29 October 2013

In their many shoes

Sally Whitwell talks of keeping classical music friendly and she certainly did this at her concert at All Saints. That’s not to say there’s not considerable weight to the presentation. It was friendly and chatty but also political and social. Its title was In her shoes : music by women composers. Sally performed with Soprano Nadia Piave and Kompactus choir to present her own compositions and others by a range form Hildegard von Bingen through to contemporary women. These were mostly songs, often putting poems to music, so there was also a clearer message to much of the music (as against the abstraction of instrumental music). Not that I caught too many lyrics., of even concentrated on them. Classical sopranos are not so easy to understand and the best of times, despite their musical beauty and intensity.

Sally and Nadia started with an unexpected intro of stomping, clapping and singing the theme: “Before you judge a woman, walk a mile in her shoes. After that, who cares? She’s a mile away and you’ve got her shoes” / Bill Connolly freely adapted in the manner of Percy Grainer by Sally Whitwell. I’m still mulling over that one. It’s a strangely chosen intro, especially with the lost shoes, but intriguing and humourous. I was entranced from this start. Then some weirdly apt cowboy songs by Libby Larsen and some posme put to song by Sally. Christina Rosetti is a favourite poet of Sally’s and she reappeared through the concert. Then Cecile Chaminade, a composer of 1890s, Salon-era France, with a reference to her favourite sweets. Both Sally and Nadia informed us of composers and histories leavened with references to the cakes and afternoon tea which was to follow. You might see this as feminine, not at all in a demeaning way, but as inviting, nourishing, personal and life-sustaining, and with a touch of girls’ humour. For me, it’s a visit to a female world, but easy and inviting. [Strangely, at dinner that night, our middle aged female companions were joking of SWALK (and its MONA incarnation), something I know nothing of. SWALK = Sealed With A Loving Kiss. Apparently young girls, in the days of paper and stamps, would seal letters with heavily lipsticked lips, thus SWALK. New both to me and my son’s girlfiend, she of the email era.] Then an improvisation on Hildegard von Bingen and several piano solo pieces by Miriam Hyde, Cecile Chaminade and Lisa Cheney. Three of five songs by Margaret Sutherland, several more poems from Sally, and a strangely mythical story about women changing to seals, called Seal man, by Rebecca Clarke. I didn’t catch the full story but this was intriguing. Then an end with three tunes by Sally, performed with the Kompactus choir and the last including Nadia. I particularly enjoyed Miriam Hyde’s Forest stream, although it was one of the more traditional pieces. I liked the delicacy of the poetry although I seldom tried to fathom the words. I enjoyed Nadia’s strength of voice and theatrical presence and Sally’s capable but unpretentious accompaniment. I was impressed by the delicacy and precision of Kompactus and I was very satisfied by the range of compositions by the women presented. Women don’t have a large place in the repertoire, and I guess there are historical reasons for this, but they can no longerbe allowed to stand. These tunes and songs easily deserved this outing and more. Sally returns in a few weeks for the next Shoe session, this time with cello.

Sally Whitwell (piano, compositions) presented a program of compositions by women with Nadia Piave (soprano) and the Kompactus choir at All Saints.

27 October 2013

Today's broad repertoire

Jef Neve started with the Beatle’s Blackbird. It’s a beautiful song and much loved but it’s not jazz. Or at least so say the jazz police. Herbie Hancock didn’t say it with his album New standard, but by then he’d been well written off over synthesizers and jazz rock. I’m not sure there’s much life in this argument anymore. We were talking of crossing genres and Jeff was saying that the new generation doesn’t even recognise them. Pop and jazz and classics are all intermingled on their mp3 players. Strength to that! I’m even learning of Radiohead (not that I can always count it).

Jef didn’t play Radiohead, but Blackbird was joined by a quirky collection. The uber-standard Lush life and a few originals (When spring begins, on longing for warmth after a damp Belgian winter, and Endless d.c., on constructing a good life) and Joni Mitchell’s A case of you and Kandalini. Also Goose – they are an electro-pop outfit from Belgium, apparently. Jef had written out a piece based on one of their their auto-arpeggiated tunes. It’s much more challenging when played manually but Jef had chops. He was playing solo, but this was a full and busy sound. I thought of Gershwin for a few tunes, with bass lines and long arpeggiated accompaniment and attractive melodies. But perhaps also Ravel or Rachmaninov with rolling busyness and melody passing between the hands, or even Liszt when there was some very busy right hand work. Someone else mentioned Brad Meldau. I got touches of all this at times. But amongst the busyness, I was most impressed by the clarity of melody, how lines would appear in one hand or another, clear, ringing, then pass elsewhere. Jef has a classical background; he’s recorded film music; he’s recorded with classical and jazz instruments and just as a piano/vocal duo. His recordings seem an eclectic mix. He’s even written a few piano concerti and recorded with the Belgian Philharmonic. I shouldn’t be surprised that he’d promote an inclusive view of music. I listened with closed eyes and the screeds of notes just dissolved into texture and presence (this was loud for a solo piano) and melodic movement. Mostly consonant, although just some colour from symmetical scales or leading notes or hanging chromatics. Jef had told me of recording standards with NYC singer, José James, so I was interested in his encore with our local, Liam Budge, on Don’t stand a ghost of a chance with you. Liam had had a lesson in the afternoon and this invite resulted. We know Liam as a committed and able singer with a future. But what beautiful and unstrained accompaniment we got from Jef. Perfectly balanced and delicate and responsive. A lesson in comping.

