31 May 2011

Out and about

Just some pics of recent days. Firstly, an amusing bit of street art around the Jazz School. Then Gossips with Liam Budge. Leanne was getting over the flu and Liam happened to drop by, so we got him to sit in for a set. Good hard swings, some live transposition (good for the ear) and nice singing and scatting. Thanks to Liam. Lastly, one of 1927 Bar last Friday with host Leonardo.

30 May 2011

Month of Sundays

Month of Sundays was the title of a series of programs on our local ABC radio station, ABC666: four 2-hour Sunday specials on music in Canberra. There were sessions on jazz and rock and folk, so I guess we were talking of popular forms. I’m not sure if classical or choral got their time. The jazz special was the last of the series and I got asked to appear. David Sequeria presented and Melanie Sim produced a very interesting morning with an apt selection of guests. First was John Sharpe, author of Cool capital : the Canberra jazz scene, 1925-2005 (2006) and other works of jazz history, followed by Rachael Thoms and Luke Sweeting talking of their musicians’ life. I found their comments about current streams of jazz very interesting, along with the tracks they played from Rachael’s soon-to-be-released album. Miroslav Bukovsky then spoke of his story in jazz, from Czechoslovakia and 1968 and the Prague Spring to Australia. Miro has been close to many significant bands and happenings in Australia jazz for several decades. Then me on CanberraJazz.net and the current scene around town, Chris Deacon on ArtSound and its long-term contribution to jazz in Canberra, and to finish off, Margaret Moriarty on the trad scene and the Canberra Jazz Club. The chat was interspersed with some great music. I particularly remember one wordless vocal tune by Rachael/Luke and One for Woody by Ten Part Invention, but I only heard some of the program, having tuned in late and needing to rush off after. Jazz is a small community (perhaps 500 people in Canberra) but it’s committed to its art and it’s composed of the sort of people who will commit to something beyond immediate gratification. And it’s inviting. David and Melanie noticed that everyone knew each other and were chatting outside the studio before and after their broadcast times. It’s like that. Thanks to ABC666 for the opportunity to spread the word.

29 May 2011

Loft doubler

There were two acts at the last Loft session and quite different: Liam Budge with his intense and mellifluous vocals and a very comfy but inventive quartet, and Jono Lake playing a fusion of jazz and impressionism to launch his new solo piano CD. About as different as you could imagine, really.

First, Liam. From the first staccato notes of Squeeze me, his music was smooth and stylish. This characterisation can be deceptive because it’s seldom associated with depth in our too-commercial society, but this music was rich with invention and deep with feeling. Liam appeared in great style with a nonchalant but imposing presence. The band sat beautifully and appropriately behind him. The swings oozed groove: Luke’s piano sitting well behind the beat and Raf’s bass right over the top for a wave of swing that was ever breaking over the audience. Liam’s voice weaved through and toyed with the lines, delaying melody then breaking with quick passages, perhaps high whistles or dropping into scat. Luke’s solos moved within chords and through dissonances and Raf’s bass solos were long and lyrical and unforced, up the neck for extended thumb position lines then down with double stops. All the while with a steady, cool drum backing from Luke 2. Liam sang one original, a drifting 5/4 entitled Stop this train. Notable to me was the gentle and soulful version of Hendrix’ Little Wing (instantly recognised by a few of the older attendees) and a heavily insistent take on Bye bye blackbird in 7/4 (apparently thanks to Luke 1 for that one). He also did a take on Long ago and far away as a piano/vocal duo and an easy Tenor madness to finish up. It’s a nice throwaway that swung easily from the top. Max Williams sat in on tenor developing from easy hard-bop blues lines to rich substitutions. And Raf’s bass solo was a killer. This was a wonderfully entertaining and engrossing set (singers do that) and with some really satisfying depth to the playing.

Second, Jono Lake. From the irony of jazz lyrics to the intense solidity of grand piano and the emotional involvement of solo improvisation. Jono leads and composes for his wonderfully inventive Lakeside Circus and I’ve written about them here before. This is the composer as improviser. No doubt there is composition underlying these tunes, but the effect and immediacy of improvisation is laid bare here. The first tune was pensive and later Russian in scope and mood. The piano needed a good tuning, but the seriousness of it all was clear to hear. I expected similar for later tunes so I was surprised by what was a fairly pleasant tonal piece with straightforward interpretation for the second tune, although it, too, flirted with intensity. The third was more an impressionist solo hinting of occasional jazz syncopations. The fourth was similarly impressionistic but this time developing to a heavy, contorted stride. The final was open and thoughtful and filmic and started with something like a loose left hand ostinato but developing as mohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifre indeterminate. I lost myself in the solidity of a solo grand piano with the piercing probing of dissonant impressionism. This is compositional inquest as improvisational immediacy and I enjoyed it immensely.

