26 March 2016

Be there or be square

Wayne, Ben and Mark have got a great little gig going at the Old Canberra Inn: mid-week, very good beers and food, a comfortable early evening timeslot, a great first set by the trio, some of the best players in town, and the chance for sit-ins. It's a jazz jam in the long-serving tradition. This night was surprisingly busy in the garden outside but fairly quiet inside. Not that this is passing judgement on the music for I felt it was still well appreciated and, although the general public may not follow jazz, they can recognise commitment and chops when they see and hear it. I got there this week but I've been there too infrequently. Brendan O'Loghlin was there but didn't play this time; Julian Fung was there and did; I had a play. This week, Mark was replaced by Aidan Lowe, visiting from Berlin and playing a storm. It was great to listen and a pleasure and challenge to play with these cats. As I remember, my tunes were Alone together, a blues, Have you met Miss Jones and Stella, the last with Julian sitting in. Julian carried on with Beatrice and Out of nowhere and others. The trio had blown Rhythm changes early on, in the form of Dizzy's Salt peanuts, Afternoon in Paris (?), others. Wayne was wonderfully free all round, not least in adding twists and substitutions and vamps and endings. Ben was so firmly toned and inventive in walks, nicely crossing the neck at high positions, often bowing some lovely melodic inventions for solos and just generally sounding fat and solid and newly amplified. Aidan is showing his considerable time in Berlin: more busy, coloured and intense than ever. We're busy these days but support is needed to maintain gigs like this and this is a special one. Thanks to Wayne, Ben, Mark and the OCI for staging this gig and jam and let's hope we can maintain it, despite the depleted jazz scene.

Wayne Kelly (piano), Ben O'Loghlin (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums) were the host band at the OCI jam. Jammers were Julian Fung (alto) and Eric Pozza (bass).

24 March 2016

Songs sung

Louise Keast got together a few friends for this Wednesday lunchtime gig at Wesley. I know Louise as a capable cellist in Maruki. I hadn't heard her as a singer. She started the gig singing a duet with fellow (but quite differently-sounding) soprano Karyn Tisdell with piano accompaniment by Emily Leong. This was a dream. The piece was Delibes Sous le dome epais (Flower duet) from Lakme. Everyone knows this and it's a gloriously beautiful melody. I could only melt, from the song itself and the singing, especially when paired. Fabulous. Then tenor Lachlan McIntyre supported by a string quartet singing Vaughan Williams Silent noon and baritone Jared Lopez with piano and string quartet singing the longest work of the day, Faure La bonne chanson, with many parts and lasting perhaps 25 minutes. The final one was obviously the major work and, I understand, arranged by Jared. The Faure was long and complex and impressive and the VW was a stately period piece, but I must say the beauty of the Delibes was the winner for me. But nice work all around.

Louise Keast (soprano, cello) collected singers and instrumentalists for a performance at Wesley: Karyn Tisdell (soprano), Lachlan McIntyre (tenor), Jared Lopez (baritone), Emily Leong (piano), Clara Barrs and Elisha Adams (violins) and Anne Bicknell (viola).

23 March 2016

New for Easter

Great to see the emergence of a new local ensemble, and with a great name: Adhoc Baroque. A light-hearted take on some deadly serious music for Easter. They performed at Canberra's strangely out-of-place heritage church, St John the Baptist (which predates Canberra's establishment by ~80 years), taking advantage of the stony presence and a nice loft organ for one piece. We heard Pergolesi Stabat Mater and Salve Regina and some excerpts from Vivaldi's take on Stabat Mater and Pescetti Sonata in C minor for organ. This ensemble presents with one voice per part, variously organ, two female voices (alto and soprano), viola da gamba, viola and two recorders or two violins. The voices were very satisfying alone but richly evocative and harmonically thrilling together. Two recorders are truly a sound of another era, rounded and evenly toned as they are. They viola and violins were played with modern bows (and presumably metal strings) so were strong and decisive. It's different from gut, but still perfectly satisfying to my ears. Interestingly, Rachel commented that her viola da gamba (with gut and period bow) had the sound of open strings for all notes because of the frets (they have strange moving frets that require tuning). I'd admired her firm and wonderfully steady playing and even string crossing and maybe this fretted sound helped it to match neatly with the modern instruments. The organ for the vocal pieces was sampled electronic and sounded perfectly well for the style. The major work was Pergolesi Stabat Mater which tells the story of Mary under the cross, variously deeply sad and bouncingly triumphant at the religious outcome. The Vivaldi was an interesting comparison, being on the same topic. The organ was a delightful interlude. Great concert. Welcome to a capable new group.

