19 April 2014

Farewell


Simon Milman has hands in many pots. And it's not just that he's part of them. Someone mentioned to me at Simon's farewell event at Smith's that he will be missed, not just for his playing, but for his leadership. Simon's active; he creates things - music, combinations, events, lots of CDs - and these things range over a broad field. I've mostly caught him doing jazz things, in the jazz scene, but he's active with the Canberra Musicians Club, which is more indie and JJJ, in Afrobeat and Latin and more. I first caught him playing Ornette on acoustic bass guitar in a trio. His playing is well influenced by these sounds, so his standards take on a sophisticated, harmonically indistinct flavour. But he also plays I-V in its place, and there was a bit of apt simplicity in his playing with Nick Combe's Nonet at the farewell event. There was some of the free improv too, in a short appearance as Erebis ("Australia's number one [Japanese] free improvising Elvis"). He introduced Properties of two particles with a bowed first particle lasting 1m8s and a pizz second particle lasting 47s; micro, virtually subatomic. I missed a gig where Erebis performed macro, apparently playing an hour with Miro Bukovsky. FWIW, I preferred the second particle with some harmonic movement, but mainly diatonic with large intervals. Nice. Erebis was followed by obviously close friend Alice Cottee, voice and guitar on some interestingly constructed songs of passion and intriguingly revealing metaphors. She spoke of meetings of creatives and this fitted the part: both fascinating and, I can only guess, searingly honest. It's so often the woman with the guitar who does just this for personal matters. Then some jazz that's close to my heart: Nick Combe's nonet playing five of Nick's charts. Bluesy and Mingus-inspired; five horns out front for plenty of interesting solos and the interplay of solo and accompaniment and the enhanced richness of melodic statements. Quite blissful to my ears. They played a slower break-up song; a lighter 8-to-the-bar song of joy and running in parks; one of rolling arpeggios speaking to a poem by TS Elliot; a quieter one called Shoosh (perhaps Shh...); a final upstart blues stated last time around with charted dissonance. The solos were intelligent and searching throughout which is also a tribute to Nick's charts. Then another SM alter-ego: Coolio Desgracias appearing with Housemouse. Local rap in kimono: driving in Queenbeyan, jazz clap, local themes. Amusing, clever, rhythmically insinuating and neat with triplets, although this seemed a pretty casual performance for friends with a degree of laxity. Rap's somewhat a return to memorised epics, so it has unexpected traditional roots amongst its irony and quips. Much enjoyed. I didn't stay for the later DJ set. Simon will be much missed by wide span of the Canberra musical community but movement is life. Best of luck to Simon but he's a local, so he'll be seen again.

Simon Milman performed Erebis (bass). Alice Cottee performed solo (vocal, guitar). Nick Combe (baritone sax, compositions) led a nonet with Tom Fell (tenor), Josh Hart (trombone), Alex Raupach (trumpet), Eddie Bernasconi (trumpet), Matt Lustri (guitar), Damien Slingsby (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums). Simon Milman (Coolio Desgracias) and Matt Lustri (Housemouse) rapped.

14 April 2014

Incongruities


It's incongruous that I'm in Albert Hall hearing music of the renaissance. Polifemy is singing. Polifemy is a female choir, thus -fem-, I guess. They are supported for some tunes by Walking the Dog. WtD is another incongruity and a big one. It's a recorder ensemble. I've just read a book about Umbria where I lived for a few months many years back. This music seems perfect for stone cathedrals and Perugino madonnas and big echoey spaces. (Did you know the Virgin's wedding ring is in the Duomo at Perugia? It's displayed one day per year, 31 July, and I read about it, sitting on the steps of the Duomo, on 1 August many years back. It's an unlikely goal.) This day is sunny, we are in the new world, in Australia. I feel it doesn't quite fit, but closing my eyes, I'm transported. These are pure voices, in three parts. They sing with the faith and the love of nature of the cinquecento. The program speaks of Gastoldi and joyful celebrations of love and spring and singing and dancing; of Festo and passionate and erotic feelings of unrequited and unattainable love (I won't say for whom, so close to Easter). Also William Byrd and Janequin and madrigals. The space suited the choir, but I felt especially the low tones. The Paetzold bass and contrabass recorders raise all manner of interest, all square and modern and boxy, but also they sound a dream! This is a tone of a harmonium or organ, pure, sweet and rounded, and strong and prominent amongst the smaller, plastic recorders with different bores. I've seen these wooden recorders before but not noticed how pure is their tone. Lovely. Same with the lower (alto) voices in the choir, these also were prominent. The lower tones had presence in this place. These were mostly women: the choir was all women; the recorders were mostly women. I thought of cloistered choirs form 500 years ago. Were they women? Presumably, there were women's choirs, but I imagine males also sang in high register, as I've heard with local period choirs. Whatever, it was quite beautiful and it had parts with range; so an alto felt like a low line. The singing was mostly 3 parts, sometimes accompanied by the recorder ensemble and, for a few tunes, by a single viola da gamba. Some music was obviously canonical, repeating lines through different voices or instrumental pitches. The recorders sounded of a lost era, innocent and honest tone, simple counterpoint. The voices spoke of belief and faith, something that is not the modern. This is music of another era and we are blest to hear it but only touching an understanding. Perhaps it's a function of my recent readings, but this was a surprisingly enlightening visit to another world that we might know of but of which we are unlikely to know. Sunny Canberra, our unassuming Albert Hall, provided a touch of the renaissance today and it was enlightening.