Liam Budge (vocals) led a quartet with Luke Sweeting (piano), Rafael Jerjen (bass) and Luke Keanan-Brown (drums). Max Williams (tenor) sat in for two tunes. Jono Lake (piano) followed with a solo set to launch his new CD.

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  • 28 May 2011

    Big gig

    It was the first time I’d played in Parliament House and it was the Great Hall, so in terms of a gig this was big. We were providing background music for the dinner of a national industry conference with guest politicians and diplomats and it was all choreographed and controlled: a big event management activity, with lots of staff and perfect presentation and speeches and videos on massive screens. But in terms of music, it was not too big. We were playing comfortably at acoustic level and this was quite adequate despite the grand space, the sound was open, Mike had a large Yamaha grand and it sounded solid and clear. We managed one decent set during the main course, but mostly it was just a few tunes between speeches. Mike got a longer solo piano set behind desert and snuck in a Chopin waltz (C#min) which added some time-honoured class. We got some (unexpected) applause after our All blues, and we played capably and started and stopped when flagged by the event manager. It was an easy gig except for setup. Everything needed to be x-rayed, and double bass refuses to fit in the small machines at the Parliament entrance, so it was the loading dock in the afternoon. This was interesting enough the first time, but it could easily become tiresome. Lauren said to me the other day that she finds it a buzz to play at special locations. So do I. I’m still living off my story of playing for Rupert Murdoch, the then PM (who arrived by helicopter, much to the amusement of a visiting US newspaper editor who must have seen it all) and other Australian and US dignitaries on Murdoch’s local farm many years back. There are no particular stories from this gig, but none-the-less it’s a good one for the scrapbook.

    26 May 2011

    On the count … 1,2,7

    Quinsin Nachoff played some very demanding and difficult music at the Gods for its first international concert. I found it hard work until I closed my eyes and went with it. So did the players, who were new to it and obviously counting and reading dots and difficult structures. The band was touring before leading up to an appearance at the Melbourne Jazz Festival which seems a great idea given the complexity of the music. Brenton spoke afterwards of Schoenberg and of narrow and discordant harmonies that need care and readiness to carry off. Geoff heard hints of Albert Ayler in Quinsin’s upper register. Certainly the players were up to it. Peter Knight was a revelation on trumpet, reading the most difficult intervals and times and soloing with lovely tone (even old-style at one stage with a plunger mute) and easy style. Marc Hannaford also did a great job, including covering the bass on left hand. I thought the band would have benefitted from a true bass player: the sound would have been more full and the rhythms more articulated and developed. But poor Marc had a big job with bass and soloing given this difficult music and he did it wonderfully well, concentrating hard on charts and playing lines that sat sweetly and with little dissonance. I was amused to see Raj Jayaweera mouthing the count at times; the music was like that. He had a lovely touch that drew a very solid tone from his borrowed Gretch kit while playing fairly understated but effective accompaniment and solos. I heard Quinsin’s soloing as varied. Sometimes intellectual and technical, with long lines that passed in sequences up and down the tenor’s range, and other times more melodic but with longer, more challenging intervals. His compositions were detailed: changing times, big intervals, odd syncopations, some lovely and quite unusual ballads. I was interested in some classical allusions, especially Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus rolled a rock up and down a hill, and the music did the same, doubling time several times from slow to frantic and back again then doing this again and again: an interesting exercise and a worthy tune. The night was like that. Difficult, demanding music for both performers and audience: cerebral but satisfying when you took it in. Not easy, but listening back to my recording as I write this, a very satisfying modern outing with some impressive playing.

    Quinsin Nachoff (tenor, composer) led the Australian Forward Motion quartet with Peter Knight (trumpet), Marc Hannaford (piano) and Rajiv Jayaweera (drums).

