19 September 2017

An Australian to the world

Canberra has shown me a very international Australia. I didn't have that feeling in Adelaide. It's derivative from the home of Federal government and associated institutions, the diplomatic core and the universities especially ANU, but also the people in our streets. I first noticed it with Frank Gambale, guitarist from the Pro Audio family who played around town in the '80s and has since recorded a string of albums with Chick Corea. And the daughter of a work colleague who was a famed model in Paris and NYC. So, it's no particular surprise that Igitur nos played the music of Penelope Thwaites, of Melbourne but with relatives here, one of whom led and sang at this concert: Veronica Thwaites-Brown. This is modern music but with firm historical awareness - I even heard some jazz harmonies - with themes of Shakespeare and psalms and a missa brevis and a wedding gloria. The performance was beautifully done. Sweet harmonies from a capable choir, clear singing from soprano, mezzo and two tenors, empathetic accompaniment from piano and organ and even drums, and one feature from a children's choir. There's concern for humanity here, chosen to fit events or to express the words of various writers including her late father Michael Thwaites, once of Canberra. It's interesting to compare Michael reading his poem (find it on SoundCloud with music played by Penelope) and Penelope's musical take on this and further, the local interpretation. I enjoyed this concert immensely, but also admired it, for its worthiness and seriousness and all round excellent musicianship, in composition and performance. I find announcements for Penelope's music being performed in London, but nice to see we beat London to the premiere of one of the works, Five Shakespeare songs. Not that it's so important, but it's amusing. Penelope is clearly one very impressive Australian in the world and this was a very impressive array of locals performing her music.

The music of Penelope Thwaites was performed at St Paul's Manuka by Igitur Nos (choir) under Matthew Stuckings (conductor, director) with soloists Veronica Thwaites-Brown (mezzo-soprano), Greta Claringbould (soprano), Ken Goodge and Raphael Hudson (tenors) and the Hawker Harmonists (children's choir). Accompaniment was by Emily Leong (piano) and Colleen Rae-Gerrard (piano, organ) and James Sneddon (drums).

18 September 2017

Satirising ultimate failure

It was the Wharf Revue and the title was the Patriotic Rag and it was at the Playhouse and it was pretty full. The Wharf Revue is an institution and well received in this town, a home to the building and the institutional support of our Federal Parliament and government. The Wharfies are witty, one is a capable pianist, they sing and dance their way through lots of characters who we all recognise, some of whom look surprisingly close to the mark (from distance, Julie Bishop was a ring-in), the skits are quick and well written and mostly well heard from a distance (I just missed a few lines, especially amongst music), the topics are current. It's all eminently professional. There's the problem: the problems they satirise are current and seemingly insurmountable. We read them every day in the paper. We read the disappointments and complaints and failures and lack of policy and you'd think there might somewhere, sometime, be some hope. But no. Just pusilanimous backsliding and Tea Party reaction and obstinacy. Coal is king; science is conspiracy; truth is conditional. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength ... er, my slip-up ... The Left bears some blame with its radical relativity and identity politics that just leaves the field open for reactionary right-thinking and economic self interest. So, housing, climate, energy, democracy, refugees, wars, all failures or failing; all within the context of existential climate, food, water and such threats. And the bomb even makes its reappearance. No joy. It's argued that satire is a powerful weapon. Perhaps, although satire is the nature of much political information these days (eg. Fallon, Colbert) and that's coincided with all this failure of political possibilities. Satire is amusing, especially for those in the know, but is it effective? And I wonder how the Wharfies get away with some things they say. How much is satire protected under law? The identities, individuals or corporates are clear, often named, and ruthlessly shamed and ridiculed. Skits on tax-avoiding multinationals; Trump as Louis XIV, Eliz1 and Vlad the Impaler were stunning; more Trump of course. Dutton as Mr Potatohead, Turnbull as the Working class man, Abbott as the Joker to Wonderwoman Lambie, Hanson, Joyce, Roberts and the rest. Shorten was strangely peripheral, just mentioned, or maybe that's the relevant satire. The CFMEU got a hit along with Michaela Cash. I chuckled but it's all too dark for laughter. The final, terminal song was Let's face the music and dance. It's another great song by Irving Berlin, performed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Follow the Fleet. I watched the YouTube video afterwards. They each, separately, are desperate and suicidal, but meet and instead dance. Thus was the Wharfies' final message for the night.

The Wharf Revue 2017, the Patriotic Rag, was at the Playhouse. It's written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott. They perform with Blazey Best.

