29 August 2012

Without you

God only knows what I’d be without you. It’s a haunting theme and a perfect melody and maybe a song that Jocie Jensen’s grandfather sang to his deceased wife in her garden. Jocie performed last night in a septet at the Loft. It may be the name of the unassuming band, or maybe just of this performance, but Jocie and Rhys presented this as Hilda’s garden. I heard the story twice and it had me close to tears both times. Her grandmother, Hilda, developed dementia and her husband, Jocie’s grandfather, built a garden for her to tend. After she died, he would sing to his departed spouse in her garden. Maybe he sang the Beachboys song, God only knows. I can only admire such a touching and life-affirming response to loss.

Jocie told me before the concert that she was seeking to perform something other than just jazz standards. In the end, there was jazz, and these are trained jazz players, so the performance had solos and chops, but this gig ventured far afield: to song and melody (Jocie mentioned good song-writing several times during patter) and to pop (but not pap) and to words (but not intellectualisation). Jazz also has its melodies, of course (I have bop in my head frequently), but these are mostly intellectual and thrilling rather than deep and touching. We got one of those intellectual thrills as the final tune, Monk’s dream, with its rabid atonalism and virtuosic abandon, and one of the few jazz tunes that can touch the soul as an encore, Round midnight, but mostly these songs were from other repertoires. A distillation of Simple Minds’ Don’t you forget about me; Vince Jones’ rich structure in Love comes back; Sigur Rós Góðan Daginn, translated from Icelandic; Chris Thile’s The beekeeper with a bluegrass-styled unison piano-fiddle middle; Pat Metheny’s Midwestern night’s dream (Jocie: Pat Metheny sure can write music); Peter Gabriel’s In your eyes (Jocie: he writes great melodies); A-Ha’s rollicking Take on me; and as a starter, Christian Scott’s The Eraser with unison syncopated comping on piano/bass behind a tasteful melody. And that superbly beautiful God only knows sung with solo guitar backing. These are obviously not jazz charts, but they are impressive and affecting songs.

They were an unassuming band and their concern was with song, so I am wary of mentioning individuals. But what did I notice? Jocie’s voice mostly sang pure and high with a subtle decay into vibrato, but perhaps my favourite was when she got down, dirty and atonal, in Monk’s dream with odd intervals and bluesy growls. El’s violin is infrequent in jazz but a wonderful sound, wet with reverb and very smart and animated and with classically-correct intonation. Tom’s trumpet (muted or not) and flugel dropped a few frenzied lines but were mostly lyrical and nicely structured, often working in harmony with the Jocie’s voice or against El’s counterpoint. Luke is just a master and eminently professional. I laughed with his outlandish solo in Monk’s dream that was far enough out that I wondered if it was just free, but it was littered with the slightest of hints at underlying chords. Rhys had a modest demeanour, eyes down in thought, but then surprised me with what was the nearest thing to shredding during a few later solos. Alec and Luke were supportive rhythm section with rock rhythms, understated percussion, unison written lines and occasional walks.

This was touching stories and refreshing melody from a very unexpected setlist. Hilda’s garden was led by Jocie Jensen (vocals) and Rhys Mottley (guitar) with support from Tom Sly (trumpet, flugelhorn), Llewellyn (El) Osborne (jazz violin), Luke Sweeting (piano, accordion), Alec Coulson (bass) and Luke Keanan-Brown (drums, percussion).

27 August 2012

Bookend octavos

It’s not often I attend singer-songwriter gigs and not often I get to the intimate Beyond Q bookshop café, but I did for Jasmine Beth and Daniel McFeeley. I met Jasmine (Crittenden, stage name Beth) when we both spoke on a panel about jazz writing and I was looking forward to hearing her in concert. Singer-songwriters are like books; very different under the covers. Jasmine performed a string of short songs, accompanied by guitar, dealing with all manner of people and relationships and loves with seriousness and presumably personal relevance.
Daniel performed longer songs, accompanied by eight-string ukelele and harmonica and clappers and metronome, with personal observations and humourous twists and American garrulousness. Jasmine’s songs ranged through a string of rhythms and meters with lines that spoke honestly with a sense of the poetic. Daniel was tongue-in-cheek, brash with a personable demeanour and played with loops and arrays of sound. He’s American but had me thinking of Ireland with his humour. Jasmine was Australian, laid back, even laconic on the day, with understated purpose. Words are the core of singer-songwriting, so here are a few: “Until you’ve slept with the Devil / you don’t know the meaning of love” or “Smiles like an angel / steals like a thief / tells you she loves you / but the words bring no relief” (Jasmine); “He must have felt crazy / he must have been sick / to be thinking with his d… / delusional mind” (Daniel). Like books on a shelf (or even women and men, for that matter) Jasmine and Daniel were worlds apart but bookended and they made for an interesting and entertaining afternoon, well away from jazz and where words matter more. Jasmine Beth (Crittenden) and Daniel McFeeley performed as singer-songwriters at Beyond Q bookshop.

