30 September 2013

Sweet return

Back in Canberra. It may not be a big smoke, but checking out what’s on, I realise this is a busy place of arts making. Reading the paper on Saturday, I learn of the Sundays in the Park concert series (held in the Bogong Theatre at Gorman House so not sure of the “park” reference) and a string quartet, Armaster Quartet, are playing the following day. It’s a new name to me, and it turns out to be the first public performance of a new string quartet formed from the Canberra Youth Orchestra and including several touring members of the esteemed Australian Youth Orchestra. There’s a touch of nerves, but this is good music, well performed in intimate surroundings. They played Borodin String Quartet no.2 movts 1&3, Mendelssohn String quartet no.2 A min and Percy Grainger Molly on the shore. To my ears, the Borodin was passed melodic snippets and a lengthier melody and nifty scalar lead-ins, the Mendelssohn was more passionate and chordal and symphonically developed, and the Grainger was evident and folky and very attractive. I felt the Grainger was played with the most gusto and joy and the other with apt concentration and growing confidence. Interestingly, only Emma on cello remained on one instrument: each of the others took parts as first and second violin and viola. They made a point of the Grainer being Toby’s first viola performance. All this mixing of roles was clever and fun and involving. This is a lovely, fresh quartet that I will have pleasure following over time. And what an intriguing name. The Armaster Quartet comprise Alys Rayner (violin, viola), Toby Aan (violin, viola), Mia Stanton (viola, violin) and Emma Rayner (cello).

22 September 2013

Ned Kelly’s Hong Kong

It’s not quite a touch of home, but I heard the China Coast Jazzmen at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Hong Kong. I’d seen this bar on a previous trip. It’s in the lower streets of Kowloon and amongst the sort of restaurants I like to seek out. It’s a timber rich environment with Aussie references and beer on tap. So far, so good. The band plays nightly (that was a revelation) from 9.30pm and I passed by just at the right time. For the third gig in a row, I thought of Branford Marsalis and his comments about popularity and jazz*. This time, about novelty, how reinvention is sought by reviewers and followers and how this limits an audience. The China Coasters play every night; they are obviously well received by keen followers rather than obvious jazz aficionados; they earn for themselves and the bar. I noticed their charts with dog ears and yellowing edges (how old are these?) although I thought they pulled some plastic covers from their folders. I laughed along with the huge clapper hands inviting audience involvement and the corny, unpretentious vocals of the era. I loved the swing of Misty and the horn arrangements. This was par for the course: nothing unexpected but harmonised horns sound so good and lift a solo no end. I enjoyed the solos, ordered and short as big band solos are. There was little that I hadn’t heard before, it's nicely rough, the bass was electric not acoustic and the chords were fairly simply stated. But there was good cheer and non-jazzers were having a great time. There was big band swing and cut-time trad / New Orleans with collective improvisation. I knew the later standards (Misty, Taste of honey) although not the older tunes, but the cycling chords were obvious. This was good feel and good cheer and the dead pan faces of the working horn sections. I enjoyed it; I chatted; everyone took photos and drank beers and ate chips and hamburgers. Nothing too evidently sophisticated here, although I’m sure Ellington would have made a showing sometime. Much enjoyed.

Colin Aitchison (trombone, vocals) leads the China Coast Jazzmen and they play often at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The band comprised Colin with Bayxwi (alto), Peping (trumpet), Aki Espiritu (guitar, banjo, keyboards), Joselito Garcia (bass) and Robert Flores (drums).

* The problem with jazz / Branford Marsalis, edited interview in seattleweekly.com (http://www.seattleweekly.com/home/875080-129/b-sides, viewed 14 Sep 2013)

20 September 2013

Da Gregory

I’ve often pondered that only 12 notes can make all (Western) music. Branford Marsalis said much the same thing in an article I read with the implication that nothing we play is new. I was thinking that while I was listening to a the band at Gregory’s jazz club in Rome. I expected Fresh Fish Quintet but I think I only got one or two of them with some mates. This was a quartet playing standards and modern jazz tunes.
They started with Moment’s notice and followed it with September in the rain, and I was revelling in the grooves and interplay and solos that spelt out the tunes with great clarity and the styles with no jarring. So I thought of those 12 notes and how they can be played with the right feel and the right conception and then it’s satisfying. The piano was concentrated, playful, toying with harmony but focussed. They played Joe Henderson and the trumpet felt insistent. Then later a Cedar Walton tune, and I thought of Freddie Hubbard. Then What’s new, and I realised how the bass was spelling the chords, full toned and harmonically clear. Always with a busy substrata of drums. Then listening to the whole, I felt the responsiveness in the piano comping and throughout in the rhythm section. Alex Boneham had suggested this club and the drummer had played with Alex and also plays with Sarah McKenzie and Hugh Stuckey. It’s a small jazz world. Then some sit ins for the second set. Alice, female vocals, for two songs: I only have eyes for you and End of the love affair. It’s a surprise to hear the words after hearing the instrumentals so often. I’m taken by the dense tragedy of the words and intrigued by the just slightly accented English: “I'm reckless it's true, but what else can you do…”. (It doesn’t work quite the same on paper). Then two tenor saxists sit in for a few tunes, There will never be another you and Well you needn’t and whatever Bebop with another drummer. Then it’s 2am and the band ends; Gregory’s starts late: 10pm. Luckily I’m close so no issues with transport, so it’s a relaxed outing. Great music, though. Standards and jazz tunes played as they should be, with just the right use of those 12 notes. All those transcriptions are not for nothing because this is a culture and you have to learn the language. These guys may be Italian but they speak jazz with aplomb. A great night at a lovely little jazz club. The band was Francesco Lento (trumpet), Pietro Lussu (piano), Francesco Puglisi (bass) and Marco Valeri (drums). The sit ins were Alice Ricciardi (female vocal), Phil Allen (tenor), Filippo Orefice (tenor) and Emanuele Zappia (drums). The venue was Gregory’s Jazz Club in Rome.

