30 April 2012

Yeh, it’s our day…

I didn’t know of our day until I got a delayed phone message about International Jazz Day. I’ve since heard Brian Browne and James Morrision as guests on ABC Radio National. BB was reading jazz poetry with sax accompaniment and JM was doing his solo big band thing. Both were somewhat flabbergasting to the host but I liked how they showed diverse sides of jazz after the excellent but predicatable snippets of Louis and Ellington. I’ve since looked at the UNESCO site and I hope they don’t mind me passing on some of their content. If we have to have all these commemorative days and memorial weeks and consecrated years, then I guess jazz should have its own. Happy IJD, everyone!

From UNESCO’s International Jazz Day website

In November 2011, during the UNESCO General Conference, the international community proclaimed 30 April as "International Jazz Day". The Day is intended to raise awareness in the international community of the virtues of jazz as an educational tool, and a force for peace, unity, dialogue and enhanced cooperation among people. Many governments, civil society organizations, educational institutions, and private citizens currently engaged in the promotion of jazz music will embrace the opportunity to foster greater appreciation not only for the music but also for the contribution it can make to building more inclusive societies.

Why International Jazz Day?

  • Jazz breaks down barriers and creates opportunities for mutual understanding and tolerance
  • Jazz is a vector of freedom of expression
  • Jazz is a symbol of unity and peace
  • Jazz reduces tensions between individuals, groups, and communities
  • Jazz fosters gender equality
  • Jazz reinforces the role youth play for social change
  • Jazz encourages artistic innovation, improvisation, new forms of expression and inclusion of traditional music forms into new ones
  • Jazz stimulates intercultural dialogue and empowers young people from marginalized societies
Well I’ll be. UNESCO says it so it must be true although I’m not too sure about point 4. Megan can get pretty restive when I play some of my more challenging recordings. But I jest.

  • Quote from UNESCO’s International Jazz Day website, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/jazz-day/, viewed 30 April 2012
  • http://jazzday.com/
  • 26 April 2012

    Canberra blogs

    Canberra is the national capital of Australia. It’s a long way from the busy, beating heart of NYC, but jazz is now an international art form and Australia has a thriving and capable jazz community. The community is biggest in the larger cities but each city has its own scene.

    Eric Pozza of CanberraJazz.net writes a synopsis on contemporary jazz in Canberra for the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) 2012 Jazz Day Blogathon

    Canberra’s jazz scene is small but vibrant. It’s centred on the Australian National University School of Music and its Jazz Faculty, with its capable professionals and a crew of keen students. Several bars or cafes have jazz as entertainment one or more nights a week. These change regularly but they provide income for students and local professionals. The professionals need to cover the waterfront and teach, but that’s common everywhere. Currently, the main listening venues are The Loft, a small weekly venue run by two recent graduates from the ANU, and the Gods, a monthly jazz series run by noted Australian poet, Geoff Page. Both feature the best local acts, visiting Australian acts and occasional international visitors. A few other listening venues immediately come to mind: the School of Music Band Room, the Street Theatre, the alt-styled Front Café, Hippo Bar and the CGS Gallery.

    As is the way, students leave for the big smoke at the end of their courses, so jazz is a changing community and it’s not formally organised. The Canberra Jazz Club exists and has an illustrious history with a string of festivals but the members have aged and their interests are more trad than contemporary. The Jazz Uncovered festival ran for two years (2010, 2011) and we are now looking forward to the second coming of the Capital Jazz Project (2011, 2012) featuring visiting ex-Miles sideman Bennie Maupin. Canberra has a notable community radio station, ArtSound FM, that has supported jazz for over 30 years and has years of recordings of everyone from students (some now-made-good) to visiting internationals in its archives. The National Film and Sound Archive and the Australian Jazz Archive are also in Canberra, and have significant historical jazz collections.