Adhoc Baroque was led by Peter Young (director, organ continuo) with Greta Claringbould (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (mezzo-soprano), Robyn Mellor and Olivia Gossip (recorders), Pip Thompson and Elysia Fisher (violins), Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola) and Rachel Walker (viola da gamba).

21 March 2016


Another fun outing. I am enjoying this orchestral lark. This was National Capital Orchestra with Matt Withers and Leonard Weiss performing Westlake Antarctica Suite, Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez and Cesar Franck Symphony in D minor. The Westlake is an arrangement of a work originally accompanying a documentary movie of Antarctica. The music is sparse and expansive, sometimes dramatic, sometimes shimmering, with some odd times and difficult counts, and a lovely interlude for the Penguin Ballet. I loved this piece although I have to admit to missing some cues (not alone?). Then Rodrigo. Everyone knows this one, not least Miles fans. Attractive and lively and again with some challenging counting. We strings are not used to sitting out and counting (that's the job of brass and percussion). Then an interval and Cesar Franck Symphony in D minor. This is not a numbered symphony: he only wrote one. It's big, dynamic, lyrical, oddly repetitive in different keys (D minor sounds OK, and 4xb or 5x# but 7x#?). There's big dynamics, too. Leonard did a great job on that: we were variously almost indistinct, then blaring with brass (I didn't miss this, it being just over my shoulder). TheQ had a wonderful clarity after our rehearsal venue, the lights and sound (the JBL foldback for guitar was a winner) were great and the seats were virtually sold out. So, a great outing. Next NCO is Koehne, Boieldieu and Dvorak at TheQ with Alice Giles in May, sandwiched by Sunday concerts from Brindabella and Maruki. Hard work but great fun and immensely satisfying.

The reference to hairpins is oblique. I have never seen so many hairpins scattered as in the loading bay at TheQ. I guess they remain in heavy use in theatre.

National Capital Orchestra performed Westlake Antarctica Suite, Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez and Cesar Franck Symphony in D minor at TheQ with Matt Withers (guitar) under Leonard Weiss (conductor) and Therese McMahon (concertmster). The bass section was Jo Guthridge, Juliet Flook and Eric Pozza.

18 March 2016

Knowing Tom better

Recently, Tom Roberts at the National Gallery. Before that, Celestial Empires at the National Library and Encounters at the National Museum. It's a busy time. Tom Roberts was busy but not so busy we couldn't go straight in. I didn't expect too much but was well impressed by the end. His works are ubiquitous in the Australian imagination. I'd seen many or the best works in Ballarat and Adelaide and Sydney and Melbourne, but seeing them together was informative. There's Australian light and dust, some impressive portraits, an uncommon interest in Aborigines of the time (despite the proud images of [white Anglo] "Australian natives" - this was the decade before Federation), working men and presentable women, gums and grass and beaches around Melbourne and Sydney with heavily dressed people (other than three skint male painters going for a swim). There was even a country road that Megan knew well, between stately, tall gums (Tom Roberts Road, no less). I was surprised to find it so satisfying; maybe I shouldn't have been. Seeing these works up close you can see the paint dabbled and the brush strokes and the animate effects of the impressionists. Then, his big painting, Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, which I'd otherwise seen in a relatively skimpy space in Parliament House. It's a great historical record with awkward teaming layers of notables. He was a handsome man, too, from a bust in the exhibition. I was amused by an Australian Pastoral, delighted by pastels with their glowing colours, admiring of a range of very effective portraits (they were dignified in those days, despite heat and flies) and surprised at how many were such common images in my consciousness. Much enjoyed.

The Tom Roberts exhibition was at the National Gallery of Australia.

