30 September 2007

Bring on the festival circuit

The larger ensembles at the Jazz School are reformed at the start of each year with auditions and a new line-up. The auditions are competitive, so a hot new player in first year can bump a timeserver from a later year. The resulting changes mean the bands have to reform and develop anew each year. We can watch this growth over the year, as the bands first come out in May/June, then work towards a few feature festival shows at the end of the year. The festivals include Wangaratta (that’s a biggie), and Moruya or Manly. Locally, we can see them in the Band Room at the Jazz School, or even tiptoeing the tulips at Floriade.

The Recording Ensemble and Commercial Band played last night in the Band Room. It was a small audience, but it was a very pleasing show.

The Recording Ensemble played first. It’s led by Miroslav Bukovsky, who introduced the band, and also provided several charts. Miro’s charts were Moon too soon and My Aunt Helen. Helen was the finale. It’s a very well disguised blues and was my favourite for their performance. Moon… was a chart written for 10 Part Invention, gentle with a sustained underlying rhythmic pattern. James LeFevre provided an arrangement of Bouncing with Bud. They also played Little Shorter (also jokingly called Quarter Shorter; obviously dedicated to Wayne of the same name) by Jenna Cave, the school’s star arranger/composer of recent years, and Ellington’s Wanderlust. The band was playing with replacements on bass and drums, so the quality was doubly impressive. Evan Dorian sat in on drums, and a newcomer bassist, Chris Pound, played his double bass capably and with great maturity for the gig. Very well done.

The Commercial Ensemble played after a short break. Eric Ajaye introduced the band. This is more an up, rock influenced, variety TV show outfit. They were blowing a storm: more confident since the Open Day gig a month ago, and ready for the festival circuit. They played several new tunes, and some I’d heard before. I particularly liked What’s the matter by Matt Harris, with its hard, sustained, finger funk, Tower of Power-style energy. I’ve got to mention the consistent and hot electric bass playing of Stu McKnown. It was a blowout: great tone and subtle shifts from finger to slap styles, loads of concentration, efficient fingerwork and hard ahead groove at all times. Also, Sophie Leslie’s singing on Les McCann’s Compared to what and on James LeFevre’s arrangement of a Steely Dan tune, Sign in stranger, which was all California-relaxed, sharp accents, truncated bars and funky/rocky as all get out. Evan Dorian drummed for both bands, and was in touch and subtle throughout. (Rhythm sections like these make a band. It must have been pleasure to play over such solid grooves). Other tunes on the night were by The Hornet by the Yellowjackets, Fall madness, Bill Cunliffe’s Napier and another Matt Harris tune called Beijo inocente, with its rollicking TV theme-tune style. The Comms were playing with abandon, hot and confident. A pleasure to hear. Looking forward to hearing them again at Moruya.

You can catch the large ensembles this coming week at Floriade. The Big Band plays 1pm, Wednesday; the Commercial Ensemble plays 1pm Thursday. I’m not sure of the Recording Ensemble. It may play 1pm Friday, but check out with Floriade or the Jazz School. All three bands play at the Moruya Jazz Festival in a few weeks time.

NB. I just realised this is CJBlog post no. 150. Wish me luck for the next few hundred.

29 September 2007

Gypsy soul, after Paganini

By Daniel Wild

Rob Shannon, musical director and guitarist of Arabesk, has a diverse musical background. He began on drums and journeyed to India to study Hindustani percussion and on his return to Australia he found it more professionally worthwhile to also play guitar. He is the rock of this band, his knowledge of styles fusing a bunch of idiosyncratic musicians.

After violinist Veren Grigorov emerged from the audience and joined the other band members they never looked back. Their music had punch, drama and not a bit of craziness. There were some atmospheric numbers reminiscent of shifting Arabian sands, but on the whole this was the music of the bazaar.

The band's most obvious progenitors are the Reinhardt-Grappelli duo with the violionist taking the lead. But it's no long-shot to compare Grigorov's virtuosity with the daredevil antics of Paganini two centuries ago, although Paganini was also a competent guitarist. That's the only way one can knock Grigorov off his pedestal – to compare him to past masters.

What more can one say about the violinist? Can he be imprisoned in words? On stage he cannot contain himself and is a live wire on the verge of literally electrifying the audience. If he existed in Elizabethan times he would make fine jouster. He handles his bow with dexterity and precision. He only dropped it once to prove he was human. How many bows did he have? Only two were seen at any one time, but out the back there was a whole horse ready to provide hair. And we haven't even discussed his playing yet. Perhaps it is easier to reference his playing by describing the accompanying body language. He must walk around the backyard and house attached to his violin for it seems they are one. He has combined the career of modern dance with captivating and frenetic violin playing. While he runs through gypsy modes his knees twitter.