    Canberra’s most famous jazz export must be Frank Gambale, guitarist with Chick Corea on a string of albums, but Canberra also has a recent history of seeding Australian and international jazz scenes with its graduates. A few names include Craig Schneider, Kristen Cornwell, Carl Dewhurst, Andrew Robson, Nick McBride, Brendan Clarke, Michael McQuaid, Andrew Swift and the a-cappella quartet Idea of North. Like many new, planned, national capitals, Canberra has a poor image in the national consciousness, not least given its association with Federal politics, but Canberra is a worthy and intelligent city. Its population is only 300,000 people, but the attraction of Parliament, national collecting institutions, Commonwealth departments and agencies, embassies and 4 universities has drawn a well-educated population with an interest in the arts.

    To learn more about jazz in Canberra, start with my blog, CanberraJazz.net, for the period since 2005. For history before that date, seek out A cool capital : the Canberra jazz scene, 1925-2005, by John Sharpe, [Torrens, A.C.T.] : J. Sharpe, 2006

  • JJA Jazz Blogathon 2012
  • 25 April 2012

    Walking bass(less)

    There was no bass but I think I heard more walking bass at Eamon Dilworth’s gig at the Loft than I’ve heard in some time. I sometimes think swing is almost becoming a lost art in modern jazz but Eamon and his mates obviously enjoy it and so do I. This was a lovely little concert.

    Some hot playing, some organ grooves with those muffled organ bass lines, post-bop trumpet and clear guitar and driving ride defined it for me. That’s not to say this was out of time. Carl’s guitar was crisp and clean in the ’50s style, but his lines were long and tortuous and spanned some impressive ranges. I was wondering how he builds his lines. I thought perhaps on fourths in one tune, but another had clear thirds. Eamon was more scalar in a recognisable post-bop style, so a Kenny Wheeler tune to end the night was not out of place. Steve’s organ was perhaps the defining sound. An organ-based band is unique in presentation and sound: soft and malleable but nevertheless hard swinging. It’s a busy job for the organist, thinking left hand walks and right hand solos or choppy C3 accompaniment. Steve did it with aplomb and also joy, which is fitting, because it is a carefree sound. I heard his solos as more bluesy, against more delightfully contorted yet tonal solos of Carl. And I enjoyed Carl’s comping: modal, busy and wonderfully colourful. And what of drums. James (aka ‘Pug’: I must ask him about that sometime) swung with a very promiment and heavily syncopated kick drum and sharp and precise rolls and rudiments. Nicely fitting for this style, with several generous solos and swapped eights and fours. It’s an old custom but was perfectly apt in this context. This was swinging, lively, joyous music with space for individual solos statements. Old-school but there were also several more worldy tunes. Not so much swing but not out of place. These were originals by Eamon, dedications after a year in Europe and in context of good times and friendships. It’s not surprising that this swinging goodwill continues into his originals. From Bucharest with love switched from a lengthy mutating quarter note arpeggio intro in 4/4 to melody and solos in 5/4 with a funky 3-2 groove then back to the 4/4 as outro. Vienna was a slow, airy jazz tune. Milano was a more modern, funky 8-feel which fits the city of famed and capricious architecture. But you can’t keep a swinger down so one original was a straightahead swing, a university exercise called Starting point. The rest of the repertoire comprised a few less common standards, I love you and East of the sun west of the moon, and an end on post-bop heaven, Kenny Barron’s Voyage. What a lively, joyous and skilled concert. I revelled in it and left with a smile on my face, as you should.

    Eamon Dilworth (trumpet) led a quartet with Carl Morgan (guitar), Steve Barry (organ) and James ‘Pug’ Waples (drums) at the Loft.

    24 April 2012

    Riding the boundaries

    Published 3 years late after being forgotten in draft

    Riding boundaries can be relaxing, out on the endless plains, surveying territory, but the unexpected can happen and it takes wisdom and some good will to respond effectively.

    It’s a long shot but I thought of boundaries as Julian Banks and the Hauptmanns were playing one of their later tunes last night at the Gods. I’d heard finger picking guitar and stylish hints at the banjo that Ben sometimes plays, and bass playing cut time on 1-3. It was mostly a rockabilly style with clear jazz training and sensibilities that I heard, with an undercurrent of bouncy humour. Like the version of Caravan earlier in the night. But there had also been a tango from Julian, called Take 2. And a Happy Birthday in jazz style for Geoff Page. Then an amusing title Cumquat may, and later a cut time take on You don’t know what love is: very different, but still laid back and satisfying. But I think it was during a tune called Daggerburton (?) when I thought of boundaries. Daggerburton started with heavy blues licks on guitar, from the era of Hendrix and Cream, then dropped into a reggae. I’m wondering: “stylistically, just what is this?”. I heard it as a postmodern, ironic awareness, and the rockabilly said boundaries. So it was.

