28 November 2011

Some day, Sunday

It was a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon and Megan and I had just been to the flicks (the filmic adaption of Patrick White’s Eye of the storm: well done but a turgid tale of a rich warped family). We came out to find Annie Sloan playing a final few songs for the local imbibers. Annie’s a lively singer with nice ballads and a great audience manner. The backing was clean and open and comfortable with the changes: a duo of John Black on piano and Michael Lynch on bass. The last song was One Day I'll Fly Away as sung by Nicole Kidman on Moulin Rouge. I still have it going around in my head. And the sweet flavour of a very fruity dark ale. Nice way to spend a warm Sunday arvo.

Annie Sloan (vocals) sang with John Black (piano) and Michael Lynch (bass) on a warm Sunday afternoon at Charlie Black’s.

27 November 2011

Two takes on Christmas

I’ve missed too much recently with gigs and work and family, but I managed to emerge with an odd but satisfying combination of choral works for Christmas by SCUNA, the ANU Choral Society. The concert was for Christmas and there were two works, but of quite a stunning diversity.

Firstly, a modern (1943) piece by Britten to the quirky words of Christopher Smart written about 150 eyars earlier while he was in an asylum. You don’t catch the words while sung, but this was praise of God by all things created. Wikipedia describes it as “idiosynctratic and ecstatic”, and that easily fits, given lines like “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey, ... a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God” and subsequent praise for the valourous mouse. This was a work of organ, choir and SATB soloists, in eight sections lasting 17 minutes. I felt most comfortable with the big choral segments with supporting organ. This is clearly not an easy work and the performance was pleasing.

The second work was far easier to digest. Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit is a midnight mass written for the Jesuit Church of St Louis in Paris. It was written in the popular song style of the time for a small orchestra and choir. This was sweet, lively dance-like baroque music featuring the simple tones of recorders with organ and strings. Lots of sturdy crotchets and bouncing dotted crotchets from the orchestra and diatonic calls and responses from the choir. Nowhere near the challenge for the ear or the intellect that the Britten presented, but perhaps more comely for the Christmas season. I liked this one very much, especially with its smooth sounding strings and the directness of the recorders.

This was also my first visit to All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie. It’s an interesting building with an interesting history. It originally served as a railway station for funeral trains at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery. Funeral trains ended in the 1920s and the roof was finally taken by bushfire in the 1950s. Stan Taunton and son, Canberra builders, transferred the stones to Canberra, rebuilt the roof and it was dedicated in 1959. It’s a lovely sandstone building featuring hewn sculpture, and it has a strange form to allow trains to enter at one end. So it’s slightly odd in design and purpose and location, but humbly reminiscent of European mediaeval churches.

SCUNA performed Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit at the All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie with conductor Matthew Stuckings and accompaniest Anthony Smith.

20 November 2011

Rumble or thunder

Obama was in Canberra and you could hear the distant rumbling of FA-18s between the movements, but Beethoven on a grand piano at close quarters was thunder: powerful and passionate and also a source of a greater awe. Pianist Robert Schmidli was playing a concert for a small audience at a little church in Lyons, across the way from Woden. These are lunchtime concerts, held monthly, organised by Louise Page. I hadn’t heard of them before but I’ll do my best to attend a few more. They are local and presumably not by the professional elite (although Louise sings the next). Robert, who was playing this day, has a demanding day job. But it was intimate and personal and also purposeful, which is how I like it.

Robert played two pieces. The first was John Field’s Sonata no. 1 in Eb major. Field was an Irish pianist/composer who studied with Clementi, was friends with Czerny, originated the nocturne, lived in Moscow and influenced the Russians and was admired by Chopin and Liszt. I read in Wikipedia that, apart form the piano nocturne, he’s known for “chromatically decorated melody over sonorous left hand parts supported by sensitive pedalling” and “ostinato patterns and pedal points”. Chromaticism and ostinatos sounded stylistically modern but that was his later Russian period. The first sonata was dedicated to Clementi and I found it lively and relatively formal and, I thought, stylistically predating both classical and romantic. The Beethoven that followed just highlighted this. It was Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Piano Sonata no.21 in C major. This is strong, impassioned, brave music. Repeating themes of heavy left hand chords and rabid left hand scales and delicate right hand responses and trills. Dance and drama throughout. Pedals that meld the heavy and release to allow the detail to show through. A middle movement that was sparse and halting. Robert played both pieces with understanding and love for his small but attentive audience.

The jet planes may be technically stunning and fear-inducing, but they were mercifully distant and Beethoven was there with us. You can hear Waldstein and its like in the concert halls of the world but give me a decent, committed performer in an intimate setting any day. This was a lovely and satisfying outing and thanks to Robert. Robert Schmidli (piano) performed Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata and John Field’s sonata no.1 at St Alban’s Anglican Church in Lyons.