When he hits a revelatory chord he springs in the air. Grigorov can imitate, bird, dolphin, wolf-whistle, the “neeh-nih-neeh-nih-neeh-nih” of the playground and a host of other unidentifiable sounds.

At one point it seemed the drummer and violinist indulged in a tiff which Shannon distracted the audience from by relating anecdotes. Welch refused to make eye contact with Grigorov for the rest of the set. During the interval they made their peace, although Welch refused to catch any more of Grigorov's leaps on the cymbal. Along with Shannon, their new bass player provides a solid and feisty underpinning. His expression showed his commitment and despite being distracted by the flailing provocative gestures of Grigorov, he never lost his cool.

For a fitting finale to the final piece (not including the encore) Welch launched into a 12 minute drum solo. At times it was tribal, martial, tense, risky, self-assured and virtuosic. One word could describe it: exhilarating. When questioned after the performance about the length of the solo, he replied, “I thought everyone was getting bored.”

The majority of staff at the Southern Cross are attentive and kind. There is a minority, however, who should improve their etiquette. When one asks for directions, one points relative to the customer's left or right. When asking for directions to the nearest smoker's niche we found ourselves in the denizens of club operations because the attendant was referring to his left and we, self-centred bunch us fellows are, assumed he was referring to our left. Also, when I reentered the main entrance after a breath of fresh air, one attendant, escorted by two burly security guards, proceeded to say, in no uncertain terms, “You just came in here! Where are you going?” etc etc, to which I replied, “I'm with the band Arabesk” and all was settled. Not to take the glamour off a superb outing. I would repeat the experience many a time, and urge all lovers of music and showmanship to do the same.
  • Arabesk on MySpace
  • 28 September 2007

    Two bars to a treat

    Text and pics by Brenton Holmes. Mike Nock Trio - Mike Nock (piano), Mike Majkowski (bass), James Waples (drums) with Jacam Manricks (alto sax, NY) at Hippo. It only took two bars and I knew I was in for a treat. Majkowski and Waples laid down an impeccable muted intro on bass and drums. Enter Jacam Manricks - mellow, haunting. His lyricism was remarkable. The tune, Aeronautics, was his own, but this was no flashy-just- flown-in from-New-York routine. Instead we heard a gentle, perfectly shaped line that oozed musicianship. When he moved up a notch into his solo the phrases lengthened, the tone brightened, the contours had a more dramatic sweep. But the lyricism stayed. Manricks built the intensity, working off a rhythm section made in Mike Nock heaven, opening out into long, running sweeps, running up staircases of notes, delivering swirls of impressive virtuosity. Still the lyricism stayed.

    Waples gives a lot of drive from his ride cymbal, and there's power in everything he does, but while his presence is strong, he's not intrusive. Majkowski has to be one of the finest bassists on the Sydney scene, and he and Waples have a rapport that glows. Their playing was one of the unrelenting joys of the night.

    When Nock took his first solo in the tune I was struck by how much it reflected Manricks opening style. Whether this was a deliberate ploy, or just intuitive ensemble music-making, it worked brilliantly. As he built up a head of steam, we soaked up vintage Nock. Sadly, his new electric piano wasn't doing him any favours. Something about the settings had the instrument sounding more organ than piano. As a result, clarity suffered , and what would normally have shone as a sparkle of notes came out more as a smear of tones. It was something Nock had to contend with all night – although some judicious tweaking improved things a little in the second half.

    The rapport between bass and drums extends to Nock. This is a trio that clearly enjoys each other's company and shares a deep musical intimacy. You can almost feel them listening to each other. Their responsiveness extends to the most subtle of interactions. It's like they share a fused musical brain. I found the effect extraordinary, and one which is decidedly rare. I struggle to recall a similar trio experience.

    When Majkowski solo-ed I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. He was rivetting - strongly melodic, not a cliché in sight, and technically superb. His effort was short and sweet – something which characterised almost all his solos. They are the musical equivalent of those wonderful 9x5 masterpieces of the Australian Impressionists. Everything you could wish for is there.

    Super Side Slippery Skip, the second tune of the night by Manricks, was a straight ahead swing with the intricate melody doubled on sax and piano. There was something cheeky about it – almost like it was a parody of a blend of the most played tunes in the Real Book. But it cooked. The rhythm section locked into a groove while Manricks gambolled all over the place - kinda Dexter Gordon meets Ornette Coleman with a dash of Dave Liebman. The band then really began to open out, managing to achieve a more expansive ensemble feel through the seemingly contradictory process of all the players pumping out solos simultaneously – a kind of bristling inventiveness.

