21 January 2019

Inside Smiths and our heads

It was hot outside, or at least the Smiths Sunday arvo jam session was on. Anthony was playing a solo right up the neck. I was impressed. But I was there for something far more esoteric: Petr Vrba, Czech trumpeter over for SoundOut. So expect much less rhythm and groove and harmony and melody, perhaps some melody and long notes and squeaks and squeals and, in his case, electronics and ring modulation. Nothing prepared other than a head and ears. This is performance from sheer awareness and some technical preparation although not necessarily of the traditional sort. Petr played a first set and it was loud enough that it was above the level of Anthony and co outside. Then our locals, EMSC Trio, comprising Richard, Millie and Rhys. Then a combination with Petr and EMSC and Miro, another Czech trumpeter who was at the gig. He picked up a nifty, red and black, plastic trombone from the wall at Smiths and took part in the last number. At various times, the jazz was intrusive, but often it was lost in louder sound. I liked the more forceful, louder take by EMSC which seemed to grow the energy. They played well. Petr was outstanding alone and strong with the others. Miro was relatively quiet, but that set also worked. I closed my eyes a few times and was taken by sounds and noises. There's an honesty here and although it's just a matter of listening, it's also a matter of discarding. I tried a jam at SoundOut once and I couldn't break my habits. Whatever, this was one of the most accessible of these experimental and free concerts and I enjoyed it. Too bad I missed the jam though.

Petr Vrba (trumpet, electronics) performed solo then later with EMSC Trio, comprising Richard Johnson (soprano sax), Millie Watson (pedal organ) and Rhys Butler (alto sax), and Miro Bukovsky (trombone).

  • SoundOut Festival 2019
  • 18 January 2019

    Yoof today

    They come out of the woodwork. Talented new bands with talented new players. These were particularly young. I asked drummer and leader Gus and he said they mostly had just finished Year 12. Where do they get such seriousness at a tender age, so they are writing decently inventive tunes and sympathetically combining covers of Beatles (that beauteous song, Taste of honey) with Miles (Ghetto walk from the Silent Way sessions, no less) and Brad Mehldau. And the originals were from three of four players. Adam amused us talking of greenhouses that need watering (who'd'a thunk it!), and there were several from Matt and an interestingly one from Gus. Drummers write less often but then often write quite successfully. I particularly liked Gus' playing, sturdy and correct and tight but the whole band melded well, in funk or jazz idioms. They could be incredibly quiet then run long crescendos to quite loud (but not very loud). It was a little joke that Gus had announced them as "excellent for dancing". Noone got up but band and audience had a good laugh about it. So, an impressive introductory concert that bodes well for the future. I look forward to watching these guys over coming years.

    Gus Henderson (drums) led a quartet with Matt Trigge (trumpet, flugelhorn), Adam Davidson (piano) and Jack Smythe (bass) at Smiths Alternative.

    17 January 2019

    Hot jam

    It was hot. Australia has been sweltering with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded. 48.9, 49.0; Canberra was just 41C that day and there was a cool merciful breeze outside at the Old Canberra Inn. John Mackey was there with Leisa, Ben, Mark, Peter, Hugh and more; interestingly also Con Campbell, who now teaches in Chicago but went through the Jazz School in its Manuka days. I have him on CJ only once before playing with Wayne Kelly at ArtSound. I got to sit in on three or four tunes, mostly with Hugh and Con. And interestingly, later to try out Peter's EUB, a wonderful Eminence very comfortably and effectively fitted with Corelli and a Realist copperhead. And throw in some good beers and good company, and it's a great night out. Recommended. The weekly jam session at Old Canberra Inn, each Wednesday night 6.30-9pm. Free entry.

    16 January 2019

    First up

    First gig up for Tilt Trio for the new year and it was a beauty! I could hear nicely and wonderfully relaxed on a bar stool; our Belgian-Australian singer mate Alysa who was over for a family visit so we could get her up for a few tunes; our playing was great (excuse the self-congratulations, but it's getting very comfy after years playing together). Perhaps best was the air-conditioning as an escape from this monstrous heat. Happy to claim we were hot but thankfully not like that. So, great night, lots of fun with several friends around for the ride. And thanks for Holly and Jess and others at Molly.

