30 May 2016

Odyssey 2

National Capital Orchestra played with Alice Giles and it was a blast. Presumably it was conductor and musical director Leonard Weiss who chose the great program. First up, ecstatic, effusive modernism from Graham Koehne, Elevator music; then little know French baroque from Boieldieu with Alice featuring as the soloist in the Harp concerto in C major; then a lesser known but very attractive and dynamic symphony form Dvorak, his no.4 in D minor. A great and varied program. Alice played with the delicacy and facility of the star harpist that she is known as. Nice to meet her, too, as a fellow performer and friend of the family. Leonard has done a great job pulling together various strands for this concert and his glowing response at the end was deserved. Now that I'm playing in this music, I much better recognise the slips that occur (not least mine). I'm surprised that I now hear them even on professional recordings. But there are such good players in this orchestra! The winds always impress me, clear, well read, sharp playing. And the expanded percussion section for Koehner was a blast, literally. Was it 7 timpani with two players? It is a rare treat to play with fifty steaming performers of one mind on one stage. I enjoyed it immensely and friends in the audience spoke highly and tell me they have already bought tickets for our next concert. Given the program of Carmina Burana and River Symphony and a Wagner feature, and, I hear, a soprano who's performed with the NY Phil, I'm not surprised. (Carmina Burana with Canberra Choral Society on 23 July, Llewellyn Hall). Last weekend, Brindabella Orchestra. Next weekend, Tilt jazz (Mercure Ainslie Hotel, 6.30-9.30pm, Sat 4 Jun) and Maruki Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn/Dvorak (Albert Hall, 3pm Sun 5 Jun). Busy and enjoying it.

National Capital Orchestra performed Koehne, Boieldieu and Dvorak at TheQ, led by Leonard Weiss (conductor) with soloist Alice Giles (harp).

28 May 2016

Vienna below Feather

One friend applauded this Australian Haydn Ensemble concert at the interval for its serene beauty and apt recreation of the experience of a Viennese salon. I always admire AHE's and Skye's programs for the intellectual component, the search for a theme and often the finding of a little known piece from an era. This time, too, there was one of those: a Flute Quintet by Wanhal which Skye expected had never been recorded before. Certainly there was no Wanhal Flute Quintet on the Naxos streaming service (BTW, this collection of 120,000 streaming CDs is free to members of the ACT Library Service). Skye described it as a petite concerto and demanding on flute with its use of extreme registers and wondered who it would have been written for. Otherwise, this Vienna salon had music of Hoffmeister, an early musician who managed to live relatively free of patrons, as a publisher and music teacher, Albrechtsberger and Mozart's Hoffmeister quartet. The music was variously a flute quartet and quintet and a few string quartets. The format of the AHE changes with different programs, but there's a core of performers who are regular. This time, Skye, Matthew, Melissa with Anton and Shelley. The playing is always delightful. That wooden flute and the individually expressive string sounds. I admire and learn from the cello bowing. All so light and expressive but also surprisingly voluminous in the large space which is the ANU University House Great Hall. And surprisingly apt, even fronting a wall-sized modernist mural by Leonard French.

Australian Haydn Ensemble performed Hoffmeister, Albrechtsberger, Wanhal and Mozart in the Great Hall at ANU University House. AHE comprised Skye McIntosh (artistic director, violin), Matthew Greco (violin), Shelley Sorensen (viola), Anton Baba (cello) and Melissa Farrow (flute).

27 May 2016

The storm

This was the storm. Joe Farnsworth and mates playing at the Street Theatre, not just a few tunes to warm up the workshop, but a full concert. Two sets; eight tunes, jazz and standards, several well recognisable, including my theme, Alone together. Brendan introduced AT with a stunning solo, all chords and hints at the underlying harmonies, then led it out with another solo. Dale played flute on this, joking about a flute found under the piano, but borrowed from a local in the audience. As expected, this was driving hard-bop throughout. Heads, solos, heads, with hard-core chops. They'd recorded that day with Mark Sutton and I guess that's where they developed their original, Watch out for the Magpies, apparently after Joe was swooped. A true Aussie/bush capital experience. That was an altered blues with a laid back funk feel, bass on 1-2. Sophie Edwards was the Year 12 singer who'd performed Georgia with the band at the Workshop. She was invited up again for another outing. Joe asked for her, when famous, to remember who gave her her break. Brendan spoke; so did Joe. But the essence was the energy and considered and informed drive that these four players laid down. Determined heads and flurried solo lines from Dale; flurries too from Brendan at time, along with some softer chordal and melody interludes; John tended more to a balance of comping left hand and compelling phrases in the right; Joe drove with wit and huge awareness, always watching or his ears alert. I was amused by one solo passage where he was going for a few huge, hustling fills that didn't quite come off, then an annoyed response but it was his unrelenting recovery that stunned me: his recoveries are many drummers' features. Cheers to Clarkey for bringing this band together and doing his Canberra run, back to his home town and jazz school. This was a little piece of hard-bop NYC and it's a stunner to hear. Wish we were just that bit closer.