    When they dropped back to give Mike Nock some space he gave the lower registers of his still muddy piano a serious workout before moving into a more atonal style higher up the keyboard. He switched back and forth between sections that were rhythmically and harmonically conventional and passages of very free, angular and arresting playing. Again, bass and drums were with him all the way. Waples was particularly adept at building off and responding to Nock's soloing while the other Mike continued to give them both all the nourishment they could possibly need.

    Majkowski again delivered a striking solo – full of invention, bending rhythms to his purpose without a hint of losing structure. Then it was time to swap fours between drums, piano and alto. Waples made the most of every four that came his way. Each time, he took his material from the preceding solo, sculpted it into a new shape and handed it back as a shiny new toy. Nock and Manricks clearly enjoyed it. The number closed out with a return to the melody doubled on piano and sax before wrapping with a tight, neat finish.

    Next up was, for me, one of the highlights of the evening – probably because of its audacity. Manricks took the over-exposed Australian folk tune Bound for Botany Bay and turned it into an arrangement in 5/4 time that was a sheer delight. When Manricks moved into his first solo he again revealed the polished professionalism that his recent years of hard work in the US have no doubt helped him to achieve. You could hear the main Botany Bay tune being morphed one note at a time into its improvised version. Manricks kept faith with the strong 5/4 rhythmic phrasing as the shift evolved, then simply freed himself from it to sail breezily into an extended solo. Majkowski complimented the effort with another fine solo of long clear lines, never sacrificing the music to technical cleverness. On this occasion, Nock's solo seemed a little flat, though I suspect it was largely a product of his having to deal with the uninspiring sound coming from the piano.

    The last tune of the first set was Mike Nock's Transitions, a pacey number with a backbeat funky feel and punctuated phrasing in its opening section before kicking into a fast swing. The funky section gave a strong structural foundation to the piece, and the switch to swing was effective when one might have expected it to feel cliched. Nock's chord voicing skills were on full display in his accompaniment. It's obviously a tune that he has a lot of affection for. His solo mixed short flurries of notes with long, chromatically ascending stretches that drew the rest of the rhythm section with him. The master was strutting his stuff and the apprentices were with him all the way.

    Waples entered with a dramatic drum solo, but the sustained high volume playing pushed it into more a technical display than a musical statement. It would be unkind to judge him harshly on this account, because throughout his ensemble playing Waples had consistently demonstrated his credentials as an inventive, musically strong drummer. A nice, tight ending out of the funk theme closed the set to the enthusiastic applause of a very satisfied audience.

    Manricks introduced the first number of the second set with the warning “don’t try this at home”. Creatively titled Number One, it was a full-blown excursion to the avant-garde – a musical Jackson Pollock on speed. The audience loved it. The very free-flowing alto introduction offered no obvious meter, and as Nock moved in, the piano and alto locked into a dance that steadied the piece for take off into totally free fireworks. It was all there – bowing, slapping, squeaking, thumping, full-frontal atonality. It would have done justice to a contemporary art music gig in Vienna. The music ebbed to a reprise of the opening section, with piano and sax shadowing and echoing each other, then swelled to a climax of slapped bass and pounded floor toms before tumbling gradually into silence.

    Mike Nock’s Homage was next on the list – a gentle swing that really gave Nock a chance to shine. Again, it proved the trio to be very much at home as an ensemble, with bass and drums giving exquisite support. When Manricks introduced the main tune on alto it put me in mind of the song melodies that the brilliant Stephen Sondheim has given us. The mellow solo was eloquent over a sustained pedal bass. Manricks played with the notes like a kitten patting a ball of string. Nock’s solo kicked off with handfuls of fourths, peppered with groups of skipping phrases that would end with a quick dash up the keyboard. Bass and drums chased him all the way – although occasionally Waples playing knocked the balance askew. Majkowski’s bass solo started with long repetitive phrases that grew into a beautifully crafted effort. There was an almost architectural quality about it, with lots of interesting features to give it internal colour. The piece wound out with the main melody. Definitely Sondheim !!

