30 October 2014

Better the studio

The Benny Lackner trio was on tour through Asia and Australia and NZ with funding from the Goethe Society. I heard them in the quiet atmosphere of the ArtSound studio as they recorded a broadcast for transmission on a coming friday night. All very rushed. Arrive Airport 3.30pm; taxi to ArtSound; coffee and recording; lift to hotel for dinner and a shower; evening gig at Hippo; fly out next morning. This is the life of a jazz player on tour. Despite the frantic pace, the music was laid back grooves, spacious, floating, Euro-styled. Pensive heads with lyrical, leisurely solos from Benny on piano (impressed by the Yamaha C6 in the studio) that might rush into sixteenth notes then drop back to 8th notes; plentiful lively solos from Paul on bass; drums soloing as occasional fillers or lengthier against an obbligato line. This is a contemporary, rock-aware music with jazz sensibility. His albums include takes on pop (Prince Sign of the times; 99 red balloons) and the ArtSound set included Hendrix If 6 was 9. His albums also touch on the standards although still with a contemporary view. Bemsha swing is identifiable but rhythmically further contorted on bass with an long insistent solo line over. I haven't heard Brad Plus but an intriguing title (Bad Plus meets Brad Mehldau, I guess) Palau was a ballad, an open and airy music box, reminiscent of Ravel. Heartracer was rock groove and moving chords with a hesitating piano over. There's a European awareness here, gentle and pensive, but with a contemporary sensibility. Not for nothing that Benny is from Berlin and has studied with Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau is his mentor. Not really something for Hippo, but for the studio or a quiet venue, light and airy and searching. You can hear them sometime soon with Chris Deacon on ArtSound's Friday Night Live.

Benny Lackner (piano) led his trio with Paul Kleber (bass) and Matthieu Chazarenc (drums) in a recording for ArtSound.

This is CJBlog post no. 1300

28 October 2014


Excuse me if CJ suffers a little over coming weeks. I've been and I am busy. For the next few weeks, it's rehearsals and then time in the pits for the Sound of Music (along with Wangaratta Jazz Festival and whatever else I can manage). This is my first musical and it's exciting. I am sharing the bass seat for Sound of Music at TheQ for the Queanbeyan Players under musical director Jennifer Groom. I'm having a great time and the songs are ever in my head (they are infectious). More news to come, and if you can get to SoM, it's looking good.

27 October 2014

Due applause

The applause for the Song Company and Ironwood performing Bach's Mass in B minor at St Christopher's went for an unrelenting 5 minutes. I know; I recorded it. It was obvious on the night that the audience was quite ecstatic. I've since discussed with several others who attended and the comments were remarkably similar. Everyone was blown out. The work is a thing of wonder, of course, and the performance did it admirable justice. I loved the fabulously capable voices, and particularly melted over one soprano who cut through especially high and pure and a similarly strong tenor. Our own Tobias Cole made an appearance. Roland Peelman was conducting or perhaps dancing to the music, with the musicians. No baton but expressive hands and body; all involvement and invitation to performers and audience. The bass and cello seemed to have an unrelenting task and presumably also the organ (but this was not quite so visible). The obbligato features of violin, oboe d'amore, flutes, bassoons, horns, were intriguing. The duos and solos displayed voices as features. The drums interested me, sounding very differently from modern timpanies despite looking similar (not too sure here; I couldn't see too well). The baroque trumpets rang admirably restrained but still imparted great exhilaration and joy. This is the Mass, with Crucifixus and Resurrexit and Credo, all the stuff of Christian suffering and salvation and belief, so there was hope and loss and commitment spelt with the most wondrous of endless baroque counterpoint and canon. Beyond the expression of belief, it's a clear pinnacle of art. There were some quibbles. The balance was not perfect: the 20-or-so musicians, even with gentler period instruments, sometimes overwhelmed the singers; Song Co were just 10 singers, which highlighted the parts but sacrificed some power. The space, too, was quite reverberent so the sound was just a bit mushy. Maybe it's how it would have been first heard, in a church in Bach's days (it is a Mass, after all) but we are pampered now with acoustically pristine concert halls and I would have liked to have heard (and recorded) this in one of them. But the size and intimacy was there, and that's something sometimes lost in pristine spaces. I can only admire the performers, and the work is unquestionable. A fabulous performance to remember.

The Song Co presented Bach's Mass in B minor in collaboration with Ironwood at St Christopher's, Manuka. Roland Peelman introduced and conducted. The names are too numerous to transcribe, but for the techies, the organ was tuned to A=415hz.

