Tag Archives: Jazz

ON SWEDEN, COFFEE BREAKS, ELECTRIC VIOLA DA GAMBAS AND MUSICAL BOUNDARIES

Swedish roots

Although populated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for at least 50,000 years, post 1788 Australia is a nation of immigrants. My family is no exception. Knut Axel Eriksson, our Swedish grandfather, was a working-class merchant seaman from Stockholm. He stepped off a ship in Melbourne in the 1920s where he met and married my cockney English grandmother. He never went back to Sweden.

My grandmother was a milliner (hat maker) by trade, and an amateur pianist in her spare time. She loved Chopin, English music hall songs and much more! My grandfather played the harmonica, perhaps learned during the long weeks at sea. Music was in my blood.

In developing my career as a viola da gambist I had not thought much about my Swedish musical heritage until about 8-10 years ago. Swedish-Australian lutenist and guitarist, Tommie Andersson, has been a friend and a member of my early music ensemble, The Marais Project, since its inception in 2000. We talked for years about doing a concert of Swedish music until we finally got our act together. This led to a CD of Swedish baroque, folk and jazz music titled ‘Smörgåsbord.’ This off the beaten track recording was an unlikely hit, spending 3 months on the Australian Top 20 classical charts. It was even launched by the Swedish ambassador and featured on Swedish national radio.

Scandinavia and the electric viola da gamba

After Smörgåsbord I thought I had exhausted my Swedish musical roots, but it was not to be so. In 2015 I formed ‘Elysian Fields’, Australia’s only electric viola da gamba ensemble. Members included leading jazz musicians, classically trained musicians like me, and others with deep experience of world and folk music. We also span different generations. I have somehow ended up being the oldest, an achievement I do not particularly want to celebrate. Two of the founding members were in their 20s and another in their early 30s.

Soon I became aware that most of us had links to Sweden. Singer/violinist Susie Bishop’s partner is Swedish. She speaks Swedish and visits the country regularly. Our young bass player Siebe Pogson has Swedish heritage and saxophonist Matt Keegan spent a year studying in Sweden. As to the others, we have made them honorary Vikings!

Jenny Eriksson – image by Glen Ravo

Scandinavian music started creeping into our set list. In 2018 Elysian Fields launched a Scandinavian Project at Sydney’s Foundry616 jazz club. In January 2020 we hit the studio to record the most interesting and beautiful of the Swedish and Scandinavian music we had arranged and composed.

Iso hits hard

As we moved into post-production in February, the world was already under the grim shadow of Covid – including the shut down and isolation of whole sections of our society. Complete industries came to a halt. Our gigs started to get cancelled. The music industry joined tourism and hospitality in ‘falling off a cliff.’ Venues closed, tours were put off, cashflow dried up. I personally have had 60 performances cancelled or postponed. Our Producer/sax player Matt Keegan expected our CD project to be suspended or cancelled. Instead, I made decision to dig deep financially and finish the job. That is what artists do – we make art, even in a crisis. Even when money is tight and the future unknown.

Fika – more than a coffee break

The CD was always going to be titled Fika (pron. ‘fee-ka’). What, many will ask, is fika? Fika is a Swedish term that is often translated in English as a coffee break. In reality, it means more than that. Fika is about making time for friends and family, to share a cup of coffee or tea and a bite to eat. You cannot do fika alone although ironically, as I write this, many people remain isolated or separated from those they love. Melbourne has just closed down for a second time. Long before the current crisis Elysian Fields wanted to create a beautiful recording that would bring people together, as fika does. This is our offering to a world in turmoil.

Blurring the lines – is it classical, is it jazz or is it world music? (And who cares…)

Genres help us name things, to categorise what we see, hear, and do. Order is a good thing. It is also a bad thing. In art, being given a label, or not being easy to label, being allocated or not allocated to a genre, can accelerate, or slow down your career. If critics and audiences do not know how to categorise an artist, or struggle to describe what they are doing in conventional ways of thinking, they sometimes leave you alone. Worse still, they write you off by putting you in an awkward box.

As an ensemble we have never explicitly tried to be anything specific genre-wise, we have just written and arranged materials, played them, and worked to refine what we do. Although we fuse disparate musical elements together in new ways – including the sound of the rarely heard electric viola da gamba – we are not a ‘fusion’ band.

Matt Keegan & Dave Goodman

The great thing about the group is that as musical equals we each bring who we are to the table and don’t apologise for what we are not. This enables wonderful things to happen. For example, I am a viola da gambist specialising in French baroque music. I am most at home in the music of the Court of the French king, Louis XIV. I am not a jazz musician, but I am playing with some of the best jazz musicians in the country. This could and should be incredibly intimidating. I just don’t have ‘the chops’ that they do. I cannot improvise like they can. But rather than focussing on what I cannot do, I contribute classical music’s discipline, attention to detail, phrasing, and clarity of texture.