    Tilt Trio played at Molly with guest Alysa Ingles (vocals). Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

    6 January 2019


    Michelle Nicolle and band were appearing at the Lido Jazz Room. It’s a little room located in the Lido Cinema complex with no windows and cinema staff providing drinks to your table for 50-or-so listeners after paying entrance at a box office. Strange, but comfy and intimate. Intimate enough for chats with other listeners and perfectly intimate for Michelle who sings so close, with such detail. We could hear every nuance here and it’s all a gem. And she’s daring. The first set was comfortable and hugely developed standards but then there were first takes and sight reads in the second, and not too predictable, but a cover of Mark Murphy with dropped beats and a take on Isfahan that melded into Caravan with an F that was refused in London. Thus her call to Frank that “I never like to tell people what to play, but can you play that” in their ongoing repartee of the evening. This night Frank DiSario was playing and he was big and boldly toned and delightfully expressive, not least in solos, including some wondrous swaps with a cheekily accelerating Geoff Hughes. No bass could keep up with his guitar speed and Frank answered by slowing and it worked. Ronny was in his corner with his occasional fours, too, but mostly unobtrusive, quietly delightful and subtle accompaniment. They could all twist the feels, too, sometimes to swing also elsewhere, extended twos against swing or latin or whatever. In this space and with this PA we heard it all, Geoff’s woody, uneffected tone and generous clarity from both Frank and Ronny and Michelle’s gloriously even deliriously detailed treatment of lyrics and inventive, intelligent scats. How satisfying was this. We heard it all to the n-th degree of subtlety in this space and I for one just melted with the beauty and skills of it all. A treat of the highest order: an intimate space and a master or a few who knew how to use it. Absolutely fabulous.

    Michelle Nicolle (vocals) led a quartet with Geoff Hughes (guitar), Frank DiSario (bass) and Ronny Ferella (drums) at the Lido Jazz Room in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn.

    5 January 2019

    An indulgence if not visually

    Organ concerts must be the most visually unsatisfying forms of music. We were at St Patrick’s (Catholic) Cathedral in Melbourne for a concert by four young organists from France playing French music. The space is grand and the organ itself was impressive, if distant, with pipes and horns but I wasn’t even sure where the players were located until I noticed a head and some sheet music being manhandled. They were off to one side of the altar (under electro-mechanical control), hidden from our location in the western transept opposite (most of) the organ pipes. But aurally the experience was satisfying. It started and ended with urgent, dissonant, profound and impressively loud religious works, Messiaen Apparition de l’Eglise eternelle and Dupree Le monde dans l’attente du Sauveur.
    The other works tended to lighter with more entertaining or indulgent themes, more exploratory of tone and time, often in 3, sometimes fugal, sometimes chordal with melody, often dance-styled, even skittish, from Franck, Alain, Faure, Duruflex2 and Dupre: preludes and fugues or variations, litanies, Siciliennes, courteges and one scherzo. This is music to close eyes by, not least given the visual stimuli, only to open them for a suited organist to appear for applause. It’s a strange scene in a lofty building in the European tradition if a building sadly reminiscent of some more controversial characters in the Australian church. Organ music does tend to religious, if as much for the location of the unmoveable instruments, but this was informal and various and satisfyingly aurally indulgent.

    French students Alexandre Bonnemort, Jean Nouvel-Alaux, Jean Poitevin and Arthur Scandola (organists) performed at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

