27 June 2014

Casey Bill'Ed

Bill and Ed were so frequently written up here in recent years, while they were top students at the ANU Jazz School, that I wonder what more to write. Casey is not local, but I’ve also heard him several times, mostly with Bill and Ed. Ed is still the immensely committed and responsive drummer with close control and restrained volume. Bill was quiet too (a bit too quiet for my ears) but he stepped up when his frequent solos came around, and spelt out careful melodic snippets leavened with quicker runs, all with firm expression. Casey would frequently enter with solo intros, leading into complex arrangements, odd times, unison taps and the like with his colleagues, purposeful sequences and impressionistic colour. He told Geoff Page and me that he’d studied the grades of classical music and was pleased when Geoff identified the French impressionists as an influence, Debussy and the like. There’s tons of colour here and also spaciousness, and the trio works a treat with a cerebral music that entices with beauty and immense delicacy and close listening. Bill and Ed can stare at each other and at Casey at times and smiles often ensue. Casey often bends over the keyboard, but he’s smiles at the end of a tune too. Here’s a band that plays music of utter seriousness and the achievement shows, proud but never conceited. This is art as it’s made in modern Australia: unpretentious but skilled, informed and deeply serious.

Casey Golden (piano) led his trio with Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums) at Smiths

22 June 2014

Llewellyn is a big chamber

Sally asked how large was a chamber orchestra. Fair question. The ACO was playing at Llewellyn and there were about 55 players on stage with three basses (I've seen non-chamber orchestras with two) and percussion and harp and the various brass and woodwinds. They even had a conductor for most of the time, with Richard Tognetti just picking up his Guanieri del Gesù for a few feature snippets in the Mahler. And Llewellyn is a very big chamber. Wikipedia suggests 50 or less for a chamber orchestra, so ACO was just pushing the envelope slightly. But they are an interesting outfit, nicely presented (read sexy, "players dressed by Akira Isogawa"), standing and active so presenting an image of churn on stage and fabulously dynamic and integrated. They started with a group of five players with a Sibelius Serenade for violin with Rebecca Chan showing off another expensive violin, a 1714 Guanieri. These instruments are part of the ACO mystique and it's nice to hear them (and they are good investments). It sounded like many violins on record, of course, and interestingly different from the sound of Tognetti's later in the night, but then these are different players, different bows and techniques and tunes and strings, too. Then Sibelius Symphony no.6 in D minor, Op.104, and a longer Mahler Symphony no.4 in G later. I was concentrating poorly but I did notice dynamics. They worked so well as a unit: swells were magically intense; parts moved and were perfectly defined, so the focus moved with precision between instruments. I also noticed players, when not playing, watching others. At least most strings were standing, so the view was of a churning busyness, but this openness to look around spoke to a communal purpose that you could hear in this playing. Towards the end of Mahler, guest soprano Kiera Duffy walked on as a path opened for her between violins (all the world like the parting of seas). I'd noticed her repertoire spanning Handel to Zorn and that interested me. I heard poorly from my distance, missing low notes and most detail, so little to observe here. But we left feeling we'd heard a major performance outfit. There's a urgency and commitment and togetherness here that's impressive and a musical expression that's authentic and unforced. They say they are Australian and international top-shelf and I certainly can't imagine much better. And they are sexy, too.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra was directed by Richard Tognetti (conductor, violin) playing Sibelius Symphony no.6 in D minor, Op.104, and Mahler Symphony no.4 in G. Kiera Duffy (soprano) sang in the Mahler. Rebecca Chan (violin) led an introductory Sibelius Serenade for violin.

21 June 2014

How could you ... walk on by

I had expected standards but these were different. John plays a favourite set of jazz tunes that I’ve heard numerous times. I expect it’s his approach, to develop some key tunes through extensive practice and performance. But this take was different. In a sentimental mood was played at the end and it was a thing of beauty as a straight and gloriously lyrical jazz ballad. But Invitation and So what were approached differently, as deep grooves with floating modal colours and a wonderful conversation between guitar chords and sax, laid back despite musical tension, sitting over driving percussion and insistent Fender bass. I was tapping my foot and some dancers got up in the second set. John thanked them and noted that he seldom plays for dancers (jazz can be so cerebral). I noticed the volume rose with the dancers and the auditory clarity suffered, but I thought the performance was more collegiate and more distilled. Mostly this was jazz rock in the late-60s Miles style and Mahavishnu played at least once in the break. I loved the excitement of guitar sweeps from Greg. Also some effects and echo and pedalled sweet guitar notes. Mark drove this all as always, spelling out a changing rhythmic structure and Lachlan was just insistent, unrelenting on bass. John wasn’t feeling the best but he still blows most anyone away. I think the dancers were new to this scene and gradually just settled, looking on in wonder and admiration at the evident skills. This is tireless music. I found I was tapping on the 1-3 or 1-2-3-4 other than for Freedom jazz dance that had me return to the offbeats. I often look out the windows at Smiths, when the music is particularly compelling, expecting a huddle at the door and wondering how passers-by can pass by. But they do. Some old favourites played with groove-laden beats and chops and adventure and familiarity. Great outing.

