29 July 2016

Enough already

Some people just can't get enough, even after the longest election campaign in yonks. Obviously, I'm one of them because I attended the Australia Institute Election wrapup. It was hosted by Ebony Bennett of the AI with journos Gabrielle Chan and Malcolm Farr. I realised after some time that I had perhaps had enough. I had mostly heard all these thoughts and mostly agreed with them. I cavilled once at MF; that may have been my partisanship, but I don't think so. Eight weeks should be enough for anyone, so this will be a very quick run through. The public was angry, disinterested and unengaged (some journos and pollies felt the same). Disengaged is how Turnbull wanted it. The close outcome is "not such a bad thing". It was a gruelling test for journos (especially for those who had to travel the pollie buses) if not as intense as shorter campaigns. Given it was winter, there were colds and flus. Turnbull had no fun, but Shorten gained energy and won the campaign if not the election. Issues came and went. Labor's issues touched voters. On the Lib side, but what was the role of the budget, did they really "have a plan" and why was their central, almost only, plan to hand $50b in tax relief to companies. [It's not as if trickle down has been a resounding success over recent decades]. Interestingly, MF suggested Scott Morrison now wants to get the whole budget through, so "no more Mr Nice Guy" [is that something new?]. The Senate outcome was "not envisaged at all". Expect deals with Labor and Greens and Xenophon. MF accepted that the Senate voting system is improved, if this Senate composition is worse than before. Obviously, the major party vote declined and this is international (think Trump, Brexit). Stability was a big issue on voters' minds. Questions. ABCC not mentioned during the campaign [well, just a very little when prompted]: it was "just an excuse" (MF). Someone suggested minor parties lacked media coverage, but the presenters disagreed (Di Natale, Oakeshott, McGowan, Windsor were fairly commonly covered). The Greens went backwards, and some "characters" (Hanson, Hinch) are "there for a good time and a long time". Bullying is not likely to work for this Senate; it "certainly didn't work for the voters" [referring to Turnbull's last minute argument not to vote for small parties]. The result can be seen as a correction after the 2013 election. One Nation go directly to voters; they were "very defensive" when GC approached them before the election. What would have happened if Julia Gillard wasn't "backstabbed"? "I have no idea; no-one will ever know" (MF). I had problems with MF arguing that Libs failed with content and message: he seemed to suggest they had policies, but what were they other than a big tax reduction for business and an unjustified promise of trickle down benefits? Turnbull was failing months before when he argued for trust in government then was all over the place on policies [remember the "thought bubble" (not originally my words) policies that changed daily at COAG?] Is Turnbull under the Right wing or just gutless? "Still waiting to see" (GC). Predictions? See more coal [not sure I understood this message]; Libs will [have to] talk more with Labor and Greens (GC); Turnbull will [have to] be more decisive, the quick action on a Royal Commission on NT Youth Justice is an example (MF). Enough already...

Ebony Bennett discussed the Federal Election 2016 with journalists Gabrielle Chan and Malcolm Farr at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