Prime Time Quartet was led by Joe Farnsworth (drums) with Brendan Clarke (bass), John Harkins (piano) and Dale Barlow (tenor). Sophie Edwards (vocals) sat in for Georgia.

25 May 2016

Calm before the storm

Not so calm, but all things are relative. Joe Farnsworth and his Prime Time Quartet gave a workshop at the ANU School of Music the day before their gig at the Street. I was lucky enough to hear of it and attend. I was particularly lucky to hear the band perform several tunes, occasionally with sit-ins, but also just as the band. They were playing Dizzy's BeBop as I entered. As is the approach in this style, the solos were passed around in standard order and everyone had a go: tenor, piano, bass, drums. Then head out. Nothing unexpected in that respect. As was to be hammered later, jazz is a language and is easily shared even without another shared vocal language. Then later, something with Wayne Kelly, Georgia with a young girl singer [Sophie Edwards, Year 12] and Mark Sutton sitting in, an end with Del Sassar. Brendan Clarke had organised the tour after meeting Joe in NYC after a simple email. Jazz is like that: people are approachable, including someone well regarded and well recorded. All a journey, no-one is arrived; deadly serious and deeply erudite, a 'beautiful nightmare"; knowledge is shared and passed on. The talk just confirmed this. Roy Haynes apparently said "freedom with discipline" and Joe quoted it. He also quoted "Never put the student before the master" and talked of listening to the basics, from the 1940s on. He'd been preparing for 30 years, so felt no particular need for rehearsal before their first gig. This is a language and it's shared. (Johnny Griffin: "Where language ends, jazz begins".) I asked how many tunes in their playlist: Joe had suggested a few less common ones he'd like to play (Del Sasser was one) but otherwise it was their long-term experience with the American songbook and jazz standards and specifically a few styles and stylists (Bebop and Cedar Walton and Jazz Messengers were mentioned amongst others). That also is shared. Over and over they highlighted listening, learning from the masters, finding a favourite and exploring thoroughly. I would have liked to have heard suggestions on how to learn tunes (I expect listening, transcribing, borrowing, etc). Always highlighting the inclusion in a performance family with common knowledge. Joe went to every individual in the room, asking what they played and who were their favourite players, mentioning related names, people from the same town (Chicago, Detroit, perhaps easier with big jazz names in the US, although we have our smaller groupings here, through Jazz Groove and common years at jazz schools and the like). Another quote: "Knowledge, Persistence, Perseverance"; listen/practice, continue learning. Jazz is a pleasure but also a demanding task-master. In giving praise to Joe, John said he's not just fast and loud, but a "really good musician" (higher praise than it sounds: I noticed how he listened and watched, quoted and responded to those he played with). Dale took over to answer a question about the future of jazz. It's infinitely adaptable ("like a limpet"), so will always be there, always survive, and with jazz comes its traditions. (I think of it as the high music artform that centralises groove and improv; classical is another high art but with a different rhythmic conception and, nowadays, splitting the role of composer and performer). But the main message of the day? Listen, learn, there's no end.

PS. Joe introduced us to a Charlie Parker drum feel. Bird was apparently heard playing it in a studio awaiting the start of a session. Played concurrently at moderate pace: Swing on ride; Shuffle on snare; Four-on-the-floor on kick; 4/4 triplet on hi-hat.

Prime Time Quartet was led by Joe Farnsworth (drums) with Brendan Clarke (bass), John Harkins (piano) and Dale Barlow (tenor). Wayne Kelly (piano), Mark Sutton (drums) and Sophie Edwards (vocals) sat in.