  • Exhibition website
  • 15 March 2016

    Live Babe

    It's Canberra Day long weekend, so everyone goes to Commonwealth Park and Stage 88 for whatever. This year it was was Nigel Westlake leading the Canberra Symphony Orchestra accompanying the film, Babe. The film's a classic, I guess, made locally (Sydney) and winner of numerous awards. It's a joyous tale of a pig that learns to heard sheep on a farm that looks mysteriously more cute English than Australian with its stone walls and verdant countryside. All fantasy and talking animals and charming and quite touching for a kids' story. And vivid colours and eccentric human characters. NW wrote most of the music (a few tracks were provided by another composer) and famously borrowed a Saint-Saens organ concerto and has recently revisited and enhanced the score. I understand we heard the new score, but I don't know the earlier one anyway. Not that the new score will be installed in the released film, given cost. But a very satisfying piece of music, grand, scary, fearful, joyous, variously emotional as called for and lots of it. This film has a significant and lengthy musical accompaniment. I was impressed by the music and by the CSO which had considerable work to do and did it with aplomb. I was intrigued by the screen in front of NW with its flashing circles and moving bars and various other indicators over the film. Apparently, this is how film conductors are guided in conducting. Otherwise, performers just had their standard scores. It's a family event, so lots of kids, lots of camp chairs and blankets and hors d'oevres and champers. And the weather held out: it was a glorious night. But I didn't stay. I wasn't particularly there for the film, although it was both impressive and entertaining, and I found the music was otherwise secondary, however well it was performed and however interesting it was. So I caught the first half then off. But I remain impressed. Easy going, entertaining and capable all round.

    Nigel Westlake (conductor, composer) led the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in accompanying the film, Babe, at Stage 88 for the Canberra Day holiday weekend.

    13 March 2016


    I played rock music once, but it was earlier than the '80s. Rock of Ages was a musical about '80s rock, the perennial mystique of sex and drugs and rock and roll. I watched people laughing with gusto and wondered if they watch daytime TV and listen to classic rock radio. Suffice to say it's not my scene, but you know what, I enjoyed it in the end. It's set in Sunset Strip, LA, a high-life slice of Sunset Boulevard. We drove along it once. During the day. We stayed just out back of Hollywood Bld. Ugly but with stars and red carpet when we drove out in the taxi. All strange, this world. The rock world, too, has its own ugliness and authenticity. It's not a place for feminism, at least given the skint costumes on the dancing girls against the daggy jeans on the blokes. Probably always thus. The skint costumes covered for the strip club as well as the dance floor, so apt, I guess. The band was 2xguitar, keys, drums, bass, conductor (? ... but this is musical theatre). The story was of a long-term dive threatened by developers against one main and several ancillary love stories. Jokes of drugs and knockers and the rest. It works out in the end after various misunderstandings. The strip is saved; the nice girl eventually gets with the nice guy after she's spent time in the strip club; the nice guy fails at rock but wins in love; the narcissist rock god is on the run from police over sex with a 16 year old; the developer father makes up with the gawky son. It was a Broadway hit (what, 16th longest run, or something of the sort). And the music. Lots of rock from the late '80s. I recognised some, not least We built this city on Rock and Roll, which is an attractive and ear-worming melody. I checked it out later on YouTube and it's all ridiculously young faces, but this era was just that. There were lots of songs that meant nothing to me. But you know, for all that, I came out having enjoyed it all. The performers were not Broadway, but this isn't Broadway and they were genuinely impressive. This is local, non-professional theatre, after all. I admired the voices; the dancers and the staging were great; the music was just what it was, but that's what guitar rock is and they did it well. But most of all, I enjoyed the open smiles at the end when the cast drops their characters and relaxes for the curtain calls. Suddenly these were community and I could feel for their satisfaction in completing another energetic 2.5 hour marathon performance and I felt it with them. I'm not one who knows or warms to this era, but I could admire the effort and skills involved and enjoy it with them and I did. This is the Canberra Philharmonic Society, also known as Philo, the long-established local musical theatre company, and they did a great job. Many congrats to all.

    The Canberra Philharmonic Society presented Rock of Ages. The principals were Dave Smith (Drew), Emma McCormack (Sherrie), Tim Stiles (Lonny), Ian Croker (Dennis Dupree), Will Huang (Stacee Jaxx), Shell Tully (Justice), Berin Denham (Hertz Klinemann), Hayden Crosweller (Franz Klinemann), Anita Davenport (Regina), Pat Gallagher (Mayor), Andrew Haese (Ja'Keith), Max Gambale (Joey Primo) and an ensemble of about 20. Production by Jim McMullen (Director), Max Gambale (Music director) and Rachel Thornton (Choreographer).

