse chords, often heavily syncopated. I enjoyed the rap, perhaps more than the singing, for its essentially rhythmic nature and its contemporary feel. Not that I heard the words and I still maintain that words have import in songs. The second set was louder as it commenced and I was only staying for the first set anyway, but I enjoyed the skills and the funk and the cocktail bar night-life that's so different from a jazz club. Nice one.

PJ Jnr & the Soul Pimps comprise Damien Slingsby (keys, vocals), Aron Lyon (guitar), James Luke (bass) and Kay Chinnery (drums).

24 July 2014

From songs of Argentina


Dr Jovanni-Rey V De Pedro was playing a handful at Wesley with the music of Alberto Ginestera. This is music of the mid-20th Century. Ginestera was friends with Aaron Copland and studied in the US after WW2, in 1945, and published his first piano sonata in 1952 and his second in 1980. This was a veritable handful: great clumps of notes, chromaticism and serialism, changing meters, Argentinian dance forms reformulated, guitar-like arpeggiation. This was often frantic or at least hugely busy, unexpected. Jovanni presented his Danzas Argentinas Op.2 of 1936, then Doce preludios americanos Op.12, written while he was waiting to travel to the US. This was an interesting series of short pieces (30s-1m30s) exploring technical matters (accents, octaves, minor and major pentatonics), emotions (sadness, pastoral) and a series of homages to composers (Copland, Villa-Lobos...). Wildly different in effect but all dense and challenging. Interestingly, Jovanni-Rey suggested the minor pentatonic mimics the pan flute and the major pentatonic speaks of Debussy. That's one for the blues players. Then finally a more complete and cerebral piece, his piano sonata Op.22 in four movements, his first piano sonata of 1952. What a change when he encored with a mild Brahms. I didn't know much of Ginestera, but I certainly warmed to this complex and busy music and De Pedra played it with great energy and resolve and much good will. Wonderful concert.

Jovanni-Rey V De Pedro played Alberto Ginestera's Danzas Argentinas Op.2, Doce preludios americanos Op.12 and Sonata para piano Op.22, and an encore of Brahms, at Wesley.

23 July 2014

Out of the West


Lots of jazz good seems to come from Perth, but it's a long way away and we don't get it too often. It was a mid-winter Canberra Sunday night and the audience was far too sparse, but JC5 played at Smiths for their "Legit East Coast Tour Experience". JC is James Cross and he's the leader and trombonist and composer for much of the material. This music was essentially electric, richly effected, rock rhythmic and structurally complex. The two front horns, tenor and trombone, could be softly spoken, played in parallel lines for a head, or soloing with echoes and envelopes. The piano was Rhodes, but with a Moog pedal and more, so seldom sounding just of an electric piano. I could hear Herbie and the like, playing with tone, strongly played but also other-worldy. Bass was also a mélange of tones, sometimes through technique (fingers, slap, pick, thumb, chords), other times with a deep added octave, always with a Jaco punch of the bridge pickup and with a lovely edge. Nice bass and plenty of interesting solos. Just the drums were uneffected: just solid, rock rhythms with sharp fills and taps. Like the bass, working the octaves, syncopating the groove and filling with some lovely twisty bits. There were strange times, some ornery rhythms, unexpectedly dropped beats, patterns swapping in and out. I counted one tune as 12 split into repeating 3-4/2-3 changing to a standard 6 divided 3-3. I think that was just one part. Big dynamics, too. One tune dropped to the slightest of drums and bass, just audible, swelling so slowly through piano and sax solos. The penultimate tune was just a lovely ballad sitting unexpectedly in this program: echoing tenor with rolling drums and background colours from piano and trombone. Lovely. It developed into a pushing rock then a riff-based trom solo over drums. I thought of Josh Roseman or Dave Holland with Robin Eubanks and Chris Potter. This is rocky, riffy music with a sweet sound of sax twinned with trom. James said he listens to hip-hop and Kneebody is an influence. And Ellington. Whatever, it sounded fresh and interesting and well played and was considerable fun. Their smiles betrayed that they were having a good time, too. Great gig; too poorly attended.

JC5 were James Cross (trombone), Luke Minness (tenor), Lewis Moody (piano), Marty Holoubek (bass) and Jacob Evans (drums).

