Tag Archives: jazz

Suite for a shy revolutionary

Ronan Guilfoyle

Ronan Guilfoyle                                  Image supplied

“In music you are allowed more elbow room to find your own way to whatever you interpret the music to be. So I think that’s a kind of interesting wrinkle in music, that because of its abstract nature it actually allows the listener to participate maybe a bit more with their own creativity and their own spontaneity … “

INTERVIEW

Ronan Guilfoyle talks about his suite, A Shy-Going Boy, to be presented at this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues

Irish acoustic bass guitarist Ronan Guilfoyle recalls his grandfather as a softly spoken, witty man, but Lt.-Col. Joseph Guilfoyle was also a revolutionary — a volunteer at age 17 in the 1916 Rising against British rule in Ireland.

As a member of Michael Collins’s group the Squad during the War of Independence, Joe took part in the killing of British magistrate Alan Bell, who was ordered off a tram in Ballsbridge in March 1920 and shot dead in the street.

Ronan has explored that ambiguity in an eight-part suite that will be performed on Saturday, October 29 as part of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. He will be joined by his son, Chris Guilfoyle, on guitar, Matthew Jacobson on drums and three Australian musicians, Jamie Oehlers on saxophone, Scott Tinkler on trumpet and Andrea Keller on piano.

Ronan chose A Shy-Going Boy as the suite’s title because Joe Guilfoyle described himself thus in a radio broadcast.

“It’s how he describes himself and I’ve never heard that expression before or since,” Ronan says in his recorded response to Ausjazz questions.

“He said, ‘I was always a shy-going boy’ and he talks about being shy in joining the volunteers. It really struck me that the idea of a shy boy volunteering to take part in an armed revolution was an interesting one and it was such an unusual phrase I thought it was perfect for the title.”

Ronan is no stranger to creating music related to family members, having composed a suite for string quartet and guitar trio, which John Abercrombie played on, for his father, who died when he was 17.

“The idea of going through my father’s biography was a very interesting experience for me and the same with my grandfather. I was less familiar with my grandfather, but I learnt more that I didn’t know about him or his life in researching the piece, so as a composer I really had wrestle with how to represent some of those things that I discovered.”

On the juxtaposition between “the quiet old man that I knew and the revolutionary who took part in assassinations”, Ronan says he learned “just how much duality and complexity there is in these situations”.

“On the one hand you have a young man, 17 years of age, who goes off to join the 1916 Rising and in this talk he gives, he talks about going to confession the night before the Rising. So him and his brother, these are two people in their late teens going off to confession because they know there’s a good chance they will be killed the next day.

“It’s extraordinary to think of that now, it seems such a long way from my experience for sure and I’m sure most teenagers in the world — the idea of knowing that you could be killed the next day and yet off you go and do it. It’s an extraordinary act of courage on their part and also belief. So you really have to admire that, or I do, the belief in it and the willingness to risk their lives for what they believed in.

“On the other hand, what he was involved with — taking a guy off a tram and shooting him in cold blood up against the railings — is, there’s no way around it, you’re shooting somebody dead, you’re murdering somebody, or assassinating them … a huge amount depends on your point of view,” Ronan says.

“What I found is that you can look at things from more than one point of view and I tried to reflect that in the music. It is quite ambiguous at times or it goes from dark to light and light to dark, sometimes within the one piece. So I did try to represent that kind of ambiguity in the music.”

Ronan says Joe Guilfoyle had an extraordinary life and took part in historical and hair-raising events. He was arrested by a British officer and found to have a letter in his pocket from a very well known associate of revolutionary leader Michael Collins.

“He was taken out to a golf course at 4 o’clock in the morning and had a gun put up to his head and the officer told him that he needed to understand that he, the officer, had been given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the course of his investigations and there would be no repercussions for anything he did. So basically he was telling him, ‘I can kill you right here and nothing’s gonna happen. So now I’m gonna ask you some questions’.

“Joe didn’t answer the questions and he was brought back to the cell. This story is actually told by another person in the war archives, not by Joe Guilfoyle, but by a guy who was with him, who tells the story about him being brought back from the golf course in the dead of night and being, and I quote, ‘None the worse for his adventure’, which is an extraordinary expression to use for a guy who’s just been forced to his knees and had a gun put to his head.”