27 July 2016

A treat on a cold Sunday arvo

The recording and an accompanying YouTube video feature John Patitucci, no less, but this performance left me feeling not the slightest bit harking for the big smoke of NYC. Matthew Sheens played with a quintet of Australian musicians to launch his new CD at Ainslie Arts Centre and it was a musical triumph. The compositions were fabulous, complex, purposeful things with twists and development and lovely interplays; frequently intense, sometimes even dark. The first tune spoke of a deceased friend and the second quoted the last poem of Auschwitz inmate; Names was a recitation and vocal layering of names of (some) blacks killed by US police over a few days of recording; another detailed the feeling of a lack of place as expressed in French. And, somewhat strangely, two dealt with clouds (Cloud Appreciation Society and Cumulo-numbus society). Amusingly, Matt told us of an actual Cloud Appreciation society attending the Melbourne concert. And, just one standard for history, Like someone in love. And the performance was stunning. Why would we think "just locals" when locals play like this. I've been listening to the Smalls video feed recently, and it's good to very good but seldom a match for this beautifully formed and developed and blended group. So tight, so powered when call for, or detailed and light when required, all dynamic and crisp and precise. Hugh's guitar solos were expressive blasts, not overly busy but sometimes quick, clear with an echo trail, speaking as the new wave of jazz guitars. Tim Firth was a stunner, not that I expect any less from him at any time; he's always so in touch and ready to drive at a moment's notice and sharp as a tack and he was all that to perfection this day. Lyndon's bass was firm and clear, sitting beautifully in the mix: earlier I thought understated, but there were some easy and wonderfully effective quick fills but the purpose and drive of the bass was never forgotten. Matt's piano was all harmonic richness that spelt out his compositions and led his band and fairly frequent solos alternating with Hugh. Gian, the true local, being a Canberra product, sang as words but also as tones, layering those names through a Boss RC-30 looper, singing pitched lines that not once spiraled into the stratosphere sounding every bit like a pure-toned analog synth. Massively effective. Not a long concert, at a strange time, being mid Canberra afternoon with a bitter cold outside. This concert was a stunner! To some degree any such statement is a personal preference, but I found this as good as it comes, for composition and for performance. A rare treat.

Matthew Sheens (piano, compositions) led his quintet to launch his new album, Cloud Appreciation Society, at Ainslie Arts Centre. The band comprised Matthew with Gian Slater (vocals), Hugh Stuckey (guitar), Lyndon Gray (bass) and Tim Firth (drums)

24 July 2016

Again to move on

National Capital Orchestra performed Carmina Burana and more last night in Llewellyn with the Canberra Choral Society, Canberra Brass, Turner Trebles and a string of solo singers. It as a mammoth effort that had the stage packed. Two Steinways swapped places with the brass band; the fourteen children in the trebles choir fitted where they could, at one stage off stage; the basses arranged themselves so the singers could walk on and off. Never seen so many timpanis on one orchestral stage. So this was big and deliciously exciting. The Llewellyn stalls were pretty much sold out. The buzz was infectious. This is hugely popular and thrilling music, even if it's one of those pieces that experienced choristers are hark less for. Carmina B was the star of the night, deservedly, but Sean O'Boyle's River Symphony was also big and flowing and I enjoyed it immensely, and a little intro of Wagner Prelude to Lohengrin Act 3 was a blast. I was amused to hear someone say recently that Wagner has loads of ideas and uses them all at once. I could feel that. It's very attractive but a surprisingly tricky piece. The River Symph was pretty much that, flowing, big and lyrical, a tone poem at times with images of waves of strings and beauteous soprano paens. It's another that's big and no doubt expensive to stage. CB is a counting challenge. One conductor I know jokes that everyone can count to four, but these counts were all over with frequent changes of time signature written in an unusual format. This was a counting trial. But again, hugely satisfying, oddly unique and satisfying lyrical. Everyone knows it but not as you know it by playing it. Which brings me back to how strange this classical performance world can be. We work intensely on something for months (professionals, perhaps less time), but suddenly it's over, and on to the next. Over time, I expect you develop a repertoire with opportunities to return to old friends, but in the meantime, that's it. Like theatre but not like jazz, where a tune will be called frequently, so goes through ongoing development never to be finalised. And the development is different: classical is all interpretation and technical correctness; jazz is more harmonic and lyrical development and exploration. Both are valid, of course, but they are very different. I'm elated after the considerable success of CB but also slightly disoriented to leave it as a recent companion. Strange, this. But congratulations to excellent performances all round, by NCO and CCS and soloists and others and not least by my capable basso profundo colleagues, Roger, Juliet and Matthew.

National Capital Orchestra, Canberra Choral Society, Canberra Brass, Turner Trebles and soloists Sarahlouise Owens (soprano), Susannah Lawergren (soprano), Tobias Cole (tenor) and Jeremy Tatchell (baritone) under Leonard Weiss (conductor) performed Carmina Burana, Sean O'Boyle and Wagner in Llewellyn Hall. The bass section comprised Juliet Flook, Matthew Gambrill, Roger Grime and Eric Pozza.