This was loud and forceful and busy solo piano playing, but always clear in melody and virtuosic in performance. This is not Jef’s first visit to Australia, so we can expect him some more. Catch him at Wangaratta or 505 or when he returns. Jef Neve (piano) played solo at Cnaberra Grammar School. Liam Budge (vocals) sat in for an encore.

This is CJBlog post no. 1,100

25 October 2013

Broken politics

There was an amusing interplay between Jonathan Green and Katharine Murphy at the launch of Jonathan’s new book, The year my politics broke, at Paperchain bookshop. Jonathan’s book is pessimistic, although he recovered some sense of possibilities by the end of the discussion. Katharine is more positive, saying politics is cyclic so better times will come. I tended to the pessimistic tone but I was also somewhat in agreement when I read a recent article by Katharine which argued the more positive case. Jonathan described his work as not quite a campaign diary, more a personal account of the current state of Australian politics as evidenced by the 2013 Federal election. He spoke of a sense of disquiet and disengagement and a concern that serious issues abound that politics isn’t helping to resolve. He sees the craft of politics as being virtually perfected ( “now [it] games the system impeccably”), but this craft serves purposes other than what we need, so big issues, climate, budget and the rest, are not engaged. He was asked how he accounts for the carbon price in a minority government. He answered that it was was forced by the balance of power, by a party with a core belief, but that the government entered with a great downside and couldn’t recover. Being journalists, they got onto the role of the media. Politics and media are “very interrelated”; they passed by the argument “journalists as stenographers to power” and the Stockholm Syndrome; they mentioned some journalists as players in the Labor leadership travails; they considered on- and off-record comments and ethics and accountability, the roles of editors and subs and the diminishing age of journalists and associated lack of corporate and historical memory. I was amused when J mentioned “there’s a phone call in journalism that you don’t want to make because it kills the story”. There was talk of new media and change, and J seemed positive here. Both J&K questioned “truthiness”. J mentioned that we’ve passed the era of left/right numerical balances (let’s hope that doesn’t return) and scientific consensus can be assumed in broadcasting. K mentioned the new government “slowing down the news cycle” but said it “clearly can’t be sustained because they have to do something at some point” and “politics abhors a vacuum”. At one stage, someone suggested to J that “you sound optimistic”; K pointed at the book and joked “not in here”. I liked Jonathan’s prescription for repair (“sincerity, thoughtfulness and charisma”) and his view that whoever does it successfully will be rewarded with political success. We laughed at a comment about an MP who lost a seat for his/her “own brand of personal generosity”. There was a question on political staffers that observed that they take the tone of government and that pollies are adults (so can be independent of their minders). Also that legislation is hard and a “no loser” philosophy results from timidity and an attacking media. I jokingly asked if privatising the ABC was an ambit claim. Perhaps because they are journos (and J is at ABC RN), they responded seriously, essentially arguing that a review is possible but that the ABC has nothing to fear. I wasn’t so sure given the adage that you don’t call an inquiry unless you know the answer. I had other questions, too, that I would have loved to chat about. New media (eg, Conversation, Monthly, Crikey) is seen as a saviour, but is it a real replacement for the mainstream media or is it the educated talking to themselves? J&K talked of parties juggling for the centre, but isn’t there a real ideological difference that was just not discussed during the election? Politics may be cyclic and return to deal with real issues, but do we have time, eg, with Abbott dismantling carbon pricing while we’re committed to 2C temp rise and tending to more. We assume availability of information through new media and internet, but isn’t 1984 a premonition, given NSA revelations (and more) suggest great control is also possible, and maybe likely, by government? What’s our concept of history, when we can talk of share price as being “the highest for 3 weeks”, or our sense of value or worth when we speak unthinkingly of notional $billions lost in one day. Lots of ideas. Will the book confirm pessimism or leave open Katharine’s positivity? That’s a question for later.

23 October 2013


It’s October so it must be Moruya. I missed the Moruya Jazz festival for the last few years. This year I was playing with our quartet, Jazz Republic, and JR was supporting Wollongong diva Pearl Noire. I didn’t catch much else. The streets looked pretty quiet. What I did catch was interesting.

The ANU Big Band was impressive: no surprise there. John Mackey leads. This is a large ensemble with generous membership and includes a female choir out front. John mentioned the choir as a luxury. So it is. It’s an unusual big band sound to have half a dozen harmonising females out front. As for the band, the grooves are good and the horns tight. As at Merimbula, there was a touch of classics with six-string bassist Jack Schwenke doing a take on Bach’s Cello suite in G.