17 September 2013

Skunk funking

Finally some music again. We were walking up Via del Tritone to see the fountain (coperto, in restauro) and the sounds of jazz came from a pizzeria. This was Sunday night in a busy little locale. The band was a guitar trio. Nothing new or unexpected although some unamplified vocals from the guitarist did surprise me a bit as did the blues that got thrown in early in the piece. They called themselves Jazzette and they were a hot little trio. They went down well. I’d just read a piece from Branford Marsalis which basically argued that the general listener knows nothing of music and likes tunes they know. Most jazz is played for other musicians and their interest is harmony; the public likes songs they know, so they like melody. I noticed this as the band was playing some known tunes. My Mum liked All of me, and the audience responded to the sung blues and Ain’t no sunshine. I noticed Skunk funk and So what but the audience appeared a bit disconnected to those. I imagine it’s a brave muso who will finish with Ipanema, but these guys played funked-up jazz, so it fitted and was recognised.
Great little band. Tight, hot, plenty of melodic bass solos and some lithe and speedy guitar and light and responsive drummer from the most minimal of kits. These were just three guys funking it up in the corner of a pizzeria but they connected and entertained and were having fun. It entertained me as a muso but also the visitors. Well done. Jazzette were Vincenzo Totta (guitar), Stefano Napoli (bass) and Amadeo Rizzacasa (drums).

14 September 2013

Divina - music

This is the MSC Divina and it’s big: 133,500 tonnes; 3,959 passengers; 1,325 crew. It’s surprisingly good for such a large enterprise. This was BIG and neat and new: built 2012. Cruise chips are just floating resorts which include music and I always meet the musicians and I often feel I have more in common with them than some fellow passengers. I didn’t meet all the musos this time. I noticed small and digital has come to the seas: solos and duos and trios with midi. The classical contingent was a Russian female outfit called the New Light Trio. The name seemed slightly odd for a classical trio but I enjoyed their music. As with all music here this is light entertainment, but these women played very nicely. They are obviously well trained. Trust Eastern Europe for classical players. Maya Ivanova (piano) was the leader, with Julia Simonova (first violin) and Maria Melkina (second violin). They were joined by Hanna Sitnik (soprano, Belarus) for some sets. Their mix of Brandenburg and Ave Maria was strange and some tunes were arrangements of musicals and ballads. I preferred the more traditional repertoire, Viennese waltzes, a season or two, the arias and the like, and a few more obscure pieces. Igor Kravtsor (piano, also Russia) sat in for some sets between the classical players. Igor was a very pleasing jazz pianist, merging jazz standards into long medleys. This was full handed playing, all moving voicings and arpeggiated improvs and some long, indulgent glissandi and fluid with changes of style and time signatures. Think Ellington and Miss Jones and Tenderly played with sophistication but presentable to an unaware audience. He even dropped into Giant steps when he saw me coming. Clever and satisfying. The first jazz I heard was Alessandro Esposito (alto sax, Italy) playing standards against midi backing tracks. Paolo Ferrara (piano, Italy) also played standards with Real Books charts and I heard Alessandro and Paolo together once, still with electronic bass and drums, but somewhat more real sounding. Thanks to Alessandro who did a last minute take on Alone together when he saw me late one night. I imagine the musos like to have an audience, and there was not much of a listening audience here, except for the classical trio.

