30 November 2018

Doing the job, very satisfying

Professionalism is something I particularly notice and value. It's a response from musos who try hard at this stuff and realise how difficult it can be. Whatever, I see it in Steve Richard's bands and I enjoy it immensely. Steve was back with his quartet at Smiths with Steve's arrangements and just two practices under their belts and a sharp, neat presentation of some entertaining and varied materials. That's what professionalism is. His offsiders were Sally and Barney and Lauren. Lauren on tenor was new to me: jokingly, Steve called her his secret. Apparently, she's recently back from hotter climes. I particularly liked her on some cool Miles but she was consistently accurate and satisfying, spelling out charted melodies neatly and laying out some intriguing solos. I think of Sally primarily as a composer but she's a jazz pianist of note enriched by her composition training which is evident in her playing. It's a different conception: big and wide. She told me she thinks of parts, of a big band or orchestra. I could hear that complexity and fullness, in melodic and improvisational concept, but also in richness of expression. Truly a fascinating and rich picture. Barney on bass was just his professional best at reading and interpreting, but he let go in ways I haven't heard from him before, with chromatics and hammerons at speed that were thrilling but also harmonically intricate. And Steve. I've played with him and can only admire that calm visage that hides training and skills that express themselves in sharp and intelligently varied exploration of time, splitting beats into parts, then parts further, the neatest rudiments with tone and that joyful cowbell that he enjoyed so much on this gig. Apparently it's a new acquisition. We got a few laughs there; very much with not at him. And a great collection of tunes, from Bird through pop arranged in jazz ways, like Bad Plus-ish Everybody wants to rule the world and Sting and Mark Knoffler, through locals including tunes by Sally and Miro and a few drummers, Manu Katche and Bernard Purdy, into touches of contemporary and free from Stefon Harris. A fascinating collection but also entertaining and contemporary. Did I say I liked this outing? I did, very much.

Steve Richards (drums) led a quartet at Smiths with Lauren Thurlow (tenor), Sally Greenaway (piano) and Barnaby Briggs (bass).

21 November 2018

Acqua alta comes to Canberra

It was only 2 weeks ago that we were in Venice and the storms were reported worldwide and the acqua alta prevented us leaving our apartment. That was only for 30 minutes: the tides come and go and that area wasn't so bad and if we had galoshes we could have left. So I'm out with Tilt for my first return gig at Molly and what happens? Acqua alta at Molly Bar! It was all clear before the gig but we heard rain as we descended the stairs and found a drenching stream dropping from the lintel and high water up to the door. But they were prepared: Molly has a ramp to avoid local inundations. We were drenched getting cars and loading but we shared a few laughs with the locals leaving. It was all worth it. Great gig, so much fun to return and play again. Thanks to James and Dave and Molly.

Tilt Trio played at Molly Bar in Civic. Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

19 November 2018

A different experience

This was a concert by my string orchestra, Musica da Camera, and I was in the audience. It was a strange and lesser experience but inevitable. We went off to Europe, arriving back just the day before, so no time for preparation and Roger replaced sat in. The program was of "favourites", a term that has been used before for concerts led by a member. Not that the tunes are insignificant. This program included concerti by Vivaldi and Corelli and various shorter works by Elgar, Massenet, Sibelius, Delibes, Dvorak, Monti and Strauss. There were some serious faves here, though, with visiting young student Chantelle Bennett soloing on Massenet Mediation from Thais, a tune which is ridiculously well known, and everyone sitting in (read, clapping) for Strauss Radetsky March. It's interesting to see how involving is some activity, in this case, clapping along. The Strauss ended the program and had everyone livid with joy by the end. Obviously, it's another that everyone knows and it's an earworm. Elgar Salut d'amour was like that, too, although made no call for audience participation. This is a great little string orchestra and no less this day. There were a string of soloists (the Vivaldi concert was for four violins) and even an arrangement by leader Gillian. Some great, popular, memorable music and some committed playing, not least by Rosemary who sweated through a series of solos and features in the concert master's chair (standing). So, much enjoyed although I must admit I would have preferred to be playing.