John Mackey (tenor) led a quartet with Greg Stott (guitar), Lachlan Coventry (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at Smiths Alternative.

16 June 2014

You have to love it

I was taken by the sound of the clarinet with sax and then, surprisingly, I read that it's a signature sound of Glenn Miller's bands: clarinet and tenor sax playing unison melody with three saxes harmonising within one octave. We were at the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the Canberra Theatre. My Mum was over for her birthday and it's around her era. But listening to the tunes, Glenn Miller is pretty much everyone's era. I recognised them all; maybe I missed one or two. Admittedly there was a lot of grey hair, both on and off stage. The band was introduced later in the night, and there was plenty of education there, too. There were players with performance degrees, retired professors, jazz PhDs, symphonic players, experience with bands of Harry James, Gene Krupa, Ellington and Tommy Dorsey. I wondered about age, here. There was a sparkle of voices with Wendy Smith-Brune and Mark Kopitzke as soloists, a female trio (as in Andrews Sisters) called the Swing Kittens. The five all sang together as the Modernaires, the singing wing of Glenn Miller's own band. There were four dancers appearing as the Broadway Swing Dancers (all the way from Sydney). Interestingly, they were playing the original charts, so this is authentic. I was offput when they started smack on 7.30, while a line of audience was still waiting to enter; they might have delayed the early night by five minutes. But as I heard this string of hits, I came around. These guys actually work hard. They are touring Australia for 11 weeks and 58 gigs. My favourite was At last, so sentimental and apt for a time of war. But what a string of other hits: In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Pennsylvania 6-5000, Chattanooga Choo Choo, A String of Pearls, Kalamazoo, American Patrol, Tuxedo Junction, Little Brown Jug. The Kittens did a few Andrews Sisters songs: Bye bye blackbird, Beer barrel polka and inevitably Boogie woogie bugle boy. The first half was the commercial band and I preferred this. The post-interval set concentrated on his Army Air Force Band of 1942–1944, more march tunes although with Glenn Miller's jazz/blues reformulations. The band was five woodwinds (sax/clarinet), four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, drums and musical director Rick Gerber on another trombone. Nice and swinging. I strained for the bass. The drums were firm and confident including in two solos. The solos were typical of these big bands: short and spelling the chord and some high trumpet notes. I most liked Glenn Morrisette's tenor that dissolved into some dissonance in later tunes. This was enjoyable music that's part of our jazz history, even if on the popular side. Everything about it was familiar, and not just the music. Old mate pianist Ron Lucas was there, looking great. Bell Shakespeare was in the Playhouse with Henry V and what few words did I catch?: Once more unto the breech, dear friends... then fireworks. What odd synchronicity, but entertaining. Nice night; much enjoyed.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra under musical Director Rick Gerber played at the Canberra Theatre with Wendy Smith-Brune, Mark Kopitzke, the Swing Kittens and the Broadway Swing Dancers

14 June 2014

Java has history

Java Quartet have a history. Twenty years and seven albums and counting. They appeared at Smiths last week for the launch of their latest album, Together. Interestingly, last time I heard them was for the launch of their sixth album. The gig was the album, plus an encore or two, played in order. Starting gently as a quartet with The Hill song, a gentle groove with intense solos. That was the way with the outing. It's laid back, meditative; the grooves are unhurried. Solos grow organically from a limpid presence of relaxed bass and minimal, repeating melodic phrases. But there's development and power that appears with inevitability in solos. Greg's piano blisters with lengthy but tightly built scalar phrases that move through various dissonances. Matt is more open and his lines have bigger intervals, but there's a similar expansive modernity about it. I was trying to place bother these two and it's somewhere in the sixties. Mike's solos are more restrained, unfussy. The percussionists each take their features, and the blend of drums and tabla gives a rich undercurrent of rhythmic movement and colour. Tablas sing with absurdly quick tika and it was a pleasure to see up close how this is done. Bobby's not a core member of the quartet but features on this album and is a frequent collaborator. His hands blur as he lays down some of the quicker passages, of fingers flash to tap the different tones. It's a different sense of rhythm, expressed in vocalisations, too, and it was such pleasure with Mike's sympathetic drumming. I liked his solos, too. Morganics came on in the second set for a few DJ raps. They were pleasantly political, too; one about asylum seekers; one about Aboriginal land; another just about Canberra. It was claimed as freestyle but it seemed just too clever for an improv. I am a novice in such poetry, though, so I guess it was. If so, I am impressed. It turns out that Morganics has a Canberra connection too, so he may have been reasonably acquainted with his topic. Certainly, it was local. So, this was laid back in presentation but intense in release; nicely modern in jazz and ethnic in percussive colour and contemporary in vocal lyricism. Something old; something borrowed; something new.

