31 October 2016

Sing jazz

This time in Singapore I found some accessible jazz. The Singapore Jazz Club hangs out at the Sultan Hotel . This night they were featuring Sicilian singer Daniela Ruggieri with a backing trio for their Thursday Vox series. Thursday nights are usually a duo format with pianist Mario Serio and a singer but this night was with a full band, as it turns out, to celebrate Daniela’s birthday (impolite to say which one, but a significant one). Daniela sang a series of jazz standards, Willow weep, Summertime, Ipanema, Route 66, Comes love, Wonderful world (many were requests by friends and family on the night) but my favourites were some Italian songs that I hadn’t heard, Estate by Bruno Martino, but especially Quando (“Tu dimmi quando, quando”, not the hugely-known Quando, quando, quando). Lovely tune. I especially enjoyed Daniela’s scatting, which was lively and clever (she had studied piano seriously in earlier years and I reckon that showed). Mario had a great feel for simple eighth-note lines that spelled out the chords to perfection. Bassist Ivan sounded great and did some lovely solos up in thumb position and stepping down to the lowest notes. I was particularly taken by one triplet line that sequenced down through several octaves. Drummer (and husband) Massimo did an understated and sturdy job both in spelling time and laying out some neat solos. Nice to finally get out to some Singapore jazz and especially nice with the Italian and celebratory connections.

Daniela Ruggeri (vocals) celebrated her birthday at the Singapore Jazz Club in the Sultan Hotel with Mario Serio (piano), Ivan Lombardi (bass) and Massimo Alioto (drums)

30 October 2016

A history in brass

A brass orchestra is a thing of beauty but not often-enough heard, at least by me, all rich and sonorous and smooth and intricate with orchestral complexity at its best. Boston Brass was the next great pleasure of the Performers(’) present symposium at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore. The five members of Boston Brass combined with YSTCM staff and faculty to perform a fabulous evening of brass works, heavily influenced by the American tradition and especially jazz. This is a band to bridge gaps. In fact, some commentary on the way spoke specifically of that: that musicians move back and forth through styles; that they practice “backyard ethnomusicology” (perhaps paraphrased as “do what you dig”). So we were introduced to a seriously good trom player, principal in the local orchestra, who played the solo for a Wayne Shorter tune, and we heard of BB’s tubist picked up by Duke Ellington to fill in on tour for a few months in his twenties and his later two years with the Ellington Band under Mercer. There was a touch of classical here, starting up with three increasingly lengthy fanfares, from Howard Hanson (for the Signal Corps), Bernstein (for JFK) and John Williams (for Fenway). Then a passage through US musical history. Copland’s take of the deliciously simple Shaker song, Simple gifts; Joe Avery Second line, an improv-rich take on New Orleans marching bands; borrowings from two suites, Gershwin Porgy and Bess and Bernstein West Side Story (I had just revisited WSS in flight and marvelled again at the music and the film); John Lewis Three little feelings (third stream classical/jazz crossover: never enough spunk for my ears); Wayne Shorter Aung San Su Kyi (to touch on modern jazz structures); another suite of Duke Ellington tunes. There’s a sweep of American music here, played with life and clarity and chops, some writing to die or cry for (not least West Side Story), plenty of joy amongst a sorry racial history and an inviting performance and patter. Boston Brass play 100 gigs a year, perform workshops at top schools and play with all manner of ensembles, from orchestras through all manner of bands, marching, jazz and whatever. Fabulous and funky and plenty of fun.

Boston Brass performed alone and with various combinations of faculty and students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore for the Performers(’) present symposium. Boston Brass comprise Jeff Conner and Jose Sibaja (trumpets), Chris Castellanos (horn), Domingo Pagliuca (trombone) and Sam Pilafian (tuba ). Alvin Seville (conductor) led the ensemble for various tunes. Marques Young (trombone) featured for several solos.

