30 March 2014

This or the footy

I’m in Adelaide for a family visit and this was the Adelaide Cello Festival and the footy was the two Adelaide teams, the Crows and Port, at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval. The footy replaces the Stones concert that was to be the launch event but the footy is all the rage in town today. I chose the cello. Margarita Balanas performed a few solo pieces and was otherwise accompanied by Damien Mansfield. Margarita is aged 20, Latvian and currently resident in London, studied at the Purcell School of Music and now at the Royal Academy of Music. She’s here for this festival and a few concerts in Melbourne and Sydney. This was an interesting program. A few standards – prelude from Bach’s 5th cello suite in C minor, Schumann from Op.70 and an encore with Saint-Saens’ Swans. All lovely, the Bach was played firmly and the Schumann with classical intelligence and the SS with intimacy. But it was the Latvian repertoire that I found interesting for being unknown, if only to me. Vasks Pianissimo from Gramata was all sliding trills, drones and double stops, East European despair, three key pizzicato notes and even some unison vocals with the cello. Fascinating and surprisingly well received for such a daring first tune. Played as solo cello. The Bach was obviously played solo. I could only think how superb is the cello as a solo instrument: deep, melancholy, expressive with a broad range with fifth tunings and a generous, sensual instrument. Margarita played the Bach with satisfying firmness that spells out the intelligence of this music. The second half was four Latvian tunes. Darzins was a romantic melody against rising piano chords in ¾. Mence was more modern with considerable dissonance against a tonal centre, pizz arpeggios against rolling piano arpeggiation, an urgent feel of crotchets on 1-2 followed by a rest, and cello as accompaniment. Medins was prettier, consonant, lyrical, in 4/4, with 4-bar phrases responded over the following four. Another Medins was legato, smoothly flowing. I loved the heavy vibrato, nice intonation and strongly expressive playing. And she mostly played from memory. A young player, but impressive and much enjoyed. Too bad she’s not visiting Canberra; maybe next time. Some final notes. Nice to meet Kym Wilson, ex-ArtSound, who was recording for the local community radio station. Turns out we attended the same school here in Adelaide, although in different eras. Nice also to return to the Latvian Hall where I tread the boards in Henry IV Pt.1 in my schooldays (hint, neither King nor Falstaff). And, finally, nice to find this festical. It’s expected every two years and this is its third incarnation. It’s running 10 days including two weekends; it features Finn Marko Ylonnen, “the legendary” Lynn Harrell, Leonard Elschenbroich with the Stikovetky Trio appearing for Musica Viva, inventive and improvisational Rushad Eggleston, Cellisimo (four celli) with the Adelaide Symph, workshops and a fascinating “cello challenge” where 5 luthiers, on public display, build a “world class” cello over 10 days.

Margarita Balanas (cello) was accompanied by Damien Mansfield (piano) at the Latvian Hall for the third Adelaide Cello Festival.

28 March 2014

Astoroids and Flash Gordon

I can actually spell asteroids and the link to Flash G is tenuous but it amused me. This was the first concert of another season of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. It’s our local orchestra, part-time, and they do a great job. They are also well liked in the community. I think I read the CSO is the only orchestra in Australia that has sellout seasons, and that’s with very little government sponsorship. CSO is not funded like a capital-city, ex-ABC orchestra, but it survives and I hope it thrives. That said, I was not enamoured by the program but enjoyed it none-the-less. First, Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain in the most common orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov. Modest is an appeaaling name. So was the music, bold and mystical, threatening, dramatic and lots of fun. Then Mozart’s Violin Concerto no.5 performed by soloist Barbara Jane Gilby. She’s well known to Canberra audiences as the normal concertmaster for the CSO. Mozart is always perfect and this is a well known piece. I was amused by the weight of the horns and especially tuba which was so obvious when they passed the playing to the strings, relatively quiet as they were. It’s a piece that Barbara has played through her musical life, and she made her own take. Barbara encored with Massenet’s Meditations, all soppy, romantic, attractive and presumably the theme music for reams of period TV shows, and impossible to dislike. My favourite piece of the night followed the interval. It was Re-collecting Astoroids by Elena Kats-Chernin. The pun on the title is a reference to Astor as in Piazzolla as well as Elena’s approach to writing a piece dedicated to Piazzolla, collecting and recollecting but not quoting. This was a work in five movements. I thought I’d recognised several then I read the second movement quotes her own Peggy’s Rag. It’s not complex music, but the melodies are lovely and insinuating and I think it’s the orchestral colours that really attract me. I just find this more relevant to our times than the rural idyll although romantic themes of threat and danger may suit popular TV series. Then, to finish, the big show for the night. This was Liszt’s Preludes. Brassy, majestic, regal moving to romantic and trills and country idyll then film chases and action movies. Not his fault, of course, but Megan tells me this was used as the theme for the early Flash Gordon circa 1950s (?). I found it more interesting musically than Elena’s tune, more complex intersecting lines and counterpoint weaving through melodies, but sounding imperial European, so dated, to my ears. But, again, lots of fun, and we left laughing easily over the Flash Gordon connection. Congrats again to the CSO. It was an amusing concert and well received and well played. Much enjoyed.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain, Mozart Violin Concerto no.5, Kats-Chernin Re-collecting Astoroids and Liszt Les Preludes. Tom Woods (conductor) conducted and Barbara Jane Gilby (violin) soloed in the Mozart.

