29 April 2019

Complete with gargoyles

This was a lovely little concert. The location is special and old for Canberra: not exactly Notre Dame but it does have gargoyles. It was All Saints in Ainslie, the Sydney sandstone, gothic-styled Anglican church built in 1868 at Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery as one end of a mortuary steam train track, used until 1939, dismantled in 1958 and reconstructed in Canberra. The event was part of the Heritage Festival given its history. The group was called the Rookwood Ensemble playing chamber music, this day mostly of Vivaldi, in the organ loft with the mechanical pipe organ. The organ is itself historic: built in 1857 for a Baptist church in Harrow, UK, and transported to Canberra for dedication in 1990. I just played two pieces and there were another two trios for oboe, violin and organ. Caroline, Heng and Terry were the key performers on the day and well deserve praise for some wonderful solo features. It's odd playing in an organ loft with half your audience sitting with their backs to you, looking to the altar. Even for those with seats turned to the back, there was little too see, with musicians viewed from below and largely hidden by railings. But the music was lovely and the group was capable and the acoustics are satisfying. I was particularly taken by Vivaldi's variations on La Follia. Amongst other works, we played a chamber arrangement by Terry, our organist, of an organ concerto by Bach, arranged from a work by Vivaldi, his violin concerto Grosso mogul. This had possibly the longest count I've encountered (strings don't count like brass): 103 bars of solo organ. Then a finish and an afternoon tea, as is the way with such events, and much good cheer by the performers and others.

Rookwood Ensemble performed Vivaldi and related at All Saints Ainslie. RE were Caroline Fargher (oboe), Terry Norman (organ), Heng Lin Yeap, Heather Shelley and John Dobson (violins), Thayer Parker (viola), Teresa Neeman (cello) and Eric Pozza (bass).

27 April 2019


I was interested not just because they are two musicians I admire, but because of the unique musical pairing. I recently played a piano/bass duo. That's common enough and very satisfying with its spacious opportunities. But I doubt I've ever heard a vocals/bass duo. No (or very few) chords; a limited source of rhythm; open, even sparse sound. It worked a treat. I never doubted it would with these two but I did wonder how effective ti would be. Sally superbly states her melody, bends and embellishes and manipulates it, toys with it as improv and more widely is just superbly clear in intent amidst whatever complexity. Brendan spells out the most solid of rhythms with endless skips and harmonic vibrancy, playing into the thumb positions, but mostly steady and solid lower down, moving though chords but never querying harmony (at least not unintentionally), richly busy and inventive, and often enough throwing in some chords (although they don't work quite like midrangey and more chord-able piano or guitar) . So this was an unusual combination but never without interest and authenticity and always convincing. They were playing the standards: the very common blowing tunes but also some darlings like Come rain or shine, The very though of you and Old devil moon or the superb and demanding Nature boy. The standards repertoire is witty in music and lyrics and frequently romantic. Sally touched on this when mentioning that they are a married couple and that to play this gig was quite lovely. And it was. Fabulous music from an unusual combination that worked a treat.

Sally Marett (vocals) and Brendan Clarke (bass) performed at the National Press Club.

26 April 2019


It was Anzac Day and Jonathan's program was entitled "From anguish to hope...". By that hour, it was an alternative to Two-Up which is interesting for once in a year but hardly cerebral. The anguish was for lost friends and relatives in wars: virtually all the performed composers lived through WW1. Then through a French heroic chant and an elegy and a prayer. But there was also redemption or joy, the hope of the title, from Messiaen and a final prelude by JS Bach. All performed on the organ at Wesley Church. Organ music can be delicate or overwhelming; it's stolid with those deep pipes but also playful, birdlike with the high pitches. The tones are stable given notes don't change once played: just on or off. But the interplay of tones and of emotions is profound. It's also the biggest and loudest of the pre-electronic instruments so fills big spaces and must have amazed its early listeners. This was further informed here with cameras linked to TV screens so we could view the manuals and fool pedals. An interesting innovation! Great news that Jonathan has obtained the 2019/20 organ scholarship to study at Hereford Cathedral, England, so as to fill far larger spaces with more popes and with the added amusement of watching Brexit close up. This was lovely playing, variously fresh and lithe or heavy and ponderous, and a satisfying program. We'll be hearing from Jonathan over coming months (he leaves in August), but best of luck with the bigger pipes of Hereford.

