Saturday, May 30, 2009

Belated farewell

I know it's a week after the festival finished... everyone else has long ago said their goodbyes. We're so hooked on immediacy in this fast paced world we live in that a week can seem like too damn long in blogger-land!

April and May in Melbourne were enormous for jazz and improvised music. With Melbourne International Jazz Festival followed by Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival and then Stonnington Jazz, the weeks went by in a colourful blur. At the end of it, there's a chance to take stock and look back. It's been a good one. We've been incredibly fortunate this year.

It's been lovely to have a fellow blogger at the festival(s). Roger Mitchell was a little more energetic than I, and definitely showed me up on the photos department! If you're not already, I'd recommend you follow his blog...

And if you want to keep up with what's happening with this little black duck, you can do so here, at or at the extempore website, where you can also subscribe to the free newsletter.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sculthorpe Songbook Project

Difficult to categorise, but you know when you're introducing a group of musicians of this calibre that something beautiful could happen. It's a trust thing.

Calibre? Phil Slater (trumpet), Matt McMahon (piano), Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Simon Barker (drums), Steve Elphick (bass) and the Silo String Quartet. Guest vocalists Katie Noonan and Tim Friedman. That should do it.

And if you also know that the music they are working with is filled with space and textures, complexity and a wide range of influences, another dimension of expectation kicks in. Somewhere I read that this is 'a unique contemporary cross-genre collaboration that re-imagines the music of Peter Sculthorpe'. Looking back over the two evenings I heard this concert, I could agree with that!

The music started with Carl's guitar, a slow building hum to a vibration, then a gong from Simon... the piano starts quietly and then Steve bows the bass. Phil's trumpet sounds out. We're off. There's a wild look in Simon's eye.

This first piece was 'Singing Sun'. The music chosen for this project comes from a wide range of Sculthorpe pieces. We were walked through it by Phil, Matt and Tim... I'd heard two of the songs before... the Calmo movement from Sculthorpe's piano concerto is on Matt's CD Paths and Streams and Bone Epilogue is on Strobe Coma Virgo Phil Slater's 2003 CD. I'm blogging this a week after it happened and it's been bugging me all week 'Where had I heard that track before?' It was only my favourite, on replay replay replay when I first heard Strobe Coma Virgo.

There are other writers who will do a better blow-by-blow description of what they heard. For me, subjective as usual, I was excited by the opportunity to hear / see Phil, Matt and Simon play together. They have a special something that comes from a deeply shared sensibility or approach. Carl's playing with all of them, separately and together, taps into that. Steve Elphick is a bass player I've always admired deeply. Also from Sydney, he has played with these musicians before, too. He is a great listener but mostly I think what I love about his playing is that along with his willingness to have an adventure, he has a combined lightness and sureness of touch.

Let's go to Katie. I was a big fan of George, which is where we first heard her I guess. This was all before I started to listen to this other music. And I haven't always enjoyed Katie's voice in the jazz context, though I've been an admirer of hers for years. Tonight changed what I feel about her voice; I liked what I heard.

Then the Tim Friedman. The connection(s) with Sculthorpe gave him one reason to be there and I loved the additional texture that his voice and singing added.

The string quartet added yet another type of texture. And while other punters told me that they wish the strings had been used more, I'm not that brave. I had what felt like the perfect amounts of everything going into my ears.

As for the music. Such a tapestry, such a landscape... The first night (Friday) I took hardly any notes. I guess I was just open to whatever was being offered. The second night I (barely) pulled myself together and put pen to paper.