Rehab Brass Band were a missing their sax player but were still lively, sharp and entertaining. There were some decent chops here: nice rock guitar solos when called for and crisp tele chords otherwise; solid drum parts and some authentic bass lines from the sousaphone (sousa provides such a fat bass and this was played with impressive skills and a real feeling for the groove: more than just I-V); good trumpet and trombone solos and melodies; some vocals. They played occasional pop, including Eurythmics, but this was mainly a down south sensibility. How can you not chuckle to the succulent humour of Don’t you feel my thigh? Rehab BB are Dave Thompson (trumpet, vocals), Jeremy Borthwick (trombone), James Wyatt (guitar), Leigh Sherringham (sousaphone) and Dave Tracey (drums). Dave Cox (tenor) was missing in action.

Pierre was playing with with his Dream Banned for some attractive mainstream. I was particularly taken by Pierre’s smooth tone and neat solos. BTW, he plays only Selmer. Pierre’s Dream Banned were Pierre Kammacher (saxes), Sid Edwards (vibes), Roer Clark (alto), Adrian Rodden (guitar), Arthur Pikler (bass) and John Marshall (drums).

End of night was the Mackey-Bukovsky project at the Air Raid Café. This was essentially a blow session with students sitting in and out and milling around. It was as much a party as a performance. No surprise that there were some impressive solos here, not unexpectedly from John and Miro or Tate, but I also heard a few from bassist Mitchell Brandman and trumpeter Eddie Bernasconi and a nice interpretation from singer Kirrah Amosa.

Another headliner was the New Zealand band Miho Wada Jazz Orchestra which is fronted by the zany and personable Japanese alto/flautist Miha Wada with Pascal Roggen on e-violin. Thus the JO tag. Otherwise, I found them a jazz rock outfit with established rock rhythms rather than jazz swing. Not your standard jazz fare, but nicely presented, practised and tight. Miho Wada JO were Miho Wada (flute, alto), Pascal Roggen (e-violin), Andrew Rudolph (guitar), Leo Corso (e-bass) and Jared Descaux de Marigny (drums).

We caught DJ Gosper’s latest project, a very bluesy trio called Divine Devilles with drummer husband Michael Stratford and pianist/singer Ali Penny. Nice to hear DJ with accompanying female harmonies and vice versa and with the deep bluesy presence. Back to the roots with a swatch of 12-bar swing. Divine Devilles are DJ Gosper (vocals, blues harp), Ali Penny (keys, vocals) and Michael Stratford (drums).

Jazz Republic played one instrumental set and two sets backing diva Pearl Noire. Ax Long sat in on trumpet for a horn-rich front line and this was a great pleasure. There was some impressive reading from both Ax and Richard on Mike’s dot-rich neo-bop originals and sweet harmonies and plenty of joyful solos up front. One gig had Mike charting lines for the horns literally in the last minutes before the gig. Mike took musical director duties for Pearl and the pair are a formidable combination. Pearl is an entertainment powerhouse. This is a case of set the stage and sit back for the ride. She’s a fabulous presence with immediate audience rapport and plenty of sultry, earthy banter. Always a pleasure to play with Pearl. The Pearl Noire Experience was Pearl Noire (vocals) with the Jazz Republic. The citizens of the Jazz Republic were Mike Dooley (piano), Richard Manderson (saxes), Ax Long (trumpet), Eric Pozza (bass) and Brenton Holmes (drums).

Apart from lengthy chats and walks on the beach and the smoke of bushfires, that was my Moruya 2013.

21 October 2013

What’s left to laugh at

You could wonder if there’s anything left to laugh at in politics. The Wharf review was at it again but I found it disappointing. It’s probably not their fault. It’s the climate. After a disappointing six years for Labor and a trivial and negative campaign from Liberals, I am not comfortable. Nobody seems to be too relaxed, actually, except maybe some miners or carbon intensive industries. An angry public has been led with a tether and cries of crises. A social democrat party has been riddled with self-serving cliques. A conservative party mirrors unquestioning left radicals of mid last century. Look for radicals now on the right. Opinion trumps knowledge. A dull market certainty pervades everything in the midst of its own GFC failure: privatise profits, socialise losses; competition creates concentration. Meanwhile, we ignore climate change in favour of our short term and at our kids’ peril. So I didn’t find it too easy to laugh at the Wharf Review. It was clever; it was musical; it was Shakespearean, even. It was referential; it was lively and choreographed; it was well sung (even if ideas are harder to catch when sung); it was energetic. It even finished with a Q&A but we didn’t stay for that. I doubted actors had much to add to our predicament. I most enjoyed Carmen-Gillard in deep red: it’s a touching song and a memory of tragedy, both for how poorly she was treated, and for her own combination of communicative weakness and legislative success. There was the history of Abbott’s rise. I imagine he’s more capable than we allow for, but after dismantling carbon pricing, his place in history will surely rival George W Bush’s, both against the tide and the scientific consensus. Not that I pity him for it: he’s adult enough, and morally informed enough, to know better. That’s what responsibility is. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern instead was probably my favourite with its extended Hamlet story of lost political souls. Or the lengthy Wizard of Oz sequence where Dorothy is a disenchanted Labor voter who finds the Wizard is … Bob Hawke. Then the Alan Jones character. Enough. Maybe the era of political satire is passed. The real thing is acted for an angry public, so why pay to see more? I don’t really believe that, of course. Politics is, and remains, important as our mechanism for managing power and wealth in society (for there is such a thing as society, Maggie). But right now I’m finding it hard to laugh at.