Matt Keegan, Matt McMahon and Siebe Pogson bring to the band what to me are exotic jazz harmonies, an amazing sense of rhythm and adventure, along with a freedom to adapt and respond in the moment. They also have a great capacity for nuance and subtlety in chord voicings and melodic line.

Drummer Dave Goodman – ‘Dr Dave’ (he holds a PhD in drumming) – is as much a musical colourist as a keeper of the beat. His subtle washes of sound define the mood of many of our songs.

Photo from northern Norway

Susie Bishop, a classically trained singer and violinist, has a Masters degree in opera, but is equally well-known on the national folk and world music scenes from bands such as the Aria-nominated ‘Chaika’. She is an electrifying performer who can literally bring a room to a standstill by the sheer beauty of her voice. When Susie sings a folk ballad, my heart stops. When she does so in Swedish – and you can hear her on Fika – I’m in tears.

We all contribute music for the ensemble, that is one of our strengths. Fika features several stunning arrangements of Swedish folk songs by Susie Bishop and Matt McMahon, original works inspired by Scandinavia composed by Matt Keegan and Siebe Pogson, and arrangements of music by Norwegian jazz composer and pianist, Jan Gunnar Hoff, and Swedish jazz greats, e.s.t., that I have completed.

Musical milestone

CD cover – painting ‘Pink Lake’ by Nils Gunnar Zander

I see Fika as one of the most important musical milestones in my life. It represents both a journey and a destination. We have created a kind of virtual pathway between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. We have also done this through art. The CD booklet features paintings by my friend Nils Gunnar Zander, a Swedish artist who for 25 years has moved between Sweden and Australia while painting the Australian outback. Of collaborating on the CD project Nils Gunnar Zander wrote the following:

‘Five years ago, an Australian musician with a Swedish background searching for Swedish music in Stockholm met a Swedish artist who had spent twenty-five years living in Australia searching for Australian landscapes to paint in an abstract way. Now we meet at FIKA! In Swedish culture, this means we have a coffee break together. Our music and our art have also come together which makes me so happy!’ (Nils Gunnar Zander)

I hope this recording project brings people together and acts to lift listeners’ spirits. That is what fika does, and not just for Vikings.

Jenny Eriksson

Founder, Elysian Fields; July 2020

Fika is released on the MOVE Records label. It is available from MOVE Records, Buywell Music and Bandcamp. Stream or download on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, or Apple Music. High Resolution download via High Res Audio.

 

ELYSIAN FIELDS @ FOUNDRY 616 : TWO DOUBLE PASS TO GIVE AWAY

“Here is a sound so disorientating it’s like dreaming someone else’s dreams…this time-bending, mind-bending project makes music that sounds modern and hundreds of years old simultaneously. (Sydney Morning Herald)

 “Masterful musicians at play in the creation of new works and soundscapes that feature and incorporate Jennifer Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba.” (Loudmouth)

Jenny with her Ruby electric viola da gamba – the only one in Australia

It’s not very often that a new instrument joins the music scene but Jenny Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba, the only one in Australia, has been raising musical eyebrows over recent years. Having spent 30 years establishing herself as a leading expert on the baroque repertoire written for her 7-stringed, fretted and bowed instrument, Eriksson and Elysian Fields are charting new territory for Australian music in blending the special qualities of the viol with elements of jazz, classical and world music. The uniquely configured line up (sax, voice/violin, electric viola da gamba, piano, bass guitar and drums) returns to Foundry fresh from the launch of their highly regarded debut CD, “What should I say.”

Driven by the ongoing creative efforts of band members, Elysian Fields brings to the table an ever shifting and expanding set list. This gig will feature the second ever performance of bassist/composer Siebe Pogson’s specially commissioned song cycle “The Tragedy, The Journey, The Destination” along with original charts by Matt Keegan, Matt McMahon and Jenny Eriksson. Tickets https://foundry616.com.au/ticket/10-october-thursday-elysian-fields/

What:                        Elysian Fields plays Foundry616

When:                       8.30pm, October 10, 2019

Where:                      Foundry616, 616 Harris St, Ultimo

Tickets:                     From $20 at Foundry616

Sydney Arts Guide has two double passes to give away to the concert. Email editor.sydneyartsguide@gmail.com with Elysian Fields Promotion in the subject heading. Winners will be advised by email.

Editors Note : This promotion has now closed and the winners have  been advised

SYDNEY CON INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

This  boutique jazz festival is coming soon on Sunday June 2.  Sydney’s only jazz festival will take place across five venues at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Designed to be affordable and accessible it will showcase the best of Jazz from Australia, Sydney and the World.

The program ranges from the post bebop jazz of the Craig Scott Quintet or the Urban Jazz from Hammerhead  to free improvisation from Laura Altman and Melanie Herbert  and the quirky modern takes from Ben Vanderwal’s Riffzs 2000.