    It was satisfying and deceptively corny at times, but with humour and taste. Ben often enough exploded into fast and complex guitar solos, but they were clean and unlike his effected extravaganzas that I’ve heard at other times. Julian was superbly tasteful. I heard some modern out playing at the very start of the night, but he settled to big rich tone and sweet intervals and crystalline melody. Deceptively simple; beautifully tasteful or tastefully beautiful. Zoe was steady, although she told me after that she’d been playing a borrowed bass with a different neck and setup and so she was very uncomfortable. I’d noticed her few solos were short and tuneful, but I thought reluctant. It fitted when I heard her borrowed bass was so different. (Acoustic basses variously have necks that meet the body at D or Eb on the G-string. This was a D instrument and she normally plays an Eb, so she must have been fighting for good intonation all night). James is always solid and steady in a full, swinging drum style. He took a few short solos later in the night which were flowing and moderately busy but they left me wishing for more. So this was a night of laid back and mostly on the beat grooves, attractive tunes and clear melodies, but also irony in its catholicity of styles. Out on the plains; riding the boundaries of improvised music; taking influence from wherever: in summary, intelligent, current and entertaining.

    Julian Banks (tenor) played a reunion concert with jazz school mates, the Hauptmann family: Ben Hauptmann (guitar), Zoe Hauptmann (bass) and James Hauptmann (drums).

    23 April 2012

    Little luxuries

    My Mum likes to visit to the Hyatt Tea Room and it was felicitous that we could also catch Lucinda Peters who was playing there for Friday evening pre-dinner drinks. This is a very civilised outing and the music was perfectly suitable for the location. No intrusive drums. Just the smooth tones of bass, the sharp but sweet sound of acoustic guitar (Stuart changed to semi-acoustic later in a later set) and Lucinda singing smooth jazz and latin and some tamed bop. I was talking rather than listening for this gig, but I noticed fluent solos from both these isntrumentalists, even if my favourites were from the twangy acoustic. I also enjoyed Lucinda’s eminently professional presence and a nicely subdued jazz freedom that made for interesting tunes but with a relaxed presence. The first tune we heard was Round midnight, so this was particularly subdued, but then the set moved nicely though various styles: How deep the ocean how high the sky, Girl from Ipanema, Yardbird suite and that classic memory of a little black dress, Moon River. Lovely and perfect accompaniment for sparking wines or an amber ale. Lucinda also plays bass and I’ve yet to hear her in this role. Looking forward to that.

    22 April 2012

    Loebenstein and other Dubliners

    There was some dissonance when Elaine Loebenstein introduced her performance with a delightful, singing Irish accent until she explained that she’s married to a Viennese. There was more dissonance, too, during this solo piano performance, and this dissonance was musical. I guess we all think of harps and jigs and folk music when we think of Irish music, but Elaine presented two much more interesting aspects of Irish music. Firstly, four nocturnes by John Field (born Dublin 1782). Field was the inventor of the nocturne, studied with Clementi, was a child prodigy and toured widely in Europe. Elaine played four nocturnes: Bb major, E minor, C minor and D minor. They was night pieces, lightly voiced with repeating left hand patterns and right hand melodies that moved through comfortable harmonies with undemonstrative single note melodies and occasional flourishes. Interestingly, they were all in triple time: 3/4, 6/8, 9/8, 3/4. Elaine played them solidly with occasional hints of more malleable romantic time. The rest of the performance was more modern, more dissonant, and interestingly, with more historical reference to Irish traditional music. Firstly, two variations on Irish airs – Give me your hand, and Homage to Caroline - by Philip Martin (born Dublin 1947). I noticed lots of dissonance in 3/4 and 4/4, full handed chords, contrary motion, moving symmetrical harmonies, even some bluesy passing notes and cartoon-like humour. And was that the Trout Quintet that he quoted? Secondly, the Windhover by Eric Sweeney (born Dublin 1948). The Windhover is a common kestrel that hovers as it searches for prey, and the piece was taken from a few lines of poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins. This was intensely visual, dramatic and busy. You could hear the winged hovering spelt out in repeated notes, the airy solidity of birds, the swooping attack in rapidly voiced rising then dropping runs, the death of the prey in a stop and the return of it all over. The second half did not seem like easy music to perform. This was dissonant, altered, fast and jagged, and I thought Elaine played it with a very apt boldness and firmness. So, two very different halves with very different and even unexpected Irish musics. At least Elaine’s lilting voice was just what I’d expected.