  • Image used with permission of Canberra Philharmonic Society. Photo: Pat Gallagher. Nice pic!
  • 11 March 2016

    Both sorrow and joy

    It's coming on Easter (another nebulous reference to Joni Mitchell) so it's time for the dolorous strains of the Stabat Mater. Not something to josh about. Stabat Mater dolorosa is a theme that's widely composed (600 versions is mentioned in the program): intimate and profound, a recounting of mother Mary below the cross of Christ. With any mother it would be a painful image. We heard Boccherini's 1781 version to text attributed to Jocopone da Todi for the 13th century. Sara Macliver sang with accompaniment from the Australian Haydn Ensemble. A work of ~45 minutes of both sorrow and redemptive joy. I found it surprisingly uncomplicated musically, or at least technically, and maybe that's apt for real passion. The rest of the program was Mozart and Boccherini. B's Flute quintet in G minor, then a string of arias and the Divertimento from strings in Bb from Mozart. One aria, Laetari iocari from Apollo and Hyacinth, was written by Mozart at age 11 (!) and was a bravura demonstration of quick, neat and accurate voice production, fast arpeggios and terrific control. It was fun to hear the ex-chorists in the break lauding Sara's control. The AHE is always a huge pleasure, bringing together informed programming and wonderfully capable playing of the baroque and early classical repertoire that it explores. I particularly follow Jacqueline on bass for her delicate phrasing and some awesomely rapid lines when called for. Also close to the bass end is Anthony on cello, playing with careful distinction. I loved one line well into the thumb position that he played unison with first violin and musical director, Skye. It was intriguing to notice how he prepared for a line, quietly plucking a string in the background to ensure a prominent entry pitch was right. The two violins, Skye and Simone worked neatly together. I find it intriguing to compare tones of violin pairs in small ensembles like this and I've noticed the differences before. In this case, Skye's tone appeared more mellow than Simone's. James rounded out the strings on his new viola. Lovely to hear the embellishments of harmonies from this internally placed instrument. Melissa played her period flute on several works, not least the flute concerto, of course, but not for the whole program. I immensely enjoy this tone that works well with gut to place the sound of the ensemble. AHE is drawn from all ends of the world: based in Sydney; Sara was invited from Perth; Jacqueline and Anthony are now resident in London but relatively frequent returnees. Another wonderful concert from these mates. The next Stabat Mater for me is jsut a few weeks off: Pergolesi's with a few excerpts from Vivaldi's by Adhoc Baroque on 22 March.

    Sara Macliver (soprano) sang with the Australian Haydn Ensemble at University House at ANU. AHE were Skye McIntosh (violin, musical director), Simone Slattery (violin), James Eccles (viola), Anthony Albrecht (cello), Jacqueline Dossor (bass) and Melissa Farrow (flute).

    08 March 2016

    Not Joni Mitchell

    "The last time I saw Richard was in Detroit in '68 and he told me / All romantics meet the same fate / cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe". I could continue and it's a formative song but I won't. The last time I heard Fauré Requiem was NYC in 2011. It was the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and we happened to be in town and there was memorial music everywhere. Plenty of choirs; plenty of deeply connecting music. Where? As I remember, Grace Church on Broadway, an Episcopalian Church. A lucky and unexpected find. We caught the last 20 mins or so and we were warmly welcomed. Episcopalian is High Church Anglican for us. And so it was for my second Fauré Requiem. This was St Paul's Anglican, Manuka, with Igitur Nos. A very fine choir, led by Matthew Stuckings, singing Fauré Requiem, but before that, Britten Hymn to St Cecilia and Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor. A fine set of religious musics. I need to listen to Fauré more. It is a core repertoire item, but I haven't connected yet. The VW was different. I connected from the first notes. Softer than the diversions and canons of Britten; soft, smooth, meditative, blending voices and plainchant introductions. This seemed settled into its milieu; part of a grand tradition, openly and simply. I liked this. The Fauré has more variation; perhaps it's more mournful and sparse. It was sung from the organ loft and the balance was hard to set and the voices were somewhat distant, but this is ethereal music, touching hope for some passages. Igitur Nos is a great little choir doing a fabulous job on the choral repertoire. I admire them, now knowing something of the skill of SATB voices. Those soaring sopranos; those beauteous harmonies, gentle and inviting; the occasional solo voices. Religious choral music does what's it's meant to do, to invite you to confirm faith, even if we are a bit long in the tooth for that after rationalism and Pell. But so beautiful.

    Igitur Nos performed Fauré, Vaughan Williams and Britten at St Paul's Manuka. Matthew Stuckings conducted. Soloists were Catherine Schmitz, Hilary Howes, Mark Boast, Oliver Raymond, Hannah Bleby Orford, Carolyn Strange, Paul Francis, Jonathan Lee, Andrew Fysh. Christopher Erskine and James Porteous (organ).

