28 April 2022

Not a waltz in sight

Chopin means waltzes to me and to lots of others who did piano as a kid, but Stuart Long opened my eyes and ears.  I should have known better.  Well, it was still solo piano, virtuosic and perhaps showy, romantic, but this was  a string of works that were much more demanding, even despite the inconsequential titles.  Lots sounded like dances like my waltzes, mazurkas or ballades or somewhat related  nocturnes, but then the preludes and fantasies and etudes suggest something else, even if only something pianistic and technical.  Certainly the etude was technical but one Ballade (op.2 no.38 was taken from a heroic ballad and had intriguing internal movements and developed big emotional power and one Prelude (Dbmaj op.10 no.15) was supposedly a translation of nature's harmonies.  But the biggie of the day was a Fantasie (op.49) which was a response to a Russian invasion of Poland, perhaps his finest work, with patriotic Polish song and meditation and tragic emotions and FC (=Frederic Chopin) as its first notes.  And then a finish on a famous and hugely pretty Nocturne (Ebmaj op.9 no.1) which we all know and deservedly love.  So, a different Chopin played by a mighty local player with commitment and passion and skill.  Thanks to Stuart.  Another winner from such an obvious source.

Stuart Long (piano) played Chopin at Wesley.

24 April 2022


There are various thoughts I have with our Smiths visit by Matilda and Carl.  It's a return from Berlin, so international, probably somewhat delayed by Covid.  And a tour from throughout Australia, with input from Sydney and Perth.  It's a blast from the past, as I remember Carl and Matilda as students here at the ANU.  It puts a local and informal tinge on a devastating concert.  The immense skills but also the careful expression of them, so nothing seemed showy even as it was virtuosic.  I got taken aback or just amused by some overwhelming fills or licks from Carl or Hugh or that kick-heavy thump with complexity but inevitability from Ben.  And the wonderful richness of jazz applied to emotionally-rich lyrics from Matilda's first set, and even the raunchy and one somewhat comical expletive-laden rant (humour with a cutting edge, think Carl even if Matilda sang).  That last is one for an E-symbol in Spotify.  Hard to miss!  But I dearly love this interplay of pop and jazz with the breathtaking jazz-informed solos and the words to spread further, to speak to a newer listening cohort.  I remain in awe the next morning.  Just breathtaking.

Matilda Abraham (vocals, midi) led one set with Carl Morgan (guitar, bass, vocals), Hugh Barrett (keys, synth bass) and Ben Vanderwal  (drums, midi, vocals) at Smiths.  Carl led the second set with the same players as Dodo.

21 April 2022


Young players do sound different from older players.  I caught Charles Huang once again and he's certainly a capable player despite his (very) young years; now 11.  It doesn't limit his memory, for he played with no music.  Or the music he takes on, because he played Bach an Chopin and Debussy and Haydn: seriously the masters of the craft.  Or his skills for he plays the stuff with tons of speed and easy facility.  Or his success, having completed his AMusA (age 9!) and having won plenty of first places at the National Eisteddfod.   And that's not the least, as he also excels at Chess.  Some serious admiration is due.  And the music was lovely and inviting, both in choice and in performance.  So he's seriously good and the music was seriously satisfying, even if kids never quite play like seasoned adults with some life under their belts.  So see Charles while he's young because he's sensational now and will likely get even better.  I am in awe.

Charles Huang (piano) played Bach, Haydn, Debussy and Chopin at Wesley.