Jonathan Lee (organ) gave a recital for Anzac Day at Wesley Church.

25 April 2019

Northern climes

David Braid is from Canada and his band was called The North and they are certainly from northerly climes (two Canadians, a Finn living in Sweden and a Dane) but this music was hot. Quite different from some music I've encountered in this space at the Finnish Embassy. I've heard David twice before on visits to Canberra and each is quite fascinatingly diverse. He's clearly classically trained and we hear it in his sonorous solos and in his discussion of jazz composition in the style of Sibelius. One visit was with a string quartet playing his compositions. But this was a clear jazz outing with grooves and some swing and some fabulous crossovers (perhaps these days we'd say intersectionality) that's the essence of contemporary music and society. Coltrane was evident and Lee Konitz was an influence but some earth sounds picturing Novia Scotia were virtual electronica-sounding from sax and to my ear were fascinatingly common with renditions of the Australian bush. I wondered if wilderness has some commonality everywhere, imaged from an increasingly dominant urbanism and receding before climate change. Despite the late night (their 5.30am, after flying in just the day before) this band was on fire. Tenorist Mike had the most glorious of hard-edged Selmer tones but could meld and twist and soften as will. There were some seriously satisfying lines that spelled originality but also great listening. The band played acoustic in a reverberant space and the piano comping was sadly mostly lost from my location behind the louder sax, but David's solos were arpeggiated and developmental and extended and deliciously sensitive. Bassist Johnny was strong and loud, despite no amplification (Why did this cut through and not so much the Yamaha C5 piano? Perhaps my location or a clash in common pitch?) fast and high into thumb positions for solos and nicely syncopated for accompaniment. They dropped out, occasionally for effect and that, too, was powerful. And drummer Dane Anders drove and swung hard, playing fairly mainstream and rich and full, sometimes with brushes, some swapped fours and to my ears highlighted by an immersive solo of density and volume with distinct, snappy accents that floored me: power and purpose and quite magical. They played most of their recent album which won Canada's top music prize, the 2018 Juno award for Jazz album of the year (group), so I'm not alone in my pleasure at hearing this outing. Canberra was early on their Australian tour. They are off to Sydney and Perth and perhaps more before Casalmaggiore and Malmö: catch them if you can. And thanks to the ambassador, who allowed some extra seats so some jazz-tragics (including me) could get in after the show was an early sell-out.

The North comprised David Braid (piano, CAN), Mike Murley (tenor, CAN), Johnny Åman (bass, FIN>SWE) and Anders Mogensen (drums, DNK)

24 April 2019


Electronic music synthesizers have a fairly short history even if they are now omnipresent. I still remember first seeing a MiniMoog and an Arp Odyssey but they were from the '70s. The earliest synths were from shortly after WW1. The theremin is perhaps best remembered. It was a weirdly bending sine curvy instrument used in scifi films of the time. Didn't it feature in Forbidden Planet with Robbie the Robot? Also of that era were some veritable electronic synths, the French Onde Martenot and the German Trautonium. I drove an onde martenot with its performer, Nadia Ratsimandresy, after one CIMF but never heard the instrument. I didn't miss the Trautonium played by Peter Pichler at the School of Music. Peter was touring Australia from Europe. The event was a lecture recital, so we learnt of the instrument, strange and otherworldy as it is, were introduced to the developers and composers and heard solo and accompanied performance. Peter is classically trained; this was not pop (Radiohead has used the Trautonium) although it was varied and he touched on techno. Mostly he played classically-composed music, not least Hindemith Concerto for Trautonium and strings (1931) and Genzmer Sonata for Trautonium and piano (1949), but he also added some live soundtrack accompaniment to Hitchcock The Birds and Metropolis and Dr Caligari. I bought the CD (limited edition 80/100 copies for the Australian tour) and it includes some truly incredibly authentic kookaburras. It's an unusual instrument but not excessively strange these days, given the commonness of electronic sounds. In its days, on German radio, with its own performance shows, it must have been revolutionary. Certainly, it sounded big and full and fat, although this was with modern amplification. Even speakers were different then: their history is not so different. We were informed of the sawtooth waveforms, the non-tempered chords and individual controls of notes, the unique keyboard (a wire touched to a metal plate); the immense dynamics that were possible with a technology he couldn't travel with; the displaced speakers and noise generator and fat orchestral octave sounds. It was used for 300 film scores. Perhaps my favourite were the piano-accompanied pieces, where the trautonium took on a string-like solo role but with massively divergent tonalities. Peter was very well accompanied by local student Ronan Apfer. The trautonium is a rare instrument and a thing of history, but it's huge-toned and fascinating in its ability to slide notes, portamento, and manage noise and has those odd chordal sounds that clash but intrigue and can change tones within and during notes. And more. Synths have come a long way and are immeasurably cheaper but this was fascinating and a great, unexpected pleasure.

