30 September 2019


It’s Tuesday, it’s Rue des Lombards and Baise Salé and it’s another jam. I guess that’s the format for early in the week because the weekends seem more formal and with cover charges. This was a jam session with reference to guitar hero John Scofield. The band was a quartet, guitar, organ, drums, percussion, with bass provided by the organ. From the top it was hot. There’s not a lot of chordal variation underlying this music, but there’s drive and heavy groove and sparkling solos and plenty of harmonically and rhythmical diversity therein. It can get a bit samey to my ears, although I’ve played this style with pleasure. And these were some great players all round. Keys laid down the organ bass and constantly twitched organ tones. Along with the percussion and drums there was real drive here. And the blues-oriented but also fusion-speedy guitar was a pleasure, also pulling his own rhythmic weight. And nice solos all round, not least form the two skin players. It’s loud but it’s virtuosic and seriously fun. There were to be jammers but I didn’t see any before I left. These were challenging chops to sit in for. Very well done.

François Constantin (percussion) invited Nenad Gajin (guitar), Fred Dupont (keys) and Loïc Pontieux (drums) to host the John Scofield jam at Baise Salé in Paris.

29 September 2019

Famed streets

It’s strange, but one of the most odd things about being in Paris is how many street names seem familiar. Not sure why, and not sure they do to all, but they do to me. Obviously, these are street names in the centre, First Arrondisement, tourist central, but still surprising. Rue des Lombards is probably not so well known by tourists, but I returned there. It’s a jazz street. I’d been to Baiser Salé before but it was closed this night. Instead, I got to Sunside, the next-door ground floor venue of the Sunset / Sunside pairing. It was a log jam to enter, but then through to a seated area with a piano trio playing in support of a string of jazz vocalists for a vocal standards jam and to finish, the host joined her band to sing a final set. The band was sharp and interesting. There were a few sit-in pianists and one, Julia, was especially satisfying. I enjoyed the rounded toned bass played very nicely and some very nifty and inventive playing from piano. The singing was all standards at least for the jam session. The singers I caught were all women except one male. They varied and age and skill. I sat next to Florence Balouka and she did a nice latin take on Night and day. Perhaps my favourite was a young black girl (I missed most names) singing and scatting East of the sun with youthful verve and joyful chops. Then host Cecil L Recchia ended with easy, confident presence with her band of Pablo, Viktor and David. Nice.

Cecil L Recchia (vocals) with trio Pablo Campos (piano), Viktor Nyberg (bass) and David Grebil (drums) supported a vocal jam session at the Sunside jazz club in Paris. Florence Balouka was one jammer.

28 September 2019

Unexpected additions

It was our last day in Milan and we were relaxing with an outing to the Castello Sforzesco and its museums. It’s quite a fascinating and mixed collection of museums and in the end we didn’t see it all. We did see several ancient and mediaeval collections and decorative arts and musical instruments and Leonardo and Michelangelo. I hadn’t expected either of them. The Leonardo is the roof decoration in the Salla delle Asse (Room of Wooden Boards) but it’s in terrible condition, having been painted over and much lost in restoration. But you can imagine the glory of the room’s columns appearing ass tree trunks and a complex, swirling arrangement of branches and twigs and leaves above. Stunning in concept if much less in presence. The Michelangelo, too, was a challenge. He died while making it. It’s the Pietá Rodanini, looking unfinished, long and perhaps unreal, faces unfinished, just one leg finished with polish mostly with chisel-markings evident. Very much like several statues fronting David in Firenze. Jesus’ face seemed unable to be completed given lack of stone to cut. The stretched bodies suggested an error but was likened by an overheard guide with Modigliani as evidence of Michelangelo’s early modernity. Perhaps. Certainly it’s a late work so a simple error seems unlikely. All matters for thought and further reading. Otherwise, three contrabassi were in the museum of musical instruments: a slithery flat-back with three gut strings; two with curved backs and violin shapes, one with four strings, the other with five. Plenty more instruments. Otherwise, furniture and porcelain and statuary and paintings and frescoes and furniture, mediaeval through to Canaletto and later. Archeology and Egyptiana (closed for restoration). And the areas we missed, including photography and drawings. Odd that commentary on the Net suggested 1-2 hours to visit. We took ~5 hours and ended in a rush and still missed a whole wing. But that’s our way. A nice and broad collection and even a Leonardo and a Michelangelo.

