29 July 2011

Lucked out

Fridays are fine at the National Press Club, with free jazz at the highest local level, but we lucked out this evening. Mike Price was leading a quartet with visiting bassist Brendan Clarke and local stalwarts Wayne Kelly and Col Hoorweg. Brendan has a soft, gut tone, but pushes with an unrelenting swing and solos with real panache. I arrived during a bass solo and was taken from the first notes. But I also noticed Mike’s guitar, with satisfying melodic invention in the crisp style of George Benson when he played jazz, sweetly uncomplicated tone, clear melodic statements, moving through the beat with easy lyricism. Very nice. I also noticed some lovely and unexpected single note counterpoint against Wayne’s solos, which firstly had me wondering if this was bass until I realised this was higher and clearer and Brendan was otherwise engaged. Wayne’s accompaniment was syncopated chords of moving pitch that didn’t impose on the solos but enriched their movements, and frequent solo lines that moved in parallel through chordal degrees. Brendan was a rock, and Col embellished with fills that felt comfortable and settled in the groove. I recognised several tunes but can only name Have you met Miss Jones. Mike told me the second set would get into originals, so I guess I’m also commenting on those. If so, they were nicely written, unforced tunes that presented well. This is the band that will play on the opening night of the Capital Jazz Project, so to catch them warming up at the NPC was an unexpected delight. Lovely, straightahead jazz in the mainstream tradition with restrained energy and comfortable invention. Much enjoyed.

Mike Price (guitar) led a quartet with Wayne Kelly (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Col Hoorweg (drums) at the National Press Club.

23 July 2011

Congrats Hannah

Thanks to Karen Steains for the pic

Congratulations to Hannah James who recently won the 2011 Jann Rutherford Memorial Award. The award is to support young female jazz musicians at the beginning of their professional careers. Hannah is a good friend of CJ, and has appeared many times on this site. Last time I heard Hannah was at Jazz Uncovered 2010 when she was playing with Olivia Henderson and Evan Dorrian and it was a truly impressive outing. Hannah has led her band recently for SIMA and others and was interviewed and performed on the Music Show on ABCRN. Nicely done, Hannah!

21 July 2011

Unautre citoyen guitariste du monde

Congratulations to ex-Canberra guitarist, Alex Stuart, whose quartet was selected for La révélation 2011 (prix du Jury) at the Jazz à Juan Festival in Antibes. Other performers at the event included the trio of Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock as well as BB King, James Hunter and Marcus Miller. I hope the Festival doesn’t mind me quoting their text. The very nice pic is by Vivek Mukherjee from Alex’s Facebook page.

Alex Stuart Quartet “Ce guitariste originaire de Canberra en Australie est australien tombé amoureux de Paris et de la France. Citoyen du monde, il y a élaboré, à l’une de ses influences australienne, une musique qui se veut un melting-pot du meilleur ce que la capitale avait à lui offrir en matière d’influences diverses et cosmopolites, savant mélange de jazz ouvert, de groove, d’Afrique , d’Inde ou encore d’Amérique du Sud. Alex Stuart est une ode à l'ouverture culturelle. Son métissage musical nous conduit sur les cinq continents. Compositeur, grand admirateur de Kurt Rosenwinkel, il crée une musique neuve, organique, qui capte l'esprit de notre nouveau monde émergeant. Un jazz porté haut par un brillant quartet où se retrouvent les excellents Guillaume Perret au saxophone, Juan-Sebastian Jimenez à la contrebasse et Yoann Serra à la batterie.” (http://www.jazzajuan.com/accueil/programme2011/jazzajuanrevelation.aspx, viewed 21 July 2011)