Java Quartet are Michael Galeazzi (bass), Matthew Ottignon (tenor), Greg Coffin (piano) and Mike Quigley (drums). One their new album, Together, and at this gig, they added guests Bobby Singh (tabla) and MC Morganics (vocals)

11 June 2014

Folk cum Finnish tango

It's strange to think of Finland as a centre of the tango, but it is. I'd learnt it before on a previous visit to the Finnish Embassy for a visiting band. We heard it again tonight in just one tune that was obvious tango. The Jukka Perko Avara Trio were touring. It seemed an unusual combination: sax (soprano and alto) ad two guitars. I wondered about the groove, but I didn't need to; it was solid and present and frequently infectious. I wondered about the two guitars and their interaction. I didn't need to. This was an amplified acoustic guitar (steel strung, I think) with an electric. This looked like a Strat, but was painted, seemed to have replacement pickups, but I thought it was the Fender headstock. Both guitars utilised effects and loops, but the electric much more so. The music was tango, but mostly what seemed to be local, folk-influenced tunes. One was described as swinging jazz from a German tune. Others were originals with Finnish themes sounding of nature and snow and a very different environment to Australia. They joked that this was almost their summer (Canberra was cold and still outside). Red Leaves was the tango; Water of the black trench was about the last melting snows running is dark trenches; Guardian angel was a century old, very popular Finnish folk tune. There was a pleasant humour here. "We got lost many times ... that's jazz", "You play the wrong note, if you play is twice it becomes jazz". Best was about their cultural nature: "Finns never doubt tunes played in minor; if major, they hear too much European influence"; minor keys are the truth. Like much Scandinavian music, this was a different take on jazz. I was taken by the perfectly solid grooves, the softly spoken sax with that soft attack playing mostly consonant, the production-like effects from the e-guitar and the firm tones of solos and strums from the acoustic. Mostly I was taken by an ensemble musicality that lured us into lyrical melody and floating grooves and easy rhythms that didn't jar but fed the senses, often meditative or pensive, often feeling of the outdoors and nature, but with a personal touch and some humour between tunes. It's not a jazz of individualism although I did really enjoy Jukka's sax, but a work of an ensemble. Small but grooving and lyrical with a chilly edge of cold nature. Much enjoyed.

Jukka Perko (alto, soprano saxes) led his Avara Trio with Teemu Viinikainen (acoustic guitar) and Jarmo Saari (electric guitar). Promoter Henk van Leeuwen of Australia Northern Europe Liaisons sat in to sing an encore.

  • Australia Northern Europe Liaisons
  • 09 June 2014

    To the Queen

    It's the weekend we're all happy to have a Queen. And, I guess, to have knights and dames. Limestone Ensemble took the opportunity to present a concert of English music. Handel counts because we was the German composer brought to England when Hanover-born inheritor of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg and prince-elector of Hanover became King of England on the death of Queen Anne because over fifty closer blood relations were Catholics. Go figure. At least the star of this show, Charles Avison, was born in England. Apparently his music has just been rediscovered and the Limestone Ensemble has got a pre-publication print of the sheet music. Good on Limestone, our local Aveson experts. They played two pieces by Aveson, both from his Opus 6, which display a change from concerto grosso style to the beginnings of sonata form. So says the program. I heard his music as dignified, rich in sequences, conversational within the ensemble, and wonderfully ordered. The Consort also played Elgar's Elegy, short and meditative. Handel, of course. We were told that Beethoven said of Handel that "I would bury my head and knee at his grave". Certainly, he's popular and appears frequently. I caught his Dixit Dominus this morning on ABC FM's Top 100 Baroque and before and it's as extravagantly indulgent as much other Handel. It seems impossible not to love this man's music. Also Hubert Parry. He's a much later composer, later 1800s, after the classical period, with richer harmonies, more subtle development and a touch of romance. Think Victorian garden parties and period costume. Limestone Consort are a lovely gathering of likeminded and nicely trained performers. It's a compact chamber string orchestra (12 players), heavy on violins, with organ included for the baroque works. They do it nicely and obviously enjoy the performances. They are now in their third season; just proof of the pleasure of it all. This is a lovely job done on an intriguing branch of the Queen's music.

    The Limestone Consort were led by Lauren Davis (violin) with Vanessa Driver, Alison Giles, Sarah Ingram, Alys Rayner and Jacqueline Smith (violins), Elysia Fisher and Hannah Keese (viola), Clara Teniswood and Anneliese McGee-Collett (cello), James Porteous (chamber organ) and Kyle Daniel (bass).