22 July 2016

Life enhancement

Ignore the various new-age remedies and go to a Latin gig. This is genuine life enhancement. There's something deeply satisfying about the driving rhythms, the repeating claves, the busy interaction of various percussions, the colourful regularity of the piano comping called montuno, the space for adventuresome improv. I caught ClaveMania at Smiths. ClaveMania with a accent on the -i-. I didn't catch all the tune titles, written in Spanish and spoken as they often were with an accent. My weakness to not recognise the language. The music was virtually all originals, mostly written by pianist Jonathan, but also a few by bassist/singer Elizabeth. I loved all the tune, but my favourites were the songs: voice is something special and has a special immediacy in this music, imploring female with responses from paired males. Deeply satisfying. Strangely, too, Tom Fell on tenor was perhaps the most adventurous I had heard him. The regularity and repetition of the latin grooves suggests less abandon, but Tom let go in ways that I hadn't heard before, throwing blues licks to the wind and slashing with contemporary flourish. Unlikely, but I heard just this. Then Jonathan, soloing with that latin presence, strongly aware of rhythm, rhythm as the key and the underlying purpose, but tuneful throughout. There were also solos from drums and percussion, supremely aware of the beat, embellishing with care. I liked how the longer patterns of percussion and tuned skins moved through the shorter drum bars; how the clave would remain central if contrasted with some other tone and groove. And Elizabeth's bass, recognising the grooves and claves but with a common half-beat anticipation. It's one essence of latin. An unnamed ballad in ABAB form written by Elizabeth was a expected surprise. But mostly back to the lively street life feels, telling stories of streets with chess and more, Callejuela, or a string of other latin styles, known by name but too little by performance, like descargas or salsas or sambas. Even Yidson, an original development and cross between Yiddish folk and Cuban Son. Suffice to say I enjoyed this lots and it's great to have such an authentic latin band, in this case of origin Colombiana, here in Canberra. Great! Looking forward to much more.

ClaveMania was led by Jonathan Cohen (piano) and Elizabeth Obando Paz (bass, vocals) with Tom Fell (tenor), Jamal Salem (drums) and Sinuhé Pacheco (percussion).

PS. A final cheer to the hen's night gathering I crossed paths with after Smiths. Obviously having serious fun. It's a pleasure to photograph a group with such self-aware presence. No names given; none even known.

16 July 2016

Liking it big

This was another stellar outing for the Australian Haydn Ensemble, this time in a bigger format. They are releasing their first album (with ABC records) as I write this. We'd seen that program on tour in preparation for recording back in December or so. I have yet to hear it, but this was similarly generous in performers and a lovely, early classical style. As they play. Skye led the first violins; Eric Helyard directed and featured on a period fortepiano for a Mozart concerto; Daniel Yeadon performed a Haydn cello concerto. I remain in awe of Jacqueline's bass playing, so fast and neat and crisp, but I can also enjoy others, and I particularly enjoyed watching a few violins in easy visual access (the sound in the Great Hall at ANU University House is satisfying, but the stage is low and the seats are many, so sight lines are not good), Simone and Anna, both regulars and at least Anna is a local product. I was enamoured by the large ensemble from the very start, their accurate intonations and firm statements and period tones but especially the superbly interactive phrasing. Getting the notes is one thing, but getting the internal movements, the flows and peaks and stops and pauses, all together and believable, takes skills at this level, and it was lovely to hear. The music was Michael Haydn Symphony no.25 Gmajor (with an intro by Mozart and sometimes allotted to him), Mozart Keyboard concerto no.14 Ebmajor, and two from Joseph Haydn, Cello concerto Cmajor and Symphony no.83 "La Poule" (the chook). All delightful in the neat and ordered classical way with some devilish lines occasionally appearing. They pulled it all off with aplomb. My modern ear, trained with Steinways and modern orchestral strings, found the solo instruments a bit overwhelmed by the orchestra at times, but I guess that's part of the experience of music of this time. Their instruments were like this. But what a great pleasure and even a triumph.

