22 October 2018


This is one we’d done before: Kammermusik im Foyer at the Oper Frankfurt. It’s close to where we are staying and at 11am on a Sunday, clashes with little. It’s also indicative of how I find the Germans. Hugely impressive on matters of substance while very laid back on the formalities. So, the foyer is comfortable enough, but just a space. The Steinway off to the side was nicely covered but the stool was metal, functional. The performers were a string quartet, Hindemith Quartet and the program was classical to modern: Haydn, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Borodin, three string quartets and a canon dedicated to Stravinski. There was an encore of one movement from a Tchaikovsky quartet. If I read my German right, the members were from the Oper’s orchestra, the concert master and various principals. The presentation was simple but friendly, even joyous after the successful outing. They were recording (video and mics down the back). But what a capable performance. These were modern instruments so the tone was strong and edgy and loud. The playing matched, confident, firm, intentioned, and wonderfully balanced in roles. Thee were some occasional glances and some smiles at start and end of movements but surprisingly few, other than from the cellist. He seemed to be enjoying himself; the others seemed more business-like. It seemed easy and inured, but then a line would come from cello or viola, all quick and of wonderful clarity and I realised the expertise. These Germans pay generously for this (half the opera houses in the world are in Germany and they maintain a generous musical establishment: I was to also find a reference to government funding at the jazz club I attended that night) and it shows. So to my ears this was exemplary. We went off into the … afternoon … with a big smile. Great stuff.

The Hindemith Quartet performed at Alte Oper, Frankfurt. They comprised Ingo de Haas and Joachim Ulbrich (violins), Thomas Rossel (viola) and Daniel Robert Graf (cello).

21 October 2018

This town

What do you say of this town, Edinburgh? It's two towns, New Town and Old Town, both UNESCO listed, and the surrounding suburbs. It's harsh and hard and rocky and a great joy. It was a centre of our modern world through the Enlightenment and still a small but vibrant place. Within a few kms are the first grid of modern city planning and city revivals, a da Vinci and Dolly and the birthplace of Harry Potter. And free education (for Scots and EU members, not the English!) and health and a lively night life. But this is Scotland, after all, so there has to be a dour side. The Reformation and burning of witches and cold weather and harsh stone. That all makes for the character of the place and the people giving us festivals and tourism and intellect and history along with the cold and an apparent love for dogs. It’s my third visit here and we’ve loved this town. Just a few various pics.

20 October 2018

Our choice

We travel with an eye on jazz and classical music and museums. Our searches hadn’t found too much classical of interest in the few days we were here. It’s a common problem to find we’ve just missed something interesting. We missed a Russian Orchestra in London then in Edinburgh playing Rach 2. That’s one I recently played and one I’d like to hear. Then there was the inevitable conflict. Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Usher Hall playing … Bolero … or a renowned and sublime period chamber group featuring a friend, Cecilia Bernadini. No contest really. Cecilia had stayed with us for the last CIMF so it would be great to catch up. The Dunedin Consort was playing Biber and the like in a lovely intimate theatre (audience 220) with its own instrument museum and conservator just around the corner from the Jazz Bar. All perfect. In the end, Cecilia was playing violin for opera in Paris and the group was a small incarnation (6 players) but the concert was excellent and everyone amiable. We’d even visited a few of the bars around Cowgate/Niddry St that had caught our eye (Stramash and Whistle Binkies and Bannerman’s, all local live music bars of a different style) so we were readied. The concert was in St Cecilia’s Hall run by the University of Edinburgh. The program centred on Georg Muffatt, Savoy-born of Scottish parentage, and his work to combine Italian, French and German styles in 5-part writing (here 5 strings plus harpsichord). The other composers were Navara, Biber, Rosenmuller and Schmelzer. The performers were 2 violins, 2 violas, cello and harpsichord with a few smaller combinations for some works. The musicology was beyond me but the expressive tones of gut, the awareness between players, the canons and variations that featured in some works were clear, even a revelation. These were impressive and authentic players. But they are also informal and exploratory. DC commissions and plays work by living composers and they aim to “make music relevant to the present day”. It’s early music but it was authoritative, expressive, closely performed with a leader (first violin) prominent and expressive, his second violin responsive and variant, playful ad bouncy (not least when picturing animals in the Biber Sonata representativa), the lower strings more solid, firm through to cello at the bass end. I noticed and often followed cello, for his firm, solid lines and mirrored canons, tightly spelt and perfectly intoned, with just occasional expressive vibrato. I love how vibrato can just spell moments of pause and contemplation as this here. The harpsichord was there but never too obvious: it’s like that. The musos hung around at the end so I could chat with Jonathan on cello and gawk at the violin peg-end with face in place of scroll (Stainer 1658). So, no Cecilia but a stunning period concert and with pleasant intimacy. BTW, the Dunedin Consort have won numerous awards (incl. two Gramophones), are based in Edinburgh, date from 1995, are led by John Butt and are named after Din Eidyn, the ancient Celtic name for Edinburgh Castle.