26 August 2012

Living in the Seventies

I visited the National Gallery to view a retrospective of Carol Jerrems yesterday. CJ was a photographer who documented life in the 70s: Hair (the tribal love rock musical); Skyhooks; share houses; women in an age of post-pill feminism. I expected to feel at home and to learn something new, or at least to recognise something, this being my formative era. But I didn’t. Nothing much cut through for me. Mark and Flappers were more AC/DC than Skyhooks (maybe it's poor judgement, but I walked out on AC/DC when they were supporting Lou Reed). I found most of the exhibition distant and confronting and borderline angry. I enjoyed some aboriginal pics, where people had real reason to be angry but were welcoming. I enjoyed a pic of Kath Walker with fine dark skin against corrugated iron that reminded me of a classic Miles Davis photo. But many of the pics weren't so technically satisfying. I quite liked a little girl with matching dress and wallpaper but it was too obviously a take on Diane Arbus' identical twins. I liked a few playfully sexy pics of Jenny Bonette and some dogs. My favourite was Flying dog. It was obviously a hard pic to capture and it had joy and was unexpected and nicely juxtaposed like a Cartier-Bresson moment. Maybe it’s just photography that disappoints. I like it well enough and I enjoy playing with it but these days I find it a minor art. I used to treat it with some seriousness: Nikon FM, B&W even Tech Pan 2415, darkroom, zone theory, rule of thirds and the rest. That was then. So CJ didn’t tell me a story of my era that I recognised. For that, give me Helen Garner or David Malouf.

The pics are all over the net, but given copyright, you'll just have to follow these links:
  • Flying dog / Carol Jerrems
  • Kath Walker, Moongalba / Carol Jerrems
  • Vale Street / Carol Jerrems (her most famous)
  • Lots more...
  • 24 August 2012

    Siders very live

    The piano was good but the space was very live, reverberant, for Luke Sweeting’s trio called Front and Siders. The played at Canberra Grammar School, but this was in the monumental upstairs dining room with lots of timber and a stage and arched, stone-clad windows and vaulted roof. This is not the intimate, soft environment of the Gallery, but more traditional, colder, harder, even if the piano was better. So it was hard work for the band to perform their delicate, undemonstrative music, but it was nonetheless an impressive concert.

    Musicians develop in the style they listen to. The open spaces and fine, delicate patterns and unassuming performance suggests Northern European jazz to my ears, so I wasn’t surprised that Geoff suggested they’d be hits if they toured there. Luke was fluid and inventive, as we expect these days, but he’s still not an overstated presence, leading through the slightest of glances. The others melded easily and with care, and were reserved and responsive. Brendan’s bass fitted neatly with ostinatos and syncopated comping and frequent lyrical solos and one swinging walk. Nick’s drums were heavy on cymbals and rolls and fills and a soft snare leaving tons of space in accompaniment, although the snare sometimes snapped louder and his solos were more clamourous. But the overall sound remained light, open, detailed, measured. The music was mostly originals by Luke. This was sophisticated music with complex structures and changing rhythms. I liked the left hand piano with unison bass in one tune and the complex take on the blues in Corporate genius. Pat Metheny got an outing and also Scott La Faro and Sam Rivers' lovely Beatrice as a moderate swing. To end, Matt Handel sat in on a tune from Luke's sextet album which will be launched at the Gods in coming weeks. The addition of sax made for a meatier tone and tune, but the detail and lightness remained in essence. The room was ringing but the playing was easy and considered. This was a capable and big-eared trio. Lovely gig.

    Luke Sweeting (piano) led the Front and Siders trio with Brendan Clark (bass) and Nick Meredith (drums).

    22 August 2012

    Ball of string

    The piano trio is an absolutely standard format but I haven’t heard it much recently. It was good to catch Leonie Cohen at the Gods with her take on it. Leonie had me thinking along several lines: the Jewish folk song tradition; the conversational nature of the jazz piano trio; the space and harmony and tone of Chick Corea playing his own folk tradition; the cross-pollination that’s evident in the musical dedication.