    21 April 2012


    I’ve been thinking of long nights and cold and aurorae recently, so it’s fortuitous that Johan and Casey Moir visited Canberra. Casey trained here at the Jazz School but graduated the year that CJ started, so this is her first appearance here. She’s since studied further in Götenburg, Sweden, and married her bassist husband Johan. It’s unusual music to my ears, but that says more about popular music in the English language than about this music. With the huge popularity and artistic integrity of Bjork, we have experienced some of this volcanic energy and diverse humour and dark introversion and stern vocal tones of these regions. Casey spoke with an Australian twang but sang with the distinct phonemes of the north. She told me she keeps her tongue forward, but that must be just the first step to these vowel tones and the skew of vocal but non-verbal tones. She also said she merges words into vocal sounds, and I‘d noticed that. Her improv was rich and explosive, running high to low in arpeggiated runs, merging with nonsense tones of clicks and pops and squeals and groans, low slow notes or rapid semiquaver tonguing. It’s not like anything I’d heard live. I toyed with this as scat for the new century. Certainly, it had scat’s virtuosity and musicality, but this had a richer tonal palette and was closer to underlying words. I revelled in it as stunning technique and expression. Casey also said she values words and would never discard them for tone alone. I understand: that is the meaning of song and I’ve talked of that here. Thinking back, I realise she also improvised on meaning, as she warped words, choosing some, repeating others, so the meanings mashed directly into emotions. Her original encore, Talking walls, was an example as she repeated and wrapped fears of identity “Who am I / Who are you / Who are we / Who am I / Who” into tonal and vocal improv. These words also point to Scandinavian darkness and its cultural effects. Casey is Australian, from sunny, outdoors, beachy climes and this is our international image, but I believe this song was written in Sweden. Johan volunteered there’s a lot of depression in Sweden. Maybe it’s hidden here – we are certainly hearing more about it these days – but I could believe it’s a thing of the dark.

    But singing was only part of the show. Johan did a great job as accompanist. He mainly played bass and this was essentially acoustic, although he once looped a longish bass accompaniment through PA to support himself on trumpet and voice. Nice bass, too. Not showy, but a strong, earthy tone, simple chordal statements with subtle variations that sat nicely in groove and a few understated but lovely melodic solos. I noted how nicely the rhythms sat despite the unusual duo format. That’s important and they did it well. Luke Sweeting also sat in for two tunes and the sound got bigger and richer. I enjoyed the bigger format for its tonal richness and more expressive interactions, even if I’d loved the duo for its purity and daring. One other thing I noticed was the emotional honesty and daring of it all. They had started the gig with Ornette Coleman’s Lonely woman, and it was powerful and soul-baring. Then songs with titles like Crushing and Emptiness. Wins of gold and Love song and I love you, you love me were more cheery themes, but they were still intense. Time to sleep was a lullaby so was somewhat relenting. Kenny Wheeler’s Kind folk suggested happier thoughts, even if still voiced with unrelenting intensity.

    I enjoyed the night and honoured the music, but it’s not one for a beachside Jazz Festival stage. This is intense and mercurial, richly tonal and heavily improvised. Don’t book them for your wedding but do hear them if you can. Casey Moir (vocals, percussion, kazoo, glockenspiel) performed with Johan Moir (bass, trumpet, vocals) and Luke Sweeting (piano) sat in for a few tunes.

