30 March 2019


Great to get back to the standards repertoire and the National Press Club. It's a venerable institution and the end-of-week jazz sessions are longstanding and a great pleasure with some of the best musicians in town. Tonight it was trumpet/flugel and piano with Ben Marston and John Black. Both longstanding musicians of high regard and considerable history. No charts that I noticed. Just comfy heads and varied accompaniments and intriguing solos. And no surprise to catch up with musician friends at this local, in this case my sax mate, Richard.

Ben Marston (trumpet, flugelhorn) played a duo set at the National Press Club with John Black (piano).

23 March 2019

On a swig and a prayer

It's a worthy undertaking "to introduce a new generation of theatre-goers to the works of the Bard by reviving the raucous, interactive and vibrant nature of Elizabethan theatre with a very modern twist – reminding them as we go to always enjoy Shakespeare responsibly". Thus does Shit-faced Shakespeare. They perform truncated versions of Shakespearean plays with one or more actors "shit-faced" after a few hours of solid alcoholic preparation. This time it was Midsummer Night's Dream after most of a bottle of Smirnoff downed by Lysander. The background is: Demetrius is betrothed to Hernia; Hernia and Lysander love each other; Helena loves Demetrius. Hernia and Lysander elope to a forest. Demetrius and Helena come later. They variously encounter the malevolent sprite, Puck, who has a love flower that has the power to induce immediate and powerful love. There are various misunderstandings, arguments, expressed desires, unfortunate sightings resulting in intense loves, some fights, transformations of Bottoms with ass heads and thus like. All as you like it. It's funny. It's considerably shortened from the original and often improvised. Lysander forgets his lines and at least once hears them echoed from Hernia: that was obviously improvised and funny. Otherwise there were lots of laughs and swearing and sweating. They are moderately funny. One improv was particularly amusing. I'd noticed that Helena's PA feed was lost. Soon after, the host came out to change batteries in a pouch behind her back and the show must go on even with techo in tow. That was nicely done: Helena seemingly oblivious (but obviously not). The end in the original sees lovers together and married preparing for bed. This take sees two lovers too, although a much more contemporary pairing which went down well, as it would. The show was funny and sometimes hard to catch - as Shakespeare mostly is to our ears - and perhaps the audience didn't partake quite as vigourously as the company wished, but much enjoyed.

Shit-faced Shakespeare presented their take on Midsummer Night's Dream at The Street for the Canberra Comedy Festival.

Thanks to whoever photographers provided the Google images above

18 March 2019

Them changes

The program had to change close to the event for unpredictable reasons but these are professionals and the replacement was great. From Transfiguration to Quintessence. The replacement may not have been quite so adventurous (Schoenberg + Richard Strauss > Mozart + Mozart), but it was lovely music and it was beautifully played. The group was Canberra Strings led by BJ Gilby with members of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in the High Court foyer and the music was Mozart. So worthy and immensely attractive. First up was the String quintet Gmin, then a swap of players for the Clarinet quintet Amaj. Barbara introduced it with short hints on the various movements: Allegro; Minuet/trio with 3 dissonant chords to listen for; slow with muted strings (other than cello); the final in Gmaj and "quite jolly". The Clarinet quintet was written by Mozart for a friend and was perhaps the first work for this combination. Movements: fast; slow; minuet and two trios (MTMT); slow to upbeat. That one was particularly recognisable in through various movements. I imagine it's an absolute standard of the clarinet repertoire. I missed taking notice of the dissonant chords, but for my jazz ears they may seem fairly tame. I did notice the firm and satisfying cello tone and especially its prominence when the other strings were muted. I loved the clarinet in its attractive lines. To my ears, it was particularly suited to this space, perhaps because it was quite loud and the echo/reverb was significant and enhancing. But a lovely and formidably performed concert in the resonant space of the High Court. Much enjoyed.

Canberra Strings performed in the High Court Foyer. CS comprised BJ Gilby (violin, leader), Pip Thompson (violin), Jack Chenoweth and Lucy Carrigy-Ryan (viola), Samuel Payne (cello) and Eloise Fisher (clarinet).

This is CJBlog post no. 2,100

17 March 2019

Mouths of babes

There was a better quote but I can't recall it and they were no tiny tots but leaders. To my eyes, more purposeful leadership there than in the COALition (cute concurrence there!). And given their response of the science of it all, more education. Plenty of posters wittily saying just that, too. We went to Canberra's School Strike 4 Climate. It was a successful affair, led by kids. We greyhairs supported from the back. Happily I encountered several friends. Our generation isn't all a source of despair. Our pollies are failures though. I had this discussion with someone and I reckon it's from a string of reasons: a limited, ideological media; sadly pugnacious politics; influence and money and secrecy about it all; perhaps straight out corruption; bubble-thinking; influenced and self-serving advice; perhaps more reasons. We'll see if Labor will make changes required, but LNP's history of Abbott's Carbon Tax crusade, ScoMo's lump of coal in Parliament, Taylor's "underwritten" coal power, the Nationals' Qld latest coal fired power station call, let alone the Darling and irrigation and the rest, renders them unworthy of election in my book. Very much wrong side of history on an issue of existential importance. Has the routing of the moderates left the LNP on the road to oblivion? Are they doomed by the next generation of voters? I wonder. But it was a good march, the kids are OK and they done good. We need some hope in climate. A skerrick. As McKellar's drought and flooding rains intensify. I wish the kids well.