19 April 2022

Bec Fest

The final NAFF session was a Bec Taylor feature, maybe not meant that way, but it's how it turned out.  She's a prolific and talented thing, singing and songwriting and playing piano and guitar and mandolin and drums for a solo set and with three other bands.  And with a cute 5-month old in tow.  I have felt that tug of parenthood and I could understand her response in her songs and her patter.  So her songwriting rang true to me.  Not just that, but her other instruments were perfectly capable and with piano as a real strength.  The change was visceral when she moved from mostly strummed guitar to piano, as she spelt out chords and internal movements and bass embellishments and the rest.  And she only confirmed it on piano with Hashemoto, belting out rhythms and apt solos and even a dissonant breakdown at one spot.  Loved it.  And her voice, too of course.  Nice and capable but a star as a high voice amongst the guys, a sweet sharp soprano octave.  And she's a character on stage, a real powerhouse.  Then the bands.  First up, Hashemoto, perhaps my favourite set on the day.  I found it both musically sophisticated, with odd times and solid beats and three part harmonies and interesting themes and that double bass and a lovely strong tenor voice.  I say tenor because of the care and presentation as much as the pitch.  Has he studied voice?  Dunno, but it worked a treat.  Getting back to Bec, though, I should highlight her emotionally intriguing lyrics.  Not just for her new life as a mother, but for any number of personally-based stories.  She spoke of such lyrics as displaying a kernel of truth with the imagination allowed to run wild, so songs are not too biographical and exposing.  Wise.  Then a comment on the role of a producer, to tell it as it is.  Again, wise.  But always with a cover of good will and humour.   And I noticed how her lyrics had rhyme but it wasn't intrusive, rather serving.  Again, clever.  Back to Hashemoto.  I once made a connection to The Beatles.  I still see the complexity of song, think Paul or followers Crowded House and the like, where lyrics define musical structure for lyrics should define a song as purpose should define politics (sorry, I digress but given the times we are in...).   Then Bec on drums behind Jason Recliner.  Well this is one I have never heard.  Front man Jeff Thompson seemed to run it, perhaps write it, with a country background and simpler rocky structures and again impressive, humourous but substantial lyrics with 3/4 part harmonies.  Clever, informed, amusing in words and presence: "Your confidence will get you nowhere / because I have been there", "I could be your pocket fox / using origami on me".  Then to end with more lyrics.  The final band was a mix of students and seniors called Gwen and singing the poetry of Gwen Harwood, Tasmanian poet.  Interestingly, complete with an associated Gwen zine with QR code handouts.  Cool.  And an interesting musical outing with Bec and Jeff and presumably Jeff's daughter Maia and Deb and Sango and those perceptive words of Gwen.  Not that I caught them all.  So, a wonderful afternoon of varied entertainment with that Bec theme and ever worthy lyrics.  Quality stuff.

Bec Taylor performed solo (voice, guitar, piano) and with the three bands.  Hashemoto were Damo Flanagan (guitar, vocals), Bec Taylor (piano, vocals), Potsy Webber (bass, vocals).  Jason Recliner were Jeff Thomson (guitar, vocals), Brad Moore (guitar, vocals, pipe), Pete Lyons (bass, vocals), Bec Taylor (drums, mandolin, vocals).  Gwen were Maia Thompson (mandolin, vocals), Bec Taylor (mandolin, vocals), Jeff Thompson (guitar, vocals), Deb Cleland (bass, vocals) and Sango Mahanty (drums, vocals).

18 April 2022


We were being revolutionary in the ACT sense, performing at Smiths' National Anti-Folk Festival, day 3. I was there to perform one song from my home-studio identity, The Pots, as an adjunct to MDM Nightingale, a mate from Melbourne.  The acts all had an hour slot (even if some were careless) and I only stayed for 3 and a bit, but what impressed me was the variation, not just the quality.  First up was Mdm Nightingale with her electronic pop.  I love pop and Phaedra does a great take on it.  I wish her the best.  Then Robbie Mann on clarinet, a secondary instrument to his stride piano, with Liam O'Connell on a century-old guitar sounding all the world like the era.  They played early jazz styles, first up Bill Bailey.  Nicely done.  Then a guitar trio, a la Hendrix and the like, Transista Groove.  I'd heard of them but not heard them, or essentially anyone quite so loud and guitary, for some time.  Mostly originals, I think, with a homage to Led Zeppelin called Lez Zeppelin, apparently with lyrics fully derived from the titles of LZ songs.  I felt the lyrics worked well and quite casually, so hard to believe this was only song names, but there are many LZ albums so maybe.  They finished with a cover, starting with riff from Chain, I think, then into Voodoo Chile.  Hendrix suited them to a tee.  Then just a first song from singer songwriter James Cahill.  He was described as acoustic tales and tunes, and the storytelling was clear and telling.  I was impressed even if I heard little.  There had been two previous NAFF sessions and this one was to go on for four more acts and just those four had been of considerable quality.  And another session... Clever town.

