30 November 2014

And the ambassador played the bass

It's not often the tickets for a jazz gig are sold out but this one, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adolph Saxe, in the lawns of the Belgian Embassy, was. It was an attractive offer. Events at a Canberra embassies are often a hit with the locals. This was huge. The numbers swelled to 500, but the garden was generous and the evening was perfect and there were hors-d'ouevres and Belgian beer on offer and a great band. In a twist that's a local jazz secret (until last Friday) Jean-Luc Bodson, His Excellency the Belgian Ambassador, is also a conservatorium-trained bassist with a love of jazz. That alone would bring the inquisitive, but the jazzers were also drawn by a pairing of the brothers Mackie, both excellent saxists with Tate Sheridan and Mark Sutton. They just played one set but it was strong and well received. It was interesting to again hear Carl with John. Carl played alto on this occasion, fitting for a string of bop numbers, and John played his tenor. Their approaches, perhaps from the different instruments, were more diverse than I remember on John's CD, where Carl also played: different in solo development, phrasing conventions, approaches to dissonance and the rest. But both were excellent and intriguing listens. Jean-Luc held it together very capably with solidity and drive and clear tone, along with Mark, un-extravagant on this evening, but essential. Tate is only a young-un but he's a young gun playing with great energy and passion and real interest. This was reliable, bop-heavy blowing repertoire: Confirmation, My little suede shoes, Round midnight, Tenor madness and Footprints. It's not a steady band, of course, and I know for one that Jean-Luc had a few busy days with other duties, but it was a truly interesting occasion and possibly unique in ambassadorial circles. Following the main band was the Telopea Park High School Big Band. Just Year 10 students, but playing some surprisingly decent big band jazz and finishing with a twist of Nirvana-like guitar dirt. Cool. I can't resist including the pic of three gathered bassists. And if you're interested, I was drinking Leffe Brune. Good on the Belgians, not least for beer and bassist ambassadors and Adolph Sax.

The Belgian Embassy celebrated the bi-centennial of the birth of Adolph Saxe with a garden party on the grounds of the Embassy. Entertainment was a band comprising Carl Mackey (alto), John Mackey (tenor), Tate Sheridan (piano), Jean-Luc Bodson (bassist and ambassador) and Mark Sutton (drums). The Telopea Park High School Big Band also performed.

29 November 2014

What Honours does for you

I didn't know Tate Sheridan had played sax. He'd played through the classical grades as a kid then turned to piano and played through those classical grades, then to Honours which he has just completed. I'm sorry I missed his recent recital but I caught him playing solo for the U3A Jazz Appreciation Group and with any luck will catch him at his CD launch next week. This was intimate, sometimes chatty, nicely open sounding so his playing was clear. He played an electric piano, so the clarity and life of the acoustic was not there, but Tate took the opportunity to use various tones, Rhodes, perhaps organ, funky bass for various tunes. He played 7 tunes. First up was a take on Honeysuckle Rose, introduced with a moody impressionism, then into stride and through time-relevant lines and some more modern dissonance and rhythmic variations. I love this contemporary style that visits the traditions with respect but also treats them with contemporary sensibilities. Jazz has its historical sweep after a century. An individual may prefer one era over another but it's all worthy and I personally like some catholicism. Then through a series of originals. Run don't walk is a composition related to Tate's honours thesis on Cuban left hand piano and it explored all manner of approaches: lh ostinato; rh single note comping; rh improv; a more even rh/lh style that had classical balance; syncopated lh bass line; perhaps more. Tate praised the pride, patriotism, energy and passion of Cuban musicians. Energy is obviously a concern; he mentioned it several times later. Then a short ballad of 8 bars and #11 harmonies that suggests a B-section but stays short and beautiful. Tate talks of writing words for this, saying lyric writing is a compositional technique that assists with phrasing. I didn't know that Oscar Peterson writes lyrics for most of his tunes, even though no-one knows them. Nebraska 1978 was different; a funky number with Rhodes tone, perhaps organ lh, written with Calum Builder for their duo CD. Tate talked more about pianists, Keith Jarrett, Art Tatum, blind pianists, handspans (Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson can/could easily span 11ths; most can just manage 10ths), Blind Tom, Gene Harris ("great energy; really important"), lessons. A final lively but exploratory Billie's bounce. During the visit, there was a quote of Miles saying that "jazz is the thinking man's music" although Tate was at pains not to denigrate the skills and capabilities of classical musicians. Talk of music as a language, for communication, like spoken words: "You have no script when you wake up in the morning" as a parallel to improvisation. Talk of solo piano as "daunting", more demanding than playing in an ensemble. Talk of his teachers and varieties of perspectives, and mention of some of our impressive local pianists. These visits are a chance to talk to practicing musicians and to hear them unadorned, transparently present. A terrific experience.

