25 September 2020

Maintaining history

The Wadsworth organ seemed out of place in this modern church space, all stage upfront with lectern and no altar, but with resident band gear in the corner.  The organ, though, had history, birthing in 1908 in Manchester and finding its way through a number of moves to Marist College here in Canberra, then finally to the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cook.  Linus Lee played it for this RSCM (Royal Society of Church Music, Australia, ACT Branch) concert.  I'm working my way around the organs in Canberra through this lovely group that presents monthly lunchtime concerts around town.  It's a pleasant interlude with these unique and complex instruments. They are mostly not the grand organs of European cathedrals, but satisfying none-the-less, even if their spaces here in Canberra can lack requisite stone to share their profundity. Whatever...  This concert featured Linus Lee playing a range from Buxtehude through Bach and Beethoven to Franck, Ketelbey and Lefebre-Wely.  There was a pleasant mix of stateliness and lighter contrasts, right from the Buxtehude on, and counterpoint and renowned melody - the Beethoven was his piano sonata no.8 Cmin put to organ so less percussive and fuller.  And a string of organ grinder-like joviality and joy to finish.  That was a little unexpected but clearly welcomed.  There were some low notes that felt weak and some clunks and knocks but that is all part of this mechanically complex instrument that demands such maintenance.  The cost of that, the age of the instruments, the lack of expertise militate against that these days.  But the sounds can be blissful and there were some lovely passages in this.  Thanks to RSCM(ACT) and Linus Lee for the concert and Westminister Presbyterian for the opportunity.

Linus Lee (organ) played Buxtehude, Bach, Beethoven, Franck, Ketelbey and Lefebre-Wely on the Wadsworth Organ at the Westminister Presbyterian Church for the Royal Society of Church Music monthly concert.

23 September 2020

Best eva

Megan says that I report every gig as the "best eva".  I don't think I do, quite, but this one really was.  Maybe it was getting up again on stage.  With Covid, it's relatively rare for all players.  This was only my third jazz gig since March.  But it all just seemed to gel.  Sometime it does.  I remember reading Leonard Cohen's novel decades back and he said that about performing.  I have always thought it's not particularly professional - we should we able to play decently whenever called - but there's some truth in it.  Sometimes your hands are just not in, or it's cold or the sound doesn't work, and that's particularly an issue with double bass.  But last night I could hear myself so well with my mammoth, heavy Eden amp, relax into the tone and the tunes and interactions with James and Dave.  So I was enjoying it, my hands were supple and quick, and I found it a great night.  But then last time on this stage in a duo with James was good too.  Was that the best eva?  Well, it's difficult to say...

Tilt Trio comprises James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass).  They played at Molly.

20 September 2020

Concert in the time of Covid

It's a strange experience.  This was my first concert since the Covid close-down six months ago.  The group was much the same - twenty or so string players in Musica da Camera with guess guitar soloist and director.  The location was the same, but instead of 100+ audience, there were just 30 seats sparsely strewn in front of us.  Better than nothing.  Someone mentioned the sound was different but I didn't particularly notice, being too busy trying to play the parts.  Because that's another thing: the parts were not too challenging, but my practice hasn't been so established for several months.  Covid has done strange things to our mental states.  And another thing, I couldn't play the Sunday concert.  I have to confirm 14-days staying in the ACT in a bit less than 2 weeks and the Sunday concert was close, but in NSW.  Strange, really, given that ACT is so small, and so many NSW residents come to Canberra for work or pleasure anyway.  But they have to set some rules and this is a little oddity.  So I thought we were just a little rusty but the music was surprisingly satisfying - Grieg, Vivaldi, Whitacre, Boccherini and Piazzolla Libertango.  The soloist was Canberra-trained guitarist Andrew Blanch and the conductor was local music educator and bassist Lizzie Collier.  Both were impressive.  I expected it would be too much guitar, too Spanish, but I came to enjoy the performance immensely: the passionate, driving rhythms and growling bass parts.  Lizzy advised that tango should be played virtually 100% with down-bows on bass and cello.  Interesting and strange but it gave a drive and growl that I loved. The Grieg was lovely folk song as Nordic melody; the Whitacre was colours of autumn interpreted with all manner of time signatures (3/4,5/4,4/4,6/4) and harmonic colour.  The Vivaldi and Boccherini were with guitar, one a guitar concerto and the other including a fandango.  Libertango is just a fabulous, hugely covered passionate tango (from Grace Jones on).  So, I'm sorry I'm not playing the Sunday concert (it's being played as I write this) because the rehash is always more comfortable and committed, but I enjoyed that which I could and I remain Covid-correct.  Thanks to all and hope it's going well right now.