29 October 2016


Mieko Kanno’s solo violin concert was unexpected and revelatory. We had arrived in Singapore for just a few days and initially our web investigations had uncovered nothing but an opera - not our preference. Then we discovered the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and a symposium called Performers(’) present and a series of free public concerts that went with this event. We arrived to find a wonderful establishment and this concert in the Orchestra (rehearsal) hall. We were first attracted by the promise of Bach (an easy crowd puller and it certainly works for us) but then we learnt of Mieko’s role in new music in Europe, and then we heard some. Firstly, the JS Bach Ciocona from Unaccompanied partita no.2 Dmin was bliss with stunningly effective spelling on multiple fugue lines and bowing to die for. Bowing was to prove a feature of this concert (just one), not least because it’s something I am discovering. Then something different: Salvatore Sciarrino Caprices no.2, all shimmering like wind and delicate Asian flute-like, again in the bowing, almost unheard, sometimes gripping the strings, but mostly just passing so lightly over. Mieko had asked for no interruptions, no applause between pieces. She then wired up a pickup to a Mac and John Hails La Pastora was strongly formed notes with heavy echo - I thought an initial echo around 5 seconds, then another following after another 3 seconds or so, perhaps more or otherwise - giving notes and snippets of melody that recurred and harmonies that shifted over time. Then, to finish, without processing, strong and precise pitch and bowing spelling out Bartok Sonata for violin mvt.3 and buzzing bees in mvt.4. We were in awe and dumbfounded and blessed of luck in finding music of such obviously international quality here, for fellow symposium-attendees and musicians and welcome public, an intimate concert where you can chat after. Mieko is a master of the form and this was a hugely memorable concert. But as I left, I could only compare the Singapore that’s appearing to me on this visit, vibrant and excellent and challenging, all innovation and the rest that we mumble of incessantly. Amusing as it is to notice the Australian World Orchestra here in early October for masterclasses. Is Australia living on past investments, I wondered. But, relieved of political weight, Mieko Kanno was a revelation for fabulous playing and not least for how music exists and changes over time and stays relevant.

Mieko Kanno (violin) performed JS Bach, Salvatore Sciarrino, John Hails and Bartok in concert at the Performers(’) present symposium at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore.

28 October 2016

Predating the Renaissance I know

It was the Copenhagen Renaissance Music Festival but Sequentia performed music from before that. So be it: mediaeval and Renaissance often go together as early music and this was a great and revealing concert if, sadly, for too small an audience. Sequentia is renowned for its Hildegard von Bingen recordings but they do more with a long discography of well-informed period music. Well-informed is significant in this context, as we don’t know too much about early music: perhaps where it raised and lowered in pitch but not how far, or how time was involved. Like the Vespers we sang the other day, a line might extend so there may be 4/4 then a lengthy period of a single note with changing words. I was enamoured by the voice and the instruments: they were all played so well and sounded with such strong tone in this ex-church performance space (the Koncertkiche). The real commitment to getting as close to the originals as we can is obvious and it’s not just in performance. The instruments are reconstructions of specific examples unearthed in various European sites (Germanic harp from Oberflacht, C7th; triangular harp; transverse flutes, including one made form a swan’s bone, Speyer C11th). Much of the performance was also improvised. I saw the charts, some with symbols indicating rising and falling lines; others with just words. Many languages were represented, from different sources and that early era: Frankish, Latin, German, Icelandic. There were instrumentals with sequence melodies (I guess here we only know the melodic movement, not time or specific pitch). There were stories from Beowulf and Old Icelandic Edda and the Muspilli fragment and the Evanelienbuch of Otfried von Weissenburg and the Prophesy of the Erthyraean sibyl; all old stuff but often new to me. But strangely there were musical figments I recognised. The improvisation and modal approach are obvious jazz references, but there was that end-of-line upsweep that I first noted from Siouxsie of the Banshees and lots of pentatonic-like lines. Benjamin said the 6 note-fretted strings on the harps was one reason. It got me thinking of how much we know, how much we reproduce a product of our own time and how much the original music ideas have come through to our time. But then, that’s the essential question of this period-music study: we can never know finally, but we can limit the possibilities as we learn more. The theme of this concert was the Apocalypse; the title was Fragments for the end of time. It’s an appropriate theme for these days of Trump and Climate change and the rest, and that comment was made by a local as we left. But it also just confirmed to me how this must have seemed so real in mediaeval times. The Church and God were one and all-encompassing, at least in central Europe; life was brutal and short and experience was limited. Occasionally a minstrel arrived with terrifying stories of end-time (as these sounded terrifying and the essence was story-telling; think Bob Dylan as a modern story-teller in this style). It must have been terrifying and unquestionable. So this is what we heard. Two performers of a malleable ensemble performing mediaeval stories with the most informed interpretation that we can manage today. Stunning and woeful stories of end-of-times with increasingly believable references to our times. How lucky were we to catch this gig, one night in Copenhagen.

On the night, Sequentia were Benjamin Bagby (voice, harps, symphonia) and Norbert Rodenkirchen (flutes, harp). They performed at the Koncertkirche for the Copenhagen Renaissance Music Festival 2016.