Tate Sheridan (piano) chatted and performed a set for the U3A Jazz Appreciation Group.

28 November 2014

Spirits being sprightly

Blithe is carefree, jovial, even sprightly. Sprightly it was in Noel Coward's play, Blithe spirit. We saw the play last night and in no end of coincidences, I heard an ABCRN Hindsight program today about Noel Coward's visit to Australia during WW2. Such occurrences might have one thinking of the spiritual, and this is just the dismissive approach taken by the characters in Blythe spirit until the plot reveals itself. Husband, Charles Condamine, of second wife, Ruth, is taken aback when a seance brings his first, deceased, wife, Elvira, back into the house. Ruth is unaware of Elvira and takes umbrage at Charles, then accepts Elvira's presence; medium Madame Arcati is mightily proud of her success; Elvira plans to bring Charles to her spritely world and succeeds in killing Ruth instead so both deceased wives now pester Charles who promptly departs for his new wife-free life. Coward spoke of nothing similar in Australia; more about the English speaking world reviving Western Civilisation ... of which his light comedy is presumably one part. It's very English and frothy and of its time, but a part it is. I had a few good laughs and was mightily impressed by some of the vocabulary of these characters, and not just for the word blithe. This was a literate, wordy crowd, somewhat set in its ways (martinis, smoking jackets) but also expressing modernity (women smoking, suggestive quips, various affairs). BS was the latest production of Canberra Repertory in Theatre 3. It's a venerable company of amateurs that has been presenting theatre for yonks (estab. 1932). The acting and production values are good. M.Arcati was a blast; the wives were convincing and husband Charles was every bit the confused then divided then entertained husband, then the happily ex-. The scene was stock mid-century and the final poltergeistian flourish was homely and unexpected and a guffaw-making. This was a thoroughly enjoyable show of mid-C20th manners nicely presented and much enjoyed. Congrats to Canberra Rep.

Kate Blackhurst (Director) directed Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at Theatre 3 for Canberra Rep with Peter Holland (Charles Condomine), Emma Wood (Ruth Condomine, Charles' second wife), Anita Davenport (Elvira Condomine, Charles' first wife and ghostly presence), Liz St Clair-Long (Madame Arcati, a medium), Don Smith (Doctor Bradman, a friend), Elaine Noon (Mrs Bradman) and Yanina Clifton (Edith, a maid)

27 November 2014


Aaron Chew presented a program called Flamboyant fantasias at Wesley. It was certainly that and the final work, Schubert's Wanderer, was the confirmation. But first, Bach. The first tune was JS Bach but an arranged version by Busoni. It was a strange thing. You could recognise the discipline and regularity of Bach, but this was different, with added dynamics, tempo fluctuations and pedal markings for Busoni's then modern times, all dramatic and diverse from the stately baroque. Then Manuel de Falla's Fantasia Baetica, a virtuosic piano piece written for Arthur Rubinstein and celebrating Aldalussian culture by imagining guitars, singing, stomping, clapping. Then a final Schubert piece, his Fantasie in C major, the Wanderer. Aaron introduced it well: "Schubert ... when he's got an idea, he never lets go. This is 25 minutes, so ... I'll see you at the end". Not wrong; the melodic motif was introduced early and repeated often, even stubbornly, but so be it. Aaron played these three challenging and energetic pieces with great vigour and commitment and I expect the whole audience felt wilted by the end. This was wonderfully vigourous playing on works with virtuosic demands. Flamboyance put to decent use.

Aaron Chew (piano) played Bach/Busoni, de Falla and Schubert at Wesley.

25 November 2014

Right on the night

She'll be right on the night. It's so often the case that I've come to accept it. Despite a horrid practice the week before, we done reasonably good. Not perfect, of course. As our MC said, we are a Choral Study group, so expect students. The audience of family and friends expected that and that's what they got. Some pieces worked well; some of the longer pieces got bogged down as we followed complex counterpoint or confusing canon. I'm new, so the feel of a baroque bar still tricks me (the 1s aren't where I expect them), and finding the starting note and harmony, and also the bigger intervals remains problematic. But students learn, and I drool over the clear harmonies when they sit neatly and the complex interplay of parts and the baroque canon writing and the beauty of Mendelssohn and the modern romantic voice (no bar lines) of Eric Whitacre. (What wife could resist This marriage as a wedding gift? Have a listen to Ingenium Ensemble singing it on YouTube). Congratulations to the choir, and thanks to our guides in all this, conductors Sheila Thompson and Oliver Raymond and wonderful accompaniment from pianist Jenny Kain. We're on leave for a few months then there's tons to learn in the NY.