26 October 2014

Happy returns

Meg Corson was a foundation member of Idea of North and an early Canberra Jazz School graduate. She's now done the sea-change (to the country) and I've noticed she's been visiting recently to play with old mates, Greg Stott and others. They went through the School together so there were musical memories but with much developed professional skills. This was a seriously nice duo. Meg with her confident phrasing and firm voice and overseeing presence; Greg accompanying with bass lines and finger picking or naked solos holding the tune against some finger snaps from Meg. I only caught part of one set and got some terrible pics in the low light (best one above), but this was highly competent stuff. BTW, those school memories included Angel eyes, Nice work if you can get it, Skylark, You'd be so nice to come home to and Lover man. Meg Corson (vocals) and Greg Stott (guitar) performed at the National Press Club.

25 October 2014

California dreaming

I couldn't help but think California. Pat Metheny is actually form Missouri, the mid-West, near Kansas City, but the hair, the endless smiles, the spirit of innovation and a feeling of cinematic expanse in his music make me think of sun and adventure and West Coast. He visited Canberra on his extensive touring schedule and it was a blast. One big concert that had the drinkers in the audience squirming in their seats (about 2.5 hours including encore; no interval). Pat was on stage right though. The concert was in four main parts. Firstly, Pat playing acoustic with his Pikasso guitar (42 strings including 6 and 12 string necks and two lute-like additions played open string. Then the Unity Group with Chris Potter, Ben Williams and Antonio Sánchez doing five adventurous, but less expansive compositions in a contemporary jazz vein. Then Giulio Carmassi came on, strangely seated behind the band and hidden for me behind the bass amp, and they performed tracks from their new album, Kin <-->; given the length, presumably the whole album. This was the big, cinematic vision with processed richness that defined the night for me. Then a set of four duos: Pat with bassist Ben playing Jobim's How insensitive, a fairly straight take; Pat with Chris on tenor playing Cherokee, rapid fire and concurrent and verging on free; Pat with Giulio including some wordless vocals from the keyboardist; finally Pat with Antonio and sharp nylon strung guitar and precise drum solo. Then a final blues and an encore which was clearly recognised by his followers in the audience. This was a big show, expansive, suited to a stadium with its life-sized performers and over-sized instrumentation (Pat's creation, the Orchestrion, loomed over the band on each side of the stage). Pat's music sounds essentially rocky / pop influenced to my ears (he claims influences from the Beatles, Joni Mitchell and others), his solos sound fairly straight, tonal, but with quirky twists of rhythm and long lines extending over barlines and odd times. He has an abiding interest in tone, playing a range of guitars, controlling synths and ultimately the grand Orchestrion, which I now understand as a guitar-controlled looper controlling a batch of percussion instruments, drums, cymbals, keyboard percussion, organ-like blown bottles (?), whatever, all with associated lighting. Chris provided a straight and jazz-acoustic-toned response to this with bass clarinet, contrabass (or bass?) flute, tenor and soprano saxes played with contemporary sensibility. Ben was punchy and laid a strong groove on double bass and was quick for his one (slightly odd and challenging) switch to electric for a short solo then back again. Nicely done! Antonio was always tight, interestingly capricious at splitting his beats, all concentration but smiling just fleetingly in the final blues of the night. The drums sounded a dream, as they do when a drummer can let go on the skins. It's not something you can quite get in the intimate atmosphere of a jazz club. Giulio was hidden from me and his playing seemed to meld into the Orchestrion and the mass of sound which was this concert although I did notice some sustained chords and piano and those vocals. But I did enjoy it. The whole was a bit loud from where I was sitting, but an involving and inventive outing it was. And another example of hard-working musos at the professional level. Several people I talked to after felt the same, not too knowing of Metheny before the gig but impressed by the night. It worked a charm for me.

Pat Metheny (guitars, Orchestrion) led his Unity Band at the Canberra Theatre with Chris Potter (bass clarinet, contrabass (or bass?) flute, tenor and soprano saxes), Ben Williams (double and electric basses), Antonio Sánchez (drums) and Giulio Carmassi (keyboards and perhaps more).