Peter Pichler (trautonium) gave a public lecture-recital at the ANU School of Music. Accompaniment was by Ronan Apcar (piano).

19 April 2019

First up

It was a practical joke by son no.2 and I won it! He entered me in the draw for one of 150 double passes (from 6,000 applications) for a trip on the Light Rail Community Preview Loop and I won. Strange but true. It was a slightly difficult experience for someone otherwise disparaging of light rail for Canberra. The trip itself was as I expected. The tram was comfortable and quick enough. Most riders were excited and several spoke longingly of a city-wide network. Cost (and forgone alternatives) didn't seem to enter awareness or to be an issue. Mostly I kept quiet and listened. I mentioned my position to staff when asked and we laughed about me being there through a practical joke. The boss later came to talk/confirm/quiz me but otherwise I was left alone like the other elderlies. The only media on our tram (10 trams were running) was KIX106 or suchlike and their interviews were limited. But I enjoyed the trip well enough. It was nothing unexpected. For fun, given various aps, I checked speed (70kph in Gunghalin; 60kph on Northbourne) and noise level (~65db but up to 70db at speed). Not quite like the European fast trains that I downloaded the aps for.

But my issue is cost-benefit and other practicalities rather than trams themselves. So what would I have said if interviewed by mainstream media? "I like trams but I don't want to pay for them" was perhaps my favourite distillation. There are so many reasons why a tram is not optimal. It's expensive for what it does especially given we have no tracks already in place; the network requires frequent changes and has fewer stops; there are up and down tracks but no passing for express trips; it's inflexible. On the other hand, it's more comfortable than buses and it's fairly quiet and is promised to be quite frequent. It promotes density so developers love it and it's a commitment by Labor to the Greens for government. It also merges brilliantly with Hockey's Asset Recycling Fund (I understand our Labor government is the principal beneficiary) which promotes the sell-off of government assets (here, land up and down Northbourne Ave). It's a preparation for climate change (although there are alternatives, eg, electric buses) and a response to manic immigration by Federal government (ever frightened of a possible recession). It's a little like Brexit in the way it's divided the people, so you might like trams even if (or perhaps because) you don't think of the cost. I like trams well enough but the opportunity cost riles me (opportunity cost: what you could otherwise be doing with that money). In that, to my mind, it's like the cars-for-subs swap or the tragically inadequate NBN or the culture-war AWM expansion: bad decisions may be popular but they make us poorer. But many cities are doing it, ie, trams: it seems to me like a contrarian version of the time when most cities pulled out of trams in favour of cars and suburbia. I well remember a generous tram network in '60s Adelaide that's now just a single track to Glenelg. Now Melbourne and Milan are proud that they didn't join in the tram-removal mania. I wonder if we may regret our contrary decision soon enough, too, as I think on new (and often cheaper) technologies like trackless trams and self-drive cars and the rest. I expect we will still need public/mass transport and I fully support it, but I'm yet to be convinced trams are the answer for untracked contemporary Canberra, especially as tech changes over coming years. But a Woden track is in planning (I frequently see surveyors along the route), even part-funded as a Federal ALP election promise and the acolytes dream of a network (presumably into the tens of $bs). Woden alone is costed at ~$1.5b (less ALP's $200m election promise) for a much shorter route, more costly given the need to cross the lake. And it will come undoubtedly with its own tunnel of apartments. Development is never easy to promote, partly given the public (other than direct beneficiaries) has a comfortable preference for stasis, but it would be nice to be convinced. I may never be convinced, but it's a fact-of-life now and the responsibility is others'.

