16 February 2019
I have friends who don't feel at all this way but funk and synths are bliss bombs for me. I love those analog-like tones bent with pitch and modulation like a digital mouthpiece, varied in tone yet electronic and new worldly. Not that it's so new worldy these days, of course. Analog synths date from the '70s in common band usage even if they still don't enter the worlds of the some connoisseurs. But they are wild fun and intellectually delicious in the hands of a capable player who understands harmony and degrees of tonality or other like Sean Wayland. And doubly so with a funky bassist playing e-bass, this time Brendan Clarke after several weeks playing for The Book of Mormon where he's been switching through e-bass, fretless, double and bowing and where he found a refreshed enjoyment with the electric version, here a JB as in Marcus Miller. And a great young drummer who hits firmly and decisively with driving time and quizzical double time fills, Alex Hirlian, recent winner of the National Jazz Awards, this one obviously for drums, at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. So it's not just me who's impressed. This was funky and exciting and musically satisfying.
The tunes were mostly originals from Sean, but two from Sydney's renowned and oft-remembered altoist, Bernie McGann, obviously by players who knew him. And one tune from Nick McBride, played by Nick McBride who was in town and sat in for two tunes. The other amused me in the guidance given by Sean on stage, to Nick, before playing: "Anything, just play". Hardly clear guidance but it worked a treat. It was obviously a little prepared gig, as only jazzers can carry out with panache and convincingly like this. Perhaps that's not fully true because jazzers prepare for just this eventuality, with knowledge of harmony and theory and the rest that others seldom learn. To end, I laughed at Sean's aside: "Right, we did it, we did a giggle". Relief and sly humour. And how easy to travel these days with keys! Here it was a keyboard controller, perhaps 5 octaves, with a second tiny controller (~1.5 octaves) to add accompaniment, a laptop and a small Yamaha PA for amplification, but the sounds were huge and fat and the complexities of accompaniment and solos were delicious. Interesting also to see and hear the difference in drummers: Alex more firm and unyielding and spacious; Nick more gentle and full and liquid. Both to die for. And Brendan, funky to a tee and deep and busy but always purposeful. A fabulous outing for lovers from the '70s to now.
Sean Wayland (keys) over from NYC to play with Brendan Clarke (bass) and Alex Hirlian (drums). Nick McBride (drums) replaced Alex for two tunes.
10 February 2019
ACO and their guests the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir played Arvo Part and JS Bach and a few others. It shouldn't have been so unusual, but it was. Arvo Part is common enough if not like Bach himself. There were a few snippets thrown in, too, from the relative source countries: for Estonia, Galina Grigorjeva; for Australia, Sculthorpe. The Grigorjeva was perhaps almost my favourite of the night, with complex harmonies that had me in raptures at the unexpected atonalities. Fabulous sounding and a very demanding sing. Then Sculthorpe, Djilile, sounding all the world of Australian Aboriginal country. Then the Bach and Part. They were obvious enough in each style: Bach with his frequent fugal lines, and Part with his deep economy. I hadn't checked the progrma well enough so was a bit surprised and lost as they played the whole first half with truncated stops and no expectation, or practice, of applause. So this sparseness merged with this energetic parallelism which is the fugue, and some multiple movements passed by and then Part's supreme Summa, which I know of but don't particularly recognise. The second half was similar although I was more ready to recognise the passing works. Part and two Bachs and the Grigorjeva and Sculthorpe and a final Berliner mass by Part with the various recognisable movements. Then the end. The choir had been lovely with some crystaline and prominent soprano and otherwise clearly enunciated and intoned parts. The ACO was their polished self. I particularly noted the bass. I mentioned this in the break to Celeste and she, a cellist, was totally understanding , noting her own concentration on the cellos. One thing about that bass is the pizz: the bass pizz seemed quite jazzy in style, crossing strings rather than lifting. I wonder if that's a function of baroque? That was Maxime, but Timo-Veikko's pizz was somewhat similar. And Richard up front as conductor was different. I imagine this band could play without a conductor with ease and I can't always, so I was intrigued by his undemanding take on the conductor's job, not so much counts as dynamics and prompts. So this was ACO again. A great outfit contrasting some great music with some invited mates in a unique style of performance. Nice.
Richard Tognetti (conductor) led the Australian Chamber Orchestra with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir playing Arvo Part and JS Bach with Galina Grigorjeva and Sculthorpe at Llewellyn.