Ronan says Joe was also in London as a bodyguard when Collins was negotiating the treaty that partitioned Ireland with Lloyd George, “which is extraordinary … if you think of the repercussions of what that treaty represented with the partition of Ireland and the bloodshed that flowed from that over the course of the years”.

And the shy-going boy was also in military intelligence during the second world war, which was known as “The Emergency” in Ireland, with the job of keeping an eye on the German members of visiting delegations, because the country was neutral.

“I was very young when he died, and I wish now that I had been able to question him about some of these things,” Ronan says. “To be honest I didn’t even know about them at that time.”

At last year’s Wangaratta Jazz Festival we heard two concerts that explored aspects of war — Lloyd Swanton’s monumental Ambon about his uncle as a prisoner of war, and Hope In My Pocket about letters soldiers sent home from war.

One piece entitled in the suite by Ronan Guilfoyle, A Dog With Two Tails, is a response to his grandfather marching proudly with a gun, which is an instrument of death. The composer acknowledges that music is a good vehicle to express the contradictions and contrasts of bitter conflict.

“I think it is, it’s very powerful,” Ronan says. “Unless you use lyrics, instrumental music is quite abstract and you can read many different things into it. Stravinsky famously said, ‘music is incapable of expressing anything other than itself’. In other words, the music just “is” and all of the interpretations of what it means are just placed on the music by us as we listen.

“Having said that, I think that the use of music in films and TV and all of that since the invention of the visual medium does show just how powerful music can be as an instigator of atmosphere and also emotion and all of those things.

“As to whether you can write a piece and it says this is such and such, doing such and such, and everyone will understand that just by hearing the music, I don’t think that is the case, but you can certainly express contradictions and contrasts in music very easily and very effectively I think.”

Asked what an audience can take away from a suite such as A Shy-Going Boy, when compared with a film that has dialogue to help convey its messages, Ronan it can’t be that explicit in music.

“A film like Michael Collins or The Wind that Shakes the Barley about the civil war, these are really great films, [that] show the issues that were going on at that time. I wouldn’t say my music, or anyone else’s for that matter, could be as explicit in conveying the events as a film or a book.

“Having said that, music can have a power and can allow the listener to have their own experience in a way that is maybe not as easy as when something is being told to you explicitly or you are being guided in a very specific direction.

“In music you are allowed more elbow room to find your own way to whatever you interpret the music to be. So I think that’s a kind of interesting wrinkle in music that because of its abstract nature — on the one hand it can’t be as explicit as a film, but on the other hand, it actually allows the listener to participate maybe a bit more with their own creativity and their own spontaneity than maybe the explicitness of the film would allow them to do.”

Ronan Guilfoyle says his view of the Rising changed as a result of his research for A Shy-Going Boy.

“Absolutely, totally changed. Not that I think it was an irredeemably bad thing, thinking, as a kid, that it was a glorious revolution. It was an extraordinary event and I really learnt a lot about it. I buried myself in research.

“The ambiguity of it all was what I learnt about it. I mean the first man to be shot in the Rising was an Irish-speaking father of six, an unarmed policeman, who was shot dead by the volunteers because he wouldn’t open the gate to Dublin castle. So there was an idea that they were fighting the British, but there were an awful lot of Irish people killed by Irish people in this conflict,” Ronan says.

“And in the same week that the Rising went on, I think over 600 Irishmen were killed on the Western Front in that same week, fighting in the British army. And there were more than 20,000 Irish people in the British army at that time, fighting for England, or for Britain.

“So on the one hand the army that they were attacking in Dublin was comprised of a very big contingent of Irish soldiers, and the revolutionaries were considered to be really traitorous, especially by people whose husbands were in the army, because their husbands were fighting and sending home money to keep them alive and these guys were attacking the institution that was helping to keep those fellows alive, so it was very ambiguous.
“And of course more civilians were killed in the revolution than either volunteers or British soldiers, so I really did learn there was a huge amount of ambiguity about this and it was a very complex event … as are all of these events, of course, nothing is ever very simple.”