22 July 2014

Brindabella


Here's my latest musical indulgence. I've joined a local amateur orchestra as one of three double bassists. I have much to learn about bowing, reading, dynamics and the rest, but I'm three practices in and I'm having a great time. We are working on the program for the next performance, but sadly, I will be out of town. When it's going well, I drool over the second movement of Beethoven's Second Symphony which is so simple but so beautiful. A Delibe has some lovely dance movements; a Gilbert & Sullivan medley is just immense fun; Ketelbey and Anderson are simple and the tango is a nice change in bowing; the Saint-Saens March Militaire is a good, lively read. The hardest work is a series of variations on Hadyn by Brahms. I love the plucky pizz of the main melody, some hard syncopations and rolling semi-quavers in a few variations and the ballooning intensity of the 5-bar ostinato passage in the final variation. As for differences from jazz, I find it's more analytically relaxed (no need to create the tune as you're playing it: the dots are already there on the page), even if technical things like reading and bowing and intonation are a challenge. But I'm new to it and I guess we are nowhere near playing the hardest repertoire. The Brindabella Orchestra is associated with U3A but is also open to other ages. The pic shows the orchestra down on numbers, perhaps due to school holidays and a cold spell.

21 July 2014

Meanwhile at Smith's


It's Thursday, so it must be concert night, and this was no different, rushing from the Drill Hall to Smith's to catch the second set of the Tim Clarkson Trio. Mozart to Led Zep? Works well for me. Tim Clarkson's trio is Tim on tenor, Alex Boneham on bass and Cameron Reid on drums. It's amazing how new names come out of the woodwork: I hadn't caught up with Tim or Cameron. Alex is a regular. I only heard one set, so just five tunes, mostly penned by Tim, but with a rendition of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. This was sharp playing on well written contemporary jazz fare. Strange, spikey, staccato melodies that speak of post-modern irony to my ears; no chordal instruments; frequent counterpoint and unison from bass and sax; lots of odd times and open space. Tim sometimes sounded of klezmer to my ears, slightly indeterminate in pitch, toying with rhythmic divisions and sequences and delicate of tone. Alex was immensely firm in tone, rich in underlying counter melody, solid in ostinato and a force in solos. I was sitting with John Mackey and we shared amazement at the end of one particularly expansive solo in Bow wave. It was a stunner of speed, mobility and invention and not the only one. Cameron sat oddly high on his drum throne with bass and drums sharing a musical space but travelling contrasty paths. The roiling busyness underlying the sax was an exercise in this style of chordless contemporary jazz trio. That was Bow wave. Hope of the most audacious kind was an airy four with a riff melody that passed from sax to bass, and a staccato bass under sax solo. Kashmir was bass chords and rock drums and a unison riff underlying a geometric drum solo. Kinship was a flighty eight feel with bowed bass, hand drumming and sparse melody. Superpounds was the political theme for the night (an ode to lack of control over our lives), all riff-based, rock rhythms, pushy, sweaty and so right as the final number. This was interesting contemporary jazz with some great playing and a few stunner solos.

Tim Clarkson (tenor sax) led his trio with Alex Boneham (bass) and Cameron Reid (drums) at Smith's.