4 February 2019
It's SoundOut day 2 and I got to the evening session. Both days have been evening sessions for me. I arrived as Brigit, Millie, Pierre-Yves and Richard were about to play. The nature of this event is a mix of people who play together regularly and interactions with new others. It makes it interesting for all and is the essence of the collective nature of the event. Then into Superimpose featuring Berliners Christian and Mattias, drums and trombone. This is energy and noise with some tones and considerable chops. I was particularly impressed by Matthias with his rapid flap tonguing which served a real rhythmic purpose and Christian is clearly sharp on stick techniques. But it was my house-guests who opened new doors for me in this contemporary experimental music: Hannah on flute and Brodie on trombone. They played noise, slapped keys and dismantled instruments and smacking sounds at various times but they were virtuosic in tonal and atonal note play and it made up, perhaps, most of their performances: beautiful tones; unexpected intervals; suggestions of melody and rhythms; intriguing harmonies, implied or otherwise, tonal or otherwise. It's an area where I feel more comfortable. Hannah's appearance was firstly with piccolo playing a rapidly moving birdsong. Brodie took a busily firm control with virtuosic noteplay against Marlene's sympathetic and glorious bass clarinet tones before playing with noises and a CD mute and a return to tones. I mentioned this to Hannah and her comment: that's how we were trained. I guess others have similar training. Certainly Marlene who played bass clarinet with Brodie had a similar approach and perhaps Laura and Millie. There were times Jim played this way, too, and Pierre-Yves. I heard snippets from Clayton the day before. Tonality/atonality is powerful amongst the noise plays. It expands and beautifies, at least to my ears. I felt it in Lenny's drumming too: not tonality but relatively some standard rhythmic concepts. Then ongoing to Jim inviting Millie, Matthias and Birgit to his solo spot. I was amused to watch their discussions beforehand and the synchronising of watches. They were to pass back and forth, Jim to others, every 60sec. Then Brodie and Marlene leading into the final Collective improv. The final group improv is always a feature as this one was. Richard was particularly pleased. Then the pack ups and partying that is essential to such an event. SO2019 was another challenge for the ears but also a diversion into C20th atonality and the mix was great. It's not often we get such a gathering of experimentals in Canberra. Hopefully Richard will manage to revisit it as an 11th anniversary next year for this one was a great success.
SoundOut 2019 final day 2 was at the Drill Hall Gallery. Performers at the evening session were Superimpose featuring Christien Marien (drums) and Matthias Muller (trombone); Birgit Uhler (trumpet), Millie Watson (piano), Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba), Richard Johnson (wind), Hannah Reardon-Smith (flute), Laura Altman (clarinet), Lenny Preston (drums), Rhys Butler (alto), Jim Denley (flute) with others, Brodie McAlister (trombone) and Marlene Radice (bass clarinet) and the SoundOut Collective.
3 February 2019
SoundOut is in town for its 10th anniversary at the Drill Hall Gallery and I got to most of the evening session on Day 1. It's an international collaboration, as much a seminar or symposium as a concert event. There are as many musicians as performers. The performers are immensely serious yet lighthearted and the gathering itself is of great value to them. The music is new, experimental, open and unchained by techniques and yet, strangely, mostly played on standard instruments, although often with non-standard effects. I'm not sure why they use standard instruments for such non standard techniques but mostly they do, for their skills and sounds are with various noises and effects that aren't in the standard repertoire of the instrument. So flutes are dismantled and blown various ways and amusingly, I thought, a viola da gamba played a bow rather than the other way around. There are long drones and harmonics aplenty. Certainly some players don't know standard techniques (I was stunned by a pianist at a previous SO saying she didn't know of scales and chords and yet I'd enjoyed her set but I'm assured most do, and for several performers I know of, that's certainly true. We are hosting two players this year (hello Hannah and Brodie) from classical and jazz streams and they are both trained and working professionals. I'm somewhat less adventurous and like it when a few notes settle as melodies to appear amongst the drones (this day, Clayton on bass in the Astronomical Unit set and Jim Denley in another set). Maybe they consider that a copout but each was quite beautiful amongst the slower meditations and occasional sharpness. Brodie and Matthias, too, in the night-ending collective set did something approximating a horn section when they went to facing corners behind the audience and played trombone harmonies, some tonal, some otherwise. I just came in on the last notes of Col, Millie and Monika so got a pic and little else. As a set, I particularly enjoyed Astronomical Unit (great name!), a trio of trom/bass/drums played alternatively, squeaks and squeals on skins, punctuated trom and the bass just later including that lovely melodic section up high, delightfully soft and melding. Birgit played a piece that recounted chemical pollution in the Chicago river with duration linked to concentrations of various pollutants. Clayton did a solo bass thing, partly seated, partly standing, with two bows (German) and a few sticks and a slidy end pin. Jim, Melanie and Pierre-Yves did various things, dismantling a flute, blowing mini harmonicas, playing a bow with a viola da gamba, blowing tuning pipes, lots of harmonics and bowed high notes. The end-night collective was numerous and spread widely. Much listening in big numbers and perhaps fewer departures for it, although the troms did physically depart to reappear down the back. It's a time for meditation and for deep listening and for considerable technical rule-breaking. Certainly it's fresh and intriguing sounds that value closed eyes and open ears.
SoundOut 2019 runs for two days at the Drill Hall Gallery. I heard sessions from Astronomical Unit featuring Christien Marien (drums), Matthias Muller (trombone), Clayton Thomas (bass), Birgit Uhler (trumpet) solo, Clayton Thomas (bass) solo, a trio of Jim Denley (flute), Melanie Herbert (violin) and Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba), and the SoundOut Collective. Staying with me are the very convivial Hannah Reardon-Smith (flute) and Brodie McAlister (trombone).