    Firstly, the Jewish folk tradition. Leonie introduced the gig with a folk song translated as Jerusalem of gold, a sweet and seductive bluesy number. Then later a take on Hava nagila. Leonie is a composer, so this was a twisted take on this popular theme, with the melody contorted around a few 5/4 bars, then settling on 4/4s then into a settled latin groove for solos. Hugh Fraser introduced this with harmonic slides. It was Hugh’s lithe bass playing that had me thinking of the conversational nature of trios. He mimicked some piano lines, walked and laid down ostinatos, but it was the subtle but lively speech of his accompaniment and solos that reminded me of Eddie Gomez and so inevitably of conversational trios. This was an eminently equal opportunity outing. They all took frequent solos and they all introduced tunes, so this was a particularly equal offering. Toby Hall’s vocalising and noise-making also reminded me of conversation, if at a more earthy level. Certainly, his soloing was also consuming, strongly spoken with commitment and, I thought, heavier on skins than cymbals. When he wasn’t following charts with eagle eyes. Leonie was a story-teller to my ears. Never blistering, staccato and searching with some satisfying solo structures, sometimes punctuated or open, and with a crunchy e-piano tone. It was in Hava nagila with its latin middle that I heard the touches of Chick Corea with similar harmonies and that Rhodes tone.

    But Leonie’s a composer and there were a string of originals. Two dedications to her parents, written on their 70th birthday: 70 for her father with a solo drum intro; 21 for her mother with a solo bass intro. Several dedications to literature or authors: Sound of water was dedicated to saxist/author James McBride’s Colour of water (and subsequently recorded by him); Five sisters was written after reading Helen Garner’s autobiographical True stories; Joy was dedicated to the late Joy Fisher who was a piano teacher to Leonie. There’s something communal and modest and respectful in dedications that recognise the value of artistic borrowings and influence, but jazz is essentially a modest art in its recognition of work and genius. Then there were some jazz tunes: the supreme ballad In a sentimental mood and the joyous romp of C-jam blues and even a medley of Bye bye blackbird and the Beatles’ Blackbird (singing in the dead of night..). One listener described it after the gig as a ball of string, unwinding and wound back, and it appealed to me. Melodies that called and responded, tunes that were introduced then unwound before return, references and traditions. And a gentle and revealing conversation. Nice one. Leonie Cohen (piano) led a trio with Hugh Fraser (bass) and Toby Hall (drums) at the Gods.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 20 August 2012

    A national Forrest

    The Forrest National Chamber Orchestra was not one I knew of, but it was a nice find. So was the venue. They played at the neat, timbered, acoustically crisp Wesley Music Centre. It’s a venue with a major ongoing musical program and one that I’ve too infrequently attended. With the coming dearth/death of music in Canberra, Wesley and such institutions will be increasingly needed and loved (presumably while others are maligned).

    FNCO is convened and conducted by teacher Gillian Bailey-Graham. This concert featured two successful, mature students: Rebecca Smith on violin and Rosemary Davidson on viola. The first piece with Barber’s Adagio for strings. It’s touching and very well known. I’d heard it from the Sydney Symphony and it had been eminently professional and smooth, but that performance didn’t connect for me. This was a bit rougher but more immediate and intimate. The emotions seemed personal, experienced, not syrupy. Perhaps it’s just the interaction an audience has with musos at 5 paces, but this spoke to us directly as a rendition for thousands in a performance barn can’t do. I particularly enjoyed Rebecca’s violin for tone and intonation, and the lines that would pass from violin to Rosemary’s viola with shimmering strings behind. There were also some devilishly ensemble chords that formed behind some lines. They challenged the group and more traditional listeners but added an air of unsentimental truth to my ears.

    The second number was Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante in Eb major 1st movement. This was older, clearer, livelier, lighter, stately sometimes flowing, melodic and contrapuntal rather than harmonic and layered. It was easy to grasp and almost homely with its overt and tuneful harmonies and joyous melodies. You couldn’t not love it. The final work was Vaughan Williams Concerto grosso for string orchestra. This was a return to the harmonies of the twentieth century, but this time with a dogged industriousness. There were five movements and they varied, but I had a feeling about this as obstinate, unyielding strings of quavers or minims, the orchestra playing together in industrious concurrence. The work of sturdy English yeomen or a nation of shopkeepers.