16 November 2011

Visiting Gossipist

Gossips played a gig at Bite to Eat Café last Sunday and it was a good one. It was a fine, warm Spring afternoon with kids cavorting in the park outside and parents indulging in tapas and local boutique brews. And the host, Katherine, is great fun. But just a few pics Gossips and the band with Leanne’s niece, Laura Nuttall, who sat in for a tune. I lost her on the PA, but Leanne confirms a strong voice and good pitch. So here’s the next generation. Thanks for singing with us, Laura.

15 November 2011


Gossips played over the weekend at the 2011 Cosmo Cabaret fund-raiser for Timor. Other returnees were soprano Kirsten Mann and The Cashews. Newbies this year were Anton Wurzer and the K-Motion dancers presenting a display on Argentinian tango. A busy night of varied entertainment and goodwill and chatter.

Gossips opened with a short set. We touched on the ‘40s theme of last year, but there was more a sweep of the 20th Century. Leanne even got to revisit a Goth past when we played Love cats. Most fun was the set with Anton, but more on that later. Kristen was again accompanied by Mike, but she sang a more earthy set this year. Firstly an Erik Satie song, obviously in French and more folksome than last year’s Debussy, but later a Celtic-sounding song of a barmaid who makes some extra money on the side from disreputable activities. The soprano technique does not make for lyrics that are easy to understand, but we got the message. The Cashews followed with their wonderful, sometimes touching, always clever songs of Canberra life presented with smiles and wit and exemplary interaction with the audience. Alison and Pete have the sweetest of mingling voices and unobtrusive harmonies and match it with a decent folksy instrumental technique. And was that an 8-string uke that Pete played?

The K-Motion dancers came after the break. The tango is a thing of some interest in jazz circles, but I only see the dance in films. It started with four couples that form from an inner circle surrounding the dance floor. The male, red jacketed, seeks a female and the sultry, seductive encounter begins. This is tightly framed, closely moving dance, bodies close and suggestive, even if faces are distant and formal. Anton followed with a solo set of lively, flexible tunes from fleeting fingers. There was some humour to end with a medley that included Stairway to Heaven, but mostly it was busy, enlivened improvisation. Anton plays a hot accordion, and I love that sound. It’s not one that we often hear in jazz, and perhaps the only one that we hear in jazz in Canberra, but it deserves more popularity. Perhaps it’s my Italian background but I love that sound and Anton plays with vigour and fluency and improvisational skills that makes it such a pleasure. Gossips returned for a few final tunes with Anton, and this is where I particularly noticed. One was a boppy 5/4 original by Anton, another was a hot bop blues, but it was Bluesette that particularly fitted. It’s a composition of Toots Thielemans so the tone fits perfectly with the snappy wind tone of the accordion.

So a very pleasant night of considerable variation and some new exposures. Much enjoyed. The Gossips are Leanne Dempsey (vocals), Mike Dooley (piano), Richard Manderson (saxes), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums). Kirsten Mann (voice soprano) was accompanied by Mike Dooley (piano). The Cashews are Pete Lyon (vocals, guitar) and Alison Procter (vocals, guitar, accordion). In individual K-Motion dancers are unknown to CJ. Anton Wurzer (piano accordion) performed solo and with the Gossips. And this all happened at the Second annual Cosmopolitan Cabaret in Curtin.

08 November 2011


So it’s called. Monanism is the current exhibition at the new and edgy private Museum of New and Old Art (MONA) in Hobart. Megan and I were in Hobart for a few days and we got to MONA X+ and this is what we found. It’s quirky, confronting, fascinating, quite brilliant and a challenge. My impression is that everyone visiting Hobart is going there but it’s not really for all. It’s nestled in a vineyard (good), provides accommodation (good) although not cheap, has its own boutique brewery (nice) and is seriously well designed. I overheard an older lady who was impressed by the architecture (everyone is: built low, glass hydraulic lifts, cut from sandstone, on the estuary, wonderful views, its own bus and ferry to deliver you from Hobart docks) but she was not comfy with the art. The old art is ancient, mostly Egyptian, and it seems to jump over the years between, as it also misses Africa and the Americas and Asia. Not all the collection is on display, but I remember one 16th Century Italian wax head (an interesting piece, given the impermanence of the material), Egyptian and modern/contemporary. And what challenging modern work! Lots of sex; lots of fannies (150 in C…s and other conversations / Greg Taylor and friends); all sorts of bodily functions, including a fascinating, if pongy, display of human digestion (Cloaca professional / Wim Delvoye); lots of video; some Nolans and Boyds, including a Breughel-like Melbourne in atomic flames (Melbourne burning / Arthur Boyd). There was a good deal of humour and frequent politics, ideas prioritised over skills (common enough in recent visual art), shock and oddity and in-your-face vulgarity. I was intrigued by the presumably genuine assisted-suicide kit that you could experience without total/final commitment (My beautiful chair / Greg Taylor, Dr Philip Nitsche). I squirmed and laughed with some embarrassment at the very non-suburban, in-your-face bodily investigations. But it was well attended and thoughtfully if idiosyncratically collected and presented with excellent graphic design and a rich experience of digitally-enabled live guides. Truly a fascinating day out.