  • Eyes and ears wide open in happy surprise at Katie's singing on 'Maranoa Lullaby'
  • Phil's acknowledgement of Peter Sculthorpe and of Sculthorpe's sources and his gratitude at Sculthorpe's letting them 'mess around' with his music.
  • Simon's solo with chains in 'Pemunkah' and the way that Carl's guitar sounded like a choir in the background
  • The dark, hollow sounds in this song, and the way Phil's trumpet wove like golden light through the darkness
  • The story behind 'It'll Rise Again' and Tim's singing of it. He had more fun on the second night. I guess it takes a night or two to know a room.
  • Phil's trumpet again on 'Music from Kakadu'
  • Katie (again) on 'The Stars Turn'. The palpable longing. Matt and Caerwen (cello).
  • The way Tim's and Katie's voices complemented each other in 'Love' (from Sculthorpes' Love: 200)
  • The lyrics of 'Out the Back' and the string movement in it.
  • On 'Bone Epilogue' Steve Elphick sounding like 3 instruments at once with his playing and bowing and plinking below the bridge

Thanks to Roger for the pic and check him out for more detail on this concert.

The Streets of Stonnington (Stephen Magnusson)

Thursday 21 May (2nd set) Chapel Off Chapel

Stephen Magnusson (guitar) was joined by Eugene Ball (trumpet & flugelhorn), Frank di Sario (bass) and Dave Beck (drums).

Highlights were:
  • 'TM' was the starting song - Stephen being lyrical, gorgeous.
  • Then the Ornette Coleman tune 'Roundtrip'. "Oh, oh, oh" say my notes. "Eugene on the trumpet and Stephen on guitar at the same time."
  • 'Goggles' [no notes taken]
  • Then all was forgotten as the band launched into 'The Streets of Forbes'. As noted in the Gian Slater blog entry, this has some significance, for me. I found myself singing the words inside my head... what a treat this was! Eugene's gorgeous trumpet playing with deep, low sounds. Of course there is no mystical connection with Stephen's choice to play this and the existence of the song in my own personal life. But I got a thrill anyway. And can't help wondering if there's an opportunity or some interest to do a CD of Australian Bush Ballads. Stephen? You listening?
  • Two final songs - 'Gabrielle' and 'Hey Guess What', during which Stephen and Eugene had some fun, and so did we! Did i hear the Simpsons theme (among other things)?
Thanks Roger, for pics again! Good ones!

Tony Gould's Trio

Thursday 21 May

Chapel Off Chapel, with Tony Gould (piano) Imogen Manins (cello) and Gianni Marinucci (trumpet and flugelhorn)

If one of our jobs on this planet is to create beauty (I find it hard to disagree with the concept) then nobody's going to argue that this trio did their job very very well this evening. It really was beautiful - not just because that's the closest adjective to hand.

Oh, and Tony was wearing very cool shoes!

Songs by a number of composers. Tony made a point of mentioning that they were playing some pieces from non-locals!
  • 21.4 - look it up in the Bible. Apparently it has some significance. Note to self. A tune by Bob Magnusson (assuming no relation to Stephen)
  • Gianni's Flugelugelhorn on this was typically beautiful. A round, golden, mellow sound.
  • Lullaby by Gianni followed, bringing a tear to the eye for some reason. Or maybe it was a reaction to the smoke machine.
  • It's all in the game by Charles Dawes, later Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.
  • Bill Dobbins' Spring Song and I can almost hear the birdies tweeting
  • Lullaby by Tamara Murphy. I heard a sniffing noise. There's a punter in the audience having a bit of a cry.
I hear it was 'a bit too beautiful' for a punter or two. Well, it takes all kinds

Thanks to Roger Mitchell for his pic of the trio.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Paul Williamson Quartet

Wednesday 20 May

Scary stuff this announcement and introduction job! Some musicians introduce their songs and their personnel. Some don't. Paul Williamson (trumpet) is one of the latter. Ah well, I guess that's way things go.

Paul has been in Ireland and the pieces this quartet played tonight were written there, from an outsider's perspective (so says the media information).

Playing with Paul tonight were Geoff Hughes (guitar), Des White (bass) and James McLean (drums). Is James as young as he looks? He looks about 17. I really enjoyed his playing. He was paying attention, watching, adjusting... and engaged. Geoff and Des are that sort of player too so it was an interesting set.

With no announcements, I asked Paul for the set list afterwards. There were four songs:
  • Aftermath
  • You're only a Muppet.
  • Green land, grey skies
  • Knuckles and chuckles (whose name puts me in mind of Ireland simply from the stories my brother told me from when he lived there for a while)
Picture of James McLean thanks to Roger Mitchell.

