28 February 2015

Here hear


I've probably written this very report before when I last heard Rachael and her mates performing standards at Smiths. They are called The Here [not Hear] and Now now, and I think the name is new, but the playing and the songs aren't. That's their strength. These are some of Canberra's best, most seasoned, most busy performers and they have played innumerable times together and here they return to the roots and it's a huge pleasure, for band and audience. This is fabulously relaxed despite underlying energy; tasteful with ever-apt interpretation. Some of Canberra's political visitors falsely claim to be adults, but these guys exude musical maturity through depth of perception and communicative ability. This is laid back. It's quiet: there's nothing to hide; nowhere to escape. It's sweet, unassuming and just plain right. Lovely ballads like Nearness of you of Shadow of you smile or Meaning of the blues; playful and accomplished like Centrepiece; light and joyous like Sunny side of the street or Squeeze me don't tease me. Even Flame trees, a dedication to Cold Chisel who were playing in town that night. And Afro Blue for the more adventurous. All so neat, so comfortable as a visit to selected standards. James excelled with his easy but richly melodic solos. Mark was unobtrusive but masterful. I was amused by his swapped fours with Rachael's scat; that's not a common pairing but it worked a treat. Lachlan was part of the duo with Rachael that's at the centre of this band. He touched on Bass VI and loops and a guitar ukelele (a little six-string that looks like a classical guitar but tuned up a fourth) but mostly played neat and a very thoughtful telecaster lines. Rachael was the heart and soul, voice and meaning, patter and laughter. She's so trained, so correct, so in control; what a pleasure. How nice all this is! Standards played by musos with the ability to share the stories. There should be more of it.

The Here and Now were Rachael Thoms (vocals), Lachlan Coventry (guitar, e-bass, guitar uke, harmony vocals), James Luke (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) and they played at Smiths.

26 February 2015

Changing for the climate


The session was about transitioning from fossil fuels, so I shouldn't have expected science, but I was just a bit unsettled when a cheer arose from some young audience members for an argument that telling the science doesn't work. I could even agree, but I'm wary of pomo, new-agey, post-enlightenment thinking. I think Bob Massie was actually talking of promotion and emotion and PR and how to get a message across, and that I can understand and agree, but I was wary here. But I found the discussion of transition, of building a new economy, of alternatives to neo-libs and conservatives (read, our current government) quite positive and hopeful, especially hearing of Boulder Colorado taking over its own utility company when they refused to use more renewables because profit would suffer, or Dan Musil of Earthmother Cooperative telling of building alternatives right now, here, in Australia. Bob spoke broadly about transition. He quoted requirements, like fairness (again, think our Government), resilience, hard changes. He said Australia is in a key position to determine the future, but noted the urgency (again, sadly, our failing Government). He noted that climate events are happening already (statistically this is a fact). He gave examples of historical change and it was more rapid than I imagined: canals built in the US for transport lasted just 30 years; a Ford assembly line, 30 years. You have a choice: "Let change happen to you or determine it". He talked of the Carbon budget, and that 80% of fossil fuels must stay in the ground. "Expose this! Don't be intimidated!" That Bush/Cheney were both oil executives, but the message is getting through after Hurricane Sandy. He questioned our stupid government adherence to coal (obviously just plain dumb; either echo chamber thinking or a sell-out; and these guys claim superior economic management???). He quoted JP Morgan, IEA etc on the demise of coal, and Obama's exit strategy, and China's moves and, interestingly, India's Government's pledge to end coal in 2 years (this was new to me; what of Adani?). He talked about Top down, Bottom up and From sides models for transition. Germany is gung-ho and Top down and is the strongest economy in Europe. Bottom up is harder, but see Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the actions of the Navajo and Peabody and Washington State, where the final coal plant in the US North West is planned to close. He talked of the roles of institutions: churches, universities, foundations and that ANU and Rockefeller are divesting. He talked of the "New Economy" as an umbrella term and didn't seem to signal a return to caves. He spoke of leaders in the new economy now being local: citizens, mayors. (This is the US and not directly parallel). And various quotables: "imagine alternatives"; "leaders in the US are now 19/20 years old; back youth"; "don't invest in the past" (=coal, most of us understand that); "when threats appear, pool together"; Australia can "change ... the destiny of the world" (I would like to hear more here!); "the stone age didn't end for lack of stone" (he suggested Bill Clinton but Wikipedia has the quote from Ahmed Zaki Yamani, 2000). He suggested a tipping point is near for a public demand for change (we hope) and supported coalition making: "people can agree on some things for different reasons". He quoted Alex White "Global warming amounts to a new class war" and "the problem of climate change is a problem of capital" so structural change is required. He promoted subtle change, like ballast that shifts a ship, and making capital more democratic (more discussion needed here!). He suggested corporates are dying and suggested worker groupings must also change (see Freelancers Union in NYC). "Just repeating the science isn't going to have the effect" (ie, to bring public support). This brought the whoops from the audience that worried this rationalist. "Radiate a sense of purpose" to influence others. Climate change shouldn't be an environmental issue, it's an 'everything' issue". (Somebody tell Greg Hunt). Promote an inclusive movement, talk honestly and promote better discussion, even on budget and taxes. Interestingly, he mentioned "participatory budgeting" in some US cities, where some money is put aside for allocation through a citizen decision-making process. Some questions; considerable hope; some alt. sounding approaches. Let's hope someone can pull it off or we, or rather our children and grandchildren, are in deep trouble. The next marker I'm looking to is Top Down, Paris, later this year but perhaps that's the enlightenment bureaucrat in me. Many at this event were far more focused on the local.