27 October 2016

One hot fountain

We think of Scandinavian jazz as all sparse and pensive, but this night in La Fontaine, the oldest jazz club in Copenhagen, was nothing like that. The room was on the first floor, busy and ruddy with B&W pics of performers and party lights over the bar. The music was 3 sets from 10-2 and started rhythmically relaxed but hot from the top, with a funky blues shuffle. Head and tenor solo and guitar solo and organ solo and swapped fours then head. Like that for the night and a revelation. Some swing and blues and ballads - Green Dolphin St, Willow weep for me, Love for sale, Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar. Several blues, one that Anders learnt in NYC but without the title; otherwise some I recognised but also couldn’t name. But what a fabulous outing. Tight and a fabulously easy groove on all the tunes, perhaps with solos that dragged way behind the beat, but the tempo remained. The bass was organ foot keys or left hand and the right hand and left variously swelled or riffed or pedalled in solos or accompaniment and solos and the Leslie (he seemed to have two traditional box Leslies, one old and battered like the organ and one newer). The guitar also comped, but choppier, and his solos were wonderfully perfect and inevitable with pentatonics and heavy strings and little sustain and a real blues sensibility. Drums was simple and ever-strong and avoiding lots of syncopations and the time was ever-correct. Then tenor, starting up with well stated and lightly embellished heads (plenty more complexity as the night progressed), then letting go with more of those inevitable pentatonics but also substitutions and some sidesteps and fabulous commitment and floridly rich lines. Tenor Anders was a revelation. Just a fabulous night with wonderful grooves and great fun and volume and commitment and a hot venue (literally so). Nothing like what I expected when I set off in the cold for a Scandinavian jazz club, but so what? Great night out.

Kjeld Lauritsen (organ) led a quartet with Anders Gaardmand (tenor), Bo Moller (guitar) and Frands Rifbjerg (drums) at La Fontaine jazz club in Copenhagen.

26 October 2016

Ridiculous to sublime

We’re not the only ones to visit Reeberbahn and surrounds, either for the Beatles or the sex. It’s certainly a raunchy area. Beatles Platz looks innocent but the street behind, Grose Freiheit, featuring two venues that the Beatles played at, Indra (site of their first German gig on 17 Aug 1960) and KaiseKeller, is colourful and has it fair share of raunch. (The Beatles are perhaps better known for playing at the Star Club in Hamburg, but that’s since burned down). But Herbertstrasse with its girls in windows, supposedly locked off for women and men under 18, is in a genuinely beery and sleezy area. It’s a badge of honour, this sleeze, and the Reeperbahn deserves it. Easily up there with famed Amsterdam streets. So, the Beatles and raunchy Reeperbahn was our first port of call.

The day ended with vespers at 7pm. We’d found a pamphlet listing Kirchen musik in Hamburg for Oct/Nov and three events were listed for this one evening. We chose the easiest to get to, which was vespers at (Lutheran) Hauptkirche St Trinitatis Altona, sung by soprano with organ accompaniment. Vespers are an ancient rite, one of the daily prayer services and perhaps the last to remain. We received a handout of words and some written music on entry. We arrived to hear the musicians preparing (that’s the pic: they were in white garb for the service). The German was difficult, but we could follow and sing along at times. The soprano singing was deeply satisfying and the organ was powerful and impressively deep with several massive pipes, perhaps 5/6 metres. The Beatles can be sublime, so my title may be a little unfair to them, but Reeperbahn is in no way sublime and the Vespers certainly are.

Oksana Lubova (soprano) sang the vespers at Hauptkirche St Trinitatis Altona with accompaniment by Hanno Schiefner (organ). The Beatles performed in the Reeperbahn in Hamburg in the early ‘60s.

25 October 2016

Top dog

Hamburg is on the Elbe River, thus the Elbphilharmonie. We were only in Hamburg a few nights and all the music we could find on the Net was through Elbphilharmonie and the Elbphilharmonie was just next door to where we were playing. Too bad that it was still under construction (to open Jan 2017) and the gigs were elsewhere. But first that construction. I’ve read that in our era, concert halls and opera theatres have taken on the public pride role that cathedrals had in the mediaeval period. Certainly, we meet people who want to see the Sydney Opera House. And Elbphilharmonie is a beautiful work: wedge shaped with wavy roof, brown brick base topped with a box of glass panels that glow variously in different light enclosing a modern concert hall (presumably multiple halls and strangely including a hotel) reminiscent of the Berlin Philharmonie and promising excellent acoustics and lodged between canals/channels with water on three sides and activity all round. But for now it’s closed.