20 October 2013

Accompaniment and more

I asked Rose Holcombe what’s important to play accompaniment. Rose on piano was accompanying Julie on trumpet for some tunes and her sister Sarah on alto sax for another. Rose first said you need to listen; I expected you need to read well (lots of new charts). I commented that piano’s such a good instrument (it’s the master of all instruments, in my books: an orchestra in a box) and she replied that she’d like to play trumpet. Probably just a throwaway, but it amused me. It’s a case of the grass being greener on the other side. She had played some profound piano solos that had me melting: Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C# minor, Chopin’s Fantasie impromptu and Nocturne in Eb. Only on piano. But then the others had played some seriously interesting music. Julie led with a Barret (?) Fantasie and warmed into Alessandro Marcello Concerto in D minor. Then sister Sarah played Mozart Rondo in D. Then the piano solos and a final third movement of the Hummel Trumpet concerto in Eb. Nicely played and interesting with its long descending sequences and classical formality. Maybe I’m just going soft and being sucked into the romantics, but I found those piano tunes were lusty and emotionally involving. Rachmaninov with the big chords (Rose said the final page is so dense it’s written on four, not two, staves) and big dynamics (ppp > fff) and Chopin with his beautiful lyricism and rolling arpeggios and sheer exuberance. Whatever, this was a richly varied concert despite the short duration and there with memorable pieces and some impressive and touching playing.

Rose Holcombe (piano) accompanied Sarah Watson (trumpet) and Julie Watson (alto sax) at St Albans.

19 October 2013

Back from the brink

I remember a concert of great sadness and desperation about this time last year, when anger and the sense of loss over the Music School was at its greatest. Wednesday’s Friends Fundraiser in the Band Room was refreshing and joyous and a significant return to form. The School is smaller and its hopes and possibilities are presumably reduced, but it survives and music continues. The concert featured Liam Budge and Tate Sheridan in the first half and the ANU Jazz Collective in the second.

Tate remains a student, but this duo is essentially from an earlier era of the school, but what a duo! Liam is craft and depth and involvement and the essence of a jazz singer. Tate’s richly varied in his piano playing, spelling out all manner of styles with a panoply of technical improvisation but always a clear relevance to the song. He listens well and doesn’t interfere. I enjoy posts from Tate on Facebook with pics of Elton John and John Lennon. He’s got a broad range of influences which he colours with jazz conception and this is a strong combination. I was also taken by a repertoire reaching back into jazz history. It’s the American songbook, but it has early components, too. Softly and Body & soul and Beginning to see the light, but also supremely cute oldies Love is just around the corner and Honeysuckle rose. This is a deeply satisfying duo.

The second half was the Jazz Collective, a modern and challenging jazz orchestra led by Miro and John Mackey and playing scores by Miro, students and others. After the changes of last year, I was despairing of hearing such sounds again in Canberra. Small bands are one thing, but getting together a large ensemble like this is a big challenge, so I was profoundly happy to hear this satisfying playing in a decent sounding room. They played Miro’s take on Stolen moments, then Miro’s fabulous For Woody, then a ballad called Song for laughter, a blues, a transcription by trumpeter Scott Temby and a seemingly unplanned take on John’s burner, Pantano Drive. Good to revisit John’s outstanding solos, and investigate the solo chops of all the others in the band, especially the fresh names. The big harmonised parts are luxurious and colourful and that’s the strength of such a band. What a joy to hear that again. There’s life in the old school yet. The ANU Jazz Collective are Tate Sheridan (piano), Jack Ray (guitar), Llewellyn (El) Osborne (violin), Mitchell Brandman (bass), Jonathan Harding-Clark (drums), Simeon Staker (percussion), Pat Langdon (trombone), Eddie Bernasconi (trumpet), Scott Temby (trumpet), Hugo Lee (alto sax), Calum Builder (soprano sax), Andrej Thompson (alto, baritone sax), Miroslav Bukovsky (flugelhorn, trumpet), and John Mackey (tenor sax).