13 September 2013

Divina - shows

The shows on board changed daily and were very good – dancers, singers, acrobats, live sound. No live support music but decent recorded music. This is a big theatre for a big ship. The cast for any show numbers into the twenties. Always lots of dancing, costumes, sometimes acrobatics-cum-circus. First show was an Egyptian theme with acrobatics. Then Sogno Italiano featuring Italian songs with Edgar Martinez and Sabela Cereljo (vocals). This was not the Neapolitan songs I’d expected but more modern Ital-pop. Tribute (Opera arias) with Enrico Scotto (tenor vocals) and Mauro Bertollini (piano) and an e-violinist. I found this one a bit strange. Tenors are often glitter and volume and vibrato but then the nature of shows of endless arias is to pick the most impressive. The piano was virtuoso and somewhat bitsy. I was taken aback by some of the arrangements that restructured the flashy and popular bits (Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.1) but again this is inevitable in this type of show and I did like his showy playing. Sabre dance was all sweeping bow strokes and leggy e-violinist and dance numbers. Again, to be expected and fun. I liked the e-violin and piano; less so the tenor. Cadeaux was French Can Can territory. Like the others, I found the music too modern for the theme, but the whole was always impressive and fun when you relax into the event. Shows like this feature wonderfully impressive skills but little profundity; all par for the course. Then Pirates Billy Bones with more acrobatics and the Starwalker dedication to Michael Jackson. Lots of lip-synch, big ballads, a claim to great humanity, lasers again and quite a few tunes I didn’t recognise. I know Thriller and was around in Jackson 5 days but don’t really know MJ’s his-tory and I’m always wary of celebrity. Then a final show dedicated to Frank Sinatra with some famous songs and a few ring-ins from rat-packers and others. The dancing here was strangely staid, appropriate for the era, with ties and tails and legs and lots of splits. Shows fit cruises and I enjoyed these. A daily wash of flash and skills and thrills.

12 September 2013

Divina - visits

Cruising is an indulgent pastime. Eating, drinking, shows are the order of each day. This one has daily visits to cities, but they are just tastes. At least the tastes are of impressive morsels: Hagia Sophia and Istanbul, Ephesus from Ishmir, Olympia, Dubrovnik, Bari, round trip out of Venice. We melt over the history and references: Europe meets Asia; Christianity moves from Rome to Constantinople; ancient games and studies; Roman empire threaded amongst it all. Just touches of things to revisit some time if time allows. Always leave something for next time. Just some pics.

02 September 2013

For Bill & Scott

This was a Prom concert, but of a different hue. Gareth Williams and Dave Green played a respectful revisit to the Bill Evans / Scott LaFaro songbook for the Out to lunch series at the Cadogan Hall. The Cadogan Hall is the home for the London Philharmonic but this was actually in the café which was an intimate and appropriate venue. It was standing room only when I arrived, and it was nice that you could stand: no-one turned away. Drinks and food available. Victorian columns and stained glass, but this was a good jazz venue. Largish, relaxed and well attended. I also noticed that this was a different crowd from the beautiful and very obviously wealthy inhabitants around Sloane Square. This is Belgravia and replete with Mercedes and model-beauties and suits and Harrods and the Saatchi Gallery. But it’s also attended by this dressed down crowd and the delightful Holy Trinity Anglican church, “cathedral of the Arts & Crafts movement” (see some pics below).

Gareth first recorded with Ben Webster and has played with a string of internationals since. Dave has won Top Bassist at the British jazz Awards many tiemes. Both are current winners of their instrumental categories at the British Jazz Award 2013. They are no slouches. But also they have each immersed themselves in their respective performers: Gareth (piano) in Bill Evans; Dave (bass) in Scott LaFaro. So I was not surprised to hear Bill’s inventive harmonies and reharmonisations and his use of intervals and playful sense of time and sheer bluster in long passages. And Dave was fluent and lyrical as we’d hear from Scott. These may not be transcriptions but they are respectful and in style, as was the playlist: Autumn leaves, Waltz for Debby, My .foolish heart, Someday my price will come, Lucky to be me, Young & foolish, Gloria’s step, Spring is here, In love in vain, What is this thing called love. Gareth did decent vocals on Everything I love and Come rain or come shine, but I must say the instrumental segments were where the thrills were. To finish up, the take on What is this thing called love was the most stunningly obtuse and inventive of them all. It all just makes you want to return to the early ‘60s. I don’t believe that jazz died in the 60s, but with music like this is was certainly alive at the time. This was a wonderfully strong recreation and response to these two figures of jazz by two players who have immersed themselves in their styles. Great skills and an eye-opening, historical visit.

Gareth Williams (piano, vocals) and Dave Green (bass) played the Bill Evans / Scott LaFaro songbook at the Cadogan Hall in the heart of Chelsea in London.

01 September 2013

On the town

I managed just a quickie at Ronnie Scott’s. The Tube got me again with its early closure, but before then I managed a walk through an incredibly busy evening from The Strand to Soho and Ronnie Scott’s. This was a warm night in the middle of summer and London now has extensive malls filled with a vibrant night life. I expect the pursuits are earthy rather than intellectual but it’s exciting none-the-less. It was the jam session night at Ronnie Scott’s in the bar upstairs. The opening band were hot boppers and seriously impressive. The jam started as I left, so little more to add, but what I heard was very good. Standards, yeah; hot, yeah; Monk, Bird and the like. Nothing unexpected; jazz jams are the same the world over. I’m sure it went into the early hours, but that damn Tube continues to frustrate me. I’m told of late-night buses from Leicester Square but too late to investigate for this visit. Andy Davis (trumpet) led a quartet with Nigel Price (guitar), Mark Lewandowski (bass) and Saleem Raman (drums).