Ronan has used an excerpt from a talk given by Joe Guilfoyle to open the suite.

“The piece opens with my grandfather talking about his time in the Rising. People in the audience will hear him speak. It was recorded about 1960. It’s funny, he keeps it very light and you don’t really get a sense of the danger and the horror there must have been as well. He was very funny as a person and he’s very funny on this as well. He tells very funny stories about his experiences as a young man in the volunteers.

“And then I’ve got an actor to read some of his memoirs … he wrote about 12 pages of his memoirs, didn’t finish them, so I got an actor to read and record those and also to read the story of him being taken out to the golf club.

“And there’s a little bit from [Irish nationalist] Padraig Pearse where he’s saying that a nation that has lost its taste for blood has lost its manhood, I mean, real hair-raising stuff from the man, as I said, who was considered a saint when I was a kid. But this stuff sounds really like zealotry. He says we might shoot the wrong people, but there’s a price we have to pay or they have to pay. So I used some of that and it weaves in and out of the music.”

Ronan has sent the charts for A Shy-Going Boy in advance, but will have two rehearsals with Jamie Oehlers, Scott Tinkler and Andrea Keller once in Australia.

“There’s a lot of written music in it and a lot of improvisation. It’s probably evenly balanced, but it’s definitely going to take some work for us to put it together. Myself and Chris and Matt have played this many times and that helps a lot I think. And the other three are such great musicians, I’ve worked with all of them in different contexts before, so I’m very confident that we’ll give a good performance.”

Ronan is hoping A Shy-Going Boy can be recorded next year.

“It’s difficult to get funding these days, especially as recordings don’t sell anything any more, but for me personally it’s a nice thing to document.”

ROGER MITCHELL

(My thanks to Ronan Guilfoyle for so comprehensively answering my questions at short notice.)

OF BIRD’S, BENNETTS AND BEYOND

Ravi Coltrane's quartet at Bird's Basement

Ravi Coltrane’s quartet at Bird’s Basement

REFLECTION

Ravi Coltrane at Bird’s Basement, Singers Lane, Melbourne on Sunday, March 6, 2016

IT HAS been said often in recent months, but there’s a lot of live music happening in Melbourne, plenty of it being jazz / improvised. That can’t be bad.

But as venues proliferate, the challenge remains to really get more Melburnians — and visitors to town — off their couches and out there listening, hopefully on a regular basis.

Change has been in the air for Melbourne’s jazz scene since the closing of Bennetts Lane Jazz Club after last year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the shift of regular Melbourne Jazz Co-operative gigs to Sonny Rehe’s Uptown Jazz Cafe in Fitzroy. Then Bennetts staged its most convincing Lazarus-like recovery pending the advent of developer David Marriner’s planned incarnation of the iconic venue in Flinders Lane  at a date to be fixed.

Patrons file into Bird's Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Patrons file into Bird’s Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Early this month (March 2016) Albert Dadon launched his Bird’s Basement club in the appropriately named Singers Lane close to Flagstaff Station, opening with seven nights of “jazz royalty” as reedsman Ravi Coltrane played two concerts a night in the slick, custom-built basement.

There had been much talk in jazz circles about whether the Bird’s Basement model of an early dinner show and a separate supper show would work, and how long the extensive resources of Dadon could sustain the new venue if he built it and crowds did not come. Ironically, that question came up recently in the small venue Conduit Arts in Fitzroy, host to many creative and superb performances over recent years. Now, it seems, Conduit Arts will be closing.

In this context, it was with great interest that I took my camera to Bird’s Basement for the supper show on the final night of Ravi Coltrane’s stint with Glenn Zaleski on piano, Kush Abadey on drums, Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass. Coltrane played tenor and sopranino sax. (The names of Coltrane’s band members were not listed on printed material at the club, as far as I could see. I am indebted to John McBeath for letting me know that I had two members of the line-up wrong in this post earlier.)

Bird's Basement has a blue note

The ambience at Bird’s Basement has a blue note

A few remarks about the venue. After years of feeling familiar and comfortable in the two rooms at Bennetts Lane, at which patrons find their own way to tables or single seats, I felt strangely formal in having Bird’s staff conducting patrons to seats.