Harmonia Monday choir performed Palestrina, Byrd, Charpentier, Handel, Mendelssohn, Stanford, Clausen, Whitacre and Durante attrib. Pergolesi at All Saints under Sheila Thompson (conductor) and Oliver Raymond (conductor) with accompaniment by Jenny Kain (piano).

24 November 2014

Nick's nonet

I've been musing over why I like nonets or octets. When treated as an ensemble, these are little big bands, so why these rather than the larger formats? I've decided it's because the writing becomes so clear, the lines so crisp and the solo spots so integrated and unjarring. We were hearing each voice anyway, so when some just drop out for a different texture or a solo, there's less change, less loss, more continuity. I was not certain I could attend Nick Combe's Nonet concert at Street 3 but at the last minute, I could, and it was a thing of great pleasure. Nick is soon off to Melbourne (we've lost many recent graduates to Melbourne with smaller numbers to replace them) and he gathered his cohorts together for a recording of his charted works. We've been hearing Nick's charts over the years and this is a culmination album, using his frequent offsiders. It was a strong band and one that has a collective history even if it's somewhat spread to the winds these days. We were in the generous Street 3 space, the musicians all laid out on carpet and studio-miced, some seats and cushions for an intimate audience. The recording was just 7 tracks, but there's lots of work in these, in terms of composition and arrangements and elaborations. And interestingly, Nick has a story for each. These are not just abstract compositions, but they speak of loves and losses, buses and places and health and happiness. These are Nick's encounters or experiences so the tapestry of changes and repeats speak of real emotions. This feels real. Nicely played, too. These were solos for the studio, careful, not overextended, nicely detailed and developed.

The gig started with Love is a job from Hell. It's a work in 3 parts, starting with a slow bluesy feel in 6 with dissonance and some nifty baritone sax fills and a driving guitar solos and the tenor providing embellishments that paralleled the earlier bari lines and finishing with solo piano. Then Moira, a light 2-feel with a piano trio and brushes and swelling with horns and some lovely solos on trumpet and tenor. Then Once is enough, inspired by a TS Elliot fragment and featuring a melody that's fascinatingly spelt out on different instruments, over brushes in a count of 16, then into guitar/piano and a lush horn fill and slowly swung piano trio and what I heard as an islander melody. Then Centrelink Blues referring to queues and free money. Nick has a nice story here. Medium-up blues with spaces for solos and a beautifully unhurried and thoughtful trumpet solo. I was loving both trumpeters despite vastly different approaches. Then Shoosh, everything will be alright that tells of Nick as helpful ear with slow 4 and lovely horn swells. Then Louis' precious woman, dedicated to Louis Nowra, a complex number that speeds eventually to cacophony then instrument drop outs into solos and rim shots. And a final Lemon and honey, a quickish reggae that Nick had on his mind when sick in bed. I was struck with the understated but supremely self-assured trombone here. Then thanks and chatter. It was all more rich than I can recount here. This was a musical pleasure, but also a recording and I can only look forward to the release. Nick's developed some complex and satisfying charts and this is one memory that can be confirmed soon enough on release, probably early 2015. Buy it!

Nicholas Combe (baritone sax, composer, arranger) led his nonet in a live recording at Street 3. The band comprised Nick with Reuben Lewis (trumpet), Alex Raupach (trumpet), Tom Fell (tenor, alto sax), Valdis Thomann (trombone), Matt Lustri (guitar), Damien Slingsby (piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

22 November 2014

Celebrating Relativity

The Canberra International Music Festival always has a theme, and this coming year it's the centenary of Einstein and General Relativity. Only in Canberra, although Relativity is more general than may be otherwise recognised. Why only Canberra? Because this is a city of universities (ANU, UC, ADFA/UNSW, ACU, CSU) as well as a city of CSIRO, Mt Stromlo, our Nobel Brian Schmidt, let alone various arms of government (which are not all security related, even if Howard's memorial as the second largest building in Canberra is the still-unoccupied ASIO building, amusingly built in the shape of a parabolic dish aimed at Parliament House! Did no-one see the symbolism on paper? More worrying, perhaps someone did). But we can be proud of our CIMF. The launch was in the Shine Dome, the saucer-shaped headquarters of the Australian Institute of Science (yes, Virginia, they recognise climate change, and yes, Virginia, Quadrant has questioned their integrity). Alex Raupach was improvising as we entered. The speakers were from the Committee but also physicist John Rayner who explained that the intellectual prompt for General relativity is our inability to tell the difference between gravity and acceleration. Then on through maths and spiritual dimensions and the parallel tumult in music and physics in the early C20th and space / time and Newton / Einstein and determinism / probabilistics, and strings and the GUT. Fascinating. Then Emma Rayner with a Bach cello suite, played beautifully and perfectly fitting this formal but intriguing space. Come to think of it, some of the wall is actually string (!) so I guess string theory is doubly apt (and even predicted) here. Then music director Roland Peelman who introduced each work over each day. The program is on the website, but I noted the complete Beethoven piano sonatas in 8 concerts, Bach of course, Brian Schmidt at Stromlo, ANUSM graduate now La Hague resident Kate More as composer in residence, Andrew Ford with Imant Tillers projections in a commission by Barbara Blackman, Sculthorpe and Brahms and kids concerts and Ensemble Offspring playing Philip Glass' Music in Twelve parts (over 3 hours non-stop) and overboarders Deb Conway / Willy Zygier. Plenty more; see the program. Add some wine and cheese and we're looking forward to another exceptional gathering. Canberra International Music Festival; with new MD; 1-10 May; deeply satisfying music with cerebral affinities.

