30 April 2014

Unexpected blues at Woden

Caught busking at Woden today. (Robert) Owen Campbell playing slide guitar and singing. I enjoyed the little I heard. This was satisfying blues, slide guitar, authentic confident voice, firm playing, strong sound and with some nice dissonance from Middle Eastern scales in the instrumentals. Owen is playing with his band at the Abbey in a few days. He's on tour promoting a new CD, but I guess he's a local. I've caught him before busking at Woden. Who would expect the blues at lunchtime in Woden? Sunshine but a cold breeze mid-week so the blues are not totally out of the question.

29 April 2014

Naming a new ensemble

It's good to see the birth of any new ensemble. This one is the Foray Quintet and it's done it first tour with two piano quintets by Fauré. The lineup is piano with two violins, viola and cello; five women from a Canberra / Melbourne association. The name obviously refers to foray as in new undertaking and to Fauré, the composer who they played it on this tour. I'm told we can expect to hear other composers and other combinations, but these two works by Fauré were lovely: modern but with a melodic bent, attractive and thematic. Kimberley introduced the first work, Fauré Quintet no.1 D minor Op.89 with a few observations and associated musical samples. About how the first quintet is bright; the other darker and more complex. About how the accompaniment moves harmonically, how the passages "travel". I understood in diatonic chords rather than in single line phrasing. Kimberley suggested a jazz awareness. Also how the rhythmic movements were more "circular" than "square" as in marches. Again I thought jazz and swing, at least a softer feel. Strange, this, but the final movement of the Op.89 was almost the theme of Fly me to the moon with its falling, rising, falling phrase, starting initially with the pianistic simplicity of a music box. Felicité introduced the other work, Fauré Quintet no.2 C minor Op.115, with descriptive impressions: first movement period drama and obscure moments then Alice in Wonderland; second movement slow man running on beach; third movement dreamtime, end of a busy week, tired reflection that the "viola keeps in check"; fourth movement another musical reference, to the Game of Thrones theme, or perhaps the tango. We all have our own visualisations for music; it's interesting to hear someone else's. This was very beautiful, dignified music, nothing like the extremes that modernism was to develop to, lyrical and sweet but with honest straightforward connection. I was amused to see in the program that Fauré has been called the St Francis of music and was variously described as modest, timid, grateful, content. It's not flamboyant music but immediately comprehended for its with honesty and depth. This is just the second performance of the first tour, but the ensemble was comfortable and convincing and the music seemed well suited. A lovely outing and looking forward to another down the track.

Foray Quintet played two Fauré's Quintets. They comprised Kimberley Steele (piano), Elyane de Fontenay (violin), Felicité Heine (violin), Sarina con Walter (viola) and Anneliese McGee-Collett (cello).

27 April 2014

What shape is that?

A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat, as seen on the Nile and Red Sea, distinguishable by its triangular lateen sail. Felucca (proper noun) is also the name of a contemporary jazz trio and I heard them the other night at Smiths. Not sure if I can see the connection but I enjoyed the music. The jazz Felucca was a sax trio with tenor sax and a distinctive aluminium strummed bass, sparse syncopated feels and long and intense crescendos. There's very little swing here, but this is the nature of current jazz. Abel's strummed bass was the identifiably different element, processed, metallic and ringing, strummed chords and pick. It was only very seldom that he played single notes and these were 4-to-the-floor rock feels that soon returned to syncopated strums. Drums were mostly acoustic and one tune started with a driving solo, but they, too, went digital when Paul processed through a drum machine, for deep echoes and stretched pitches. I liked this. New sounds, rock presence. Against this, a single tenor sax seemed simply toned, played without effects into a mic, but this was contemporary playing so nothing too obviously diatonic. The changes were rock-like, perhaps 4-bar phrases with a change each bar, but there was readiness to dissolve to free, or hold to a heavy psychedelia. It was mostly strong, driving playing, even if spacious, but there was gentleness, too, with some floating tunes of plectrum scrapes and heavily echoing bass and African rattles and pensive sax and cymbals. This is Sydney music, one band of many out of the JazzGroove stable, always interesting and probably performing too seldom. Contemporary jazz is a demanding form and not heavily attended, despite its obvious authenticity. A few aspects make this band new to my ears, especially the role of the bass, and so it is. There's a world of adventure in these combinations that visit us from Sydney. That's the nature of a developed jazz scene and Felucca is a comfortably inventive part of it.