    25 May 2011

    For love of intimacy

    Megan and I attended Concert 31 of the Canberra International Music Festival to hear the renowned acoustics, but it’s also a favourite era of Megan’s. The session was tagged “Discovering unknown Schubert masterworks”. The repertoire was Schubert Symphonies nos 10 and 11 along with Graeme Koehne’s Sleep of reason. The two Schuberts were Australian premieres, presumably for the orchestrations rather than the pieces. It was the no.10 that went first, then the Koehne with big sweeps of strings and obvious filmic resonances, then interval and the no.11 with paired cellos. I particularly remember a lovely segment at the end with one pizzicato cello accompanying a bowed cello melody. But the whole effect was quite magical. I understand the excitement over the venue, but also the reticence and I’m relieved that at least a decent alternative use has been selected. But this night was very special. I didn’t hear the sound as precise or particularly well balanced and it wouldn’t suit many musical styles (I expect jazz included). The buzz of conversation before the performance was like a noisy hip café where you can’t hear your partner speak. (Thinking back, I wonder if this will be a problem for an artists’ workshop and gallery). But this suits strings and orchestra and it was big and full and enveloping. I noticed bells ringing with a vibrancy I’ve never heard before. The strings were enveloping and the basses were stunningly present. One of the performing bass players told me later that they’d reduced numbers for some performances because the sound was so intense. But the key issue was the intimacy and intensity of the experience. This was something to savour in a way that our recent Sydney Symphony in the cavernous Opera House was not. There were errors and questionable intonations and the rest, but I’d choose this anytime over a precise, professional but distant music experience. The atmosphere was aided by the lack of facilities, the rough seating, the earthy location, the cables on the ground and the poor lighting, the musicians’ clutter at the back beside the trestle-table bar and the rest. But the musical effect was a stunner. I sometimes think back to mediaeval days when the greatest musical experience was the travelling troubadour every few months. We are now surrounded by excellence and excess but much of it is recorded or distant or disembodied. This was everything that is not. This was intimate and exhilarating and a musical treat in a space of accidental excellence. The works were Graeme Koehne Sleep of Reason, Schubert Symphony no.10 orchestrated by Brian Newbold and Schubert Symphony no.11 orchestrated by Joseph Joachim. The performers were noted in the Festival program as Timo-Veikko Valve (cello), Fredrik Sjölin (cello), Canberra Festival Camerata, ANU School of Music Orchestra, Danish String Quartet, Édua Zádory (violin), Anna McMichael (violin), James Wannan (viola), David Pereira (cello), Justin Bullock (bass), John Harding (conductor), but I’m not sure this is 100% correct.

    22 May 2011

    Git it in your soul

    I’m still swinging 24 hours after the concert. Mingus is so infectious and I got a chance to hear a big band playing it today. The Jazz School has run a series of workshops and concerts this week for the Canberra International Music Festival Fringe. Given work, I only got to this one, the ANU Big Band led by visitor Jamie Oehlers and playing the music of Charles Mingus. Here’s the repertoire: The shoes of the fisherman’s wife are some jive ass slippers; Nostalgia on Times Square; Moanin’; Goodbye pork pie hat; Fables of Faustus; Boogie stop shuffle. Shoes was done by a smaller group and would have been the most demanding of the pieces. The others were played by the full band. Jamie’s feature solos were excellent. Andy Butler’s solo piano on Shoes was outstanding. The transcription of Nostalgia by Reuben Lewis and the arrangement of Fables of Faustus were impressive. But it’s the group work that mattered to Mingus rather than the featured solos. The sheer exuberance and vibrancy of a big band letting go on these swinging grooves and growling blues melodies is what I’ll remember. And it’s this that has me singing to myself now, hours later as Boogie Stop Shuffles around non-stop. He may have been a cantankerous character but he was also a genius. Long live the soul of Mingus; a much loved star in the jazz firmament.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 21 May 2011

    Oh my gawd

    There were a lot of those “oh my gawd” moments when I caught Oehlers/Mackey/Magnusson/Zwartz at the Loft. It was a party for the local jazz community and everyone was there; standing room only in our oddly located and intimate venue. These are some of the cream of the Australian jazz dairy, and friends to boot. This was to be standards: easy and relaxed but also serious and with energy and life to spare. This is the instrumentalists’ life, ears and heart and exertion. It was interesting to see two top tenorists together; interesting to have heard two top Australian guitarists and two vastly different approaches to jazz on two consecutive nights. Wonderful.

    The band was Jamie Oehlers (tenor) and John Mackey (tenor), Steve Magnusson (guitar), Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Mark Sutton (drums) and Andy Butler (piano). There were two sets, just seven tunes, all standards, perhaps two hours of playing: All the things you are, My one and only love, Body & soul, Footprints, and a few others I recognised but couldn’t name. There were rabid, extended solos and taut accompaniment. There were contrasts in style and friendly challenges. These guys are playing for friends, but there’s a friendly rivalry like a footy team together in the muck. Suffice to say there were many Oh my gawd moments, and the response is little other than a chuckle at the seemingly impossible playing. Fabulously involved scalar movements and patterns from Jamie; blistering lines of quizzical uncertain pitch from Steve; outrageously dirty blues with atonal flourishes from John; firm tone, perfected intonation, melodic fluency, easily extended range and a unique line in single fingered scales from Jonathon; great energy, punchy kick and blushing cymbals from Mark; almost classical, overlapping scalar lines from Andy.

    It was just a blow but it was a window on the highest skills around. What a way to party.

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