19 February 2020

Filling in for James

Canberra is full of jazz bassists I admire, not least the local seniors of our craft including James and Eric A and Brendan. It was truly a buzz to sit in for James Luke who was unavailable for a gig with pianist James W and Mark Levers. I play with James W at other times, as Tilt Trio, but he's running through musicians with gig invitations in place of the more standard jam attendances. It a good idea made obvious by the understanding I got from playing with Mark ... and it pays. I've played with Mark often enough at jam sessions, but a gig is longer (3 sets over 3.5 hours) with a bigger and somewhat more demanding string of tunes; mostly standards but including a few of James' originals. It makes for a more intimate and certainly more dynamic music as you get in synch and chat between sets over a beer beer and find time to harmonise. Mark did a great job, picking up new and obscure tunes, spelling melodies through solos, playing the most delicate of brushes and sticks. So it was a wonderful night, playing a full gig with Mark and sitting in for a much admired James L. And thanks to James W for the call.

James Woodman (piano) led a trio with Mark Levers (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass) at Molly.

12 February 2020

Varieties of collectivities

The Phoenix Collective appears in different incarnations and this was just a duo: violin and piano; Dan Russell and Edward Neeman. Thus a collective rather than a string quartet, which seems to be a more common incarnation. Regardless, this was a wonderful concert with excellent performances for a large audience for a High Court lunchtime concert. They were playing English under the concert title "Ye Olde English". It wasn't so old, really. The opening number was by Delius, commenced in 1905 and completed after WW1. That was my favourite. The Lark ascending, Vaughan Williams' mega-hit, and an Elgar sonata followed. They squeezed in a short Elgar for an encore, too, Chanson de matin, although they were over time. Generous. But these are great local musicians, both well blooded overseas but now settled back here. It showed. Dan is the epitome of the involved violinist, moving freely and sensitively with the melody. Edward sits more steadily, but is similarly deeply involved. This is emotive music but with a strong-upper-lipped intelligence and melodies that speak of rolling hills and countryside. Really quite beautiful and deliciously played. BTW, the program was Delius Sonata for violin and piano no.1, Vaughan Williams Lark ascending, Elgar Sonata for violin and piano Emin Op.83 and Elgar Chanson de matin as encore. Another excellent gig for the High Court.

Phoenix Collective performed an English program in the High Court foyer. On the day they were a duo comprising Dan Russell(violin) and Edward Neeman (piano).

11 February 2020


It's Beethoven's year, the 250th anniversary of his birth, so he's out and about in the concert scene. This incarnation was all Beethoven: Symphonies 1,2,3 in one concert by the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a larger format with various invited players, tympany and 3 basses and winds. The strings were expanded with ANAM students to 3 basses (2 additional), 7 additional violins, and larger throughout the orchestra. It was the biggest ACO I've seen and maybe it was required for Beethoven. It was a wonderful concert but I had some reservations. This was the first of the series so it may change by Sydney (5 concerts are planned!). I found the sound not so detailed with the extra instruments, but to be expected and probably quite apt for Beethoven symphonies, but not as clear and light. It was fascinating to hear the 3 together and Beethoven's development from 1 to 3. Nothing I can add but that it was fascinating and the change was evident. From the Mozartian elements of the first, through the developing, fevered forces to the accomplished third. Lovely and educative. We had cheaper seats so limited sightlines so I just closed my eyes and listened: that was a revelation, but tends to be rare when you can see well. Sight is just so much stronger a sense than sound. So a great outfit playing fascinating music from a genius and well attended as Beethoven and the big namers tend to be. A concert-going friend noted attendance with the implication that they/all should play the popular repertoire. But ACO seems to get good attendance regardless. They are worth it: good and sexy to boot. The epitome of the modern classical chamber orchestra. Nice.

Australian Chamber Orchestra played Beethoven 1,2,3 at Llewellyn.

10 February 2020

Not at all military

It's no secret that the world was a different place in the past. The past we are talking of is not so far back, just 250 years or so, the time of Mozart and Haydn, but still it was different. Music was still written for or dedicated to or performed for heads of various courts and often took a related name. I thought this listening to the Australia Haydn Ensemble, in quintet format, playing Mozart and Haydn nominated as The Emperor, First Prussian and The Military. The program had a comely pic of James sporting a revolutionary-styled poster amongst rubbish and a gilt frames. (AHE's 2020 catalogue is a beauty: gloriously presented, deliciously dressed and with a generous touch of whimsy). I missed the opening number by Boccherini (Los Parejas=The Couples, about horse parades). But the Mozart and two Haydns were lovely, attractive baroque pieces, to my ear not at all militaristic, although maybe uniform dress-coded and frolicksomely paradic. And played so nicely by our AHE mates with that baroque sensibility and genial sound in a nicely fitting space of the Wesley Church in Forrest. Just a lovely concert with no bloodshed and little discomfort (other than hard pews). A pleasure enjoyed by AHE's many Canberra followers.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble performed Boccherini, Mozart and Haydn at Wesley Church Forrest. On the night, they played as a quintet comprising Skye McIntosh and Matthew Greco (violins), James Eccles (viola), Anton Baba (cello) and Melissa Farrow (flute).