    Jacam Manrick’s Gangbusting produced an opening alto line that sounded like a jaunty, slightly drunk bossa. But it turned into a feisty 7/4, which the group held together meticulously throughout the piece. No small miracle was happening here, because there were lots of chord changes, and with the on-stage lighting almost non-existent, reading the charts must have been a nightmare. Hippo needs to get its act together in this respect. Nock’s solo hit the spot again. Bass and drums tucked in behind every move. Their rapport is almost spooky. Waples drum solo was very disciplined, keeping the pervasive 7/4 pattern in the foreground, and fed beautifully back into the close.

    The penultimate tune was Mike Nock’s Essence. Delicious in every way – basically a steady jazz waltz, but with a punctuated melody that gave it a very attractive quirkiness – Nock caressed the work into life ready for Manricks to adorn with his alto. Manricks always conveys the impression that he knows exactly where he’s heading and what he wants to achieve, but there’s absolutely no loss of spontaneity in the feel. He is clearly a highly skilled musician. His Doctor of Musical Arts, and an impressive record of composition, suggests that his knowledge is deep. His playing, his fellow musicians and his audiences are the fortunate beneficiaries. Nock returned to deliver another solo that was almost rhapsodic at times, with Majkowski and Waples keeping the faith as ever.

    A fast swing capped off a marvelous night, with Nock’s Triflin’ providing the platform for some sizzling playing. Jacam delivered his long lines buoyed up by a rhythm section giving him everything he could possibly have asked for. He was like a surfer in the zone , riding a long, slow-breaking wave that went all the way to shore. Majkowski had his final chance to strut his stuff, and he did it with aplomb – and with Waples right there with him. Nock played his solo like a mischievous child who refuses to go to bed and keeps running back to the dinner party, sneaking away, then returning with glee to liven things up. Waples provided a powerful solo, but one which was neat and compact. The final round was a sparkling affair – spoiled marginally by an unnecessarily excessive exit. But hey, where there is no extravagance there is no love.

    Nock is an eminence grise of downunder jazz and we should all feel blessed by his presence. His comrades on the bandstand are all his former students. Nock admires Manricks both for his musicianship and his professional zeal, and the respect is reciprocated, and Nock is thinking of putting another band together especially to tour with his young US-based protégé. Watch this space.

    25 September 2007

    Magical, that flute

    Greetings to our classical mates at the ANU School of Music. I just went to their performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute and enjoyed it immensely. The dynamics, full range and clarity of a live orchestra, even this little chamber orchestra, were stunning. The pure voices, the beautiful melodies, and the harmonies between singers and instruments were luscious and pleasing. And a few extreme notes (both high and low) and occasional ostentatious passages by various sopranos were great fun. The story and its underlying culture are pretty old-school for us, despite some Enlightenment references, but that’s par for the course. Also greetings to Kayla of various Jazz School ensembles who performed on trumpet. To our extended operatic family, much respect and thanks from your jazz cousins.

    22 September 2007

    Round (a very long) midnight

    The nights are long in Finland (latitude 64deg N), and I reckon that’s an influence on the style of music we heard from the Joona Toivanen Trio. I caught them at the Finnish Embassy where they performed one set for over 200 guests. They also played a longer performance at the Southern Cross Club the following night. But the embassy gig was pleasant and musically satisfying. The room was architecturally modern: a large space with glass and sculptures and the suspended shapes of mezzanine rooms. There was champagne and hors d’oevres, and the oysters were the best I’ve ever had at a jazz gig! A genuine diplomatic cocktail gig.

    The music was rather more austere than the cocktail party. It made me think of the long nights, and how sombre things can get for musos at the end of a long night: Monk’s “Round midnight” effect. There was some hard swing, but mostly the music was more ECM, more impressionist. I heard early-20th century classical piano styles and the influences of European folk traditions, lots of cymbals and brushes, carefully constructed bass, ascending scalar flourishes that woudn’t be out of place in a classical repertoire. Lots of intent and serious expressions. I joked to a mate that “drummers have more fun”. The bass and piano brothers smiled after playing, but there was real seriousness evident on faces during the gig, whereas the drummer had a smilier face. It was beautiful, original music and well played but so different from our scene. My presumption is that there’s plenty of jazz like this on the European stage. Jan Garbarek and ECM are my evidence. It’s not the engaged swing tradition more evident in the US and perhaps in Australia (remember Ellington: “it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing”). Not that this seriousness is bad, just different. As for performances in embassies, good on the Finns. I imagine our Australian embassies would more be likely to play Men at Work than Paul Grabowski, although PG does get arts funding to tour internationally.

    The trio was Joona Toivanen (piano), his brother Tapani Toivanen (bass), and Olavi Louhivuori (drums). The Yamaha grand was impressive, but the band had to use borrowed bass amp and drums set. But the sound was clear, despite the glassed walls. There were plenty of people standing and bunched around the players. Perhaps tiring but it was involving. I liked that aspect.