22 May 2016


It's almost getting to be passé, playing orchestral concerts. This is my first of three over three weeks, this one with Brindabella Orchestra. The program was a mix of Russian and Northern Euro/Scandinavian composers. The major work was from Tchaikovsky, Slavonic March, with some themes from Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, Swan Lake, Russian folk songs from Liadov, Khachaturian's wonderful Adagio from Spartacus that everyone knows as the theme of the Onedin Line (at least those of a certain age; I knew of it but never watched an episode) and some Dvorak from the American Suite. The odd one out, and the hardest to play, was a medley, Symphonic dances from Fiddler on the Roof. Who would think that's the hardest read? But it was, for the irregularly changing musical-theatre tunes and the Russian-Jewish styled themes and oddly syncopated fills. It doesn't look difficult on the page, but the twists are clangers. But throughout, the orchestra performed with dynamics I hadn't heard in rehearsal and we had a great time of it. Congrats to Brinda for another successful outing.

Brindabella Orchestra was led by Peter Shaw (conductor).

21 May 2016


I was lucky enough to hear a Paul Motion trio at Village Vanguard several years back and the format and approach was similar to this gig at Smiths. Two trios played, both bass- and piano-less, drums, a horn and guitar. Jack Beeche's trio featured alto; Brae Grimes' trio featured cornet. A chordless trio like this gives an open, flowing, harmonically-fluid sound. The guitar could play chords, and very occasionally did, but his take was more single notes, counterpoint, horn-like. I was chatting with drummer Aaron in the break and he spoke of how guitar can move the harmony especially using different inversions. It's a strangely ill-defined sound, gentle and inquisitive, open to lovely flows of melodic interplay. Jack and guitarist Dan certainly had that going, with a swishing background of drum and cymbal sounds, not playing the groove but responding to it, again none to defined. Brae's trio was called BAD trio and it was also very, very good, although this was more direct, with more a feeling of drive rather than float, but trumpet/cornet will mostly be harder and more direct than sax can be. Dan and Aaron played here too. I didn't so much notice changes from Dan, even if there were more twisted unison heads and less obvious counterpoint and a little more bass-like understory, but his backing and solos still spoke with a similar feel even if with , and he excelled with a stunner solo mid-set using loops and a growing growl of overdrive and harder pickup tones, gradually undoing this back to relatively uneffected tones. Aaron was more playing time, harder, more determined. Jack's tunes were some originals (by Jack and one by Dan) and sometimes standards, often melded into gently combined medleys: Monk's Light blue, Mingus' Duke Ellington's sound of love, Jim Hall's Careful, a 16 bar blues. Amusingly, Brae had given his tunes personal names; apparently it was easier to call on the stand than composition dates, so 4/7/15 became Shazza (I didn't catch dates for Bertha, Dwayne or Ursula). Each set had a quartet segment for the last tune, where Brae joined Jack and later Jack joined Brae. I felt maybe this diluted the concept of each band/trio but the music was still impressive. So? Great to hear this style, transposed as it is from Smalls and Village Vanguard and the rest, and played with wonderful authenticity. A stunner.

PS. I listened to Jack's first CD later and was pleased to hear he achieves a similar flowing quality but with bass (Gareth Hill). As a bassist, I can only feel relieved because I love the style.

Jack Beeche (alto) led a trio with Dan Mamrot (guitar) and Aaron McCoullough (drums). Brae Grimes (cornet) led his BAD Trio, also with Dan and Aaron.

18 May 2016

Blue horses

I didn't know of Franz Marc, a German artist (painter) who died in WW1. Chris Latham is running a series of WW1 memorial concerts which are, as Chris is wont to do, seriously broad-minded and intelligently themed. The concert program gathered a series of songs and tunes from the era and presented them against a backdrop of projected pencil drawings and coloured paintings (some watercolours? others perhaps oils?) from FM's sketch book. Seeing so many works gives a real understanding of the artist's mind, of how he manages the interactions (geometric and very much like Picasso and Braque cubism) and how he colours (bright, primary colours) and what subjects he considers (deer, horses, birds, mostly in nature, but occasionally people but distant, occasionally in human environments distressed by war). Chris mentioned that he died young and may have lived to be famed like Kandinsky, and his swirls remind me of that. Apparently, he also painted blue horses and moderator Alex Sloan, at the discussion before the concert, brought one her grandmother had given her. Apparently blue horse are remembrances of WW1. New to me. The earlier discussion also had Joan Beaumont, professor of history, speaking of the battle of Verdun, of 700,000 lost soldiers over 303 days and Jacqueline Dwyer, well spoken daughter of a French immigrant who returned to France to fight and ultimately survived in Australia. And Chris Latham who spoke of the sketch book. I expect Chris gathered the pictures and the music; he rearranged several pieces for the ensemble of piano, soprano and string quartet. All touching and illuminating and will be well received in the French churches where future concerts will take place. I admire the knowledge and the respect, but am not comfortable with the culture-war expenditure that is this anniversary of the Anzacs. $A550m+ to promote this celebration of war loss; way beyond European countries (Australia $8889 per WW1 death; Germany $2, France $52). The people deserve it; the use by politicians degrades it. But that's politics. The music was intriguing and fitting and the projected works of Franz Marc was enlightening.

