31 January 2019

Who thinks Denniss is a menace

I've heard it all before from Richard Dennis but the question is, of course, is he right? He's certainly clever at identifying the inconsistencies in arguments for neo-liberalism and highlighting them with catchy images. That both parties are influenced by neo-liberalism but neither are ideologues, so the LNP wants to sponsor coal and the Greens will use a market mechanism for carbon reduction, and Labor already has. Or the LNP will attack regulation for business but happily regulates unions and the unemployed. Or that Rudd's $900 GFC-era cheques were denied to just one group, the unemployed (that was on I didn't know). So the market-is-always-right thinking is dead but to call them ideologues was always to "flatter them unfairly" anyway. One thing I hadn't heard was his answer to Ebony Bennett's question on climate change: first up, stop doing bad stuff and measure. But I've many times heard the "we're lucky: we can do anything but we're trained that we can't" because "we are the wealthiest nation at the wealthiest time in our history". We just need to consider what we want and our priorities. He gave a lovely story of the deco baths at his boyhood home of Newcastle, built beautiful and for free and wide use by the community, when, during the depression, when we were our poorest. Essentially he was arguing for a public conversation on "which public policies spark joy" in place of the endless TINA (Thatcher's There Is No Alternative) thinking. And to be aware of numbers, like spending "$50b for 12 subs to replace 6 we never used" (another good line!) and how defence is never presented as a problem for the budget (yes, and fully indexed, unlike the rest of government). Or that the cost of some generosity with the unemployed would be a "rounding error" in the budget (Comm budget $2t, forecasting error is $5-10b, Newstart increase is $2b). And to be careful with unquestioned ideas, as in "we need to minimise costs so we can compete" and yet Volvos are imported into China. Then some questions. Water as a disgraceful and corrupt scheme, and how Howard promised $10b to "save the Murray" without even consideration of Cabinet. About GDP, that the discussion should be much wider: on what we want, not just a one holied figure to rule them all with the assumption of trickle down. Then spreading the word; influences of behaviourism vs economics; inequality and the bigger gap between rich and poor as a greater incentive for the poor (while highly paid people are incentivised by higher salaries), or how work gives dignity despite many of the truly wealthy never having worked a day in their lives. How "neo-liberalism tells confusing stories", as in "inequality not as a problem but as part of the solution". What follows the downfall of neo-liberalism? RD suggests "democratic engagement" rather than another ideology. Neo-liberalism gave us TINA, which offers trivial choices to individuals but denies society-wide choices. It must be the run up to the election, but I was amused when he said "I'm sounding very optimistic at the moment; apologies for that". His reason was that we now have some alternatives to vote for, after Barnaby and Tony and others "took the party right out into LaLa land". Yep, I'd heard and read a good deal of this before from Richard, gathered some factoids that are worthy of consideration as are a string of inconsistencies in argument. Is he right, not just persuasive? I think so but it's more significant what Australia thinks and we'll know that pretty soon.

Richard Denniss was interviewed by Ebony Bennett (both of the Australia Institute) at the ANU PopUp for a Politics in the Pub as a preview of his upcoming book Dead Right : How neoliberalism ate itself and what happens next.