    31 December 2018

    Found in Ballarat

    But then a real find. I had no idea what to expect, perhaps some indie band. I found my way to a cultivated bar located under a contemporary art gallery on Camp Street, dog-legged with history in central Ballarat, hosting Federation University, the Arts Academy and the rear entrance to the Art Gallery of Ballarat, buildings for the ANA, TLC and plenty of sturdy bluestone. (For two years during the Gold Rush, Ballarat was the richest metropolis in the world, so Ballarat has some impressive buildings). The access lane had nifty hanging arts overhead. The audience was mature and the drinks choice urbane and I was immediately taken by the music. This was a trio of vocals, piano and bass. Not indie, but classy balladic pop. For this, read renowned and satisfying songs from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder, Hall & Oates to Toto, Marvin Gaye to Aretha Franklin. Think Lately, Rich girl, Georgie Porgy, Natural woman, What’s going on, all sung and performed with ease and rich with their stories and passions and musical elaborations. Great stuff and richly rewarding. This is resonant chords in intriguing relationships, appealing melodies, touching lyrics. There’s a human scale to great lyrics that invites conviction. Deb took it all on with aplomb and she did it well with her own lyrics, too. This band didn’t just play the mature pop repertoire, but included originals. They had a period of acid jazz in the past and that appeared. Deb is proudly Aboriginal and sang a prize-winning song from one festival, amusingly observing that it was her first attempt to rap (accompanied with delicious verse/chorus pairings). And that simple pairing of piano and bass presented the feels nicely. But they are serious locals. Pianist Dave is mainly a drummer; bassist Andy also plays double. They all play in various incarnations and combinations in various styles, in studio and out. Nice to meet and hear these players. So, this was a rewarding discovery and a very pleasant afternoon in a gloriously historical town. Very nice.

    DeborahN and the Trolley Boys performed at The Lost Ones Basement Bar. They comprised Deb Clark (vocals), Dave Clark (piano) and Andy Fry (bass).

    30 December 2018

    One for the Irish

    OK, so the jazz was disappointing but there’s more to this town. Sunday offered two possibilities. First up, a jam session at Irish Murphy’s pub. It’s a local institution that we’ve visited before for dinner and Kilkenny. The jammers took a while to arrive. This is a time of family travel so we could expect a small turnout: today just a button box, a mandolin and a bodran. But the music was entertaining and at least one accent was authentic Ireland. I amused myself with writing rhythmic patterns: all cut time with quarter and eighth notes in blocky phrases. The melodies seemed pretty straight arpeggiations and scales. Nice to see how they picked up on lines: this is improv in Celtic style. I enjoyed it but the turnout was small, presumably given it’s Christmas/NY week.

    A Celtic jam session was held at Irish Murphy’s pub in Ballarat, 3pm Sunday arvo.

    29 December 2018

    The ascent of man

    Zackerbilks were their perfectly capable and joyous selves, entertaining on a pub balcony for the 73rd Australian Jazz Convention. We were in Ballarat for a few days and the Jazz Convention was on. I hadn’t known. It’s not a style that’s close to my heart but it is part of jazz history so is worthy of at least a visit. I looked at the program and there were hot sixes and cats and wags and warmers but also a few trios. Perhaps they would have leant to my preferences but I never heard them. Zackerbilks were playing and I rushed off in the morning to the gig and they were fun for the early morning audience. With some goodwill, I arranged with the temporary door people to have a listen (Zackerbilks were Canberrans, after all, and I’d only caught them once before) then go off to the Convention’s office to pay afterwards (so I wouldn’t miss any more of the gig: you can’t pay at a gig). But they were not the official mistress of the door. She returned and came to me with ire for no red wrist band. I responded with too much ire on my own part and the wrap up is I was chucked out. I went across the road to pay but decided against it, being flustered and upset and explaining to myself that I probably couldn’t have hacked so many 2-feels and banjos and clarinets, anyway (true). Thinking further in my defence, despite all my reports (~2,080 to date) and free recordings (450+), I always pay for my gigs other than for an occasional freebie I am offered. On another tack, it reminds me of a story of the Merimbula JF where one of the ANU jazz faculty, no less, was farewelled by the stage manager on PA by welcoming the end of his set so they could get into some real music (read “trad”). So maybe there is a gulf that’s irreconcilable between early and modern. My favourite personal counsel is “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken” / Oliver Cromwell, letter to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland (3 August 1650), quoted by Jacob Bronowski as he stepped into a creek outside Auschwitz in the BBC series, the Ascent of Man. In that light, I recognise I wasn’t innocent and there was guilt on each side, but the result is to ignore Zackerbilks and to avoid the Jazz Convention. It’s on a much, much smaller scale, but somewhat like the European powers sleepwalking into WW1. A Crown Prince or an armband. My experience of the 73rd Australian Jazz Convention. And my apologies to Zackerbilks who deserve a better post.