21 November 2014

A summer of musicals

Is this becoming the summer of musicals? Sunset Boulevard, Sound of Music, now La Cage aux Folles. I hadn't tweaked that Canberra had such a strong musicals scene. We won an ArtSound prize ticket to La Cage aux Folles and again, I was stunned by the quality of the outing: great costumes, music, voices, acting and this one had plenty of fun. All done by a local amateur troop: this one by Supa Productions. And a lesson in musicals, too. The program quotes music and lyrics writer Jerry Herman at the Tony awards saying "There's a rumour ... that the simple hummable show tune is dead on Broadway. Well it's alive and well at the Palace" (where Cages aux Folles was playing at the time). Similar to Sound of music; nothing like Sunset Boulevard. La Cage aux Folles is known well enough. La Cage is a drag nightclub in St Tropez. George is MC and drag-queen wife and mother Albin performs as Zaza with the chorus line La Cagelles. George's hetero son, Jean-Michel, comes home to prepare for a visit by his new love's parents. The father-in-law-to-be is a rabid anti-gay politician and JM seeks to put on a straight family face. After various twists, the lovers will marry and the gays win heart-rending approval. It's entertaining, joyous and effective in getting messages of gay love and a parallel theme of living for today across to the masses. So, it's a success as a musical and a political statement and this was a massive success as a performance. Peter Wilkins says that "in a production so carefully conceived, exquisitely staged and superbly performed, the line between amateur and professional becomes blurred". I concur. It's feel good, so lends itself to a good reception. But it's also deserving, even stunning or excellent. The Cagalles were always luscious and it was great fun to try to distinguish males from females. The program helped and it was needed (well, maybe more obvious with some later costumes). George had a great voice. Albin was wonderfully played as touching or outrageous or just plain motherly. Jean-Michel was every bit the straight heartthrob (think Titanic). Jacob was an insanely flamboyant maid. Anne is the love match daughter of politician father Edouard Dindon and mother Marie who is later seduced by the camp joy of it all. There are a few other characters, audience, a fisherman, the local cafe staff, restauranteur Jacqueline who is central to the resolution. It's entertaining theatre, but it's also a political theme and this musical, later film, with its gentle and personable approach, can likely lay considerable claim towards rapid political change. As for the music, it was also so well done. Apparently, the charts are copies of hand-written originals, which I'm told is often the way in the pits. The pit included a quartet of singers, not least to strengthen the voices of six very busy dancers. I was also intrigued by the electronic set, big LED screens that changed with scenes. All in all, a great night out and an excellent production. Peter Wilkins suggests you "save yourself the cost of a ticket to Paris and treat yourself to a night at La Cage Aux Folles". I don't go quite so far (there are other wonders in Paris) but otherwise I'll happily agree with the sentiment. As for discovering musicals in Canberra, how much time does one have after jazz, classical, choral and more? Hello also to drummer Ron Tito, a veteran of local musicals and a relative of Megan's.

Supa Productions presented La Cages aux Folles at the ANU Arts Centre. The central characters were played by Jarrad West (Georges) and Ben O'Reilly (Albin) with Garrick Smith (director) and Rose Shorney (musical director).