Felucca are James Loughnan (tenor sax), Abel Cross (bass) and Paul Derricott (drums) and this is worthy invention with contemporary awareness and touched with some electronic freedom. Trangular, like the sails? Yeah, maybe, but the rhythms are square rigged.

25 April 2014

A program for Easter and Anzac

The ANU Chamber Choir and Chamber Orchestra performed on stage at Llewellyn. I've done it before, but it's strange to join the performers on a massive stage and look out at 1330 empty seats. But nice. It's intimate, it seems acoustically quite live, boxed in by timber, and it's a decent sized space. This was a sellout, with performers and audience sitting on a flat surface, so sightlines were difficult, but so be it. There were two works on the program: Buxtehude and Haydn. Peter Tregear introduced them as selected for this Easter / Anzac week.

Firstly, Buxtehude's Membra Jesu nostri, a series of 7 cantatas each contemplating a part of Christ's dead body (feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and head). It's a strange concept, but this is early music, pre-Enlightenment. They thought differently then, and they were in touch with death. Buxtehude composed this in 1680 but to stanzas of a mediaeval hymn from a poem of the high mediaeval period. The ANU Chamber Choir comprised about 30 performers, with some members coming out to solo. They were accompanied by a small chamber orchestra of 2 x violin (or violin and viola?), 1 x viola da gamba (sometimes 2), cello and organ. Peter Tregear conducted. The strings were using baroque bows. It was sung in Latin. The programs had Latin text with English translation. I followed the text and found it rewarding, giving the meaning and worldview, but also making the counterpoint and baroque embellishments obvious. Body of Christ; I kept thinking of that ghostly Mantenga painting, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, that resides at the Brera in Milan. This was truly another era.

The second work of the night was performed by the ANU Chamber Orchestra with conductor David Irving. This is much larger orchestra but about half the size of the CSO (two basses) with a full suite of horns and brass and woodwinds and timpani using modern instruments. This was much closer is style to our era, being early modern, early classical. Peter introduced the work as immediately post-French Revolution, but it felt light and attractive and the program quoted Haydn's pleasure at its inaugural performance: "... packed audience ... I took in this evening 4,000 guilden. One can make as much as this only in England". Music for a market but lovely none-the-less. This was Op.104, London Symphony, the last of 12 symphonies he composed for visits to London. Four movements, attractive and lively, very pleasurable, just a touch of the idyll, sometimes danceable, often grand and joyous and wonderfully pretty. Again, nicely played and delightful music.

  • Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the Mantegna
  • 21 April 2014

    From where once was gold

    As with all the blockbusters, Gold of the Incas was on the agenda for an early visit but we'd got to the last few days and it would be busy and we only went because a friend spoke so highly of it. It was very busy but it was also worth it. It was new to us but eye-opening and enjoyed even if it was a touch same-ish and a little doleful, given the collection was from burial remains. The displays were mostly art made from gold, silver, precious stones, textiles and ceramics. Each room displayed works of a Peruvian lost culture covering the 3,000 year period from ~1500BCE to the short-lived Incas in ~1500CE. The audio tour was the familiar voice of Phillip Adams. In the end, I gave that up and just took items at face value. What did I note? Lots of gold and beaten metal and some stone and shell in headdresses and crowns and nose and ear ornaments and pectorals. Some beautifully detailed weaving and embroidery in ruddy warm colours that would not be out of place now. The necklaces, too, would not be out of place on many modern necks. There were some delightful ceramics of animals, usually in the form of vessels. Most vessels were stirrup vessels, presumably named for the stirrup shape at top that would have been used as a carrying handle, and that was usually combined with a pouring lip. The images portrayed in these stirrup vessels were great joy. I was stunned by the realism of one male head (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Portrait head stirrup vessel 100-800 AD ceramic); enjoyed the use of glazing in a feline vessel (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Stirrup vessel in the form of a feline 100-800 AD ceramic); smiled at some animals (HUARI culture 600 – 1000 AD, Vessel in the form of a llama 600-1000 AD ceramic); smirked at some erotica (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Stirrup vessel in the form of a couple under a blanket 100-800 AD ceramic); admired detailed and colourful fabrics (PARACAS culture South coast 700 BC – 200 AD; Mantle with flying figures 100 BC - 200 AD wool and cotton); treasured the necklaces (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Necklace 100-800 AD gold, opal, quartz, emerald); laughed at the vegetable vessels (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Stirrup vessel in the form of potatoes 100-800 AD ceramic); was amazed that they had deer and used platinum (VICÚS culture North coast 100 BC – 400 AD, Female figure, known as The Venus of Frías 200-600 AD gold and platinum); was confused by a oddly Greek-looking mask (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Mask 100-800 AD copper, gold, shell, stone); and mused on the likely sound of the trumpet (MOCHE culture North coast 100 – 800 AD, Trumpet 100-800 AD ceramic). But perhaps the most surprising of all were the quipu (HUARI culture 600 – 1000 AD, Quipu 600-1000 AD cotton). I initially read them as strangely poor necklaces of knotted string, but the audio guide explained them as arithmetic records, perhaps for census or survey, where decimal numbers are recorded on groups of strings of different colours and placed knots. This was stunning. And then, of course, the reminders that this was a culture without the wheel, including for its ceramics. It was another world, a series of cultures over three millennia, and we can only touch on what was missed by European looting.