    16 April 2012


    The ANU Faculty under Mike Price performed over the weekend for ABCFM’s Sunday Live series. They played Miles. Not all or only Miles, but some renowned tunes from the First and Second Great Quintets and some originals that were influenced by the music of Miles. The Canberra Sunday Live series is quite varied but jazz is out of the experience of some attendees. Before the concert, host John … asked the audience to check out where the exits were in case of fire. Was he expecting burning licks, I wondered. Then as I left, I found it amusing to overhear regulars commenting that “some have classical training” but they had enjoyed it well enough so good on them.

    There’s some awe in performing live from Llewellyn to the nation, and I guess the world over the Net. First up, the band looked quite serious and played fairly restrained solos, but they soon relaxed and muted smiles started appearing. The first tune was hard-bopper Nardis, played at a very moderate pace and surprisingly effective like that. Then Contessa S, an original led by Mike, a meditative guitar trio tune coming out of a visit to Barcelona. I was realising the acoustics were not good. The horns were loud, sometimes huge; the drums and guitar were distant and the bass was only just present. I listened to the performance later from the website, and it sounded great: Eric’s bass was full toned and Mike’s guitar comping appeared and added immense colour to the accompaniment. Llewellyn is not generous to jazz or amplified music. Then two tracks from the Second Great Quartet, from 1965, the band with the “elastic definitions of tonality”. Wayne Shorter’s Iris was melancholy or perhaps wistful; Ron Carter’s Eighty One was a threatening rock groove presence with sudden, snapping resolutions. Miro has told me he was greatly influenced by Miles in his days, and I felt a real comfort in his solo on this tune. I thought Eric’s bass solo was strangely bluesy, but it worked against a march-like figure from Mark on drums. Then MDE, an original from Miro dedicated to Miles with dreamy first and third parts separated by a funky middle: both styles were nicely reminiscent of Miles from the jazz-rock era. Two nice throwbacks to pre-fusion Miles followed. Whoops is a melody by John over Coltrane’s Giant Steps changes. This was foot-tapping hard swing over those challenging, cycling chords. It was a vehicle for what I thought was John’s most unbridled solo on the day. John’s unbridled solos are always a pleasure. Then an up-tempo take on All Blues to end. A big concert hall is not how I most like to hear jazz: it really is an intimate form for clubs and late nights, but this was still a pleasure. It was more restrained but very professional and informed and a short touch on the importance of Miles.

    Mike Price (guitar) led the ANU School of Music Faculty Ensemble with John Mackey (tenor sax), Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), Eric Ajaye (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Llewellyn Hall for ABCFM’s Sunday Live.

    15 April 2012

    Passing in the night

    Megan and I went out for a Friday night drink at the National Press Club and Mike Price and crew were playing. This is fortuitous! I’ll be hearing them at Llewellyn Hall when they broadcast nationally to ABCFM on Sunday. Here’s a preliminary pic although the same band won’t be playing for the broadcast (I’ve seen two lineups online so not sure who to expect). Mike was enjoying a return to acoustic with a trio comprising bass and two acoustic guitars. I couldn’t hear Greg too clearly, although I did catch some fast lines and a few sheets of notes in his solos. Mike’s guitar was sharp and cutting and easy to pick up, and his playing was eminently melodic and purposeful. Lovely! Eric was his fluent self, too, with some busy solos and easy going but steady grooves. All standards: Ellington, Jobim and the like. What a nice interlude. It’s a relaxed and fairly noisy venue on Friday evenings with the musos in a dark corner, but a decent local haunt for an after-work drink with some very capable jazz. Mike Price (guitar) played with Greg Stott (guitar) and Eric Ajaye (bass).