25 March 2014

A tribute to Incas

We are yet to visit the Gold of the Incas but we heard a batch of South American music this afternoon. Ambre Hammond and Marcello Maio performed a program called Tesoro Musical in association with the Incas exhibition. This was Piazzolla and Jobim and Piazzolla and Villa-Lobos and a Peruvian folk tune and some more Piazzolla. No problems there - Piazzolla is a favourite of the jazz community and us. Ambre plays piano and Marcello plays piano accordion. The mix has that street-sound that appears in folk musics around the world, with the throaty tone of the accordion melodies and the gruff chordal accompaniment. It fits this music with its working-man's humanity, simple melodies of descending (or ascending) phrases, repeating chord sequences of eight or so bars, perhaps with a simple counterpoint line for colour, perhaps with contrasting passages. It's not an elite, aristocratic music, but it's honest and humane. Grimaldo (?) means messy or unkempt and it's the name of one Piazzola tune with rabidly contrasting sections and a melody in 3 that plays out over 4 and neatly resolves on the fourth bar. I particularly liked Jobim's Portrait in black and white and thought I recognised Death of an angel from Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires. They also played El condor passa. I knew this from Simon and Garfunkel in 1970, but this slow take, with a largely unadorned melody, was far more convincing. Nice. This is lovely unpretentious music with class but with a direct connection to the street and the people. Sympathetic music and nicely played. Ambre Hammond (piano) and Marcello Maio (piano accordion) performed Tesoro Musical at the National Gallery in association with the exhibition, Gold of the Incas.

24 March 2014

Sound on country

I remembered the Stiff Gins as a larger band and they were a trio in the early days. But this was their 15th birthday celebration and there are now only two, although they seem to collaborate with others for various recordings and projects. They were at the National Film & Sound Archive and they were to record to an original Edison wax cylinder. It's a project they are undertaking after hearing the one extant recording of Tasmanian Aboriginal language, as songs, by Fanny Cochrane Smith. They do work like that, blending white Australia with indigenous culture. Another project response (Spirit of Things: Sound of Objects) had them in the vaults of the Australian Museum in Sydney, exploring Aboriginal artefacts and writing music in. I think it was Kaleena who'd earlier spoken of an elder who found our presence in rocks and trees and the country we'd passed. In these ways, the artefacts and even the wax cylinder resonated with these connections. It sounded strange to me, but not at all when they likened it to precious objects handed down from family. These, too, have the presence of someone loved and the value of that connection. I could feel that perfectly comfortably. At one other time, we heard a recorded song from the pair against archival film of the foundation of Canberra. The video was of light horsemen and King O'Malley and Billy Hughes and Andrew Fisher and other politicians and Coldstream Guards (!) and some Brit in uniform as the Governor-General of the day and attendant wives in heavy garb and unsmiling kids. Canberra was just open fields with the foundation stone that still sits between Old and New Parliament House. The Gins had sung to this, so giving the long-term occupants of the land a place at this event. It could be an angry expression but it wasn't. These women are open and frequently smiling and their presence was proud and positive and warm. So they sang two songs, one each of their favourites, both originals, one a folky feel by Kaleena about an experience in Edinburgh while on tour, and an uptempo number by Nardi called Morning Star. It was especially in Morning star that I noticed their individual styles: Nardi grooving with guitar, lighter voiced but with rich, bluesy embellishments and Kaleena with a louder voice of substantial power and projection. And with harmonies that merged so well and brought smiles to their faces. Then to end was the wax cylinder recording. Firstly, one run through for practice, then the recording proper. This went well, as these things go. It's not an outcome that thrills with volume or clarity (apparently a hard-wax mould can improve on the sound) but it was interesting to watch and it wasn't digital. So then, out for birthday cake and chatter in the foyer. Nice evening, intimate, and just a touch of their music. I would have liked to have heard more music, but this was more a celebration than a performance, so it was never planned. I liked these two, intimate and open as they are, and what little music we heard was impressive. Must catch them in concert sometime.