Bob Massey spoke for 350.org on "Just transitions : moving Australia beyond fossil fuels" at ANU. (Uniting Care Aust), Dan Musil (Earthworker Coop) and Alex White (Unions ACT) were guests and Genevieve Jacobs (ABC 666) chaired.

23 February 2015

Other uses for a violin


Chris Jarrett and Luca Ciarla were at TheQ. This was nice, daring, music: not just jazz, at least jazz as implied by the American songbook, but jazz in its all-inclusive modern form, broader and more adventurous. Folk inspirations and 20th century classical piano styles were as much an influence. And it wasn't just the jazz community in attendance. The tour was conducted with collaboration of the Italian Embassy and Italian Cultural Institute of Sydney so there were many suits amongst the jeans. They presented as civilised, laid out under lights on the stage at TheQ. Just foldback and a few mics and a grand piano and Chris recording for ArtSound. I was taken by Luca's woody tone - nothing at all like an amplified sound except for a few peaky spots. He was obviously using a mic on the violin and it sounded great. It even covered for a mic that wouldn't turn on when Luca spoke through the violin to the audience. That's an amusing stage prop! They didn't speak too much, mainly playing then bowing between pieces, but they were pleasant when they did. They played various duo pieces, written by either player, and a few solo numbers. Luca's included a folky Italian tune from WW2 that he built with loops. Chris played thumpingly virtuosic chromatics and chordal solos interspersed with pensive segments: think Ravel or Debussy. They played different times, obbligatos, violin slides and piano sequences and diatonics and chromatics. And they did it with convincing warmth and responsiveness. Modern music with wide influences and warmth of performance.

Chris Jarrett (piano) and Luca Ciarla (violin) performed at TheQ at Queanbeyan.

21 February 2015

How nice is this!


They tell me Brisbane is undergoing a renaissance (has been for some time). If this is an indication, I'm sold (like I was by Steve Newcomb and Hannah Macklin years back). Cleon introduces as Afro-Cuban pulse, experimental, varying time signatures and rhythms. I hear funky 16ths, taking me back to hot fusion. And Cleon's three were hot: burning, even. Just a trio: piano, bass, drums. A rhythm section to dream of, with colour, complexity and drive. I joke to Cleon that he could just sit back and play whatever. I didn't mean it to demean him. He did a great job and was often enough part of that very rhythm section. I just meant these guys laid intense grooves with huge depth of interest and, with that, melody is a breeze. Chiky plays it all: fingerstyle, thumb, tap, slap, chords, harmonics, the rest, with variation and feel and speed and that indelible syncopated 16th feel. Sasha is there with the drive, varied tones and splits of the beat and insatiable cowbell or rimshot or thumpy tom matched with snare-off snare. Again, busyness, unrelenting drive and lots of colour. He's a long-time Afro-Cuban samba big band player, as is Cleon. Chiky is actually from Cuba. Then over it all, sometimes choppy and part of the rhythm (but not montunos - their repetitive insistence only appeared in a later jam) or more standard in contemporary jazz style and lots of chromaticism big chordal hits, features, long long runs. Cleon did one dedication to Michel Camilo and talked of Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the break. He also spoke of through composition but not without repeating themes and not writing in a key. And that B major falls nicely for the piano (I objected not for the double bass). Then a slap of fast unison lines and hits and I'm chuckling at the excitement and energy and skills of it all. I loved this concert to death. Great. Maybe it's time to catch Cuba, before it opens to the US again.