    The exhibition, Gold of the Incas : lost worlds of Peru, was at the National Gallery of Australia and will have finished by the time you read this.

  • Gold of the Incas exhibition website

  • The images above, in order, are these. Thanks to Nick at NGA for permission to use these images.

  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Portrait head stirrup vessel 100-800 AD, ceramic, Ministerio de Cultura del Perú: Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Stirrup vessel in the form of a feline 100-800 AD, ceramic, Museo Larco, Lima. Photograph: Museo Larco
  • HUARI culture, 600 – 1000 AD, Vessel in the form of a llama 600-1000 AD, ceramic, Ministerio de Cultura del Perú: Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Stirrup vessel in the form of a couple under a blanket 100-800 AD, ceramic, Museo Larco, Lima. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • PARACAS culture, South coast 700 BC – 200 AD, Mantle with flying figures 100 BC - 200 AD, wool and cotton Ministerio de Cultura del Perú: Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Necklace 100-800 AD, gold, opal, quartz, emerald, Museo Oro del Perú, Lima,. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Stirrup vessel in the form of potatoes 100-800 AD, ceramic, Museo Larco, Lima. Photograph: Museo Larco
  • VICÚS culture, North coast 100 BC – 400 AD, Female figure, known as The Venus of Frías 200-600 AD, gold and platinum, Ministerio de Cultura del Perú: Sala de Oro del Museo Municipal Vicús, Piura. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Mask 100-800 AD, copper, gold, shell, stone, Ministerio de Cultura del Perú: Museo de Sitio de Chan Chan, Dos Cabezas. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • MOCHE culture, North coast 100 – 800 AD, Trumpet 100-800 AD. Ceramic. Museo Oro del Perú, Lima. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • HUARI culture, 600 – 1000 AD, Quipu 600-1000 AD, cotton, Fundación Museo Amano, Lima. Photograph: Daniel Giannoni
  • 19 April 2014