Polifemy performed with Walking the Dog. Polifemy comprise Susan Antcliff, Hanna-Mari Latham, Liz McKenzie, Robyn Mellow (director), Joan Milner (tenor viol as well as voice), Carolyn Savage and Rachel Walker. Walking the Dog comprise Olivia Gossip, Nick Horn, Robyn Mellor (director), Ann Neville, Chris Short and Anna Weatherly.

9 April 2014

Noble Art Song


It's called Art Song and it's not something I know well although I've heard some at various concerts. This was Finnish baritone, Juha Kotilainen, accompanied by pianist Joel Papinoja. I think of Art Song in the context of chamber music, written to be performed as an intimate experience - usually a singer and accompaniment, often singing poems put to music. But a baritone in full voice at short range is an immense thing! This is firm, forceful, projected like a tenor or approaching deep bass, even with an occasional falsetto. It's a quintessential male experience and I think of dignity and manly striving and worthy royalty as I listen. Worthy royalty is often a myth, but Juha stood proud, little spoken, dignified when not singing and quite intimate and emotionally connected when singing. He sang songs by Nordic composers: Rautavaara and Sibelius are well known; Ollila, Kuula and Hakola were new to me. There was melancholy, romantic thoughts of dreams or the heart or of nature, songs of forest boys and squirrels and spruce and lillies. One series in English put lines of William Blake to music. The Nordic climes are forbidding and poorly forested and I heard reconciliation and adjustment to harsher climes here. This is not music from carefree and prolific Mediterranean places. There's strength and endurance here, but also recognition that nature is awesome and that it demands our adjustment . (Climate change obviously comes to mind). I admired Juka's strength but also his intimately formed words despite powerful projection, and his calm presence. I enjoyed Joel's capable accompaniment, and was particularly taken by his one solo piece, Sibelius Caprice Op.24/3, that flowed into floods of notes. I know nothing of the Finnish or Swedish languages, so I enjoyed for a time matching sung words to written lyrics and Finnish lyrics to English translations. Finnish in its written Roman script seemed to be eminently pronounceable for English speakers. This was an exposure to Nordic compositions in the Art Song style by a monumental voice. Mighty and noble in this space but calm and surprisingly capable in portraying the composers' intimacy.

Juha Kotilainen (baritone) was accompanied by Joel Papinoja (piano) in a program of Nordic Art Song at the Finnish Embassy.

