Tag Archives: Craig Beard


Dave Douglas

Trumpets: Jordan Murray, Niran Dasika, Ben Harrison, Dave Douglas

REVIEW: World premiere of Fabliaux for four ensembles by Dave Douglas, featuring the Monash Art Ensemble, Saturday 15 March, 7.30pm, Music Auditorium, Monash University

The nine movements of the composition visiting trumpet player Dave Douglas wrote for the Monash Art Ensemble seemed to flash past, although the performance must have lasted well over an hour.

Before we get to the music it’s worth mentioning one highlight that came in the form of words, spoken by Douglas after the sixth piece, Unknowing, Forgetting, which was written principally for the brass group. After sitting in with Jordan Murray on trombone and Niran Dasika and Ben Harrison on trumpets, Douglas paid tribute to students Dasika and Harrison.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas pays tribute

“I’ve been humbled before them,” he told the audience, before saying it was incumbent upon young Art Ensemble members as the next generation to take the reins, “lead us forward in music and be 10 times as good as we are”.

Douglas’s tribute was surely a moment for Dasika and Harrison to treasure, but also an insight into the value this visiting composer placed on the potential of an exciting ensemble that has been nurtured by Paul Grabowsky. It was another encouraging sign that talent and commitment are not hard to find among our young musicians — though fair remuneration for their efforts may be elusive.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas with Geoff Hughes and Craig Beard

The idea of Douglas’s Fabliaux suite, which harks back to the often bawdy and (he said) these days possibly offensive comic tales of medieval literature, was for the players to be grouped into reeds, brass, percussion and strings, with every group taking a primary role in a piece between those involving the whole ensemble. Nothing was locked in, because Douglas worked with the MAE to develop the suite through improvisation.

The changes of emphasis made the whole suite alive and interesting and there was, literally, never a dull moment. The opening piece, Forbidden Flags, soon introduced us to Australian Art Orchestra artistic director Peter Knight‘s carefully crafted electronic “static”, which added textural interest throughout the evening and always complemented rather than sought to dominate. There was a lot happening in this busy, but sombre piece. Douglas’s direction was ever present, but he did take up his instrument before the end.

String and percussion

Strings plus Grabowsky and Rafferty

Frieze featured the reeds, ushering in some shimmer before notes began to bend and develop sinuosity. There was some Knight chatter, horns were crying then chirruping. Strings contributed their own shimmer. This was sonically interesting, high chatter giving way to barracking with an occasional fart. Then we encountered sibilance and some piercing, high dissonance. I could not help smiling.

Legions had propulsion and gentle swing from the start, but its intensity and power grew, fired by the horns and with Lachlan Davidson taking us on soprano sax journey. Rhythm seemed to be the glue in this piece.

Gears featured percussion and the focus was on the changing interactions between Grabowsky on piano, Kieran Rafferty on drums, Knight’s electronics and Craig Beard on vibes. These four built drama and tension. With those elements, what’s not to love?

Before the fifth piece, Once Again The Mind, Douglas spoke about how the spark of invention can happen at the same time across the globe, and about how some may recognise use of isorhythm and the medieval hocket in this composition. Here’s a link on the  topic that may be interesting.

I heard dramatic statements before slower, quieter interludes. This had a souped up medieval feel. Murray contributed some delightful air-filled ‘bone that was effective when offset by electronic chatter and vibes. The piece provided an exchange of ideas between the horns and the strings with percussion. Rob Burke on clarinet and the strings players showed agitation and there were strong statements to end the piece.

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

As mentioned, Douglas joined the brass section for Unknowing, Forgetting, in which trombone and three trumpets delivered some chatter and tweet before some wonderfully expressive weaving of notes that displayed how different valved horns can sound. The percussion section helped build pace and intensity before horns closed in unison.

Whirlwhind began with electronic splatter and muted horns. Douglas conducted as layers were added. There was some lovely textured clarity from the strings, then spectacular violin work by Liz Sellers, with plenty of note bending, then mild frenzy and echoes from carefully controlled horns. Mirko Guerrini on baritone sax and Paul Cornelius on tenor added a soft, deep interlude.