15 July 2011

A political indulgence

Julia Gillard was more personable than I’d expected given that she seems so strained and wooden on TV. But she was amongst admirers, or at least amongst fellow travellers for a price on carbon. We were at an event organised by GetUp! In case you are living under a mushroom, GetUp! is Australia’s centre-left new-style online Web-generation political movement. It’s got a membership of several hundred thousand. Membership is not demanding, just receipt of a few emails each week, but you can take it further and be involved: attend demonstrations, write to pollies, do handouts, lump up some cash for whatever cause, even attend sessions with the PM. So there we were. The main speaker was Julia Gillard, with a retinue of press, taking questions for 30 minutes from GetUp!’s founder, Simon Sheikh. She was interesting and quite pleasant in person: not particularly au fait with the science, a little better on the economics, but her job is not the detail, it’s the politics and negotiations and persuasion. Certainly, her fellow speakers were on-side with the effectiveness of the plan (carbon tax moving rapidly to a market in carbon). Will Steffen, head of the ANU Climate Change Institute, gave a potted summary of climate change science and its implications, and it’s not a comfortable and relaxed story. Ben McNeil of UNSW spoke on the opportunities in the green economy. I was particularly impressed by Will S, but science and rationality are things I hold dearly. Ben M had me heartened and unexpectedly optimistic. His line was that the green revolution is as significant as the industrial revolution or our recent information revolution and there are great opportunities in it (and great dangers for countries that hold to the old path). This accords with what I’ve been thinking recently. Getting in early enough (perhaps not first and we’re not the first) is an advantage, although there are transition costs (and thus winners and noisy losers). Climate change is a big and difficult issue. We’ve known of the physics for over a century but we’ve only known of our own climate change for 25 years or so. It will take a mammoth change in our technologies and we have to make the change over only a few decades and in the context of the GFC, peak oil, Fukushima, crises with water and food and the rest. It’s never a good time to make massive change that will have an effect on entrenched wealth, but we gotta do it. Megan and I felt oddly positive when we left. As for the party politics, I do wonder what Abbott would do if he got in, and it’s possible he will in a few years. I can’t really believe the Liberal Party would allow him to dismantle carbon pricing. I guess he’d make some changes and claim he’d done what he promised, especially given that his market-free alternative goes against party philosophy and market economics (being essentially socialist: climate change paid for by the tax-payer through payments to industry). He’d have to believe the science is bunkum, which he may do and a few others (eg, Minchin, Pell) obviously do, but despite the polls, it’s clearly a losing bet that would take Australia’s economy with it and civilisation as we know it if the rest of the world followed suit. How would you like that on your conscience? Not to say anything of his negativity and Tea-Party-style emotionalism (but then the Labor Party is hardly politically angelic, either). Pricing carbon is the future; carbon as an economic externality is clearly the past. Accept that one and we have a chance of a liveable future. Good on ya, Julia: win or lose, your conscience is clear, and all else is forgiven if you pull this one off.

11 July 2011

Aural hors d’oeuvres

They call them Sound Bites and Sound Bites 2 was performed over the weekend. Sound Bites is a diverse collection of musical snippets performed by colleagues and old friends out of the ANU School of Music brought together by clarinettist Nicole Canham. Like hors d’oeuvres at the best cocktail party, this music was fascinating, short and varied: clarinet and bassoon and tarogato mixing with flugelhorn and saxes and electric guitar and electronics to play classical and jazz dots with some folk influences and jazz and rock improv. It’s unusual in terms of styles and tonal combinations and original in terms of composition and improvisation. It’s also somewhat of a party given the informal venue with background coffee-making and family and friends around to enjoy the company of ex-Canberrans visiting their home town.

They certainly were an eclectic mix of sounds. Nicole started with Not alone performed on clarinet with Carlos López Charles, the composer, on live electronics. This was clarinet dots played at dotted quaver intervals against an echo at quaver intervals. You can imagine the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities. Nicole joked about her mistakes coming back to haunt her (but presumably only for a few repeats). Next were two tunes on bassoon from Zoe Pepper. The first, Nostaligia, was again written by Carlos and was sparse melody and fluttering pads against an electronic drone. Then a more conventional tune in Piazzola’s Etude no.4. Niels Rosendahl followed with a medley played on solo sax comprising a Jimmy Rowles ballad called Peacocks, with harmony that challenged jazz theory, and an intervallic improvisation on the blues in Michael Brecker style called Movere (latin for Motivation). I found this greatly satisfying and truly impressive playing although the blues structure only appeared as hints to my ears. Carlos followed on electric guitar and effects for a piece called Iridescence which pictured in sounds the patina of colours seen from oil on water. This was all overdriven guitar and right hard harmonics and left hand tapping and using the wah pedal to highlight frequencies: rock guitar influenced by a composer’s awareness. (Bassoon to rock guitar: I told you this was a catholic mix; folk next). Then Nicole on tarogato and Niels on soprano sax performed a folk-influenced composition in two movements by Ian Blake called Tuk (= Little hill). Imagine Welsh folk dancing around musicians on a little hill through many pages of charts, repetition and interaction and danceable rhythms. Then Miro sat in on flugelhorn and Carlos on choppy e-guitar sounds and Niels switched to tenor for a beautiful but short piece called Foggy Friday in Flynn, and a final tune from Miro (sans Carlos, and with Niels on baritone sax), a lively riff-based number with bari sax solo called Pressure makes diamonds.