    16 December 2018

    New kids on the block

    Canberra Sinfonia was a new one on me but Lenny explained: it's like CYO for advanced students bordering on professional (or more formally, from the program: "Canberra's newest semi-professional ensemble designed for and by emerging professional musicians"). Nice. Hayley's there and she's just finished her degree and I've played with her and that was a pleasure. So were Heng and Helena and they are also lovely players. Apparently this is their second concert, playing Bach and Handel ; their first was a few months back. The program was Bach Orchestral suite no.1 and two Handel organ concerti (op.7 no.1,4) with new Decca artist and once-local guest Calvin Bowman. Interestingly, we were also invited to applaud between movements: no-one did, but it's an interesting break with recent orchestral manners. Lenny said the Handel was interval music for his oratorios, so it would have been background and spoken over anyway. Sometimes you feel a need to give some response during a piece but it's not a done thing. It wasn't done here anyway, despite the invitation. But this was a lovely performance with quite a solid bottom end on the strings and a pleasant tinkle of harpsichord from where I was sitting in the second half, along with Calvin's second half organ, and some winds, two oboes and a very impressive bassoon doing bass lines occasionally. I say solid bottom given the strings were 2-2-2-2-1 (vln1-vln2-vla-clo-bs): in most orchestras they would increase in numbers from bottom to top, so a different balance. Interestingly, each Handel concerto had a movement that was solo organ "organ ad lib". I guess this is written these days but it's indicative of the skills in improvisation by these musicians in the past, and specifically Handel himself. So, a great little concert attended by too few, this being so close to Christmas. I'm looking forward to more. A choral concert with Luminiscence Chamber Singers is due 23 March .

    Canberra Sinfonia performed at Wesley under Leonard Weiss (conductor) with Calvin Bowman (organ) soloing on Handel.

    15 December 2018


    To me, jazz is fine music with groove; "classical" is fine music without that Afro-American inspiration; popular music is less fine, usually. But to say that it's all a melange these days is unexceptional. The music of Ben and Hugh's latest album is played on ABC jazz radio but it shares much with electronica and dance music. It's accompanied by electronics and tangles of cables, heavily processed, happens live through computers and Ableton, features loops and drones and pitch shifts and the like, and mixes it with jazz trumpet, easily reminiscent of Miles at times, and Rhodes and piano tones and lines and sequences that speak jazz languages. Do I need to say, I loved it? This sounds modern and relevant, fresh, contemporary as in the NPR Best 50 albums for 2018 that dropped in my email the other day. To some degree it's standard electronics but jazzers make it sparkle by adding that level of instrumental dexterity and harmonic knowledge. Ben and Hugh both have that in spades: Ben's fabulous, rich, tempered trumpet tone and melodic intelligence; Hugh's superb Rhodes and other tones (much fed from a laptop he had by his side) and his unerring and inquisitive harmonies and extended chops. These are two masters playing contemporary, sometimes minimalist, on occasion austere or exposed or flourished. The loops provide a bed for some stunning releases at times, long lines or consistent and insistent sequences. Manual sequences over computer sequencing. The concert was at CMAG (Canberra Museum and Gallery) as an event in the EuroVisions exhibition and it fitted perfectly with the colour and contemporary European art collected by the Sydney Goldbergs. Great music in and fitting an intriguing space.