18 October 2013

What makes an activist

I felt David Ritter, CEO Greenpeace Australia, was an unassuming guy but with heart and rationality. I heard him when speaking to The Australia Institute’s Politics in the Pub. He introduced himself with the story of how he came to be involved in Greenpeace and activism. He’d followed issues in his youth but wasn’t particularly active. He’d worked as a commercial lawyer then moved to indigenous issues, but felt there were limitations on what the law could achieve. He’d gone to London and, despite an out-of-sorts interview, won a position at Greenpeace and was impressed by their approach to activism, that it can be both sophisticated and radical. He suggested one proof was David Cameron’s launch of an environmental policy at a Greenpeace warehouse. He went on to argue for material well-being as something to be grateful for, but noted the research finding that increasing happiness drops off past a moderate level of wealth. He spoke of power and argued that that politics is necessary, not to be avoided (“not enough [are] politically engaged in this country, as if it matters. And it does”), and that power in Australia is “unhelpfully concentrated” (retail, mining, media and more). He argued for having a vision. He suggested we sit quietly and conceive the big picture of what we are seeking, how to establish “general flourishing”. He cited Richard …’s suggestion that the right has established broad terms for its arguments, but the left is still split into single issue silos. His recurrent plea was for recognising the “whispering in our hearts”, meaning to identify and follow what really matters. He argues climate change is the ultimate concern and that this is not a partisan issue (at least ideologically: both conservatives and social democrats should be able to respond to it). Surprisingly for me, he retains an “iron conviction” that “we” will win, which is partly a personal influence and partly a recognition that without hope, all is lost. He commented on the media but was ultimately optimistic about new media (Conversation, Monthly, Crikey, etc). He was questioned on population, but argued that consumption is the “more significant variable”, mentioning marketing as an “unlimited propaganda for growth”. He’s an institutionalist, so recognises that clarifying and respecting roles is important. He argued for a depoliticised truth-telling-to-power public service recruiting the best and brightest, and clear roles and independence in decision making by politicians. He was questioned about Greenpeace’s lack of action on coal mining and responded that Greenpeace must prioritise, but that coal would be “one of the defining issues of climate change in coming years”. To me, he seemed mild for an activist, but also informed and reasoned and committed at heart and open to all paths to his vision. He’s not CEO for nothing (he was offered the position after 5 years of activism in the UK), so I guess that’s what a contemporary “sophisticated and radical” activist is like.

16 October 2013


The Australian Haydn Ensemble returned to the Wesley Centre to play a night of music in the Galant style. That’s a new one on me, and not only for me. The music was introduced by Skye with a quote using the adjective “elegant” several times: elegant people, dress, presentation … even music. The core theme was the music of Johann Christian Bach, the London Bach, a son of JS Bach, a convert to Catholicism, a lover of the good life. He ran the first London concert series with Frederick Carl Abel. We heard a series of tunes from this series, including by JC Bach and Abel, but also by Haydn, Mozart (who had played on the knee of JC Bach when a precocious child) and one by JC’s dad, JS Bach. Galant is pre-classical, pre-delicious Mozart, certainly not God-fearing JS Bach, but it’s lovely, elegant music none-the-less. The AHE does it eminent justice. This concert had a fully female AHE, four strings and flute, all in black. Again, elegant and dignified. They are wonderful players, playing authentic instruments, some originals from the mid- to late-1700s. The sounds are not as powerful as modern instruments; the bows are lighter and have a different balance; the tones seem more settled with smoother edges, like old wines. Anthea’s cello was voluminous, especially on lower notes, and strangely lodged between her legs with no endpin. The two violins were notable for different tonalities and the flute was just a fine and pure tone amongst the strings. There’s considerable predictability in this music. The tempos were similar; the flourishes served the same courtly purpose. Dignity reigns; pleasure is consequential; presumably a good dancer is a celebrity. It’s not our world, or at least not mine, but it’s beautiful to visit and AHE does it worthy justice. A lovely evening of style and gallantry and elegance.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble comprised Melissa Farrow (flute), Alice Evans (violin), Skye McIntosh (violin), Heather Lloyd (viola) and Anthea Cottee (cello). The played music for London’s first ever concert series, the Bach-Abel concerts.

14 October 2013

Days of wonder #2

Two gigs, one day. Second was the Australian Chamber Choir at St Paul’s Church, Manuka. I’d enjoyed the earlier concert immensely and wondered if this could be so exciting. It was. From the first, strong notes of Cantate Domino by Monteverdi, I could tell this was confident, beautifully intoned, carefully read with structure and moving lines evident. These guys have travelled Europe several times and are welcomed at Bach’s own church, St Thomas’s, Leipzig. One of their reviews is quoted complimenting “flawless intonation, superb uniformity, perfect tonal balance, astounding dynamic range and sleek voice-leading” (Guido Krawinkel, General Anzeiger, Bonn, 23 July 2011, quoted in the program). Wow! I heard some delicious high notes, exceptional intonation, clear movements (I struggle with voice leading, but imagine that’s meant here), strength and volume but also delicacy, and lovely tonality. Close enough to perfect and that alone would be enough to drool. But more than that, this was unexpectedly exploratory. There were modern pieces here that were so clearly performed that anyone could appreciate. Wordless Japanese delicacy and shifting harmonies in As I crossed a bridge of dreams from the pen of Australian Anne Boyd. Singing in Tagalog with dog yelps and ululations and slides and more in Awit ni Solomon (Song of Solomon) from Filipino composer Robin C Estrada. Director Douglas advised this was all written and offered views to prove it. What a chart it would have been. A lexicon of dreams by Christine McComb was another song of unrecognised words and dissonant, moving, complex harmonies and vocal textures. Then a work by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Valiant-for-truth, informed by Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress and written after the bereavement of two friends, which grows to very effectively portray a brass fanfare at the end. By this time, I (not alone) am stunned by this choir and this program. To finish, Bach, JS. It’s a motet, Furchte dich nicht BWV228. I found it strangely hard to comprehend. Megan said much the same. I recorded and will be revisiting this one. Then gospel to end, Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? But what to say of this performance? Not absolutely perfect, but so bloody close. I walked out bowled over, stunned by what would flabbergasted me in London or Berlin, let alone Manuka. See this choir if at all possible. The Australian Chamber Choir performed their program, Bridge of dreams, at St Paul’s Manuka under the direction of Douglas Lawrence.