    Simon Milman has hands in many pots. And it's not just that he's part of them. Someone mentioned to me at Simon's farewell event at Smith's that he will be missed, not just for his playing, but for his leadership. Simon's active; he creates things - music, combinations, events, lots of CDs - and these things range over a broad field. I've mostly caught him doing jazz things, in the jazz scene, but he's active with the Canberra Musicians Club, which is more indie and JJJ, in Afrobeat and Latin and more. I first caught him playing Ornette on acoustic bass guitar in a trio. His playing is well influenced by these sounds, so his standards take on a sophisticated, harmonically indistinct flavour. But he also plays I-V in its place, and there was a bit of apt simplicity in his playing with Nick Combe's Nonet at the farewell event. There was some of the free improv too, in a short appearance as Erebis ("Australia's number one [Japanese] free improvising Elvis"). He introduced Properties of two particles with a bowed first particle lasting 1m8s and a pizz second particle lasting 47s; micro, virtually subatomic. I missed a gig where Erebis performed macro, apparently playing an hour with Miro Bukovsky. FWIW, I preferred the second particle with some harmonic movement, but mainly diatonic with large intervals. Nice. Erebis was followed by obviously close friend Alice Cottee, voice and guitar on some interestingly constructed songs of passion and intriguingly revealing metaphors. She spoke of meetings of creatives and this fitted the part: both fascinating and, I can only guess, searingly honest. It's so often the woman with the guitar who does just this for personal matters. Then some jazz that's close to my heart: Nick Combe's nonet playing five of Nick's charts. Bluesy and Mingus-inspired; five horns out front for plenty of interesting solos and the interplay of solo and accompaniment and the enhanced richness of melodic statements. Quite blissful to my ears. They played a slower break-up song; a lighter 8-to-the-bar song of joy and running in parks; one of rolling arpeggios speaking to a poem by TS Elliot; a quieter one called Shoosh (perhaps Shh...); a final upstart blues stated last time around with charted dissonance. The solos were intelligent and searching throughout which is also a tribute to Nick's charts. Then another SM alter-ego: Coolio Desgracias appearing with Housemouse. Local rap in kimono: driving in Queanbeyan, jazz clap, local themes. Amusing, clever, rhythmically insinuating and neat with triplets, although this seemed a pretty casual performance for friends with a degree of laxity. Rap's somewhat a return to memorised epics, so it has unexpected traditional roots amongst its irony and quips. Much enjoyed. I didn't stay for the later DJ set. Simon will be much missed by wide span of the Canberra musical community but movement is life. Best of luck to Simon but he's a local, so he'll be seen again.

    Simon Milman performed Erebis (bass). Alice Cottee performed solo (vocal, guitar). Nick Combe (baritone sax, compositions) led a nonet with Tom Fell (tenor), Josh Hart (trombone), Alex Raupach (trumpet), Eddie Bernasconi (trumpet), Matt Lustri (guitar), Damien Slingsby (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums). Simon Milman (Coolio Desgracias) and Matt Lustri (Housemouse) rapped.

    14 April 2014


    It's incongruous that I'm in Albert Hall hearing music of the renaissance. Polifemy is singing. Polifemy is a female choir, thus -fem-, I guess. They are supported for some tunes by Walking the Dog. WtD is another incongruity and a big one. It's a recorder ensemble. I've just read a book about Umbria where I lived for a few months many years back. This music seems perfect for stone cathedrals and Perugino madonnas and big echoey spaces. (Did you know the Virgin's wedding ring is in the Duomo at Perugia? It's displayed one day per year, 31 July, and I read about it, sitting on the steps of the Duomo, on 1 August many years back. It's an unlikely goal.) This day is sunny, we are in the new world, in Australia. I feel it doesn't quite fit, but closing my eyes, I'm transported. These are pure voices, in three parts. They sing with the faith and the love of nature of the cinquecento. The program speaks of Gastoldi and joyful celebrations of love and spring and singing and dancing; of Festo and passionate and erotic feelings of unrequited and unattainable love (I won't say for whom, so close to Easter). Also William Byrd and Janequin and madrigals. The space suited the choir, but I felt especially the low tones. The Paetzold bass and contrabass recorders raise all manner of interest, all square and modern and boxy, but also they sound a dream! This is a tone of a harmonium or organ, pure, sweet and rounded, and strong and prominent amongst the smaller, plastic recorders with different bores. I've seen these wooden recorders before but not noticed how pure is their tone. Lovely. Same with the lower (alto) voices in the choir, these also were prominent. The lower tones had presence in this place. These were mostly women: the choir was all women; the recorders were mostly women. I thought of cloistered choirs form 500 years ago. Were they women? Presumably, there were women's choirs, but I imagine males also sang in high register, as I've heard with local period choirs. Whatever, it was quite beautiful and it had parts with range; so an alto felt like a low line. The singing was mostly 3 parts, sometimes accompanied by the recorder ensemble and, for a few tunes, by a single viola da gamba. Some music was obviously canonical, repeating lines through different voices or instrumental pitches. The recorders sounded of a lost era, innocent and honest tone, simple counterpoint. The voices spoke of belief and faith, something that is not the modern. This is music of another era and we are blest to hear it but only touching an understanding. Perhaps it's a function of my recent readings, but this was a surprisingly enlightening visit to another world that we might know of but of which we are unlikely to know. Sunny Canberra, our unassuming Albert Hall, provided a touch of the renaissance today and it was enlightening.