I found Whirlwind hard to describe. It had drama, but at times the sections seemed to be talking different languages, while at others there was collective shimmer. Perhaps group dynamics sums it up.

Wagon Wheel featured strings, opening with a sweet refrain that seemed tinged with a lament. A string-pluck festa led us, with help from Craig Beard on vibes, to finally focus on Geoff Hughes‘ guitar — it was good that he had this space.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky in full flight

Tower of the Winds was full of vigour, treating us to a duo of Douglas on trumpet with Burke on clarinet, strong intervention by Knight and Kieran Rafferty on drums and then a Grabowsky piano solo that came with built-in contrast between his emphatic chords and his free-ranging right hand, his digging deep for notes and thunderous barrages. The end of the suite seemed to come in no time.

I’m sure good things are happening in music at universities all across Australia, but as an example of students and experienced musicians tackling an inventive suite written for them to test their mettle, this was an engrossing and invigorating performance.


Fabliaux was  to be recorded in the Monash venue the next day. Watch for it to pop up somewhere.

Ensemble members for Fabliaux

Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Ben Harrison, Niran Dasika
Trombone: Jordan Murray
Flute, clarinet, soprano sax: Lachlan Davidson
Clarinet, alto sax: Rob Burke
Tenor: Paul Cornelius
Bass clarinet, baritone sax: Mirko Guerrini
Violin: Liz Sellers
Cello: Will Martina
Bass: Marty Holoubek
Guitar: Geoff Hughes
Piano: Paul Grabowsky
Drums: Kieran Rafferty
Tuned percussion: Craig Beard
Electronics: Peter Knight

Decadence — Live at the Lane

CD cover to come


SO many performances at Bennetts Lane are loved and lost — treasured experiences recalled, but not revisited. An exception is captured on Frock’s fifth album, recorded there live last year.
To Frock’s atypical instrumentation — Adam Starr (guitars), Anthony Schulz (accordion and piano), Craig Beard (vibraphone, percussion), Simon Starr (acoustic bass) and Dave Beck (drums, cymbals, percussion) — is added Anton Delecca on saxophones.
The range of instruments allows great variety in compositions by four band members, providing sublime interplay. Audience appreciation is evident in this inventive, intriguing and lively outing. Standouts are Adam Starr’s Sungo Tango, with great piano and bowed bass; his thoughtful African Thing, with an expressive accordion solo; and the Beard/Schulz piece Please Make Good Harmony, Mr Schulz, with excellent piano and vibes.


Stonnington — Day 10

Frock — Father, Son and Holy Ghost

I was looking forward to hearing Frock live, though this would be different — the energetic and original ensemble of Craig Beard on vibes, Anthony Schulz on piano and piano accordion, Simon Starr on acoustic bass, Adam Starr on guitar and Daniel Farrugia on drums was airing some covers of songs by Don Walker, Nick Cave and Neil Finn, which they are about to release on a new Frock album. Dan Farrugia was filling in for Dave Beck and will play on the coming album.

Members of Frock at Chapel Off Chapel

They began the set with some fun, the band waiting on Farrugia, who appeared late, and started things off by stamping a beat and jangling keys as he assumed the drumming position for Neil Finn’s One Step Ahead. Schulz moved to the piano for Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, allegedly “butchered” or arranged by Simon Starr. Beard said it was unusual for the band to play covers rather than original tracks, but the advantage was that they were “already hits”.

Beard and Adam Starr
Beard and Adam Starr

With Schulz back on accordion, Don Baker’s Breakfast at Sweethearts was proof of how well the vibes and piano accordion work together. Schulz played piano on Walker’s Saturday Night, followed by the well known (“Don Walker has a lot to answer for,” Beard said.) Khe Sanh, which had a rock feel.