MONA itself has a notable provenance. It’s a collection of one man, David Walsh, a Tasmanian millionaire and “rabid atheist” who grew up locally. Wikipedia says it nicely: “A university drop-out and autodidact with mathematical skills, Walsh made his fortune by developing a technical gambling system used to bet on horse racing and other sports globally.” Well, it’s certainly a good use for all that gambling profit. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA X+) is located and Hobart.

PS, I’ve thrown in three pics of Hobart: a graffito, two transvestites at the mardigras and some typical cute Georgian houses in Battery Point behind Salamanca Place.

05 November 2011

Big Bluesy Band

The chalk and cheese saga continued when I attended the Loft for the full New Sheik experience. Leigh Barker’s full band was there for a night of swinging, down-home dirty bluesy, hollerin’ jazz and it was great. This is a very good band playing music of an era that is is variously touching and refreshing and enlivening to visit. This is Billie Holiday passion, Ellingtonian intellect, Fats Waller bounce, blues growl and corn field holler. Great fun, touching or entertaining lyrics, and the biggest audience I’ve seen at the Loft. It’s an era that entertains and has a following, and this band does the job of promotion and can tickle an audience so deserve the following.

Leigh Barker is the new sheik himself, leading the band from his surprisingly loud unamplified bass (I’m pretty sure even this gig was not amplified). Quipping with the audience and choosing tunes at whim for the gig and the recording that was in train. Heather Stewart is the vocalist up front who also doubles on classically-trained, but down-home violin-cum-fiddle. She’s wonderfully touching when singing Billie Holliday and nicely growling on the blues. Both the horns, Eamon McNellis and Don Stewart were blow-outs. They both display a love of the older styles of jazz, so their solos are delicious and lively diatonic explorations of the chord structure, their playing includes the growls and glissandoes and tonguing that shout New Orleans, their harmonised backing licks are neat and clean and their collective improvisation was intelligent and together. And it wasn’t just old style: I noticed Eamon breaking from sweet diatonics into dissonance several times, but he’d equally sit easily on the most minimal of melodies and drain it for its beauty. And what lovely brassy tones they each had: clean, rounded, nicely articulated. Matt Boden led a few tunes in trio or smaller formats. I loved his simple statements and correct, clear interpretations of the underlying harmonies. And Al McGrath-Kerr was introduced as the band member with the longest name (the band was described as the “least single band I’ve even been in … in case anyone’s getting any ideas”). Al was open and quite minimal, dropping into loping marches or playing with rudiments and rolls.

I love Ellington’s Come Sunday, so that was a delight when they played it as a violin-led quartet. Billie Holliday featured in I must have that man and again in Moonlight and you and you could do nothing but empathise with the desperation. There weer joysome blues, often with the guys in the band hollerin’ responses to Heather’s calls. They played a Tom Vincent original, Big Creek wedding, with a cyclic, songbook structure. Nice to see our players playing tunes by their mates: we don’t just have to play the Real Book. There was an Appalachian fiddle tune that they jazzed up into swinging solos, and a blues tune that the audience voted for, Driving Ducks Blues. And the wit of Fats Waller’s Write myself a letter.

So, a busy night at the Loft, lots of fun, lots of good playing, lots of history and wit and a touch of nostalgia. And the night was recorded in the current full-bore, multitrack recording series that ArtSound is involved in, so we might hear it someday as a CD. I for one loved it. The New Sheiks are Leigh Barker (bass), Eamon McNelis (trumpet), Don Stewart (trombone), Matt Boden (piano), Al McGrath-Kerr (drums) with Heather Stewart (vocals, violin).

03 November 2011

Chalk and cheese

It’s chalk and cheese but I love it all. Last night was the Andrew Robson Trio playing with Sandy Evans. Andrew at one stage talked of Ornette Coleman’s influence on his playing and having heard and met him in Sydney. Ornette is not pre-bop, so you can imagine how far this concert was from my last report. The band also played a series of originals from Andrew and a blues by Coltrane. I particularly noticed the ease and beauty of the harmony lines from the horns when they appeared although they weren’t frequent. Otherwise this was a night of Andrew’s angular melodies and great solos against a syncopated and responsive rhythm section.