  • The band requested no pics on the night. Thanks to Paul C Herbert and Wikicommons for the pic of Pat Metheny with the Linda Manzer Pikasso guitar
  • 24 October 2014

    From across the ditch

    I caught Jake Baxendale last with Luke Sweeting a year ago. The band was Antipodes Quintet and the two had met in Germany. This time Jake was here with mates from New Zealand in his 5-piece format called JB5 at Hippo prior to the full 8-piece band appearing as The Jac at Smiths the following night. They were performing tunes from their new album with compositions by Jake and guitarist Callum. This was not the full band with rich orchestration that's on their website, but the tunes were probably the same and the playing was clean and well rehearsed. I liked these compositions. They were nicely varied in grooves and rhythms with nice harmonies up front on some effective but not too obviously structured heads. The bass and guitar started spacious (one had guitar playing a single note on the beat for extended bars and it worked a treat) but would grow in intensity; the drums seemed generally more urgent and ready to blow. The front horns took their share of solos, of course. Alexis on trumpet had an ease with rapid lines with a nice degree of curliness. Jake's alto was more cerebral, sometimes puckered, other times wailing or imploring, plucking lines and contradictions. This was just more-so while soloing simultaneously. I enjoyed two bass solos by Nick, but especially one towards the end of the night, long and strongly rhythmic and unforced. I noticed one of Callum's guitar solos as simply themed then developed through unexpected dissonance into more speedy playing. This was interesting charts very neatly played, embellished with extensive soloing. Nice and presumably more lush in the 8-piece format. Sorry I couldn't get there.

    JB5 were Jake Baxendale (alto sax), Alexis (Lex) French (trumpet), Callum Allardice (guitar), Nick Tipping (bass) and Shaun Anderson (drums).

    23 October 2014

    To rekindle some hope

    I left Anthony Albanese's talk at Politics in the Pub with some hope and it's a relief after recent years. Like many, I have been disappointed by Rudd and Gillard and despaired that that three-word slogans won Abbott the Lodge to implement IPA's 75 (now 100) actions in such a radical and class-ridden process. We are mulling over "progressive" politics now following the very recent death of Gough Whitlam. It was in this context that Albo's response to one question gave me some hope and trust in Labor. A woman had attacked the "corrosion of reforms" in the ALP, citing single parents moved to Newstart and HECS in place of free education. Albo defended strongly: we love Gough but some people have "rose-coloured glasses". He listed later positive changes by Labor; he claimed pride in the achievements of Rudd and Gillard and argued that they "will be regarded well by history"; he admitted some errors and policies that he didn't agree with, but "only the impotent are pure". It was a strong rebuttal and reasonable. Another questioner had also attacked Labor/Albo on public housing. Again, Albo stood his ground: he denied denigrating public housing; he argued for social housing being good not just for the poor, but also for the richer by maintaining a good social mix; he argued that it's inconsistent that individuals invest in housing but Government says it can't afford it (I thought that individuals are actually sponsored by Govt to invest in housing; they might not so invest on the mythical level playing field). Again, a strong rebuttal. It's interesting that Labor is having to defend itself so strongly, even from its supporters, but not surprising. Albo did a good job and restored some faith. Otherwise, what did he say?

    He's now Labor's spokesman on cities. He argued that Commonwealth Government must be involved in cities (planning, transport, infrastructure, etc) as 80% of population and GDP are in Australian cities. Australia is exceptionally urbanised. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will number 8 million each in 2050. Infrastructure and jobs growth must be matched; big cities must function with multiple centres; urban design is essential for quality, livable cities. I was interested in the concept of a "30-minute city" meaning work, education, most necessary functions, are accessible within 30 mins. In its first day in office, Abbott abolished the "Major Cities Unit" and moved all funding from public transport to roads. Albo quoted Abbott's Battlelines that there are not enough people to warrant other than private motor vehicles, and the (perhaps a rough quote) "in the car the individual feels like he is king". Good planning promotes efficiency and sustainability and it's good economics: "it saves money". [Can't argue with that one!].

    Albo had started by praising the previous day's Parliament (the honour session for Gough) and specifically esteeming Warren Truss' speech, but then passing to Abbott's government as ideological, promoting withdrawal of the State and individualism as a philosophy and seeking to institutionalise it. This was "unexpected at election" and the Budget was a "concrete indication of these principles". The Right argues that class doesn't exist, but this was a "class-based budget". Roughly, the poor electorates are impacted $1,000 against $150 for richer. We need a debate on equality in Australia. He ended by saying "enormous opportunities are presented by this Government", meaning opportunities for Labor to capitalise on very real hardships. [This is one to wait and see. I don't see much capitalisation yet].