7 April 2014

Starting at the end


Pic Neptuul, John Lennon Wall Prague 1981 Wikimedia Commons

Looking through a glass onion started with five claps, like pistol shots, 2-2-1 and ended with Imagine and then a few heartbeats, in pairs, then a single beat and dark. This is John Waters channelling John Lennon. Just two men on stage. John Waters standing, sometimes with guitar, wearing jeans and bomber jacket, sometimes with guitar in hard, standing upright, hardly moving, sometimes with guitar, speaking the words on JL and singing his songs, Beatles era and beyond. Stewart D'Arrietta at piano, filling in all the musical support, piano, harmony, left foot bass drum beats, at least once gurgling or bird song from an mp3 player, and a few times playing minor parts, as Chinese acupuncturist or whatever. I guess the patter was the words on JL, himself. I thought I'd heard a few of his lines before, witty, sensible, with early barbs but later sometimes verging on anger. He felt increasingly unpleasant in my hearing, the pop god genius worth more than some third world countries just trying to find himself in white and in view of Central Park. I'm not totally cynical here; fame and money changes people and I'm sure it's hard to adjust. I don't follow him so closely, but he seemed to give it a decent try and to act decently in doing so. I often wonder of the life of the Beatles: such fame and brilliance (and, to my ear, the whole greater than the sum of the parts) and it's all over by age 27 or so. What then? So there were the words of JL and an incredible string of renowned and memorable songs, from Hide your love away and Julia and Norwegian Wood through Love is all you need and Strawberry Field and Come together and Day in the life and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Then on to Plastic Ono days and bagism and the anger and resolution: Crippled inside, Working Class Hero, Whatever gets you through the night and Ballad of John and Yoko to Beautiful boy and Jealous guy and Isolation and of course, that magnum opus of all humanity (so it seems, perhaps just to every Classic radio station) Imagine. But less cynically, it does have a theme for all time and Peace and Love were constants for JL (and the Beatles and the era). He died aged 40 and that's one problem I had with this rendition. The guys on stage aren't so young and it had me wondering if JL would have done more than just be a nice guy into old age. I also found the music heavy, but then JL was the Beatle with the R&R in him and we were in a box, close to one PA stack so not in the best location for audio. I wondered if a slightly larger band might have lightened the feel (and the musical load on SD'A), even just a drummer. Not a full band - that would change this from a theatrical to a musical performance. JW's spoken voice as JL was really convincing to my ears. His sung voice was also very good, but given that we've heard all these songs so many times, the demands are so much greater. You couldn't help but notice the lightest nuance that didn't match the recorded original. So, I enjoyed it for the incredible collection of songs, I admired the accuracy, especially of the spoken word, and I came to feel just a bit disconcerted with JL's character. Enjoyed and informed but not enamoured.

John Waters (guitar, spoken and sung voice) played John Lennon and Stewart D'Arrietta (piano, harmonies) accompanied for the stage show, Looking through a glass onion, at the Canberra Theatre Playhouse.

5 April 2014

Enjoying a RomCom


Pic Jean-Christophe Benoist Wikimedia Commons

RomCom? Musical? I wouldn't have expected to enjoy They're playing our song, presented at the Q Theatre. Not really my thing. In the end I did. The musical is written by Neil Simon, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. Big names. Successful (male) Grammy-winning, Juilliard-trained composer in apartment overlooking Central Park meets zany (female) lyricist. She has a hanger-on boyfriend (Leon) but she moves in, they go to dinner and sing, a car breaks down, they meet in the wrong holiday house, they play at therapists, they argue in a recording studio, he leaves for LA, breaks leg, they get back together. Along the way it felt like there were few songs with a good deal of repetition. This seems to be a style of newer musicals. It might be a good idea, as recent studies show we prefer music that we recognise. (I'm surprised to see Wikipedia lists 9 songs, one with a reprise, in 2 acts). I didn't find it particularly funny, and there was only limited laughter. This is American humour, not Australian. Everyone has a shrink (although given the GINI coefficient in the US these days, I doubt it's as common as we imagine). I heard on radio the other day, from an Australian who's lived in the US for some time, that Australians introduce themselves with self-denigrating humour, but Americans self-promote. There's a scene where they are out for dinner and he hears his first song played (the program suggests it's their first song). He stands and sings to the room, then she does, and I think they end up singing together. Theatrical licence, perhaps, but it spelt American big-noting to me. The musical is supposed to be based on the true story of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager; maybe it is. Whatever, I didn't particularly warm to the work itself.

So why did I like the show? The whole show was two performers and a pianist deep stage right. The actors were really very good. Very good voices, in the musical style, understandable and cutting. They acted well together. Soppy romance but so well done. I also liked guessing the changes. This is not particularly modern music: it's very much like the standards repertoire that mainstream jazzers play (including me). I've been reading about listening rather than using fake books, so I enjoyed guessing the changes. Some I knew easily (obvious cycles, diatonic movements); I was lost on others. My ear is not well trained. I liked CBS's famous songs that they played (perhaps copyright-free chords only) as we entered and left the theatre. The way we were is a classic. You're moving out today was immensely catchy. I just listened again on YouTube, and this may be about Leon himself. Well, I'll be. RomCom as real life. Whatever, the singing was great.