Musica da Camera performed a concert of string orchestra favourites at Cook. Gillian Bailey-Graham (conductor) led the group with a string of soloists including Rosemary Macphail, Jocelyn James, John Dobson, Heng Lin Yeap and Chantelle Bennett (violins). Roger Grime (bass) sat in at the low end.

17 November 2018

Farewell to Rome

Rome was the end of our trip. It's a place we know well so it's not so much a tourist haunt for us and anyway, it's a city that has a life other than tourism. None-the-less, we are nothing if not dumbstruck by the ancient world and later history that pervades this city. People live with it, largely ignore it, express pride for it. Tourists just gawk. Despite the years I spent there, there's always something new, and it's surprisingly renowned. This time we did an outing to Villa Adriana (Hadrian's villa) with cousins, stopping at the "Cimitero acattolico" on the way, sited with Rome's own pyramid, Piramide di Caius Cestius, and a museum visit to the Basilica di San Clemente, a church with three levels of foundations that record use of the site since ancient times, perhaps the Great Fire of 64CE, perhaps the mint of Rome, definitely a mithraem and housing and decorations through classical and Byzantine to baroque styles. All distributed over about 20 vertical metres displaying the rise and rise of physical Rome. Some pics, although none of St Clemente which doesn't allow photography.

16 November 2018

Wealth and dignity

The Borghese are still remembered in Rome for the Gardens and the Gallery as well as papal history. I'd never visited the Borghese Gallery. It was booked out last time we were in Rome. The gallery is comfortably small but still busy. Access is in 2-hour blocks, so everyone is entering and leaving together. Strange. Especially when you get the call and security clears the rooms. This is not the Pitti but it's a nice collection. Paintings by Perugino, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian and the like, statues by Bernini and Canova and a collection of Roman arts, statues and friezes, in rooms painted in grotesque fresco style. Look for the cocky amongst the pics above.

14 November 2018

Too meaningful for me

I like a melody (not least the great standards that merge whimsy with depth) but I found the quietude and mesmerism of Oded Tzur just too much for me. The band was all good. The volume consistently and convincingly rose in each piece from a ppp(p) that was only just audible to loud with abandon usually in someone’s solo and the solos were good. Oded himself did some interesting outings, especially developing repeating phrases that crossed bars and mutated through intervals and perhaps resolved in time. He talked once of Tihai as an Indian classical music rhythmic technique that resolves on a key beat (usually 1 of a bar) after three repeats. Again repeating, he mentioned his three weddings (NYC, Israel, Brazil) and “the most important thing in the world / the most important thing in the world / the most important thing in the world is LOVE”. Three themes, three repeats: a tihai in presentation and in verse. Cool! In fact, everything I seemed to count was in 3 or 6 but I didn’t count everything. Pianist Nitai Hershkovit is a Smalls regular and an impressive player. He soloed impressively and accompanied nicely here too: usually restrained, in the style of the band, then growing in volume and intensity, again in the style of the band. Drummer Colin was nicely outgoing, I thought, and bassist Petros had a lovely tone (mic and a Realist Copperhead?), perhaps highlighted by the very low volume, and played mostly fairly straight syncopated lines but could expand as in one fast thumb position melody played unison with piano. These are decent NYC players but playing just too deep for my enjoyment. It got me wondering about politics, US and others, Trump and Netanyahu; how we account for our own politics (we Australians increasingly need to account); just how Oded feels about this; how this music in relevant. For that matter, is it a relevant question? But, again, deep. I’ll leave this here as I left early there. Decent players but just not for me, at least on the night.

Oded Tzur (tenor) led a quartet with Nitai Hershkovit (piano), Petros Klampanis (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums) at the Casa del Jazz in Rome.