Musica da Camera string orchestra performed Vivaldi, Whitacre, Boccherini and Piazzolla under Lizzy Collier (director) with soloist Andrew Blanch (guitar).

13 September 2020

Experienced


FWIW, a note of consternation for readers.  Blogger has changed its publishing interface and I can no longer publish multiple images to display as I always have.  So, just one pic per post until they fix this.  I'm not alone: there's a discussion happening with lots of disgruntled bloggers.  How often do updates reduce effectiveness in computing?  Too often.  So, sadly, just one pic posts from now on.

It's the mark of a seasoned professional that they've played all manner of musics and they can pull different styles off with some conviction.  I knew Wayne Kelly was seasoned and professional from seeing him around town over the years but this was particularly obvious this night.  He wasn't playing a jazz bar, but the Lone Wolf blues-rockabilly venue of Jeffro and fondly remembered Bucky (vale Bucky).  So we got a mix of musics but with the conviction and wit and jazz-tutored chops of Wayne.  Not that he did it all alone.  He had James Luke and Chris Thwaite on side.  James has been everywhere over the years and Chris has been around for a similarly long time, although I haven't seen him for years.  Amusingly, the name suggested the styles, Wayne Kelly Experience, although the pop was the Polics (Walking on the Moon) and Beatles (Strawberry Fields forever).  Perhaps the bluesier numbers with Jeffro sitting in on blues harp were more Hendrixy, but they included some.  Or the Trane-ish  original, King of Kings.   Then there were a few songs, both ballads, with Wayne doubling on vocals, When I fall in love and Crazy, both immensely popular and clever tunes.  And the intro on Nardis, the first bars, had me floored with jazz subtlety and harmonic invention.  Wow.  Then another Bill Evans tune I'd never even noticed, Very early.  But then, after interval, was something different again, solo Wayne on Maple Leaf rag and, oddly but intiguingly, some classical solo piano, Chopin nocturne F#maj op.15 no.2 and two Bach Two part inventions, no. 14 Bb and no.8 (F?) that everyone knows.  Wow; and intriguing playlist.  Quite and experience.  And the most fabulously substitutioned Doctor Kirkland Blues (after Kenny Kirkland): so, so clever.  But this is not to say his offsiders weren't worthy.James blew us out with a string of solos.  He's quick and expansive and melodic, although we couldn't alwasy hear his that well.  That's a problem with amplifed double bass, here over a bluesy PA.  And an interesting looped take on Strawberry Fields, starting with pizz then through a number of bowed harmonies under the melodoy.  Verr cool.  And Chris, solid and steady, intriguing with a djembe-styled solo on King of Kings, and intriguing with some very satisfying, determined solos otherwise.  And not to forget Jeffro, more blues than jazz, sitting in on a few tunes that suited him and giving that plaintive edge of authentic blues.  Takes you back to early jazz, I guess.  Before The Police or Beatles, before Coltrane or Oliver Nelson, before Ellington (oh, Caravan was in there too) although not before Bach.  So, some great playing and an expansive vision.  I guess that's an experience to savour.

Wayne Kelly Experience comprised Wayne Kelly (piano, vocals), James Luke (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums) with Jeffro Martin (blues harp) sitting in on a few tunes.  They played at the Lone Wolf sessions at the Austrian-Australian Club.

1 September 2020

Journaling the plague year

There's little music and particularly little jazz that I know of these days, this being the time of the pandemic.  But a last minute advice on FB about our star young local bassist, Brendan Keller-Tuberg playing at Molly with his quartet was enticing.  The band was Brendan with Wilbur Whitta (piano), Steve Read (guitar) and Rhys Lintern (drums) playing variously over 3 sets.  I hoped to catch the middle set and more, with the non-jazz arrangements and interpretations (Radiohead and the like) going into standards to finish.  I arrived to instruments laid on stage and the band in a break and a decent buzz and a girl who didn't offer me a beer, but informed me they'd reached their limit (51).  So that's that.  And so little more jazz!  That was sad: they would have made a worthy outing.  In a related vein, that afternoon I offered to record a classical group in a few weeks time.  To allow them a full paying audience, I offered to sit in the Green room.  No choice anyway: it was already sold out.  I've always enjoyed that we needn't book for jazz.  If this is our new entertainment world, I can only hope dearly for an early vaccine.  And no pic.