  • Peter Wilkins' review in Canberra Times
  • 20 November 2014

    Aficionado II

    This is my second Aficionado launch. The first was at Wang; this one is for the local mates. What pleasure it was to hear Geoff again, but also to hear Eric Ajaye accompanying. I've missed Eric at some recent gigs and otherwise not heard his playing for many months, after the changes at the Jazz School, and this was a rekindling of considerable bass awe. It was particularly pleasant in these surroundings. Just solo bass backing solo voice. Nice, big room; discretely amplified; amongst friends with a few beers and wines. Those gently slurred lines; the comfy sense of latin rhythm; the expressive heads; the dug in pizz and just one passage with dainty cello bow on a tragic poem of Lee Morgan's demise at Slug's Saloon in NYC following a shot from his defacto wife. But Eric didn't just accompany. On the day, Caroline Stacey introduced the event, Eric launched the book, Allison Hasting read on her response to the book (an extended verse on "Why I don't like jazz"; a brave presentation based on Alison's preference for classical and folk)and Geoff recited with Eric's comping. Eric's launch was a recounting of the parallel experiences of Geoff and Eric: the closed-eyes concentration of youth; the commitment and seriousness to jazz as art; the humour and names and the more recent connections in Canberra. Eric described these as perhaps parallel experiences, but also with clear differences: Eric could see these people; wash dishes to get under-age access to venues; question his jazz elders; eventually play with names that Geoff and Australia could only hear on record. Despite many excellent jazzers in Australia, there remains a jazz tyranny of distance. This time I did get to purchase my copy, but I had to rush off and still haven't got Geoff signature on it. That's for another time. But in the meantime, it's great to hear Geoff's poems, Eric's stories and his so-identifiable bass playing again.

    Geoff Page (poetry) recited several of his jazz poems with accompaniment by Eric Ajaye (bass). Eric Ajaye did the Canberra launch of Geoff's latest book, Aficionado : a jazz memoir.

    19 November 2014

    To start a trek

    I've been wanting to hear the organ at Wesley for some time, and I got the chance with one recital that I could attend. Lauren Giddy was performing Bach, Krebs, Brahms and Mendelssohn as a recital for the ANU School of Music and audience was welcomed. Wesley are justly proud of this organ. It originates from an Alfred Hunter 3 manual organ of 1893, and following various additions and rebuilds, is now the "largest and most versatile liturgical and recital instrument in the ACT" boasting 42 pipe ranks and 2,466 pipes. I understand audio better than organ specs, but I enjoy listening to the swelling, delayed tones as pipes form notes and the variety of tones and impressive power that an organ can pour forth. Not for nothing that it's associated with religion and the divine. Lauren played 4 works for a fairly short recital. Bach's Prelude from his Prelude and Fugue in C major was joyous, loud and unrelenting in 3. Krebs was more meditative, slower, in 4. The Brahms featured melody played on the pedals. Lauren played the first movement from Mendelssohn's Sonata no.3 A major and this was the audacious, loud, bold take on the pipe organ that everyone loves. I much enjoyed this visit to one of the pipe organs of Canberra and thanks to Lauren for that. Next task is to explore other locals.

    Lauren Giddy performed a recital on the pipe organ at Wesley Uniting Church (adjacent to the Wesley Music Centre).

    14 November 2014

    Inducted as Pit player

    I am now inducted as a Pit Player after finishing my half of the season of Sound of Music. I'm bass, of course, sharing with Naomi Barber. We were one of about 25 players on any one night, playing the charts for this popular, touching, if sentimental work. It's not hard to read or play, but it is surprisingly effective. SoM is by Rodgers & Hammerstein, so by a well known name in the business. It's not without reason that it's popular. I've been humming the tunes for weeks now and it's one for the kids. The opening night got a good review from our local stalwart, Peter Wilkins, so most nights thereafter were sold out or close to. The pit is partly covered so some instruments (including bass and cello) were dulled. I could just play louder and I needed to as a single bass often playing pizz. I've seen the actors in rehearsal but I could see nothing from my corner of the pit, so, other than the nuns' habits, I have no idea of costumes. What are Maria's dresses like, the ones that caused such consternation for the Captain? And how daggy were those curtains? As for the grown up dance and kiss, I have no idea. [Maybe our mature PM of the grown up government could advise; but then being grown up is not a concern for adults, just for adolescents]. I could chuckle at some quips though, and it's surprising how much extra I caught after hearing the script about a dozen times. And there were some audience comments which were good natured and fun, but some things strangely missed, like the "poverty, obedience and ... chastity" line that found some laughs in rehearsals but not in the shows I played. Cheers to the orchestra and Jennifer Groom who was musical director, and also to a great cast, including two families of children. Maria was the obvious standout, strong in acting and singing. Not for nothing that Peter Wilkins wrote "[Veronica] Thwaites-Brown's performance is a triumph in a production that will move audiences to tears, evoke laughter and remind us that we can all climb mountains to follow our dream". But the cast throughout was impressive and energetic and the singing was good and sometimes surprisingly so. Judith Colquhoun as Mother Abbess could bring you to tears with her feature song, Climb Every Mountain, and the wedding march also tugged heartstrings. It's been considerable work, lots of fun and gives a feeling of achievement. Thanks to Jennifer and orchestra and cast and crew for a great run.

    Sound of Music was presented by the Queanbeyan Players at TheQ. Jennifer Groom (musical director) led the orchestra.