Teagan Wouters played Sonia Walsk, Scott Irwin played Vernon Gersch, Alistair Smith (piano) accompanied.

3 April 2014

Rehabilitating the agreeable


I was refreshed by the attractive music that Sally Greenaway presented at the AYO National Music Camp some months back. It was melodic, I might say "musical" if I didn't accept a whole range of musics and argue for all manner of dissonance. This day, Sally spoke of her own music in context of "Swoon", the ABC FM meme and radio show but, at the same time, she argued for all composers. She highlighted Australian composers, saying that they may write with texture or atmosphere or even uneasiness as an intent, but it all deserves the listen. Good on Sally for presenting the argument. Her preference is easy and melodious and very attractive. This performance was mainly of works composed by Sally (I think one wasn't) and performed by Sally with a few friends in various combinations. Firstly, Dawn of evening, a "reflective nocturne" that was eminently filmic, as is lots of Sally's music, and dedicated variously to her new grand piano and to Sally Whitwell. The cellist Emma Rayner joined Sally for three poems by Pierre Louys put to music by Sally; a short first movement; a very identifiable second movement (I don't think I've heard it; has Sally mastered the art of the perfect melody?); then the last movement. Then bass/baritone Patrick Baker joined for two songs: The exquisite hour, by poet Reynaldo Hahn, again put to music by Sally, and Look to the day, a poem by Kalidasa, again to Sally's music. Then Sally solo again for At the start of the day, a tango-cum-jazz piece, Elizabeth Biggs, solo harp, playing Sally's Liena and then a duo with Sally on a Rhumba by Salzedo, and an end with Sally playing a pair of compositions written for guitar, Sin luz and De la luz. She explained they were written for guitar but played piano style, and it was obvious when you were aware of the nature of the composition, or at least the arrangement, with limited chords, scalar runs and intervals that sit under a hand on a fretboard. There's more to composition/arrangement than just the chords and melody. This was consistently pleasant and attractive music, but never mawkish or bathetic. You can hear the film in it, setting scenes and emotions but never brash or presumptuous. Words like lovely or nice are denigrated but there's a just place for being delightful, agreeable, pleasant. We need more of it. Congratulations to Sally and looking forward to hearing this very music on her new CD. Sally Greenaway (compositions, piano) performed at the Wesley Music Centre with three friends, Patrick Barber (bass/baritone), Emma Rayner (cello) and Elizabeth Biggs (harp)

2 April 2014

Glee


There was much glee around James Greening (there usually is). This time it was about his frequent gigs here recently in Canberra. It's too bad that Andrew Robson and the rest of the band haven't been here so often of late. This was an eclectic outing, intelligent and varied and unexpected. Several times Andrew's baritone sax gave a funky Mingus or New Orleans groove when he took that up. But then another time he played a trio with bari, bass and drums and this was smooth, sleek, melodious. He liked to vary the instrumentation, too. It wasn't at all surprising that the front liners played bari/alto, tenor/soprano and trom/pocket trumpet. But it was surprising that James or Sandy left the stage for various tunes, and even more surprising when bassist Steve left. That was on Flex, a Jackie Orszaczky funky-blues dedication, where the bari took the bassist's role. There were some other dedications, too, to musicians Andrew has played with. Two watch Bob was a dedication to fellow 10 Part Inventionist Bob Bertles from a quip by Miro Bukovsky. This was a slow, lumbering groove with a jauntily lyrical melody (played without Sandy). A march, Sound the trumpet ring the bells, was also introduced with a story of Jackie Orszaczky. I heard Jackie O too infrequently, but he's one of those musicians with immense admiration amongst his peers. John Pochée was recognised with the opening tune called The Alchemist. This one featured two solos, alto then tenor. Against the alto solo, the band dropped out to leave just drums in support before returning; against the tenor solo, the remaining support was bass. Andrew wrote something similar in the piece I found most impressive for the night, Texas Ranger, which was bluesy with some fast bop, and twisted and playful like Ornette. What little I've written has been most successful when I used an idea, even an arbitrary idea, as a formulation, so his palindrome doesn't surprise me. It's called Glenelg and it's a musical palindrome (spelt the same forward and backward). It's a busy 8-to-the-bar on bass with a slow melody over and solos that decay to free then to recover the melody with drums taps on 3,4. BTW, we learnt that Steve is a cryptic crossword filler and he'd recognised the palindrome immediately. Combover was a light take on early jazz with frequent changes. These tunes were from a new CD that this quintet has just released. Unlike his previous albums, this was unthemed; Andrew just wanted to record a group of favourite tunes, so the varied nature is no surprise. I reckon I'd heard a few before. It was a joyful band, too, led by Andrew's smiles and James humour and Sandy's good will. James has been a total pleasure to hear so often of late: wonderfully lyrical while playful and wearing dissonance so lightly. I enjoyed Steve's understated firm and restrained bass playing and Hamish's presence and sympathetic playing. Andrew's presence is light and friendly, but his playing is intelligent, as is Sandy's expressive sax; I especially enjoyed the soprano this evening. Andrew is a Cnaberra boy and we need to see more of him. This was a great outing with a varied repertoire of pleasurable performance and underlying intelligence.

