30 September 2016

Risen from desert

Out of Canberra again. Firstly Dubai the city famed for extravagance and the tallest building. I’ve added this one to my viewed list and the Burj Khalifa was seriously beautiful. A work of delicate art as well as engineering at the extremes. This is a place of extremes, not least in prices (wow, one visit only likely: it was expensive). But lots of tall buildings; hugely active and quickly built (famously a fishing village only a few decades back); hints at Las Vegas but also the great architectural works. One area (Marina) must have 30 skyscrapers (say 40, 60 stories) and attendant facilities and has appeared out of the sand in 15 years (!) Can we imagine that in Australia? An absolute monarchy helps, and wise planning and sensible application of oil/gas monies for a while (compare Australia’s response to our greatest mining boom). Dubai’s oil/gas is mostly passed (~9% of current budget) but huge businesses and infrastructure has been built from it. Dubai is seeking to be the local Singapore, financial/services centre for local Asia, Middle East and North Africa. Let’s see if they can pull it off. Certainly the ski slopes and ice worlds exist with massive energy input, but there’s even awareness of climate change and some shared services to respond to it (eg, local-area cooling like NYC’s local-area heating). It’s a population of ~2.2 million but Emiriaties are just 10%, many ex-pats, some well paid, many not; no taxes is a drawcard. It’s both fascinating and inviting and intriguing and quizzical to me. It will be interesting to watch over time if the experiment survives and prospers or sinks into the underlying sands. Time will tell. And did I mention, it’s hot.

There were lots of inviting jazz sounds in shopping malls (huge, of course). I often turned thinking there must be live music, only to find just excellent piping. But I did find one live player, Alex, in a menswear store. I’m told of Pizza Express and some other occasional jazz venues but nothing easily accessible and too jet lagged (and skint) to explore.

28 September 2016

Hella good

Hella good? Showing my age. No Doubt is earlier than these players, but that just adds to the pleasure of hearing such a nice orchestra of such a young age. This is the Canberra Youth Orchestra and I've raved about them here before. Their latest performance was a dedication to Sibelius with his Symphony no.2. I noticed a plethora of tempo indications in the program, then some blistering playing from basses and cellos, extended walking bass, a noble final movement that follows directly from a lively-sorrowful-lively third movement, generous brass parts. The first half was Dvorak Slavonic dances and the enduring earworm Borodin Polovtsian Dances (not least through its reuse as Stranger in paradise in Kismet and by Paul Whiteman, Massive Attack, PS2/3, Sochi Winter Olympics, bond and more) and one movement of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto D major played by Helena Popovic, who otherwise sits in the Concertmaster's seat. It's a big program and their dedication and application shows in some very impressive and mature playing. Not least from conductor Leonard who is so busy around town and includes CYO in his stable. He's a pleasure and great force for enthusiasm in rehearsal and it showed here again with his easy chatter with the audience to introduce the 2017 program featuring a more jazzy approach, with James Morrison, Idea of North and Claire Edwardes as guests and the music of Gershwin and Bernstein amongst others. This is a great training orchestra and it performs at an impressive level. But then I'd expect nothing less from Canberra's young players and we consistently get it.

Canberra Youth Orchestra performed Sibelius, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Borodin at Llewellyn Hall. Leonard Weiss (conductor) directed and Helena Popovic (violin) performed solo.

26 September 2016


One thing I've learnt is that I should never judge a music prize. I seem to come up with different results. Maybe that's how competitions are - despite all our training and rationality, we are still influenced by our own experiences and preferences - but do still have faith that the professionals do it better. I only caught the final two players and I won't go into reasons (although I have some) but I would have given it to the violinist over the guitarist. Then, in the end, the violinist got no prize. Strange and bewildering to my ear. I walked out chatting to a woman who had different choices again. I enjoyed the vivacity and application and variety of program that Joshua Hu presented: San Saens, JS Bach, a modern work by Eugene Ysaye, Paganini and Tchaikovsky. What a program! But the judges saw things I didn't. Strange how it works. But competitions have value to a performer, for the winnings but also for the CV and future career, so they demand serious thought. I'm sure they got it; I just thought differently. Not for the first time. BTW, guitarist Callum Henshaw (who I missed) came first.

The finals of the Whitworth Roach Classical Music Performance Competition was held on the stage at Llewellyn Hall. The finalists were Mia Huang (piano), Callum Henshaw (guitar), Hamish Strathdee (guitar) and Joshua Hu (violin).

