24 April 2015

That standards thang

With the dearth of jazz in Canberra these days, it's a pleasure to catch our best locals when I can. This was just pre-dinner drinks at the National Press Club, but you can always trust there will be decent players and renowned standards. This time it was Wayne Kelly with Greg Stott. Great pairing, easy tunes, Wayne doing his singing thang and a tune written just for the venue, Press Club Boogie (forgive me for I jest). Great playing and a piano with a bit of edgy character. Always a pleasure to hear these guys.

Wayne Kelly (piano, vocals) and Greg Stott (guitar) played standards at the National Press Club.

22 April 2015

The why of music

I loved hearing pianist Luciano Bellini. I spoke to several others and they were similarly pleased. We discussed technique and talent the other night over at dinner party. This concert was in the same ballpark. The word that came to me was "earthy". The music was memorised, the playing was touching and apt and the technique was worn lightly. I may have caught a few slips, ma non importa. I loved this music for its personality, its involvement and honest search for the core of the compositions. This is what makes art, of course, and society and culture. Not the technique, as impressive and exhilarating as that can be, but the exposed heart. The other aspect was the breadth of this concert. Luciano started with Scarlatti, moved through his own filmic music to lyricism from Verdi and some major dissonance from Berio and Berg and allegiance of Busoni and intellectual searching by Casella (Due ricercari sul nome B.A.C.H. - didn't JS himself do something similar with the B minor mass?) to some pleasing encores by Puccini and Chopin. All by memory; all somehow part of this man's presence in a way that I've seldom felt before. It helps to be close in a smallish venue, of course. Luciano Bellini's concert was beyond technique and just a great, great pleasure. He was introduced in that particularly formal Italian way as Maestro, but even in the English sense, I felt he was.

Luciano Bellini (piano) performed in the Larry Sitsky room at ANU.

19 April 2015

Bloody good

National Capital Orchestra tag themselves as Canberra's other orchestra. After today's concert, I can believe it. This concert was excellent. Remember, this is not a professional orchestra although a few players may be otherwise paid. They are a community orchestra; they pay to practice and play; they perform three or four gigs per year. But their training is solid (7th grade suggested) and their commitment is clear. Not that I'd expect commitment to be weak in any community orchestra - they're not just in it for the money and probably not even for the fame. NCO are about 50 players wIth a generous percussion section (at least for this concert) and all parts covered, although pretty light on bass (just one, David Flynn). Leonard Weiss conducted a program called Carnival! The Carnival was Saint-Saens' of the Animals, with two pianists, James Huntingford and Andrew Rumsay and narration by Peter Smith. Gliere's Russian sailor's dance and four Dvorak Slavonic dances preceded the Carnival and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade followed the interval. So, two solid hours of performance. The Carnival was a joy and a belly-laugh amusement from pianists and orchestra and narrator. Scheherazade was performed impressive skills - I was watching David especially but this was tight and with effective dynamics and impressive chops throughout. The Gliere struck me for the first notes with sharp intonation and sharp togetherness and the Dvorak dances were similarly attractive and effective. This was sharp, professional playing from an amateur orchestra. Most impressed. Now to practice for my own outing in 2 weeks with Maruki. Here was a challenge!

National Capital Orchestra was led by Leonard Weiss (conductor) playing Dvorak, Gliere, Saint-Saens and Rimsky-Korsakov with James Huntingford (piano), Andrew Rumsey (piano) and Peter Smith (narrator) sitting in for Carnival of the Animals.