Jex Saarelaht Quartet

Wednesday 20 May

Chapel Off Chapel again. Jex on piano, Julien Wilson on tenor sax, Johnathon Zwartz on bass, Niko Schauble on drums.

Such a pleasure to hear Jonathon. Last time I heard him was at a gig with Tina Harrod singing and Hamish Stuart on drums and Matt McMahon on keyboard at a pub in Sydney. His CD The Sea is a beautiful thing.

Jex has a smiling way about him. I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to say during the introduction. "Whatever you want" was his reply. So that's what I did. It's easier tonight than it was last night. I aksed the lighting guy to adjust the light so that I could see something other than glare and the front half of the microphone... and I guess that announcements get easier with practicse.

And then the music. This was music that made you want to look up to the sky.

I think that's why the song titles are all mashed on my page, except the third one, 5 19 (it's harder to mash numbers)

Things I noticed, while looking skywards:
  • Niko's extraordinarly large and floppy cymbal. It's spectacular to watch - like a big jelly fish.
  • The softening interplay between Jex on piano and Julien's sax on the first song.
  • The solo by Julien in the second song
  • Jonathon's introduction (wow!) to 5 19
  • The joke that Jonathon and Jex were sharing in the fourth song (what was it!?)
  • Julien's whistling saxophone in the last song.
Set break and raspberry tea...

DID YOU KNOW That if you take a cup of raspberry tea half way through a glass of 'okay' shiraz and then go back to the shiraz, it's suddenly better. A strange but effective way to improve a glass of wine. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Roger Mitchell for pictures again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BLBB with Gian Slater

Interesting to feel the different texture in composition between Andrea's pieces in the first set and Gian's in this set. Highlights from this set include 'Don't close the door' - the band was loving it and that meant we were loving it too!

'When...', which featured Andrea Keller and then the really interesting depth of texture with the combination of Gian's high voice over Adrian's bass trombone.

You could feel the warmth between Gian and the band... they all know each other well and it's palpable. And it seeped through in 'The Warming Kiss of Kindness' which rather yummily featured Ian Whitehurst and Adrian Sherriff.

A latin feel to 'Logical Guesses', arranged by Tim Wilson and featuring Eugene Ball. The set finished with Our Galaxy.

On the way home, I found myself singing. For the last 30 (eek!) years or so I've either had old cars or motorbikes so I have a number of 'car songs'... (or 'bike songs'). Something about the Gian Slater and Bennetts Lane Big Band gig made me want to sing. The four main ones are 'If I loved you' from the musical Carousel, and three little traditional Australian folk songs... 'One Sunday Morning', 'The Ballad of '91' and 'The Streets of Forbes' Convicts, striking shearers and bushrangers... I don't hear these songs alot; they feel like a private stash of music that nobody knows about... I sang all these songs on the way home in my little old car (and no I don't sound anything like Gian Slater) and I only mention this because of what happened two nights later, on Thursday... Read on!

Bennetts Lane Big Band

Chapel Off Chapel - the venue with temperature problems last year seems fine tonight.

After announcing the Bennetts Lane Big Band, they actually walked in! I'm getting the knack of this.

Andrea Keller on the piano; Eugene Ball and Damian Maughan on trumpets; Shannon Barnett (trombone), Adrian Sherriff (bass trombone); Ian Whitehurst, Phil Noye and Tim Wilson on saxophones, Nick Haywood on bass and Rajiv Jaraweera on the drums.

The first set plays compositions by Andrea. Starting with 'For Bernie' - a tune I've heard a few times... I began to remember what I enjoy so much about Andrea's writing... a feeling that crystallised throughout this first set.

On to the notes: 'Galumphing around the world' sounded to me like a road trip, though I wondered whether I thought that because of the title. It struck me at some point that the conversation between the tenor sax (Ian Whitehurst) and the piano was like a couple's conversation on a Sunday drive including a little tension and a couple of outbursts! Some building excitement with the drums and bass. Definitely a journey.