    Congratulations to an amateur orchestra for a very successful program, and one that was clearly entertaining and well received. The Forrest National Chamber Orchestra was led by Gillian Bailey-Graham (conductor) and featured Rebecca Smith (violin) and Rosemary Davidson (viola). The full orchestra was: Violins 1: Rebecca Smith (concertmster), John Dobson, Yi-an Lai, Liam Keneally, Jet Lin, Jack Chenowyth; Violins 2: Hannah Lord (principal), Donica Tran, Lockie Ferrier, Rosemary McPhail, Sally Whitehouse; Viola: Rosemary Davidson (principal), Christian Carmody, Robert Harris, Clare Whittle, Lyndall Nevin; Cello: Frances Stevens (principal), Elizabeth Prentice, Duncan McIntyre, Julia Janiszewski.


    Limb was the title of the new music concert. And it was an authentic musical event, not just an informal gig. This had two intervals to allow the stage to be reset, dramatic lighting and shadows, even costumes, and music from free improvisation and percussion streams including the premiere performance of a percussion piece.

    The gig started with the Pollen Trio. Three players, piano, trumpet, drums; a looper and some percussion and a ring modulator; some water for bubbly trumpet effects. This is not scored music, but I expect there was a structure. Starting discretely, with a drum kits played with hands, bubbling noises from the trumpet and effects and plucked strings in the body of a Steinway. Swelling with percussion in place of trumpet and a move to mallets and sticks. A trumpet without mouthpiece sounding of hunters’ horn. A rising intensity of repeating piano lines and harmonising, looped trumpet and piano chords looped and growing in power and volume and rock drum grooves. And finally a decay to bubbling trumpet and an end. This is sprawling music to close eyes to and drown in. Minimal change but often a busy hustle. Austin, Miro and Evan have been doing this for sometime and are about to tour the Pollen improvised experience. Pollen Trio are Austin Buckett (piano), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, percussion) and Evan Dorrian (drums).

    The rest of the gig was percussion, classically trained, notated, often pitched, complex and dynamic but also with some touches of great beauty. Yvonne Lam started the set with …And now for the news by Graeme Leak. This was a solo percussion piece against Yvonne’s spoken voice (in Chinese?) at start and finish and a news report (in Vietnamese?) over the PA through the middle. The drums were Chinese toms, congas and bongos and some wooden percussion. The drumming followed and reacted to the rhythms and inflections of the Asian tonal languages.

    Next was four performers presenting four of six movements of The Heavenly muzak machine by Mark Clement Pollard. This is an exploration of the vibraphone as a machine and as a musical instrument. The movements we heard featured harmonised vocals with vibraphone, then a four part performance with 8 mallets, then a quiet and delicate movement with tapped keys, then a final four part movement with 8 mallets. It was all beautiful and ringing, but especially the tender harmonised vocals and the delicious tapped third movement. The four performers were Bartholomew Haddock, Anna Ng, Yvonne Lam and Veronica Walshaw.

    Then William Jackson performed Exposiciones by Andrian Pertout. This was a solo notated marimba piece against another vocal track, as I remember, a news broadcast in English. I was impressed by the detail and skills, but also by the performance of 15 minutes of detailed percussion by rote, but then the accompanying track must have assisted. I was also thrilled by some devastatingly fast stick work. The classical world may not improvise but it sure has chops.

    Another interval, another stage change, another set. The final set was a single work composed by Austin Buckett, called Reset: for multi percussion due and field recording and performed by William Jackson and Yvonne Lam. This was a complex setup of quadraphonic recordings and effected percussion, performed in the round with contrasty, white lighting and white costumes and headphones for the performers, scraping snare skins and striking bottles and bass and kick drums and gongs. There was repetition, I think it was in two similar parts, big volume from bass drum hits accompanied by long decays from the gong, prying, interrupted scraping from fingers on snare skins and moving accents from sharply-struck empty glass bottles.

    I’m still musing on it a day or so later as I write this. My preference was the tuned percussion. It’s at the unchallenging end of the performance spectrum on the night, but it was ringing and quite beautiful. But when I closed my eyes, I took in the freedom of Pollen and the formed and rhythmic-tonal-(or with open eyes)-visual presence of the pure percussion. All intriguing and musically involving stuff. What a lot of work; what a wonderful presentation; what developed skills and gratifying sounds.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 19 August 2012

    Next gen

    I caught a series of students of piano teacher, Marie Cull, at St Albans and it was varied and engaging. Ages from 6 to young adult. AMEB levels from grade 3 to LMUS. Varied composers and thus styles. I was intrigued by Bach’s varying takes on English and Italians: the English Suite was steady, even incessant, the Italian Concerto was interrupted, punctuated. Debussy presented another sense of tonality. Chopin was romantic and heavily pedalled. Frank Hutchens was romantic and perhaps bushy. Apparently he’s known to some locals. Plenty of triplet and waltz feels and some devilish sprays of notes and odd times bouncing between left and right hands. In all, it was a satisfying lunchtime outing from a new generation of pianists.