The Canberra School Strike for Climate was held in Civic. And thanks to Greta Thunberg who started it all: telling it like it is

  • Greta Thurberg telling it like it is
  • 14 March 2019

    Glory in restraint

    Jonathan Zwartz was in town for Geoff Page at Smiths and the room was full with Geoff's coterie and the music was to die for. Jonathan is renowned for his writing: three albums to date, superbly written, intriguing, rich and complex, nicely grooving and touching on real social concerns. But it's not just the writing, for the band was also to die for. Was it Geoff or Jonathan who introduced them as amongst the best in Australia? Doesn't matter: they were. So unforced, relaxed, tight, never an accent out of place, every embellishment a pleasure, a fabulous bass tone (a personal interest, but relevant), excellent solos nicely merged into heads. Some amusing banter between tracks, and that's worthy, too: "Being a bass player, you always do everything with one hand. It's a ... drag" (another thing I understand) or "It's kinda that vibe ... singalong it you want". Not that there was any singing to singalong with, but the groove was light and bluesy for that last tune. And generally the styles were varied. Emily was the one swinger, played medium tempo with walking bass, and dedicated to a friend's new child. Dollar Brand was a reference to Abdullah Ibrahim using his early name as the tune was originally called Dollar and "it's kinda that vibe". Milton was a bossa for Nascimento. Julien Wilson's sound of love was in the style of Ellington/Strayhorn and genuinely sounded that way, not least for one lovely, classic repeated turnaround. The tunes were mostly from JZ's latest/third album, Animarum. Phil took most lead and solo roles and blared in classic chordally-enunciated style. Hamish was varied in style and studio-sharp in interpretation. Carl was devastating from rapid runs to blues-rich bending. John joined for the second half: he used to play with these guys in Sydney before coming to Canberra for the ANU. He can be devastating but played fairly restrained and tuneful on this night. Always fabulous, either way. Matt McMahon can take tunes and explore them with rich calculations and investigations although I found him just a little distant on that piano on that night. Jonathan is restrained but big and strong with the greatest of jazz tones and fabulous sense of time and rhythms and grooves and some glorious runs when he lets go. But he remained the overseer and fairly restrained. And the music was just that: purpose before excess; art before skills. One of the best.

    Jonathan Zwartz (bass) led his band at Smiths. The band Jonathan with Phil Slater (trumpet), Matt McMahon (piano), Carl Dewhurst (guitar) and Hamish Stuart (drums) and John Mackey (tenor) joined for the second set.

    09 March 2019

    Before Raphael ... or after Michelangelo

    There were a few of the Pre-Raphaelites who were concerned with moral stories, Biblical scenes, working people and the rights of the lower classes. But they are most remembered for their women, for the femme fatales, for the "stunners" that were their models. For that's what they called their models who they eyed out and picked up on the street. Amusing to be writing this on International Women's Day, but these were young blokes in the prime of their lives and they had urges: the question is how they dealt with them. But the young models were maybe not madly diverse in intent. One wanted to be an artist and became one and was on show in the exhibition; another rejected one suitor and ended up marrying into wealth (was it minor aristocracy?). This was the second half of the 1800s and it was a harsh time to be a worker and a very comfortable time for wealth and power (common story). We took a free tour and that was interesting, then we revisited and saw things in our time. It's a very decent exhibition with some seriously famous works. There are several from Australian collections, notably Adelaide but also Melbourne. Australia was very English and very wealthy then. Adelaide also had direct connections with this movement. I knew one. I went to Adelaide Univ with a granddaughter of JW Waterhouse, one of the major late P-R artists, so I've been aware of his name for some time. And the best of these works are colourful and attractive and realistic and sometimes comely so they are popular. But there are also a string of biblical scenes. Rosetti's Annunciation that had an unusual element of reality - Mary didn't seem immediately taken by the offer she couldn't refuse - but authenticity was one concern of the Pre-Raphaelites. There were work-a-day scenes (Martineau's Kit's writing lesson and Maddox Brown's Work) and hinted seductions one way or the other (Holman Hunt's wakening conscience and Millais' Rescue) and a famous one of a couple departing for the new world (Maddox Brown's Last of England) and even landscapes. And the movement for beautiful housing appeared from William Morris and others, especially in a fabulous tapestry (Burne-Jones' Adoration of the Magi) but also in household pottery and utensils. There were numerous works of mythology and some gloriously statuesque, Michelangelesque paintings from Burne-Jones. But it must be the femme fatales and the renditions of the models themselves that are most inviting and known, especially the famed pair of Waterhouse Lady of Shalott and Millais Ophelia, which apparently almost cost the model her life from lying in a bath all day for weeks. Some of my favourites were Byrne-Jones Wheel of fortune that just felt 3d (very pre-deco) and collected models in Rosetti's Beloved. And Waterhouse for Dolce fa niente and the very active Magic circle (both from the Femme fatale room). And again Waterhouse for his Circe invidiosa which grew familiar to me as a work owned by Adelaide's Art Gallery. There's lots here that's attractive and interesting and it was far more impressive than I'd expected. A wonderful exhibition.