'Singing in a sinking ship', was back-announced and after the introduction by Andrea and Nick I heard an existential longing in this that spoke to the title. I thought perhaps it is just that Andrea has that rare knack of giving a name to a piece that matches what it sounds like! Adrian's bass trombone was striking; vibrating under the song... And Nick's solo...

Another highlight was 'The Rain Outside' with Raj and Andrea giving us the effect of drops on the roof... and then the soft fluid sounds of Eugene Ball and Raj again. Beautiful stuff.

And 'Lines on My Face' was so happy I felt quite good about the lines on my own!

A little set break. A littl wine... and back in a little bit for Gian Slater... with the Bennetts Lane Big Band once again.

Thanks once again to Roger Mitchell for the fabbo pics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I was a band room virgin...

Bennetts Lane Big Band gig tonight, after no jazz for a couple of nights! Life caught up with me on Sunday night (missed Mark Isaacs' CD launch at Bennetts. Not happy, Jan!) and I was on a plane on the way home from Brisbane on Monday.

So here it is, Tuesday and it's my first gig introducing the band. For five nights during this festival, I get to stand behind a microphone and say "Please turn your mobile phones off and fill in the survey and now please make the band welcome..." and part of the deal is that I have to chat to the band about anything they particularly need me to say for them and all that emcee kinda stuff. I've never been into the band room before! I get to go behind the door that says 'Authorised Personnel Only!' I was breathless with excitement!

Lucky me, my first experience of the job was the Bennetts Lane Big Band. I got to sit in while Andrea Keller talked the band through the charts. It was all minims, semi breves and codas... a secret language! What an excellent introduction to the inner workings of a gig. Almost made me want to learn music! Almost...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grabowsky / Washington

Oooh she's a slip of a girl that Megan Washington in her little black dress and a cardie, and she sings with her whole body. Elbows out and in again, tension shaken gripped and then shaken out through finger tips, bent over as if in agony, curled up in a little ball, rocking ... but everything's okay. It's just singing. Megan Washington style.

The gig started with a quiet one. 'Write me a song' with just Megan and Paul (Grabowsky). She semi, self-effacingly says that she had planned to start with a rocky number. But that came soon enough!

The band is Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Shannon Barnett (trombone) Sam Anning (bass) and Niko Schauble (drums)

The rocking happened in 'The End', which came next and featured a great solo by Jamie. Then the cardie came off. Energy abounded. 'The opposite of love', then 'Take What You Need' during which Megan and Shannon mysteriously left the stage for a while then returned. Megan did say that Shannon was wearing her (Megan's) boots. Maybe they had to have a boot discussion.

'Are you on my side?' and Steve Magnusson's solo had me enthralled. I checked with him about it later and the effect (of echo / shadow and strange movement) comes out of his use of a looping effect.

Next up, a Washington song inspired by a few months of reading too much Edgar Allen Poe called 'The Custom of the Sea' about eating the cabin boy. Solo by Sam Anning, beautiful.

'Curios and Cutaways' featured Shannon Barnett. I found myself watching Shannon, fascinated... I love the way she plays the trombone with her wrist so loose. She makes the slide look like a piece of string. The band sounded particularly great for this song... holding together tightly, really together. A fierce solo by Niko and Megan's voice at the end, doing this great ho ho ho ho ho ho ho thing, like a musical instrument... and Niko going tik tik tik takkety tik on the drums behind her.

Other highlights, in the second set were Megan and Paul playing the piano together - not how you might think. Paul had the keyboard and the strings. Megan leaning over the piano's side to pluck strings. And through it all, Sam Anning messing about beautifully on the bass.

For 'Poetry', I've noted in my little book that Paul "...stands up then sits down and starts the plinking plinking ... like a frenzied muppet ... sounds great! Never a muppet sounded like this!" Sorry Paul. I was tired. I was happy. It was an excellent gig. It's in the notebook. What can I do?

