Tag Archives: Howard Cairns

CONFUCIUS SAY, GIVE MUSICIANS LIBERTY

Cara Taber Gideon Brazil

Cara Taber and Gideon Brazil fill the air with colour during Adam Simmons’ Concerto For Piano and Toy Band

PICTORIAL REVIEW

Concert 1: Concerto for Piano and Toy Band
Michael Kieran Harvey with Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble
Composed by Adam Simmons

Thursday 2 March 2017, fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

By the time this post appears the second performance of this concerto will be over, but there will be two more chances to join the audience — on Saturday at 7.30pm and on Sunday at 3pm.

I loved this work. One of the performers, alto saxophonist Cara Taber, described this as “beautiful, thought-provoking, and strong original music by Adam Simmons” and that fits.

The concerto, which has three parts surrounded by a prologue, two interludes and an epilogue, is at times frenzied and at others meditative. Bursts of sudden energy come from the powerful piano of classical musician Michael Kieran Harvey as well as from the Toy Band.

As is always the case with Simmons’ art, we are encouraged to enjoy as well as to reflect on what we are seeing and hearing, what the performers are bringing to us beyond their facility with a range of instruments.

Confucius, a great lover of music, is part of this work, introduced in lines spoken by Simmons as he turns the handles on music boxes, propelling paper tapes into which the words are punched as holes. My googling suggests that Confucius gave ideas on how music should follow the ideal of the ancient pattern and then allow for improvisation while maintaining harmony.

This is the context for the brief spoken passages in Simmons’ concerto, in that Confucius, when talking to the Grand Master of Lu (who had been given the task of teaching music) about the Ancients’ Music, said, “Their music began with a strict unison. Soon the musicians were given more liberty; but the tone remained harmonious, brilliant, consistent, right on ’til the close.”

The spoken passages provide a framework in which the musicians work. The whole work — Simmons’ first long-form composition — is part of his exploration this year of The Usefulness of Art, inspired by French Impressionist sculptor Auguste Rodin‘s view that “I call useful anything that gives us happiness”. Simmons wants us to reflect on art as connection, sharing experience and encouraging understanding between people.

The influences he cites for this effort to highlight the contrast between soloist and ensemble include the words of Confucius, Werner Herzog films he watched when composing the piece in Wye River some years back and John Zorn’s books of interviews, essays and commentaries by musicians.

All this, while interesting as a background to the performance, is not required as a prelude to its enjoyment. There are startling moments in the concerto, there are periods in which Harvey thrills at the piano and there is a time when Taber’s saxophone solo is accompanied by musicians moving quietly and percussively through the audience and performance space.

It is best not to tell that story beforehand, but to experience it. I would thoroughly recommend that you find the time to catch the remaining two performances of Concerto for Piano and Toy Band.

ROGER MITCHELL

The Toy Band: Adam Simmons sopranino, baritone saxophones, shakuhachi; Cara Taber alto saxophone; Gideon Brazil tenor saxophone; Gemma Horbury trumpet; Gavin Cornish trumpet; Bryn Hills trombone; Howard Cairns double bass; Hugh Harvey drums

Below are some images, which are in black and white. The performance certainly is not.

BREAKING NEW GROUND OUT WEST

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura plays koto with Way Out West

PICTORIAL UPDATE:

Way Out West plays Footscray Community Arts Centre, 7.30pm Tuesday 3 June for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival

It was a significant milestone last night when Peter Knight‘s ensemble Way Out West played in Footscray at the venue in which the band — with a slightly different line-up — played its first gig 14 years ago. It was also significant in that the MIJF was venturing out west for the first time this year.

Yay! A crowded house for jazz out west.

Yay! A crowded house for jazz out west.

It was a relief to see that the seats in the FCAC Performance Space were filling quickly. Westies are waking up to the delights of live music.

Band shows its colours: instruments await Way Out West players.

Band shows its colours: instruments await Way Out West players.

I rarely post images in colour (more of that in a moment), but in this case the lighting complemented the array of instruments assembled on stage for Way Out West musicians, who must need a large truck to carry their gear. There are two versions of the Japanese koto for Satsuki Odamura and a bewildering array of drums and percussion devices played by Ray Pereira — he seems to add an instrument every year.

In the black: Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

In the red: what unkind lighting can do to Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

Waiting in the dark on the side with the young photographers clad in light blue MIJF T-shirts before the performance, I wondered what the lighting would be like. Let’s face it, lighting is only of concern to photographers and not punters, but that does not mean it is unimportant. In most venues it is passable at best. Often one or two members of a band are in bright light, the others all in darkness. The wonderful red spots are the bane of music photographers’ lives.

When the lights came up, and we had two songs in which to take our shots (a rule seemingly ignored by the T-shirted snappers), I groaned inwardly. Again, I understand that audiences do not care about lighting provided the music is good, but we take photographs to help promote the bands and the music, and to attract more people to live music. Let’s just say that the image above shows what happens in red light. The image below shows why many photographers turn shots into black and white in a bid to resurrect what they can.