Our jazz was at the Elbphilharmonie Kulturcafe in the middle of town. It was probably rebuilt after the war, with statue out front and colonnades and in its own square, so it’s attractive. It’s also the local Starbucks and labelled thus; the Kulturcafe happens upstairs. Traeben (=Top Dog) is a Danish-Dutch quartet touring its third album of rock-jazz. The compositions were strongly rock to my ears with frequent rock drum grooves and mostly steady bass and heavily distorted guitar. I like that! Plenty of guitar solos, all dirty, sometimes unison lines with tenor. Tenor tended to play head with choppy tongued lines although would smooth things out in solos. No walks that I remember; plenty of syncopated, sustained passages. A few bass and drum solos. I liked the drums and his sense of time, unerring, as you’d expect in a drummer. I expect all original compositions, medium up or ballad tempos, with titles like Do you think you’re any good, Ends unresolved, No, Better than the other one. I liked the syncopations, especially the final tune which I think I counted as 9/8 with a 4/4 bridge. Otherwise there were plays on time, like 4 over 3 or rock-insistent unison 8 to the bar or ends left unresolved. Traeben had me musing over where bands set their balance in crossovers (not that it’s a conscious decision). This seemed pretty rocky to my ears, less flexible in the rhythm section and that blaring guitar (I’m an old rocker and I like it) with a layer of jazz-aware improv over.

Traeben played at the Elbphilharmonie Kulturcafe in Hamburg. Traeben comprise Soren Ballegaard (tenor), Jens Larsen (guitar), Olaf Meijer (bass) and Haye Jellema (drums).

24 October 2016

2 from 3

That’s three free lunchtime concerts at the Berlin Philharmonie and twice we’ve run into friends. It’s like that at tourist haunts. Celeste and Bill had just arrived in Berlin and this was about their first outing. It was good. Three bassoons (!) playing JS Bach: Prelude and fugue Emaj, Organ sonata Eb maj and Organ sonata Cmin. All arranged by Mor Biron, one of the three bassoons. Not such a log concert; just ~30 mins. But what an amount of work to prepare for this concert, meaning, to make the arrangements. You can only love Bach’s interlacing lines, his counterpoint and parallel but displaced fugue lines. And how nice to hear Bach on three bassoons; the thicker, heavier bass notes; the sonorous and sometimes tense higher registers.

Mathis K Stier, Marceau Lefèvre and Mor Biron (bassoons) performed JS Bach for a free lunchtime concert in the foyer at the Berlin Philharmonie. Our friends were Celeste and Bill Barker of Brindabella Orchestra and Leigh Barker fame.

23 October 2016

Ricky reaches Berlin

Rickenbacker is a bass or guitar of ‘60s fame so I was amused to hear of an R+B bar called that in Berlin. I’d been told Mondays at Rickenbacker’s Music Inn was the Pro Jam night and it was. There’s little work on Monday nights and they tell me the professionals hang out here. I caught a few outfits and they were superb examples of the art. Tight, calm but explosive, great solos and voices and inviting to the dancers. This plus smoke and friendly bar staff and people falling over each other to get around. What such a club should be. Hot and sweaty with the girls up for the dance and the guys lurking.

22 October 2016

Hot lines

Bad Plus were in Berlin last week but I missed them. The Yellowjackets were at ZigZag for two shows on one night about a week later. Fusion is not so much my thing these days and then they were booked out. I went down anyway and got in for the last few tunes. Hot playing, lots of synths tones from keys and bass and ewi, lithe but firm drumming, solos and swapped eights (interestingly sax and bass), lots of smiles after tight lines falling nicely, not that we’d expect otherwise. These guys are tight and convoluted and get off on their solos. I only heard a few tunes, but one was all fast swing with e-bass twists behind. Bassist Dane is the youngest of the band and the newest member (this being a long-term outfit, Russell dating back to the start of the band in 1977, Bob and Will being long-term members and Dane the newbie) but he’s a big feature on stage, playing fast 6-string with all techniques and some devastatingly quick fingered and sharply toned lines. Bob and Russell took their share of solos but I missed any by drummer Will. A common approach is drum solo on the final tune, but not this time. I enjoyed the show, was blown out by the quick playing and tight lines, the audience was in raptures and I was glad to have caught one touring US jazz act in Berlin. And did I mention that bassist Dane was an Aussie?

Yellowjackets played at ZigZag jazz club in Berlin. The Yellowjackets are Bob Mintzer (tenor, Ewi), Russell Ferrante (keys, piano), Will Kennedy (drums) and Dane Alderson (bass).