Now to describe that in a few words? Varied, certainly. Intriguing and exploratory, demonstrably. What a pleasant and intelligent way to spend an afternoon. Now what’s for dinner? Beethoven? Thanks to Nicole and looking forward to Sound Bites 3 next year. Nicole Canham (clarinet, tarogato) played with Zoey Pepper (bassoon Carlos López Charles (electric guitar, electronics and several compositions), Niels Rosendahl (soprano, tenor, baritone saxes), Miroslav Bukovsky (flugelhorn and several compositions).

I’ll also mention the Canberra Photographic Society’s Out there 2011 exhibition which I caught before SB. There were some good compositions, some humourous or intriguing views, some travel, some nature, and more. It’s only a small group and I was surprised to see how many names I knew. I don’t have a catalogue after the event, but I remember some names. Family friend Brian Jones had some excellent and sharp work including a stunningly lush natural panorama of a tropical gorge. Sunday’s host Steven Shaw displayed some fascinating smoke trails. Astronomy mate Ross Gould had a lovely image of a woman in yellow dress with a cello. Helen McFadden and others had some detailed and sensual macro shots of flowers. I also remember a nice series of very wide panoramas of Lake George with threatening weather and walking shoes and Parliamentary spoons and expressionist sandbanks and a variety of people and places and more. Nice one.

09 July 2011

Tragic but ya gotta laugh

Our recent politics has been tragic and to survive, you’ve just gotta laugh. Julia and Tony battling it out and political parties purposeless and denialism and emotionalism rife. So last night we set out to have a laugh with our excellent local political satirists, Shortis and Simpson, supported by The House Howlers and the Shiny Bum Singers.

The House Howlers are a choir from the Parliament House Press Gallery; the Shiny Bums are our renowned public service choir. They all take the mickey by relyricising popular tunes to hilarious results. Some quotes will give you the idea: “Canonisation / that’s the name of the game / with each veneration / they play it the same” on Mary McKillop and the Catholic Church; “Greens to the left of me / Katter to the right / Here I am, stuck in the middle with you” on our minority Federal government; “I am rich / I’ll pay for anything / I am Malcolm [Turnbull]” to the tune of I am woman; “I should have danced all night” on the unfortunate consequences of the Office Christmas party. Singing upmarket with Bizet’s Carbon and an amusing history of all the Prime Ministers, and downmarket to Rocky Horror. As for S&S, I’ve written about them here before and they were just as entertaining this time. They presented new material and some older material updated, but always with their good humour, sharp tongue and professional cabaret presentation. Last time I heard them at Vivaldi’s with a grand piano and a bar environment which was great for the intimate and inclusive context. This was a bigger show with a bigger venue and bigger support. Who could forget the drunk spoonerist and the rolling of Rudd or the “two Wongs and a White”. I was surprised by some unexpectedly touching tunes. One was about Edward Barton who lived in an attic, cooking over embers, a classical scholar who would rather speak latin with the Pope, but had to lead a cabinet of Kings. Another was on the live export of cattle and how their treatment was well known for 11 years before our recent moral and political panic. I especially enjoyed the final tunes for each set where S&S were supported by the combined choirs. The first was the heavy and repetitive “We don’t need no tax on carbon … Hey, Gillard, leave our cash alone” to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Brick in the wall. The second was the wittily worded anthem on the Liberal Party presidency, “Give Reith a chance” to the tune of Lennon & Ono’s Give peace a chance. That had us all singing and waving our arms which was no surprise: it’s an infectious song and obviously of the era of this boomer audience. Great times, great wit, great laughs and even some seriousness. S&S are a local gem.

06 July 2011


Boys (and men) sometimes get bad press these days. As a father of two boys, now young men, I’ve enjoyed their boisterous and sometimes risky behaviour, their physicality and excitability, their directness and openness, and have been pleasantly surprised watching mothers supporting and understanding their boys. Now our boys are bringing girls into the house, and we much enjoy their different characteristics. And they are so different. I have to accept there’s some truth in the stereotypes, although they are gross generalisations and I remain unsure of the source: socialisation or genetics or a mix of both.