Australian Haydn Ensemble played a program of Michael and Joseph Haydn and Mozart on period instruments at the Great Hall at ANU University House. Soloists were Erin Helyard (guest director, fortepiano), Daniel Yeadon (solo cello), Skye McIntosh (artistic director and leader) with Skye McIntosh, Matthew Greco, Stephen Freeman, Anna McMichael, Simone Slattery, Cath Shugg and Rafael Font (violins), Gabrielle Kancachian, James Eccles and Marianne Yeomans (violas), Daniel Yeadon, Anthea Cottee and Anthony Albrecht (cellos), Melissa Farrow (flute), Jacqueline Dossor (bass), Emma Black and Ingo Muller (oboes), Simon Rickard and Jackie Newcomb (bassoons), Darryl Poulsen and Doree Dixon (horns).

12 July 2016

Raining jam

Or at least raining jam sessions. This was a new one, in its first incarnation, at Harmonie German Club, with guest band Dr Jawbone and the Restless Souls. Organised like the monthly blues jam with a tabulated chart for names each sets. This was somewhat less daunting than running with the masters, Wayne Kelly's trio at OCI on Wednesdays. Early this year, there was also a pre-tertiary jazz jam session, at Smiths, fortnightly on Thursdays prior to the jazz sessions. Haven't seen that mentioned recently. Nice to see some activity around the traps. Harmonie was a swing-latin affair. Dr Jawbone played several tunes, including some originals. Peter with his chordal 6-string bass and Ross very busy and bluesy, with Ken and an unknown tenor. Then various jammers, including Claude, Andrew, others. I enjoyed playing George Benson Broadway, but then I like a firm bass groove, and perhaps Footprints was the most conceptually modern take. Good fun for just a first incarnation and good luck for future iterations.

PS. One bit of history. The pic is of a piece of genuine Berlin Wall. Reinforced concrete sections like this (measuring 3.6x1.2m) have become relatively rare as the original was broken up and sold in bits or just broken up in anger when the Wall was demolished in 1990-92. This one features original West Berlin graffiti. Congrats to Gunter and the Harmonie German Club for appreciating the historical value of this early enough to buy a piece for Canberra.

The Harmonie German Club Jazz jam featured host band Dr Jawbone and the Restless Souls, with Ross Buchanan (piano), Peter Barta (bass) and Ken Nosworthy (drums).

10 July 2016


Finally I get to Tilley's for the Wayne Kelly Trio residency. Wayne, Ben and Mark have been doing this since at least last Christmas and let's hope it continues. It's sometime since I've gone to Tilley's, too. It's renowned (and in some conservative sectors, denigrated) with a history dating back to Whitlam, but it's obviously quite a local institution on the north side. Lots of families for dinner, relaxed, plenty of tables, dark with bright lights shining off glossy russet surfaces, big central stage and real PA system. I remember it in its first incarnation before the extension over the whole corner and the glory time of visiting international acts like Mike Stern, Dave Weckl, Canned Heat, Jose Feliciano, Janis Ian and Kurt Elling as well as the cream of big Aussie names. It's a great venue, but still used for our local heavies, Wayne and co. They were great; playing a calm storm. This night Mike Price sat in. Next week, Wayne's Trio is recording with a string of friends. The volume is not too high; the food and drinks and chat continues but there's also an obvious respect and even the non-jazzers look on with interest. And the balance and space is good for listening, even with the ongoing cafe life. They played standards repertoire but also some winner originals. Ben was playing a storm. They say one way to get husband and wife talking is to start a bass solo. No need here, these were worth the listen. Wayne's authoritative at all times; Mark, too. Mike was out front, shredding clear jazzer lines. My choice was hard: cassoulet or beef and porter pie. How's that for life on the north side? Great.