20 July 2014

Genius humour


The first work played by the Australian Haydn Ensemble in the Drill Hall Gallery was Boccherini and I was thinking this was delightful music, with lively first and racing 4/4 third movement sandwiching a lyrical pastorale. The double bass is odd with a string quartet, but apparently there were some excellent bassists in the local courts when he was writing this work. Then a Hadyn divertimento amplified by Wranitzky. Amplification and reduction was a technique of editing existing chamber works for different collections of voices. Here, Wranitzky has amplified Haydn's string quartet for a nonet and changed the colour by adding wind instruments: flute, oboe and horns. It's a civilised work giving much pleasure, as a divertimento should be. Quite lovely, and much richer for the wider instrumental colour. The third work was Haydn again, this time a concerto for two lira organizzatas (lire organizzati?). The lira organizzata is related to the hurdy-gurdy and listed in French-language Wikipedia under Vielle organisé. Apparently, the remaining instruments are unplayable and in museums. Music for the lira organizzata is usually performed on a pairing of oboe and flute, as this was. They would sometimes converse, and sometimes speak in unison. Again, a courtly work, lively and warm. But then the theme of the evening: Mozart's musical joke. It's Mozart, so obviously brilliant, but also it's odd and misbehaving and blatantly unconventional. It's replete with musical humour. The program lists some: "wrong notes, irregular phrase lengths, faulty harmonic progressions, clumsy ornaments, difficult and unidiomatic instrumental writing, poorly matched melodic ideas, the ever-scorned consecutive fifths and octaves between voices, shockingly subtle (and not-so-subtle) dissonances as well as pure, unbridled polytonality". Many of these are conventions rather than errors, and acceptable to our ears after the 20th century, but some were unmissable and belly-laughable. It's work of the genius and slightly noisome character of Mozart mythology, but what a clever invention and truly worthy of a few laughs. As for the performers, they were great. I loved the slinky performance of Paul with his high notes and dismissive slurs in several pieces. Jacqueline's bass was immensely capable: I am a fan. I enjoyed the occasional smiles of joy and communication from Sky and others. The horns were visitors and rang with resplendent baroque beauty. Listening back to a recording, I'm immensely pleased and even surprised by how well they played. The space could be muddy, but they did these works proud. Lovely, stately music, even despite Mozart's genius humour. AHE return for two more concerts this year as ensemble in residence at the ANU School of Music and they are recommended but perhaps already sold out.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble played at the Drill Hall Gallery. Performers were: Melissa Farrow (flute), Amy Power (oboe), Paul Wright and Skye Macintosh (violins), Heather Lloyd and James Eccles (violas), Noeleen Wright (cello), Jacqueline Dossor (double bass), Darryl Poulsen and Carla Blackwood (natural horns). AHE performed Boccherini String quintet Op.39 no.3 with double bass, Haydn-Wranitzky Divertimento no.2 from String Quartet Op.71 no.2, Haydn Concerto op.1 for 2 lira organizzata C major and Mozart The musical joke K.522.

19 July 2014

Capture


Scott Ludlam spoke at the Australia Institute’s Politics in the Pub. The topic was the new Senate and its challenges, but of course this goes broader, to the nature of politics in Australia today. One line of thought that felt right to me was his analysis of the Abbott Government as not so much ideological (easier to respond to because more consistent) as captured by a branch of society, here the big industries and a certain media empire. As evidence, he noted that the government is instituting IPA reforms, but ignoring some libertarian suggestions such as data collection and internet monitoring, and implementing some outlying conservative changes, not least knights and dames. This leads to a volatile, tumultuous period in Australian politics. Changes are sudden, eg, funding for public transport projects is suddenly removed and roads supported (strange, this). Scott joked that “every child gets a freeway under this government” but noted more ominously that decisions are being made outside the independent expert guidance of Infrastructure Australia. He also stated that three transport companies had donated $1.8b (yes, billion) since 1998 to the Libs. But there’s hope. The government doesn’t appear to be tactically smart and they are clearly in trouble with serious fights on multiple fronts. The standard political response is to change the subject; MH370, Iraq/Syria, the ongoing saga of refugees all serve. The small and conflicting media environment also helps, eg, changes that assist one media empire may damage another. The budget was “appalling and hostile” (I can only agree) and will lead to an “immense increase in homeless people”. He argued for building a movement, supporting many voices, looking beyond the next election. He noted the latest requirement that asylum seekers must prove >50% chance of torture/murder (not sure of the terms here) to avoid being returned and he expressed the concern and frustration of many: “God help us, we should be able to do better than this”. He argued that there’s “cynical manipulation of a market” noting that “you can eliminate your fuel bill for the rest of time [with renewables]”, but that “Abbott is a unifier” as he causes so much angst in so many different communities. There was musing over Clive Palmer’s speech on the day, beside Al Gore. There was a question on factionalism in the Left, but he queried just what was meant by the Left these days. [I agree, but presumably from a different POV. I’m distressed by identity politics, as real as its issues are, replacing key political issues of wealth and power.] He spoke of having allies in business, at least from renewable industries. There’s lots of money to be made there, and this government is just protecting the dinosaurs. Delays will cost Australia (see Stern and Garnaut). [There’s endless frustration here. It’s not at all clever to build the biggest coal port in the world now or to prevent the rise of a new industry with no input costs (sun and wind are free) while subsidising the dinosaurs. And to deny science (which they do in essence if only hint at in words) is the path of folly: we won’t win in a battle against physics.] He mused on Clive Palmer as a tactician. He gave the argument for the Greens voting against indexation of petrol excise [a decision of idiocy in my view]. He touched on language around “occupied” for East Jerusalem and 18C. He talked of the TPP and other attempts at investor rights treaties and took heart in the previous failures and the delays this time around. He touched on Murdoch and phone tapping in the UK and suggested electoral reform would suit Lib/Lab but is unlikely at this time given it’s just opening another battlefield. [Too bad: here’s a good change lost while fighting for the bad].