Andrew Robson (alto, baritone) led a quintet with Sandy Evans (tenor, soprano), James Greening (trombone, pocket trumpet), Steve Elphick (bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums).

30 March 2014

This or the footy


I’m in Adelaide for a family visit and this was the Adelaide Cello Festival and the footy was the two Adelaide teams, the Crows and Port, at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval. The footy replaces the Stones concert that was to be the launch event but the footy is all the rage in town today. I chose the cello. Margarita Balanas performed a few solo pieces and was otherwise accompanied by Damien Mansfield. Margarita is aged 20, Latvian and currently resident in London, studied at the Purcell School of Music and now at the Royal Academy of Music. She’s here for this festival and a few concerts in Melbourne and Sydney. This was an interesting program. A few standards – prelude from Bach’s 5th cello suite in C minor, Schumann from Op.70 and an encore with Saint-Saens’ Swans. All lovely, the Bach was played firmly and the Schumann with classical intelligence and the SS with intimacy. But it was the Latvian repertoire that I found interesting for being unknown, if only to me. Vasks Pianissimo from Gramata was all sliding trills, drones and double stops, East European despair, three key pizzicato notes and even some unison vocals with the cello. Fascinating and surprisingly well received for such a daring first tune. Played as solo cello. The Bach was obviously played solo. I could only think how superb is the cello as a solo instrument: deep, melancholy, expressive with a broad range with fifth tunings and a generous, sensual instrument. Margarita played the Bach with satisfying firmness that spells out the intelligence of this music. The second half was four Latvian tunes. Darzins was a romantic melody against rising piano chords in ¾. Mence was more modern with considerable dissonance against a tonal centre, pizz arpeggios against rolling piano arpeggiation, an urgent feel of crotchets on 1-2 followed by a rest, and cello as accompaniment. Medins was prettier, consonant, lyrical, in 4/4, with 4-bar phrases responded over the following four. Another Medins was legato, smoothly flowing. I loved the heavy vibrato, nice intonation and strongly expressive playing. And she mostly played from memory. A young player, but impressive and much enjoyed. Too bad she’s not visiting Canberra; maybe next time. Some final notes. Nice to meet Kym Wilson, ex-ArtSound, who was recording for the local community radio station. Turns out we attended the same school here in Adelaide, although in different eras. Nice also to return to the Latvian Hall where I tread the boards in Henry IV Pt.1 in my schooldays (hint, neither King nor Falstaff). And, finally, nice to find this festical. It’s expected every two years and this is its third incarnation. It’s running 10 days including two weekends; it features Finn Marko Ylonnen, “the legendary” Lynn Harrell, Leonard Elschenbroich with the Stikovetky Trio appearing for Musica Viva, inventive and improvisational Rushad Eggleston, Cellisimo (four celli) with the Adelaide Symph, workshops and a fascinating “cello challenge” where 5 luthiers, on public display, build a “world class” cello over 10 days.

Margarita Balanas (cello) was accompanied by Damien Mansfield (piano) at the Latvian Hall for the third Adelaide Cello Festival.