  • Peter Wilkins' review from Canberra Times
  • 13 November 2014

    Such sharp delicacy

    I'm listening to my recording, now, of Stephanie Jones playing guitar at Wesley. It's so delicate and pretty and it's not something I realised at the time. The first take on this music is inevitably "Spanish". Guitar seems to be that. But then to realise the detail and delight in this music and the care and precision with which Stephanie approaches it. It's in her face as she plays. Little smiles, smirks, flitting thoughts. It's music played with involvement and joy and playfulness in the music-making. Any occasional hesitations are greeted with slight frustration, but it's for nothing next to the depth of involvement. I can understand why she'd win prizes for guitar, and she has. This is a deeply pleasurable visit to classical guitar. Stephanie's performing her honours recital tomorrow (as I write this) so she presumably played that recital in preparation. She played without music although these were long and complex pieces ranging over the history of guitar music. First up was baroque, but not like Bach. This was Gasper Sanz Suite Espanola and it was rich in strumming and plucking and earthy as in dance. Next was classical, Fernando Sor Variations on a theme by Mozart, the variation being from the Magic Flute. This music is not guitaristic, too technically guitar-relevant, but nonetheless it's a "testing ground for every aspiring guitarist" (John Duarte). Last were two places from Isaac Albeniz's Suite Espanola, Cadiz and the more meditative Catalunya. Both were lovely excursions in guitar. Guitar seems an unusual instrument in classical music: identified against one culture; sweet and percussive; less common and often alone; very danceable. This was a concert of great delicacy and beauty. Best of luck (or break a leg?) to Stephanie for her reprisal as a recital tomorrow.

    Stephanie Jones (guitar) performed at the Wesley Music Centre.

    12 November 2014

    To commemorate, not to celebrate

    Peter Fitzsimons has a red bandanna and it stands out, even in the Sydney Morning Herald where he has a weekly column on Saturdays. But he stands out also because he's tall, he can talk like hell and it seems he can also write like hell. He's got a string of books to his name and we went to a launch of his most recent one, Gallipoli. It's the 151st (or thereabouts) book written about Gallipoli in the last few years and one historian asked what he had to add. His answer was that he adds his approach, to use fiction techniques to personify the experience (or thereabouts). I could believe it. His chatter is involving and brings out stories of pain and loss and humanity and purpose (or lack of it). He asked why we remember Australia's defeat at Gallipoli as a key moment in our national formation. He ended by recognising it ("not to us to celebrate, but to commemorate") as the key action of the budding nation. Norway has Amundsen reaching the South Pole; Australia has Gallipoli. He quotes Banjo Patterson in confirmation ("We're all Australians now") along with Charles Bean. He queries Gallipoli for the poor strategies and the British empire centrality. He welcomes the involvement of Keith Murdoch, he honours the good will of Australian and Turkish foes, he enjoys some humour and despairs over some tragic matters, like the failed battle at the Neck where bombing ceased 7 minutes early allowing the Turks to ready themselves to cut down waves of bayonet-wielding Anzacs. He recounted that Col. Alex White had said "Men, you have 10 minutes to live" but that was shortened when the bombing stopped early. (The battle of the Neck is the true story behind the film, Gallipoli). He spoke of numbers lost (~8,000 in 9 months for 400 acres), he recognised the deeper losses of the Brits, he pained for stories back home of families. One example was Hugo Throssell, VC, eventually pacifist and communist fellow traveller, finally a suicide case. He mentioned Keating and his wish that something peaceful should be celebrated as the birth of the nation, the fact he'd never attended Gallipoli and his admiration for Australia's success at Kokoda. He mentioned Bob Hawke and his greatest moment, when 50 95-year old diggers embraced 100 living Turk combatants on the 75th anniversary of the campaign. He's also on a committee for a new Australian flag, and told the story of Seinfeld speaking about the Australian flag "I like your flag; Great Britain at night".

    Prof John Maloney thanked Peter and his summation was particularly strong. He welcomed Peter's contribution to understanding of the campaign. He noted that we no longer declare war; we just go to war. He told the story of strategic decisions on Australians at Gallipoli being taken in Britain. He told of a communication by the then Governor-General that an expeditionary force of 20,000 would be available for the British PM to use as Britain deemed fit. Apparently the Australian PM (remember, this is well after the Australian constitution was approved, although as an act of the British Parliament) was not, at the time, to communicate directly with the British PM. This in the context of Menzies' WW2 advice to Australians "Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war. No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement." [From speech made by Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies, 3 September 1939: Screensound Australia, National Screen and Sound Collection, Screensound Title No: 387919] (listen at: http://aso.gov.au/titles/radio/menzies-speech-declaration-war/clip1/). The similarities to our recent wars are evident even if we now follow a different leader.