24 September 2016


It was dancing to a very different tune when I ambled over to Hippo. The Willy Wagtails represent a very different era from Kill Climate Deniers and its dance party. This band plays with minimal gear for little volume, so the subtleties were lost in the noisy Hippo environment. But there was obvious joy here. An odd, or old-styled, lineup of violin, banjo, mandolin, bass and trumpet. No drums. Several singers and often harmonies. All through one mic with a period presentation and one or two little amps on the floor. The music was joyous, occasionally Irish or Scottish sounding folk, otherwise bouncy Aussie folk, 2 feels or four-to-the-floor, choppy strumming and slap bass and a fiddle-take on the violin, so it too spelt out the rhythm. Any lack of drums went unmissed. There's joy and history here and I would like to have heard them in an environment more generous to them, meaning quieter. Noisy place is Hippo. But looks like it would have been a fun outfit in a more generous acoustic. Their FB page has a video of their tune, Not gonna mow my lawn. I understand. How could you not like this?

The Willie Wagtails are Jhana Allan (violin), Oscar Neyland (bass), Jeremiah Rose (trumpet), Jack Quigley (banjo) and Daniel Tedford (mandolin).

22 September 2016

Dancing in desperation

It's one that's close to home for all of us but especially for David Finnigan, for the subject is climate change and DF's father is a climate scientist. This show was one incarnation of the controversial work called Kill Climate Deniers. It was the drama-cum-dance-party version and it was performed at Smiths for the launch of the new CD of the show. It's an odd and amusing amalgam of music and education and theatre. It's centred on 1988 as the year of the first IPCC meeting, the creation of the Marshall Institute as the first climate denialist organisation and the birth of Chicago House music (which follows the "Disco sucks" movement of 1979 that led to subsequent House, Hip-hop and Dance music) althought the action takes place in our current Parliament House, on the hill here in Canberra. In this incarnation, the theatrical performer and developer was David Finnigan and the DJ was Reuben Ingall. And this was controversial. After several attempts, Kill Climate Deniers won arts funding from the ACT Government for its development. The then ACT Liberal Leader (now working for a significant salary for Andrew Barr - funny, that), Brendan Smyth, complained about this, leading to an Andrew Bolt airing and subsequent verbal attacks and threats to David and others. All standard procedure for the small band of cultural warriors of the Right. David's legal opinion suggests protection from our terrorist legislation on the grounds of theatrical satire but this all remains a worry. So we laughed to confirm the satire. Laughing was easy, even if, in the story, the Climate Deniers win in the end. I won't recount the story, but it involves a terrorist plot on Parliament House featuring a super-heroic female environment minister and her PR offsider and a shock jock and new tech and helicopters and Fleetwood Mac (?). And some minor education in climate change. And plenty of loud music and laughs. Then to finish, a dance party. Dance Party? Sting once said "when the world is going down, you make the best of what's still around". I've pondered that very line as I write on jazz and the arts while climate threatens. I guess David's made a similar decision. So the dance. And the CD which essentially provides the text and original dance music from Reuben. David's presentation was both intimate and strong and well-voiced and Reuben's music was a loud, head-thumping pleasure. Local and unpretentious and great fun, made famous by Bolt and others, appearing in various formats. And referencing the essential issue for the modern world - the one we are busily flubbing.

David Finnigan (playwright, dramatist) performed the text of Kill Climate Deniers at Smiths. Reuben Ingall (electronics, DJ) provided the dance music.

  • KCC website
  • Sample/purchase/download the CD
  • 20 September 2016

    Bass blues

    Off again to the Canberra Blues Club monthly jam at the Harmonie German Club. It was raining - a nasty day - but still the jammers list was filled by the time I arrived, by 2.05pm. It's popular. So a dark German beer and a few bands and an early departure. Interestingly, there was some spruiking for the upcoming ACT election in favour of local clubs vs the planned casino upgrade, essentially an argument for local vs international corporate pokies. Neither is an optimal option but local looks the better of a bad bunch. No reports but a few pics. BTW, the host band was Queen Juanita & the Zydeco Cowboys.

