Archive for March, 2016

Printmaking, like drawing, is often seen as the poor cousin to painting and sculpture. And I have as yet to work out exactly why that is.

With all its wonderful techniques and the endless richness of its textures and wonderful “surprises” in execution, printmaking has given us some eye-popping artifacts over history. Picasso loved it, so did Míro and Warhol.

‘Agikawa Spinner (33rpm)’ Neilton Clarke

‘Agikawa Spinner (33rpm)’ Neilton Clarke

The current show at Camperdown’s ArtsiteSydney Printmakers Celebrating 55 Years – makes it even harder for me to understand the poor cousin attitude.

As part of the 2016 celebrations of the Australian Print Council’s Year of Print, curator Madeleine Tuckfield-Carrano has put together sixty works by Sydney artists that span the range of printmaking, conceptually and technically.

From Neilton Clarke’s lovely surreal ‘Agikawa Spinner (33rpm)’ through Prue Crabbe’s smoke-fragile ‘Sublunary Diversions II’ to the brusque rust textures of ‘Landfall 1’ and ‘Landfall 2’ by Anthea Bosenburg, the range is breath-taking. It is all I can do to not reach out and touch these works – print has that effect: the colours and textures, although aiming for the relatively flat, have a tactile, almost erotic, attraction. Faint indentations, raised shallow welts, creases and almost imperceptible waves across the surface all draw us in subtly.

‘Peaches and Cream’ Rew Hanks

‘Peaches and Cream’ Rew Hanks

Though, flat is not all ­– Laura Stark’s ‘Totems’ stand as printed paper cylinder’s, tracing paper squares lean out and threaten to fly off the surface of ‘The Space Between’ by Robyn Waghorn. Tuckfield-Carrano’s ‘Autumn Rain’ has fabric stitches across the pigment.

The range of techniques – a couple had me groping for Google – is smartly covered here as well; it is one of the joys of printmaking that its techniques go from roughly stamping the paper with hard woodblocks through to gluing elements across the plate as in a collograph, or the relative caressing it with other approaches, such as aquatint. Rew Hanks’ ‘Peaches and Cream’ (relief print) has that perfect graphic hard edge while the linocut ‘Scratching for Bugs’ by Joanne Gwatkin-Williams shows a charming vaguery of line.

Poor cousin? Bah. These pieces are all as exquisite as you will find, speaking with maybe a quieter poetry that their oil-painted relatives, but powerful poetry nonetheless.

All images courtesy of the artist and Artsite.

 

Published March 2016 on www.sixtoeight.net

 

 

 

 

The only place on Earth where jazz exists is The United States.

It sometimes feels like that. Especially if you check the (North) American and international jazz press. How many U.S. jazz fans are aware of our great artists such as David Ades, Julien Wilson, Mike Nock or Bernie McGann?

And how many are aware of Japanese, Swedish or French jazz? There is some great stuff to be heard from all over the world; a friend recently put me onto an organ trio from Greece that was knockout!

Ingrid james1Australian jazz singer Ingrid James’ recent release – Trajectoire – just might convince a few more that there is some good music to be had beyond West 44th Street (or 505 or Bennett’s Lane). Made with a mix of Australian, French, Danish and U.S. players, it is a revelation.

James is here paired with the Alexis Tcholakian Trio from France. In fact the album grew out of pianist Tcholakian’s request that she pen lyrics for a number of his compositions. Direct, and with just the right mix of experience, urbanity and poetry, her lyrics work so well it is hard to believe often that they didn’t come first, before the melodies.

Another nice balance across Trajectoire is that James has found the right point between the hip and the sweet. Too many recent jazz vocal albums seem to take the tame path, assumedly in the hope of wider audience – maybe on the fringe of Pop. This collection of songs retains some true grit and jazz light and shade, yet steers clear of the miasmic mists that afflict the jazz vocal recordings at the other end of the spectrum. There is a strong feeling of tradition – but respect for that tradition rather than either a dry clinging to it, or a sickly sugaring of it.