30 January 2019

Messages from jazz history

We all know of Art Blakey for his longstanding Jazz Messengers as a training ground for so many jazz musicians of note and of the great post-bop tunes that the band played. I hadn't realised quite how much this was a cooperative venture, but it seems obvious when you consider that so many members penned tunes. And it was no surprise to hear of AB with the bop crew and especially Monk. But what did surprise me was to hear of his playing with the swing big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. Perhaps we shouldn't be. Bop-era names played in swing bands while bop was still a developing revolution. Sothe extent of AB's history was a revelation, from the '40s through to that long post-bop ascendancy that only ended in the late '80s. So it was a great pleasure to hear Andrew Dickeson take on the Messengers mantle for a performance at the ANU PopUp for Geoff Page. There were tunes we know and love and some lesser knowns. We all love the insinuating melodies of Ugetsu, Along came Betty, Nica's dream, One by one, Ceora (by stars in their own right: Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan). I was less taken but still exhilarated by the quickies (both ~340bpm): Bu's delight and The beehive. I enjoy the speed but the melodies suffer as solos become screed rather than passages. The band was great: sharp, accurate, neat and with great solos all round. They were mostly fairly senior, although with a young gun on piano, as was AB's way. I enjoyed Andrew's chats and snippets of history, like how his wife disliked hearing Along came Betty, written for a prior girlfriend, until the royalties started coming in. Or the talk of Nica (Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter), she of jazz patronage and Rothschild fortune. I also enjoyed our own Wayne Kelly coming to the stage to feature on Now's the time. He has recorded with Andrew. He did a great job, but they all did, not least the young gun. I noticed plenty of knowing smiles around this stage during the night. The two horns were beautifully intoned, authentic in their counterpoint on heads and both soloed with discretion but lovely phrasing. Piano was young and more expansive and mighty in speed through his longer solos. Bass sounded great, took some nice solos, held walks at ~340 (not relaxing!) and spelt some lovely lines. Andrew himself was reasonably discrete, although had a fair share of solos and they were incredibly neat and always a blast. He told a story that AB had complained of young drummers who thought drumming was all too simple. His style was of steady swing regularity but could be intense with hits and noisy responses. I never caught Art Blakey so this was as close as I am going to get and it was great. Hugely satisfying and very strong swing and some memorable jazz hits.

Andrew Dickeson (drums) led a quintet comprising Al Davey (trumpet, flugelhorn), Andrew Robertson (tenor), Matt Harris (piano) and Ashley Turner(bass). Wayne Kelly (piano) sat in for one tune. They played the music of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the ANU PopUp for Geoff Page.

26 January 2019

Cutting to the quick

Smiths again but for radio this time. ABC Radio National was recording several 10-min installments of its science comment snippets called Ockham's Razor. The chairs were lined up and the audience was larger and greyer than normal. Local ABC radio host Lish Feyer introduced seven commentors over two hours. No questions, but responsiveness (laughs, cheers) welcomed. It was quite a fascinating collection. Physiotherapist Bernie Bissett spoke of exercising the diaphragm in patients on respirators. There's been observed some atrophy of the diaphragm after just 18 hours on a ventilator! Ronald Yu presented his "Big Bran" project, "Mac" concept and the combination of the two as the "Big Mac" theory. Basically, it's combating obesity and malnutrition (they can go together) through improving the bran layer on rice and the fibre in the grain's core and combining the two, then applying to other grains. Katherine Thurber promoted a more positive approach to reporting issues in the media. "Deficit discourse" leads to public negativity and private internalisation in issues such as alcohol and drugs use by Aborigines and others. I missed some of the statistical justification but it's clear that we tend to the negative in many media stories and this is socially damaging and militates against fixes. Engineer Eleanor Huntington spoke of reimagining the role of engineering (to assist people with scitech), how new branches appear at times of social stress (as now), how in a creative sense it's matter of problem finding, not problem solving. Her suggestions are to elevate engineering to a systems level, to invent relevant engineering disciplines and to introduce engineering to a new generation. Space scientist Anna Moore promoted Australia's potential major role in space. The space industry is already worth $4b in Australia and it is now increasingly accessible to small business and individuals. Australia has strengths from where, what and who we are (well located, urbanised and educated). She made three predications for 2050: Australia as centre for a solar system broadband communications hub; Australian cities as "space-enabled" (as in self drive cars); a space elevator located in Australia (this is aiming high!). Millie Sutherland described the use of Predator-proof sanctuaries to protect native fauna in danger of extinction from foxes, cats, etc. She specifically spoke of our own local Mulligan's Flat Woodland Sanctuary and the protection of the Balbo (Ngunnawal name for the Eastern Betong). Finally, amateur dramatist Max Halupka spoke on the Web and Internet and its use as a memory aid and how this affects our thinking on what we know (thus false news, conspiracies, etc). Technology described as a transactive memory partner so we know where information is held rather than hold it in our minds (books have done this for centuries but never so quickly and easily). Also, how the distributed Web is becoming a collection of "key pillar sites" that herd users. Resultant effects are on human cognition (limits to self-understanding), provision and consumption of information and the resultant impacts, influences on society of all this, and how individuals construct their beliefs, identities and illusions of self-knowledge. Are we there already? Varied, intelligent, informed, if very short and lacking in discussion. Entertaining and informative.