    Love & Desire : Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from the Tate is on display at the National Gallery of Australia until 28 April 2019.

    List of works

    07 March 2019

    Elevated chambers

    This is civilisation: plinking harpsichord, great master composers, a suitable chamber to hear them in. Ariana Odermatt played two works at Wesley for its Wednesday lunchtime series and we were there. First up, Couperin, the sixth order of his Pieces for clevecin (=harpsichord). It's a series of pieces that varies time and temper and division with considerable fascination as he moved through different time signatures, dotted feels and otherwise, fours and eights. Presumably it was a work for the pleasure of dignifed listeners but it was also a very satisfying collection of music. This was just the sixth order of 27 published in foru books over the period 1713-1730. THe sixth order is in Bb major and the others range through major and monor keys. Then Bach, his Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV998. Possessions remain a plaything of the wealthy still today. Rather than an introduction on harmonies and the rest, Ariana told us how the autograph copy sold in recent years at Christie's for £2.5m. Of course, we can get it for free from IMSLP but the original is the thing. It got me wondering how much would that manuscript of Beethoven Symphony no.9 we saw would have cost. I'm glad it's in safe hands in the NY Public Library. But to return to Ariana, the sound was determined and consistent but quite quiet, as harpsichords are, and the playing was firm and contented and contentedly elaborated. I enjoyed both pieces, but the Bach remains king: the fugue a repeating thing of growing complexity as fugues are and the final allegro was just busy and going for it. Harpsichord is an oddly dated instrument but a pleasure in good hands with good writing as here.

    Ariana Odermatt (harpsichord) performed Couperin and JS Bach at Wesley.

    05 March 2019

    What was that I heard?

    This was definitive jazz, even if the makeup of the band was not so clear. It was advertised as a trio, plus one, then plus another. Who's to quibble when the music is just so good? The Palaver Trio (nice name and appropriate, too) was Miro Bukovsky with visiting Melbournians Geoff Hughes and Ronny Farella. The first visitor was John Mackey. I'd heard rumours of a bassist and Eric Ajaye appeared on the day. The location was the Drill Hall Gallery which is exemplary for its art if drenched in reverb. So the music was louder than it might have been and somewhat mushy. Each set was mostly just a single improv. The tunes were not much more. Geoff started out on subtly looped guitar then trumpet and softly pattering and sizzling drums and Eric's lithe, slurring bass and sax harmonies at times. All soft; all improvised; all gentle and insinuating. I thought maybe I caught a quote but it was not till towards the end of the first set that I realised they were playing a standard. It was a recognisable theme. I think Night in Tunisia, but I often recognise themes but can't place names. It was in the second set that it was more clear. Was it Caravan first up then Poinciana into Blue in green. The tunes were becoming more evident. Eric's bass lines sometimes spelled chords if extended in time and softer in swing. Geoff spelt the melody of Blue in green obviously enough and Miro did certainly play the Poinciana head, although again slowed and with some changed intervals, perhaps a flatted final note. John took a few solos, soft and fluidly rapid. I could only melt at some of this. There was once during set 2 where they stopped and Eric restarted with a soft groove. Perhaps unexpected but also most likely never practised together. At least this band, these tunes, this way. Jazz is like that and this was a superb example. I could only melt with admiration and envy. Some others spoke the same way. Did I mention that it was good and I enjoyed it? If I didn't, yes it was. A truly stellar outing.

    Palaver Trio were Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet, flugelhorn), Geoff Hughes (guitar) and Ronny Ferella (drums). Visitors were John Mackey (tenor) and Eric Ajaye (bass).

    03 March 2019

    Nice to drop by

    "I did but see her passing by and yet I love her till I die". So said PM Menzies about the then-young Queen. It's not exactly that, but I'm glad I passed by Smiths this afternoon when the jam session was on. Peter Barta was on bass and I got to sit in for a few tunes and it was great fun. My tunes were with a singer so Stella so in non-standard keys. Mostly dropped a minor third so the chords looked strangley unexpected on very common tunes. Strange but interesting how the progressions worked differently. Keys are techincally parallel but, in practice, different on each instrument given its layout and idiosyncrasies. Con Campbell was there, returned from Chicago. Sadly I missed playing with him. But the band was pretty cluey and it was a pleasant and effective few tunes. Peter took over for the last and he's playing a treat on his lithe 5-string Eminence. Decent fun on a warm afternoon with a few beers.

    Smiths Alternative stages an open jazz jam each Sunday 1-30-4pm.