    There was a question on trams in Melbourne. Apparently Howard bemoaned the loss of trams in Melbourne under Menzies. Albo didn't specifically reply on our own tram, only to argue that public transport (and roads and other infrastructure) must be justified over time and this requires analysis. He lambasted the Left for NIMBYism and Abbott for withdrawing funding from well supported (public transport) infrastructure and placing it, with poor analysis, into roads. Another question was on the East-West Link in Melbourne in the context of the election. He argues the Benefit Cost ratios don't add up and that the Federal Government has hog-tied the states through access to funding, and had already transferred $2b to Victoria to improve the books for the coming election . [Mmm, I hadn't heard anything about that, but politics and reporting can be local]. There was another question on ANU divestment and the Government storm in reaction in context of Abbott's "coal is good for humanity" claim. Albo said it's this government speaking for a sector of the market, not for the economy. Then a touch on the Shakespearian tragedy of Greg Hunt's role "driven by an objective that is so small", especially given his thesis (A tax to make the polluter pay : the application of pollution taxes within the Australian legal system / Greg Hunt & Rufus Black). "We [Labor] may not always get it right but we think to the future". This was a rough quote but a positive theme to end on.

    We are experiencing a radical right government. Like Gough, it's crash or crash through, but unlike Gough's, it's got small vision, prefers ideology to evidence and serves a small class of society. "Coal is good for humanity" only joins a string of ignorance like "climate change is absolute crap" or goodies and baddies or invisible substances. You can't argue with physics. You shouldn't argue with class.

    Anthony Albanese spoke at Politics in the Pub organised by the Australia Institute.

    22 October 2014


    Another Lunchbox concert at ANU. It amused me that I spoke to one muso after the performance and she spoke of nervousness, but it's common enough, even for a small audience of friends like this. Common but an essential step in a musician's development. Again, there were four items on the program -, three duos and one soloist. First up was Clara Barrs and Lauren Giddy performing Mozart Violin sonata in G major, K.301. Not unexpectedly, this was a lovely and dignified thing with courtly presence and considerable wit. Then Paul Broomhead accompanied by ANU staffer Calvin Bowman Anthony Smith playing the final movement of Franck Sonata in A major arranged for flute. More modern, impressionist, occasionally dissonant. I enjoyed the different and strong tone of the flute and admired Calvin's confident accompaniment. Then Stephanie Jones playing two pieces for guitar, Sor Variations on a theme of Mozart and Albeniz Cordoba. She played unhurriedly, with facial and musical expression, a wealth of dynamics and a sharp tone and I thought a subdued volume. Very involving. Then a heavy work, Ying Li and Katrina Rivera playing the first movement of Brahms Sonata for two pianos in F minor, Op.34b. This was heavy (grand and substantial) as expected and quite a change after Mozart and Spanish guitar tones. I enjoyed the task of identifying the two players, playing similar instruments but taking different roles and expressions throughout. The return of the Lunchbox concerts (especially ones I can get to) is valuable for the students and a great way to pass an hour on an occasional Tuesday afternoon.

    The latest ANU Lunchbox concert featured Clara Barrs (violin) and Lauren Giddy (piano) playing Mozart, Paul Broomhead (flute) and Calvin Bowman Anthony Smith (piano) playing Franck, Stephanie Jones (guitar) playing Sor and Albenitz and Ying Li (piano) and Katrina Rivera (piano) playing Brahms.

    19 October 2014

    Return to Hollywood

    Sunset Boulevard at TheQ was a strange experience. I was taken by the performance. This was seriously capable and well presented and I've only today heard that they are local performers. I'm immensely impressed. I didn't like the real Sunset Boulevard when I was there recently, but there was a mention of street number 10,093 (?) so it's long and it run through hills so there must be salubrious areas than we frequented. I also didn't like the musical. I felt the book (script) was trivial and the music was repetitive (I think it was at the start of the second half that there was an overture and it seemed to only have two themes). One theme for the old actress / toy boy and another for the young writers couple. This may be composition by leitmotif and you certainly knew who was on stage, but it's not adventurous. I laughed when the central character is shot, it being so sudden and unexpected (especially as the killer had earlier attempted suicide). It felt decidedly lunchtime-TV with obvious dialogue and I didn't notice any obvious wit (I heard the Sound of Music script today and it's not high intellectual entertainment but even it has some nifty innuendoes). Maybe it's just me (no lover of either film or celebrity), because the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical won a swag of awards (Tonys for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book and lots more) and it has an extensive and successful international performance history. But I look at the list of tunes and I didn't know any before and not much after. Much of the singing was conversational (recitative?) but I noted at least three feature songs, for Joe and Norma and Max. I found the stage set fabulous with the orchestra glowing backstage. Joe Gillis (the central writer character) seemed immensely well performed, both in terms of voice and character. The key women around Joe (faded, eccentric silent actress seeking comeback, Norma Desmond, and emergent writer, Betty Schaefer) both played parts and sang very well. Strangely, Cecil B DeMille makes an appearance. The music was an obvious challenge to perform and I was impressed by the quality of performance. So, in the end, my take was great performance of little interesting musical. Many musical goers wouldn't agree (but several mates at the theatre did). Congrats on a wonderful performance.