26 August 2020

My indulgence

 

There's a line from Sting on the 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police that has always stuck on my brain.  It's a great melody with a hypnotic endless rhythm and with considerable depth: When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around.  It's in this light that I released my third home-studio album by The Pots, called Pumpkin discomforts.  The first two albums had themes of climate then Covid-19.  Pumpkin has the theme of broken politics.  Plenty of anger with disillusion and despair and some Catholic guilt for being comfortable amongst it all.  I'm getting better with various tech things and perhaps with conception and implementation with  more experience, but that's for you to judge.  I invite you to have a listen.

Have a listen to Pumpkin discomforts / The Pots on Spotify, YouTube Music or some other streaming site.

24 August 2020

Singing art


Art song is a style. I'd heard of it, but looked it up: mostly solo voice with piano, excluding arias and chamber music with song and the like. I think of mainly romantic styles and sopranos on stage, but no doubt other voices do it too. So I went to an ArtSound Canberra session, invited to record. Sarahlouise Owens sang soprano with Natalia Tkachenko accompanying on piano. Like much that I do these days, it had crossovers in style and more. Mike Dooley was page turning for Natalia. He was also the main composer for the session with a lengthy and intriguing collection called truth and bearty which put four poems of John Keats to music. They were renowned poems that kids of my days read as school and the source of many quotes: Endymion ("A thing of beauty is a joy forever"), To Autumn, Ode on a Grecian urn ("Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all / Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know") and Ode to a nightingale. Mike did a great job, all rolling arpeggios and complex interpretations of iambic pentameters; even the sound of nightingales between stanzas. Then a strings of lesser known composers, often women: Linda Phillips with two Hebrew songs, Phyllis Batchelor with some love songs and more (love songs just have to be a staple of art song, as much other song to our days), Carl Vine and Horace Keats, two romantic males for this outing. It much have been a huge task to get this together, presumably for one concert. Sarahlouise was strong and firm, lively and entertaining. Natalia was more delicate, soft and responsive. So a lovely outing with my jazz mate Mike presenting yet another classical composition, this a song cycle and some wonderful performances. Just one last thing to note, not least on the subject of love. Mike's song cycle, his Keats poems put to music, were a commission by a man to his wife for their anniversary. More romance in song. We all liked that.

Sarahlouise Owens (soprano) sang artsong with accompaniment by Natalia Tkatchenko (piano) at Wesley. Mike Dooley composed the core song cycle to the words of Keats.

24 July 2020

Rusty?

I expect there are a lot of musicians out there in Covid-land who are a little rusty With the best intentions, we mostly don't manage to practice all day even when we have the time. We miss those upcoming gigs that prompt the preparation. So it was, to some degree, when I got to a return Royal Society of Church Music (RSCM) organ recital. The planned organist pulled out due to lack of preparation. Bill Fraser, a stalwart of the local organ scene, filled in. He told me he was missing the normal preparation himself, but he did a worthy job on a string of interesting pieces from Baroque through to last C19th. The concert was in St Peter's Lutheran Church, Reid, with a German-made baroque organ that sounded great to me and filled the A-frame church nicely. Interestingly, Bill told me this is a mechanical organ, so keys are linked with bars to pipes. The more common current style is electro-mechanical with actuators controlling airflow; presumably cheaper and easier but not always preferred. just closed my eyes and enjoyed it immensely. Organ is so satisfying, big and full and sweetly toned, and this concert had a series of apt tunes, a Corelli violin sonata transcribed and an early Bach Prelude and Fugue and two choral preludes by Merkel and Brahms. We heard a Mendelssohn allegro taken from a manuscript, called the Berlin-Krakow, of uncertain ownership like various other removals from Germany after WW2. I remember seeing a few remaining pieces of the plunder of Troy in Berlin, with reference to the rest of the collection being held in Russia. Again, conflicts over ownership. Of course, there could also be some query over Germany's ownership in the first place. At least they are not lost to humanity. And a few late C19th Australian works, religious and very satisfying. So the gigs are up again, perhaps only while they last. Let's catch what we can, within the limits of social distancing, of course.

Bill Fraser performed for the RSCM (ACT Branch) at St Peter's Lutheran Church, Reid.