I can say without reservation that all of the many staff at Bird’s were unfailingly friendly, welcoming and helpful. Ordering and delivery of drinks was smooth and payment at or shortly before the gig ended did not disrupt the music.

Being on my own, I was initially taken to a seat at the bar, but a more suitable vantage point for taking photographs was soon found.

Ticket purchase and seat allocation are no doubt still evolving, but I found the Ticketek process awkward and unsatisfactory. In the process of registering I ended up with two tickets in my checkout basket with no obvious way to remove one. Also, seat allocation was impossible without knowing the seating plan at Bird’s, which apparently changes according to numbers booked.

As for ambience, it’s all very blue and a little shiny. It seems a pity that patrons and waiting staff have to cross in front of tables to get to the far side tables, and there is no standing area at the back where the press of punters can build the sort of excitement often felt, for instance, in the small room at Bennetts. Bird’s Basement has a refined feel that may appeal more to those used to dinner with their music.

But musicians and patrons seem to agree that the acoustics are good, as may be expected in a purpose-built space.

Johnathan Blake

Kush Abadey enthuses from the drum kit

Now for a mention of the music. Given that this was the final night of seven paired performances, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of this quartet was pleasing. I was mightily impressed with Kush Abadey at the drum kit and Glenn Zaleski at the piano.

With Coltrane on tenor for his originals Coincide and Candlewood Path, Ralph Alessi’s Who Wants Ice Cream, and another brief piece, the quartet delivered compelling, intelligent jazz in which the leader left plenty of space for his young rhythm section to show its undoubted prowess. Abadey often seemed to drive proceedings.

Coltrane’s tenor forays included brief statements that said a lot without any attempt to dominate, leaving us wanting more. He closed the concert on sopranino, firing up on Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life and John Coltrane’s Equinox, appropriately resisting any temptation to announce the latter with a paternal reference.

Bird’s debut week must rate as a success, but the real tests will come when international artists are not on the bill. And it will be interesting to see whether this venue linked loosely to New York’s Birdland will attract new patrons to live music or tap into the numbers already turning up to Bennetts Lane, Uptown, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green and other Melbourne venues.

Bird’s Basement has a long way to go before it develops the rich history that adds significantly to a well-established and much-loved venue. But the music is what counts and nostalgia should not be overrated.

Rightly or wrongly, I felt that I ought to dress up for Bird’s — that it possibly was a bit flash for my taste and may attract a different crowd. If so, that could work and would help provide work for local musicians as well as imports. But let’s see.

Meanwhile, the following night I sat in a familiar chair in the small room at Bennetts Lane to hear Tim Stevens deliver 13 brand new and unnamed compositions with help from Dave Beck and Ben Robertson. It had a different feel.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

 

MELBOURNE CELEBRATES WOMEN IN JAZZ

Emma Pask

Emma Pask at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz this year.

PREVIEW: 17th Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club and The VCA Grant Street Theatre, December 7 to 14, 2014

This festival is always one to look forward to as the year’s end approaches and this year Sonja Horbelt has put together a comprehensive program. Budgets are often a constraint, but this year the MWIF has a little more funding and it shows in the line-up, which comprises artists from Canada, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

I had to miss the festival launch on Saturday 29 November on the Victorian Arts Centre forecourt when, in a free concert, many had the opportunity to hear the world music grooves of Andrea Khoza and the Secrets, the South of the River Gospel Choir, and the Julia O’Hara Heptet.

The festival proper runs for a week from Sunday 7 December 7, when at 2pm at the VCA Grant Street Theatre patrons will hear the rich sounds of “Things She Said”, with music by Nilusha Dassenaike and lyrics and visuals by celebrated Australian artist and author Barbara Hanrahan. The line-up for this free event includes Nilusha Dassenaike, Chantal Mitvalsky, Gian Slater, Miroslav Bukovsky, Frank Di Sario and Alex Pertout and the Wintersweet Vocal ensemble.