16 April 2015

Horse needs course

I guess we've been spoiled over the years. The Jazz School; Loft; Smiths. Now we're back to Hippo for our jazz. I don't mind the venue for chatter and a few drinks. That's its role and it does it well with the cocktail making and notable whiskeys and the hipster beards and the pretty young things. But noone would claim it as a listening venue. Last night was Vulkan, a blend of Danish and Australian musicians featuring ex-locals Luke Sweeting and Max Alduca. This was a very nice band. I heard CTI with mid-tempo grooves and syncopated swing, the distinctive Rhodes, some busy chord changes along with lengthy solo spots on one chord or changes each 8 bars or so and a wonderfully open and clear sound. Very attractive and inviting, but also musically clean and capable and interesting. Think Freddie Hubbard or Milt Jackson. Vulkan is blessed with three composers Jakob, Jens and Luke. The first tune was smooth and driving with solos all round and clear Rhodes accompaniment in 6; there was one in 4 with dotted feel and unison taps; another yearning and with guitar chords softened with slow attack; another slow in 4 with heavy entry and guitar packing; and Days of wine and roses, for an old fave. I liked what they were doing, but struggled to hear any detail so just one set. I just long to be spoiled some more. A very nice band that deserved a closer listen.

Vulkan are a Denish-Australian collaboration with Jakob Sørensen (DK, trumpet, composer), Jens Fisker (DK, guitar, composer), Luke Sweeting (Aus, piano, composer), Max Alduca (Aus, bass), Harry Day (Aus, drums).

15 April 2015


I'm a bloke and I read current affairs and the like, so attending a launch of Marion Halligan's latest novel by Carmel Bird was, well, novel. But I enjoyed the event and I am drawn to read the book. The book is Goodbye Sweetheart. Its plot is based on a bon vivant lawyer who dies suddenly and the discoveries made by his wife and ex-wives and lover and kids. MH is renowned for her detail of daily life - food and drink and the rest - although chapter headings suggest the mundane: "Helen comes home late" or "Barbara drinks the last of the wine". As Carmel said, while "surfaces of life [are] followed in detail ... a darker undertow works in the depth". As you'd imagine from the various families, these are "grand themes of sex and love and betrayal" dealing with "how to behave and to mourn". Marion's take is that she "writes about hard, difficult things without making the book hard and difficult". But at the end is a "delightful coincidence that suggests love and hope". Sounds a good read. MH is a renowned Canberra author. I met some literary friends there, but also (only half unexpectedly) a musician mate who happens to live next door to Marion. A novel's launch is a different thing from that of a political memoir or socio-political commentary. This was an interesting visit to a more literary and personal world.

Carmel Bird launched Goodbye Sweetheart, the latest novel by Marion Halligan, at Paperchain Bookshop.

14 April 2015

Thinking Pinball

Tilt is the name of this new incarnation as we try to make a funkier take on jazz. It's a long time from post-bop and, although we maintain a love for it, it's nice to fiddle with the inherent grooves and feels. Also nice to get out an electric bass (and how much easier is the lug). This was my 1970s fretless Maton. It's a tiny fingerboard after practicing in recent years on a double bass, but the satiny, silky, sensuous feel of a fretless fingerboard remains. This was our first outing, in a trio format. We played two short sets at an artists' exhibition launch complete with prizes and presentations by notables. The group was the Artists Society of Canberra and the launch was for a Native Grasslands exhibition. The location was notable, too: in the foyer of the ActewAGL building amongst the forest of 37 illuminated "ossolites" of the Robert Frost sculpture called "the Journey". Slam tilt or nudge; funky and fun.

Tilt comprised James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums). Tilt played amongst the Robert Frost Journey ossolites.

13 April 2015

Reflecting infinity

Minimalism seems right to explore infinity. Infinity is a modern commonplace but a difficult concept and I can't imagine that it lends itself to the passionate encounter of a Beethoven. Nick Tsiavos presented a 45-minute solo bass piece at the National Portrait Gallery which was written in response to a 6 year old son asking "What is infinity?". They joke that you start a bass solo to get married partners talking, but this was intriguing and involving: not at all something to ignore and chat over. Nick had laid four manuscript sheets on the floor in front of him as a guide. It seemed essentially a sketch with space for improvisation, but the movements of minimalism were obviously there. Lots of harmonics and repeating bowings and occasional change; ringing bow tones with interspersed passages of jazz pizz on open strings or melodic snippets; chromatic chordal changes and patterns of harmonics moved a fourth. There were a series of sections or movements, each holding its own conception or groove or distant tone and bowing pattern. The 45 minutes were easily reached by Nick and audience and even sat easily despite some noise in the open and reverberant NPG foyer. Nick is also a composer and this was his work; he was in Canberra from Melbourne to record soundtrack for a local film on refugees. So politics for good and good music. I'm inspired.