13 November 2018

Negotiating travel

Again, dark footpaths, distant locations, traffic to avoid. This was a Roman jazz night. The place was the Casa del Jazz, claimed as “un luogo unico in Europa, in cui convergono attività concertistiche, culturali e didattiche”. It’s in the Villa Osio, in a park, just outside the walls of Rome past the Terme di Caracalla, near the Porte Ardeatina with its streaming traffic. OK for cars but difficult for public transport but always stunning to be surrounded by this history so worth it. I arrived by bus past Rome’s genuine ancient pyramid (tomb of Gaius Cestius, built 18–12BCE, smaller and younger than Egypt's) and walked lumpy footpaths in the dark around speedy traffic, even being felled by an unseen branch. But I got there. The concert was in a small theatre rather than a bar; well equipped with PA and piano. The Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet was sponsored by the Polish Embassy for Poland’s 100th birthday. I’d checked out YouTube and found a hip-looking group playing to festivals so was in two minds. I shouldn’t have been: I was seriously won-over. This was well arranged music with generous space for solos but with planned exits and returns, unexpected compositions often playing on simple themes, blues or the like, but interspersing solos from free to formal; solos varying in support from truly alone to accompanied; mostly syncopated grooves and just one swing passage; varied in style from C20th pianism through jazz and pop to blues. I found the approach genuinely thrilling and just hung out for solos by Joanna on piano and Marek on tenor. At one stage they combined for a duet that thrilled with invention and tonal contravention. But so did Mark and trumpeter Oskar combine nicely. Drummer Qba took a most odd but interesting of solos, not at all the marching band virtuosity of the Americans but intricate in tone and even pitch given some gamelan-like percussion. Wojtek stood at centre with EUB laying pentatonics and prompting widely with smiles. Joanna especially responded. This being an embassy event, there were free drinks after and I spoke to her shortly. She’d studied classical and never followed jazz and was influenced now by the likes of composer Gervasoni (Antonio, must look him up). Wojtek just introduced a few titles. I got the impression from one naming that it had run through many passages over 30-minutes or so. Or maybe he just hadn't introduced others. Not sure. But I found this thrilling and inventive and playful with pop and rock and blues references; both fun and worthy, and that’s a great combination. And to see those YouTube videos, this band is getting to a new generation and that’s mightily worthy. Much enjoyed.

Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet performed at the Casa del Jazz in Rome. They comprised Wojtek Mazolewski (bass, composer), Oskar Torok (trumpet), Marek Pospiezalski (tenor), Joanna Duda (bass) and Qba Janicki (drums).

12 November 2018

The saint of music

I’ve seen Santa Cecilia often enough in churches and museums. Finally I’ve heard Santa her. Santa Cecilia is the saint of music and she gives her name to perhaps Italy’s and Rome’s key musical institution (La Scala and others may disagree), the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. We missed their orchestra on tour in Frankfurt but we caught the first of their annual concert series in Rome. It was at Parco della Musica, a music complex of five theatres designed by Renzo Piano, in the concert hall called, what else, Sala Santa Cecilia. This is a big room lined with bulging timber that seats 2,744. Getting there was somewhat a trial, negotiating rough unlit footpaths along busy traffic but the room is good. The Italians were chatty (very much in the aisles) and the orchestra is informal. It was a good size, ~95 with seven bassist playing played 5-string instruments. From the top, this was an exciting and entertaining concert played with lovely skills and strong dynamics. Glinka Ruslan and Ludmilla overture opened at a pace way beyond when I’ve played it. So it should, all cascading scalar runs and exhilaration. Great! Then visiting Russian pianist, Daniil Trifonov, playing Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no.3 Dminor. Again, stunning and thrilling and dense with notes. Ferocious, lush, romantic with the second movement running into the third and virtuosic piano. Fabulous playing by Trifonov and nicely conversational by the orchestra. Then a little encore on solo piano and a strange sight of Italians standing and chatting throughout the hall, at least those who didn’t exit for the interval. And the finale, Tchaikovsky Symphony no.4. To paraphrase Wikipedia, it’s a loose structure of large-scale orchestral writing and emotions and instrumental colors; a hybrid of the symphony’s architectural form and the symphonic poem’s literary form with self-contained contrasting sections displaying drama within movements. Whatever, it was exhilarating and emotional and sweeping and played with massed forces. Again a wonderful and involving performance. Santa Cecilia deserves her place.

The Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia performed Glinka, Rachmnainov and Tchaikovskyat Parco della Musica in Rome. Antonio Pappano (conductor) directed and Daniil Trifonov (piano) soloed.