    WW1 and Gallipoli was a failure of British Empire and European nationalism and Australia was a willing factotum but we can respect the loss if not its political use. These words from both Peter Fitzsimons and Prof John Maloney were touching and informed and continue to be relevant today. We should learn something from this and other history, but that's been said often enough before. In the meantime, Peter's words ring true to me: "not to us to celebrate, but to commemorate". Peter Fitzsimons launched his new book Gallipoli, at ANU. Prof John Maloney gave thanks and a few concluding words.

    10 November 2014

    Beethoven and other

    It's ages since I've heard Robert Schmidli playing. He's a busy man in his outside life but obviously his piano is a serious commitment and maybe a relaxation. This time, again, he played Beethoven and this time, again, I enjoyed the dissonance in the other piece he played.

    The Beethoven was his Sonata no.5 in C minor. Three movements, 3/4 then 2/4 then 2/2, brimming with nervous energy, an early period sonata apparently anticipating Pathetique and the 5th Symphony. (Thanks to Wikipedia). Robert is not a professional but this is serious playing nonetheless. He played at a fairly leisurely pace, with considerable dynamics, light touch on some lines, nicely impassive on some other sections. The second piece was Kabalevsky's Sonata no.3 in F major. Kabalevsky was apparently less challenging to the Soviet state; he'd joined the Communist Party and embraced socialist realism. The fount of wisdom (Wikipedia) says he "preferred a more conventional diatonicism, interlaced with chromaticism and major-minor interplay ". Yes, the sonata didn't sound so dramatic, but it remains modern with impressionistic hesitations and develops some interesting harmonic colours. Robert seemed surprised when mentioning it was the favourite of many in the audience. I wasn't surprised. It was not a major challenge, our ears are atuned to this era and it's a welcome change from the core repertoire. To finish, Robert played an encore of now-Australian composer Stephen Hough, On Falla, an obvious dedication to Manual de Falla punningly titled to rhyme with "on fire". This was different again, Spanish, descending chords reminiscent of bull fights, romantic dance scenes and Corea-like melodic snippets. Nice piece and nice concert: a worthy outing.

    Robert Schmidli (piano) performed Beethoven, Kabalevsky and Hough at Wesley Music Centre.

    09 November 2014

    Wrap up

    Just a few pics to finish with Wang 2014. I caught these outfits in passing - one tune if that. No comments, although I heard good things about all these outings. The Wangaratta Jazz Festival 2014 was a string of interest. There were a few issues. Many bands played once only. The main WPAC theatre is nice but doesn't hold all so some miss out on major acts: that's a problem. The program has conflicts that are irresolvable, especially between WPAC theatre and hall but presumably for St Pat's and the Gateway. But the town is pleasant and they all come out for the free jazz on two stages on local streets and it's nice to sit there amongst the chatter with a local wine in hand. The local art gallery, right next to WPAC, was displaying the National Photographic Portrait prize shortlist and that was an added benefit. I didn't make the jam session but there's goss that it had had its excitements. So ended Wang JF 2014.

    08 November 2014

    Mythic travels

    I remember being taken by Allan Browne when he presented The Drunken Boat, a dedication to Rimbaud at Wang in 2007. He did it again and I realise now that he did it with the same band. This time, the piece was on Homer's Odyssey. Allan had given a Penguin copy to each of the band and they proceeded to write tunes to relevant myths and a year or so later they recorded and performed it at Wang. I found it deeply satisfying, profound even. It was mostly done with no chatter, although there was a stop or two. There was also some reading form Homer by Allan towards the end. I was a bit surprised by some chatter on stage, but these guys know it and treat it as an old mate, I guess. Some great playing, too. Allan is the senior, herding his crew of adepts through swamps and adventures with the lightest of drums and guidance. Geoff's guitar is deft and speedy; Eugene and Phil up front were one voice or skilled soloists, serious but merry; bassist Geoff was light in line with Allan's lead. There were a ream of written notes here, lots of counterpoint, lots of dots, space for solos all beautifully integrated into the whole, some deeply settled grooves. There was life, deep thought, musical purpose, construction and response to a formative work of Western thought. I guess the word is profound. Allan said they'd make no money from it, like the previous albums of a similar style, but it's an erudite work. I left feeling enlightened. Impressed!

    The Quintet was led by Allan Browne (drums) with Eugene Ball (trumpet), Phil Noy (alto), Geoff Hughes (guitar) and Nick Haywood (bass).