    Ben Marston and Hugh Barrett performed at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

    14 December 2018

    At year's end

    The Australia Institute ran its End of year politics wrapup as its final Politics in the Pub session and it's one PitP that I did get to this year. Ben Oquist (TAI) chaired a session with four Parliament House journalists: Rob Harris (Herald Sun), Annika Smethurst (Sunday Tele, Herald Sun, Sunday Mail), Bevan Shields (SMH, Age) and Amy Remeikis (Guardian Australia). Somewhat like the previous session on climate, there was horror at the last year but some sense of hope. Somewhat like the other session, I just wait to see the green buds, But it was interesting and informed chatter and even added something for this politics junkie. First up, what's wrong with Parliament: Parliament "doesn't look like us" [lovely observation]; its culture, not least bullying; importing of personality politics into the Westminster system (esp, the Presidential PM); poor leadership [yes, obvious]. Does the LNP need time in opposition: Victorian election night, 8pm, realisation of slaughter; return of Barnaby Joyce and Abbott? Who are they speaking to? Scott Morrison and the election: is anyone listening, answer "No"; Labor has 3 seat benefit in recent redistribution; his "hysterical press conference" last week; Julia Banks and the LNP's problem with women; National security as " a natural reflex"; LNP so bad because Labor has been so good for so long and Labor as "formidable" and as a government in opposition; LNP's best chance at election is just to offer money, it influences some; but no expectation of a LNP win. Highlights of the year: The Spill ("ridiculous" especially given Turnbull was "Labor's greatest asset"; Dutton???); the "OK to be white clusterfuck" which seemed an awareness raiser for much of Parliament; LNP shutting down Parliament after the first Turnbull spill to deal with its own problems; treatment of women, not least Barnaby Joyce questioning paternity of his girlfriend's baby. Oh, and Melissa Price offending island states and 2 weeks later, admitting she, as Environment Minister, hadn't read the recent IPCC report. The questions, Shorten seen so poorly because opposition leaders always "winge and complain" and he's "very managed". Labor was wedged on Encryption legislation but Shorten blinked anyway. Media requires some soul-searching although not all media deserves blame, think Allan Jones calls at Turnbull spill and Ray Hadley with Dutton "pretty much gave instructions". They don't broadcast to many, but they do to NP pre-selectors [I found that that explanatory]. Dutton and the conflict of fewer boats (to save on cost) vs National security as a political issue [I read Dutton has given instructions not to reduce security boating]. Nauru may see some LNP supporters move to Labor. I missed the final comments, but was amused by Ben's wrap-up "Best spot to finish ... on sex." It was interesting to hear these people who are so close speaking so openly although most is in the media if you look or listen for it. Again, I'll just await the light after the storm.

    The Australia Institute ran its End of year politics at ANU with Ben Oquist (TAI, chair) and four Parliamentary Press Corp journalists, Rob Harris (Herald Sun), Annika Smethurst (Sunday Tele, Herald Sun, Sunday Mail), Bevan Shields (SMH, Age) and Amy Remeikis (Guardian Australia).