He’s a good looking bloke with a touch of Pierce Brosnan and a celebrity of sorts and he’s got the confidence and nonchalance that goes with that territory, but he’s on the right track. I was not too taken by his style of argument but what he promoted was OK. We’ve all lost some confidence in government recently, but democracy requires trust and I don’t like the alternatives. Capture looks real enough to me. Ex-Liberal PMs are coming out on issues including foreign affairs, asylum seekers and climate change. This is a radical government, but radical for the benefit of the few while ignoring the truly existential crisis of climate change. This is a time of 1% politics that requires 99% response. In the meantime, God help us all.

Scott Ludlam (Greens senator) spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute. PS, excuse the delay; Scott actually spoke on 26 June.

18 July 2014

If not now, when; if not you, who


She's an independent and she knocked off Sophie Mirabella at the last election. I met SM once so I can only admire Cathy McGowan's success, but interestingly, she spoke of the role of others in this success. Cathy spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute, and if I had to take one message from the session, it would be this: "If not now, when; if not you, then who". She said it a few times. It means be involved, take part. If you don't someone else will, and they might not share your thoughts and values. It's really the essence of a democratic society, that citizens are informed and involved. I mentioned this to a young woman recently and she just insisted "I'm not interested " and the obvious response is "they are interested in you". It's also the story of Athens, where citizens (admittedly a limited cohort) voted in mass, with quorums of 5,000. It's very different from our representative democracy, but that's what we have. As a central theme, Cathy recounted a story of Capability Brown and his garden planning that had actions planned out to 200 years. It made her realise how, at the political level, we've lost an ability to have vision and to plan. We should "trust in the future". So she questioned politicians on their plans, and they had none. (Ah, modern government, bereft of plans but replete with a small number of winners). Cathy ran through her actions, how she was asked to run, how youth and their involvement is a strength, how the electorate has interest when given an opportunity to be involved and consider and discuss. She spoke of various parliamentarians who have given advice: Tim Fisher: "dot every i, cross every t"; Tony Windsor: "be yourself" and "the future belongs to those who turn up"; others. She talked of her work in Parliament, how she identified the issues of concern to her community and of youth who otherwise were leaving rural areas (if I got it right: climate change, jobs, telecom & broadband, rural equality), of lobbying and respect for other Parliamentarians and making connections. She spoke of her limits but also promoted involvement in others, of techniques for involving the community. Strangely, Cathy struck me as a parallel to Obama the community organiser. She spoke of self-awareness and the effectiveness of a Net-literate generation. She mentioned the future, changes in being in Parliament and an awareness of a next election. She spoke of Malcolm Fraser as a "wise elder" (strange this, given my recollections of the 70s, but he's grown in stature). Importantly, she spoke of respect in conversation and how they avoid political dualism: "it's not about being right, it's about being heard". About Labor's rebuilding: "not my battle". And often, she spoke of her limits and that she must "stick to her knitting". She spoke of a lack of vision on the Hill; of the availability of money for good causes; of the need for individuals to be involved. He messages were simple but inviting: be involved and respect others. Pretty simple when put like this and it worked, at least this time. The power and money are largely on the other foot, but there's passion if people can be involved. Let's hope so. Things are dark at the moment and there's a motza to do. We need more like Cathy and her supporters.