    Sunset Boulevard (music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber music; lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton) was performed at TheQ. Amongst many others involved were Stephen Pike (director), Sharon Tree (musical director), Bronwyn Sullivan (Norma Desmond), Daniel Wells (Joe Gillis), Peter Dark (Max von Meyerling) and Vanessa de Jager (Betty Schaefer).

    13 October 2014

    ANU's mix-tape

    ANU School of Music presented its annual showcase concert last Friday. We came in a little late so missed DRUMatiX. I find it a fascinating mix of rhythms and percussion pitch so I was sorry it was up first. We walked in during something which is new for the ANU school - a popular music ensemble. This was called Eponymous which was not at all eponymous. It reminded me somewhat early psychedelia, apt given that I'd heard of the final Pink Floyd album release only that day (they are finally giving it up) and I always think of PF pre-Dark side when they were floaty types with absurd covers (think Atom Heart Mother cows). Then the Jazz Ensemble, singing gospel and ballad and a sunny finish. Nice voices, stronger on females as usual and some good front line performances. The Experimental Music Studio followed. I assume this comprised a good deal of (classical) improvisation. I especially liked the declarative voice and the free-cum-classical crossover piano. The classical/chamber stream followed interval. Firstly, the Guitar ensemble with is acoustic twang and Spanish aliveness. Then an attractive trio of flute, bassoon and clarinet, with the bassoon playing every bit the accompanying bass part, and a duo that I'd heard before at a recent lunchtime concert, soprano Jelena Mamic accompanied by pianist Anne Ewing performing four songs by Menotti. Then the Chamber choir, again heavy on women, led by Tobias Cole, performing Vivaldi, de Lassus and a fascinating time-study by Tobias himself with numbers as lyrics and commendably sung without charts. Then the finale with the ANU Chamber Orchestra performing some very recognisable pieces, movements from Mozart's Jupiter Symphony and Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. Both were very comfortable and hugely attractive pieces and no-doubt essentials on the repertoire. We left with a light step. Nice.

    Also, just a pic of Michael Dante Mori, former US Marine lawyer representing Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Mori gave a presentation before the ANU SOM Showcase for the Law School.

    09 October 2014

    Truth and fiction

    The obvious question is whether truth is stranger than fiction. It was asked and journalist/authors Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis cogitated and offered some examples and pretty much agreed that few would accept some of the true stories out of Australian Parliament if they were presented as works of fiction. Chris and Steve were presenting their second novel, The Mandarin Code, at the Australia Institute's Politics in the Pub. It's second of a trilogy and more a thriller than its satire predecessor, The Marmalade Files. There are characters you may imagine are thinly disguised, but this is fiction. Certainly. Our law doesn't allow otherwise (This surprised me. Copyright law allows for satire, but recognised characters can sue authors, presumably under defamation law, and it was mentioned that two lawyers were looking into the Marmalade Files). This is an opportunity for two major Australian political journalists to explore and to some degree expose our politics in ways that journalistic conventions disallow. A range of issues, both local and international, were mentioned. They were mostly in the daily press for the observant, although I wasn't always totally clear on what was and was not being spoken of as fiction. The Chinese Embassy building black site was in our papers. The Information Dominance Center at Fort Mead MD is real (I just risked NSA perusal by Googling it) but is the design like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and the head's parking space being numbered 007 true? Apparently the transgender security analyst is real. Sending a US Carrier Strike group through the Taiwan Straights apparently remains possible. But is it art? It's certainly useful way to view the world, especially given political spin and control of public perceptions. It's also a "more entertaining read". It's been called "dickhead lit" (it's "fast paced" and there's a bondage scene in the latest book) but Chris is quite happy for it to sell well as airport lit and it's planned as a TV series. There was discussion of how the two write together. Also of whether panties is a valid term these days (Annabel Crabb queried it, but what of VPL?). An audience member questioned their take on the Greens, but the reply was that all parties get some ridicule and that most were concerned about being left out (and it's only Greens that raise this question). Jokingly, Chris and Steve both noted they'd been accused of writing fiction in their day jobs, too. So, worth the read? They noted Canberra as a place of interest and intrigue, especially for those working close, in Parliament, embassies, senior public service, defence, lobbyists and the like. Any capital city must be like this, and those that are built for the purpose are probably more concentrated. I've never been quite close enough, so I have reading to do.

    Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann presented their latest novel, The Mandarin Code, at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute. Their first novel was The Marmalade Files.

    08 October 2014

    East Coast meets South India via Melbourne

    I found a drumming theme in the performance of Ben Carr at the Gods. Ben's a sax player, but his music has plenty of rhythmic interest in the Brazilian music that he plays, choro, but even more so in some tortuous grooves and experimentations. The latin's lovely and rhythmically strong, but nothing like the complexities of Ben's arrangement of Coltrane's 26-2 with a reverse Indian classical take on 9 underlying it, or his musical response to a NYC t-shirt slogan that was dastardly uncountable to my ears, or a composition of the normal drummer in Ben's trio, Phill Collings (ex-Canberra/ANU School of Music), which was all odd times and pantonal, or Ben's own study of NYC hip-hop grooves called Beat research which counted in 17. The easy melodicity of Pixinguinha and Cavaquinho were a relaxation against this complexity but both styles were a joy. I loved Ben with his long lines spelling chords as in Coltrane and his often strangely clarinet-toned soprano sax (he explained it's in the hard reed and a search for woodiness), and Tom with his heavy reading lines and neat and expressive solos and sit-in drummer Adam with his so-sharp snaps on snare and tom and his classical-Indian inspired cuts to the beat, spacious then snapping with determined dissections. There were a few covers, the Brazilian music of Pixinguinha and Cavaquinho, of course, which were of a different world altogether, and that take on 26-2 which was sufficiently reimagined to deserve considerable rights, and Joe Henderson's Isotope and Alister Spence's Maianbar. This was the exposed sound of a sax trio, clear and demanding and intellectually satisfying. It was a great gig that was too poorly attended.

    Ben Carr (tenor, soprano saxes) led his trio with Tom Lee (bass) and Adam King (drums) at the Gods.

    07 October 2014

    Returning to Court

    It wasn't courtly music but it was a return to the High Court for a Sunday afternoon concert. This was Llewellyn Choir and they were performing music that featured composers involved in WW1 - Ernest Farrar, Herbert Howells and Gustav Holst - amongst others. This was a time of transition for English composers with the younger generation trained and many lost and yet this led to a rejuvenation of British music in the post-war years. Llewellyn choir is SATB and accompanied. This performance was accompanied with piano by Anthony Smith. It's a capable choir, nicely voiced and carefully dynamic. The sound was airy and lightened with a predominance of female voices partly due to attendance on the day but partly anyway. Tollite Hostias by Saint-Saens was a rousing start. Then To daffodils by Farrar and The scribe by Howells and two movements of a Howells Requiem. Then a few Poulenc motets and This have I done from my true love by Holst. Despite singing of love, this sounded unexcited to my ears, mediaeval in its worldview. And a final Laudamus Te by Poulenc. To my ears, most of the music had a forlorn air but this in unsurprising after the Great War. My favourites sandwiched the concert: the pealing and appealing Saint-Saens Tollite Hostias and the final, vital, exciting Poulenc Laudamus Te. A weighty program but a nice choir to present it.

    The Llewellyn Choir performed at the High Court. Rowan Harvey-Martin conducted and Anthony Smith (piano) accompanied.