Amongst many others, Mdm Nightingale, The Pots, Robbie Mann, Liam O'Connell, Transista Groove and James Cahill performed for the National Anti-Folk Festival at Smiths.

15 April 2022


Jessica Cottis is our local orchestra's chief conductor and musical director but she didn't make this concert.  She was isolating for Covid.  So our sit-in was Fabian Russell and he complemented the CSO and did a wonderful job up front despite only learning of some of the music in recent days.  And his complements were deserved in my book.  The CSO was big, ~65 players, and they filled Llewellyn and played well, neat intonation, great dynamics, convincing renditions.  Maybe the best I've heard form them.  And it was no slouch program.  Wagner Tristan and Isolde Prelude; Margaret Sutherland violin concerto, Bernard Hermann Vertigo suite (very convincing and obviously different as so filmic) and Mendelssohn symphony no.5 Reformation.  Having said I liked the playing and enjoyed the concert, I did have favourites.  Wagner, yeah, and the violin concerto, if mainly for the playing.  Courtney Cleary played the solo and did it with confidence and commitment; nice.  But otherwise, it sounded marchy to me, perhaps apt given her experience of wartimes; the concerto is from 1960. Then the second half, and Vertigo, as in the film.  Just great and convincing.  I enjoyed this one for its drama and tension.  Then Mendelssohn.  Not a great fave.  It was written early with all melody and little vertical, harmonic complexity (except maybe later in the third of four movements).  But I'm a bassist and I couldn't be anything but impressed with this quick phrasings demanded of the five bottom enders, I think in unison with the cellos. Exhilarating, if mostly scalar.  But I enjoyed that and the basses did it was admirable clarity and no hesitation.  I could only leave with chuckle.  Nice outing, this one.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra played Wagner, Sutherland, Hermann and Mendelssohn under replacement Fabian Russell (conductor) and with soloist Courtney Cleary (violin) and five basses.

14 April 2022


This was a student choir and I could fully expect Bach.  But the other two works were not so obvious.  But then Tobias Cole was directing so maybe not so unlikely.  The unlikely matters were firstly a premiere but one member, Rebecca Hilliard.  Not every concert has a premiere and this was a very satisfying one, putting the words of a friend, Silvia Canton Rondoni, to music.  And it was very good with clear harmonies leading to dissonant extensions so tension then release.  Pleasing and interesting.  Secondly, an improv.  Now that is unexpected at a classical concert, especially when you are asked, as audience, to join in, if you wish.  No-one much did but the choir was lovely, testing, creative, first in voice and long notes then leading into clicks and whistles.  Wow.  The major work of the day was advertised and expected enough (being JS Bach himself) and mightily difficult.  Jesu, meine Freude BWV227, a good half hour of unaccompanied voice with text from Johann Franck and Romans, with parts soprano 1,2, alto, tenor, bass and rich and moving harmony and occasional fugue.  Difficult but Bach is always a work of genius and pleasure and challenge and they did it well.  So both unexpected and a pleasure.  That's to be expected from Tobias and a bunch of students.  A great pleasure.

ANU Chamber Choir performed Hilliard, an improvisation and Bach at Wesley under Tobias Cole (director).  The work by Rebecca Hilliard (composer, alto) was Even if for a short time, with text by poet Silvia Canton Rondoni, was a premiere.