28 March 2014

Astoroids and Flash Gordon


I can actually spell asteroids and the link to Flash G is tenuous but it amused me. This was the first concert of another season of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. It’s our local orchestra, part-time, and they do a great job. They are also well liked in the community. I think I read the CSO is the only orchestra in Australia that has sellout seasons, and that’s with very little government sponsorship. CSO is not funded like a capital-city, ex-ABC orchestra, but it survives and I hope it thrives. That said, I was not enamoured by the program but enjoyed it none-the-less. First, Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain in the most common orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov. Modest is an appeaaling name. So was the music, bold and mystical, threatening, dramatic and lots of fun. Then Mozart’s Violin Concerto no.5 performed by soloist Barbara Jane Gilby. She’s well known to Canberra audiences as the normal concertmaster for the CSO. Mozart is always perfect and this is a well known piece. I was amused by the weight of the horns and especially tuba which was so obvious when they passed the playing to the strings, relatively quiet as they were. It’s a piece that Barbara has played through her musical life, and she made her own take. Barbara encored with Massenet’s Meditations, all soppy, romantic, attractive and presumably the theme music for reams of period TV shows, and impossible to dislike. My favourite piece of the night followed the interval. It was Re-collecting Astoroids by Elena Kats-Chernin. The pun on the title is a reference to Astor as in Piazzolla as well as Elena’s approach to writing a piece dedicated to Piazzolla, collecting and recollecting but not quoting. This was a work in five movements. I thought I’d recognised several then I read the second movement quotes her own Peggy’s Rag. It’s not complex music, but the melodies are lovely and insinuating and I think it’s the orchestral colours that really attract me. I just find this more relevant to our times than the rural idyll although romantic themes of threat and danger may suit popular TV series. Then, to finish, the big show for the night. This was Liszt’s Preludes. Brassy, majestic, regal moving to romantic and trills and country idyll then film chases and action movies. Not his fault, of course, but Megan tells me this was used as the theme for the early Flash Gordon circa 1950s (?). I found it more interesting musically than Elena’s tune, more complex intersecting lines and counterpoint weaving through melodies, but sounding imperial European, so dated, to my ears. But, again, lots of fun, and we left laughing easily over the Flash Gordon connection. Congrats again to the CSO. It was an amusing concert and well received and well played. Much enjoyed.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain, Mozart Violin Concerto no.5, Kats-Chernin Re-collecting Astoroids and Liszt Les Preludes. Tom Woods (conductor) conducted and Barbara Jane Gilby (violin) soloed in the Mozart.

25 March 2014

A tribute to Incas


We are yet to visit the Gold of the Incas but we heard a batch of South American music this afternoon. Ambre Hammond and Marcello Maio performed a program called Tesoro Musical in association with the Incas exhibition. This was Piazzolla and Jobim and Piazzolla and Villa-Lobos and a Peruvian folk tune and some more Piazzolla. No problems there - Piazzolla is a favourite of the jazz community and us. Ambre plays piano and Marcello plays piano accordion. The mix has that street-sound that appears in folk musics around the world, with the throaty tone of the accordion melodies and the gruff chordal accompaniment. It fits this music with its working-man's humanity, simple melodies of descending (or ascending) phrases, repeating chord sequences of eight or so bars, perhaps with a simple counterpoint line for colour, perhaps with contrasting passages. It's not an elite, aristocratic music, but it's honest and humane. Grimaldo (?) means messy or unkempt and it's the name of one Piazzola tune with rabidly contrasting sections and a melody in 3 that plays out over 4 and neatly resolves on the fourth bar. I particularly liked Jobim's Portrait in black and white and thought I recognised Death of an angel from Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires. They also played El condor passa. I knew this from Simon and Garfunkel in 1970, but this slow take, with a largely unadorned melody, was far more convincing. Nice. This is lovely unpretentious music with class but with a direct connection to the street and the people. Sympathetic music and nicely played. Ambre Hammond (piano) and Marcello Maio (piano accordion) performed Tesoro Musical at the National Gallery in association with the exhibition, Gold of the Incas.

