24 July 2020


I expect there are a lot of musicians out there in Covid-land who are a little rusty With the best intentions, we mostly don't manage to practice all day even when we have the time. We miss those upcoming gigs that prompt the preparation. So it was, to some degree, when I got to a return Royal Society of Church Music (RSCM) organ recital. The planned organist pulled out due to lack of preparation. Bill Fraser, a stalwart of the local organ scene, filled in. He told me he was missing the normal preparation himself, but he did a worthy job on a string of interesting pieces from Baroque through to last C19th. The concert was in St Peter's Lutheran Church, Reid, with a German-made baroque organ that sounded great to me and filled the A-frame church nicely. Interestingly, Bill told me this is a mechanical organ, so keys are linked with bars to pipes. The more common current style is electro-mechanical with actuators controlling airflow; presumably cheaper and easier but not always preferred. just closed my eyes and enjoyed it immensely. Organ is so satisfying, big and full and sweetly toned, and this concert had a series of apt tunes, a Corelli violin sonata transcribed and an early Bach Prelude and Fugue and two choral preludes by Merkel and Brahms. We heard a Mendelssohn allegro taken from a manuscript, called the Berlin-Krakow, of uncertain ownership like various other removals from Germany after WW2. I remember seeing a few remaining pieces of the plunder of Troy in Berlin, with reference to the rest of the collection being held in Russia. Again, conflicts over ownership. Of course, there could also be some query over Germany's ownership in the first place. At least they are not lost to humanity. And a few late C19th Australian works, religious and very satisfying. So the gigs are up again, perhaps only while they last. Let's catch what we can, within the limits of social distancing, of course.

Bill Fraser performed for the RSCM (ACT Branch) at St Peter's Lutheran Church, Reid.

20 July 2020

Cautiously in concert

The return of live music is now judicious, especially with the second wave of CV19 in Melbourne and, as I write this, Bateman's Bay. That's Canberra playground territory, so we are all a little apprehensive. But this Limestone Consort concert was planned a month or more back and it went ahead. With sparse seating and limited numbers, as planned. And without the cello we expected, but that was due to a slip in the kitchen; not at all to do with the pandemic. So just Lauren on violin with James on harpsichord. Clara could just turn the pages (I don't envy Clara: finger skin injuries may be temporary but they stop your playing and they can be very painful). The program was Schmelzer for two numbers and Handel, Biber and Bach. Lauren noted that Schmelzer was appropriate for the program, given he died in a Plague. Certainly apt. Lauren always gives informative background introductions, social or musical. Another comment was on the Biber piece, Mystery (Rosary) sonata no.5 (Jesus in the temple). Apparently Biber was hugely inventive, even predating atonal composition. Here it was scoradatura, so the violin (a new and powerful-sounding baroque violin on loan from Hugh Withycombe) was tuned to an A major chord. Apparently the notation was for standard finger positions so the tones surprised the ear. Otherwise, there were two solo harpsichord pieces (Handel Voluntaries and fugues no. 3, 8 and Bach Toccata in Dminor (not that renowned Toccata and fugue - BWV913 not 565). In all, a lovely outing, small and sadly missing the cello, not least in the Schmelzer Cucu sonata, but a welcome return to live classical gigs.

On the day, Limestone Consort appeared as a duo comprising Lauren Davis (violin) and James Porteous (harpsichord), playing Schmelter, Handel, Biber and Bach.

16 July 2020

Ellingtonia, Strayhornia

Once again back at Molly for another Covid gig, this time with three of our local heroes playing music of another pair of heroes, Ellington and Strayhorn. The local heroes were Tom Fell, Wayne Kelly and James Luke. I chatted for some of it, but was floored by some understated then immensely melodic bari sax and a similar melodicity on bass and Wayne's lovely bluesy response. Floored is an apt word. James is so lithe in his playing, but also relaxed and diverse and satisfyingly lyrical. And with a lovely, rounded tone. Tom spelled the tunes so effectively then the solos with clear reference to the originals. I guess there was a good bit of transcription in his history, but if not, a good ear and some solid listening. Wayne plays piano, so chordal, so bunches of notes in his raunchy style that contrasted to some degree, but complemented with ease. These guys know each other well and it shows. This was easy and wonderfully effective. The pics weren't so good, they had turned the stage lights off. Well, it is jazz in a speakeasy. A wonderfully satisfying evening with superb playing and a deep knowledge and respect for the classic tunes they were portraying. Fabulous. Not sure what the musicologists would make of my title, though.