    13 December 2018


    It's unfair to the ANU and its excellent gatherings concerning Climate change but I was disappointed. They run a range of events. This one was entitled "Australia's prospects for a credible energy and climate change policy?" Note the question mark. It's a measure of our lack of success over the years, back since Keating. It's become a culture war issue so I hear the ABC (another other culture war issue) can't even get the Federal Environment Minister to speak from the major international forum (Katowice Climate Change Conference, Dec 2018). But the LNP has problems with cc and she's ex-coal industry. So much for Katowice and the future of humanity. I guess I would just be ridiculed after such a statement (I was just recently) but I'm conservative enough to accept our Enlightenment institutions, like science. It's the deniers who are off with the fairies and into conspiracies. But despite the ANU convening this event, I was disappointed because that very issue of survival of civilisation, of the future, was absent. Admittedly, it was a discussion elsewhere, of the possibilities of a deranged politics, but only on the last question did someone ask about the cost of doing nothing, or too little. It is immense, of course, but the economist - again ANU and impressive - could only come at mechanics, as necessary as that is, without the balance of short- and long-term costs. They must be there, they are there, but I didn't hear them. And the woman from the BCA who was all pro-market, pro-cc-response, but forgetful of their quite recent history. Weren't they with Abbott against Gillard and carbon costs? The one who did impress with some expression of urgency and awareness of the existential menace of it all and its earlier-than-expected arrival, was Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute. The GI had arranged the event with ANU. Suitably, the moderator, ANU Energy Change Institute Director Ken Baldwin, also displayed some of this awareness, or perhaps we should read "fear". As in "approaching the climate change point of no return" / Jerzy Duszyński, President, Polish Academy of Sciences, or "When it comes to climate change, we're faced with a physical, moral, and philosophical crisis" / Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, or "Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will require rapid and deep decarbonization in all sectors, within a very short timeframe" / Laurence Tubiana, CEO, European Climate Foundation, or "the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon" / David Attenborough, or the Parties’ commitments under the Paris Agreement represent “one third of what is needed", and further, "We are running out of time. To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal." / Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General. There's more of course. Australia as 55th in 58 (Climate Change Performance Index**) countries for responding to cc; Trump as questioning the science because the weather was chilly that week. So what did our presenters discuss? CC at heart a political challenge ("we're not short of policies"); this mess has many parents; cc as a surrogate for politics in the LNP; what have Labor/Greens/business learned; where to go now ... await the election. Discussions on targets, business support, pricing carbon, narratives by pollies to the public, equity, "profit through confusion", technology as a rescue. I could only sit stunned as AMP was offered as an example of success in a discussion on carbon financialisation (think Banking Royal Commission). But oddly there was expressed some optimism "despite ... the childish silliness of the last 10 years". I'll believe it when I see it.

    Australia’s prospects for a credible energy and climate change policy? was convened by the Grattan Institute at the National Library with moderator Ken Baldwin (ANU) and speakers Tony Wood (Grattan Institute), Jessica Wilson (BCA) and Warwick McKibbin (ANU).

  • **Climate Change Performance Index
  • 10 December 2018

    Double treating

    The concert was labelled a double treat given the two features: a pair of double concerti. First up Vivaldi for two cellos; second up Bach for two violins. I like Vivaldi but the Bach was a winner and so well known. Vivaldi was Gminor; the Bach was Dminor. Whichever was the winner in the popularity stakes, these are impressive and attractive works, both of them. The Vivaldi was maybe more predictable, repetitive, less adventurous than the Bach but they were both great. The performers were the Forrest National Chamber Orchestra playing in the chapel at Grammar Girls School. The conductor was Gillian with Shilong helping out on some numbers. The soloists were all regular FNCO members, cellists Frances Stevens and Duncan McIntyre; violinists Rebecca Lovett and Shilong Ye. The supporting program was deeply interesting , too. Bartok Rumanian folk dances; Borodin Nocture from String quartet no.2 (very recognisable); Ravel Bolero (very very recognisable ... and done here nicely and in a mercifully shorter arrangement for string orchestra - just 5 runs through instead of, what? 17 or so?); and the most immediately attractive of all, Plink, plank, plunk! (1951) by Leroy Anderson, played totally in pizz, all cheerful and bouncy like a Disney theme. This was nice playing by a group that spans teachers and students and ages. Lovely to hear and some wonderful programs. Always a pleasure.

    Forrest National Chamber Orchestra performed Bach and Vivaldi double concerti as well as Bartok, Borodin, Anderson and Ravel in the chapel at Grammar Girls School. Gillian Bailey-Graham and Shilong Ye (conductors) directed soloists Frances Stevens and Duncan McIntyre (cellos) and Rebecca Lovett and Shilong Ye (violins).

    8 December 2018


    It's the day after and Megan's had me out in the garden and it's not something I love. Gardening as in Tilt+1 playing the ANU Fellows Bar garden with a decent audience and a few beers is what I like. It was much fun last night with Josh Knoop sitting in for some more complex comping and those different sounds of guitar soloing. And despite some annoying gear problems (not a problem I usually have, but it's plagued me this gig and last), I was playing well so in a good mood. Playing well is why we do it and a break to travel then a few gigs for Christmas seems to have done it for me. So, thanks to James and Dave and Josh, and see you on Thurs for another outing.

    Tilt+1 played at ANU Fellow Bar garden. Tilt was James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass). +1 was Josh Knoop (guitar).