The Stiff Gins are Kaleena Briggs and Nardi Simpson and they were interviewed at the National Film and Sound Archive by the Senior Curator of Indigenous Collections, Peter White.

  • Naming the Federal Capital, 12 Mar 1913 (music Yandool by Stiff Gins)
  • 23 March 2014

    Meditation in groove

    In many ways, this was unexpected, but in others it was not. Alec Hunter is the new bassist at the Music School with a background in both classical and jazz and a musicology PhD to boot. The band was presented in a formal layout: seven players spread around an inverted U open to the audience. Individually lit with strong overhead lights for a contrasty view. Two drummers and marimba/vibes. The grand Steinway next to mikes for seated trumpet and saxes. And two basses, or rather a double bass and a violone, lying on its back, in front of several laptops. Also, a screen above it all, a dark room, mics and recording gear. This was a seriously prepared event. Then I read the program: "short open works", "improvised (or not)", "set melodic cells to free improvisation", "order ... decided ... during the performance". And more: "simultaneously projected video", "audio and video ... tow independent creative events occupying the same space and time". And even: "the doors ... will remain open ... audience members are encouraged to come and go as they please". Interesting. Some of the recorded voice accompanying the video spoke to similar conventions, of art and dance and music. No-one much moved or applauded or made noise during each set, but we are a arts-respecting crew. So what did we hear? There were passages at top and bottom that grooved like jazz-rock era Miles. There were times of quiet and meditation, with double-bowed violone and more. There was authentic jazz improvisation from Charles on vibes and deeply rhythmic improv from Tate on piano. There were two drummers, sharing leads, finding openings for percussion. There were Miro and John, two masters thrilling with some deeply responsive interplay and swapped segments and some great tones with a digital harmoniser. And Alec, leading with hand gestures and raised fingers, meditatively seated on the ground with violone or holding jazz-infused riffs or spelling melodic themes on double bass. I liked his sharp edged tone that was balanced, often note for note, with softer rejoinders, with what sounded to my ears as the most precise intonation. It's jazz and modern classical but also performance art and video. Not rare these days, and shouldn't really be unexpected, but a change from Bird on the one hand or Bach on the other (although we all love them both). Refreshing and pensive.

    Alec Hunter and Friends played in the Band Room at the ANU School of Music. Alec Hunter (bass, violone, electronics) led his friends Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), John Mackey (saxes), Tate Sheridan (piano), Charles Martin (marimba, vibes), Jamal Salem (drums, percussion) and Jonathan Warren (drums, percussion). Lauren Hunter (video) created the projections.