    Chris Deacon of ArtSound was recording. He’s a devotee of this style, so expect to hear this outing on radio over time. Apparently, snippets from one of Chris’ earlier recordings of the trio are on their website.
  • JT Trio's website
  • 20 September 2007

    Lesson from the teachers (JG2)

    The James Greening Quartet was a quiz (apparently that’s the collective noun) of teachers from the Jazz School. Faculty band performances are always competent, but but this show was more than average - it worked a treat. Perhaps due to the long-term interactions of two pairs of musicians. Perhaps just the performance space and the tunes or the friendly and jokey atmosphere from James’ chatting. Whatever, it was a great night.

    James Greening (trombone, pocket trumpet, didjerdoo) visits the Jazz School on Mondays to teach trombone players. He has a long history (20+ years?) of playing with Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, melodica) in Wanderlust and other outfits. The interplay is obvious and pleasing, with solos passed back and forth, and some lovely counterpoint from each of the players. They are clearly good listeners and Miro highlighted this as a key for the night. Certainly it wasn’t extended rehearsals, because James, Eric and Col were still checking out charts as I arrived. Eric Ajaye (bass) and Col Hoorweg (drums) have a parallel history of playing together, although of only 7 years duration. So this was a merging of two pairs of players (rhythm section and front line) where each pair had longevity.

    The tunes ranged widely. There were two tunes by Ornette Coleman: When will the blues leave? and Birdfood. There seems to be much interest in Ornette recently. It’s not surprising given it’s so intellectually pleasing and solidly blues-based. Ornette has recently won a Pulitzer prize, so perhaps there’s some retrospective happening. Otherwise, there was a world of styles: African (Dedication to the Lion of Zimbabwe), latin, calypso, a rollicking but gentle tune by Don Cherry (Roland Alphonso), electronic drums from Col, and an original blues by one of James’ students: An Afro red, by Matt Sykes.

    James played with great lyrical ability. He’s strongly diatonic, but convincingly and interestingly so. His intonation is also superbly accurate and clearly stated over the full range of the instrument. On pocket trumpet, he’s also capable (even with a water glass for a mute); more atonal but less flamboyant. I particularly loved some counterpoint with Miro which was simple but so apt, and also some collective soloing in the trad vein on Matt Syke’s tune. Miro’s trumpet was tempered and fairly quiet (his bop is far louder!) and always expressive of the tune: an example of that clear listening mentioned above. He also played melodica on the Don Cherry tune: his “chromatic breathalyser”, according to James. The melodica sound is none too rich, but it worked and especially provided some nice harmonised melody. Apparently melodica was also played on the Don Cherry original. Eric was blowing a storm. He was on acoustic on the night. There was huge subtlety in his right hand as he formed soft notes with virtually no attack. There was hard swing at times, and richly embellished rhythm at others. He often reminds me of Buster Williams, with low action, slides, growls and the like. A master at work. Col held his end up with unadorned rhythms, but providing wonderful changing backdrops over time against each tune. It’s a deceptively simple technique, but very satisfying. Also, hand work on the drums, and a huge range of electronic sounds against didjerdoo in the tune, Hypnotic. James quipped of the electronics as “Col’s stuff”. They were very nice, if electronically simple, sounds, and added a twist to the (otherwise staid) jazz tonal palette.

    James is renowned for his presence on the Today Show (!!!) and Playschool (!!!!!!) not to mention Wanderlust, catholics, 10 Part Invention, Bernie McGann and the rest, so we could expect no less a show than this. A great night of playing with considerable mirth. ArtSound were there so expect to hear snippets on the radio over coming months.

    Under Black Mtn, the Gods (JG1)

    Text by Daniel Wild, pics by Eric

    Under Black Mountain lie 'The Gods' of ANU – a small cafe where poets, painters and musicians meet to listen, discourse and splash paint. Well, maybe they don't splash paint but the place is like a mini-gallery where artists can display their conceptual work.

    The Gods is appropriately opposite the Careers Centre and next to STA Travel. Artists looking for work need go no further than five steps across the lane, apply for a job, then head back in for a coffee. Musicians with the money to travel can check out the latest airfares to New York and Paris, spiritual homes of jazz. But Canberra does well to protect its talent from the big smoke of Sydney or the sophisticates of Melbourne (tongue firmly in cheek – ed.)

    Tuesday evening saw the continuation of a series of jazz performances organised by Geoff Page. This gig combined the best from Sydney and Canberra under the banner of the James Greening Quartet.