Andrew’s solos struck me as oblique, intellectual affairs of long intervals, uncommon scales, changing harmonies and truncated notes, but he surprised me with occasional smoother scalar runs. Sandy was more legato in her lines, more smooth and rounded and deeper in pitch and tone from her lower pitched sax but also from her musical conception. The rhythm section was modern syncopated and wonderfully strong in presence and responsiveness. Steve played one fast walk, but mostly the beat was divided, playing once on 1-2 or syncopating freely over the bar or playing obligato lines or even devolving into free along with the rest of the band on a dedication to Ornette. Toby was just sitting in but did an admirable job, eyes on charts and responding quickly to snippets of melody or to a line of solo. There was an easy enjoyment on stage for their annual visit to the Gods. Andrew is a local, having studied at the Jazz School, so was happy to have family in attendance, but the whole band was good-willed and chuckled frequently. Mostly, the tunes were originals by Andrew. There were a few dedications. That one to Ornette was called Texas Ranger and was clearly in his style, a bluesy open melody that dissolved into a passage of free jazz. Another dedication was to Don Johnson, now deceased but head of the Jazz School when Andrew was studying. The Coltrane blues was Locomotion. Otherwise there were some urgent moderns, Combover was a early bop-style, Silk Road was mysterious and floating, there was a ballad with a bass solo that was precisely pitched and rich with double stops, Children in the aisles was a reference to a catholics gig in Paddington.

It was a demanding but also satisfying gig. I wondered if Andrew’s family frequently attended jazz gigs, because it was complex, but it was also clean and professional and wonderfully played and quite insinuating. Andrew Robson (alto) led a band with Sandy Evans (tenor), Steve Elphick (bass) and Toby Hall (drums) at the Gods.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
  • 01 November 2011

    Not quite midnight in Paris

    This was a night of many pleasures. Delightful swing, performed with real authenticity in a studio environment in the company of friends … and a few beers. The band was a trio of Matt Boden, Leigh Barker and Mark Sutton, with singer Heather Stewart sitting in for a few tunes. The location was Mark Sutton’s working studio which was celebrating the arrival of a Yamaha C5 grand piano. The beer was Coopers.

    This night had me thinking of a film I’d just seen, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It’s a light entertainment about a writer who time warps back to the artistic, bon-vivant era of 1920s Paris of Scott-Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, Miro. The author arrives at a fine party with piano-man Cole Porter singing tuneful witticisms to the delight of various onlookers. We’ve all heard these tunes, but like Woody’s author-alter-ago, we seldom get to truly hear them in the playful glory of these stylish but desperate pre-bop times. At least not with this authenticity. The piano was clear and acoustic; the bass was unadorned, unamplified, gut-strung and surprisingly loud; the drums were minimal and mostly brushed. They swung with real ease and joy. This was all on par, but it was Heather’s singing that really defined the authenticity to me. The songs of tender lips and moonlight - and the high and imploring voice that cut to bridges of womanly strength in disappointment - got closest to the era for me. I spoke to Heather later and she talked of Bessie Smith and how she was claimed by both blues and jazz followers. And how jazz is a respectful and intelligent art that knows its history and draws on it. So when she sang chromatic lines they were nowhere out of place even if not on Bessie’s songsheet. Authentic and timely singing. Matt is in Paris these days, which just maintains my deceipts here. He was obviously enjoying the re-registered and tuned piano, firstly with Monkish non-conformity, but also with simple joy in the delightful melodies of the American songbook. Leigh worked hard with a high action but turned out frequent bass solos of lively lyricism. Mark amused me when he asked “another swing?” for this was the nature of the outing, but he filled the role with ease on a little kit that was perfect for the job: just adequate to state the four lines/limbs of drumming: kick, sock, snare and ride. All in theme. You won’t be surprised to hear of this setlist: How deep the ocean, Body & soul, Stomping at the Savoy, But not for me, an Ellington blues. There were only two vocal tunes: Sit right down and write myself a letter and The moonlight and you, but always with what irony!

    Being in a studio, the music continued even when the band stopped. They were recorded, of course, and we huddled around to hear the effect of different mics and mic placements. It was just a rough mix, but it sounded clear and detailed, although obviously lacking the sheen that effects and processing and mastering will give to the final product. Mark and Greg have a fine studio with decent gear, digital and analogue options, several decent spaces, the skills of experienced musicians-cum-engineers and that lovely Yamaha C5.

    Matt Boden (piano), Leigh Barker (bass), Mark Sutton (drums) and Heather Stewart (vocals) performed and recorded for a small audience at Mark’s recording studio. Greg Stott engineered on the night.