09 February 2020

We are blessed

It was a family evening so Sandy Evans and Andrew Robson was out. What a loss; they are such a capable and inspiring group. But I managed an hour at the National Press Club for Greg's band, and I was blessed. Really, we are all blessed. I've travelled the world and found great musicians scattered throughout. We have our own and Greg and Lachlan and Mark are amongst them. They are not our only ones so we are doubly blessed. I just caught a few tunes (and a cheap beer at the happy hour). I recognised but can't name them, but I was inspired by the playing. Mark just dropped the slightest of solos, but it was bliss: first up polyrhythmic plays, then straighter and sharp as. Greg is out front, being guitar, and slithering through fast, crisp, intriguing solos and, of course, spelling out melodies. And somewhat the same for Lachlan. He plays bass on a Fender 6 and shreds it like a guitar and it's a blissful experience, again also with references to melodies and passing dissonant harmonies. So all round, I was just dumbfounded. These are not our visitors, not troubadours visiting from NYC or Berlin. These are just our locals in the NPC bar on a Friday evening and they are seriously capable and intriguing players. My God, how lucky we are. On the other hand, our pollies are ratshit, so not all is right in the world...

Greg Stott (guitar) led a trio with Lachlan Coventry (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at the National Press Club.

08 February 2020

Avoiding the smoke

The Climate Rally was enveloped in smoke, probably unnoticed by the pollies within, given their arrivals by car to underground parks and into air-conditioned comfort. Thus is the way of decision makers. But those outside noticed. I eventually escaped to the High Court, hoping to catch the full bench considering a case of particular interest to me: Jenny Hocking's bid to release the letters between Kerr and the Queen, which have been classified as Private and not released to the public. Given this relates to perhaps the major event in Australian constitutional history, I'm interested and I expect they should be released. So I went in. Jenny Hocking was there (I think that was her) and a spattering of visitors and the full bench of 7 judges. I only heard an hour-or-so of presentation. They retired at 4.15 and were to reconvene the following day at 10am. Now it's two days later and I am awaiting further news. I guess a decision will take time. But the air was cleaner inside.

I had a few moments so caught the Face to Face exhibition in another nicely comfy space, the National Portrait Gallery, knowing that I would miss it otherwise. It was interesting, but to some degree disappointing. Lots of performers (admittedly admired ones) who perhaps make eye connections well, and if not, are of common interest. A few writers and artists. Not sure I saw one politician or judge or scientist or whatever. There was at least one sportswoman. It was just a cursory visit but I'm wondering if it says anything about a celebrity-infused culture. Dunno. I'd need more time and thought and I'm unlikely to revisit before it closes in just a week or so. But one other thing I read while there struck me like a hammer: "Only seventeen of Australia's thirty prime ministers to date are represented in the National Portrait Gallery's collection, with their portraits acquired mostly according to unexpected opportunity". Yes, it's a new collection and Parliament House is unlikely to hand over their portraits (they essentially purloined the National Library's Magna Carta for their spaces) but this is worrying none-the-less. A national portrait gallery without portraits of all PMs? Is nothing sacred? Nonetheless, best of luck to the NPG in gathering this part of its collection.

Jenny Hocking's bid to release the Palace letters was condiered by the High Court of Australia. Face to Face was an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

  • High Court to hear bid to release the Queen’s secret Whitlam dismissal letters / Jenny Hocking (29 Jan 2020)
  • High Court to determine whether 'Palace letters' written during the Whitlam dismissal should be released / Elizabeth Byrne (upd. 4 Feb 2020)
  • Hocking v. Director-General of the National Archives of Australia [HCA] Case S262/2019
  • 07 February 2020

    Smokey day out

    Not sure why they decided on four full days of demonstration, dubbed the People's Climate Assembly, because you're unlikely to get too many there most of the time, but they did. I just got to Climate Emergency Rally, just a few hours at lunchtime with some speakers. There were plenty of people but not masses: nothing to match the urgency and seriousness of the issue. I missed the Penguins "On the steps" but they were maybe aiming at pollie arrivals. I heard Dr Karl as host. He gave snippets of relevant science and argued for the effectiveness of protest by listing successful actions (while I was thinking of several that were ignored). Several Aboriginals including Bruce Shillingsworth with words on actions on Adani (good on them) and more. Sue Wareham spoke of climate and one other existential risk, conflict and nuclear armaments. [There's certainly no longer any time for a decent war before climate hits! / ed.] Bob Brown spoke but I wonder if his argument, for direct action, that we lock ourselves and place ourselves under bull dozers and the rest, would be particularly effective. I may be wrong, but actions like that often get nicely twisted by the noisy shock jocks and their media mates. His recent anti-Adani Convoy didn't turn out too well. Not at all the actions of the quiet Aussies, eh? I read a report just today about surveys that showed a very poor understanding of climate change, even if increased wish to do something, but also a propensity to defer judgment while there's so much political argument. Blame that on the deniers (they are not skeptics - that's the label for scientists) and a highly politicised response that bodes poorly. Even immense fire and Canberra smoke doesn't do here, although it seems to be seen as a portent overseas. Australia is no longer the forward-looking polity of the past. Someone mentioned legal action. I've pondered that preventing/avoiding action on climate should be a crime against humanity, but I doubt it fits the definition. Others have other approaches. But any denialist and corrupted government deserves nothing less. Pollies manage their speech so more reliable is that wise old motto: Know them by their actions. And as for a mass of voters who are so easily conned. Well, that's educmacation and diversion for ya.