Dunedin Consort performed at St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh. Performers were Matthew Truscott and Tuomo Suni (violins), Alfonso Leal del Ojo and Raquel Massadas (violas), Jonathan Manson (cello) and Tom Foster (harpsichord).

19 October 2018


Yet another visit to the Jazz Bar. This was for an open rehearsal for the Edinburgh University Jazz Orchestra (EUJO). They practice Wednesday afternoons and our plan was a short stop to catch them and have a coffee/beer/scotch. Not quite as slick as the more experienced artists, but very interesting. We heard some good, challenging charts even on standards. The one I noticed was Love for sale, although it was pretty nicely camouflaged within various complexities and embellishments. Also some sectionals passages: the saxes as they worked through a particularly tricky syncopated passage and the trumpets for some high note features. The groove was good with punchy, PA-ed piano, good steady e-bass walks and a nice drum solo that got a few run-throughs. A nice musical interlude in a tourist’s day.

The Edinburgh University Jazz Orchestra rehearsed at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh.

18 October 2018


Late-night funk followed at the Jazz Bar. I may not have hung around but Rich and Amelia dropped in and a drink and a listen to the start had us grooving for the first, lengthy set. Let me say, I love funk. I love that deep groove, that repetition and excess and fluency when it’s done right. This was done seriously right by 101st Airborne led by Aki Remally out front on a very sensuous guitar. Think Prince and Jimi, all mellifluous playfulness and speedy excess and soft insinuity. I felt Aki led but the others were no slouchers. Jim on drums was all thuddy stubbornness and occasional unexpected polyrhythms. Richard on keys was tunefulness and celerity, but it’s keys and so without that lubricious voluptuousness that acoustics and strings can do. Tom on bass was just driving and phat and deeply groovy with all manner of techniques - finger-funk, thumbs, slap. The volume was loud. Aki sang once of twice and that was great if somewhat lost in the mix. We were smiling and grooving deeply and had mostly given up on talk given the volume. The dance cast of Matthew Bourne’s recreated Swan Lake (think menacing male swans with the original Tchaikovsky) was in Edinburgh on tour for the week and laughing and dancing on tables next to us. So this was deep, deep grooves with those incessant drums and simple chords of funk and the smeariest of flirtatious guitar. We could only love this deeply. Congratulations to the band and the venue and the effervescent audience even if my ears still offer a record of the night as I write this.

101st Airborne performed at the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh for a late funk session. They comprised Aki Remally (guitar, vocals), Richard Harrold (keyboard), Tom Wilkinson (bass) and Jim Drummond (drums).

17 October 2018


Tuesday is jazz jam night at the Jazz Bar. Ever hopeful, I went along for a listen and perhaps to play but first up I was taken aback by the band. Not that they were poor, but that they were anything but: this was clearly and scarily an excellent trio. I wondered if it left much confidence for sit-ins but then I just decided it was a high level session. Jams exist at various levels of competence and this just looked like a top-level outing. Peter Johnstone led from the piano, all skill and speed and invention, spaced and slippery and reminding me of Keith Jarrett, and followed nicely by a most excellent bass from Andy Robb, all syncopations and thumb positions and flexibility and deliciously interesting phrasings. Who might sit in here, I’m thinking. Doug Hough on drums initially seemed more laid back but his solos, too, were unexpected, discursive, easily inventive, so the night was looking like a classy trio with perhaps a hot horn to sit in. That’s OK but more awesome concert than jam. Then a break and a series of guests: Ken Rose on tenor; Teddy Lyons on drums; Dylan Turner on another tenor; another trumpet. All capable and interesting but not quite as fearsome as the host trio. Then I met Rob Anderson who put down a pocket trumpet (Bb, small) on my table while readying to get up, so we chatted. He was from Perth (Australia not Scotland). We chatted of WAAPA and local players and the jam styles and instruments had me more relaxed and ready to chance my arm and anyway I wanted to try out Andy’s bass. He had a bass extension mounted and that interested me (he’d played some classical in the past but little now). So I was up, for the final two tunes. The bass was nice and the amp excellent. The host trio had worked on various standards including Skylark, Celia, Nobody else but me and they had treated them very freely, open in timing and harmony and deliciously tangential. The jammers were more evident while doing a perfectly capable job, again on standards like I’ll remember you and Softly. My two were Monk’s dream and Bye bye blackbird. Monk’s dream was a nice medium up, comfy and swinging. BBB was called by Rob for his wife when he got up and was quick. I enjoyed the feels, with so-capable Pete for both and Doug for the final tune. The groove was steady and driving and there were some smiles in the back line and some adjustments for at least one groove that moved a little. But that’s all part of the fun and fun it was. These were excellent players to play with. I’d admired the hosts’ opening set hugely and enjoyed the blowing and finally got a few tunes and a feel of the bandstand. Great fun and a great memory and an awesome host band. Thanks to all.