It was in these terms that I heard the Kim Lawson Trio with Steve Hunter and James Hauptmann. This is music that talks to the male experience: boisterous, fabulously energetic, highly skilled, outgoing and partygoing. But it’s also grown up, so the fast and furious is now well formed and informed with mature skills, the relationships are respectful even as the individuality of solos and fills are always ready to explode. I could do little but laugh as these guys went about their extroverted expression. This is jazz fusion, funky grooves, frightening rapidity, unbending application, take-no-prisoners excitement. As a bassist, I watched Steve, of course, with his rock-hard punchy tonality, busy 16-th note syncopation that never ever let off despite chordal colouring and devastating fills that dropped like hail in a storm. Then solos that might settle and search but always stated with extravagant virtuosity. If Steve was the busy midfielder who sets the team in motion, James was the left winger who plays the passes (excuse the soccer analogies, but this is a boys’ review, and it reminds me of my kids’ soccer games, of which there were many). James was busy but discretely grooving and always locked with Steve and his solos oozed with driving rhythms rather than staccato contrasts, although some bell-like tones stood out. Kim led with mostly tenor and occasional alto on heads that were devastating and often in unison with Steve, and solos that were nicely stated with some dissonance but I reckon he needed the power of a PA to exert their presence against Steve’s punch. But I’m a bassist so was all eyes and ears for Steve and was quite overwhelmed.

They played originals by Kim and Steve and James and Footprints and Visby by Dale Barlow. There were chops to burn (these guys were cooking) but the underlying structures were pretty straightforward. Think boutique beer rather than vintaged McLaren Vale. What a blast! Kim Lawson (tenor, alto saxes) led a trio with Steve Hunter (electric bass) and James Hauptmann (drums).

05 July 2011

Favourites from the NGC

Thanks to NASA for the Galileo pic of Europa

NGC is the New General Catalogue and it’s something I knew well in the past as an amateur astronomer. It was perhaps the first major modern astronomical catalogue and is so well known because it lists all the most notable deep sky objects (ie, outside our Solar System). So I was intrigued when Simon Milman led an experimental trio playing music inspired by the spheres the other night at our lovely and intimate venue, Smith’s Alternative Bookshop.

The band was called Io and comprised bass, trumpet and tenor. The lack of percussion suited the mobile and indeterminate sense of time that was a feature of this band. I saw the chart for one number, and it was essentially divided into parts by timed segments that featured one or another of the instruments improvising on timbre or pitch or harmony or rhythm or the like. The musos were playing conventional instruments and were informed by conventional techniques but the musical concerns were more the sound and the interactions demanding good listening. Simon sometimes hinted at grooves and I noticed one chord sequence and associated riff passage that recurred at the end of a tune but perhaps that was improvised. There were harmonies between the horns that spoke various malleable harmonies. There were non-traditional uses of instruments: Reuben’s trumpet was often breathy and tongued and just touching on forming notes; Thomas slapped the tenor pads for rhythmic presence and often played lines with a strangely quizzical pitch; Simon bowed frequently for a floating presence and even used a thumb-and-fingerpicking technique on double bass that had me flummoxed. But these were traditional instruments and traditional techniques and skills were underlying the performance. Reuben floored me with a few of his bop-like lines and I enjoyed Simon’s use of longer and unexpected intervals. This style obviously demands decent listening. One tune, Tennis, started with individual notes of improvised pitch bouncing between the three players, then pairs of notes bouncing, then sets of three then four then some sort of minor cacophony and a stepwise return to the single bouncing notes. Tennis was an apt title and it was the weekend of Wimbledon. In the end, Simon couldn’t get a decent pic of Io so we got Freckles on Europa, the open cluster NGC265 and the spiral galaxy NGC3370. Along with BBC which was reminiscent of documentary music and was probably the most clearly chordally-structured piece, and Australian Paint Drying Society. It’s not so much a fun time, but it’s musically satisfying: well-developed conventional skills informing experimental music in an intimate venue.

Io are Simon Milman (bass), Reuben Lewis (trumpet) and Thomas Fawcett (tenor sax).