16 September 2017

Entanglement with a silent 'b'

Scott chose an intricate name for his band, Tembtanglement, with a silent 'b'. It's tricky, like my canbjazz with another silent 'b'. But the band's not silent. It's a very clever outing by a string of trained and professional players, from the Duntroon band or otherwise, from ANU music School or otherwise. The repertoire is a mix of originals from Scott and an intriguing choice from the pop repertoire. The final tune, Nirvana Teen spirit is a a common choice and a great crowd pleaser. But Kendrick Lamar and Outkast featured with Beyonce and Justin Bieber and Eurythmics and Valerie by Amy Winehouse. Then a string of tunes by Scott, funky or swinging, all scored for three horn parts upfront. My wardrobe exploded on Yamba Drive was a wildy syncopated and odd-timed piece with a common time bridge. Spilt champagne could have been a US TV theme, all jaunty and lightly latin. The playing was solid and steady and strong. Baba was a blow out as he is wont to be, busy and flowing and melodically convincing. Capable solos all round, from Scott and Josh and Clare and a short one from Sim and a long, virtuosic one from Barney on his firmly wooded Warwick. I love a fat, middy-toned bass and this was middy but also niced toned. Lucy Ridge joined for a string of songs, Teen Spirit and Valerie and more. She was polished and neatly embellished and with one satisfying scat spot. A very professional workout on a range of jazz through funk and pop, with lots of obvious prior work on charts.

Tembtanglement played at Smiths. They were Scott Temby (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lucy Ridge (vocals), Josh Hart (trombone), Rouslan (Baba) Babajanov (alto), Clare Fitzgerald (piano), Barnaby Briggs (bass) and Simeon Staker (drums).

13 September 2017

Chalk and cheese

I had two further outings on Sunday and they were mightily diverse. First up was another visit to the jam session at Smiths. It's a comfy time to go out for a beer and a blow. I played a few tunes, poorly, and enjoyed the sun while avoiding the frigid wind. The blow happens outside, under the arches of the Melbourne Building, opposite Jolimont. There's a disparate but interesting crew ensconced, even someone drawing, a common outing in jazz clubs in NYC. How apt. Musos were coming for a gig at 4pm, so Wayne K got called up for a few tunes. All fun. Then 4pm and I thought I could manage a few minutes, with luck, at Wesley for the Hymnfest. It's organised by the RSCM (Royal School of Church Music). Some of the greatest of music is religious so I can enjoy hymns. I enjoyed the singing well enough and managed 30 minutes before it ended, but the hymns were modern and modern religious arts just don't do it for me - syrupy, overt, simple (in case you've never visited it, the Vatican museum's modern art collection is just further evidence). None-the-less, I enjoyed a sing, even if only written as unison, and there were some decent singers and a capable organ accompaniment. But let's face it, this had nothing on Handel.

The jazz jam is weekly on Sundays ~2-4pm at Smiths. The RSCM Hymnfest recurs. This one was at Wesley Church.

11 September 2017


Sunday morning was an unusual outing, to the National Portrait Gallery to sit in on an open rehearsal of a Handel Oratorio. It was in the foyer, so very public, led by Tobias Cole with a few familiar faces amongst the 10-or-so singers. Anthony Smith played piano accompaniment (nothing unexpected there) and a choreographer sat next to Anthony, jotting on various papers, occasionally getting up to test some steps. I heard 90 minutes of voice rehearsals. There were to be a few minutes of choreography, but I couldn't stay. The music was divine, of course, and the singers well up to it. Interesting to see the approaches to learning the songs: sometimes just saying phrases to confirm rhythm; most times singing in harmony. These singers are capable, so single sections didn't often need to sing their parts alone, but it did happen. They had music, but they also had eyes for Tobias, the director, and he's active so a very strong guidance. I've had one choir session with him and I can confirm that: learning related skills; playing with dissonances; spelling out rhythms; singing interesting scales, was it diminisheds? This was luscious music with cascading lines of this period and grand, coronational melodies. Lovely, certainly worthy of attendance. This will be Tobias' third Handel oratorio in three years: a worthy pursuit. Looking forward to it in late-October at the Playhouse. And another open rehearsal sometime before then.

Tobias Cole (musical director) led an open rehearsal for Handel Esther in the National Portrait Gallery. Anthony Smith (piano) accompanied.