    06 October 2014

    Visiting my sense of the absurd

    It was my sense of the absurd that had me interested in an Artist's Shed performance of Sergeant Pepper's on uke and cello. It's a great album, of course, and it's personally influential for anyone my age and I have a good feeling towards the Artist's Shed which was the venue (sadly homeless at present). In the end, I gently settled into the familiar strains of Sergeant Pepper, sang along although occasionally limited my performance for respect of nearby seats, admired the take on A day in the life (how was that possible on uke & cello? Hint: they used some voice), felt disappointed that there were (otherwise) no vocals, struggled for the sound of the cello amongst muddy low notes, wondered if the tracks were shortened given no vocals needing repeats, generally revisited a landmark recording. I enjoyed it and admired the take. There was some nice and unpretentious playing by both uke and cello. They played side one (this was an LP so it had two sides; we tend to forget that now) then side two, each as a medley. They performed with accompanying projection of song title with related cute image. The audience was of an age to not require the titles. Then another set, with a string of century-old songs, or in style of, and a successful take on Russell Morris's The Real thing (and a threat of In a gadda da vida, this being a night of some boomer nostalgia). The encore was What a wonderful world and that was Louis Armstrong so this was jazz, wasn't it? I remember Wonderful world as my theme song for a Christmas many years back and it's probably the first "jazz" that I remember enjoying. The show had started with the collected forces of UROC (Ukelele Republic of Canberra). They had fun and I liked their repertoire (Divinyls and Kinks and Amy Whitehouse meets Herman's Hermits and Nancy Sinatra) and this was mostly assembled strumming and singalong with just a few harmonies and a Beatles bass. I sang along and enjoyed it and worried that the guy in the next seat might object. There's a whole world of music and performance that prioritises entertainment over art and it's not something I visit too often. I should; it's fun. It's nice to sing along. But after hearing a trio of authentic virtuosi the night before (and even paying a few dollars less), I left a bit bemused about the status of the arts in our community. But nothing new there. BTW, you can see YouTube videos of this take on Sgt Pepper's embedded on AJ Leonard's website.

    AJ Leonard (uke, vocals) performed Sgt Pepper and more with Jenny Rowlands (cello). They were supported by UROC (Ukelele Republic of Canberra).

  • Sgt Pepper on uke & cello YouTubed
  • 05 October 2014

    Getting real

    A friend posted to Facebook "Shit just got real" during this gig. She was right. This was the concert of Jamie Oehlers, Steve Magnusson and Ben Vanderwal. These are peak players in the Australian jazz scene. They were visiting Canberra to launch a new CD, Paper Tiger. There was no bassist (Bassless allegations was mentioned as a possible band name, probably in jest), but anomalous lineups are common these days. Steve played some bass lines or fingerpicked and the low notes did the job. Jamie also took an accompaniment role, behind Steve's guitar solos, and this is unusual but given his skills, wonderfully effective. This was choppy music. There was just one swing, as I remember, and one ballad. This was solid even-eights drumming that had me wondering what passers-by would be discovering. Few rock drummers will play with Ben's sharpness and invention. Jamie's solo lines were ever varied. These players were all this way: profoundly knowledgeable of options and thus fresh in their choices. Steve's technique, too, was choppy. Not smooth and distorted and searing but crisp, twangy, staccato and rabidly fast and endlessly varied. I guess these guys, too, have their habits and licks, but nothing seemed too obvious. Their new CD is 15 short tunes and this performance was pretty much that. The shortest was around 90 seconds and they obviously surprised themselves when it suddenly ended. Even the longest was perhaps 7 or 8 minutes. Jamie's known to play extended solos but this was a different experience. There were originals from all members and wit around the stories to introduce them. The music may be deadly serious, but this band's got the banter. Ben ran a commentary on left communitarianism ("We're all in this together") while denying any interest in politics. Was this banter for the Canberra visit? Ben wrote A song to parallel park to and he claimed to dislike it from the start, only to let it loose on his mates. A rocking chair on a carousel (on a cruise ship in choppy seas) was a song title and a story in itself. Then there were covers: Backhand by Keith Jarrett, Word from Bird by Ornette Coleman, Slow boat to China, Hard times come again no more. This was a challenging mix of contorted or pretty melodies that are developed with immense complexity. Jamie's Lament was a lovely ballad although never too obvious. Paper tiger was rubato, experimental with loops. Slow boat is a lovely old tune but was busily embellished. Hard times was in three and played with relative simplicity. This is a peak experience for jazz in Australia, three of the most capable and inventive players together and on record. It certainly got real; the final slice of the sandwich.

    Jamie Oehlers (tenor, soprano saxes), Steve Magnusson (guitar) and Ben Vanderwal (drums) launched their new CD, Paper tiger, with a gig at Smiths.