Leonardo da Vinci Salla delle Asse and Michelangelo Pietà Rodanini and lots more are in the Museums at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

27 September 2019


In the end, we did get to see Il Cenacolo, Leonardo da Vinci’s famed Last Supper. An early visit to the ticket office, 7am for 8am, got me second spot in line and there were some tickets available for that afternoon. Number one in line was a local who goes early fairly often to buy tickets for visiting relatives and he was confident at 7am and successful at 8am. So keep that in mind, those who read this. You gain entry for a 15 minute session in the old refectory in a group of 25. Other than the Leonardo, there’s some explanatory material before and after your visit, and one large facing fresco, a Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano and some coat of arms lunettes and decorative frescoes that survived WW2 bombing. The Cenacolo was painted in tempera on gesso and has suffered over time. Best to see a photo to view the subject at its best, but it’s nice to be there. It’s faded but the structure and some details and faces are clear enough. So there’s some disappointment in the visit and a satisfaction as in scratching an itch. The quest for Leonardo’s paintings, somewhat a McGuffin and a minor amusement, continues.

Il Cenacolo (the Last Supper) of Leonardo da Vinci is in the refectory attached to Santa Marie delle Grazie in Milan.

26 September 2019

Big names

Bad Plus is a pretty big name and Blue Note definitely is. I got to Blue Note Milan (there’s a string of them now) to hear Ethan Iverson and trio, Ethan being the ex-pianist of Bad Plus. It almost turned out a failure. I’d booked from Canberra but then a family event almost interfered, but I made it. I had tried to change to the late show but that had been cancelled. The 9pm show was busy but not full. I was alone so it’s easier, but I managed virtually a front row seat. It was interesting to watch EI’s gentle, mellifluous hands and his various easy harmonic inventions. I liked that. Also bassist Joe Sander’s deliriously quick fills very so often right up the neck, and his singing solos and his otherwise solid walks. He has a lovely, interesting melodic and sequenced take on walks, obvious especially when they jammed a blues in F#, the key called by a young bassist sitting at my table at an audience invitation. Drums seemed fairly prosaic in this context although he’d played with the biggest names, not least several years with Brad Mehldau. But thinking further I felt a sense of time warp here. There was fluent harmonic interest and firm walks but I thought a lack of that rhythmic concern that’s been such an element of contemporary jazz. And the covers are not Nirvana now but Diz and Duke. Otherwise, all the band wrote tunes, perhaps riddlingly complex heads and driving walks or secret sambas or a floating dissonance or that improv blues. I was admiring of some very nice playing but a little non-plussed. Maybe it’s the day and the rush to get there. It wasn’t the beer; that was OK. So, nice playing and a genuine touch of NYC (they had left only that morning, early) but just not quite doing it for me this night even if the students on my table were ecstatic.

Ethan Iverson (piano) led a trio with Joe Sanders (bass) and Jorge Rossy (drums) at Blue Notes Milan.

25 September 2019

The quest

Our quest for he works of Leonardo da Vinci continues here in Milan. His presence is tourist-palpable here, with a commercial display and a science museum named for him and his local canal design promoted and his statue in front of La Scala. The big Leonardo, after the Louvre’s Mona Lisa, is Il Cenacolo, the Last supper, which miraculously survived bombing in WW2, located here in the monks refectory beside Santa Maria dele Grazie. That remains just a hope after I discovered bookings are required months before and I was too late. More on that if we manage entry somehow. Otherwise, we’ve visited the Biblioteca Ambrosiana and found his Musician there, along with some of his drawings from papers held there and a fabulous, huge cartoon for the Vatican’s Philosophers painting by Raphael. That was unexpected and a stunner. There are other gems, too, of course, here and in La Brera, the main local gallery that was envisioned by Napoleon as Italy’s Louvre, and for which he grabbed art from throughout Italy. It tends to the Baroque but there are gems nonetheless, Mantegna, Fra Angelico, some massive wall-sized works, the very popular Kiss and the particularly beautiful wedding of Mary and Joseph in which Raphael aged 21 surpassed his teacher Perugino. As for things on show, this is also Milan Fashion Week and there are models and chauffeured black Mercs and Audis everywhere. I read that ~2,400 models are in town now, of which, some few will be discovered. We ate lunch just next to one group and I met one young man who was the splitting image of a mediaeval Italian condottiere, prevalent in these galleries. He was professionally distant in the photo but playfully friendly out so quite a pleasure. One week in Milan.

The Brera and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana are galleries in Milan and the streets are busy with Milan Fashion Week.