Nick Tsiavos (double bass, composer) performed "100 months, third of east" for solo double bass in the foyer of the National Portrait Gallery.

This is CJBlog post no. 1400

10 April 2015

His way, now on his way

He's a country bloke but he seems a good honest, well intentioned country bloke. I went to the launch of Tony Windsor's book, Windsor's way. He wrote with assistance. He admitted he'd only written one speech and that was in 1981. Yet he was farewelled with someone imploring "we need more people like you" and "I beg you to stand [again]". He's respected for his independent stance. He respected Julia Gillard: "I have nothing but respect for her" noting he never saw her angry, just crying once the day before she lost office. He obviously has little respect for Rudd and feels for Gillard who suffered Rudd as "the second opposition leader [with] a third in Murdoch". "Abbott is a child of the Howard years ... but doesn't have the capacity". He criticises Gillard Labor for a failure to market its policy successes, but it was also saddled with leaks, a hostile press and Abbott as a "brilliant" opposition. He has much time for Greg Combet: "one of the smartest people in the building" who "did some extraordinary work on climate change packages". He worries that citizens are losing involvement: "the last thing we want is people more disillusioned" because "the world is run by those who turn up". The NFF is "absolutely useless", the "Nationals will fade" and the "major parties are making the Greens look good". He's obviously concerned about the big issues, not least climate change and the scare campaign that destroyed the Gillard response. The truth of the carbon tax is "the absolute opposite of the scare campaign". An example was a meat processing company that's become far more efficient with concern for effluent ponds and methane: so efficient that it now has a competitive advantage (Australia will rue Abbott's ignorance when we realise we've taken a dumb and inefficient path: think renewables with negligible input costs vs coal with stuff to be dug up and transported). "The world will just murder us, still trying to sell coal" (So, so, so true). But Labor created its own problems. "Kevin Rudd created Abbott" by attacking Turnbull relentlessly. He talked of the need for Gonski and the value of the NBN, the "17 days of the decision-making process" (Gillard or Abbott or election in 2010). Apparently Rob Oakeshott designed the decision process and recorded it in detail. As we've heard, Abbott "begged for the [PM] position a number of times" saying he'd do "virtually anything" but Bronwyn Bishop said later that commitments would likely not be kept before a return to election in 5 months. Finally, TW offered support for a Parliament where the Executive didn't have control, ie, a hung parliament empowering backbenchers (both government and opposition) as well as the Senate. I can only say all strength to a more consultative, consensus, negotiated government. It was interesting to hear TW in the flesh. He's a farmer, seemingly honest and committed; not an intellectual but a parliamentarian we can respect and value. More strength to him and his like.

Tony Windsor launched his book, Windsor's way, at Paperchain.

09 April 2015

Nostalgia but more

Easter was a visit to family in Adelaide and no arts except a few hours to fritter at the Art Gallery of SA and a walk through my old university. I was drawn to AGSA for a few special exhibits but the institution is a hugely attractive and moderately sized place and I enjoy my visits immensely. There are some old favourites. Circe, who appears in two guises - a Bertram McKennal bronze that I admired during my university years (this one is diminutive; there's a life-sized take in Melbourne) and a painting by JW Waterhouse (the great grandfather of a friend at university). The real-world body-shape of the Jean Broome-Norton Torso amused me, being just opposite the slender male-envisioned Circe. There was just a thin representation of Greco-Roman sculpture, Renaissance Italian, Flemish, mediaeval, a Pompei fresco, a Pointillist Pissaro landscape (the newest acquisition), several Rodins, some Islamic and Japanese and Chinese art, a wonderful pre-Raphaelite-era decorative arts room with William Morris and Tiffany glass (thanks to a major local collector of the time). Then the other side of the building, decorated in Victorian colours, busy with works from the earlier colonial days through Australian impressionists to modernists and contemporary and indigenous (Boyd, Bunny, Frome, Glover, Heysen, Namatjira, Nolan, Roberts, Smart, Tjapaltjarri, Yunupingu) in all formats with some fabulous early decorative arts. The cafe was a buzz, the exhibition of Piranesi prints of decayed Rome (printed for the Grand Tourists of the 16th Century) was a pleasant nostalgia and a personal journey exhibition of Adelaide-based Magnum photographer Trent Parke demanded more time than I had to give it. AGSA is a great little gallery; visit if you have the chance. To end, here's a pic of the main reading room of the Barr Smith Library at Adelaide University, just another blast from my past.