    14 April 2012

    Tradition in the craft

    Adrian Cunningham and his trio had me again thinking of history. You hear a certain defensiveness in players of older styles relative to the “modern” or “contemporary”, but as I listen more, I get increasingly intrigued by the connections, the developments, the presence of the past in the present. We talked of Jason Moran who melds stride with free and lots besides; of the authenticity and beauty of melody; of the clarinet as a primary instrument. They played a deliciously lithe version of Dream a little dream of me with a sweetly melodic bass solo and a gentle, soothing swing and Adrian’s slithering clarinet but there were also touches of modern throughout the performance. Piano and wind both dropped substitutions and dissonance amongst rolling chordal features and solo lines that were richly stated but otherwise with limited alterations. I was talking to pianist Gordon after the gig and he spoke of languages as a metaphor for stylistic eras, and that multiple languages expand how you think about things as well as giving you other ways to say things. Choosing your main language, but learning and being influenced by other languages, is a large part of developing a musical personality. It was interesting having this discussion in the Canberra Grammar School gallery surrounded by photos by Aimee Fitzgerald that I had reported on CJ. She also experiments with history, this time by photographing herself dressed as actors in great art of other eras. If “clothes maketh the (wo-)man”, then changing clothes is not just “dress-ups” but changes your presence and understanding and places you in history. It’s a different way of thinking and I think it’s more expansive and interesting than our urgent, a-historical, consumerist presentism. But I digress.

    These are three New York-resident players, so they are eminently capable. Adrian is Sydney-sourced, Gordon from Canada and bassist Rob is a US native. When asked about Australians in NYC, Adrian said he lived there for the chance to play with good musicians. That was clearly the case. These guys swung really easily and positively, as a drumless trio or as a piano/bass duo when Adrian dropped out. Adrian was richly emotive and easily fluent with his lines on flute, tenor or his preferred instrument, clarinet. Gordon spoke in older languages, but also with modern accents. Players like this excite me with rich expression within the defines of tonality. They were not so much melodic as expansive within tonal boundaries. Rob was more essentially melodic in his solos. Bass is clumsier and less chordal and has less support in solos, so tends to clearer statements of harmony. What else did they play? Gone with the wind, Irving Berlin’s Just in time, Johnny Mandel’s Emily, that classic bossa Manha da Carneval / Black Orpheus / Day in the life of a fool. What I can't take with me, an original by Adrian. Also Janelle by Cold Chisel. Cold Chisel? It sounded to me distinctly of St James Infirmary, but Adrian said it was off CC’s Last Stand concert. So be it. These guys speak a historical language with modern accents to swing dancers, but they know and are influenced by the whole range of their craft: Cold Chisel, Meshell Ndegeocello (Adrian recounted that she unpretentiously did sound for him at a gig), Michael Jackson, Jason Moran were all mentioned on the night. This night was amiable and refreshing and more swing that trad, but a pointer to the Gotham City Trad Jazz renaissance that Gordon also mentioned.

    Adrian Cunningham (clarinet, flute, tenor sax) performed with Gordon Webster (piano) and Rob Adkins (bass) at the Canberra Grammar School Gallery.

    09 April 2012

    Ending Easter

    Three days later we were at it again: in Llewellyn Hall, with the Canberra Chorale and Bach’s St John Passion, this time with the ANU Chamber Choir and the ABC for a live broadcast to ABCFM radio. Perhaps it’s strange to hear a passion on Easter Sunday, but it’s a great work and satisfying either way. The concert started with the ANU Chamber Choir performing Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat. This was a delicate work of shimmering sopranos, high tenors, soft and swelling tones and gently moving harmonic colours. Wikipedia says it’s “divided into verse and tutti sections. The verse sections include one voice (often a soprano solo) which remains constantly on third-space C, as well as a lower, melodic line. The tutti sections make use of either three, four, or six voice parts. The soprano soloist joins in the tutti sections at times”*. Delicate and quite lovely. The rest of the concert comprised excerpts from the English version of St John Passion that I wrote up in my previous post. I found this a more confident performance than the world premiere of a few days earlier, but it was also the “best bits” with plenty of choral highlights and with an enlarged choir when the ANU singers joined in for the later passages. We spoke to Jesus (Paul Cambridge, bass) on the way out and he was obviously amused by having just a few lines, but so be it. Translator and Evangelist (the tenor who tells the story) Christopher Steele had been very impressive at the full concert and we thought even better here, more relaxed and vibrant (and less hard worked). Suffice to say, this was not the full work, and it suffered for that, but what there was was more confident and settled. This may have been just a minor reincarnation, but it was a gem.