Franz Marc was the man who painted blue horses in his WW1 sketch book at Verdun. Alex Sloan, Joan Beaumont, Jacqueline Dwyer and Chris Latham conversed. Louise Page (soprano), Tamara Anna Cislowska (piano) and the Sculthorpe Quartet comprising Veronique Serret (violin), Chris Latham (violin), Tor Fromyhr (viola) and David Pereira (cello) performed the music.

16 May 2016

Two up

After 200 performers on stage for Beethoven's Ninth, Smiths is a small outing. But even this gig had two bands, totalling 6 performers. The first band up were ANUSOM friends appearing under yet another name. This time it was A Town Called Panic. Panic, be worried. This was Brendan K-T, Ben Forte and Hayden Fritzlaff who play challenging indie music of their time. They did also play My favourite things, only just recognisable in this arrangement using hip-hop beats from J-Dilla. Brendan appears a musical director cum leader here, speaking to audience and introducing tunes from his school days (Bon Iver) and Aphex Twin and two tunes from LA bassist Thundercat. Plenty of power and chops and some stunner bass solos on current popular but interesting charts. I like this thing.

Next up was On Se Perde comprising a pairing of composers, William Flowers and Stephen Wilson, with drummer Malcolm Newland sitting in. This was a much milder outing, lower volume, mostly original funky or laid back syncopation or jazzy or rocky and with a few more obvious takes on standards, Scott La Faro Gloria's step and Jobim Wave. Most tunes had bass and piano solos, piano was variously acoustic and Nord, just one drum solo on the final tune. They appeared to relax towards the end and perhaps their liveliest tune was the final funk encore, but a tune towards the end, inspired by Fyshwick on a hot day, built to a nice driving 2-feel groove.

So, two bands over and still just 9pm. It's an unusual time for a jazz gig, 7-9pm Thursdays at Smiths, but nicely relaxed for an early night. Strange but easy.

A Town Called Panic comprised Brendan Keller-Tuberg (bass), Ben Forte (guitar) and Hayden Fritzlaff (drums). On Se Perde comprised William Flowers (bass), Stephen Wilson (piano) and Malcolm Newland (drums).

14 May 2016


It was Beethoven Choral Symphony no.9 the other night at Llewellyn with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, CSO Community Choir Canberra Choral Society including Canberra Choral Society and choirs form Canberra Girls Grammar and Radford led by Stephen Mould with soloists from Opera Australia, Emma Castelli, Brad Cooper, Anna Dowsley and Andrew Moran. B9 is always awe-inspiring, especially after a relatively anaemic Schubert Unfinished Symphony. I know it's popular, but it's nowhere near the league of Beethoven. Also a short modern piece, Cudmirrah Fanfare by Nigel Westlake. Apparently it was written for ABC RN, but despite being a daily listener, it didn't ring bells for me. Obviously it was B9 that was the high point. It's easily recognised, and not just the final movement, but every movement and several themes within movements; hugely involving; very demanding for the players (I watch the basses: there were plenty of very fast sequenced, scalar phrases with little letup); great and memorable lyricism and that incredible Beethoven ability to move you through musical changes without the jarring of many composers, virtually unnoticeably, inevitably. It's a great achievement for the CSO, if not a perfect one. To my ear, AM could have milked some passages; the soloists could have been better balanced (that could be my ears or location). A friend commented on the excellence of the choir and it was satisfying, although my attention was mostly elsewhere. But what an achievement, both for the composer and the performers. My first B9 was CSO from one of the front rows, louder and more involving if oddly balanced, but feeling like a part of it all. That was my best experience of it. Like your first ... whatever. But no B9 experience is to be dismissed. Loved it.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra performed Beethoven, Westlake and Schubert with CSO Community Choir comprising the Canberra Choral Society, Canberra Girls Grammar Choir and Radford Choir led by Stephen Mould (conductor) with soloists Emma Castelli, Brad Cooper, Anna Dowsley and Andrew Moran.