    On drums, the effervescent Colin Hoorweg set lively and syncopated beats. He is particularly impressive on the latin numbers where he freely makes use of the tom-tom Max Roach style. His brush work on the cool numbers was refined and allowed the music to breath. He never misses an offbeat on the high-hat. Miroslav Bukovsky's trumpet playing is second to none in Canberra and needs no summarising. Whether playing acid jazz, swing, cool or bop, his playing reflects the nuances of the band around him and lifts all performances to a higher level.

    Eric Ajaye is Canberra's best kept secret. An accomplished bass player across all genres, Eric's latin grooves are reminiscent of the bass player on Freddie Hubbard's ground breaking composition, 'Little Sunflower'. Speaking of trumpeters, James Greening pulled out the pocket trumpet for a few numbers, delighting and surprising the audience with his fluid lines and mellow tone. But the trombone is his signature instrument and he plays it as it should be played. He doesn't try and imitate the sax or trumpet with too many notes – instead he makes use of the trombone's slide and produces wistful blue notes and weaves hypnotic narratives.

    The band enjoyed themselves and after settling down, indulged in some witty repartee amongst themselves and between themselves and the audience, who were relaxed and cheerful. And so another evening at the gods was wiled away. Along with the Hippo Bar, this is Canberra's most intimate venue for jazz.

    13 September 2007

    Masters not apprentices

    Gerard Master’s Canberra launch for his new CD, Island, was eagerly awaited. The master didn’t disappoint. Hippo’s was home to two sets of ardent, intense, virtuosic and sometimes beautiful and tuneful music. The Trio is Gerard Masters (piano), Cameron Undy (bass) and Evan Mannell (drums). I'd heard this group at White Eagle about a year ago, but Gerard used the house upright with the abysmal tuning and the acoustics were not so tolerant. I noticed the sound last night was unusually satisfying. Hippo has put down carpets on the playing surface, perhaps just to protect the timber floors, but the sound has softened and clarified with the reduced echoes. It’s an improvement.

    But back to the band. They started with a gentle, Euro-jazz style which grew from pensive to impassioned. I expected something like this style for the rest of the night, but was surprised by Bird bop appearing out of some very obscure piano references early in the second tune. But the bop remained strongly altered, even if the form and underlying harmony was evident. Thereafter, the music was mainly in the modern style, but included a touch of pop/R&B with an original dedicated to Ray Charles, a few ballads, and a hauntingly beautiful original tune by Cameron played mostly unison on piano and bass, and called Consolation. From the top, I was stunned by Cameron’s bass tone and rabid virtuosity. I’ve heard him several times, on double bass and this electric instrument, but this performance was clearer in intention and tonality than any other I’ve heard. He was firing: busy but always fitting. The tone was woody, richly low-mid, and plenty loud enough. The solos were stunning: finger and thumb picking, chords, thumb positions (not an electric bass technique), rapid movements up and down the fingerboard. Stunning stuff. This busy-ness worked in the context of Gerard’s style: open, not overly chordal. His also was rich playing, sometimes gentle, other times furious, with alterations and wide pitching. But despite his proficiency, he left considerable space for the others, and often enough sat out for solos and varied sounds. Evan also was minimal at times, both in kit and performance. His was a sparse style, but well in tune with the others, and exploratory. There were real chops, but one time when he dropped back to child-like drumming simplicity highlighted the artfulness of his playing. This was clever and studied playing. And there were some excellent, lyrical drum solos which quietened the audience, especially a long one late in the night. Overall, there was a feel of limited arrangements, but a very satisfying immediacy and improvisation in the playing. Like being admitted to the musos’ private space.

    On the goss side, Gerard several times expounding his love for the audience (ironically, of course), and cheeckily allowed for himself to be called “the Master”. Cocky, yes, but acceptable given that this was a night of truly stunning and intriguing playing all round. Great stuff.

    Sunday with Belgian Beer

    Here are a few pics of the David Rodriguez Trio playing at the Belgian Beer Cafe, Kingston, last Sunday. Free entry, interesting beers and coffee, nice sidewall cafe life. DRT plays each Sunday at 2-5pm. See earlier posts for reviews.

    08 September 2007

    Vale! White Eagle

    The big news of the day was the demise of Pavarotti, and of course we heard Nessun Dorma (or at least its spine-tingling chorus) several times on the radio.