    21 March 2014

    Of class and custom

    It was a revisit for Megan. She had attended Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi in Communist-era Moscow. This was EO performed by the Australian Opera at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, under the smaller of the sails at the Sydney Opera House. It’s similarly designed, but more intimate than the larger concert hall. We were seated in the very back row. We couldn’t see the surtitles, and we’d chosen this so could better concentrate on the music. Perhaps it was a poor decision. We’d read the plot, but this work went for over two hours and there were details that were just lost. The back row was also under a low roof, but the sound still seemed good, if not loud. At its peak, the stage with chorus had, perhaps, 50 singers, and the orchestra, in its pit, another 30 or more. I missed a large sound from strings, but this was nicely played nonetheless, with a small, almost a chamber, feeling. (Megan saw 4 basses which suggest as orchestra of ~50, but it didn’t sound so big to my ears). The voices, too, weren’t massive in the space, although in flight they filled the space with ease. It’s a strange story and very dated to modern ears (unless you follow period series or read Victoriana). Young Tatyana meets Eugene Onegin who has come to the country after the balls and sophistication of the big city. Tatyana sends love letter which Eugene rejects. At a ball shortly after, Eugene flirts with Olga, sister of Tatyana and fiancé to Eugene’s friend Lensky. Lensky takes offence, challenges to a duel and is killed (and remains on stage as a body for the rest of the performance). Twenty years pass. Onegin encounters Tatyana at a ball. She is now the wife of Prince Gremin. He expresses his love. She does also but refuses to leave the Prince. End. This takes over two hours, so the surtitles would have filled in some gaps. This version has young and old Tatyana and Onegin variously on stage together (unlike the Bolshoi which played it straight) but only the older incarnations sang. There are a few passages that even I recognised, a waltz that included singing by the chorus, and a mazurka. I am a novice in operas. I was surprised by applause after significant arias that interrupted the theatrical flow. I noticed the difference between attending music and opera, how one was theatre so required visuals; the other you could close your eyes to. I enjoyed the costumes, especially generously draped dresses and mature Tatyana’s stunning white dress with bustle and train and a slit at the front that opened to a vivid red, her theme colour in youth. I was understruck by the chorus which sounded like a collection of individuals (in phrasing and vibrato) rather than a unit like a choir, but thinking back, this may be apt. These are thirty or so people playing parts (admittedly as unnamed peasants) not a whole, so unity may not be the intention. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the main voices, Eugene’s baritone, Tatyana’s soprano, Onegin’s baritone and Lensky’s tenor. I wondered if voices are typecast in opera, so Tatyana is soprano, sister is mezzo-soprano and mother an maid are contralto, and, for the men, the powerful Prince is bass, the intellectual Onegin is baritone and the more lightweight Lensky is tenor. So, opera. I won’t rush back, although it was a worthy outing. I will read surtitles in future, and I may try for a language I have some chance of understanding, Italian or French or English. It’s somewhat like the book I’m reading at the moment, Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, amongst high society life in New York in the 1870s, about Newland Archer and his impending marriage to sheltered May Welland and how it’s thrown into disarray by the arrival of May’s cousin, the separated Countess Ellen Olenska. There’s social custom and forbidden love and even a return after 26 years. This is another era of class and custom and it shows. Interesting to visit but hardly a daily indulgence.

    Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was performed by the Australian Opera at the Sydney Opera House. Key performers were Nicole Car (Tatyana, soprano), Dalibor Jenis (Eugene Onegin, baritone), James Egglestone (Lensky, tenor), Jacqueline Dark (maid Filippyevna, contralto) and Konstantin Gorny (Prince Gremin, bass) and the orchestra was directed by Guillaume Tourniaire (conductor).

    Pic attribution: Third act, Eugene Onegin, at USSR State Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow, 1965. RIA Novosti archive, image #855192 / Boris Riabinin / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    17 March 2014

    When Simon met wonder

    I'm listening to Reina De La Pileta a as I write this. It's the album launched the other night at the Street Theatre by Simon Milman with Wanderlust. Simon composed the music. it's strongly influenced by his latin background and interests, and it's very good. I've admired Simon's compositions and performances for some time. Whether Ornette-influenced or Latin or whatever, his work has purpose. The launch was in the Street Theatre 2, an intimate performance space, with a few wide rows of seating and a good PA and an upright piano. Fabian was unavoidably absent and ably replaced by Steve Marin. Otherwise, this was the Wanderlust we know and love. James and Miro up front, forming perfect harmonies and Miro in some of the best form I've heard with clarity and perfectly formed notes and inevitably correct phrasing and sweeping scalar responses. James seems to be playing more trumpet these days, so he was on trumpet, pocket trumpet and trom and a few beats on cajon. Again, always impeccably phrased and intoned lines. Alister withheld his playing with some immensely simple but well placed small chords that fit latin and one reggae feel, but then laid out some solos that floored me and that we mates talked about after the performance, delving into syncopations and sequences and then into a delicious free jazz of colour and magnificent in conception and performance. This was not a gig of solos, although everyone had at least one - the horns had plenty - but from the relaxed grooves, these solos just emerged with intent and energy and they all were lessons in melody and structure. Then Jeremy, who mostly played supportive parts and also laid out at times, but took a few driven Scofield monster-solos and I think one on nylon strung acoustic, but his playing that floored me was some richly dissonant chording in one of the tunes that said Bitches Brew to my ears. Very prominent and just fabulous. Simon, too, was mostly supportive (he could have been louder in the mix) rather than flashy, but his solo was a lovely melodic statement with real connection and no phony flash or flourish, more than just a bop overlay over the changes. Drummer Steve was sitting in, apparently at short notice, and he did the job admirably, laying rhythms and nicely snapping the snare, and his solo was a cracker that not just Miro and ever-supportive James were admiring. Wanderlust is a band of long standing with mature musicians and an engaging repertoire. Simon's compositions did them justice and vice-versa. The first set comprised tracks from the album and the second had more album tunes and some Wanderlust classics and Simon's take on Cold Chisel's Khe Sahn. After the intro, I guessed this would be Khe Sahn (I knew Simon had arranged this tune) but even then I only caught one phrase in a 10-minute rendition. James' comment at the end was "Where did that come from?" It wasn't at all obvious, but it was another goody. Congrats to both Simon and Wanderlust for an enticing evening of exceptional playing. Truly impressive.