  • AGSA
  • 07 April 2015

    A Finnish sesquicentennial

    A Canberra Symphony Orchestra concert is always such a pleasure. It’s our local orchestra, humble as it is, but like family with faces to recognise and visiting cousins who are new. Nicholas Milton was conducting, welcoming the audience in the informal way that orchestras now do, despite the black bowties. There’s good support from the Canberra community, too, with the CSO series being almost sold out on subscriptions, and often also support from foreign legations based in Canberra. Not that it’s highly funded by Federal sources (it’s very poorly funded compared to other major city orchestras) and it must be suffering from a lesser informal support after changes at the ANU School of Music. Nonetheless, the concerts are capable and well received.

    This one had Finnish Embassy support and a Sibelius 150th anniversary theme. The major work was Sibelius 5th Symphony in Eb major. Nice key. The Fifth is life affirming and very different from preceding symphonies. It’s written through the years of WW1 so life-affirming seems an unexpected outcome but Sibelius was individual and methodical. I was interested to read of variations on rhythmic patterns rather than a melodic theme and the “swinging horn theme” and the six “adamant” final chords. Before the interval were Schubert Rosamunde overture which was actually performed for the Magic Harp, which remains classical despite occasional “Italian style” and Dvorak Cello concerto in B minor which was performed by New Zealand cellist Edward King. A single cello can be lost in this space and especially when seeking delicacy against a backdrop of fifty other players, but I enjoyed the Bohemian pentatonics and aaB phrases and an addition that pays sad tribute to his lost sister.

    The Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Sibelius, Dvorak and Schubert under Nicholas Milton (conductor) and with soloist Edward King (cello).

    05 April 2015

    New noises of a string quartet

    I walked in to a full Band Room for an improvising fine music ensemble. I must say I was surprised but also pleased. The band was The Noise, a string quartet that is the ensemble in residence at the ANU School of Music for 2015. We know viola James and the members have played in a string of ensembles covering baroque and classical and romantic musics, so their chops are formed in a more sedate scene. But his was improv and they did a great job. Improv out of the classical scene is mostly different from jazz improv, although there are similarities with free jazz. I can find open music of this form distant and without sense of purpose but it can also be enlivening and exciting and exhilarating. I found most of this like that. I was not the only one to prefer the first set which James said was "more accessible". Probably it was: the harmonies were whatever, the feel often minimalist with some evident melody and rhythm. Stream had rhythm and percussion and a heavy beat. Ghungroo was delightful with interacting swells played traditionally with bows. Night music was pizz and slides and bouncing bows following a conventional entrance of jazz-like cello bass line. Playground was just that: whistles and dotted crotchet rhythm and lithe violin lightly reminiscent of gypsy. The second set was an improv toying with effects, cello and viola amplified and fatter and echo-repeated, and the main work, written for The Noise for this new CD, Force fields by Alex Pozniak. James suggested similarities to Zenakis (an earlier tune was likened to Bartok). This was group attacks and decays, spaces, buzzes and taps on strings, some fabulous rising lines and unrelenting feedback to end.

    This was new and challenging but also skilled and approachable music. I felt real enjoyment and enchantment rather than just intellectual stimulation, so The Noise was a pleasurable gig for me. I would love to know how the SOM Friends and others found it, but we'll know that soon enough when they play their next concert. Highly recommended for new and open ears and, at least for this concert, ear plugs were supplied (although really not needed; most films are louder these days).

    The Noise are Veronique Serret (violin 1), Liisa Pallandi (violin 2), James Eccles (viola) and Oliver Miller (cello). And various effects and amplification.