    Here’s the program: Nicholas Shuttleworth, Big black spider by Mirrie Hill; Enling Liao, Contradanse by Hummel; Jerry Lu, Little bird by Grieg; Zoe Larsen-Cumming, Nocturne by Grieg; Bernice Chua, Mazurka Op.7 No.1 by Chopin; Bernice Chua and Jonathan Lee, Le jardin de Dolly by Faure; Jonathan Lee, Arabesque 1 by Debussy; Vivian Zhu, Italian Concerto (1st movt) by JSBach; Laura Pham, Weeping Mist by Frank Hutchens; Christopher Bottomley, Prelude from English Suite 3 by JS Bach; Emma Rayner, Nocturne Op.27 No.2 by Chopin; Emily Buckley, Sonata Op.31 No.2 (1st movt) by Beethoven.

    18 August 2012


    Jamie Oehlers and his band were like Olympians in many ways: strength, training, poise with ecstatic release. This music was muscular and intense and played at the extremes and an incredible opportunity to see what best can be done. But comparisons with Olympics end here when we talk of jazz. $12m per medal says it all. Sport has bread and circuses enough. CJ acclaims the classic measures: beautiful, useful and true. But will the centre hold when the worst / Are full of passionate intensity? An informed and enthralled coterie attends the Loft for a gold-medal performance while billions watch their equivalent in sport and attendant spacey girls and fireworks. It’s two worlds out there and intellect is running for silver and only if its luck holds out. WAAPA under review and our own school given the treatment. But it’s much bigger, too. Not just culture, but climate and more. I’m currently reading an update to Limits to growth. The lion body with head of man is moving, but it’s we who slouch to nowhere. At least our Loft Olympians were naked in their purpose and expression.

    Muscular it was. From the first notes, the volume and power of it floored me. Phil working the strings. It’s hard to tell on stage, but I noticed later he was a tall man. It fits. Tall men fit the acoustic bass. He’s strong. He works the strings. The fluency is there, but also the great tone, from a pristine looking bass with just a discrete Realist pickup. Truth in the timber. Jamie writhing with busy lines and some terrorising tempos. Jacob engaging skins with spurts of exact fills and rolls with jagged jazz responsiveness and fusion-toned punchiness. For some time, Tal seemed quieter, bent over keyboard searching for comping chords and denser, more dissonant harmonies, but then he’d lean back and watch the others, particularly Jacob, to match hits, or launch into another solo of perpendicular tonality and take on the tune head on. Several of the tunes were Jamie’s. Smoke and mirrors was the fast and furious opener. One new and as yet unnamed tune had the simplest call and response melody supporting rabid solos. A ballad called Open door was a workout in long intervals, 7ths, octaves and others, with the most delicate piano. Innocent dreamer was in 13/16, which Jamie helpingly described as ¾ with a stumble on the end. It’s the description of an experienced teacher and quite easy to follow with that hint. I tried to count Fun police but with less success; was there 5/4, maybe 15/8 counting as 4-3-4-4; probably other tempi. The borrowed tunes were Jobim’s Portrait in black and white, which was slow and sparse and punctuated by insistent, plucky bass. They played Little Willie leaps from the Charlie Parker bop songbook and it was suitably breakneck-fast and with touches of bop lines but mostly harmonised with a more modern ear. There was a Cedar Walton tune and a rabidly effective and fast take on Ornette’s Blues connotation. I thought I grasped something new by listening to his Polkadots and moonbeams. Now, this is a standard with chords and turnarounds and slow swing rhythm, at least how I’d play it. But Jamie’s take was distilled to a floating drone and Bb bass pedal with constantly mutating chords of varying dissonant colours rolling over. Closer to late Coltrane than Cole Porter and a lesson in contemporary reimagining of the standards. Suffice to say I found the whole gig thrilling with Jamie’s big and hard tone and fevered lines, Tal’s obtuse, disjointed, anarchic and (to borrow from Andrew Ford) illegal harmonies and sprays of notes and atonal chord sequence, Phil’s hard-edged tone and rapid-fire pizz and rock sensibility and Jacob’s rock/fusion attack and mix of openness and decaying rolls. This was muscular, ecstatic, gold-medal jazz from the first notes. But who’s to know? Everyone else is at the stadium for the circuses. Not much bread at this end of performance spectrum.

    Jamie Oehlers (tenor) was touring with Tal Cohen (piano), Phil Stack (bass) and Jacob Evans (drums) and performed at the Loft.