'Fisherman's Daughter' and the encore 'Telepathy' finished the night. Thanks all!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vince's rolling band(s)

I've been enjoying Vince Jones' music since I first heard it on a record (that'll be the black thing with the hole in the middle) sometime in my second year at university. As someone who had toyed with music but whom it had never quite grabbed, I took absolutely no notice at all of the musicians playing in Vince's bands. Which something I'm now unable to comprehend... but maybe this blog goes some way to rectifying that transgression!

It's been said before... and by some of the musicians themselves... that Vince's bands are great training grounds. You can learn things there about stage craft and music that you can't learn anywhere else in Australia. Be that at as it may, the musicians on stage tonight were a stellar bunch, rotating through many of the musicians who have played with Vince over the last 30 (eek!) years. The first combination included Dale Barlow, Tim Rollinson, Ben Waples, Matt McMahon and Simon Barker were first up. (that's tenor sax, guitar, bass, piano and drums respectively) We heard favourites and [i'll just take advantage of the permission that is implicit in blogging to just say what one thinks] I was glad it was just Vince's voice we heard tonight. I think teaming him up with Katie Noonan last year was a mistake. [hovers over delete button.... nah... it stays]

Favourites such as 'Waltz for Debbie', 'Tenderly' (featuring Dale Barlow), 'Let's Get Lost' and 'We Let Them Do It' (with Vince backed by just the rhythm section of Simon, Matt and Ben)

It was in this piece that I felt the concert really began to open up. Perhaps it is just that this rhythm section and Vince have a good conversational style? The song hung together better for me than the previous pieces adn I wonder if that's the risk of trying to re-capture old dynamics. We all move on. But anyway, this song struck me particularly. I was enthralled by Simon's drumming and Vince ended with a trumpet flourish.

My notes say "Mmmm" as punctuation Yeah well, that's what he does... part of his charm and Vinceyness
Next configuration included Jex Saarelaht at the piano, Al Browne on the drums and Steven Hadley on bass, with Doug de Vries on guitar and Wilbur Wilde (The busiest man in Showbiz) on his trusty tenor sax. Punter beside me nodded sagely and said "Ah, the Melbourne band" and was immedialy transported across the years to gigs at the Tankerville Arms. I've written 'Wow, they really hold together' across the page for this combination!

'Stop this world and let me off' featured Doug's guitar. He does have such a lovely sound. I've been hearing him mostly in his latin configurations recently, but enjoyed him immensely in this context tonight.

They went on to play 'Can't afford to live, can't afford to die' and 'Send down more love'

Second set, we saw Tony Floyd on drums, Dale with teh saxophone, Paul Grabowsky at the piano and Steve Hadley on bass. Playing 'Rainbow Cake' and 'Jettison Everything'. It struck me how different this song is when played by Paul and Matt. Matt's playing turns it into an entreaty, Paul's into an admonition. How a touch can change a song!

The next configuration of Sam Keevers (piano) Doug on guitar again, Ben on bass and Simon on the drums played 'Let me please come in' and The nature of power. So much bass! Heavy, man.

Then 'Love, love, love' a 'recent favourite' of mine, in recent revisits of my Vince Jones CD collection (yes I graduated to CDs after that first hearing in the '80s) Once again the difference between player struck me (it's all piano for me tonight!) Sam and Matt treat this tune differently. Sam's on the Live CD playing this and here he is again.

We finished up with an attempted singalong (not sure we did a very good job and certainly we did not sound like the Welsh Choir that Vince alluded to)

An encore 'Little Glass of Wine' and I still have a couple of lines of that song floating around in my head: "As soon as you learn that you won't live forever, you grow fond of the fruit of the vine..."

Thanks to Roger Mitchell for photos.

The Friendly Festival

Sounds corny and a tad sycophantic doesn't it. And I guess I said it last year as well... but the truth is that Stonnington Jazz is run by people who make you feel welcome. They know how to make a gig run smoothly. They know how to make their volunteers feel good about what they are doing. Volunteer at tonight's gig suggested it's because events is what they do. Maybe. That's opposed to those festivals whose organisers are good at jazz, and by extension not very good at making the punters happy? Out on a limb here... Isn't it possible to do both?