Wayne Kelly (piano), Ben O'Loghlin (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) play each Saturday night at Tilley's. Mike Price (guitar) sat in for several tunes.

08 July 2016

Motown and more

This was as close as I'd ever been, or was ever likely to get, to the authentic voice of Motown and its ilk. Vivian Sessoms performed at Smiths with our local band, PJ Junior and The Soul Pimps. I hadn't know of Vivian, but she came with an excellent CV, having collaborated "on stage and in the recording studio alongside immortal artists the likes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sinead O’ Connor and Ryuichi Sakamoto, to mention just a few". Wow, serious. A woman born and bred of a musical family in Harlem with a history of church singing. And interestingly, an activist to boot. She'd visited Australia before and this time came to Canberra and Smiths. And her band? PJ Jnr... has impeccable membership but I'd only managed to catch the band once before. Together, this was a stunner. Jazz and popular song distilled with fewer chords and deep, funky grooves and that authoritative voice over. Vivian led with dynamics that would turn on a coin, powered then pp. We could feel the cultural differences, too: our tame responses drawn out; the demands from Vivian and her commitment in return; not common Australian territory. Sometimes you feel delirious with the strength of the emotions; not once I felt goosebumps. Totally apt with demanding masterpieces like Billy Strayhorn Lush life and political paens like Nina Simone Feeling good and Billy Holliday's racial lament for all time, Strange fruit. There were serious undertones, with Amy Winehouse Love is a losing game or Leonard Cohen Hallelujah and marks of respect to common heroes, Prince Under the cherry moon and Stevie Wonder Superwoman and also a few Cole Porter evergreens and even some light-hearted responses to the pop charts, Icona Pop and Amerie. What we heard were mostly takes from her new album, soon to be released, although with our local band. Nothing lost here: they were great: James with force of nature grooves and the tightest tones; Aron considered and clear but also echoing and explosive; Damien varied in keyboard tones and rich with arpeggiated colour; Kay firm and solid and understated. And determining and guiding it all, Vivian's voice that would soar or bend or jump or luxuriate in accent or inflection. The voice of '60s R&B and beyond: cultured and resolute, too often knowing and forlorn, and the essence of internationalised American popular music. Wow: here on stage, amongst the few at Smiths, available for a chat after. Worthy of the big stage; available in intimacy. This is what we chase, these precious moments available if you keep your eyes open to passing opportunities. A little bit of Motown and authentic Harlem and the like here at Smiths for the night. Fabulous.

Vivian Sessoms (voice) was backed by PJ Jnr and the Soul Pimps at Smiths. PJ Jnr... are Aron Lyon (guitar), Damien Slingsby (keyboards), James Luke (bass) and Kay Chinnery (drums).

