31 January 2020

Riddle time

What's the difference between the LNP government and SoundOut? One is organised to do nothing; the other is not organised but does lots. My joke. But there could be other lines: one lies, one doesn't; one cares, one doesn't; one has art, one has PR. It could go on. One has staying power; one destroys it. As in, SoundOut is in is nth year; Australia and the world is entering climate end times. I got to one of two Friday workshops at SoundOut. The band opened: a trio of piano, bass, alto sax from Netherlands/Germany: Achim, Wilbert and Frank. Frank was playing my other bass and it sounded loud, alive, inspired in his (meaty, strong) hands. The interaction was to die for. I'll look forward to hearing them again in concert over coming days. There was discussion after: about personality, not ego, as a requirement; about long term playing and their backgrounds (rock, reggae through some conservatoriums and jazz and some self-teaching); about long term playing, but how they connected from the first time playing together; about tone and techniques; about some more ethereal things, like a performers' playing resonating within as colleague so "all [is] one", or "what he plays is already me", "be empty", time and space and resonance, the end of sounds all merging into one music. And that all the technique needs to be there, ready for instant use, when you are aware the time had passed and "when it becomes a trick [not an imbibed practised capability], don't play it". Then a few small bands playing and comments. I was with the first on piano, performing with soprano sax, Wilbert on bass, electronics. I enjoyed the first part, playing with tonality and atonality and intervals and trying to listen. Perhaps we didn't realise an end, but then I'm not sure we understood the expectations and norms of the performance [certainly I didn't]. Comments were about listening, dynamics, interaction, knowing an end. Mmm. Interesting, I must do more, and piano (or this piano) feels good for me for this music. Bu these are just my mutterings. Next group was alto, flugelhorn, e-bass and electro-acoustic percussion. Again, finding the endings and relating (as in dancing together) were the big comments. They have ears, these players. We can test ours further over the weekend.

A trio of Achim Kaufmann (piano, Germany), Wilbert De Joode (bass, Netherlands) and Frank Gratkowski (alto sax, Germany) presented a workshop at SoundOut 2020 at the Drill Hall Gallery.

24 January 2020

Throwing off chains

Spartacus was the gladiator who led the Third Servile war against the class-owning oligarchy during the Roman Republican era. Thus does Ronny model himself, the servile drummer at the whim of the overlords. As a bassist, I think he might have something there, but of course it's in some jest. The serious intent is to centralise the drums in this music, so the Spartacus Collective is a "quartet of solo drumset with instrumental accompaniment". Intriguing! They were to play at the Sydney Festival but that was canned. Lucky for us, because they played Smiths and it was intriguing and enveloping music, largely improvised although gathered within some indicative written lines or harmonic concepts (Two up, two down featured melody in two keys) or rhythmic grooves. It must have served Ronny well, because I think this is the most exciting I've heard him. Maybe in part because some of his drum influences got airings: To Elvin (as a verb) is an obvious reference but another to the "big, spacey, rich" drumming on Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album is not so obvious). Each player had charts, but the improv was long and evident. Jess was excellent at setting the space for this, regular in form with occasional punctuations and embellishments, clear in tone and often quizzical in melody and often counting in changes or recurrences of a melody. John and Miro were their fully expected exploratory selves: thoughtful, informed, searching for relevance. The fairly rare "heads" featured harmonies between these two front-liners. My guess was John improvised harmony to Miro's melody, but not sure; maybe it was written. It was not a long night: Ronny had five charts and they added an improv leading to a mobile African groove from Jess, her song Jerboa, written about an animal that's shared between South Africa and Australia (and perhaps more widely: do extant animals date back to Gondwana? I must look that up). Interesting, too, that they played without PA. This was wildly exploratory yet not at all disoriented, improvised and clearly authoritative, responsive despite limited instructions. A great night that had me deeply absorbed. Lucky us for Sydney's cancellation.

Spartacus Collective is a project of Ronny Ferella (drums, compositions). The Canberra contingent comprised Miroslav Bukovsky (trumpet), John Mackey (tenor) and Jess Green (guitar).

21 January 2020

Baring souls

This was a wonderful, touching, personal concert featuring two wonderful, capable jazz-trained singers singing mostly their own compositions. Most singers in jazz are women. Not sure why but maybe the pitch fits. The higher pitches seem more honoured, the sopranos over the altos and the tenors over the basses (although I've noticed Jesus or respected prophets were often bass, at least in the baroque era). And many women sing of personal issues as if they own that space (they so often do, and I say that with respect and even awe). This was like that. Kristin speaking of her children, writing for them; Matilda writing of love tested and explored. Familiar territory for women, perhaps, too often unknown terrain for men. Now it shouldn't be that way and the essences of women and men shouldn't be profoundly different (under my second-wave feminist awareness) but they often are. Maybe we are surfing an interim level till we reach something higher. In the meantime, I guess it holds. But on the other side, it can be revealing and that may be just the thing of love songs and nothing to matter for unknown voices on the radio, but in people you know it may be a little too much to know. Again, maybe not for women who talk lots of many things, but for emotionally-simple blokes who just drink beer together. So the topics were profound and personal (not always - Kristin's "Full on the new" was just a delicious funky take on the excitement of visiting a new town). The singing all round was to die for: Kristin more embellished; Matilda more constant. Just fabulous, delicious, skilled and detailed and careful and correct and toneful. And the accompaniment was gloriously apt although very different. Kristin was sparse but wonderfully effective with piano-like chords on a tiny midi keyboard (the key size was a test!). Matilda used electronics more, adding a second (tinier) keyboard and Ableton or the like, so more orchestral. Both were a pleasure. We were surrounded by Matilda's family and friends for her visit gig from Berlin. I took a sojourning mate from Paris/Melbourne and he commented on how nice was the mix of ages. I like that too. We both liked the whole thing lots and lots.