20 July 2020

Cautiously in concert


The return of live music is now judicious, especially with the second wave of CV19 in Melbourne and, as I write this, Bateman's Bay. That's Canberra playground territory, so we are all a little apprehensive. But this Limestone Consort concert was planned a month or more back and it went ahead. With sparse seating and limited numbers, as planned. And without the cello we expected, but that was due to a slip in the kitchen; not at all to do with the pandemic. So just Lauren on violin with James on harpsichord. Clara could just turn the pages (I don't envy Clara: finger skin injuries may be temporary but they stop your playing and they can be very painful). The program was Schmelzer for two numbers and Handel, Biber and Bach. Lauren noted that Schmelzer was appropriate for the program, given he died in a Plague. Certainly apt. Lauren always gives informative background introductions, social or musical. Another comment was on the Biber piece, Mystery (Rosary) sonata no.5 (Jesus in the temple). Apparently Biber was hugely inventive, even predating atonal composition. Here it was scoradatura, so the violin (a new and powerful-sounding baroque violin on loan from Hugh Withycombe) was tuned to an A major chord. Apparently the notation was for standard finger positions so the tones surprised the ear. Otherwise, there were two solo harpsichord pieces (Handel Voluntaries and fugues no. 3, 8 and Bach Toccata in Dminor (not that renowned Toccata and fugue - BWV913 not 565). In all, a lovely outing, small and sadly missing the cello, not least in the Schmelzer Cucu sonata, but a welcome return to live classical gigs.

On the day, Limestone Consort appeared as a duo comprising Lauren Davis (violin) and James Porteous (harpsichord), playing Schmelter, Handel, Biber and Bach.

16 July 2020

Ellingtonia, Strayhornia


Once again back at Molly for another Covid gig, this time with three of our local heroes playing music of another pair of heroes, Ellington and Strayhorn. The local heroes were Tom Fell, Wayne Kelly and James Luke. I chatted for some of it, but was floored by some understated then immensely melodic bari sax and a similar melodicity on bass and Wayne's lovely bluesy response. Floored is an apt word. James is so lithe in his playing, but also relaxed and diverse and satisfyingly lyrical. And with a lovely, rounded tone. Tom spelled the tunes so effectively then the solos with clear reference to the originals. I guess there was a good bit of transcription in his history, but if not, a good ear and some solid listening. Wayne plays piano, so chordal, so bunches of notes in his raunchy style that contrasted to some degree, but complemented with ease. These guys know each other well and it shows. This was easy and wonderfully effective. The pics weren't so good, they had turned the stage lights off. Well, it is jazz in a speakeasy. A wonderfully satisfying evening with superb playing and a deep knowledge and respect for the classic tunes they were portraying. Fabulous. Not sure what the musicologists would make of my title, though.

Tom Fell (baritone sax) led a trio with Wayne Kelly (piano) and James Luke (bass) playing the music of Ellington and Strayhorn at Molly.

15 July 2020

The other side of the stream


We've been stuck inside and doing streams and webinars. Here's something that's a little more active and quite fun: playing together by streams. You can do this as a jam session or live performance, but that has issues of internet lag and I am yet to achieve that. But I have done a few home recordings that are assembled later as a performance. One was with Bernard Duc, a composer in Switzerland, who put out a call for bassists to support a choral performance of Amazing grace on FB. The other followed an invitation emailed around Canberra, for community musicians to play a few tunes with Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Canberra School of Music students. Both provided an audio download to listen to while reading a part. It's much easier to play with the volume and excitement of an orchestra around you, but I managed them. I also tried to record a tenor part for a huge choir with Eric Whitacre (2,000+ singers) but I wasn't comfortable with my solo voice so that one bit the dust. All amusing pastimes. Links below; perhaps more coming.

  • Amazing grace / Bernard Duc
  • CSO Community special
  • 13 July 2020

    Ragtiming Paris

    There's not too much international travel these days, but Heather and Leigh got back from Paris just at the start of the pandemic and they've been down the coast and dropped in to Smiths for a gig. Leigh is Leigh Barker, once local bassist trained here in Canberra. It's a story of a small world, but I know Leigh and his folks through multiple connections. Heather is from rural NSW but I first heard her in Melbourne. They have kids now and have lived in Paris for several years. But back here for the duration, I guess. Their gig was classic early jazz, perhaps the latest tune was from Irving Berlin in 1932. Glorious beauteous melodies, cute and nicely played on violin with guitar or bass, and sung by Heather with a firm and tailored voice intervening with her neat violin melodies with a lovely, understated vibrato and considerable body. There was one ragtime, this being a family-version of Heather's Dirty Ragtimer Duo, along with Maple leaf rag and Carter Family and Louis' Hot 5 and a string of lovely but often sad songs, like Old fashioned love and Lover come back to me and Say it isn't so (that's the Irving Berlin tune from a time when he'd lost much). So, a lovely, touching, period concert (it's arguable that much jazz is that these days) that had me tapping my toes with 2-feels. And some decent guitar and wonderful bass, not least with French bow, spelling 2-feels and early walks and beautifully self-evident and understated solos. It was a change to go to Smiths again, although sadly now sparse, separated listeners, but a pleasure none-the-less. For the audience, some returns; for Leigh and Heather, maybe some more returns, to Paris. Not sure when. But so nice while it lasted.