Lish Feyer introduced Bernie Bissett, Ronald Yu, Katherine Thurber, Eleanor Huntington, Anna Moore, Millie Sutherland and Max Halupka for the live recording of seven installments of Ockham's Razor at Smiths. ABC Radio National, Lish Feyer, Bernie Bissett, Ronald Yu, Katherine Thurber, Eleanor Huntington, Anna Moore, Millie Sutherland, Max Halupka, Ockham's Razor

25 January 2019

Clinics then and now

The JMI Summer Jazz Clinics were in town for their second local incarnation and the instructors were on stage at Smiths. The Jazz Music Institute is based in Brisbane and its clinics are a direct descendant of the Jamey Aebersold clinics that came to Australia in the 1970. They were big deals. I attended one (1980?) in Melbourne with a string of staff including Aebersold and David Baker, Dave Liebman and Phil Woods. The ensembles numbered perhaps 40 and I remember drummer David Jones in the top band overseen by Liebman. Both Jazz and Summer camps are smaller now but this staff gig was a stunner. I've sometimes felt jaded with unrelenting swing at jam sessions but this was top notch and as it can be. Eric slurring with deep resonance; John extemporising with passion and abandon. The brothers Ben and James Haupmann just stunningly expressive and purposeful on guitar and drums. The Brisbane sibling cohort of head-of-school Dan laying down some lovely, clear trumpet lines and coordinator Paula comping and soloing with delightful simplicity and clarity. What got me, especially, was the portrayals of the very common and renowned pieces that they played. The tunes were stock standard: Ladybird; Footprints; Stella; I mean you; All blues; All the things you are; Night in Tunisia. Apart from Monk's I mean you, they were uber-common. But you don't always hear all the original inflections, those intro and outgoing lines in Things (fairly common but not essential) or the clear harmonies on heads or Eric's spot-on, detailed take for the Footprints bassline or, for that matter, Night in Tunisia. You could hear their deep listening through their immediate playing and it was lovely. I mean you is less common, but how nice is Monk's odd take on Rhythm changes and his odd little insert at the end of the head. Fabulous, by Monk and the band. I got talking to one woman who was grinning widely at John's solos. Sax player, perhaps? No, flautist with classical training, had toured with ACO and played the Sydney Opera House pits, no less, now in other work here in Canberra. We chatted about classical/jazz, how jazz demands deep practical knowledge of theory and the rest and how this was authentic, deeply understood and prepared, no pretence for miles. The audience was generous; the playing was stunning; the authenticity and purpose of jazz was evident. Great night from a great set of players. Thrilling.

The Jazz Misc Institute Staff Band played at Smiths. They comprised Dan Quigley (trumpet), Paula Girvan (piano), John Mackey (tenor), Ben Hauptmann (guitar), Eric Ajaye (bass), James Hauptmann (drums).

24 January 2019

Learning schmerning, this was fun

Comedy's all the rage these days and science has taken its place in the comedy club. I enjoy listening to the Naked Scientist weekly on ABCRN but Dr Phil and his Physics in the Pub takes it to another level and he's live, here in Canberra. Clever, informed, humourous and with plenty of guests chatting their intellectual pursuits. This time it was at the ANU PopUp and entitled The Invisible Universe so topics were gravitational waves, dark matter and dark energy, gamma rays, pulsars, cosmic rays and antimatter and neutrinos. Then something not quite so invisible, the 150th anniversary of the periodic table (although several elements are short-lived and accelerator-made and thus essentially invisible). Along the way we visited the Hulk, views the the Lego Ligo, baked the universe as banana bread, watched enactments of photons hitting make-do, suspended LIGO lenses, considered the FIRE GAMMA button, and learnt of a thumbs up way to identify if our universe is matter or anti-matter. To quote some language that made an appearance, there was some serious shit along the way. So, laughter, but also education and seriousness. Dr Phil hosted and played a few songs in accompaniment, not least an update on Tom Lehrer's Elements (set to G&S) called the New Elements song: Standard model featuring another level down, quarks and leptons and photons (set to Nirvana's Teen Spirit, no less). Our voices were weak in singalong but the song was great. There were PitP neophyte presenters and at least one obvious comedy club expert and plenty in between with themes and memes to amuse. Plus breakouts to explore exhibits and grab a beer. The exhibits were fun but how can you beat a cloud chamber built by a few teenage girls at Telopea Park High, obviously French Baccalaureate stream. (How does this fly against our ailing education system?) Dr Phil is doing his new show next week at Smiths (Tues 29 Jan, 6.30pm). If you read this in time, get along.