    Polifemy performed with Walking the Dog. Polifemy comprise Susan Antcliff, Hanna-Mari Latham, Liz McKenzie, Robyn Mellow (director), Joan Milner (tenor viol as well as voice), Carolyn Savage and Rachel Walker. Walking the Dog comprise Olivia Gossip, Nick Horn, Robyn Mellor (director), Ann Neville, Chris Short and Anna Weatherly.

    09 April 2014

    Noble Art Song

    It's called Art Song and it's not something I know well although I've heard some at various concerts. This was Finnish baritone, Juha Kotilainen, accompanied by pianist Joel Papinoja. I think of Art Song in the context of chamber music, written to be performed as an intimate experience - usually a singer and accompaniment, often singing poems put to music. But a baritone in full voice at short range is an immense thing! This is firm, forceful, projected like a tenor or approaching deep bass, even with an occasional falsetto. It's a quintessential male experience and I think of dignity and manly striving and worthy royalty as I listen. Worthy royalty is often a myth, but Juha stood proud, little spoken, dignified when not singing and quite intimate and emotionally connected when singing. He sang songs by Nordic composers: Rautavaara and Sibelius are well known; Ollila, Kuula and Hakola were new to me. There was melancholy, romantic thoughts of dreams or the heart or of nature, songs of forest boys and squirrels and spruce and lillies. One series in English put lines of William Blake to music. The Nordic climes are forbidding and poorly forested and I heard reconciliation and adjustment to harsher climes here. This is not music from carefree and prolific Mediterranean places. There's strength and endurance here, but also recognition that nature is awesome and that it demands our adjustment . (Climate change obviously comes to mind). I admired Juka's strength but also his intimately formed words despite powerful projection, and his calm presence. I enjoyed Joel's capable accompaniment, and was particularly taken by his one solo piece, Sibelius Caprice Op.24/3, that flowed into floods of notes. I know nothing of the Finnish or Swedish languages, so I enjoyed for a time matching sung words to written lyrics and Finnish lyrics to English translations. Finnish in its written Roman script seemed to be eminently pronounceable for English speakers. This was an exposure to Nordic compositions in the Art Song style by a monumental voice. Mighty and noble in this space but calm and surprisingly capable in portraying the composers' intimacy.

    Juha Kotilainen (baritone) was accompanied by Joel Papinoja (piano) in a program of Nordic Art Song at the Finnish Embassy.

    07 April 2014

    Starting at the end

    Pic Neptuul, John Lennon Wall Prague 1981 Wikimedia Commons

    Looking through a glass onion started with five claps, like pistol shots, 2-2-1 and ended with Imagine and then a few heartbeats, in pairs, then a single beat and dark. This is John Waters channelling John Lennon. Just two men on stage. John Waters standing, sometimes with guitar, wearing jeans and bomber jacket, sometimes with guitar in hard, standing upright, hardly moving, sometimes with guitar, speaking the words on JL and singing his songs, Beatles era and beyond. Stewart D'Arrietta at piano, filling in all the musical support, piano, harmony, left foot bass drum beats, at least once gurgling or bird song from an mp3 player, and a few times playing minor parts, as Chinese acupuncturist or whatever. I guess the patter was the words on JL, himself. I thought I'd heard a few of his lines before, witty, sensible, with early barbs but later sometimes verging on anger. He felt increasingly unpleasant in my hearing, the pop god genius worth more than some third world countries just trying to find himself in white and in view of Central Park. I'm not totally cynical here; fame and money changes people and I'm sure it's hard to adjust. I don't follow him so closely, but he seemed to give it a decent try and to act decently in doing so. I often wonder of the life of the Beatles: such fame and brilliance (and, to my ear, the whole greater than the sum of the parts) and it's all over by age 27 or so. What then? So there were the words of JL and an incredible string of renowned and memorable songs, from Hide your love away and Julia and Norwegian Wood through Love is all you need and Strawberry Field and Come together and Day in the life and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Then on to Plastic Ono days and bagism and the anger and resolution: Crippled inside, Working Class Hero, Whatever gets you through the night and Ballad of John and Yoko to Beautiful boy and Jealous guy and Isolation and of course, that magnum opus of all humanity (so it seems, perhaps just to every Classic radio station) Imagine. But less cynically, it does have a theme for all time and Peace and Love were constants for JL (and the Beatles and the era). He died aged 40 and that's one problem I had with this rendition. The guys on stage aren't so young and it had me wondering if JL would have done more than just be a nice guy into old age. I also found the music heavy, but then JL was the Beatle with the R&R in him and we were in a box, close to one PA stack so not in the best location for audio. I wondered if a slightly larger band might have lightened the feel (and the musical load on SD'A), even just a drummer. Not a full band - that would change this from a theatrical to a musical performance. JW's spoken voice as JL was really convincing to my ears. His sung voice was also very good, but given that we've heard all these songs so many times, the demands are so much greater. You couldn't help but notice the lightest nuance that didn't match the recorded original. So, I enjoyed it for the incredible collection of songs, I admired the accuracy, especially of the spoken word, and I came to feel just a bit disconcerted with JL's character. Enjoyed and informed but not enamoured.