    Heather Stewart (vocals, violin) performed with Leigh Barker (guitar, bass) as the Dirty Ragtimer Duo at Smiths.

    12 July 2020

    Forever streaming


    Well, here's a change. Not for the streaming, which is common to my daily life these days, but for the event. The International Online Bass Summit. Five days of various seminars, master classes, concerts and the like, various concurrent sessions, international with names I just read about or hear of. Not all good, though. It ran on NYC time, so started ~2am and ran to early morning. Not optimal for we Australians, although we made up a good portion of attendees. I'm still working my way through recordings, but it's not the same. While live, you can flip between sessions and ask questions and thus interact. The recordings are more like YouTube views, private but distant. I've enjoyed orchestral masterclasses, regularly floored when the leader picks up his bass. I particularly enjoyed Derek Jones, a multi-talented studio musician with awareness of getting and keeping the gig, and Kristin Korb who presented various exercises and demonstrations on singing with the double bass. That one was unexpected and little considered. Kieron Hanlon presented some arrangements for Bach cello suites in different keys to suit the double bass. Danny Ziemann presented his crawl, walk, run approach to jazz bass (2-feel, walk, solos) and David Allen Moore presented his fractal fingering approach which I didn't find so convincing, me the traditionalist. And the concerts, Francois Rabbath smiling deeply throughout, and John Clayton with son Gerald, Gary Karr with Christian McBride and more. Some sessions were interesting but not so relevant for me, but I may watch them in coming weeks, and some dealt with technical issues that I'm hanging out to view, like spiccato bowing or Simandl-plus fingering or thumb position. All matters of fascination for the double bassist but unknown otherwise. And Australian Rob Nairn on early music. How could I have missed that till now? It's a strange experience but nice that I could take part. Thanks to Covid-19, I guess, for the opportunity.

    The International Online Bass Summit was held by videoconference on 24-28 June 2020.

    10 July 2020

    Streams


    Streams are the core of our recent experience. I would find it hard to count the Webinars I've taken part in. A few invited guests speaking of whatever (one webinar included Nobel-prize winner, Stiglitz, no less). But the key, for me, is twofold: people from outside our local area, so a meeting could feature Stiglitz or the like, perhaps from their bedrooms, and the interactivity of the associated chat. That's important in a webinar. You take part in a parallel discussion that can be picked up in the core discussion or can give commentary on that core. So this is an active experience. I don't so much enjoy streamed gigs. Early on, I viewed a few Berlin Phil concerts, ACO, Smalls jazz. But it's passive. So it was good to get out and play that gig at Molly recently and feel the live experience again. We may be waiting a while for a full return to that! Given limited attendance numbers and lack of income for the arts for several months, I notice gigs are dearer, perhaps payment per set, as is the NYC way. But I did see a recent gig that I enjoyed.

    Pheno. I'd missed Jess playing the previous week but caught her solo pop set as Pheno. Loops and guitar and harmonies and synths and repetition and pop simplicity. Her experience shows in the calm simple poppy lines and grooves. And in the song structures. And in the catchy melodies and her capable hands on guitar. The tunes are poppy and immensely attractive. The lyrics suggest depth and personality, but I'm yet to follow them too closely. And interestingly, this was somewhat interactive. She was playing alone on stage at the Canberra Theatre so the experience must have been telling for her, but she did respond to a few comments in her chat screen and got several hearts and cheers for the gig. Not much interaction but maybe all we can expect these days. Whatever, I enjoyed it lots. Check out Pheno on the streaming sites. She's on Spotify, perhaps elsewhere, but expect a search. Much enjoyed Jess!

    Jess Green is Pheno. She performed a live streamed set from the stage of the Canberra Theatre.

    3 July 2020

    The Pots too


    It's about time was a product of climate-induced bushfires before Christmas. Yes, I know, "sunburnt country ... Of droughts and flooding rains" but that's just an excuse for inaction and that's all forgotten now with Covid-19 so The Pots has been active on another CD with another theme and it's called Going viral. This one has the description: "Instrumental and spoken word impressions from within the international COVID-19 pandemic of 2020". Well, Australia is lucky enough to be fairly well outside of the global pandemic, through luck and following science for a change. My cousins in Italy haven't felt quite so relaxed about things. Between the last album and this I've learnt such things as midi (early stage producer here) and more. So it's all a bit rough but this one is better and anyway it's the ideas - and the politics - that count and there's a bit of each here, as in the last album. So I welcome you to have a listen.

    Have a listen to Going viral / The Pots at Youtube Music, Spotify, TripleJ unearthed and more.