13 October 2013

Days of wonder #1

Two gigs, one day. First was Ensemble Liaison at Stage 88 for Floriade. This was the final concert of the ANU School of Music series at Floriade. Ensemble Liaison is a Melbourne-based trio of clarinet, piano and cello. I’d expected classical and I got classical chops but with an intriguing jazz-cum-classical-cum-world playlist.
They started with an arrangement by Percy Grainger of Gershwin’s Man I love. What a nice song is this, but I didn’t like the rhythmic feel in the melody. The eighth notes were stodgy dotted quavers that refused any swing. I guess it was Grainger’s take on this, because the outfit was nothing like this! Nothing, nothing. They moved on to another Percy Grainger, then Gershwin’s Concert fantasy on themes from Porgy and Bess and I was taken. This was real jazz feels and authentic emotions, every passing chord given its due, earthy effects with harmonics and slurs and clarinet tonguing. These were wonderful skills but more: a valid and satifying interpretation. It was their major piece and they’d recently recorded it, so they were on top of it, but this was impressive. Add Elena Katz-Chernin’s Russian rag, and any LNL listener will be won over. It’s so pretty and wistful. Then Scott Joplin’s Elite syncopations and some classics, the Swan on cello and piano and a Gershwin prelude on piano. Then Piazzola’s Oblivion and Libertango and some Klezma and some Irish folk arranged by Benjamin Britten, and an end with more Klezma. I was totally convinced after the Porgy & Bess and the rest was the metaphorical icing. The gig was on Stage 88 with a vast space in front and not much of an audience at that time, so this was an informal interaction. It was delayed, too, as Timothy rebooted his iPad. He was using a bluetooth pageturner and somehow it made another bluetooth connection. Embarassing but then paper charts have their own problems. The repertoire was popular but challenging, the ensemble looked the part and enjoyed themselves. So did I. I’d hoped for nothing so satisfying but I lucked out on this one. Ensemble Liaison is David Griffiths (clarinet), Svetlana Bogosavljevic (cello) and Timothy Young (piano).

12 October 2013


Lines of flight play music that I can’t bring my wife to. I joked about that with Keith. This is Nu Jazz. I use words for it like uncompromising, unyielding. Some would find it hard to love. I don’t find that at all, but it’s not relaxed and certainly not smooth. I have the idea that it’s not very tuneful or lyrical, but there was some lovely tuneful trumpet overlaid as head or solo. It started with unexpected cool which threw me off, and this ‘50s cool returned a few times in the night.
But mostly this was insistent, unrelenting syncopations on bass and often unison on piano, continuing under heads and solos; sometimes four to the floor bass; often with 4 bar chord changes. Mostly this presents as harsh, but there were also a few times of gentleness and mythical, floating passages. But then a bass solo that tore the edges of acceptability with initial spaciousness and subsequent mania. Or a piano solo that plays with the repetition, repeating sequences mirroring the predictability of it all. Minimalism needs change as contrast, and that was there too in arrangements, although there was at least one tune that held its syncopations throughout. I felt an overarching consistency in style, a concept that’s come from time together. Joe told me he wrote all the music but I think the band has played together for several years. They are about to record, so that’s good. The obtuse titles fit the style, too: Axis, Planes of intensities, Incription, Tow, Pull the other. And they played Restless, that lovely and quite complex song by Australian Crawl. They said it was their first cover. Nice. Frantic, or metal or conversational or unexpected cool, this was a fascinating outing and not for the casual jazz listener.