Schulz and Beard
Schulz and Beard

Frequent allusions were made to Nick Cave as the Prince of Darkness (“If he was anywhere about here he would kill us”) before Beard’s arraangement of Cave’s Into My Arms. Neil Finn’s Message to My Girl followed, with Schulz on piano, then a long interaction between accordion and guitar for Schulz’s arrangement of the Tim and Neil Finn song Four Seasons in One Day. Then things turned serious. “We know where you live, Nick,” Frock announced before Mercy Seat — the opening was most effective, with drums, guitar and piano creating a sense of drama.

Daniel Farrugia
Daniel Farrugia

Daniel Farrugia
Daniel Farrugia

Frock closed with Simon Starr’s arrangement of Neil Finn’s History Never Repeats, which Beard suggested “suits this foggy New York evening”. The band’s move into covers was full of interest, though I would prefer its longer originals. The set showed me that Beard on vibes can make his presence felt in almost any musical situation, and that a few, sparing notes from guitar and piano work a treat. That said, I’d have liked to hear more from Adam Starr on guitar, but Frock departed on a high in a gentle frenzy of piano, drums and bass.

Craig Beard
Craig Beard in a reflective moment


Nichaud Fitzgibbon — Mood Swing

At times during Stonnington Jazz gigs at Chapel Off Chapel it has seemed hard for the audience to overcome a feeling of restraint when responding to the music, as if the venue is too formal. Perhaps it is because most members of the audience are seated as if for a play or concert, rather than a jazz gig. At other times the crowd has “woken up” and responded with vigour. From the moment Nichaud Fitzgibbon appeared onstage — with Phillip Rex on bass, James Sherlock on guitar, Dan Farrugia (again) on drums and Jex Saarelaht on piano — the mood was upbeat. Fitzgibbon was the consummate entertainer, projecting enough personality thorough her vocals to gee up the most sombre crowd.

Fitzgibbon and Sherlock
Nichaud Fitzgibbon and James Sherlock

As Fitzgibbon breezed through Don Walker’s How Many Times and the Tex Perkins and Spencer P. Jones number The World’s Got Everything, it was as if we were being caressed by her vocals, as well as by Sherlock’s guitar. Frequently paying tribute to her musicians, Fitzgibbon dubbed Rex “the king of bass” before launching into the Kylie Minogue song Two Hearts, and then Tom Springfield’s Seekers hit The Olive Tree, which featured Saarelaht’s exemplary skills.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Fitzgibbon was a sassy, saucy woman with vocals to match in the Paul Kelly song Be Careful What You Pray For, which she dedicated to “lots of greedy people”. Then we luxuriated in Saarelaht’s deep piano notes leading into Kelly/Ceberano’s tango Untouchable and Ross Wilson’s Mood Swing, the title track of the new CD.

Saarelaht, Rex and Dan Farrugia
Saarelaht, Rex and Dan Farrugia

The link to Australian songwriters lapsed for Billie Holiday’s I Want More, “dedicated to all the ladies in the audience”, then Fitzgibbon harked back to her earlier album for Dave Fishbery’s I Don’t Believe You. Her voice was engaging and seductive, but the feeling conveyed was that of a woman who could immediately make you feel comfortable and who probably would give you credit for having more get up and go than was necessarily the case. This may seem an odd way to put it, but Fitzgibbon’s personality flowed out as if she was emanating a relaxed sense of confidence that would easily rub off on her audience. I could not help contrast her performance with younger vocalists Megan Washington and Gian Slater.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Nick Cave’s Bless was followed by Anthony Newly’s Feeling Good before the sustained applause brought Fitzgibbon back to stand beside the piano for an encore.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Then the sensuality and cheeky charm was turned full-on in the vivaciously sung You Turn Me On, Baby (Cy Coleman). We were left to reflect on the value of experience in a singer and on the consummate ease with which she could captivate an audience and enliven a venue.

Perhaps the main event for the last night of Stonnington Jazz had been over at the Malvern Town Hall for the second Sculthorpe Songbook concert, but at Chapel Off Chapel it had been an evening of fine music to end another fine festival.