    Simon Milman (compositions) launched the album Reina De La Pileta / Wanderlust meets Simon Milman. The performers were Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn), James Greening (trumpet, pocket trumpet, trombone), Jeremy Sawkins (guitar), Alister Spence (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Steve Marin (drums).

    16 March 2014

    Chops assumed

    I like plucked solos on nylon string guitars. They are fast, flashy, exciting, with that dull thud with edge. Classical guitars use nylon strings and they claim a range of tones with fingerpicking. But this is different, not classical. It's a thrilling sound, with its references to Spain and flamenco. This was like that. Richly embroidered with rhythms form three guitars, often fingerpicking with ring and pinkies, along with picks and strums. I also like it when several people play the same instrument together. Their approaches and concepts are easy to hear. This was Mike Price, Greg Stott and Stuart King playing as Hermoso Sonido and they were obviously different in tone and soloistic styles.

    I also like it when chops are assumed and the tunes take centre stage. I don't notice it too often and it's not always too obvious. I noticed it during a rich pop tune from Elvis Costello, Favourite hour. The solos were great, the interplay was wonderful with three similar instruments never stepping on each other, each taking a part, perhaps unconsciously, passing solos or supporting as a duo. This was so easy and the tune was paramount. Favourite hour was through composed, with great lyrics (but nobody offered to sing) and with unusual changes. They also played a rough transcription from Jan Lorenz, who Mike had seen in Barcelona, and a few originals from Greg and Kenny Wheeler's Kind folk, which I've heard before from Mike. I only heard the second set, having come from the Australian Haydn Ensemble, but they'd played some Chick Corea, one of which was the lively Open your eyes you can fly from the first, from the first incarnation of Return To Forever with Airto and Flora Purim and Joe Farrell and Stan Clarke. I got two things from this gig. Firstly, how well they played together. This was a lesson in three similar instruments not getting in each others' way. I realised when Mike was soloing, Stuart was strumming and Greg was filling with notes from chords. Very neat. And how three very good players on the same instruments can display such markedly different approaches.

    This was a wonderfully involving concert with a settled quietness about it all. Thrilling in solos and skills and communicative in chatter and presence. Not loud, not forced, but driving and unified. Clearly three local masters at their craft. Hermoso Sonido are Mike Price, Greg Stott and Stuart King (nylon strung guitars).

    15 March 2014

    Anything but heartless

    The Australian Haydn Ensemble feels like living music, not electronic digital-perfect but with body and life. I imagine this is what music was like in the past. Instruments and education were not the production of machines and computer accuracy. Each gut string a product of another body. It's a revealing musical experience. Intimate and human. Women in lacey black and harpsichord with country idyl scenes. I hear elemental sounds. Waves of notes, rising and falling and wind and weather and country in the music. This is countryside and nature that none of us, probably not even our rural cousins, would experience now, in our age of vehicles and machines and communications and power in a switch rather than in the legs of a horse of the smouldering of a lump of timber. The period instruments help in this, notably the recorder-like tone of a wooden flute. Perhaps the room influences it, too; the Larry Sitsky room would have been big for musicians of this period. The music itself is located somewhere between baroque and classical. The is Abel and JC Bach and Haydn and Stanley. Some of it feels like popular music. Some of it feels pretty straightforward. Politics and society are always complex, but this music sounds young, of the early days of Western musical history. Lots of unisons, easy rhythms and simple times and attractive melodies, syncopations that are just dotted notes and consonant harmonies in major keys with scalar runs and third intervals. But it's quite beautiful with its mix of tones, the flute in parallel with the violins and the harpsichord plucking in accompaniment and the bass and cello working away below. For a few songs, also a male baritone singing of nymphs and shepherds and the like and the sounds of country and nature. The Australian Haydn Ensemble are artists in residence this year at the ANU School of Music and this was a lovely introduction to their music. Loved it.