Lines of Flight was led by Joe Cummins (trumpet) with Casey Golden (piano), Sam Pettigrew (bass) and Alex Slater (drums)

11 October 2013

Next gen

Yes, there is a next generation of jazz students in Canberra. I despaired last year with the changes at the School and even talked of the death of music in Canberra. Music’s not out of the woods yet, but I can only hope I’m wrong. I think this is the first band Room concert I’ve attended this year. It’s good to see them return. The band was Winter Wednesday and they were playing for a lunchtime concert. I recognised one face and hints of others, so this is a new generation and they performed good solid student material - Sonny Rollins (Pent up house) and Wayne Shorter (Speak no evil) - but also a string of originals, mostly from Edward but also from Cindi and Kat. It was solidly played and decently improvised. Some tunes had considerable arrangements. I particularly enjoyed Joshua’s nice hand shape and pizz on bass. I picked up for a drum solo. The heads were nicely harmonised. There was an open feel against solos and a readiness to relax and sit out. All good. It’s a year since all the changes at the Music school and it’s surviving. I admire the hard work and commitment of the staff. But now for the next gen. Winter Wednesday are Kat Alchin (alto), Edward Plowman (tenor), Cindy Sithi-Amnuai (piano), Joshua Waterhouse (bass), John Harding-Clark (drums).

09 October 2013

Visiting deep intellect

I was taken that it was so quiet when Angela Hewitt started up on Bach's Art of Fugue. It was the major work that she was playing at the Llewellyn, but the first half audience had been annoying for coughs and cleared throats. I wonder why this happens to people, that they are suddenly aware of their throats, but it does. She’d played Bach's Passacaglia and fugue, Cmin, BWV582, then Beethoven's Piano sonata no.31, Ab maj, Op.110, before the interval. A whole program of flat keys; nice. I'd heard her talking on the Music Show on Saturday, and they'd been chosen because they both had fugal sections. Fugues and canons are a classical concept and they are still a little fuzzy in rny mind, but I could easily identify the effect when they occurred in the Beethoven.
The Bach was more along the lines of counterpoint anyway, but I noticed it there too. It's all a very structured and formal sound and I expect it's very attractive to musos. One classical pianist I spoke to after the concert said he found Beethoven easier to play, and that Bach requires more intellectual effort. I could believe that. But then after interval, Angela came on stage for her major work. She was playing Contrapuncti I-X. She gave a wonderfully rich introduction and description before playing: each individual fugue; how she prepares and notates the works before learning them: how the lines breathe, as if pausing for breath, and flow over each other; how this was Bach's last work (the last fugue is unfinished) and a challenge to approach; how indications of tempo and interpretation are lacking; how the 8th was the most technically demanding, or the ... is complex so needs space or the ... is simpler so fits a more rapid tempo. I long for this information and I understood it all, even if I didn't remember the details when the performance came. So she played. With iPad and page-turner underfoot. Clear, precise, mostly gentle always perceptive. She said this work demands concentration to play, but also to listen. There are at least three lines interweaving, often with padding (I thought she jokingly described one more portly segment as "messy"), but I'm sure I didn't catch it all. But there was real clarity of concept here. I'd wished for harpsichord at times for the Passacaglia and fugue, but I didn't feel this here.
Our version at home is by the Julliard String Quartet, and the Art of Fugue has been recorded on organ and harpsichord and strings and chamber orchestras and more, but the clear, strong piano (presumably she was using the big Steinway concert grand) seemed good to me. Megan preferred the string quartet with its more identifiable parts. Fair comment. Even just half the work (10 Contrapuncti, only the first of a double CD) was a big effort. I noticed some noises again towards the end so it was demanding for audience too. Musica Viva describes Angela as “the pre-eminent Bach pianist of our time” and for Stereophile mag she’s “the pianist who will define Bach perfomance on the piano for years to come”. These are big claims but, for me, this was simply a gripping and crystal clear performance and one to remember. Wonderful. Angela Hewitt (piano) performed for Musica Viva at the Llewellyn Hall. She played Bach's Passacaglia and fugue, Cmin, BWV582, then Beethoven's Piano sonata no.31, Ab maj, Op.110 and Bach’s Art of Fugue Contrapuncti I-X.

Thanks to Musica Viva and photographer Rod Taylor

07 October 2013

Chalk & cheese

It was an afternoon of two different musics. Firstly, Tobias and Katie Cole and family at the High Court, singing religious song and modern. Then a Festival of Blues piano, with four of Canberra’s major blues pianists at the Brassey. How different!

The Coles gig was pure music sung mostly in high voices: soprano and countertenor (Tobias’ baritone in one song changed the effects markedly) and childrens’voices, mostly unaccompanied, although there were some instruments. I was intrigued by a violin walking pizz accompaniment on one. And there was an excerpt from the Magic flute played on glockenspiel with four recorders. The introduction was Britten carols spread overhead in the big space of the High Court foyer. This led to some Purcell including Sound the trumpet. There were a final few songs in front of the audience, three Island songs from Australian composer Stephen Leek: Monkey and turtle, Trade wind and Morning tide. But the most fascinating was kept till last. Tobias had the audience stand and split into four groups, learn a song, and perform as a conducted canon. Lots of fun and more active than usual. I was surprised by the audience’s decent intonation and memory for a relatively complex song. Well done to all of us ... and to the Coles.

Tobias Cole (countertenor, baritone), Katie Cole (soprano) and their three kids.