The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, hosts a jazz jam each weekly on Tuesday nights. The host band changes but this night was Pete Johnstone (piano), Andy Robb (bass) and Dough Hough (drums). Sit-ins were Ken Rose (tenor), Teddy Lyons (drums), Dylan Turner (tenor), Rob Anderson (pocket trumpet), Eric Pozza (bass) and another unknown trumpeter.

16 October 2018

Also above Cowgate

This one was just across the road from the Jazz Bar and still high on the volcanic plug but a steep laneway almost next door led down to the Cowgate and a string of other venues. But otherwise it had little in common. The Royal Oak is a ridiculously small performance space at street level behind two layers of glass. Perhaps 4x4m for some seating and standing and a well stocked bar (that’s common!) and stone walls and rich timber-work. Inside were just a small contingent. The players were folkies so little gear needed, just acoustic guitar and banjo and slide guitar, sitting in one corner with audience almost falling over them. I’d expected some gaelic folk but heard this as more US-styled with that slide guitar and banjo and a strummed guitar. And some fabulous harmonies from the two central players, a male tenor and harmonising female (soprano?). Both strongly and confidently voiced and beautifully attuned. That really was delicious. There was some audience participation, too, with some occasional voices in harmony and it was an open stage. We caught two women singing / playing later. Earlier it was fairly quiet in the audience but then the chatter arose but it was a small place and remained respectful of the music. In a strange twist, we got chatting to a couple from … Canberra. Small world. Some delicious harmonies and some lively and tight folky grooves from Scott, Linda and James.

br> Scott Orchard (banjo, vocals), Linda Larking (vocals, guitar) and James Stewart (slide guitar) performed at the Royal Oak in Edinburgh.

15 October 2018

Above Cowgate

Edinburgh’s old town and its famous castle is built on a volcanic plug so it’s dark and hard and oddly structured. Mostly that’s built over these days, so there are long streetscapes but it requires bridges to cross deep cuts, like Cowgate, and turn a corner and there are long stairways or steep alleyways. It’s the area of the university and hostels and boasts a busy night life. And the Jazz Bar. It’s a simple name. It’s a basement venue and a busy one. The program has 2 or 3 gigs every night, mostly jazz but also funk or the like. And like some other jazz venues, they have a resident big band gathering each monday. I found it interesting that an open rehearsal precedes the gig and I found it amusing that one local corrected someone in the audience for applauding during the rehearsal. It didn’t make much difference: there was applause none-the-less. The band didn’t seem to have a name, just the Jazz Bar’s 17-piece Big Band. The program said it had a variable line-up of pro-class players who come in from Glasgow, Borders, Perth, Fife to play with others from Edinburgh and it’s co-led by two members, saxist Keith Edwards and ex-LA bassist Erik Lars-Hansen. It’s true that they were slick. The repertoire was mostly standards but scored for big band with some delicious colours. That’s one of the wonders of the big band, of course, that colour. One tune seemed to boast a transcribed solo played by a section and that was intricate and exciting. There were some genuinely decent solos, too. That’s something I often find lacking in big bands. My guess is that bb players mainly perform as ensemble members and solos are short so they have little time to extend themselves. The rehearsal was interesting, with starts and stops and repeats from various bar numbers and with some general comments from Erik over the PA about time and feel but the playing still had life. The performance had a little more gig formality and some amusing chatter from the stage for a pretty packed audience and some nicely slick playing. So some great playing of fairly mainstream style and repertoire for a generous audience. Nice.

The Jazz Bar Big Band played at Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar with co-leaders Keith Edwards (sax) and Erik Lars-Hansen (bass).

14 October 2018

More stone

There’s no end of stone up here. Neolithic and bronze age but also in churches, housing and more modern buildings, hotels, offices and the like. Anything pre-C20th. I remember feeling surprisingly at home when I first walked down the main street of Edinburgh thinking it reminded me of Adelaide (my home town). Not surprising. Adelaide was established by a private company with Scottish connections. In fact, one thing we are doing here is exploring an ancestor of Megan’s who came to Adelaide in 1837 from around this area. He died in Strathalbyn, outside Adelaide. All local, there and here. So, there are stone buildings in classical styles in Australia but not castles which are quintessential sites of interest for new worlders here in Scotland. More rocks.

Mary Baker led an Archaeotour for Norman, Megan and Eric.

13 October 2018

Art of other eras

Not all we are doing here is music. We are away from cities now and the interest is more dated. First up, archaeology, neolithic times, uncertain purposes, simple techniques, stone carvings, standing stones, funerary monuments, perhaps representations of reproduction (think standing stones and rock circles and shadows cast). And these techniques and technologies that passed into more modern times, not least mediaeval stone crosses. We are just north of Glasgow visiting such matters, avoiding rain, enjoying occasional sunshine. Not that it’s cold. This summer has been climate-changed bliss in Europe, all sunshine and heat with no less than 24degC predicted in western Scotland in a few days time (in mid-October). When the rain isn’t heavier than usual and flooding inner Oban. Such is our future, but we are looking at our past in standing stones and cup and ring carvings in Argyleshire.

Mary Baker led an Archaeotour for Norman, Megan and Eric.