11 April 2022

Lean times

It's been lean times for a while what with Covid and all and then I had a clash.  Not just two but three.  Sadly, I missed Maruki for National Capital Orchestra and NCO for Tilt but we ended up with a great little gig at the Reid Tennis Club, about as old venue as is possible in Canberra, at least post-Capital-decision.  It's a cute little building in a glorious park with tennis courts and recently renovated for its 100th anniversary soon (next year?).  I've lived in Rome and that's a different sense of history, of course, but this was pleasant and the rains left for the day and all was well.  We played well too, and that's nice.  Too bad about Brahms 2 and Dvorak cello concerto and the rest, but if that's the worst of conflicts we experience in our lives, we are lucky.

Tilt Trio played at Reid Tennis Club.  Tilt are James Woodman (piano), Eric Pozza (bass) and Dave McDade (drums).

09 April 2022


I've been to Knossos and Delphi and Mycenae and more and plenty of the famed museums that hold ancient Greek treasures but I still get excited to see such old stuff and those places have been off the agenda anyway given Covid.  So we got to the Ancient Greeks exhibition at the National Museum and I really, really enjoyed it.  It's not huge, but there are a range of life-sizes statues and stunning heads and tons of pottery of course and some gold and iron.  The two carved heads of Archilocus (?) and Euripedes were wonders.  The votive offerings were fascinating, as was any written language we saw.  The stele Apotheosis of Homer was spectacular (although even better in the professional photos with lighting) and the head of Dionysos was a gloriously beautiful face even to our contemporary eyes.  The Aphrodite throw, a little stature of two women playing knucklebones was beautiful and gloriously intimate and maybe the star of my visit.  We used to play knucklebones with much the same rules, 2,000+ years later!  The statue of Aphrodite took on a particular interest given it was acquired by Byron in Athens.  Ya gotta hand it to the British Museum for its connections!  The frieze of Greeks vs Amazons was another intriguing marble relief.  But possibly the most stunning item for me, something the likes of which I'd never seen before, was a decorative fitting of warrior supporting a wounded companion on the battlefield from ~330-300BCE.  Something new.  I enjoyed this exhibition more than I'd expected.  It's not overwhelming like those other galleries, but the objects were of real quality and diverse.  Don't miss it if you have any interest.

Ancient Greeks is an exhibition of objects from the British Museum on display at the National Museum of Australia.

04 April 2022


The theme was obviously Spain and related but I felt it was jazz. This was the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the program was called Sketches of Spain which says Miles to me and a track off Sketches of Spain, Solea, was on the program and so was Chick Corea Spain. But the first half had Iberian references from Debussy and a Ravel take on the Blues, which seemed strange and perhaps a bit unsatisfying even if Ravel was quoted as promoting this "popular music" and its players with their "frightening virtuosity". And there was Boccherini with a tune about the streets of Madrid and Bizet Carmen arranged by Rodion Shchedrin for his dancer wife Maya Pilsetskaya. But the jazz was confirmed in the second half by the presence of jazz literati Matt McMahon, Phil Slater, Brett Hirst and Jess Ciampa and that program of Miles and Chick, joined by a short Ave Maria in 8 parts played by the jazz quartet and four string parts and written by Tomas Luis de Victoria. I'd enjoyed the first half, especially for the Carmen, but I just grooved to the second half. Phil Slater's take on Miles was very satisfying and the Ave Maria was lovely (I like him: I did a de Victoria piece on The Pots Going Viral) but Spain had me blissed out. That fabulous theme, the complex and lengthy arrangement originally performed by CC with the London Symphony to win a Grammy award. I laughed at the string sections passing around and authentic jazz solo (in unison and not improvised obviously) and the rich and often dissonant harmonies in piano and a lovely long bass solo that obviously intrigued the ACO low end and Brett's effective pizz accompaniment and Phil's lines out front. The string accompaniment was a pleasure even if the improv that's at the heart of jazz was missing. But this was crossover and I admire musicians who are daring and exploratory enough to do it and the ACO felt the part. So I ended walking out with a smile on my face. Some classical mates were somewhat nonplussed but I thought it worked and, perhaps only in a jazzer's book, I thought Matt and mates were the heart and authenticity of it all. Not putting down the classical, but jazz and classical are different mediums requiring different skills, the hottest chops and reading in classical and the invention of improv and the feel of a groove in jazz. Different and both worthy but this was jazz territory and Matt and Phil and Brett and Jess blew a storm to my jazz ears. But nice all around and deeply fascinating.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra under Richard Tognetti (director, violin) played Miles Davis and Chick Corea and more at Llewellyn Hall with Matt McMahon (piano), Phil Slater (trumpet), Brett Hirst (bass) and Jess Ciampa (percussion).