Cathy McGowan (MP, Independent for Indi) spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

12 July 2014

Another take on a guitar band


I like jazz that's exploring new combinations. This was the Adelaide band, yeahyeahabsolutelynoway!, and the lineup was guitar, guitar and drums. There are new sounds possible when you drop sax or piano or (as a bassist, I dread the thought) bass. I'd heard this combination once before from The Alcohotlicks, but I remember their music as more outgoing, rocky, blazing. Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway had elements of blues and rock and a few tunes were strongly so, but there was also psychedelia and effects. Both guitarists, leader James and Sam, had panels of effects at their feet. I joked with James that his effects cost more than his guitar. No doubt they did; effects are not cheap and they add up. But they used them nicely, subtly, just occasionally ending with looped noises and the like. But any guitar band will have rock influences and they were there. The drums were mostly playing rock rhythms, sometimes with stubborn simplicity and sometimes with jazz colours or abstruse or jerky crossing rhythms. Some tunes were straight blues-drenched, licks and minor pentatonics, other spoke with rock chords. The melodies were insistent, played with clear, simple, unsustained tone, and sometimes the solos were similar, lyrical, but there were others with screeds of notes, especially from James. I thought the guitars worked well together, and the whole band felt comfortable and moved through transitions very neatly. If I heard right, they've been playing weekly in Adelaide for years and the regular performance shows in their ease together. Their tunes were originals, by James or Sam, and mostly from the album they are releasing on this tour. The band's got a strange name, but so have the songs: (Believe in the) monocause, Perfect day for Bananafish (literary reference), Perks of being a wallflower. Down home was perhaps the most bluesy of the set with its steady underlying minor riff. Why sheep (did I catch the name right?) was more floating and effected. Bananafish was effected guitars leading to a drum solo and a heavy rock end and decaying to looped noise. Shetland dream 1983 was, well, dreamy, mostly sparse solo guitar with echo. Bad day for the butter was a great title and also a 3/4 with hits on 1-2 leading into an frenzied accompanied drum solo and sudden stop. Yes yes was a double time four with an anticipated guitar chord. Jesus incorporated was a pretty 6/8 with the most jazz-like chording of the night. The audience was too small, but yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! was well received for their attractive music with openness and a fresh sound and their clear references to rock and blues. Much enjoyed, and very nicely developed.

yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! are James Brown (guitar), Sam Cagney (guitar) and Stephen Neville (drums) and they played at Smiths on tour from Adelaide.

9 July 2014

Singing with Coro


Coro are a great local choir, so it’s a thrill to sing with them … even if only for a sing-along. Coro staged a party-cum-concert for Christmas in July, complete with gambolling kids, mulled wine and fruit mince pies. All lovely. The singing was great, too, and not just from the choir. The audience was the best I’ve heard at a sing-along: confident, well pitched and timed. Such is an audience that attends a Coro concert, it seems. It was a mix of music that they performed, in style if not in theme. There were some carols which demanded considerable attention - more than was available from the littlest kids. Perhaps this was optimistic, singing restrained songs like Bethlehem down or Corpus Christi Carol or Little road to Bethlehem. I made a recording with coo-ing kids, but it seems strangely apt for a Christmas event. On the other hand, I was impressed by some older kids sitting legs crossed and concentrated. Other songs were more forceful, unaffected by playing kids. The Twelve days of Christmas with that humourous patter of unsuccessfully exchanged gifts brought a great laugh and those several sing-alongs were louder than any little kids: Good king Wenceslas and Deck the hall and Hark the Herald angels sing and Come all ye faithful. These are all old favourites. I enjoyed this more than most Christmas singalongs for two reasons: firstly the decent fellow singers, but secondly because the keys just seemed so right. I've sung carols where I strain to reach high notes, but not this time. These were just right; only one strained note for my limited voice. Also interesting was the take on Good King Wenceslas with the combined and male and female choruses. How different these lines sound, just unison, but high and pure for the females and solid and corporeal for the males. Quite a realisation. Then a piece of musical intellectual playfulness with pianist Anthony Smith playing Good King Wenceslas in the style of Bartok. There was mingling and conversation and three choral sets and voices that never seemed to stress on the high notes and some featured compositions and the inevitable Bach. It may be just a local church hall and some wine and song and the spirit of Christmas. But it was a wonderful pleasure and a beautiful choral performance and a decent sing-along to boot. Coro's next performance is a blend of Bach and Part Magnificats. What a town that has such people in't!

Coro were Hannah Bleby, Gemma Dashwood, Brenda Gill, Evelyn Graham, Emma Griffiths and Jo Johnstone (sopranos), Jane Haycock, Alanna Mackay, Veronica Thwaites-Brown and Rachel Walker (altos), David Mackay and Ian Mills (tenors), Paul Eldon, Daniel Sanderson and Rohan Thatcher (basses) with accompaniment by Anthony Smith (piano) for several tunes and John Smiles (baroque flute) for the Bach Christmas Oratorio aria.