    Sadly, our local experiment in student jazz promotion also passed away on the same day. The Jazz Sessions as the White Eagle ended last Thursday night. It’s been a great series, even though the venue never seemed optimal. I liked the authentic Polish food and beer and there was plenty of space, but the stage and proscenium arch were dividers between band and audience, the room could be chilly in winter, and there was a lot of electrical noise to fight with in the audio department.

    But the music was excellent. The early sessions were pretty informal, usually with a local band and a subsequent jam. But over time, they became virtual concert performances. But they were always in a jazz style, so there was ample time between sets to mingle and compare brands of beer, but there was also quiet and rapt attention while the music was playing. And the music was always challenging, interesting, diverse. Perhaps the presentations were too generous. I’ve heard up to 12 performers on a night, including imports, and it’s a lot of people to pay. In a business sense, this may be a failing: the two-band format was always costly. But in an artistic sense, it was an element of WE’s success. There were lots of local players who wanted to air their exploratory musings, and equally there were imports who sought a venue offering an informed and welcoming audience for original music and more esoteric jazz styles. In balance, the business side probably doomed WE, but the artistic side created its legacy.

    So perhaps we should cheer the series which was the White Eagle, and hope that a new venue, and perhaps a new round of organisers, rises to take its place. It’s been a great series of nights. Many thanks to Phill, Hannah and Ed for their work over the last 18 months or so. Thanks to ArtSound for recordings and PAs. Thanks to various students who performed or helped out with setting up and taking down after each event. Have a well earned rest, and let’s hope for a new incarnation of the passion which was White Eagle.

    BTW, I think all the White Eagle sessions have been written up on CJ. Just click on the “White Eagle” label below this post, or in the right hand column of this page, to view all.

    Symphonic to harmolodic

    The last White Eagle offered another night of fabulous, but fascinatingly different performers. It’s almost de rigeur that the two sets are markedly different, and this night was perhaps the most extreme in this respect. The first set was the harmolodic.

    Legedis Benz’s set featured a triptych of Ornette Coleman tunes (Peace warriors, WRN and a very stylised blues, Feet music), a Roscoe Mitchell number (Noonah), Zappa quotes and originals by all members. Needless to say, this was the challenging end of the spectrum. There were fast and furious unison lines throughout, and harmolodic invention abounding. Harmolodics? It’s the concept that underscores Ornette Coleman’s music. It’s somewhere east of free. We had a chat about it after the gig. Apparently it’s none too clear with anyone, but it seems to demand all players to perform as improvisers and to clear themselves from support roles, and for their melodic inventions to be free of limits of conventional harmony, melody and rhythm. Suffice to say, after furious intro melodies with rapidly changing keys and pretty indistinct tonal centres, the players perform free with no underlying key or even tonal centre. Challenging all round, but hugely satisfying (if done well).

    LB comprises Jarrah Jones (guitar), Sam Young (drums) and Simon Milman (bass). Jarrah played like I’ve never seen him before: dischordant chords, sharp phrases, sustained atonal lines, bent notes and vibratoed chords, odd intervals, scraping strings. All short, sharp sounds. Oddly, I caught a snatch of the guitar tone from the Coupling theme at one stage. Sam was tight and played with a drum tone to die for. Perversely, he could be stunningly simple and clearly expressed, with solos that often dropped back to straight, sustained grooves, like an eye in the storm. Simon was unorthodox even in his choice of instrument: an amplified acoustic bass guitar. It imparted such a different tone, and surprisingly apt for this outing: acoustic, not rich, deep and woody like a double bass, but fatter, more middly, but still clearly acoustic. Interesting. Playing wise, Simon ran with the others, harmonically adventurous, freely moving over the fingerboard, sometimes playing with thumb and fingers in a softer slap style, but otherwise fingerstyle. Simon also introduced the music. There was a constant theme of nicer or nastier (which was even carried on in references later by Matt Baker later in the night). You couldn’t say any was “nice” in the sense of a beautiful ballad, but this was not the intention. This was extreme sport for musos and they carried if off fabulously. But I’m wondering where we’re likely to hear them again, given the demise of WE. Perhaps Moruya?