10 September 2017


Zappa has been on my radar for years but not so much on my turntable so a retrospective like this was a blessing and a huge excitement. And this one was a learned outing. Gathered by Steve Fitzgerald after his Masters studies of Zappa and informed by musicologist Stephen Loy who speak between sets on Zappa, the Mothers, the '60s, pop and avant garde and Adorno. As for the music, it's similarly complex and considered and influenced and a mass of work to prepare. Lots of 16th-note unison lines and odd starts and stops and changing rhythms and whimsical grooves. The original had plenty of famously sly lyrics, too, and Clare presented some of these in tunes from mid-first set on. The two sets were very different. First up was more acoustic, or at least, less rocky, read, no drums: vibes, alto/soprano/flute, Rhodes/Moog, double/e-bass. The second set added tenor and screaming guitar, Zappa's instrument, and Steve switched from vibes to kit, so louder and heavier and rockier. We learnt of Zappa's influences in C20th "classical" music - Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Varese, Cage; of Adorno's critique of art as commodity or resistance; of Zappa's perverse approach of innovation presented as a "product" or "entertainment", contradicting Adorno's perspective; of Zappa's catholicity in querying whoever, straights or hippies; of his clever contrariness joined with biting hilarity - Stephen Loy quoted Zappa: "I'm really just a phoney but forgive me 'cos I'm stoned" or "Is there any art at all ... it really doesn't matter". So much for pretensions when the guy who says that is a master. Also interesting was to touch on these "fine music" influences in rock at the time, on the Beatles (Revolution no.9, Sergeant Pepper, etc). Little time to touch on that, but it's significant that Zappa's music was recorded by the LSO and Boulez. Steve's vibes were a huge pleasure, classically trained and vital and so precise; Callum played the hardest of lines with panache and some great solos; Clare did a great job, mostly Rhodes, sometimes with effects, some Moog synth and a great take on some very challenging vocals; Jared's bass was a pleasure, great tone on double and demanding reading throughout. The second set had Steve on snappy and superbly apt rock drums (one of very many pleasures on the night), Josh on tenor with one memorably searing solo and Matt Lustri doing a fabulous take on Zappa's solos, all busy and dirty. Zappa was prolific but had an exceptional band and following in the early '70s (I saw him on tour in Adelaide at this time) and much music was from then. The finale was Peaches en regalia; others included Black page, Uncle Meat, Don't you ever wash that thing, Twenty small cigars, Sofa, Echidna's arf, Idiot bastard son, Zombie woof, Watermelon in Easter hay, Son of Mr Green Genes. Names that suggest the times but also Zappa's wit. So, a great night that must have taken a huge investment of time or some exceptional reading (probably both). I loved it and learnt lots.

Steve Fitzgerald (vibes, drums), Calum Builder (alto, soprano, flute), Clare Fitzgerald (Rhodes, Moog, vocals), Jared Plane (double and electric bass) played Zappa. They were joined for the second set by Matthew Lustri (guitar) and Josh Buckler (tenor). Stephen Loy (musicologist) spoke between sets.

05 September 2017


You can't say that Maruki doesn't challenge itself, or at least that John Gould, conductor and musical director, doesn't challenge his players. Maruki takes on the full deal. I started with Beethoven 5th and did his third soon afterwards.. Otherwise, it's been a string of Dvorak symphonies and others by Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mozart Requiem and one Bach suite, Pictures at an exhibition and a string of concerti. And Bolero, repetitive but popular as it is. This time was no let-up: Mendelssohn Ruy Blas overture and violin concerto played by John, and Tchaikovsky Symphony no.2. John likes to take on the beg works. It was a hard program, lots of tricky bowing and quick tempi, not least in Ruy Blas. The concerto was perhaps the most difficult I've played as accompaniment. John did an excellent job as always. But he's got a history in the LSO, no less, so there's talent and experience here. You just have to hear his anecdotes at practice to appreciate his background. Maybe not as young and lively as he was, but still with fire and a senior's awareness. And the Tchaikovsky. The Dvorak 4 that we played at the last concert was perhaps my favourite at that time. Now perhaps it's the Tchaikovsky 2 with its unrelenting drive and ongoing sequences. Just get on board; you're in for an exhilarating ride, as long as we can hold it together. And we did, perhaps except for one passage where one section rushed ahead. The clarity and intonation were sometimes a challenge, but this is a community orchestra of all ages taking on the most profound and challenging works. It's a funny feeling when it's over, you stand for the final bow, the wariness and tension relieved, the work of months performed. The audience does its part in clapping, but I find it a strange time, relaxed but not particularly elated, almost ready to think to the next challenge. For Maruki, it's Dvorak 6 and Pomp and Circumstance (a good English crowd pleaser for the run-up to Christmas) and Gounod ballet music. All great fun and excellent training for this game. Well done all in Maruki and looking forward to the next one.

Maruki Community Orchestra performed Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky mostly under John Gould (conductor). The Mendelssohn violin concerto featured John Gould (violin) as soloist under Michael Stenning (conductor).