Kristin Berardi (vocals) and Matilda Abraham (vocals) performed at Smiths.

19 January 2020

Great players on a great day

I caught Trio Klein Ahnung in Sydney, at Lazy Bones in Marrickville after missing their gig at Molly's in Canberra. They were a fabulously modern, lithe, expressive band, understated at times, explosive at others, all powerful musicians in their own rights but all ready to lay low when the music called. I chatted after the gig with some of the Canberra contingent, now mostly out of town, in Sydney or even as far off as Berlin. Brian Blade and ambience were mentioned as similar or stylistically influential. Yes, but. Carl is so strong and, being the guitar, the front liner in a guitar trio and he was the patter of the band on stage. I heard current Manhattan guitar but wasn't sure which one. A quick survey identified Kurt Rosenwinkel as the closest to my ear. Strong and defined notes, devastating runs, softly overdriven with some reverb or echo or both (my guess). Sam was at his expressive best, often understated, hugely expressive in lines and just nicely explosive with his own devastating runs, just sometimes. Raj was hugely understated, soft and delicate, taking just a few solos, demanding us to listen carefully to follow his delicacy. They were releasing a CD on this tour with some tracks including Sean Wayland. So this is Aussies in the world: NYC, Berlin and home. Suffice to say I was enamoured by the gig in Marrickville. They played tunes from the album but also a few standards: How deep the ocean and Without a song. I tried to count How deep... at Marrickville but failed. I noted "oddly timed", thinking they'd changed time signatures from the swung 4/4. So what a surprise when I saw a video of this same tune from the Molly gig and hearing it as a clear four. My guess is this was time implied, held in the musicians' minds but far from clearly stated, rather than formally rewritten passages. I feel it in our trio at its best, usually when we're playing pretty frequently. Time dissolves but doesn't: it's there but not evident; ready to resolve occasionally. What appeared as time rehashed was an improvised interaction. Wonderful, exemplary and a statement of the contemporary in jazz. At least to my ears. (Carl, have I got it right?) So, a great gig at a lovely, dark, seductive venue (worth a visit for the design ambience alone). Thankfully, I didn't miss this one. BTW, klein ahnung translates as "little idea".

Trio Klein Ahnung are Carl Morgan (guitar), Sam Anning (bass) and Rajiv Jayaweera (drums). They performed at Lazy Bones, Marrickville (and Molly's) while touring their new album.

14 January 2020

The history lesson that is jazz

Jazz changes and develops through generations of players listening and learning and standing on Newtonian shoulders. I could only think that seeing another generation tonight. Evans Room is a piano trio with Adam Davidson, Hugh Magri-Bull and Evan Marshalsey. They are not even the newest generation, being variously out os school or at ANU studying, but they take their places in the history. Apparently Adam is off to Monash to study jazz. He's wonderfully capable player already and just out of school, not yet into tertiary studies. Skills like that show up early. Hugh and Evan are no slouches, at various parts of their ANU studies. I hear Hugh is an encyclopaedia on jazz performers in history, so he listens and thus learns. Another worthy - and the traditional - approach. Both were lively and informed and interesting in their accompaniment and solos. So, the traditions continue, even as this trio goes its own way. They played standards and again developed and interpreted in their own styles, again as in history. I hear their mates are slogging through the jazz studies but performing metal and funk and the rest. So jazz school is a place of integration or tolerance these days. Maybe that's different? Dunno. But whatever, they played well.

Evans Room comprised Adam Davidson (piano), Evan Marshalsey (bass) and Hugh Magri-Bull (drums) and played at Molly's.

01 January 2020


They are big names to have here in Canberra, at our NGA, Matisse and Picasso, but I was surprised at just how much came from our own collection. I recognised a few of the works but not all that were ours, maybe because they were mainly prints, interestingly a few times in book form, so perhaps not quite so memorable. And there was a mix of other works from overseas collections - Tate, MOMA, Paris Picasso, Baltimore, Minneapolis - and local - Sydney and Melbourne and a few private collections. We'll never get masses of these works on loan (not like the modern gallery in Cologne with its collection of 900 Picassos) but this was decent while not too big, with various periods and various influences outlined back and forth. The key theme was how both these artists watched and were influenced by each other through their careers. Picasso has to remain the more challenging or more intellectual of the two with his cubist distortions and extrapolations and minotaurs. At first sight, I preferred the more sensual simplicity of Matisse (not to deny Picasso!). Nice, too, to see costumes from both of them designed for the Ballets Russes. But it was in the last room that I got the most telling vision. It was an opened book with a few whispy, squiggly lines from Matisse (excuse my pic) that so clearly described a woman's body (very few men appeared in this display!). I was stunned by the effectiveness of so little and the required craft to carry it off and the desire that obviously underlaid it. It was the old "my kids can do that" moment blown out of the water. Just a revelation.

The Matisse & Picasso exhibition is at the National Gallery of Australia until 13 April.

  • NLA exhibition website