Tom Fell (baritone sax) led a trio with Wayne Kelly (piano) and James Luke (bass) playing the music of Ellington and Strayhorn at Molly.

15 July 2020

The other side of the stream

We've been stuck inside and doing streams and webinars. Here's something that's a little more active and quite fun: playing together by streams. You can do this as a jam session or live performance, but that has issues of internet lag and I am yet to achieve that. But I have done a few home recordings that are assembled later as a performance. One was with Bernard Duc, a composer in Switzerland, who put out a call for bassists to support a choral performance of Amazing grace on FB. The other followed an invitation emailed around Canberra, for community musicians to play a few tunes with Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Canberra School of Music students. Both provided an audio download to listen to while reading a part. It's much easier to play with the volume and excitement of an orchestra around you, but I managed them. I also tried to record a tenor part for a huge choir with Eric Whitacre (2,000+ singers) but I wasn't comfortable with my solo voice so that one bit the dust. All amusing pastimes. Links below; perhaps more coming.

  • Amazing grace / Bernard Duc
  • CSO Community special (1) Jamaican rhumba
  • CSO Community special (2) Can can
  • 13 July 2020

    Ragtiming Paris

    There's not too much international travel these days, but Heather and Leigh got back from Paris just at the start of the pandemic and they've been down the coast and dropped in to Smiths for a gig. Leigh is Leigh Barker, once local bassist trained here in Canberra. It's a story of a small world, but I know Leigh and his folks through multiple connections. Heather is from rural NSW but I first heard her in Melbourne. They have kids now and have lived in Paris for several years. But back here for the duration, I guess. Their gig was classic early jazz, perhaps the latest tune was from Irving Berlin in 1932. Glorious beauteous melodies, cute and nicely played on violin with guitar or bass, and sung by Heather with a firm and tailored voice intervening with her neat violin melodies with a lovely, understated vibrato and considerable body. There was one ragtime, this being a family-version of Heather's Dirty Ragtimer Duo, along with Maple leaf rag and Carter Family and Louis' Hot 5 and a string of lovely but often sad songs, like Old fashioned love and Lover come back to me and Say it isn't so (that's the Irving Berlin tune from a time when he'd lost much). So, a lovely, touching, period concert (it's arguable that much jazz is that these days) that had me tapping my toes with 2-feels. And some decent guitar and wonderful bass, not least with French bow, spelling 2-feels and early walks and beautifully self-evident and understated solos. It was a change to go to Smiths again, although sadly now sparse, separated listeners, but a pleasure none-the-less. For the audience, some returns; for Leigh and Heather, maybe some more returns, to Paris. Not sure when. But so nice while it lasted.

    Heather Stewart (vocals, violin) performed with Leigh Barker (guitar, bass) as the Dirty Ragtimer Duo at Smiths.

    12 July 2020

    Forever streaming

    Well, here's a change. Not for the streaming, which is common to my daily life these days, but for the event. The International Online Bass Summit. Five days of various seminars, master classes, concerts and the like, various concurrent sessions, international with names I just read about or hear of. Not all good, though. It ran on NYC time, so started ~2am and ran to early morning. Not optimal for we Australians, although we made up a good portion of attendees. I'm still working my way through recordings, but it's not the same. While live, you can flip between sessions and ask questions and thus interact. The recordings are more like YouTube views, private but distant. I've enjoyed orchestral masterclasses, regularly floored when the leader picks up his bass. I particularly enjoyed Derek Jones, a multi-talented studio musician with awareness of getting and keeping the gig, and Kristin Korb who presented various exercises and demonstrations on singing with the double bass. That one was unexpected and little considered. Kieron Hanlon presented some arrangements for Bach cello suites in different keys to suit the double bass. Danny Ziemann presented his crawl, walk, run approach to jazz bass (2-feel, walk, solos) and David Allen Moore presented his fractal fingering approach which I didn't find so convincing, me the traditionalist. And the concerts, Francois Rabbath smiling deeply throughout, and John Clayton with son Gerald, Gary Karr with Christian McBride and more. Some sessions were interesting but not so relevant for me, but I may watch them in coming weeks, and some dealt with technical issues that I'm hanging out to view, like spiccato bowing or Simandl-plus fingering or thumb position. All matters of fascination for the double bassist but unknown otherwise. And Australian Rob Nairn on early music. How could I have missed that till now? It's a strange experience but nice that I could take part. Thanks to Covid-19, I guess, for the opportunity.