But then off to a darker space provided with beer and PA. Very different and more physical, at least for a few dancers. I just took a beer. Leo Joseph had organised a second Blues Piano festival, and this was it. Four great local pianists playing the blues: Wayne Kelly, John Black, Ross Buchanan and Leo himself. Now these are different stylists: Leo heavily into New Orleans, Dr John and the like; Ross all busy and virtuosic; John cool and capable from a lengthy professional career; Wayne authentically bluesy but letting in a touch of jazz chops. They mostly sang, too. I was particularly impressed by John’s calm and effective voice on tunes like Allelejuia I just love her so. Wayne sang Just a closer walk with thee with a strange key change for the vocals and with the heaviest, most authentic gospel piano. Fabulous. Ross wracked the piano with armfulls of notes, was it Billy Joel? Leo is just classy with his New Orleans presence, laid back groove, worthwhile lyrics, black and beret-arrayed. I was amused by John Black introducing a tune as “bulletproof”. Pianists need a few bulletproof tunes to play when requested at parties and such. As a bassist, I hadn’t considered this need. A few friends sat in – Juanita Cucinotta accompanying her singing with piano, and Lisa Pye – but it was really a day for the four, individually, in pairs, or even as a quartet avoiding stepping on each others’ toes, musically and literally as they swapped spots during songs. An amusing and bluesically worthwhile outing, the opportunity for a few beers and chatter and dancing, and they’ll be doing it again soon (Harmony German Club, 29 Nov, evening).

The pianists were Wayne Kelly, John Black, Ross Buchanan and Leo Joseph. Juanita Cucinotta and Lisa Pye sat in.

06 October 2013

Thanks to our friends

The ANU put on a big free show last year when it was under the hammer and they returned with another this year. The intention is different, presumably to showcase the continued existence and success of the School, but the context of massive change at the School is the same. Head of School, Peter Tregear, introduced this year’s concert as a gift to the Canberra Community and friends and he plans to make this an annual free gig. Great. The School of Music clearly has many supporters in Canberra. Many were horribly disappointed by changes last year, but Peter and others have been working valiantly to rebuild the School and they need the support of friends.

This was another mix of styles and ensembles, if not the extended potpourri of last year’s event. First was DRUMatix with soloist Sean Connaughton performing David Mancini’s Suite for solo drumset and percussion ensemble. How can you not love this? Infectious grooves, intervallic rubatos, rich tapestries of tone and even harmony and melody from the vibes and marimbas. And tubular bells, various latin percussions and timpanis. This was all convincingly performed, joyous and infusive, and Sean’s drum solo was interesting and of a nice length and surprisingly rocky in this classical percussion context, but that’s the nature of a group like this. DRUMatix presents a catholic array of sounds and rhythms. I’m sold. Then a welcome to country. Then the Jazz Ensemble playing an arrangement of Stolen Moments by Miro and Miro’s For Woody. These are two great tunes. Stolen moments was a surprise with a few added bars which stretch and settle this already cool tune. It was good to hear John’s tenor again and El’s violin (which is ever more satisfying) and guitar hidden in the back row. For Woody is a burner and the solos were shared widely: tenor and violin again, then trumpet, alto, drums, percussion. I don’t find Llewellyn is a generous acoustic for jazz, but this was enlivened and harmonically sweet in the heads. Nice.

The fine music followed the interval. The ANU Chamber Orchestra played and the ANU Chamber Choir sang under Peter Tregear’s baton. Calvin Bowman joined them for sinfonia and chorus from Bach’s Wir danken dir, Gott, BWV29. This is classic Bach oratorio material. Peter Tregear introduced it as written for the inauguration of the Leipzig Town hall and lamented our current alternatives. It didn’t seem hugely complex but it’s totally satisfying. I found strings and organ a bit unbalanced and the instrumentals somewhat lost in this large space, but it grew as the voices joined in. Bach is nothing but a pleasure. Then Handel’s Ode to Saint Cecilia’s Day, HWV76. Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, so this was also an ode to music. It was performed by Chamber Orchestra and Choir with singers Rachael Thoms (soprano) and Paul McMahon (tenor) and instrumentalists Rachel Beesley (orchestra leader), Virginia Taylor (flute) and Julia Janiszewski (cello). Handel combined text from Dryden with his dignified and sometimes majestic orchestration. This is a larger piece with numerous movements, variously dance-like, expectant, undemonstrative, joyous, stately, majestic, in three and four. Nicely done and especially involving at the end.

It’s been a very demanding year for the staff of the School of Music, even if it was quiet one in public. I’m hoping for a more publicly visible school over coming years. Ode to Music was performed by staff and students of the ANU School of Music. Performers were DRUMatix, ANU Jazz Ensemble, ANU Chamber Orchestra, ANU Chamber Choir, Calvin Bowman (organ), Rachael Thoms (soprano), Paul McMahon (tenor), Rachael Beesley (orchestra leader), Virginia Taylor (flute) and Julia Janiszewski (cello) led by Peter Tregear.