15 April 2019

Sharing turf

Always an honour to play on the same turf as such luminaries as John Mackey and Leisa Keen. They had played this gig on Saturday and this was our Sunday arvo duo. The place was the Cork Street Cellars at Gundog Estate in Gundaroo. The place was buzzing this day and we enjoyed our return as the Tilt Duo: James and me. It's nice playing as a duo: you can hear all and there's plenty of space for grooves and solos. We were playing last songs when a final group of women came on the deck announcing one as a jazz singer. Good ... sit-ins. They don't always work but this one did. We decided our key and played Almost like being in love. Great song and nicely done. It turns out Dee Cole had a history of singing in England and a year on the QE2 so no slouch. What a find to end the arvo. Thanks to Dee.

James Woodman (piano) and Eric Pozza (bass) played as Tilt Duo at the Gundong Estate at Gundaroo. Dee Cole (vocals) sat in.

14 April 2019


It's a big sprawling concoction that perhaps only a composer's mother could love. That's the way we'd all been talking of it, from the orchestra and from the choir, but we'd come to love it as we understood it better ... or at least as we recognised its complexities and movements. Someone mentioned that the parts don't obviously fit together. Perhaps that's an explanation: certainly it was hard to play along with a recording; Lenny's role was central. But the outcome could be sublime. This is Vaughan Williams Symphony no.1 that talks of the sea and seafarers. It's turbulent and sea-like and it runs for 4 movements over ~70 minutes. The final movement alone is 30mins. We'll be unlikely to play it again and probably unlikely to hear it but it was great. Again, the ole "she'll be right on the night" came through. I could see it on Lenny's face towards the end, that sense of satisfaction with work done well. And the first half was similarly special: the Australian premiere of On the beach, a suite taken from the film score by Christopher Gordon. Sparse and intriguing and telling a story of tragedy that we are coming to understand in our climate changing days. And not just the premier but also the conductor in the building. Along with 130 players and choral singers and two vocal soloists of note on stage. This was a big show and overwhelmingly satisfying in full flight.

National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society performed Vaughan Williams Symphony no.1 and Christopher Gordon On the beach suite at Llewellyn Hall. Leonard Weiss (conductor); vocal soloists were Chloe Lankshear (soprano) and David Greco (baritone). Dan Walker (chorus master) prepared the CCS. The bass end was covered by Kate Murphy, Geoff Prime and Eric Pozza (basses).

10 April 2019


High courting. It was the second recent performance of Musica da Camera in the High Court Foyer and it was a great success. Barbara J Gilby led us and I had Hayley Manning next to me in the bass end. It's strange how a musician can be non-committal about a performance. It's a hard judge. You judge by your own performance on the day and how you felt you fitted with others. I was reasonably happy but not ecstatic. But the comments were overwhelmingly supportive and the attendance was massive. Perhaps the killer test is the donation bowl on the way out and that was overflowing. And it was recorded by ArtSound and me: an undeniable test for the performers. Suffice to say that on listening back, we were very happy with the result. My guess is that within the bubble (to use the current misleading vernacular) we are intimately involved, deeply committed, immensely aware. On the outside, the slight imprecisions meld together in the multiplicity of a group, and with a bit of reverb and visual presence, it becomes a thing of beauty and music. That's certainly what it sounded like to me in the recording: intense, intelligent, deliberate; even tuneful, musical. That's enough for me. That's one to be proud of. A beautie!

Musica da Camera string orchestra performed under the directorship of BJ Gilby (violin) at the High Court. Bottom end was Hayley Manning and Eric Pozza (basses).