Cleon's three are Cleon Barraclough (piano), Osmar ‘Chiky’ Salazar (e-Bass) and Sacha K (drums). They were joined for a final jam by Sinuhé Pacheco/Ross (congas).

20 February 2015

Not deadly dull, now what?


Bernard Keane started his session at the Politics in the Pub, the first for 2015 and only early in the political year, with the comment that it's been "deadly dull". Of course, it hasn't been. Apparently we expected stable government after Labor, but after half a term, Abbott has "stuffed it". Two first term Liberal governments dumped (Victoria, Qld) and SA Labor winning a fourth term; submarines virtually a "captain's call"; budget in a mess and another due. Abbott's response to a near-death experience is to return to form, as if aggression was missing from 2015. Labor's had a dream start to opposition which has made Shorten a credible alternative PM ... but only in comparison, and what of election day? BK: "I'm underwhelmed". He suggests recent lessons include that NO-ing in opposition, small targets and no policies results in a ministry with no skills to sell policies in government. "You can't govern negatively". Greens had a great election 2010, then a poor 2013 after Bob Brown left, but have picked up. The economy is at a juncture and it's important! There's panic in RBA announcements. The government has a stimulatory stance, especially given $A1 at ~$US70 (Wayne Swan had to battle at $A1~=$US1.10) and interest rates are at historic lows. Yet the RBA cuts rates and more coming. The first two quarters of 2014 had strong growth, then the budget and "stumbles and ineptitude" "smashed consumer confidence". Hockey's clearly not up to it, but Bernard has respect for Mathias Cormann (interesting). But the deficit goes up and Labor continues to get the blame from Hockey et al, although budget was 19.9% of GDP in 2012 (Swan) and 22% of GDP in 2015 (Hockey). If "surpluses are in our DNA, then deficits are in their bone marrow". The Right has now started the line that the public won't accept economic reform and we'll end up like Greece, but it's "complete crap". Voters actually don't like privatisation where it's a gift to the private sector and the public loses out; otherwise they are of mixed mind. Industrial relations changes are in much the same bag. 60% recently polled that minimum wages were too low (I'd like to see this survey) and that included Liberal voters. Superannuation tax concessions cost $30b in 2015 and this is skewed mightily to the rich. Medicare Private was sold "sensibly and effectively" (later queried in a question from the floor). It's not political communication, but poor policies. However, communication remains important, especially to promote effective policy. The Hawke/Keating era is idolised, but it was a "simpler era" with the press gallery cooperating virtually as part of the governing class as gatekeepers. There's more clutter now. Data retention = Mass surveillance, despite each daily message from Abbott's for its justification. It's a direct threat to media and journalism (and the rest of us, BTW). The Big Lie is that it's not intrusive. Metadata actually provides more and more reliable information than content. Snowden: "You can't trust what you're hearing but you can trust the metadata". I didn't get the details of this quote, but apparently from head of NSA: "We kill people based on metadata". Voters have no understanding of issues over metadata retention. Questions covered journalists "colluding" with politicians to ignore climate science. BK responded there's little opportunity to question pollies these days so little chance to collude. Someone queried the merit of Medicare co-payments and the sale of Medicare Private. BK stated his more economically dry acceptance, but then noted that Abbott has actually cut infrastructure despite all the talk. There was discussion of corporate tax dodging, of recent news of NewsCorp, of trust in a tax system. All obvious enough background to a 2015 and a damaged government and a run-up to a budget (only their second!) and eventually another election. Whoa; there's NSW soon, too. All interesting for a political junkie like me.

Bernard Keane of Crikey spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

18 February 2015

Inswingers


The Cricket World Cup came to Manuka Oval. We didn't attend the oval, but we did perform at the gates and experience some colour and anticipation and enjoy the good cheer. It's a nice thing about sports in Australia, that it's good natured and joyous, mostly regardless of the competitors. We should be thankful for that. Something about the easy-going nature and warm weather and financial comfort wears off on competitions. This was Afghanistan, in their first entry into the World Cup of Cricket, versus Bangladesh. Amusingly, I was listening to BBC radio the other night and they were talking of cricket's entry into Afghanistan, just after we'd been booked to play outside the gates for this game. The weather was warm, sunny, and the supporters were dressed in colours and singing in anticipation. Our second set was against the first overs and there were waves of anticipation as cheers rose in the stadium. For what, don't know. Not so much for us. We played well enough but were there for the colour. One swinger went well, especially as the bass carries better on a swing. I was playing acoustic and it was not loud. Then some singing and harmonies on rock and roll and Summertime and the like. Fun and indulgent. A memorable gig even if we aren't remembered.