    The Australian Haydn Ensemble performed in the Larry Sitsky Room. They comprised Skye McIntosh (violin), Alice Evans (violin), Heather Lloyd (viola), Noeleen Wright (cello), Stewart Smith (harpsichord) and Jacqueline Dossor (bass). David Greco (baritone) joined them for several songs.

    11 March 2014

    This one's for the piano

    All Saints has a newish grand piano and this was a fundraiser by the singers and musicians of the church choir. They must be an impressive choir for they did decent work as soloists, but on instruments and on voice. This was a diverse outing; about 50-50 instrumental and vocal. Vivaldi, Franck, Haydn, Telemann, Mozart, Brahms. These were not unexpected, but perhaps the Ernesto de Curtis was. He wrote Torna a Sorrento, the magical and popular Neapolitan song. Gerard sang that with Kimberley accompanying, and I loved it, but then I can't help but love Neapolitan song. The two traditional songs by solo Alex were unexpected, too, as much folk as classical repertoire, and performed up close and personal. Alex told us one moved from folk to classical repertoire and the other vice versa. They were She moved through the fair and The three ravens, both Traditional. Then some instrumentals. Clara on cello accompanied by Kimberley on a Haydn's Piatigorsky Divertimento. This was perhaps my favourite. Light and entertaining but with considerable skills required. Cello is a wonderfully earthy instrument and Clara did it justice. Kimberley, too, on piano, was outstanding throughout. She's awarded as an accompanist and this was clear this day. Well listened and sweetly played with real character. The Telemann was performed by oboe and recorder with piano accompaniment. Typically early music suggesting dances in mediaeval stone halls: a lovely and dignified variation. I haven't mentioned vocal numbers and this is the choir. Perhaps outstanding for me was Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, but it's a favourite in our house. Rachel displayed a powerful lyric soprano voice on Handel's Piangeró la sorte mia, Julio Cesare. Nice to hear some English lyrics in Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Oh rest in the Lord. The Brahms was voice with viola and piano for a more orchestral and modern conception. Frank's Panic angelicus. La Gallienne's Farewell thou art too dear for my possessing featured Gerard, a male voice, and Tristan also harmonised with Lou on Franck's Panis Angelicus. And the lengthier Mozart's Exultate, Jubilate ended with Gemma's soprano in Latin. Alleluia. This was a varied program. Joyful, informative with introductions and rich in styles and varied tonalities. Thanks and congrats to what must be a very satisfying choral gathering.

    The varied program was performed at All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie, by Kimberley Steel (piano), Gemma Dashwood (soprano, piano), Lauren Davis (viola), Clara Teniswood (cello), Caroline Fargher (oboe), Ann Neville (recorder), Alex Maroya (baritone), Gerard Clifton (baritone), Louise Merrington (mezzo-soprano), Tristan Foon (baritone), Rachel McGrath-Kerr (soprano) and Catriona Bryce (contralto).

    10 March 2014

    Elvis is in the house

    It's the closest I'll ever get to Elvis. Jacqueline Feilich was at the Artists Shed as the King singing the Stax era, early 70s, and she was stunning. To my ears, this was Elvis. Strange, being a woman, but she had the range, the phrasing, the pitch, the tone, the right embellishments. There's an industry out there around Elvis but with lots of overweight guys in Las Vegas-era costumes. Jacqueline had a dignified black presence although her website has some pics with the colour garb. I like to think of Elvis as the young and poor white singing genuinely black rather than his sad later life. JF had appeared at the Artists Shed a few months back and for some reason I couldn't get there. This time I heard some mutterings that the songs she sang were not so well known. JF explained that Elvis had sold off his back catalogue in the early-70s and collected new material to go into Stax Studios, Memphis TN, and record. Apparently these tracks were dispersed over several albums so not particularly noted, but they were great. I loved the show from the first notes. JF sang solo against a recorded backing track, presumably from her band or CD. From the top, this was great R&B as I understand it with an authentic voice. You couldn't help but groove from the first notes. Then through country styles (doesn't he do that well!) and gospel influences and wonderful ballads. Stax was not his early, sexy days, but this was a mature artist with great support playing for himself. There was a TV downstairs playing the Las Vegas show, and this too was replete with great backing musos. It's like this with the Sinatras and Presleys. They may age along with their voices, but their reputation and money buys the best backing. I knew very few of these tunes - perhaps just Chuck Berry's Promised land and Guitar man - but it didn't matter. Great, heavily grooving music and richly worked voice and that magical black essence in a white body. One thing took me back. Apparently Elvis took over the whole of Stax with his own artists and sound men. Not sure what's left if you do that - just the room and the gear. It's strange this thing about tribute bands, but I've liked a few. Beatnix were stunning (they all sang their right lines and played their right instruments, so Beatnix/Paul played a left handed Hofner and sing Paul's parts!) and I enjoyed Bjorn Again. It's not just copying, but also a mark of respect and love when done by the best. Certainly you have to involve yourself deeply in the music, because there are plenty of fans who will know every line. Jacqueline Feilich is all that, and locally based (Sydney) and internationally respected. She's back at the Artists Shed in September and she's good. As near to authentic as I can image.