    John Waters (guitar, spoken and sung voice) played John Lennon and Stewart D'Arrietta (piano, harmonies) accompanied for the stage show, Looking through a glass onion, at the Canberra Theatre Playhouse.

    05 April 2014

    Enjoying a RomCom

    Pic Jean-Christophe Benoist Wikimedia Commons

    RomCom? Musical? I wouldn't have expected to enjoy They're playing our song, presented at the Q Theatre. Not really my thing. In the end I did. The musical is written by Neil Simon, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. Big names. Successful (male) Grammy-winning, Juilliard-trained composer in apartment overlooking Central Park meets zany (female) lyricist. She has a hanger-on boyfriend (Leon) but she moves in, they go to dinner and sing, a car breaks down, they meet in the wrong holiday house, they play at therapists, they argue in a recording studio, he leaves for LA, breaks leg, they get back together. Along the way it felt like there were few songs with a good deal of repetition. This seems to be a style of newer musicals. It might be a good idea, as recent studies show we prefer music that we recognise. (I'm surprised to see Wikipedia lists 9 songs, one with a reprise, in 2 acts). I didn't find it particularly funny, and there was only limited laughter. This is American humour, not Australian. Everyone has a shrink (although given the GINI coefficient in the US these days, I doubt it's as common as we imagine). I heard on radio the other day, from an Australian who's lived in the US for some time, that Australians introduce themselves with self-denigrating humour, but Americans self-promote. There's a scene where they are out for dinner and he hears his first song played (the program suggests it's their first song). He stands and sings to the room, then she does, and I think they end up singing together. Theatrical licence, perhaps, but it spelt American big-noting to me. The musical is supposed to be based on the true story of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager; maybe it is. Whatever, I didn't particularly warm to the work itself.

    So why did I like the show? The whole show was two performers and a pianist deep stage right. The actors were really very good. Very good voices, in the musical style, understandable and cutting. They acted well together. Soppy romance but so well done. I also liked guessing the changes. This is not particularly modern music: it's very much like the standards repertoire that mainstream jazzers play (including me). I've been reading about listening rather than using fake books, so I enjoyed guessing the changes. Some I knew easily (obvious cycles, diatonic movements); I was lost on others. My ear is not well trained. I liked CBS's famous songs that they played (perhaps copyright-free chords only) as we entered and left the theatre. The way we were is a classic. You're moving out today was immensely catchy. I just listened again on YouTube, and this may be about Leon himself. Well, I'll be. RomCom as real life. Whatever, the singing was great.

    Teagan Wouters played Sonia Walsk, Scott Irwin played Vernon Gersch, Alistair Smith (piano) accompanied.