Richard Kingsford (tenor), Toby Morison (guitar) and Eric Pozza (bass) appeared as the Inswingers at the Manuka Oval gates for the World Cup of Cricket.

16 February 2015

Feeling early


Salut! Baroque are will of the wisps, slinking on stage in formal black, long dresses, unspoken, changing their lineup throughout the performance, various mixes of baroque strings, voices, oboe, harpsichord, recorders. This is genuinely early music, not ancient but European and feeling before Bach. This program was called Mr Purcell's farewell and featured three pieces written by friends, John Blow, Henry Hall and Jeremiah Clarke, at Purcell's untimely death, aged 35. There were some new names and even new vocabulary here. The piece by William Croft was a Ground in C minor. Ground as in Ground bass, another word for Basso ostinato, a recurring pattern. Or Matthew Locke's Curtain Tune in C major, obviously meaning an opening number, perhaps short. I loved the bass and soprano singing, often together, with dispersed pitches and unquestioned harmonies. The harpsichord that was gentle but omnipresent. The recorders of moderate volume but definitional of the period. It was my occasional revisit to the bass violin or baroque cello, tuned in fifths with the high string matching the violin's low G string. I'm learning bowing at the moment so I was particularly taken by Matthew Greco leading the violins with wonderfully fluent and expressive bowing. The music was lovely, in two sets. I enjoyed the vocals and even chuckled at some in English and was taken back to a past that seems very early, and they'd left. On the day, these were performers of few words, letting the music speak for itself and for Purcell and his contemporaries. Otherly and dignified, grounded and early.

Salut! Baroque performed at the Albert Hall and will return for another three concerts in the 2015 program. Salut! comprised Josie Ryan (soprano), Alexander Knight (bass), Sally Melhuish (recorder), Hans-Dieter Michatz (recorder), Jane Downer (baroque oboe), Matthew Greco (baroque violin), Julia Russoniello (baroque violin), Valmai Coggins (baroque viola), Tim Blomfield (bass violin), Monika Kornel (harpsichord).

8 February 2015

Doin' the business


Alex asked me had I been there before and were there always so many at this gig. It's not too common to have decent numbers at a jazz gig, doubly so these days, but there were lots. This is the Old Parliament House Cafe and it's a comfy visit to sit in an enclosed garden under mature oaks (?) so good for tourists and locals alike. It's civilised. But this was a lovely warm day and it was a slightly bigger crowd than usual. Lucky band. I know Dan from recordings more than live and I was impressed here too. Lovely firm raspy tone and majestic bluesy conception. Great playing, not forced but strong, nice diatonic lines with just an occasional lapse into dissonance. Melodies that are simply stated but wonderfully present and apt. The grooves were good, too. Alex apologised (jokingly) to me for doing left hand bass lines (me being a bassist; no, it's not the same) but he did it well, as well as the right hand chords and solo lines and the rest. Nice. Kay, too, swung easily or laid down latin grooves with lightness and flexibility. Just standards and quite smooth, but nicely stated and perfect for this outing. Georgia, too; not may favourite but nice. I preferred the bop blues and Green Dolphin Street with the coolest swing and Black Orpheus. I may have been the only one tapping his feet, this not really being a spot for the afficionadoes, but it did swing nicely and the wide-landed public enjoyed it, so a success. Good job done. Dan Bray (tenor) played with Alex Carder (piano) and Kay Chinnery (drums) at the Old Parliament House Cafe.

6 February 2015

Mark's joys


Mark Ginsburg was back with one of his very sweet and worldly bands. I've heard him a few times at Hippo and the Gods. He always has a wonderful, earthy, human presence and this was no different. This was his South African Project. It's a sextet with Judy Campbell singing variously as another horn and as a ballad diva. She said she enjoyed this, and I'm sure she would have. The horn parts were simple but perfect melodies, danceable and lively and hugely joyous. The ballads were similarly emotional, not so joyous, perhaps talking of lost love or the woes of apartheid or whatever, but always simply honest. This was African music and I guess this is what it's like, but it felt honest and revelling in life. Black music at its source. There's a reason why jazz is rhythmic and Africa is one part of that. Mark spoke openness of South Africa, his current links with the continent and his youth in apartheid SA. It resonated with an audience that hung on every word. Honesty has its own rewards (Abbott and others, think on this!). They played earlier tunes, then some later that related to fusion and contemporary jazz. Abdullah Ibrahim ./ Dollar Brand was unpretentious and perfect. Fikele's delight spoke with the funky fretless bass of Bakithi Kumalo of Paul Simon's Graceland, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock and others, but this was the one tune that Brendan Clark (the Junior, without the -e) played on electric. Otherwise he was on double, with a lovely punchy solidity. A few tunes by Bokani Dyer were more of the contemporary style, giving Dave Goodman a lively and driving outing on drums; also a final latin by Chris Skilda (?). But then a few lovely ballads, Malaika (= My love) of lost love, and Little bird, written for Miriam Makeba. The horns out front were Mark on saxes and Eamon Dilworth on trumpet / flugelhorn, both expert in solos and eminently expressive in melody, and Judy sitting in as honorary horn. Ryan Grogan was on piano, a later student at Mark's school in South Africa and a deliciously understated player. What I will take from this is honesty and joy. It's not an image we have of modern-day Africa, mired in Boko Haram and poverty as we are reported, but this was honest and deep and vastly satisfying. Not just immense joy. Lovely gig.