    07 March 2016

    Aware of the little known

    We all know Mack the Knife, and many know it's from Threepenny Opera. Canberra Rep is presenting TO now and we got along. I was apprehensive when I realised it was 3 hours long with two short intervals. And based on opera, although this is more musical theatre. A musical friends had seen it and said it was strange or weird. Certainly, it was unusual not Broadway, but neither is it non-Western. It's political, from the Weimar Republic era in Germany, after WW1, subject to reparations, preceding Depression then Hitler. And it's a strange mix of eras. The program notes "interesting challenge, with today's Australian actors; representing 1928 Berlin beggars; impersonating 1837 Victorian English exploiters and the exploited; based on the 1728 original Ballad Opera" but observes that there's a similarity in the eras including "to our time of an ever growing between the rich and the poor, and literally millions of displaced people searching for succour". The story is of a battle between Peachum, leader of the London street beggars, and Macheath (Mack the Knife), leader of the thieves and cad, but it's also recounts the centrality of women. It's all unlikely but entertaining and fairly easy to follow. The musical interludes are consistently satisfying, wily, politically-rich. There were some decent singers here, classically or theatre-trained and I could mostly follow the lyrics. The stage is open and unadorned, the fully-acoustic band (nonet?) appears on a raiser behind, sheets are run in for a screen at various times, a street singer introduces the work with talk and the famed theme, Mack the Knife, and consistently loiters. Almost as consistent is the capability of the women and the occasional capability of the men. Macheath himself is terribly well played and sung, if an unadmirable cad in the plot. Peachum is fabulously played and very cluey. His wife, Mrs, has a liking for gin, but is hugely capable when dry and a capable soprano. Their daughter, Polly, has the hots for Macheath (not the only women in his retinue) and their marriage is the source of the Peachums' revenge plot, but she comes onside with the family as Mack reveals his ways. Mack has an old Brit-Army-in-India mate, Tiger Brown, now Chief Inspector as Scotland Yard, who has been protecting the thief. Eventually Mack is revealed, gaoled, escapes, gaoled again and almost hung, then unexpectedly reprieved. No claim is made for probability and characters talk openly of this and the background politics of it all. This is Berthold Brecht lyrics and Kurt Weill music, so the total is clever, non-conformist and relevant. Some quotes: “What is robbing a bank compared to founding one?”, "Though the rich of this earth find no difficulty in creating misery, they can't bear to see it", "The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it" and this essential one "Grub first, then ethics". This was a witty piece of musical theatre from some great writers with a political conscience and done very capably by our longlife local company, Canberra Rep. Congrats and very much enjoyed.

    Canberra Rep presented Threepenny Opera by Bertholt Brecht with music by Kurt Weill. Key performers were Tim Sekuless (Macheath), Peter Dark (Mr Peachum), Sarahlouise Owens (Mrs Peachum), Tina Robinson (Polly Peachum) and Jim Adamik (Tiger Brown). The band was the Threepenny Pits comprising Kristen Nilsson and Caleb Ball (reeds), Fatzana Choudhury, Keydan Bruse and Elaine Johnson (trumpets), Jack Adolph )trombone), Peter McDonald (tuba), Gabe Trew (drums), John Yoon (piano) and Ewan (harmonium).

    06 March 2016

    Fire and deep history

    Attending a book launch about the Anthropocene by climate scientists is not a task to take lightly. There are real issues of survival, devastation and the rest and it's not in a phony skeptical environment, where there's any doubt. This is the real thing. There's real end-of-civilisation desperation here although it's not too obvious: these guys are scientists so they explain with rigour. There's respect for evidence that is just a phony incantation amongst the denialists. They call these people warmists using language to change thinking (this is the real political correctness). Their obfuscation and confusion works with some. It's worked with some Prime Ministers of late. Like it works for some in denying evolution. Like it worked in the past for smoking and asbestos and any other denialism, self-interested or not. Just that this is bigger. There were four scientists launching a book by two of them. It was at ANU. The authors were published impeccably by Springer. All well evidenced and presented and praised as a summary of the status. The book is Climate, fire and human evolution. The authors are Andrew Glikson and Colin Groves. Here's a summary better than I can provide:

    “Andrew Y. Glikson and Colin Groves’ new book Climate, Fire, and Human Evolution traces the fascinating and complex history of the Earth over the past 4 billion years. It explores the fundamental context of the Earth’s climate system; the cycles of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen and the crucial role of fire, to provide the critical baseline for our understanding of how a single species, Homo sapiens, has changed the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere. The fate of our species, and all the others with which we share this planet, is now in peril from the unintended consequences of our development, and especially our use of energy. I commend this scholarly yet readable work as a vital reference for understanding our past and present, and hopefully for saving our future.” / Prof Lesley Hughes Macquarie University