    03 April 2015

    Knowing more of Anna B

    Most people only knew Anna Bligh from her response to the Queensland floods and perhaps privatising railways. The state premiers are not so well known outside their states. This was Anna Bligh chatting with Tanya Plibersek to leach Anna's new book, Anna Bligh : Through the wall. It was moved to Manning Clarke Theatre 1 for the bookings and this was virtually full. I expect both Anna and Tanya were of interest to this crowd, me included. The discussion covered various aspects of AB's life in politics and out. Through the wall refers to the difficulty of the first person in any field, here, a woman premier. The Queensland emergencies, a flood, then two weeks later another flood, then soon after, Cyclone Yasi (the worst Australian cyclone ever) were six weeks of rolling emergencies. Everyone remembers AB for one famous press interview. "Leadership is what happens when the rule book runs out". Here, leadership is a duty: there is no choice. Interestingly, she compared it to childbirth: an obvious and apt woman's view. TP asked about her background: oldest of four children; early divorce' mother died at 12yo (or 14?); influence of her convent education, 3 years with the gentle Franciscan nuns, then the rest with the Sisters of (joke: Show No) Mercy who expected students to strive and to excel despite community expectations that girls would leave school after Year 10. It all formed a person valuing and presenting a "voice for the voiceless:, strong and independent, valuing "powerful truth ... exposed to sunlight". [I'm liking this woman]. She talked of the Labor Party, slaughtering sacred cows, privatisation of rail (in the end, she just privatised the subsidised railways for coal delivery). This is the context of the huge drought then GFC then natural crises: a tough time for government. She sounds practical: "Sometimes in government, serious principles conflict" so decisions are required. Recognising education as the key to the future, she added one year to schooling to match the rest of Australia. She spoke of her time at university, of attending parties but preferring a friendly debate over social policy. Her advice to a young AB was on both sides: "keep going [at political action]" but also "go out and party". But recognise entrenched change takes time to bring people with you (the adult way). She talked of skills built with experience and her new commitment to YMCA. And finally of her brush with cancer as "humbling, levelling". Otherwise, politics has "no clear path in ... no clear path out". TP quoted Keating: "One way or another, they carry you out".

    Questions related to using experiences and skills. How to serve people coming with anger: she noted that "mobs can be frightening". She didn't want any other system, but "our democracy has some nasty aspects", "bagging the premier/PM is a national past-time". She came from a very devout family (nuns, priests) but is no longer an active Catholic although the influences of Vatican II still influences her sense of social justice and provides a progressive base. How to deal with politics as an "extreme emotional rollercoaster, a profoundly emotional business". But politicians seek it: "there are no such things as accidental premiers". Although not specifically commenting on Billy Gordon and Premier Palaszczuk, she noted that "political parties are reliant on honesty [funny, that, they don't always seem so open themselves].

    Penny Wensley, once Governor of Queensland now ACT citizen, gave a generous vote of thanks: "AB "is a brave, clear speaking woman" and interestingly "a book deserves a good story and a story needs something to say".

    Anna Bligh was in conversation with Tanya Plibersek at the ANU to leach AB's new book. Colin Steele introduced and Penny Wensley gave the vote of thanks.

    01 April 2015

    SSO playalong

    My concern over climate change is more scientific and desperate than the gentler public face of Earth Hour but perhaps not as influential. I guess you need both. Anyway, this year I took part in Earth Hour if as a personal indulgence. (Lots of Earth Hour is like that as is the way with many public campaigns; think candle-lit dinners). I played with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, if only privately in my practice room. SSO were playing Holst Planets suite in the Opera House. They were conducted by David Robertson on Conductor-Cam. It's repetitive and not overly difficult, at least for bass. There were various messages to start sections on the screen and bar numbering in the top right corner. Numerous local performances were webcast over 24-hours around the world as the Global Orchestra. Amusing and good sight reading practice.

    The Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Global Orchestra under David Robertson performed Holst Planets suite for Earth Hour and this was webcast as the Concert for the planet.