Isn't that what Stonnington does? I don't know how the musicians are treated, but those of us who listen, admire and discuss are welcomed with open arms.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Judy Carmichael and goodnight

I chose a Judy Carmichael concert to finish off my experience of this year's jazz festival. The jazz festival offers a wide range of music and I like to dip an ear into a few of them. I went to just one set of Judy's gig. Really enjoyed John Scurry's playing, and the trademark Judy Carmichael banter, singing and stride playing. She's an entertainer - and the audience, though somewhat reserved, were into it. As was I...

I had intended to stay for the full gig and pop into the Jazz Jam again at the end of it. I'd had such a good time there the night before; why not do it again. But in the way these things sometimes work, I found myself leaving at the end of the first set. Is it possible to have enough music? Capacities vary... and my cup felt like it was running over.

This was a jazz festival with alot of choices and many great moments. A volunteer (F) tells me "I saw Ethan Iverson piano solo at the Forum upstairs (opening act for Julien Wilson quintet), and for me, that was one of the highlights of the festival." I had my own and I hope you have enjoyed the moments presented here. Thank you for reading... I don't always think that 'fully researched' is the right way to go into a jazz gig so this is pretty subjective and often uninformed stuff... but the stats show that a few people follow these ramblings.

If you're up for it, I'm going to the Melbourne Jazz Fringe and Stonnington Jazz as well this month. You'd be most welcome to tag along!


Jazz Jam!

My penultimate post from the 2009 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. On Friday night, after two wonderful concerts at the Melbourne Town Hall I wandered up to Bennetts, in the hope of hearing The BBC (Nels Cline/Tim Berne/Jim Black Trio) but the queue was out the door so I popped into the little room next door to have a vodka and check out the Jazz Jam! I left at 1:30 ish, which is when the music stopped and I guess that means I had a good time! Marc Hannaford has been the host for the 11:00 pm jazz jams throughout the festival. I only went to the one night - Friday; that's the trouble with a day job, no matter how much you love your work, it can get in the way of staying out until all hours!

Reader, I had a ball! I loved that Bennetts was noisy. People were having a good time and there was music as well! The small room was packed. It didn't seem like many people were putting their names down to play but we had a few changeovers, though Marc played piano the whole time... just one plaintive 'do we have any piano players who want a go?' Des White on the bass for most of the time, Sam Bates on drums (I think) for alot of the time. Though Jordan Gilmore got up for a couple of songs and I really liked his playing... He has a light touch and good ears is what I would have said in my vodka-and-cranberry-juice-and-jazz-induced state of happiness...

Marc was a good choice for host! He was okay with people talking, realising the context made it okay... and he's such a versatile player and good with people too! Gawd knows what he's thinking, but he keeps smiling through it all.

Scott Tinkler was an unexpected treat. I suppose that's the thing about Jazz Jam! Anything can happen.

A chance encounter with a cognac-drinking architect was refreshing. If you hang out in 'the scene' you can sometimes feel like you're having same conversations all the time. Don't get me wrong, I love the conversations I have in the scene, but there's nothing wrong with a new voice. The architect (let's call him A) is at a conference this weekend and we had a nice little conversation about the way humans create space. He'd noticed that I'd been very focused on getting to the corner behind the coffee machine. I like places in corners with views of the stage (it's a problem I have with the jazz lab at Bennetts actually... I haven't quite found that space yet!).

A says that architecture (in his opinion) is less about the buildings than about people and the choices they make. Food for thought.

Haden, Frisell, Iverson

Also on Friday night at the Melbourne Town Hall was the Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell and Ethan Iverson Trio. With Charlie Haden the Artist-in-Residence at the festival there's an awful (which is awfully good!) lot of him about, and he also popped up to Sydney for a concert in the meantime!

This trio was beautiful to listen to. They started right into the music and Ethan Iverson back announced the first tunes, then forward announced some more. We heard the full trio for a few songs (four?) then dues in different combinations.

An aside about Ethan Iverson... Someone (Marc? Eugene? Brett?) was telling me that he's a font of all knowledge about jazz; he knows names, dates, anecdotes... a walking encyclopaedia, really good to talk to.