03 April 2022

To sit or not

It is one of the great skills of musos to just sit on a beat, I reckon.  It takes the most capable to just do less and enjoy the intensity of the groove.  This was probably my biggest takeway for Mr Ott (it's nothing new), but not the only one by far. Mr Ott is obviously Matt Ottignon, Sydney saxist, who's appeared several times in CJ.  His band is a sextet with influence from Africa (Ethiopia was mentioned) and the Americas North and South (jazz, of course, but one tune was very much of Cuba or Mexico or thereabouts).  Otherwise, solid grooves, odd times, neat heads played on bari or tenor sax and trumpet, thumbed and fingered bass, chords and all, sustained odd drums and times and lots of strange effects, dropping damped chords played with rapid strums and beat-aligned wah and echo and more wah and odd-sounding guitar solos, that 5-string P-bass thud softened with thumbs and the like, more strange sounds from keys, occasional grand piano but plenty of clavinet and dissonances and lovely synth noises, all playful and oddly placed but always fitting.  And always those grooves in difficult-to-count times, although plenty of threes or sixes but syncopations and added notes.  There were a few fours towards the end.  And the prancing and good-natured pleasantries.  Matt often brings a tray of single shots on stage, he said, but not available on the night.  Sad, that.  But he's lanky and jaunts around; someone suggested Peter Garrett as a teacher.  And the smiles and laughs as they moved out of the way of solos.  Nice to see the array to the right for the drum solo and the laughs and leading fills.  And the interval (strange, that, and so unlike a formally staged gig) and  the call for dancing in the aisles at the end of the night (standing at tables with a dance floor and beers would much better suit this band) and just the joy of it all.  Good sound at the venue, too, as noted (Thanks Street Theatre).  Not to mention the seriously satisfying playing throughout.  And back to the ability to just sit on a beat.  They had it and that's something special.  Yep, I enjoyed this one and I wasn't alone.

Matt Ottignon (tenor, baritone sax) led Mr Ott comprising Matthew with Ellen Kirkwood (trumpet), Ben Panucci (guitar), Daniel Pliner (keys), Jann Bangma (bass) and Carlos Adura (drums).

02 April 2022

The divine French

I got the call to record, this time for Oriana Chorale, a lovely, moderately-sized  choir in Canberra, led by Dan Walker.  I'd been fascinated that Dan had just done a concert (vocals/synth accompanied by piano) of songs by Suzanne Vega, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon, Philip Glass and David Byrne.  Now that did sound of serious interest.  Oriana weren't singing that style, but interesting noen-the-less.  They were presenting a truncated history of Chansons Francaises, divine French choral music.  It ran from Beatritz de Dia, a troubaritz (female troubadour) from days pre-polyphony.  Interesting. Then through Janequin and Passereau and Trad. and Rameau presenting with choral music that explored nature and more.  The Janequin Chant des oiseaux was all imitations of birds.  Then to more modern times, with trois chansons each from Debussy and Ravel and huit chansons, settings of troubadour/troubaritz melodies, from Poulenc and to C20th with Edith Piaf.  Quite a journey.  Some lovely explorations, capable leadership, nice intonation and expressiveness.   What a nice recording call!

Oriana Chorale (mixed choir) sang chansons Francaises under Dan Walker (director) at the chapel of Canberra Girls Grammar school.