    The Oriana Chorale and Orchestra performed excerpts from the JS Bach St John Passion. The Evangelist and translator for this English version was Christopher Steele. The conductor was David Mackay. The ANU Chamber Choir was conducted by bengt-Olov Palmqvist and they performed the Arvo Pärt Magnificat.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnificat_(Pärt), viewed 8 April 2012

    08 April 2012

    The centrality of the Easter message

    St John Passion was our second JS Bach passion for the week. St John and St Matthew comprise all the extant Bach passions although he is reputed to have written five. Wikipedia compares them thus: “The St John Passion was described as more realistic, faster paced and more anguished than the reflective and resigned St Matthew Passion. The St John Passion is also shorter and has simpler orchestration than the St Matthew Passion”*. This verison of St John Passion is something again: this was the world premier performance of an English translation by ANU graduate Christopher Steele, who also performed the central role of Evangelist. I enjoyed that I could follow the words rather than read surtitles, although you have to accept some contorted language expressed in long rows of semiquavers in baroque style like: “You tor..men…ted spir...it”, or “Haste…to…Golgotha…””. It’s musically angular and protracted but that’s the baroque way and it’s immensely entertaining and aurally satisfying. Some lines were amusing, too. I thought “His clothes had been made very simply / from end to end without a seam” was curiously mundane for such a high theme, but maybe that’s part of the Christian story, too. We started well back in the Llewellyn Hall, but I found the ensemble was not imposing enough for this big space: the volume not intense enough; the impression not overwhleming enough; the words lost in distance. I moved to the third row for the second half and the words became clear, the echoed lines moved from right to left from basses to tenors to altos and sopranos, the renunciations of the choir when they chose Barabas became personal and the relegation of Pilate and the loss of Mary were close to hand. I expect it was like this in Bach’s church: a small ensemble in a reverberent, intimate space to ensconce the listener. But the playing and singing was wonderfully capable. I felt a tad uncomfortable with the instrumentals at the start (this is hot from the top so needs a generous warmup) and one other time (when Bach seemed more adventurous and had had my ears flumoxed), but otherwise the choir and performers were an absolute delight. The Passions are wonderful expressions of the loss of Good Friday and I can only sit back in awe at Bach’s creation and particularly in this case enjoy the imtimacy of the English text and admire the effectiveness of this performance. No need to be a believer to be entranced by music like this.

    St John Passion was performed by The Oriana Chorale conducted by David Mackay, with soloists from the ANU School of Music and orchestra led by Barbara Jane Gilby. The translator, Christopher Steele, sang the main role of Evangelist.

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passions_(Bach), viewed 7 April 2012

    07 April 2012

    An exception

    I don’t remember why I missed last year’s Exceptions gig at the Jazz School, but I was glad I got to this one. The Exceptions are a new generation of students. I like to watch each generation as it comes through, with its different interests and skills and influences. I knew some of these players from previous gigs but what interested me was, as Eric Ajaye said in introduction, that they compose so they have something to say. And their compositions were impressive. When they started up I first heard latin, then a Tom Scott-like attractive commerciality, but as I listened there were altered jazzy blues and Scandinavian minimalisms and funk and rock feels. These were convincing tunes and well arranged even if the variation in styles suggested they might be still finding their musical way. The playing was capable, too. Scott and Jordan were fairly well known to me before this gig. Scott’s trumpet impressed me with considerable maturity in his melodic solos, sometimes simple and bluesy, but authoritative. Jordan’s an impressive bassist; his slap is tight and sharp, his electric solos are fluent and mighty fast, and he’s now added the double bass to his stable. I particularly enjoyed Tate’s piano. I heard tonal and scale running, smooth and loquatious, and occasionally northern Euro meditative. Joe was thoughtful in alto solos and and neat in melodies and was worthy of more dynamism. Rohan took a few solos, but was mostly neatly supportive. These were capable compositions that bode well for an expressive but also attractive and sellable band sound. Well enjoyed.

    The Exceptions performed at the first of the annual series of student gigs at the Jazz School. They are Joe McEvilly (alto sax), Scott Temby (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tate Sheridan (piano), Jordan Tarento (electric, acoustic bass) and Rohan Moore (drums).