This balance is exemplified by the opening mission statement, a reading of Jimmy Rowles’ ‘A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)’ (lyric by Norma Winstone). James navigates this tricky winding melody with superbly simpatico paino from Tcholakian and his trio.Ingrid james2

The arrangement is smartly considered, with the piano mirroring in unison some sections of the vocal. This device is used to great effect on many tracks, marketely on the two vocal solos written by Louise Denson – the first, a duet with Danish tenor sax player Simon Spang-Hanssen on the Hammond-driven ‘Blue Confluence’; the second on the Bill Evans-ish waltz of ‘Night Reflection’.

The latter duet is with Australia’s Miroslav Bukovsky whose flugelhorn’s round golden tone sounds uncannily like a human voice itself.

The snaky melody, latin groove and Marian Bitran’s flute of the title track, ‘Trajectoire’ recalls Chick Corea’s 70s work with Flora Purim. The album pulls from many styles of jazz – ‘Midsummer Flower’s samba, the Rhodes-driven fusion of ‘Circle of Love’, the languid ballad of album closer ‘It’s Not Over’ – but there is a unity that holds it all together, a major factor being James’ warm and honeyed voice – like Dianne Reeves, a voice born for jazz.

Trajectoire is satisfying on all levels. I look forward to more from Ingrid James and Alexis Tcholakian.

Published March 2016 on australianjazz.net

 

 

In a year of the deaths of giants we say goodbye to George Martin. The fifth Beatle, the producer who made them sound like The Beatles. The man who framed those songs in those patchouli psychedelic frames, or equally in those woody bucolic or cut-glass European classical frames.

The Beatles were the first band to break the hegemony of the popular artist in the early 60s – usually a solo singer whose songs were written for him by profession songwriters, then arranged and produced by his record label. The Beatles brought their own songs and presented as a four-headed entity entirely, it seemed, self-contained. Martin’s ever-sympathetic arrangements and recordings brought out every wonderful nuance and flavour – paisley, bitter-sweet or child-like sweet – in those wonderful songs; however cinematic the arrangement (think ‘I Am The Walrus’ or ‘All You Need is Love’) the song was always to the fore.

Even from the very beginning, he seemed to entirely ‘get’ the songs – the splashing hi-hats of ‘She Love You (Yeah Yeah Yeah)’, the surreally moonlit space of ‘And I Love Her’ or ‘Yesterday’s bare acoustic guitar and silvery strings. Perfect.

They used to sneak weed behind the old man’s back like naughty schoolboys – then go back into the classroom and, giggling and chilled, create Revolver. But despite his pin-sharp, conservative appearance, Martin wasn’t a fuddy-duddy at all – he had been around the entertainment and comedy scenes (he had worked with the anarchic and surreal Goons) long enough to create a picaresque world view. So when he was called upon to wrap ‘Walrus’ or ‘Lucy In The Sky (with Diamonds)’ in a psychedelic wizard’s cape, he could call upon a lifetime of artistic experience, which he sharpened with a keen sense of innovation and imagination.

John Lennon said at one point “George Martin was always more about Paul’s songs than mine” and used Phil Spector on his solo albums (and on Let It Be, the final Beatles record). Yet Martin had seemed to know just what to do with Lennon’s songs – putting his trippily dry vocal against the  throbbing shamanic tribalism of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, cutting up tape and playing avant-garde games for the lysergic circus background of ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ from Sgt Peppers – in a way that Spector never could have.

Martin constructed an entirely new world for every song – especially during The Beatles’  hyper-compressed creative explosion that began with Revolver. Although an academically schooled musician and orchestrator, he happily flung tape splices in the air with Lennon or ran George Harrison‘s guitar solos backwards. His sense of play, though a generation apart, was equal to that of the Fab Four. martin conducting beatles2

It is one of the sweetest serendipities of modern art that Martin found The Beatles and he, them.