7 July 2014

Cocktail time

Ah, the luxury of cocktails with a siren song. Megan and I went out for pre-pizza drinks at Manuka and it was upstairs at Polit Bar and Ms Adie was singing. Ms Adie is Adrienne Steward. She's doled up in slinky black with glitter, sips from champagne, bottle in cooler beside her. Solo singing with the full karaoke band courtesy of tablet. Sung through house EVs. The sound was heavy on bass, at least where we were sitting, and the vocal was cabaret style, cutting, clear, female. We recognised most songs, but it was nice that there were some we didn't. Hallelujah, Natural woman, It had to be you, Stormy weather, Don't get around much anymore, Somewhere over the rainbow, something a bit rockier with I just wanna make love to you. She had that sultry feel, as she should. Inviting, seductive, again as she should be. I enjoyed the crowd too: the tarot reader; the table where the two guys kissed and shook hands with the girl. An old take on a new world, I guess.

6 July 2014

Bubbles


Joseph Stiglitz spoke at the Llewellyn Hall for the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy and the comment that most caught my attention was that we are building a bubble to solve the problems of the previous bubble, the bubble that was the GFC. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but it makes sense. Low interest rates used to push investment, more share market highs and double digit growth in equities and the continual threat of investors pulling the plug if rates rise. It essentially means the problems that caused the GFC remain unsolved and only symptoms are being treated. Scary. Doubly so when we’re avoiding the real problems, climate change being the real-est! The rest of his talk was confirmation of my world view and nothing unexpected - but also nothing hopeful. He spoke mainly from a US/Internationalist viewpoint, so lacked some local relevance. Countries that took “strong measures” in 2008 avoided the worst of the GFC (Australia, China, others). The GFC was the worst downturn since the Depression even though the economic models predicted it “couldn’t happen”. A “single minded focus on inflation [was] wrong”. Adam Smith’s invisible hand seemed invisible because “it wasn’t there”. We have 200 years of market failures which should teach us better. Diversification can be a disaster, eg, when you spread the US housing crisis around the world (a disaster for the world, but not the US). Greenspan admitted a “flaw in [his] reasoning", but why is it a flaw when the incentives for bankers were for short-term and high risk. So who’s to blame? Bankers, yes, for excessive and predatory behaviour and market manipulation. (Good regulation after the Depression gave 35 years without crises; there have been 100 crises since Reagan/Thatcher deregulation). Regulators, yes, because they should have understood. Economists, yes, because they promulgated these ideas. Now, a bad response is leading to a long-lasting crisis. Even before the GFC, the growth trend was lower than after WW2, with lower shared prosperity and a move of wealth to the top. Thus, the private financial market has wasted resources; 20m are looking for jobs in the US, although the participation rate is the lowest in 30 years. Growth since the GFC is anaemic: <1% for US and Germany, and the bottom 30% have had a decline of 30% in wealth, while the top 1% have received 95% of the benefits. US male real median income is now below that of 40 years ago and there are “many angry people”. Europe is worse. Spain and Greece have 50/60% youth unemployment and GDP has fallen 25%. This is depression. The lack of recovery follows a lack of aggregate demand due to austerity, high inequality and a need for structural transformation. Inequality is no longer a cry of the hard left: the IMF and World Bank now warn that inequality is bad for growth and stability. And reduced income (through austerity, etc) prevents education, physical moves and other changes to assist structural change. The concern with structural change interested me. Stiglitz spoke of the Depression as a time of structural change (agriculture > manufacturing) and the GFC as the time of another (manufacturing > services). And free education (for returning soldiers, etc) after WW2 was important for structural change. Key areas for structural change are education and health, and these are largely government-funded and suffer with austerity drives. The Gini measure in Denmark is 50% different from Australia (Not sure of the direction, but in the direction of equality), and yet they are successful with the same economic laws. He warned that countries that follow the US model get lower growth and higher inequality. [See Australia here, increasingly].