    19 September 2016

    Burning cool

    Let's face it. Bach is cool. The audience may not have been big enough and the hair commonly grey, but the four Bach cantatas played by the reformed Canberra Bach Ensemble were a great success and a huge pleasure. The cantatas were BWV119,131,138,34. All religious; I guess all written for Bach's weekly turnaround performances. Huge, complex works; riddled with brilliant counterpoint, often leaving tacets for various players, even violins; joyous and appealing or tragic and saddening; featuring solo voices or magnificent choruses. I wondered a feminist thought that had never entered my head: this is not an era of women's equality, but there are soprano voices and alto voices from women, presumably originally sung by women. Perhaps the orchestra of the time was all male. But the thought passed as the music again spelt its magnificence. Andrew Koll was conducting an SATB choir of 27, including four solo voices, also SATB, and an orchestra of 27. No small feat. The place was St Christopher's Manuka and the sound was heavily reverberating, the seats were wooden pews. I recognised many players and singers so virtually all local, and Andrew commented on the strong local musical scene (despite ANU's wobbles). The sounds were presumably authentic to the era, different from a modern symphony orchestra. This group included recorders and Cor Anglais and organ continuo and massed trumpets and important bassoon bass lines and early walking bass. I loved the solo singing, Emma's soaring soprano through Maartje and Owen down to Andrew's bass: the vocal ornamentation and the earnest religious themes. But the choir is magnificence itself as it raises voice, a towering beauty of harmony from many fine voices. So a smile breaks on your face. It's blissful at these times. Bach is cool; a big Bach ensemble playing capably like this one is a thing of great joy. This was. The event was introduced by the German Ambassador but unusually she returned at the end of the performance, turning to the performers to talk for some time. This is German but now everyone's music and the German Ambassador was thanking Canberrans for playing it. To me, this just confirmed the success. CBE is returning for four Advent Cantatas in mid-November. It's a busy time, but I can only suggest don't miss it.

    The Canberra Bach Ensemble was led by Andrew Koll (conductor) and Leanne Bear (orchestra leader) with soloists Emma Griffiths (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (alto), Owen Elsey (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass).

    17 September 2016

    Out of the woodwork

    I don't write about every one of my jazz gigs; only for something or someone of note. Tilt played at the Olims Ainslie pub again and it was a great night. Cheers to Nitya who attended and sat in on tenor for a few standards. I played with Nitya when I was returning to jazz, sometime before the onset of CJ. Thrilling from a bass POV was getting out my NS NXT electric double bass. Bought off eBay sometime ago and never played by me in performance. After years on 6-string electric, I had reverted to four string and decided to settle on that (all my practicing had reverted to 4-string double), and, given I've never played 5-string, this (5-stringer) is not optimal and just a little confusing. But it's nice to change back to double bass jazz techniques. The style and approach is different, the rhythms and syncopations sit nicely and are more jazz-contemporary (my busy beat subdivisions on bass guitar are more funky than jazzy) and the thumpy tone of the piezo with these undetermined strings is to die for. So, a good gig and a discovery of something sitting in my cupboard. And a great topic of conversation, and that never hurt any band.

    Tilt played at the Ainslie pub. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass: NS NXT). Nitya Bernard Parker (tenor) sat in for a few standards.

    16 September 2016

    Perceptions evolving

    It's strange how you see bands differently in different incarnations. Antipodes played again at Smiths and this time I was just mesmerised by the richness and development of the compositions. Not that the blowing isn't good. It always is. These are wonderful players and they leave space for improv, but I wondered at the complexity of lines, of interactions, of feels. One piece, by Callum, was called Five 3 ways, apparently written to cycle through 5/8, 5/4 and 15/8. A mate commented that is sounded "almost baroque" and it did, especially a counterpoint section where the band broke down to just guitar and alto. Jake's Luke's Hidden Falls had the most deliciously settled feel, sparse and zen-like which developed busyness and complexity then finally returned. Luke can present his tunes with light, daily life images for titles, about kids on bikes or pants, but they are richly structured: his Glasshouse starts meditative and relaxed, enlivening with a guitar solo and ending on anarchy. The membership of Antipodes has varied over their three visits: Luke and Jake for all three; Callum for two; Tom and Tim for this latest. So it is with touring bands but the core compositional duties sit with Luke, Jake and Callum. I was entranced by the rhythm section, Tom a favourite of mine, tight, very effectively syncopated and one solo, especially, a very pleasant surprise when he was brave enough to play so little and so deliciously simply. Tim was new to me and a great pleasure: always strong and driving, sharp and clear and some lovely divisions of the beat, rudimentary. Luke likes his Rhodes: this time that sound came from a lightweight Korg Krome. He likes the acoustic, too, of course, but Smith's upright, although undeniably authentic, was not quite so pleasing. Either way, he's an easy master, spelling harmonies and exploring chords with varied ease. Callum is nicely understated, clean, crisp but fast and well filled. Jake will play the distant and pensive, bent notes, slow connections, intervallic explorations, but enjoys the explosive, fast, loud, physical. So, I wrote before of a great blowing band, and they continue with plenty of nice improv, but it's composition that gets my admiration on this visit. A wonderfully lively and thoughtful band.