Dr Phil Dooley (host) introduced a series of short presentations at Physics in the Pub at the ANU PopUp. The presenters were Badri Younes (NASA), Hannah Middleton (UMelb), Ed Simpson (ANU), Roland Crocker (Mt Stromlo), Greg Lane (ANU), Paul Lasky (Monash), Rob Ward (ANU) and Lindsey Bignell (ANU)

21 January 2019

Inside Smiths and our heads

It was hot outside, or at least the Smiths Sunday arvo jam session was on. Anthony was playing a solo right up the neck. I was impressed. But I was there for something far more esoteric: Petr Vrba, Czech trumpeter over for SoundOut. So expect much less rhythm and groove and harmony and melody, perhaps some melody and long notes and squeaks and squeals and, in his case, electronics and ring modulation. Nothing prepared other than a head and ears. This is performance from sheer awareness and some technical preparation although not necessarily of the traditional sort. Petr played a first set and it was loud enough that it was above the level of Anthony and co outside. Then our locals, EMSC Trio, comprising Richard, Millie and Rhys. Then a combination with Petr and EMSC and Miro, our local friend but also a Czech trumpeter. He picked up a nifty, red and black, plastic trombone from the wall at Smiths and took part in the last number. At various times, the jazz was intrusive, but often it was lost in louder sound. I liked the more forceful, louder take by EMSC which seemed to grow the energy. They played well. Petr was outstanding alone and strong with the others. Miro was relatively quiet, but that set also worked. I closed my eyes a few times and was taken by sounds and noises. There's an honesty here and although it's just a matter of listening, it's also a matter of discarding. I tried a jam at SoundOut once and I couldn't break my habits. Whatever, this was one of the most accessible of these experimental and free concerts and I enjoyed it. Too bad I missed the jam though.

Petr Vrba (trumpet, electronics) performed solo then later with EMSC Trio, comprising Richard Johnson (soprano sax), Millie Watson (pedal organ) and Rhys Butler (alto sax), and Miroslav Bukovsky (trombone).

  • SoundOut Festival 2019
  • 18 January 2019

    Yoof today

    They come out of the woodwork. Talented new bands with talented new players. These were particularly young. I asked drummer and leader Gus and he said they mostly had just finished Year 12. Where do they get such seriousness at a tender age, so they are writing decently inventive tunes and sympathetically combining covers of Beatles (that beauteous song, Taste of honey) with Miles (Ghetto walk from the Silent Way sessions, no less) and Brad Mehldau. And the originals were from three of four players. Adam amused us talking of greenhouses that need watering (who'd'a thunk it!), and there were several from Matt and an interestingly one from Gus. Drummers write less often but then often write quite successfully. I particularly liked Gus' playing, sturdy and correct and tight but the whole band melded well, in funk or jazz idioms. They could be incredibly quiet then run long crescendos to quite loud (but not very loud). It was a little joke that Gus had announced them as "excellent for dancing". Noone got up but band and audience had a good laugh about it. So, an impressive introductory concert that bodes well for the future. I look forward to watching these guys over coming years.

    Gus Henderson (drums) led a quartet with Matt Trigge (trumpet, flugelhorn), Adam Davidson (piano) and Jack Smythe (bass) at Smiths Alternative.

    17 January 2019

    Hot jam

    It was hot. Australia has been sweltering with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded. 48.9, 49.0; Canberra was just 41C that day and there was a cool merciful breeze outside at the Old Canberra Inn. John Mackey was there with Leisa, Ben, Mark, Peter, Hugh and more; interestingly also Con Campbell, who now teaches in Chicago but went through the Jazz School in its Manuka days. I have him on CJ only once before playing with Wayne Kelly at ArtSound. I got to sit in on three or four tunes, mostly with Hugh and Con. And interestingly, later to try out Peter's EUB, a wonderful Eminence very comfortably and effectively fitted with Corelli and a Realist copperhead. And throw in some good beers and good company, and it's a great night out. Recommended. The weekly jam session at Old Canberra Inn, each Wednesday night 6.30-9pm. Free entry.