Humpty Dumpty, an Ornette Coleman tune was a real highlight for me, and Charlie Haden's solo in particular.

Also Broken Shadows, with just Ethan Iverson and Charlie Haden, during the duos half of the concert, where two out of the three played together, with the other off the stage.

Bill Frisell's playing struck me throughout. I've been thinking about how I generally like a melody (and how I feel palpable dissatisfaction sometimes when I can't find it...) The way this trio played fed my unsophisticated need for a tune while also satisfying my mostly equal desire for a distraction from it! Hearing two instruments play the same tune, in unison, is as treat, and not often heard. I'm more used to situations of the instruments might play and the other one mucks around. I love that of course or I wouldn't enjoy jazz and improvised music very much! But Bill Frisell in particular tonight was playing with the others, rather than just complementing them. In unison something happens that when I tried to articulate it came out something like this: in unison, two instruments create a depth of sound that for the first time tonight I was able to separate from the concept of complexity. Depth and complexity. Noice. Thanks Ethan, Bill and Charlie!

Apologies for the illegal photo. Dodgy conditions, dodgy photographer... Good thing the music was fab!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Shirley Avenue on Swanston Street

I know you all know this, but I'll say it anyway, because it struck me again tonight just how much our appreciation of music is influenced by how we listen. What place do we listen from? What are we thinking? Where are our head and hearts?

Tonight at Melbourne Town Hall, Paul Grabowsky played his piece Shirley Avenue, commissioned by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and played with an interesting band... Niko Schauble (drums), Scott Tinkler (trumpet) and Genevieve Lacey (recorders).

It was a Friday night concert and Friday night is always interesting from a listening point of view because the working week has drained me. I'm always tired on a Friday night... and tonight was no exception so I closed my eyes from time to time in order to listen better, though I was fascinated by the grand organ and could not resist craning to see it from time to time.

And I should mention here that as a punter I really appreciated Paul's wry "You've been very patient," comment as he started the concert. We'd just been treated by some breathless speechettes by three lispy whispy girls associated in various ways with the jazz festival and a speech by a City of Melbourne councillor whose enthusiasm outweighed her ability to read or pronounce. Clap clap clap. Now let's hear some music.

Shirley Avenue is a tribute to the street in suburban Glen Waverley that Paul Grabowsky used to live on. We started with the organ. Notes so high they would have made my cat's ears flatten back and her eyes go all starey (she's asleep near the fan on my computer as I write this so she pops into mind... I can't help it!)

A few minutes in I recognised this as music I wanted to be in. I wanted it in headphones or to lie between two speakers on my loungeroom floor, surrounded by the sounds.

This was dark prose; the round woodwind sounds of the recorder rendered a dark forest. Scott, Niko and Paul play so wonderfully together and Genevieve's sounds added a layer of beauty that fit beautifully (from where I sat) with the piece. It was fascinating to hear the difference between Paul's touch on the organ and that of Chris Abrahams when I heard The Necks at that wonderful The Necks Unplugged concert in the same venue a couple of years ago. I was intrigued by now and decided to travel out to Shirley Avenue sometime soon. If it as this music decribes, it is a street in a dark forest, a road to where the wild things are.

Scott's trumpet, which he played for a little while in water, evoked summer... further enhanced by what else was going on including a recording of [tune forgotten] over the trumpet. Somewhere in there was a shift from light and happy backyard swimming pools and sprinklers of youth to something darker but still wet. Nursery rhymes and the happy shouts of children at play... but the darkness never far away.

I told you I was tired.

Driving home, much later and I had heard a great deal of music in the intervening hours but Shirley Avenue had stuck with me. I want to hear it again. Up close, in headphones. If nothing else because I could hear in it my own childhood. Even the choice of a recorder--which may have been a purely musical decision--rocketed me back to 1969 when I started school, picked up and played a recorder for the first time and started my philatelic collection (now long gone) with an enormous commemorative stamp of man's first walk on the moon.

Like I said, we bring ourselves to what we hear, I guess. And I still want to hear it again.