06 July 2016

Old is new

Gavin Ahearn came to the Gods with his quintet of excellent Sydney players and it was energetic from the start. Just a little one bar piano intro by Gavin then into a solid latin rhythm then, within another few bars, harmonies between the two tenors (yes, two tenors, an unusual combination but with history: Geoff reminded us of Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin) and hard swinging rhythms and a muscular commitment and drive. The second tune was more Monk-like, swung and walked rather than a bop-latin. Both were originals, one by Gavin, another by a drummer colleague in NYC. I was enjoying the insistent and unyielding grooves and noticing the solo lines were not excessive, not too atonal, not too busy except for some longer fills that fitted with no jarring. But it was only when we hit tune 3, Little Leo, a ballad dedicated to a lost pet, that I noticed the power of melody here, the clear lyricism in this band. Karl and Jason would each hold back from too much extravagance, letting the flourishes come by themselves, looking for a line that worked, looking for internals and patterns. The melody sat with sparse tones, leading one to another, perhaps falling a little from one to another. This was Karl and he did it beautifully, then Jason came in with tight harmonies. All the time, Brendan was settled or driving, walking or syncopated or dotted rhythms as befits, and Toby also powered, moving through various patterns and rhythmic colours. Then some delightful solos from Brendan - he is playing so well these days - and later solos against riffs by Toby and throughout Gavin, comping chords or laying out his own solos. I noticed some intriguingly modulated piano at one stage, fairly subtle but modernising the sound and drive. Nice. Then more about pets and places. One about the polar vortex that hit northern US when Gavin was in NYC (Jan 2014?). A mention of I sing the body electric, a poem by Walt Whitman (borrowed for an early Weather Report album with Miroslav Vitous). Gavin wrote Nimbus (?) early career and it was a lovely, driving latin. Then more recent and more places: Ismir, an easier latin reminiscent of early morning arrival and sunrise, and Mt Wellington, floating and yearning for the cold misty weather on the summit. Solos were shared between tenors, topped and tailed by delightfully fat-toned harmonies. Dragon flight sounded to me to be angular hell to read, jumping around as the zigzag flight of fireflies over a relaxed swing and syncopated bridge. I'm noticing my foot tapping: 1-3 on latins; 2-4 on swings. Then a light six feel, but with a threat to lift. It did, for final solos and Toby drummed a final solo against busy piano chords and a rise-fall harmonised tenor line. This has the life and instrumentation of '50s hard-bop with a recent, filmic lyricism. Great stuff. Part of jazz's greatness is its respect for history without stultification. Old is new; we are products of history. Gavin and mates did this in spades and with panache.

Gavin Ahearn (piano) led his Quintet at the Gods with Karl Laskowski and Jason Bruer (tenors), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Toby Hall (drums).

02 July 2016

Carefree on white sand

ARC Quartet studied at the ANU, but I didn't know of them even if their faces seemed familiar. They played together in school days at the Prep course. Some members are still studying or performing professionally. They presented as a 5-piece quartet, strange I thought, but presumably a gathering of like-minds and the addition of one mate. In fact, another mate sat in later in the night for a 6-piece. They played a few originals and reharmonisations and the like, and these were my favourites. Standards are great and they are shared so good for sitins, but we have heard them before. Bassist Ross had a nice original harking back to playing rock and metal in his younger days. That path is not too unusual and the tune was successful. Tenorist James had another original, a latin with a forward calve-feel. I liked that they paid tribute to Australian band, The Vampires, by playing their reggae-feel Mandala. The Beatles made an appearance with a latinised and reharmonised Eleanor Rigby. There was a guitarist in the band, Harry, so I wasn't surprised by a Pat Metheny tune. Trumpeter mate, Matt Nicholls, sat in for Footprints and Misty and they also played jazz hits Tenor madness and Beautiful love, but my favourite of these was Coltrane's Moment's notice - a great tune running through keys with plenty of momentum. I would have liked to have watched these players develop over a few years at the ANU, but I can understand they went to other schools, Sydney, Melbourne, Mt Gambier, and perhaps other things. Drummer Chloe was always precise and I enjoyed how she slowed a tune on request after an excited start. The two horns, James and altoist Alfred, sat well together and each took their generous share of blues-influenced solos. Guitarist Harry was neat and nicely sharp in accompaniment and I very much liked his solos, clear and well articulated and purposeful. Bass Ross was able in walks and accompaniment and impressive in the thumb position heights of his 5 string e-bass. But perhaps the biggest surprise for me on the night was the reception for St Thomas. I've long felt it's a daggy tune but the calypso feel is infectious and this one was the best received of the night, and perhaps the one played with most breezy abandon so I must reconsider. That's how calypso should be, reminiscent of carefree people on white sandy beaches, and nothing like the days preceding a dismal election. This is much nicer: thinking sunny with ARC.

ARC Quartet comprises Alfred Hearn (alto), James Stuchbery (tenor), Ross Davidson (bass) and Chloe Kim (drums). Harry Tinney (guitar) also played for the two sets and Matt Nicholls (trumpet) sat in for two tunes.