    The event was introduced by Will Steffen, noted climate awareness raiser and Prof of Biological Anthropology. The authors are Andrew Glikson and Colin Groves. There was another introducer, Steve; I missed his full name, an academic in Earth sciences. They said varied harrowing things. About research by Vaclav Smil that found 65% of current biomass on the Earth is human domesticates (cattle, horses, pigs,...), 32% is humans, only 3% is remaining wild biomass (Harvesting the Biosphere : What we have taken from nature / Vaclav Smil). That there are many tipping points and we reach them at various times and that Arctic ice is probably "already history". AG spoke of many things: of fire as the start of our claiming control of the immense energies of carbon; of gazing into a campfire as a link to the natural world; of the starts and ends of geological eras as the most interesting times; of his realisation that the past geological catastrophes he was studying as a geologist "looked more and more familiar"; thoughts about how this could happen, to an intelligent species; about the whisper of time that represents human civilisation (~10,000 years) and how the Earth was for most of time unwelcoming to us; of human mastery of fire dating back 1.8m years, of extensive land cultivation from 7k years back, of the industrial revolution from 200 years and the Anthropocene from 1950. But he is generous: there are personal responsibilities, but our species is imperfect; we are just living in the time the lack of control of energy reaches its outcome. Colin Groves spoke mostly of denialism, how creationism misleads, how it's a parallel to climate denialism, how it's not at all skeptical, how it claims credentials and manages language, how it's so slippery in argument ("like eating icecream with chopsticks"). He lamented Abbott's ignorance of the science, CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall's action to "disgracefully, more or less shut down climate change research", death threats against scientists in the USA, "a considerable chunk of the public doesn't know what science is" and a need to "ensure a situation like this does not continue". I could only hear this as desperation amongst ignorance.

    There were questions about Paris. Monbiot claimed it as a political miracle, but a scientific disaster. Our speakers: " wonderful but requires real action", "people need hope", "so painful to be a climate scientist" (knowing what they know and how our public conversation misleads). We have already exceeded 1.5C in some locations; very close to 2C: temperatures that match the Pleistocene so expect flooding to match and "tens of thousands of years to recover". What of the future? Accept the Earth will be a different place: climate, rain, sea level changes; diseases; "much, much poorer". Perhaps there's some answer in geoengineering, but it's unproven and the time required to restore carbon to its storage will likely be too long. Or more philosophical: perhaps accept that life and its beauty is transitory. Either way, there's no doubt that big, unpleasant changes are racing towards us. AG: "Try not to think too much about the future". AG had suggested a meeting on geology of the future but colleagues declined. Be aware that it's the rich West that's the main cause, either from its own actions or the Chinese manufacturing for our purchases. Think inequalities between/within countries and our immersion in a tech-sphere and distance from a biosphere. There are messages from Pickety and Naomi Klein about our soci-economic organisation and climate change. One questioner had obviously read an article I'd read just today, about February as the hottest Feb ever, after the hottest Jan ever, after 2015 as the hottest year ever, after 2014 as the previous record. She admitted to some panic. Another asked are we so important. I've always thought we are, if only to us, but the Earth will continue regardless of our civilisational collapse. Not a pretty thought ... for us. Then a final few words on the Anthropocene. Human history is of "people painting themselves into a corner" but are they any happier? Now, we've reached another, most dangerous corner.

    Lots of ideas; lots of concerns; well informed by evidence. Few of our pollies see or at least respond to the urgency; several even promote their own and others' ignorance, perhaps from influence or reading in a bubble. A session like this is an eye-opener. These guys are calm but internally despairing and they are the ones who know. Have hope because without hope we fail, but don't be ignorant. Whatever chance there is, it is with this.

    Will Steffen and another academic launched the new Springer publication by Andrew Glikson and Colin Groves called Climate, fire and human evolution : the deep time dimensions of the Anthropocene, at the ANU.

    05 March 2016

    Having a Barr of this?