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  • 06 April 2019

    Double album

    Two concerts on a day and the second a double album launch. This was a mixed band of mates from the James Morrison Academy of Music in Mount Gambier. We've seen them before at Smiths. They are recent graduates and they are good. They play as a quintet but this time they were around to launch two albums: those of saxist Lachy Hamilton and trumpeter Mathew Nicholls. Lachy and Matt up front with rhythm section of Harry Morrison, Patrick Danao and Matt Harris. This is a hard-ahead style, somewhere after bop. Mostly originals (and interesting they are) accompanied by the standard jazz repertoire of the style (this night Recordame, Beatrice, I love you and Body and soul). Matthew's originals were varied in theme, perhaps images of events or memories of people: ible ible or Light of the world or Pumpkin fingers. Lachy's theme was the allegorical novel, the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, so his titles were more obscure: Crystal merchant or Urim and thummim or just the Alchemist. But both provided fascinating structures and musical themes and some seriously hot playing. These guys are good and they are well trained. A great listen.

    Lachy Hamilton (tenor) and Matthew Nicholls (trumpet) variously led quartets and quintets with Matt Harris (piano), Harry Morrison (bass), Patrick Danao (drums).

    05 April 2019

    Morning tea time

    I would think it would have been nerve-wracking. Sally and Brendan and John and Greg are great musicians and I guess they've been through it before. This was a mid-morning concert for a bunch of retirees and later who get together weekly to listen to and discuss jazz. So not a club atmosphere. Four up front and a several rows of seated, peering eyes and often-enough wilted ears. But it was great and it was wonderfully received. They played mostly American songbook with voice and two instrumentals from the standards repertoire. There was a threat (and a request) to play Giant steps, but perhaps too early in the day (John was keen). But none-the-less this was great music with a modern edge and some fabulous playing. Brendan blows me out always; so do Greg and John, of course. Greg was playing a semi-acoustic at virtually acoustic volume, so earthy. John was slithering through whatever he played and with the most detailed and intriguing lines. I've just heard Sally once before, again with this repertoire. What a nice, controlled, firm voice! Fabulous. [Same goes for her pop tunes. Check them out on YouTube or Spotify and share widely. Search Marét Vertigo or Maret Perfectly imperfect. They are catchy, wonderfully confident and with great videos]. The tunes this day were jazz: All the things and Old devil moon, and Paper moon and Little tear and Witchcraft and Body and soul and a few others. Interpreted with personality and emotion; embellished with lithe sax; soloed by all; underlaid with the most firm and swinging and interesting bass. Best morning tea gig I've heard for some time!

    Sally Marett (vocals), John Mackey (tenor), Greg Stott (guitar) and Brendan Clarke (bass) performed a morning tea-time concert for the U3A Jazz Appreciation Society.

    04 April 2019

    Energy and erudition

    To play at a Wesley Music Centre's Wednesday lunchtime concert is an annual outing for Roland Peelman. It's an introduction to each upcoming Canberra International Music Festival, of which he is the Musical Director. It always relates to the CIMF's theme and it's always fascinating and informative and a musical treat. Roland just exudes energy and erudition. There's purpose and history in his performances and vivacity and commitment in his playing. In concert, I've seen it as he leads a group from the keyboard. At Wesley, it's solo piano and this time the theme was Bach, although he played nothing that was on the CIMF program. That's easy enough given Bach's output. This was a study of chromaticism and tonality. First up was Prelude and fugue Bmin BWV869, the final and most extravagant of the 24 works of Well Tempered Clavier. Then an insert, a short impressionistic piece written for Roland by Belgian composer Frank Nuyts. Roland confirmed it was virtually all written tonally, but some intervals were decidedly jarring. Then Chromatic fantasia and fugue Dmin BWV903, apparently with a recitative in the fantasia and an fugal theme using the B-A-C-H letters (in German, for us Bb-A-C-B) but rearranged in ascending order. All fascinating. Mostly played form memory. This is music that is intimate yet challenging for all, audience and Roland, and you feel it with him and explore its intellectual complexities but also its art. A great pleasure to come into Roland's space with such a concert. Many thanks.

    Roland Peelman (piano) played Bach and Nuyts at Wesley.