That evening at 8pm at Bennetts Lane Jazz Lab, celebrated Sydney vocalist Emma Pask kicks off proceedings with “her secret Sydney band”. Anyone who heard Emma at the Cup Eve Concert on Wangaratta Jazz weekend this year will know she is a superb entertainer and not to be missed.

Also that night in the Bennetts Jazz Club is Melbourne group Lazercatz 2000 led by Lena Douglas piano  with Felix Watson trumpet, Jimmy Bowman trombone, Maria Moles drums and Darvid Thor guitar. Their music, which mixes contemporary jazz and pop elements, is influenced by the likes of Kenny Wheeler and Andrea Keller. Lazercatz 2000 released their debut album in May 2014 to a sell-out room at Bennetts Lane.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

On Monday 8 December in the BL Club , there will be a genuinely collaborative enterprise with Andrea Keller at the piano, Tamara Murphy on bass, Allan Browne on drums.  They will play compositions by all three and each piece “unfolds like a three-way conversation, the focus shifting subtly from player to player”. Also that night in the Jazz Lab, young students from Melbourne will deliver patrons insight to the jazz stars of the future at the Bennetts Lane student night.

On Tuesday 9 Dec 9 in the BL Jazz Lab, Melbourne saxophonist Kellie Santin will launch her debut recording Quintessence , which features a rhythm section led by drummer Gerry Pantazis and bassist Simon Fisenden plus Phil Turcio on keys, Simon Hosford on guitar, Phil Binotto on percussion, with special guest, 2014 UK soul vocalist Carmen Hendricks.

Nat Bartsch Trio

Nat Bartsch Trio                                  (Image supplied)

Also that night in the Club at Bennetts there will be a very special concert when  Nat Bartsch Trio plays its last gig for the foreseeable future. As Nat puts it, “It’s a complicated story, involving some exciting life changes, and ongoing health problems that have made running a band very difficult. It’s time to put the trio on hold; at least for now.” That’s sad news, but this is sure to be a great gig, with Bartsch on piano, Tom Lee on acoustic bass and Daniel Farrugia on drums. This trio’s album To Sail, To Sing was a winner.

Emie R. Roussel

Emie R. Roussel                                            (Image supplied)

On Wednesday 10 December in the BL Lab, Canada will come to town with Quebec’s contemporary jazz band the Emie R. Roussel Trio playing music that’s “resolutely young, rhythm-based, and infused with straightforward rock and pop harmonies”. Roussel plays piano, Nicolas Bédard  bass and Dominic Cloutier drums.

On Thursday 11 December in the BL Lab, Andrea Keller and Miroslav Bukovsky will  present The Komeda Project. Canberra trumpet player/composer/improviser Miroslav Bukovsky will join Melbourne’s pianist/composer/improvisor Andrea Keller to co-lead an ensemble of eight Australian contemporary musicians in a response to, and reinterpretation of, some of the music of Polish film music composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda.

The list goes on in this substantial festival. On Friday 12 December in the BL Jazz Lab, Michelle Nicolle will perform with her “fretet”, featuring four of Melbourne’s finest jazz guitarists Geoff Hughes, Stephen Magnusson, Sam Lemann and Craig Fermanis.

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi

And on Saturday 13 December in the BL Jazz Lab my absolute favourite vocalist Kristin Berardi returns to the MWIJF with her newest ensemble, featuring some of Sydney and Melbourne’s finest musicians: Greg Coffin (piano), Carl Morgan (guitar – recent winner of the Wangaratta National Jazz Award), Brett Hirst (bass) and Danny Fischer (drums). This will be superb.

The Festival closes on Sunday Dec 14th with its own traditional Fox Force 6, the MWIJF Women’s Festival Sextet which this year includes vocalist Kristin Berardi, trumpeter Audrey Powne and pianist Andrea Keller.

This festival is a great celebration of women in jazz as well as being a feast of music before Christmas and holidays slow things down.

For full program details visit the festival website at www.mwijf.org

ROGER MITCHELL

The Melbourne Women’s International Jazz festival gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from major sponsor City of Melbourne, and supporting sponsors Révélation Radio Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, APRA, Fraser Place Melbourne, VCA/University of Melbourne and the Victorian Arts Centre.