In the black: Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

In the black: Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

While on about photography at gigs and festivals, controls are vital to protect the listening experience of patrons and in order not to drive musicians mad. But the rule of first two songs only has its problems, because in jazz that could be very short or very long. And the imposed limit means that the clicking is going to go on regardless of whether the first two songs are quiet or not, because that’s the only window of opportunity. Really it would be better if photographers respected the music and did not shoot at all in quiet passages. Unless, of course, they can afford completely silent cameras. I’m still searching for an affordable camera that is completely silent and yet copes with low light.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

Way Out West played four new compositions — Latest and Breaking, The Birds, Nine Years Later (dedicated to Peter Knight’s son Quinn, 9) and Anthony Blaise. The oldies were Music For April and the closing Is the Moon Really This Far Away? This post is a rave with pics rather than a review, but I loved the new material, especially The Birds and Nine Years Later.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

The main changes in line-up to Way Out West have been the addition of Odamura on kotos and Lucas Michailidis on guitar. With a new album coming out soon (more details later), the band has moved on and is entering a new era with a different feel. It works. The new pieces utilise the koto well, as well as Pereira’s diverse talents.

Lucas Michailidis and Howard Cairns

Lucas Michailidis and Howard Cairns

Michailides is another significant addition and he brings exceptional musicianship along with an ability to sync with other players.

Peter Knight on fire

Peter Knight on fire

Peter Knight on trumpet and flugel was in fine and fiery form on the horns, but for me his work on laptop in Nine Years Later was the highlight.

Paul Williamson

Paul Williamson pumps it out.

Paul Williamson is a seasoned and spectacular performer. In this outing I felt that he and Howard Cairns, along with the New York resident Raj Jayaweera did not have enough time in the spotlight. But the nature of this ensemble is that it works as a group, so it is not about solos.

That said, it would not be Way Out West without Ray Pereira in a drumming duel with someone. In this case it was guest Sri Lankan drummer Kanchana Karunaratna, who wowed the crowd with their rapid-fire technique and virtuosity.

Everyone loves a good drum stoush, but I loved this band’s layered subtlety best of all.

ROGER MITCHELL

Kanchana Karunaratna and Lucas Michailidis

Kanchana Karunaratna and Lucas Michailidis

TRADITIONAL LOVE’S LABOURS NOT LOST

Denis Ball, Eugene Ball and Howard Cairns

Denis Ball, Eugene Ball and Howard Cairns at Chapel Off Chapel

REVIEW: The Sugarfoot Ramblers / Denis Ball-Eugene Ball Sextet, Chapel Off Chapel, Sunday 18 May, 2pm for Stonnington Jazz

The Sugarfoot Ramblers played at Wangaratta last year in a festival that offered quite a lot of so-called classic jazz. I missed that gig, by graduates or current students of the jazz course at Monash University who shared a fondness for New Orleans Jazz led by Jason Downes — described by artistic director Adrian Jackson as “an elder statesman”. 

The Sugarfoot Ramblers

The Sugarfoot Ramblers

The Ramblers set, with Downes (clarinet), Travis Woods (trumpet), James Macaulay (trombone), Brett Thompson (banjo), Marty Holoubek (bass) and Daniel Berry (drums), was quite different from what followed.

These young musicians served up foot-stomping New Orleans jazz that was fast and fun. The opening Panama set the tone with trombone, clarinet and banjo solos in a piece that grew faster as it progressed.

Brett Thompson and Jason Downes

Brett Thompson and Jason Downes

In The Sugarfoot Stomp Downes delivered a bright, exuberant solo that was a taste of many to come in the set, while Woods’ horn was plaintive despite the upbeat tempo. The band members had fun with James Macaulay’s vocals in Linger Awhile, and I loved Downes’ solo in this as well as the way Macaulay’s ‘bone — as is often the case with this instrument — seemed to make suggestions or hints at notes.

Daniel Berry

Daniel Berry

Berry treated us to some washboard in Just A Little While, with the ‘bone and clarinet conversing. Weary Blues, which was a highlight for the wistful, floating horn notes and a swinging, fast clarinet solo, was introduced as being from “the best album of all time” — festival patron Allan Browne‘s album Out of Nowhere.

Jason Downes

Jason Downes in The Sugarfoot Ramblers

Downes excelled again in Egyptian Fantasy, as did Macaulay, and in Fidgety Feet there was a whole lot happening, but gently, before breakouts by banjo and clarinet and a frenetic finish. Jelly Roll Morton’s Georgia Swing rounded off a thoroughly engaging set full of youthful energy. Toes were tapping throughout.

Ball, Ball and Cairns

Ball, Ball and Cairns

The second set brought a time shift forward to the forties or later and mainstream jazz.  A focus was on this opportunity to hear respected traditional jazz exponent Denis Ball (clarinet) play with son Eugene Ball (trumpet) and learn where some of the younger Ball’s fluidity may have had its roots. They were  joined  by John Scurry (guitar), Howard Cairns (bass), Allan Browne (drums) and — with impeccable timing — Steve Grant (piano).

Howard Cairns

Howard Cairns

This set has a much gentler feel throughout, a change of mood and pace that seemed to give out a vibe to the audience of sit back, relax and be nurtured by this music. There were soft edges, a sense of lightness and subtle nuances to be valued.

There were lovely moments, such as when Denis Ball suggested John Scurry “I’ll listen to your first couple of notes” to decide on the key he was using. It was a testament to the flexibility of jazz musicians.

Ball, Ball and Scurry

Ball, Ball and Scurry

Billie Holiday’s Willow Weep for Me  was my highlight in the set, with solos from Cairns and Scurry, plus the clarinet and horn together absolutely luminous.

Reflecting on these classic jazz sets, I thought how good it was to see how at home Eugene Ball and the Sugarfoot crew with traditional jazz. The love of this music, and the skills needed to play it, are not being lost.

It was also great to see Al Browne had escaped from his recent time with Alfred.

ROGER MITCHELL

IMAGE GALLERY

The Sugarfoot Ramblers

Stonnington Jazz