18 February 2021


I'm a bassist and I was in awe.  Best seat in the house, perfect sightlines for bowing and the rest, just 6 feet away, for Axel Ruge, co-principal of the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne and with a history of other Euro orchestras and teaching roles.  So this was a wonderful class in technique, but of course much more.  Firm fingers, ease in thumb positions, speedy lines and accurate intonation: that's all expected, but the glorious tone he enticed from his late-1700s bass had me in awe from the start, then the mastery of harmonics, playing extended arpeggios in harmonics over thumb positions had me floored.  Special strings, perhaps?  No?  From the windings, I think they were D'Addario.  German bow.   Four strings (must be his Aussie instrument).  But that tone, and that musical presence and that ease of lines and that purposefulness and commitment.  Of course, he's not playing in a section here, but as a soloist.  The first two tunes were genuinely solo, a set of variations on Greensleeves (!) and six studies from Giselher Klebe, more modern, somewhat Schoenbergian, 12-tonal.  Then a suite (or collection) of pieces for Gamba and continuo, played on harpsichord by accompanist, Hilda Visser-Scott.  An older work and a lovely old thing: my heart warms to this, even if my intellect may go to something more challenging.  Then Hilda moved to piano.  She was clearly doing a great job, reading, relating, responding, but all my limited bassist ears were on the bassist soloist.  Next were a Gliere prelude and a Bottesini Tarantella.  A showy outing, our Bottesini!  Apparently he was a conductor who dazzled at interval with his bass virtuosity.  I've heard Bottesini played before, but I don't think like this.   Playful and quick and scarily demanding.  I think the extended harmonic arpeggios were in this piece.  So I sat there admiring the firm fingers on ebony and the delicacy of little fingers on bow hold, applied then loosened.  Or his pizz, strangely jazz-like rather than the traditional classical, vertical, mid-string pizz.  He also plays in a klezmer band, so maybe that's an influence.  But mostly that tone was enough, it got to me; so, so lovely.  So this was a concert of awe for me as bassist and of deep pleasure for me as listener.

Axel Ruge (bass) performed solo and with accompaniment from Hilda Visser-Scott (harpsichord, piano) at Wesley Music Centre.

17 February 2021


What more could you possibly need?  I returned to NCO for some play throughs just in recent weeks, drawn by the fact they were playing Brahms.  My heart just melts over Brahms and I'm not the only one.  I guess there's a reason for the talk of the Three Bs (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms) in classical music.  He doesn't seem so hard to play, at least the dots don't seem too threatening, but there's interaction and unexpected complexity in the ensemble interactions.  Whatever it is, I love it.  As I could only love this photo.  Martin was there to take this pic, but otherwise just the whole bass section setup for the night.  Bassists are always early (usually...).  We have a bigger cart.  I've wondered if, as size of instruments shrinks, lateness grows.  If so, strange that.  Whatever, the basses were ready...

Troy Davey, Eric Pozza and Geoff Prime were ready to rehearse with National Capital Orchestra in the Ainslie Arts Centre.

15 February 2021

Markets within markets

I was at the Fyshwick Market and I caught Flowermarket.  FM is a young indie rock band and they were playing for passing shoppers on a warm Sunday arvo and having a ball.  It could only remind me of my days years back when I did much the same thing.  It's in my mind as I've just connected again with the singer of my first bands who took up bass and ended up touring the US and playing with Australia's best.  Ah, memories.  Well, I trust FM will have them.  We'll see who keeps it up; who goes into some other style or drops music altogether; who maybe succeeds.  That's hard, and in this field it's just as much character and presence as musicianship.  So best to FM.  They were doing a great job and greeting friends and sounding fresh and alive and just having a ball.  As it should be.

Flowermarket are Ed York (vocals, guitar), Charlie Currie (lead guitar), Finn Clarke (bass, vocals), Ryan Vernon (drums).

14 February 2021

Jazzing post-whatever

I was musing with a jazzer the other day about gigs around Canberra.  We have had a wave of losses over recent years from the changes to the ANU School of Music then the biggie from COVID but one modest venue has just kept on keeping on.  That's the National Press Club .  In fact, it's expanded, at least for jazz, as jazz has taken over from the thursday blues nights.  It's mild club jazz, but it can be exhilarating with some of the best players around town and occasional visiting mates.  So the other night I got to NPC for the Jason Varlet trio.  His offsiders were Greg Stott and Mark Sutton, both regulars at NPC.  I hadn't seen Jason for years.  He's a fluent, capable e-bassist and he was hot on the night, quick and fluently mobile over the neck with a boppy, chordal approach to solos and a soft tone.  Greg has his own speed, too, of course, but is more influenced by the melody (bassists tend to know chords and, despite best intentions, forget to learn the melody).  Greg is always a pleasure.  But tonight my eye was particularly on Mark, able and deliriously, pleasurably correct and so nice with some solos that were not so fast (well, sometimes in flourishes) as conversational, expressive, substantial.  One surprised me with mallets.  Otherwise, they were always fluent, working the various skins for expression, precise and consistent in attack and accent.  Not at all the rock star, but the eloquent and subtle virtuoso.  It was a particularly good night for Mark, I guess.  I could just chuckle  and give restrained applause.  Such a pleasure.  So, another visit to my local.  It's become a habit recently.

Jason Varlet (e-bass) led a trio with Greg Stott (guitar) and Mark Sutton (drums).