Suggested listening? Too many to list – in fact, the entire Beatles catalogue – but some peaks always stand out to me. The bad trip orchestration of ‘I Am The Walrus’; the children’s merry-go-round of ‘Lucy In The Sky (with Diamonds)’; the movie-for-your-ears of ‘Eleanor Rigby’s strings (double tracked, close-miked string quartet); the cut-ups of ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’; the stoned green pasture of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’; everything (every single thing) about ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and Sgt Peppers ‘A Day In The Life’ (it’s final monster E-major chord made by three pianos and a harmonium).

Hello. Goodbye.

 

The recorder – mainly the descant – is responsible for turning generations of school children off making music from a very early age. A featureless instrument in many ways, its flat tone conjures out-of-tune ensembles parping away amongst the pencil shavings in a thousand classrooms.

But don’t discount the recorder yet – its history from the Middle Ages is one of huge popularity, kingly enthusiasm (Henry VIII daily enjoyed ‘plaieing at the recorders’) and even, during the Renaissance, the recorder’s ability to incite sexual lusts and erotic abandon, a long way from the musty classrooms of the Twentieth Century.

And definitely don’t write off the recorder until you have heard Maurice Steger coax sounds out of this simple wooden whistle that defy belief.

A true virtuoso in that his artistic personality overcomes the instrument, making it bend to his musical will, Switzerland’s Steger is also a brilliant ambassador for the humble instrument – he brings such energy to the performance that you are won over on every level.

steger1

Combine Steger’s spark with Sydney’s Brandenburg Orchestra under the crackling energy of director Paul Dyer and you have fireworks. The opening night performance at Sydney City Recital Hall had musical crackers, sparklers and Roman candles to spare.

From the Allegro of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Major (for ‘little flute’), Steger made us all sit up with his complete command of the recorder, and his driving momentum, all tempered with human-scale humour and joy. This concerto, played on soprano recorder, is a brain-cracking virtuoso showcase, yet Steger navigated its twists, turns and hyper-fleet passages with ease, trading licks with the ensemble and seemingly playing across every possibility of the recorder. This was shredding, and he did it all with a smile on his face.

The recorder has a flute-like tone, and yet because of its mechanics, it has far less expressive tools than its transverse, metal cousin. Yet also, because of it’s limitations, it has some distance between the individual notes. On a legato passage, the notes are quite separate, like pearls on a necklace – which is quite a wonderful effect, hugely difficult at speed, but one which Maurice Steger excelled at.

Of course, the ensemble is the unsung hero of the instrumental concerto, and the Brandenburg not only kept pace with Steger, but seemingly pushed him to outdo himself. In music, energy begets energy and this was a twinned propulsion that thrilled.

steger2

For the third item tonight, Steger left the Brandenburg to present Telemann’s Concerto for Three Trumpets in D major. It was Maurice Steger’s night, but this was a highlight. A remarkable selection – Paul Dyer has yet to get it wrong – it showed the great strengths of this rare Australian ensemble yet again. The Adagio hushed the world and only when it finished, could we let our breath out again.

Later in the program, the ABO was pared down to a tiny chamber group for Rittler’s Ciaccona à 7. Growing from a simple repeated guitar motif, its minimalist progress and pared-away harmony had me convinced it was a 20th Century work. But no, the Ciaccona was from 1678. It ended with, one-by-one, the musicians leaving the stage which gradually darkened to black – a little piece of theatre, greatly effective and affecting.

Steger returned for the final work, Germiniani’s Concerto No. 10 in F major – once again, an eye-popping virtuoso work-out, especially the last movement which had Steger stomping his foot as if kicking the ABO along to faster and faster tempo. Yet this steed needed no prodding, it was already whipping through the wind in unbridled joy.

To cool us off, we were treated to a seemingly impromptu and unrehearsed La Pastorella, the slow movement from a Vivaldi chamber concerto. Apart from being as transporting as any of the light-speed shred-fests previous to it, this measured and lovely piece served to remind us that, despite Maurice Steger’s bravura showmanship, his voice comes from somewhere deep, deep inside the music. The place where the true virtuoso resides.

Published February 2016 on megaphoneoz.com