    07 June 2014

    The very fringe of squaredom

    In recent days, Father Fintan Monaghan said "I suppose we can't really judge the past from our point of view, from our lens". Given he was explaining away the discarding of 796 babies in a cesspitt, and in the pretty recent past, it's an unfortunate and morally erroneous statement*. So I've been wondering about The Fringe of Squaredom. It's the name of the band that played at Smiths this week. It's also a colourful description in Time magazine of the album performed by that band. The album is Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley from 1961. Certainly Happy talk, that jaunty song from the musical South Pacific could be labelled square. I don't feel that about Never will I marry, though. It's got nicely contorted changes and it's a favourite of mine. Perhaps this mix of pleasurable and pretty deep swing is out-of-place after 50s cool and as 60s free is gathering pace and Coltrane is being spiritual and Miles is venturing further afield. History is fascinating and ever open for interpretation, and what an image that is: the fringe of squaredom.

    The band was led by Rachael Thoms and Tom Fell as Nancy and Cannonball. Tom is tenor rather than Cannonball's alto, but close enough. The rest of the band was local notoriety. Rachael is just superbly in control of her voice and such a pleasure. I just melt as she holds a note then releases a swelling vibrato. She's a joyous and infectious presence and the technical facility just makes the cake. It's my first jazz hearing for Alec, recently imported bass teacher at the ANU Music School. To my ear, he loves a heavy beat and hard-blown swing and plays it with a firm pizzicato and strong sound. That may be just for this album; I've seen him playing much more experimental bass and viola da gamba, too. Brendan Magee was new to me. He's apparently brought his trombone out from storage only recently. He did a nicely tight job in section work and took quietly spoken solos. Tom was up front, playing the part of a swinging Cannonball with verve but an evident seriousness. Nice. Wayne was a natural. Every solo speaking with authority and inevitability and playing through a range of styles. The solo on Happy talk was pure McCoy Tyner so hardly square. Same with Mark; enough said that he's a master with his roiling grooves and brilliant snaps. What a great and pleasurable night. If this is square, bring it on.

    The Fringe of Squaredom are Rachael Thoms (vocals), Tom Fell (tenor), Brendan Magee (trombone), Wayne Kelly (piano), Alec Hunter (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums).

    *As for history, I wonder that anyone can grow more conservative with age. It seems to me that if you stay informed, maintain your ethics and don't go to sleep, you can only grow more radical, and for me that's to the left, not the right as is common and too noisy these days: maturing as a process of removing blinkers. If you haven't heard of the mass grave of 796 babies at a Catholic Irish nuns' mothers and babies home, read this and despair.

    04 June 2014

    Luke's back

    Luke visits often. It's wonderful that he does. He's a wonderful product of this town, and he's now ensconced in the Sydney scene, so we get a touch of that whenever he's in town. He's prolific, too. He's involved in a range of projects playing a range of compositions. He writes lots. The tunes seem diverse in the different bands. This was his sextet. The last incarnation of his sextet perhaps 2 common tunes, so he writes. As proof, he played one that was just finished on the day, so unnamed. The sextet comprises three horns - tenor, trumpet, trombone - up front and there's some satisfying writing for the three, but there's time, too, for open band improv, or for features for each instrument, including the rhythm section. So space for the individual, but also for the combined force of a capable band. I particularly loved the pairing of the two brass, trumpet and trombone, Ken Allars and James Greening, but that's an easy enough attraction. They are wonderful players and sensitive and responsive to others. Mat Keegan was on tenor for this gig. He's a different kettle of fish: wildly understated with just the occasional flourish. James H-D stunned me volume from his little GK and then entranced me with woody tone to die for while he was playing solo. Finn was strong, impulsive, driving, never at rest. Lovely playing and apt for this diverse but loud and powerful music. Luke was the perfect leader, always invited and supportive and guiding from the piano stool. Plenty of solos, there, too. I usually hear him on Rhodes when playing electric. It a real and non-digital tone and solos nicely, and comps with a generous rotundity behind a full ensemble. For something different, Geoff Page sat in for a reading of his Elegy [to jazz trumpeters] against a cool blues with angular head to start the second set. Well informed and a treat for jazz historians. I was interested that all the tunes had a reference: Little whippers to kids playing; Really on time to drummer Namchoon Kim; Dashing horse; Introvert. There are stories here, although stories are never too obvious in music. Tit bits that started as march and morphed to reggae. This was a compositional success and an individual romp for the players. Great stuff.

    Luke Sweeting (piano) led his sextet comprising Ken Allars (trumpet), Matt Keegan (tenor), James Greening (trombone), James Heazlewood-Dale (double bass) and Finn Ryan (drums) at the Gods. Geoff Page (poems) recited for one tune.