    The Climate Emergency Rally was held outside Parliament House for the return of Parliament for 2020.

  • PS, it seems First Dog was in town for the Assembly
  • 06 February 2020

    SOSun eve

    I came after a family dinner to catch the last bands and managed just one band that morphed into the final SoundOut Collective session. Amanda Stewart of Sydney sang with, Achim Kaufmann and Roger Turner. The trio showed all manner of techniques with clicks and vocal pops and words amongst them, displaying some hints of jazz and C20th classical styles, and into a sudden and widely unexpected fff stop. Fascinating, with energy and commitment and often virtuosic skills. Then into the final all-in SoundOut Collective set, started by Jim Denley with Alister Spence, Frank Gratkowski and Tony Osborne, joined gradually by musos moving through the space, to stage and from, watching and responding to one or another, gradually building and receding to end with the sole pair of Richard and Jim and the end. Effective and shared art in community. Congrats again to Richard and his work and success for this 11th incarnation of SoundOut, our own International festival of free jazz and experimental music, right here in Canberra, If you missed it, get on the list for occasional events and next's year's festival: SoundOut on FB or web.

    Amanda Stewart (vocals), Achim Kaufmann (piano) and Roger Turner (drums) played a trio set. Then Jim Denley (flute), Alister Spence (piano), Frank Gratkowski (alto, flute, clarinet) and Tony Osborne (vocals) joined by the SoundOut Collective to finish. SoundOut 2020 Saturday evening at the Drill Hall Gallery.

    05 February 2020

    SOSat eve 1-2

    Two more acts finished up my Saturday evening session at SoundOut. First up was an Australian trio with father and daughter Alister and Alexandra Spence performing with Canberra local Shoeb Ahmad. Great to hear them all again. This was mainly noise/electronics/drones with some piano noises from under the lid from Alister, but later joined by some piano notes, mostly prepared, so flowing and steady, and some delicious waterfalls of notes. Then another international outfit, this time Commonwealth (apparently taking on renewed interest following Brexit from just the day before). Arthur Bull (Nova Scotia) and Scott Thompson (Quebec) joined Roger Turner (UK) for a busy, sometimes chaotic, musical exploration. Roger is all over his drums with all manner of standard and non-standard techniques and no limit. I was particularly amused by masses of sticks, although that may have been next day. Suffice to say he's busy and extremely varied in performance. Arthur got a lovely sharp picked tone from his amplified acoustic guitar and also explored techniques, not least pie tray and ebow (not the only use this weekend). I particularly enjoyed Scott with his obvious training, perhaps classical, perhaps jazz, with lovely tones and effectively speaking mute. Again, committed and energetic and forceful: a take-no-prisoners set.

    Alister Spence (piano), Alexandra Spence (electronics) and Shoeb Ahmad (electronics) performed as a trio. The Moniker Trio followed. It comprised Arthur Bull (guitar, Nova Scotia) and Scott Thompson (trombone, Quebec) joined Roger Turner (drums, UK). SoundOut 2020 Saturday evening at the Drill Hall Gallery.

    04 February 2020

    SOSat eve 1-1

    Then session 2, Saturday evening. Very slightly late, quite cold inside (21degC vs. 43degC and fires outside), but the music was electric. Electric and hot, but not in terms of equipment: this was fully acoustic, despite arrays of mics for recordings. I'd lent an amp, but Wilbert didn't want it and, given his powerful hands and raised action and huge sound, no way he deeded it. This was loud and intense and massively interactive and impressively together. The final note just happened, obviously arrived to some surprise to all, but I know that feeling, when you know the band is to do something, without clear messages. At least not conscious messages. I heard a few snippets of lovely jazz lines from Frank and some great (and somewhat unexpected) funky grooves from Wilbert, if wonderfully altered with harmonic movements. I mentioned this after to Wilbert and he claimed all is grist for this mill - a wonderful, knowing response to my ear - jazz or Boulez (Debussy?) or whatever influence. The funky groove surprised but enlivened me. Achim was all quick passages, flowing under his hands, mostly pretty atonal, mostly also prepared for diverse sounds. Wilbert was just a swig of techniques: bow, jazz pizz, slaps, strums, pulls, scrapes, retunings (not least one return in the middle of a piece, with tuning fork between his teeth). Frank passed through clarinet and flute as well as the alto. All this form all with power and energy to spare and intense concentration and listening. These guys are very good and everyone knew it. A revelation and a pleasure. As a sample, they have a few CDs on Spotify called oblengths and palaë.

    Achim Kaufmann (piano, Germany), Wilbert De Joode (bass, Netherlands) and Frank Gratkowski (alto sax, flute, clarinet, Germany) performed first up at SoundOut 2020 Saturday evening at the Drill Hall Gallery.