    But that's not all. Jacqueline's daughter, Ruby Feilich, did a warmup on Tina Turner. Hey, what's love gotta do with it. Not quite as polished or professional as her Mum, but not at all bad and great fun. And from a schoolkid. This time we knew the tunes: Nutbush, What's love gotta do with it, Proud Mary, Private dancer and the footy anthem, Simply the best. Great fun and busily energetic. Now to learn the footsteps for Nutbush - not that it's so hard.

    Jacqueline Feilich sang Elvis' Stax sessions and Ruby Feilich sang Tine Turner hits at the Artist Shed in association with the Elvis 21 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

    09 March 2014

    Manuka again

    It's our local and we'd walked down for pizza to start the long weekend and there was jazz in the distance as we left. Victor Rufus was out with Barney Briggs and Sean Connaughton playing standards for the diners. We just caught a few including Beatrice and Alone together. Some tasteful melody from Victor and some fleet bass solos and a very latin take on Alone together. On the lawns at Manuka, under the pollarded plane trees. Just ships passing in the night but nice. Victor Rufus (guitar) played with Barney Briggs (bass) and Sean Connaughton (drums).

    08 March 2014

    The presence of the past

    It's nothing like the great museums overseas, of course, and smaller than the Nicholson Museum in the Quad at University of Sydney, but the ANU's Classical Museum in the foyer of the AD Hope building is a little gem. We visited after attending a lecture on the first and second sacks of Troy at the strangely named Haydon Allen Tank. And even more strangely, after attending the AGM of the Friends of the Classical Museum. That was a merciful 7 minutes or so, with the most interesting thing being their two recent purchases. All this has a ring of strangeness about it, but the classics are intriguing and they are in our Western cultural DNA, even if they are rather distant these days. But some Friends maintain the age. The lecture was by Chris Mackie, professor of Greek studies at La Trobe University, and he was a lively and entertaining speaker. He recounted the story of the first sack of Troy and the roles of the hero Heracles and proceeded to make comparisons with the second sack. The first is alluded to in the Iliad and the second is the subject of the Iliad. He compared heroes, enemies, weapons, the source of glory. Heracles (first sack) used bow & arrow to fight monsters and left Troy intact despite broken promises of King Laomedon. By the time of the later sack, the spear is noble and the bow ignoble, the enemies are cities and glory is in destruction and genocide. About more recent times, Prof Mackie made a parallel with WW1/WW2, where battlefield confrontations became total war with civilian targets. Thus both the Iliad and our times speak of increasing bleakness and hardening of politics. Then off to the Classic Museum for an after-event social gathering. Just a quick visit for us as I was off for the second set of Grey Wing Trio at Smiths, but a delight. I wouldn't want to live there, but the remains of the ancient world are rare and vivid and strange: some Greek vases and statues and Roman oil lamps and fresco fragments, the central model of ancient Rome (which displays a remarkable degree of survival in modern Rome). Then off to Grey Wing. I wrote them up a few weeks ago, so little here. Suffice to say I heard one set comprising just two compositions by Luke. This was stellar playing all round, although this time I was particularly taken by Finn's open, detailed, delicate drumming. Not enough time at the Museum or Grey Wing, but them's the options.

    Prof Chris Mackie spoke on Troy for the Friends of the ANU Classics Museum. Grey Wing Trio comprise Luke Sweeting (piano), Ken Allars (trumpet) and Finn Ryan (drums) ad they played at Smiths Alternative.

  • ANU Classics Museum