    I have problems with the tram, but even so I warmed to Andrew Barr. I've investigated the light rail issue, and I feel reasonably comfortable with my position: it's expensive, won't change much and is unsuitable for this implementation in this town (I'm not alone in questioning the tram, joining auditors, transport researchers, Infrastructure Australia, Productivity Commission and more). There's more but that not the key issue here. Suffice to say, my tram problems are reasonably well based and secure. I went to Politics in the Pub to hear what might come up. The tram didn't (other than a few defensive references by AB himself). Obviously he's a politician and it's an election year, so he's spruiking, but his points appealed to me and appeared "progressive" in a real meaning of the word, meaning looking to prepare for a future. (I don't like the "progressive" label for left-wing: it looks to me like a bit of po-mo/marketing-aware thought management). Ben Oquist introduced him generously: "real agility and innovation in government"; "visionary", gutsy; "a knowledge when things are being done well". (I wondered here about business planning for the tram). I came around as AB spoke of "ideas boom" as motherhood, where detail and implementation are the real test (so true). Then observing that most services in Australia (other than foreign affairs and defence) are done at state level. He spoke of the move to land taxes and Turnbull's praise at some time late last year. That stamp duty raises 25% or revenue from 11% of tax payers. That Canberra has record employment despite a 3% APS cut in the recent budget. That Canberra must remain open to new investment and engage with international partners (in this context, he mentioned Singapore Airlines' decision to come to Canberra). And we are ready for it, with the most educated population in Australia, the happiest and healthiest and longest living and most employed. That 1/9 Canberrans work or study in our universities; 1/10 have ICT quals; 1/3 have post-grad quals (double the national average). He highlighted ACT strengths as renewables (seeking 100% by 2025); divestment (?); public transport; energy and a challenge as "staying ahead of the regulatory curve" (eg, early regulation of Uber, autonomous vehicles). And ACT is the most LGBTI friendly city, a refugee welcoming zone and has the highest (work?) participation of women.

    Then questions. Interactions of upcoming Commonwealth and ACT elections, including issues like LGBTI, climate, renewals, public transport. Something about Uber and driverless cars (I wonder about Uber as a multinational coordinator that pays little tax in Australia: we might like ride-sharing but do we ultimately benefit?). Housing regulations and climate change/environment. Labor support for VFT and NBN, as services and as infrastructure investments. A Royal Commission on Mr Fluffy (AB said, given Commonwealth and NSW positions, it won't happen). An angry person on slum landlords and trams to Belconnen and a lost house and the UC Public Hospital. A teacher on CIT and private providers. Something on house downsizing for retirees. Something I didn't quite catch on psychiatric help in schools (?). Involvement of the public in developing and communicating decisions (I warmed to a comment from AB that there are real difficulties, eg, people enter the conversation at different times). Then about Australian democracy. AB stated that States will never be abolished, but more states could be created to work regionally like ACT; regionalism is a positive path, helps with coherence of agendas; that cooperative and competitive approaches to federalism must be balanced; that incentives are how the Federal government influences that States ("there's no safe place between a premier and a pot of money". And a final one about protecting the Safe Schools program: AB committed to maintain it if it's defunded by the Commonwealth.

    He made just one attack on the Canberra Liberals, as I remember, in the context of Safe Schools. About this being the most conservative of any state Lib branches, in these, the most left-leaning of electorates. I've worried about that and observed the strong-right leaning Zed Seselja replacing the moderate Gary Humphries. Just one other thing I'll mention, and this in context of public transport. Partly to be humourous, he called an instantaneous straw poll: should a VFT go to the Airport or Civic? The vote was for Civic. I didn't vote and neither did the guy next to me. We agreed it was impossible to make a decision without more information, costings, alternatives, etc. I guess it's a mountain from a molehill, but the very idea you could ask for judgement from the uninformed seemed foolish and contentious.

    Andrew Barr (Chief Minister, ACT) spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

    04 March 2016

    A first

    Aaron Chew was playing again at Wesley and this was something special. A world premier, no less. Of a Larry Sitsky sonata: Sonata no.4, The Sufi Path. And Prof Sitsky was there. It's a recounting in music of the steps to enlightenment in the Sufi tradition. Sufis believe that divine love is sought through direct personal experience. They are a Muslim tradition that practices an ascetic lifestyle. The musical form is a prologue, followed by eight movements and a postlude. There are repeating motifs, a quick perfect 5th (G-D) is one and it's repeated throughout. There are haunting melodies, rapid notes, octaves, thunderous hits, sometimes with fists, triplets, percussive chords, careful plays with pedals. There's an end with Prof Sitsky's signature in music, A (La)-Eb (S). Aaron had worked on it for three months. He amusingly talked of enlightenment arriving at the eight movement, after considerable anguish on the sixth and seventh, and a final enlightenment after ~33 mins, the length of the piece. Then a break and Bach-Busoni Chaconne in D minor. This sounded to me as evident Bach but also strangely different, less bell-like harmonic clear, presumably given Busoni work of piano transcription. Aaron is nothing if not energetic and committed and informed but this concert was also an intellectual fascination given the new work and the strangely altered Bach.