    07 November 2014

    When in Brooklyn, do as

    Spoke were totally unexpected and a pleasure and my favourite for Wang 2014. Why? Not for virtuosity, although they had this but carried it lightly. More for the clear work that had gone into the compositions, the ethereal chordless sound, the obvious enjoyment of the band and the pleasure they gave, the irony and contemporary nature of it all, the choice of some great covers, perhaps also the Brooklyn vibe of bicycle spills and pleasant street life they exuded. Like Roger Manins and his Hip Flask, this is a jazz band that entertains beyond the cognoscenti. Megan might enjoy it, and this is good. None of this is to say they were not serious or experienced or skilled. There was some great, forward bass playing and the trombone solos especially grabbed me. The alto was no slouch, either; nor was our Aussie contributor, drummer Danny Fischer. This was his band during his stay in NYC. Good enough that I bought their CD and subsequently the previous two as downloads. Their tunes were of real, ordinary things: Adriana (someone's girlfriend, I think, or maybe a new baby?) and Over the bars (about a bike spill) and Shanghai salsa (about renovations in the Shanghai apartment above waking the late night muso) and Melting (more serious, this, about water). And the covers were lovely things, or maybe they just appealed to me: Beatles' Blackbird (everyone has done it; this was nicely understated and undeformed) and Chaka Khan's Tell me something good (great tune, this) and Mingus' Invisible lady (not one I remembered; listening now, I realise it's a take on Sophisticated lady). This was some great playing, expansive but never flashy despite New Orleans references and a touch of free, but it's more a matter of sum of parts. There was lots of obvious work here, arrangements almost big-bandish, playing tight but light. Open feeling and infectiously joyous. No need to talk of individual strengths. This is communal and skillful but primarily a sheer pleasure. Put this one down to the joy of discovery.

    Spoke were Andy Hunter (trombone), Justin Wood (alto, flute), Dan Loomis (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums).

    06 November 2014

    Tain tours

    I carelessly missed his workshop, but apparently Jeff 'Tain' Watts talked about some tunes that had me confused on timing. His concert on Saturday night was not just unrelenting and virtuosic, but was a mass of odd times. Tain advised that one tune was in 13 so he counts 6 1/2 twice. A joke, no doubt, but it's indicative of the complexity of playing odd and changing times and the concentration required. Tain was the other major international at Wang 2014, but unlike Enrico Rava, he had his own band in residence. And his family; more on that later. Suffice to say I was enamoured by the first concert and hammered by the second. He's obviously a driving, busy, skillful drummer in a long-established style. His is not a sparse, punctuated style, but an avalanche of colours and rhythms and intensity that has you pushed into your seat. Same with his band. I sat with new Wollongong mate and drummer Glenn at both concerts. His description was "unrelenting". I had this feeling for the first concert, but intensely so for the second. There was little letup here. Skills, chops, power, speed, excitement with changing times and arrangements. Day 2 was much more simple in terms of tunes and structures, or maybe I was just more atuned. Day 1 was all over the place in time and composition and arrangements and with several feature solos from Tain and many from tenorist Troy Roberts (from Perth) and pianist Osmany Paredes. Tain introduced a final encore on Day 2 (this was a 90 minute concert to end Sunday night and the main festival) saying bassist Chris Smith likes this one. I'm a bassist and I picked up straight away that it's a killer with incessant and very fast walk; something most bassists dread. Probably another of Tain's jokes. Troy did a great job, provided some excellent solos including a hugely extended one at the end on Day 2, and always amazed me by walking back to his mic at the last minute following piano or other solos. Osmany played plenty of fast runs peppered with bop left hand comping - all fast and wonderfully easygoing - but what most impressed me was his tone - strong and loud. Someone mentioned the latin players play hard and this was certainly strongly played. Great. And the quiet but tall Chris down the back was everpesent and up to some ostinato and walking work at the extremes. Plenty of communication, too. Tain would look to space or to the others, Osmany and Troy looked over at apt moments. A wonderful example of the intense pressure cooker of the top level professional US jazz players (I think back to very long and energetic concerts by Corea, Mahavishnu and others). Take no prisoners.

    But Tain was at Wang with family, too. Laura Watts performed her own concert first up, with Tain and Chris in support. Laura was born Laura Kahle in the US, raised in Queensland, friend of James Sherlock and Zac Hurren (who sat in for this concert along with Troy), now wife of Tain and mother of two daughters in Harlem. Small world: Brissie to Brooklyn. Laura is also a significant composer, having works performed in the Lincoln Centre and arranging for Danish Radio Big Band, Wynton Marsalis, Orrin Evans and others. This gig had Laura leading a series of complex compositions from her recording Illicit Inquest playing pocket trumpet with a series of visitors sitting in for various tunes. I felt the gig was a bit unsettled, but there was some impressive playing and rich compositions. I'm listening to the free download of Illicit Inquest as I write this and it's impressive.

    Jeff 'Tain' Watts (drums) led his quartet comprising Troy Roberts (tenor), Osmany Paredes (piano) and Chris Smith (bass). Laura Watts (pocket trumpet, compositions) led a band with James Sherlock (guitar), Chris Smith (bass) and Jeff 'Tain' Watts (drums) with visitors Zac Hurren (tenor) and Troy Roberts (tenor).