    04 October 2014


    Second of three gigs for the day. We'd booked up a year of classical concerts and the Borodin Quartet for Musica Viva at Llewellyn Hall ended up clashing with a startler jazz gig at Smiths so I only stayed until interval. They were performing Beethoven, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky and luckily the two I most wanted to hear, Beethoven (String Quartet in G minor, Op.18 no.2) and Shostakovich (String Quartet no.8 in C min, Op.110), were up first. My favourite, and the favourite of most who I talked to at interval, was the Shostakovich. The Beethoven was lovely but relatively sweet to my ears, at least the opening movement. It's an early string quartet in classical form and commentary talks of wit and humour and references to Haydn. The Shostakovich had the bizarre of the newer century (now last century) and I'm pleased to see that we are now accustomed enough to prefer or at least enjoy it. It also had a much heavier theme. It was written in three days when he was staying near Dresden in 1960. It's gloomy and melancholic as a response to the Allied bombing that destroyed the centre of that city on 13/14 Feb 1945. I noticed a strange low drone, which is reminiscent of bombers in the sky. I read of references to various works, of chromaticism and key changes but the centrality of C minor, of a four note motif D-Eb-C-B which in German spell out D(imitri) Sch(ostakovich) implying an autobiographical theme. I listened for very different tones from the two violins to match different roles, for the harmonies of violin and viola or viola and cello, for the lines led by whatever instrument, for the undoubted skills of all the players. No doubt a worthy performance but my appreciation of the string quartet format is meagre and my mind was on the Oehlers by this stage. Just to end, a note of activities as we arrived. Jazz band Pocket Fox were playing outside, but the most amusing was a "conduct me" opportunity in the foyer with a genuine string quartet. I'm not sure how influential were the conductors but some, at least, looked the part. A champagne glass in the left hand might not be the go, but there's obvious communication in this pic, even if it's just shared mirth.

    Borodin Quartet performed for Music Viva at Llewellyn Hall. The Borodin Quartet comprised Ruben Aharonian (violin), Sergei Lomovsky (violin), Igor Naidin (viola) and Vladimir Balshin (cello).

    02 October 2014


    First concert of the day was a Lunchbox concert at the ANU School of Music. These are students, presumably at different stages of their training, performing a varied repertoire on diverse instruments. What's not like. Aaron Chew (piano) started with Fantasia Baetica by Manuel de Falla. This was a substantial work, virtuosic, exciting, passionate. He mentioned the sounds of guitar, footstamps and female vocals (this is Spanish music). Aaron played with confidence the waves of notes with crossing hands and several passages of a quizzical dissonance. I loved this piece and I thought he did an excellent job on it. Then Jelena Mamic (soprano) sang four Canti di lontananza by Menotti with accompaniment by Anne Ewing (piano). This was intense, vibratoed high notes (lyric soprano? dramatic soprano), glorious tone but inevitably intelligible. I wonder why classical singing is so often unintelligible; words seem a key to songs. The passion fitted for Gli amanti impossibili; Jelena lightened up for Il settimo bicchiere di vino; I wondered if Mattinata di neve was a bit heavy. The voice is glorious if the themes are mostly lost, but this is classical vocals. Next was another singer, Jade McFaul (voice) with accompaniment by Tristan Struve (piano) performing Who points the swallow by Alan Tragaskis. This is a modern piece in English. I caught a word or two but may have caught more with more concentration. One stanza ended in "arrogance" so the theme piques interest. Jade has a gentler, less insistent voice: she still enforced and vibratoed some notes, but mostly this was more intimate. Elizabeth Biggs (harp) followed with Krumpholtz Sonata Scene Pathetique Op.16 no.1. The soft, finger-picked tone of harp and the instrumental balance of melody and harmony was a change after the singers. Also the references to lament and pathos that comes with the title; although not miserable or pitiable. Last was Hamish Strathdee (guitar) playing Rodrigo's Junto al Generalife. Again, the finger-picked pluck of nylon strings; again, the Spanish connection. Every guy my age has toyed with guitar, so this had some technical interest. I enjoyed the picking that I could watch so closely, like the thumbed melody against fingered triplets on the G string (interesting if perhaps a common enough classical guitar technique). I heard it as genial and moderate, but it's about a garden (Junto not Junta) at the Alhambra, so that's apt. So this was the concert. About an hour of varied music, varied musicians, varied instruments and tones. Apparently the Lunchbox concerts are returning and now that I have time, I hope to get to a few. A great pleasure.

    Aaron Chew (piano), Jelena Mamic (soprano), Anne Ewing (piano), Jade McFaul (voice), Tristan Struve (piano), Elizabeth Biggs (harp) and Hamish Strathdee (guitar) performed in the Larry Sitsky Room at the ANU School of Music for a (free) Lunchbox concert.