    Aaron Chew (piano) performed at Wesley. He played the world premier performance of Larry Sitsky Sonata no.4 The Sufi Path as well as Bach-Busoni Chaconne in D minor

    03 March 2016

    And then the gig

    First the workshop; then the performance. Again, I just heard of this days before. There was some confusion over location, but it was Smiths in the end. It sadly clashed with the Gods (never rains, but pours). But this was Greenwich Village's 55 Bar / Smalls come to Canberra. Not to be missed. The hottest Aussie players with Will Vinson. Who? Try this: James Muller, Sam Anning, Tim Firth. Suffice, to say, this was a lesson. We had to clear out after two sets for a sellout for the next band, a hillbilly duo. I felt for them. How could you possibly follow these guys? Just eight tunes over two sets. Mostly written by Will, but one by James and two standards. I was apprehensive when he introduced All the things you are (yawn). I shouldn't have been. This was a work of bending and contortion to match Houdini, but never without reason. I wondered about the time, but decided it was in ordinary four; just that the melody was twisted and delayed and bunched for a (sometimes barely) recognisable standard. This was something we all know and perhaps love; if you could parse and decode the twists. Something brilliant and alive from something otherwise sadly tame and ordinary. This is jazz at a peak. I drooled over the Tim's pin-sharp drumming that was a foil to enthuse Sam's insistent, syncopated, mobile bass lines. And the solos from each. It sounds tame, but even these guys do swapped eights. And that god, Muller. What to say of a blithering screed of crisp notes congealing into tonality. Stunning. And Will. He'd talked earlier in the day of playing fourth notes, of shorter phrases and listening, of creating melody. Either this was out the window (it wasn't) or he's developed this to such an extent it's a screed of notes but still enthralling. It was. Just a stunner. I'd hate to have been that band following on. You'd go home to bed, I reckon. But then I'm a jazzer and this is what I like and they weren't. A stunner.

    Will Vinson (alto, soprano) led a quartet at Smiths with James Muller (guitar), Sam Anning (bass) and Tim Firth (drums).

    02 March 2016

    Last minute workshop

    This was an unexpected workshop. Will Vinson was touring with some of the best players in Australia. He's English, living in Brooklyn, educated at Manhattan SOM, playing with Ari Hoenig, Mike Moreno, releasing an album entitled "Live at Smalls", shared a house with Orlando Le Fleming. Enough said? He's a sax player but I wasn't going to miss it. The limited advertising showed in a small turnout, but it was intimate. I read the message as essentially return to fundamentals. He spoke of playing quarter notes; that bassists know time best; play roots in a form for 30 mins then up the metronome a few clicks. Time was key: he could listen to someone with weaker harmony but good time, but not weak time. He spoke of knowing 3 tempi: fast, medium and ballad, but really just knowing one: the medium is half fast and played with 16th notes and the ballad just slower still, not felt as balladic. So, practice with a metronome at different tempi (or play with recordings) and expand your time repertoire. Swing can change with different players - Branford Marsalis swings although his 8th notes are more even than Cannonball's. So, get those quarter notes working. Practice several things at once, eg, time and form, or form and harmony. A good quote: freedom in jazz may be just a fig leaf for bad habits; think conflict of muscle memory and creativity. Then some work on polyrhythms. He plays with Ari Hoenig and mentioned some of his great skills. Like 7 over 4 over 5 and how it plays out. We practiced singing All the things you are over 2/4 then just 2 then just 4 then dotted crotchets, then over 5 beats over 4/4. Things were getting less confident. all good for feeling set time over variations. Then something on harmony, bop scales, 7 note scales transformed with added chromatics to 8 to match chord notes to strong beats. But this can sound dull, tired, requires a sense of creativity to inform it. Like Horowitz, think to the end of a phrase, not just the start: we tend to run on. He demonstrated with a melodic idea, played as 8 bars, 4 bars then 2 bars. The idea itself was 2 bars; the extensions were the rest. (I liked the four bar line). "You only hear a melody when it's over". "This will never happen: listen to your own recording and wish you'd played more". (How eternally true is this!!!) So state a phrase, stop and listen, create. How does he practice? Lots of quarter note work (for time sense); Spend time learning by ear; identify habits and learn to control them (observe your playing). All great ideas.

    Will Vinson gave a jazz workshop at Smiths.