    The Matt Baker Trio was literally the symphonic end of the night. The trio was Matt Baker (piano), Karl Dunnicliff (bass) and Dave Goodman (drums). Matt’s recently returned from Europe and his comments and compositions harked back to Switzerland. His latest album, “From an afternoon in the mountains”, has tunes like Les Dentes du Midi and Le Tour d’Epee as dedications to towns and mountains in this picture-card-perfect country. As for symphonic, there was talk of recording with a chamber orchestra, and a surprisingly successful performance of the main theme from the first movement of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. Matt talked of trying to record jazz in a classical style, but then performed classics in a jazz style. I was intrigued by the similarity of these harmonic movements to those of jazz. (Perhaps this was just his interpretation). There were some classical piano playing that jarred with my jazz sensibilities, but I found the piece surprisingly satisfying. This was a crossover that worked. Continuing the lyrical side of the night, there was even a beautiful composed piece with no improvisation. Otherwise, this was very competent, mainstream-modern jazz with hints Bill Evans and the like. Syncopations, close interactions, convincing rhythms and rolling solos. Matt played lots big sounds. I noticed plenty of block chords and patterned solos. Karl played great bass accompaniment; always rhythmically strong with a rich and clear tone. I particularly loved Dave’s drums on this outing. It was standard mainstream style-wise, but it displayed perfectly timed triplet feels, beautiful rimshot work, and more, and was generally a pure and accurate performance in the style. As an aside, Dave was telling me he’s studying for a PhD in jazz. Dr Goodman … very cool. A jazz PhD … would this be a first in Australia? I wondered if you could achieve a PhD in performance. His is not performance, but deals with changes in drum styles over the modern jazz era. So the night finished was a very satisfying but very different performance.

    Deborah and Ian Pavletich, local musicians and studio owners.

    Thanks to both the excellent bands for this last evening at the White Eagle. Vale! White Eagle.

    05 September 2007

    Small whimsical moments in jazz

    By Gato

    Ah - the jazz site, reporting of course on the great music performed in Canberra at the school of music and around the traps. But perhaps there is place to extend this blogosphere and report on the smaller worlds that exist in the spirit of jazz, that sparkle anywhere anytime, within the often suburban walls of Canberra…

    For example, a Sunday afternoon of sheer and beautiful chaos; indeed a gentle, organic, nurturing sort of chaos - one enticing and encouraging flights of fancy. So - the charts and instruments strewn around, the lively colourful impressionistic paintings of the house’s usual musicians (from the brush of the house’s usual artist), and the books tumbling out of the shelves (on music, composers, creativity, and the visual expression of jazz) all mirroring the playfulness, and lack of strict form of the afternoon and its music. But the lack of rigour feels so delightfully balanced with great lengths of freedom and exploration on piano, trumpet and flute!

    Amid a cigarette moment in the back garden the cricket bat is included in musical intentions. In face of ‘I don’t do sport’ - it is realised that the direction of the ball will dictate the key for the next piece (landing in the compost heap calls for G flat/or is that F sharp; while hitting the shed resolves us to no home key at all).

    So the evening moves forward, and the piano lets loose, moving from ballad to the open sea. Rhythm, melodic line, sensitivity, passion, changes, repetition… and the flute and trumpet dance and delve into the waves. Music is our marvellous channel to shared spontaneity of spirit, to expression, and…

    Well at this point I wonder what other stories and moments might emerge here to be shared – to fill in the geography of the land and community of this Canberra jazz-blog-space?

    02 September 2007

    Camembert flowing freely

    By Daniel Wild

    From Puccini to Rheinhardt, Italy to New Orleans, Monsieur Camembert's arrangements are free flowing and how the leader keeps it all in check is anyone's guess. Each song forms a narrative but leaves space for improvisation, allowing each voice to speak.

    Pic borrowed from the band's webpage

    The audience was unusually quiet during the first set. At first the band seemed to wonder why they weren't responding or dancing, for this music infuses the body and gives elan to the soul, causing it to dance in the eternal embrace of the bacchanal.

    Only after the second set, when bellydancers Gypsy Noir and the Canberra Dance School whirled like dervishes by the stage did the ambience heat up. Rita Markwell, Min Mae and Fiona MacPherson impressed the some band members sufficiently to perhaps hint at future events in a similar burlesque vein.

    The group's tone palette varies. Silveresque piano runs converse with eastern European guitar lines. Mark Harris steals the show with his brilliant parodying in tenor. Matt Ottingnon on sax puntuated the air, and swapped to flautish whispers and musings on the clarinet. He is proficient on an array of wind instruments, and was surrounded onstage like a footsoldier with advanced weaponry.

    The blend of culture in Monsieur Camembert bestows on this music a refreshing vitality and universal appeal. My only groan is with the Southern Cross Club's reticent attitude to standing capacity. But ultimately the club is to be commended for sourcing fine gigs. Mike Nock was a similar success for them. The venue's acoustics are excellent and the lighting and stage setup is fine. I look forward to more great performances here.
  • M. Camembert's homepage
  • M.C. on MySpace (listen)