    Antipodes comprised Jake Baxendale (alto), Callum Allardice (guitar), Luke Sweeting (piano), Tom Botting (bass) and Tim Geldens (drums). They played at Smiths.

    13 September 2016

    Bassists' bliss

    It's a benefit for those in the know, but it's disappointing that society can so easily ignore its best. It happens in many fields, of course. Everyone knows of celebrities, but many with real expertise are known to only a clique with shared interests. So it was with Francois Rabbath when he played in a church hall in Springwood in the Blue Mountains yesterday. But it was a pleasure was to see how many in his field were there to celebrate his skills: perhaps 50% of the audience was bassists. Francois toured and performed with his son, Sylvan, on piano. Francois is the master, the bassist. Rabbath, of the Rabbath technique. He's obviously an inventive chap, open to different approaches. His method centres on an enhanced range under the hand by pivoting hand on thumb; not stretching fingers, with possible intonation problems, but pivoting while maintaining hand shape. So fewer moves, just a few positions right up the neck, faster and equally accurately intonation when well done. Certainly Francois' speed was prodigious, even if only unleashed for some quick fills. And his bowing, also blindingly fast and clear throughout. His gear is of interest, too: his instrument (the famed Quenoil), his bow, his strings, his end pin. But the essential factor is his tone and it was so glorious: rich and rounded right into his frequent high notes (he played mostly in the thumb positions). The music comprised mainly his own compositions, of a popular style with melody spelt on bass. Sylvan accompanying on piano (a good electric, Nord, but still no match for acoustic in this context; BTW, I hear Francois turned down a pickup on his bass), sometimes soloing and once dropping into electric organ sounds. Francois often accompanied with pizz behind Sylvan's solos, using a genuine jazz technique, fingers flat to strings, at the end of the fingerboard (he didn't play any classical pizz). The final tunes were Night and day then a solo with Bach Cello suite no.1 Sarabande. I loved his certain capriciousness, in the best, most explorative, most good natured way. Rabbath will play tunes dedicated to relatives and others and themes on a sinking Venice and despairs over hunting, then lighten up with a pizz Night and day and end with the deep beauty of a Bach cello suite. Music and technique is all one, applied variously but all available and blendable. It's a common theme these days in many areas, but Francois displays it with great skills and a inviting cheer. A fabulous concert by a master of the double bass and a meeting of the bass spheres.

    Francois Rabbath (double bass) performed with Sylvan Rabbath (piano) for the Live in the Village concert series in Springwood, Blue Mountains, NSW.

  • Many thanks to Peter Karp of Karp Photographics for the great photo of Francois and Sylvan with the 32 double bassists in attendance at the gig. It's one to treasure. http://www.peterkarp.com.au
  • 06 September 2016

    The Requiem the end

    It was another she'll be right on the night and it was. Maruki played a combined concert with Canberra Community Voices and a few soloists. The main work was most of Mozart Requiem (what a pleasure to play that one!) but also a few other pieces to fill out the first half, not least with soprano soloist Lousie Keast (who also plays cello with Maruki when not singing up front). Particularly interesting for the bass section was our guest Chris Bainbridge (whose Mum and Dad were also performing, in orch and choir). He's a graduate of Maruki, ANU and ANAM and now studying in Vienna and an AYO bassist who's just toured Europe and China, performing, not least, at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. We were blessed. Four basses, a strong section. Loved it and I, for one, learnt a bit from playing with Chris. Otherwise, we played a gloriously beautiful piece, Mozart Ave verum corpus, a few overtures from Wagner and Rossini, some songs from Bizet and Puccini and some majestic choral numbers, Vivaldi Gloria and Handel Hallelujah chorus. And the soloists were excellent: Louise Keast (soprano and coordinator of the singers for this event), Veronica Thwaites-Brown, (interestingly, an excellent Maria in the Sound of Music that I played, amongst other more traditional performances), Lachlan McIntyre and Colin Milner. The Canberra Community Voices were directed by Kenneth Teoh (who, I read in the program, has played clarinet with the Berlin Phil, no less; a match for conductor John's time with the London Symph). But nothing can match the grandeur and beauty of great music like the Requiem or the pleasure in navigating the glorious and sometimes twisted basslines. A great pleasure all round.

    Maruki Orchestra performed under John Gould (conductor). Canberra Community Voices is led by Kenneth Teoh (musical director). They performed Mozart Requiem and more at Albert Hall with singers Lousie Keast, Veronica Thwaites-Brown, Lachlan McIntyre and Colin Milner (vocal soloists).