    16 January 2019

    First up

    First gig up for Tilt Trio for the new year and it was a beauty! I could hear nicely and wonderfully relaxed on a bar stool; our Belgian-Australian singer mate Alysa who was over for a family visit so we could get her up for a few tunes; our playing was great (excuse the self-congratulations, but it's getting very comfy after years playing together). Perhaps best was the air-conditioning as an escape from this monstrous heat. Happy to claim we were hot but thankfully not like that. So, great night, lots of fun with several friends around for the ride. And thanks for Holly and Jess and others at Molly.

    Tilt Trio played at Molly with guest Alysa Ingles (vocals). Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

    06 January 2019


    Michelle Nicolle and band were appearing at the Lido Jazz Room. It’s a little room located in the Lido Cinema complex with no windows and cinema staff providing drinks to your table for 50-or-so listeners after paying entrance at a box office. Strange, but comfy and intimate. Intimate enough for chats with other listeners and perfectly intimate for Michelle who sings so close, with such detail. We could hear every nuance here and it’s all a gem. And she’s daring. The first set was comfortable and hugely developed standards but then there were first takes and sight reads in the second, and not too predictable, but a cover of Mark Murphy with dropped beats and a take on Isfahan that melded into Caravan with an F that was refused in London. Thus her call to Frank that “I never like to tell people what to play, but can you play that” in their ongoing repartee of the evening. This night Frank DiSario was playing and he was big and boldly toned and delightfully expressive, not least in solos, including some wondrous swaps with a cheekily accelerating Geoff Hughes. No bass could keep up with his guitar speed and Frank answered by slowing and it worked. Ronny was in his corner with his occasional fours, too, but mostly unobtrusive, quietly delightful and subtle accompaniment. They could all twist the feels, too, sometimes to swing also elsewhere, extended twos against swing or latin or whatever. In this space and with this PA we heard it all, Geoff’s woody, uneffected tone and generous clarity from both Frank and Ronny and Michelle’s gloriously even deliriously detailed treatment of lyrics and inventive, intelligent scats. How satisfying was this. We heard it all to the n-th degree of subtlety in this space and I for one just melted with the beauty and skills of it all. A treat of the highest order: an intimate space and a master or a few who knew how to use it. Absolutely fabulous.

    Michelle Nicolle (vocals) led a quartet with Geoff Hughes (guitar), Frank DiSario (bass) and Ronny Ferella (drums) at the Lido Jazz Room in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn.

    05 January 2019

    An indulgence if not visually

    Organ concerts must be the most visually unsatisfying forms of music. We were at St Patrick’s (Catholic) Cathedral in Melbourne for a concert by four young organists from France playing French music. The space is grand and the organ itself was impressive, if distant, with pipes and horns but I wasn’t even sure where the players were located until I noticed a head and some sheet music being manhandled. They were off to one side of the altar (under electro-mechanical control), hidden from our location in the western transept opposite (most of) the organ pipes. But aurally the experience was satisfying. It started and ended with urgent, dissonant, profound and impressively loud religious works, Messiaen Apparition de l’Eglise eternelle and Dupree Le monde dans l’attente du Sauveur.
    The other works tended to lighter with more entertaining or indulgent themes, more exploratory of tone and time, often in 3, sometimes fugal, sometimes chordal with melody, often dance-styled, even skittish, from Franck, Alain, Faure, Duruflex2 and Dupre: preludes and fugues or variations, litanies, Siciliennes, courteges and one scherzo. This is music to close eyes by, not least given the visual stimuli, only to open them for a suited organist to appear for applause. It’s a strange scene in a lofty building in the European tradition if a building sadly reminiscent of some more controversial characters in the Australian church. Organ music does tend to religious, if as much for the location of the unmoveable instruments, but this was informal and various and satisfyingly aurally indulgent.

    French students Alexandre Bonnemort, Jean Nouvel-Alaux, Jean Poitevin and Arthur Scandola (organists) performed at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.