Mark Ginsburg (tenor, soprano saxes) led his South African Project comprising Judy Campbell (vocals), Eamon Dilworth (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ryan Grogan (piano), Brendan Clark (bass) and Dave Goodman (drums).

5 February 2015

Bennie by Diane


Things are so international today and it's a wonderful thing. This fabulous charcoal drawing above is taken from a CJ photo of Bennie Maupin in Canberra. The artist is Diane Russell of Portland, Oregon, and this drawing and another of Terell Stafford were sold as fundraising for Thara Memory's American Music Program. Diane tells me students of the AMP often go on to Julliard, Berklee, etc. Apparently Thara mentored Esperanza Spalding. See links below for Diane's drawings and paintings on her website, AMP's website and a video of Esperanza performing with AMP students. Congratulations to Diane for the great fine jazz art and wonderful to meet you, if only over the Net.

  • Diane Russell fine art portraits
  • Thara Memory's American Music Program
  • Esperanza Spalding performs with AMP students (YouTube)
  • 4 February 2015

    Othery


    These two don't quite fit my SoundOut themes - Textures and Free. One was a workshop and later performance led by Jon Rose. I attended, and played in, the workshop but missed the performance. This was an experiment in sound design. Players were paired. One bounced a ball; the other performed in response. There was a table tennis table with ongoing game. Any pair should balance with other performers, keep to its own groove but improvise with awareness. Jon suggested simple could be more effective, although I noticed his performance was anything but (he's a master and it shows!). We had two goes in practice. I felt some consistency early in the first, but intent faded into the second. It's surprisingly hard to formulate a response and maintain purpose and consistency. But as musicians we know that. The other outlier was a final all-in conducted improvised work by all listed performers for the two days. It was surprisingly short, effective and obviously enjoyed. I was amused to final Richard playing a fairly straight solo on bass clarinet, and when it was all over, Richard with paired bassists and Miro on trumpet playing a blues, no less. Now, what's that doing at SoundOut. Other than bringing on a few late-session chuckles. Then it ended, all good will and chatter and dismantling of gear and memories to hold till the next extravaganza of free and experimental music that is SoundOut. Congrats especially to Richard Johnson who is the artistic director of it all.

    3 February 2015

    Free

    SoundOut day 2 was different. I only managed to attend the Saturday afternoon session and the Sunday night session. Day 1 was all meditation and texture. Day 2 was mostly energy and abandon.

    For me, first up was a stunning solo piano set by Hermione Johnson. I saw her preparing the piano before with numerous chopsticks (or similar) inserted vertically into the grand piano. Then a single long performance of thudding notes, abandoned flourishes, fluid spaces. This was abandon, not violent but of a related emotion. Whether this is played with training of patterns, this was convincing: emotionally authentic and intellectually challenging. Then a quiet set more reminiscent of the textures of day 1: Richard Johnson with Christian Kobi and Klaus Kilip on sax, sax and electronics. And to a high point with the return of Norway's Frode Gjerstand Trio joined by Jon Rose on violin. This was energetic, extravagant, unrelenting, more loud than dynamic, although there were some gentler spots. All drove with immense power and Sydney's Jon Rose was a dynamo, watching and pushing despite being the visitor. I'd place this as the free jazz end of this spectrum against the experimental, given the rhythms. Exciting and immensely strong.

    Hermione Johnson (prepared piano) played a solo set. Richard Johnson (soprano sax) played a trio with Christian Kobi (tenor sax)and Klaus Kilip (electronics). Frode Gjerstand Trio comprised Frode Gjerstand (clarinet, alto sax), Jon Rune Strom (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and was joined by Jon Rose (violin).