    The International Online Bass Summit was held by videoconference on 24-28 June 2020.

    10 July 2020


    Streams are the core of our recent experience. I would find it hard to count the Webinars I've taken part in. A few invited guests speaking of whatever (one webinar included Nobel-prize winner, Stiglitz, no less). But the key, for me, is twofold: people from outside our local area, so a meeting could feature Stiglitz or the like, perhaps from their bedrooms, and the interactivity of the associated chat. That's important in a webinar. You take part in a parallel discussion that can be picked up in the core discussion or can give commentary on that core. So this is an active experience. I don't so much enjoy streamed gigs. Early on, I viewed a few Berlin Phil concerts, ACO, Smalls jazz. But it's passive. So it was good to get out and play that gig at Molly recently and feel the live experience again. We may be waiting a while for a full return to that! Given limited attendance numbers and lack of income for the arts for several months, I notice gigs are dearer, perhaps payment per set, as is the NYC way. But I did see a recent gig that I enjoyed.

    Pheno. I'd missed Jess playing the previous week but caught her solo pop set as Pheno. Loops and guitar and harmonies and synths and repetition and pop simplicity. Her experience shows in the calm simple poppy lines and grooves. And in the song structures. And in the catchy melodies and her capable hands on guitar. The tunes are poppy and immensely attractive. The lyrics suggest depth and personality, but I'm yet to follow them too closely. And interestingly, this was somewhat interactive. She was playing alone on stage at the Canberra Theatre so the experience must have been telling for her, but she did respond to a few comments in her chat screen and got several hearts and cheers for the gig. Not much interaction but maybe all we can expect these days. Whatever, I enjoyed it lots. Check out Pheno on the streaming sites. She's on Spotify, perhaps elsewhere, but expect a search. Much enjoyed Jess!

    Jess Green is Pheno. She performed a live streamed set from the stage of the Canberra Theatre.

    03 July 2020

    The Pots too

    It's about time was a product of climate-induced bushfires before Christmas. Yes, I know, "sunburnt country ... Of droughts and flooding rains" but that's just an excuse for inaction and that's all forgotten now with Covid-19 so The Pots has been active on another CD with another theme and it's called Going viral. This one has the description: "Instrumental and spoken word impressions from within the international COVID-19 pandemic of 2020". Well, Australia is lucky enough to be fairly well outside of the global pandemic, through luck and following science for a change. My cousins in Italy haven't felt quite so relaxed about things. Between the last album and this I've learnt such things as midi (early stage producer here) and more. So it's all a bit rough but this one is better and anyway it's the ideas - and the politics - that count and there's a bit of each here, as in the last album. So I welcome you to have a listen.

    Have a listen to Going viral / The Pots at Youtube Music, Spotify, TripleJ unearthed and more.

    02 July 2020

    The Pots

    Many of the locals and quite a few visitors will know of my recordings on location. They are just live stereo recordings with a good mic and some decent mastering and they work quite well. But in recent months I've been playing with home studio recording, so multiple tracks, midi and the like. Lots of time spent viewing YouTube videos, especially of one very good source on mixing techniques, Musician on a Mission. Here be secrets: The Pots. The Pots is a home studio project of "Bassist EP of Canberra" (sound familiar?). Here's the first album with the theme of climate. Now available on all the streaming services, and even as a signed CD if you particularly wish. It's about time is described as "a mix of electronics, double bass, minimalism and spoken words of despair about climate and more". Mmm, sounds about right and suits the times.

    Have a listen to It's about time / The Pots at Youtube Music, Spotify, TripleJ unearthed and more.

    01 July 2020

    Welcome return

    It's great to be back playing in public again. Tilt played its first post-Covid-19 gig last night. Let's hope that we remain in post-Covid times. Nothing certain there. Molly had a decent turnout, but it can only allow a smaller number to enter. But the stage was good, there's a PA so the lug was reasonable and we played well, so all was well with the world. Strangely, my last pre-Covid report was a Friday night jam on this very stage. I didn't even manage a pic, so I'll pull out an oldie. But nice to be back.  And nice to play a lot of James' tunes and a few fave standards.

    Tilt Trio are James Woodman (piano), Dave McDade (drums) and Eric Pozza (bass)