Over 100 musicians in 20 masterclasses and concerts including legendary US guitarist Bill Frisell and his trio (photo attached) the Billy Childs Quartet and Italian pianist Vittorio Mezza in a unique collaboration with the Mark Ginsberg Ensemble. Some of the best Australian bands are also appearing including the Australian National Jazz Orchestra with Judy Bailey, the Jamie Oehlers Quintet, the Hannah James Trio and Marc Issacs with Loretta Palmeiro.

https://sydneyconjazzfest.com/

Featured image- Hammerhead

Elysian Fields – The Scandinavian Project

Elysian Fields

Since their first performance three years ago, Elysian Fields, Australia’s only electric viola da gamba band, has carved out a growing reputation for performances that blur the boundaries between jazz, chamber music and world music. Drawing largely on the compositional and arranging skills of its multitalented members, the six-piece band’s charts shift effortlessly from stately, baroque-like solemnity to multilayered improvisations and driving, pulsating rhythms.  And then there is the unique sound of the electric viola da gamba! Continue reading Elysian Fields – The Scandinavian Project

Frances Madden and Band : Jazz, Blues & Classics Show @ The Basement

She has been described as ‘Australia’s rising star of jazz and blues’ by Fine Music 102.5 FM. The Basement is welcoming back singer and piano player Frances Madden with her band with what is likely to be another sell-out show.

It has been a busy time for Frances. In the past year, she has supported the legendary Dionne Warwick and also Grammy Award-winner Gregory Porter in their Sydney concerts, headlined at the JZ Club in Shanghai and also attracted a crowd of around 1,500 people at the Manly Jazz Festival.

Sydney radio station Fine Music 102.5 FM announced Frances as their Stefan Kruger Award winner for 2017.

Frances’ show at The Basement is the first of eight in an East Cost tour that takes in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and finishes at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Continue reading Frances Madden and Band : Jazz, Blues & Classics Show @ The Basement

MYRCZEK AND TOMASZEWSKI @ THE BASEMENT

This multi-award winning duo has been created by two young, but already widely acclaimed jazz musicians from Poland, singer Wojciech Myrczek and pianist Pawel Tomaszewski.

The strength of the duo lies in collaboration of two individuals who exude charisma, musical ingenuity and attention to every sonic detail. They engage in a musical dialogue not refraining from ambitious song or crazy improvisation, always adding a touch of humour.

During their dialogue, these artists perform jazz and pop standards that in their interpretation gain a previously unknown form of musical sound. Myrczek & Tomaszewski is without a doubt one of the most interesting voice and piano duos of the past decade.

DATE FOR THE DIARY
Tuesday 8th August 2017 at 7:00pm at the Basement.

For more about Myrczek & Tomaszewski (Poland) @ The Basement, visit http://www.moshtix.com.au//v2/event/myrczek-tomaszewski-poland/96455?ref=calendar&skin=291
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AT LAST – THE ETTA JAMES STORY @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

AT LAST – THE ETTA JAMES STORY saw its world premiere in 2013 and since then has played to packed theatres and thunderous applause throughout Australia and New Zealand. Having recently completed a sell-out season at Arts Centre Melbourne this incredible show returns once more to The Sydney Opera House – for one week only!

Starring the sensational Vika Bull the show tells the story of soul legend Etta James turbulent life and features some of her most beloved songs including Tell MamaI’d Rather Go Blind, her iconic signature song At Last and more.

Vika puts her heart and soul into this unforgettable show and is joined on stage by some Australia’s nest and funkiest musicians.
During a long career that saw her win six Grammy Awards and a star on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame, Etta James has influenced a vast array of artists. Sadly, her frantic recording and touring schedule coincided with her ever-growing addiction problems and over time she not only sang the blues…she lived the blues.

Mercifully, her passion for life and strength of character saw her conquer her demons and she continued to record and perform into her seventies.

This is her story.

AT LAST : THE ETTA JAMES STORY will play the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House between July 12 and July 17.

For more about At Last – The Etta James Story, visit http://room8.com.au/events/134/
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http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/at_last_2016.aspx

 

Funk Engine Coming To The Foundry 616

Siebe-Pogson
Siebe Pogson

After a successful CD launch last year, Siebe Pogson and his band Funk Engine are back at Foundry 616 on the 11th of March, 2015. Pogson recently returned from a five week trip to the USA, a month of which was spent in New Orleans Louisiana, a place which many consider to be the home of jazz and funk. “Hearing the roots of the music you love is really inspiring for a composer,” Siebe commented. “Before all the music starts – and it doesn’t start till late in New Orleans – I’d often reflect on what I heard the night before and write something similar: anything from a bass line to a melody. As well as jazz, New Orleans has everything. Cajun music (Zydeco), rock, funk, blues, and soul it’s all there.  I learned SO much!” Continue reading Funk Engine Coming To The Foundry 616