24 March 2014

Sound on country


I remembered the Stiff Gins as a larger band and they were a trio in the early days. But this was their 15th birthday celebration and there are now only two, although they seem to collaborate with others for various recordings and projects. They were at the National Film & Sound Archive and they were to record to an original Edison wax cylinder. It's a project they are undertaking after hearing the one extant recording of Tasmanian Aboriginal language, as songs, by Fanny Cochrane Smith. They do work like that, blending white Australia with indigenous culture. Another project response (Spirit of Things: Sound of Objects) had them in the vaults of the Australian Museum in Sydney, exploring Aboriginal artefacts and writing music in. I think it was Kaleena who'd earlier spoken of an elder who found our presence in rocks and trees and the country we'd passed. In these ways, the artefacts and even the wax cylinder resonated with these connections. It sounded strange to me, but not at all when they likened it to precious objects handed down from family. These, too, have the presence of someone loved and the value of that connection. I could feel that perfectly comfortably. At one other time, we heard a recorded song from the pair against archival film of the foundation of Canberra. The video was of light horsemen and King O'Malley and Billy Hughes and Andrew Fisher and other politicians and Coldstream Guards (!) and some Brit in uniform as the Governor-General of the day and attendant wives in heavy garb and unsmiling kids. Canberra was just open fields with the foundation stone that still sits between Old and New Parliament House. The Gins had sung to this, so giving the long-term occupants of the land a place at this event. It could be an angry expression but it wasn't. These women are open and frequently smiling and their presence was proud and positive and warm. So they sang two songs, one each of their favourites, both originals, one a folky feel by Kaleena about an experience in Edinburgh while on tour, and an uptempo number by Nardi called Morning Star. It was especially in Morning star that I noticed their individual styles: Nardi grooving with guitar, lighter voiced but with rich, bluesy embellishments and Kaleena with a louder voice of substantial power and projection. And with harmonies that merged so well and brought smiles to their faces. Then to end was the wax cylinder recording. Firstly, one run through for practice, then the recording proper. This went well, as these things go. It's not an outcome that thrills with volume or clarity (apparently a hard-wax mould can improve on the sound) but it was interesting to watch and it wasn't digital. So then, out for birthday cake and chatter in the foyer. Nice evening, intimate, and just a touch of their music. I would have liked to have heard more music, but this was more a celebration than a performance, so it was never planned. I liked these two, intimate and open as they are, and what little music we heard was impressive. Must catch them in concert sometime.

The Stiff Gins are Kaleena Briggs and Nardi Simpson and they were interviewed at the National Film and Sound Archive by the Senior Curator of Indigenous Collections, Peter White.


  • Naming the Federal Capital, 12 Mar 1913 (music Yandool by Stiff Gins)
  • 23 March 2014

    Meditation in groove


    In many ways, this was unexpected, but in others it was not. Alec Hunter is the new bassist at the Music School with a background in both classical and jazz and a musicology PhD to boot. The band was presented in a formal layout: seven players spread around an inverted U open to the audience. Individually lit with strong overhead lights for a contrasty view. Two drummers and marimba/vibes. The grand Steinway next to mikes for seated trumpet and saxes. And two basses, or rather a double bass and a violone, lying on its back, in front of several laptops. Also, a screen above it all, a dark room, mics and recording gear. This was a seriously prepared event. Then I read the program: "short open works", "improvised (or not)", "set melodic cells to free improvisation", "order ... decided ... during the performance". And more: "simultaneously projected video", "audio and video ... tow independent creative events occupying the same space and time". And even: "the doors ... will remain open ... audience members are encouraged to come and go as they please". Interesting. Some of the recorded voice accompanying the video spoke to similar conventions, of art and dance and music. No-one much moved or applauded or made noise during each set, but we are a arts-respecting crew. So what did we hear? There were passages at top and bottom that grooved like jazz-rock era Miles. There were times of quiet and meditation, with double-bowed violone and more. There was authentic jazz improvisation from Charles on vibes and deeply rhythmic improv from Tate on piano. There were two drummers, sharing leads, finding openings for percussion. There were Miro and John, two masters thrilling with some deeply responsive interplay and swapped segments and some great tones with a digital harmoniser. And Alec, leading with hand gestures and raised fingers, meditatively seated on the ground with violone or holding jazz-infused riffs or spelling melodic themes on double bass. I liked his sharp edged tone that was balanced, often note for note, with softer rejoinders, with what sounded to my ears as the most precise intonation. It's jazz and modern classical but also performance art and video. Not rare these days, and shouldn't really be unexpected, but a change from Bird on the one hand or Bach on the other (although we all love them both). Refreshing and pensive.

    Alec Hunter and Friends played in the Band Room at the ANU School of Music. Alec Hunter (bass, violone, electronics) led his friends Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), John Mackey (saxes), Tate Sheridan (piano), Charles Martin (marimba, vibes), Jamal Salem (drums, percussion) and Jonathan Warren (drums, percussion). Lauren Hunter (video) created the projections.