Then some questions. University deregulation: the most successful universities in US are not-for-profit or state; for-profit universities “exploit the poor”, measured by revenue from government and success rates (graduations, jobs), and there is “almost universal agreement [of this] in the US except for lobbyists” and it’s a “national shame”. Have the politicians learnt lessons? “This varies … depending on closeness to Wall Street”. “If it’s too big to fail, then it’s too big to exist”. The “main problem” is a “distorted political system” [I fret that Australia is rapidly catching up]. Why does zombie economics keep returning? Because of special interests, incentives influencing economists and the difficulty (for economists, as for any other profession) of admitting that you’ve been wrong. Two amusing but serious points here. Stiglitz joked that economists are not recognising their own rules: they think they are not influenced by incentives, and that economists (in not admitting past errors) don’t accept their own negative sunk costs. Any comments on the recent suggestion of BIS (Bank of International Settlements) about interest rates being held down? Financial stability is not solved; GFC was a crisis resulting from excess debt and over-leveraged economies, and yet we treat it with low interest rates to promote investment. Is this just creating another bubble? Responses to the GFC. In the US, medium real wealth dropped 40% and yet no government support went to homeowners, only to banks for a new “trickle down”. This was “clearly wrong … it didn’t work” and promoted suspicion of government. Not just too big to exist, but “too big to fail [also means] too big to gaol” and that’s what we saw. Example: the Robosigning scandal, where banks discriminated against blacks and Hispanics, ignored sloppy records, committed perjury on 1,000s of cases. “Our rule of law protected the bankers, not those that needed protection. [This is] justice for those that can afford it”.

All tragic and all known if you bothered to listen and read from reliable sources. Sorry for the bleak picture, but I see it can only get worse and the evidence is all around us. There are some things about Canberra (the government, not the town) that I am not so keen on.

5 July 2014

A guitar band


Well, it’s a guitar band so you expect some volume and an excitable audience. We got both for James Muller at Smiths. I was not the only one who arrived early. This was James, our Aussie-International, playing with Alex Boneham and Ben Vanderwal. This is a hot trio and the room was well populated 30 minutes before start time. I arrived and they were doing a sound check, and it was loose but furious. It just got better through the night. This was the hottest chops played for fun and amusement and just a bit on edge. I noticed a few slips, inevitable with three guys going for it, and some chuckles and knowing smiles were proof. The solos passed around with some informality and they were all to die for. I was amused by the tune, Mitch, a dedication to Hendrix’ drummer, Mitch Mitchell, that started with a strangely heavy and simple beat from Ben with perfect blues guitar over, a veritable contemporary update on the best of Hendrix. And there was an authentic jazz ballad, Embraceable you, which was swung and felt a little out of place, but was a proof of the jazz heritage. James played guitar of the jazz greats, a work of stunning flexibility and interpretation. Jazz was quoted elsewhere, but with more an abandoned, rocky take. Diddums (yeah, I kid you not) was a take on Giant Steps (!) with the changes featuring in a solo in the middle, but flanked with a hot unison melody that responded to the original. Sonny Rollins’ Freedom suite First movement started the concert and it was demanding and forceful. Players at this level don’t seem to need much warm-up, but still they just got better as the night wore on. The final tune was another blues, hot and a throwaway with plenty of solos on show. James is a master. Mellifluous, inventive, fast, using mostly using pick and perhaps one finger and just occasionally fingerpicking. He had a collection of effects pedals, but nothing was flashy except the stunning playing. There was colour from the floor, but little more. Ben had the same subtle concern with tone. He’d continually change sticks or brushes or mallets, damp skins, even dull a cymbal with a clamp and he did it all amongst his urgent and wonderfully varied playing so no one missed a beat. Alex always works the strings but this was more so, hard and committed and fluent, playing the full range. I noticed lots of long paired seconds sequencing up and down the neck, jumps and thumbs and rock-infused even beats. I was close and could watch entranced at James’ fluency and inventiveness and the ease of it all. Guitar is not played hard; at this level (it should be so at any level, but often it’s not) it’s precise and controlled fingering and this was a lesson. Consonant or not, this was a display of craft at a stunning level. Firm, always fluent, occasionally fluffed because he was going for it and a bit under the weather. I tend to concentrate on one or a few players at a gig: those having a good day or with the most chops or authenticity, but I noticed I was entranced by each player as I concentrated on him. Guitar, bass, drums: all stunners. Get the drift? This was hot and I was not the only one impressed. A blow and a blowout. See them if you possibly can.

James Muller (guitar) led his trio with Alex Boneham (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums) at Smiths and it was a blast.