    03 April 2014

    Rehabilitating the agreeable

    I was refreshed by the attractive music that Sally Greenaway presented at the AYO National Music Camp some months back. It was melodic, I might say "musical" if I didn't accept a whole range of musics and argue for all manner of dissonance. This day, Sally spoke of her own music in context of "Swoon", the ABC FM meme and radio show but, at the same time, she argued for all composers. She highlighted Australian composers, saying that they may write with texture or atmosphere or even uneasiness as an intent, but it all deserves the listen. Good on Sally for presenting the argument. Her preference is easy and melodious and very attractive. This performance was mainly of works composed by Sally (I think one wasn't) and performed by Sally with a few friends in various combinations. Firstly, Dawn of evening, a "reflective nocturne" that was eminently filmic, as is lots of Sally's music, and dedicated variously to her new grand piano and to Sally Whitwell. The cellist Emma Rayner joined Sally for three poems by Pierre Louys put to music by Sally; a short first movement; a very identifiable second movement (I don't think I've heard it; has Sally mastered the art of the perfect melody?); then the last movement. Then bass/baritone Patrick Baker joined for two songs: The exquisite hour, by poet Reynaldo Hahn, again put to music by Sally, and Look to the day, a poem by Kalidasa, again to Sally's music. Then Sally solo again for At the start of the day, a tango-cum-jazz piece, Elizabeth Biggs, solo harp, playing Sally's Liena and then a duo with Sally on a Rhumba by Salzedo, and an end with Sally playing a pair of compositions written for guitar, Sin luz and De la luz. She explained they were written for guitar but played piano style, and it was obvious when you were aware of the nature of the composition, or at least the arrangement, with limited chords, scalar runs and intervals that sit under a hand on a fretboard. There's more to composition/arrangement than just the chords and melody. This was consistently pleasant and attractive music, but never mawkish or bathetic. You can hear the film in it, setting scenes and emotions but never brash or presumptuous. Words like lovely or nice are denigrated but there's a just place for being delightful, agreeable, pleasant. We need more of it. Congratulations to Sally and looking forward to hearing this very music on her new CD. Sally Greenaway (compositions, piano) performed at the Wesley Music Centre with three friends, Patrick Barber (bass/baritone), Emma Rayner (cello) and Elizabeth Biggs (harp)

    02 April 2014


    There was much glee around James Greening (there usually is). This time it was about his frequent gigs here recently in Canberra. It's too bad that Andrew Robson and the rest of the band haven't been here so often of late. This was an eclectic outing, intelligent and varied and unexpected. Several times Andrew's baritone sax gave a funky Mingus or New Orleans groove when he took that up. But then another time he played a trio with bari, bass and drums and this was smooth, sleek, melodious. He liked to vary the instrumentation, too. It wasn't at all surprising that the front liners played bari/alto, tenor/soprano and trom/pocket trumpet. But it was surprising that James or Sandy left the stage for various tunes, and even more surprising when bassist Steve left. That was on Flex, a Jackie Orszaczky funky-blues dedication, where the bari took the bassist's role. There were some other dedications, too, to musicians Andrew has played with. Two watch Bob was a dedication to fellow 10 Part Inventionist Bob Bertles from a quip by Miro Bukovsky. This was a slow, lumbering groove with a jauntily lyrical melody (played without Sandy). A march, Sound the trumpet ring the bells, was also introduced with a story of Jackie Orszaczky. I heard Jackie O too infrequently, but he's one of those musicians with immense admiration amongst his peers. John Pochée was recognised with the opening tune called The Alchemist. This one featured two solos, alto then tenor. Against the alto solo, the band dropped out to leave just drums in support before returning; against the tenor solo, the remaining support was bass. Andrew wrote something similar in the piece I found most impressive for the night, Texas Ranger, which was bluesy with some fast bop, and twisted and playful like Ornette. What little I've written has been most successful when I used an idea, even an arbitrary idea, as a formulation, so his palindrome doesn't surprise me. It's called Glenelg and it's a musical palindrome (spelt the same forward and backward). It's a busy 8-to-the-bar on bass with a slow melody over and solos that decay to free then to recover the melody with drums taps on 3,4. BTW, we learnt that Steve is a cryptic crossword filler and he'd recognised the palindrome immediately. Combover was a light take on early jazz with frequent changes. These tunes were from a new CD that this quintet has just released. Unlike his previous albums, this was unthemed; Andrew just wanted to record a group of favourite tunes, so the varied nature is no surprise. I reckon I'd heard a few before. It was a joyful band, too, led by Andrew's smiles and James humour and Sandy's good will. James has been a total pleasure to hear so often of late: wonderfully lyrical while playful and wearing dissonance so lightly. I enjoyed Steve's understated firm and restrained bass playing and Hamish's presence and sympathetic playing. Andrew's presence is light and friendly, but his playing is intelligent, as is Sandy's expressive sax; I especially enjoyed the soprano this evening. Andrew is a Cnaberra boy and we need to see more of him. This was a great outing with a varied repertoire of pleasurable performance and underlying intelligence.

    Andrew Robson (alto, baritone) led a quintet with Sandy Evans (tenor, soprano), James Greening (trombone, pocket trumpet), Steve Elphick (bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums).