On Monday Tommy and I went to the Botanical Gardens in the city to look for autumn colours.
We found lemon yellow gingko leaves, copper beeches, scarlet vines and glowing fire-shades of dogwood and maple. We collected just one example of each (at Tommy’s insistence – he was worried we’d have too many to carry!).
Maisie had tasked him up with finding some ‘blue’ leaves, and he brought along one of his blue cars as a measure. He tried very hard to find the closest colour match – and wasn’t far off with a few white-toned succulents and pine needles.
We went on a progressive picnic – each course eaten in a different pavilion, and Tommy was fascinated by the little pleasure punt on the lake – he decided he’d like to go on it for his birthday, and spent some time considering which of his friends might be ‘sensible’ enough to join him.
We walked through his favourite rainforest garden, and spent some time under the tall pines – he loves the native bunya bunyas, and points them out whenever he sees them.
On Tuesday I caught a couple of exhibitions. The first was ‘Unsettlement’ at MUMA (Monash Uni Museum of Art). It was a thoughtful, carefully curated show. The works (which were mainly sculpture and video), explored ‘the ways that power manifests through architecture and the built environment’. Many were political. Two focussed on torture centres – the Iraqi artist, Hiwa K, set out to work towards ‘neutralizing’ the horrors of a now-derelict detention centre in Baghdad by performing solo (and audience-less) flamenco – ‘a duel with his heart’ – in it’s chilling corridors. A London collective ‘Forensic Architecture’, working with Amnesty International, interviewed Syrian survivors of torture, using their memories of sound (they were often kept in complete darkness) to recreate the architecture of the spaces in which they were incarcerated.
Other pieces reflected on colonialism/clashing cultural traditions – Saudi artist Dana Awartani’s attractive video of an intricate Islamic sand sculpture being swept away to reveal quarry tiles); and greedy governments/developers – Javanese artist Aliansyah Caniago’s performance piece was about the razing and redevelopment of a Jakartan shanty-town, and the forced relocation of its residents. He stuffed a boxing bag with demolition rubble and punched it for 8 hours a day, for 10 days in a row.
The US artist Jill Magid protested against a specific example of greed and cultural appropriation in her piece ‘The Barragán archives’. In 1995 the Swiss chairman of the Vitra furniture company bought the iconic Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s professional archive and locked it away in a vault. Very few people have since been allowed to access it, and the company even tightly controls the reproduction of images of the architect’s work. The artist (Magid), with agreement from Barragán’s family, arranged to transform a portion of his ashes into a diamond ring as a symbolic offering to Vitra in her campaign to get the archive returned to Mexico. Pictured is one of her little tin ‘votive horses’.
The second exhibition, at ACCA, was billed as a ‘poetic portrait’ of Mexico City. I was expecting galleries full of energy and anarchy and populous colourful chaos, but it was a strangely lifeless experience. There was a lame sound-piece with a string quartet mimicking street-seller calls, some canvases replicating wall graffiti (nice enough, but hardly original), a dull installation of tangled venetian blinds, some blobby clay sculptures of S&M gear, and some garish female-gaze canvases of strip-clubs (the artist, Chelsea Culprit, also made the neon sign pictured).
There was, at least, Francis Alys’ delightful low-fi video piece following him as he saunters around the bustling streets of Mexico City kicking before him a large block of ice, which (8 hours later – this was an edited version!) turns into a tiny ice-cube (I love this piece – I’ve seen it a few times!). And I was also taken by Abraham Cruzvillegas’ occasionally confronting (old people having sex!) video piece ‘Autoconstrucción’, a fond tribute to his family neighbourhood, the suburb of Colonia Ajusco, where people have built their own improvised houses in the rough rocky volcanic terrain.
That evening I performed in Bianca and Elliott’s concert ‘That which resonates, that which decays’ at the Flinders Lane venue, 45downstairs. In the wide rustic space – stripped wooden floors, with a backdrop of peeling plaster walls and tall darkened windows, our collection of instruments – grand piano, golden-hued double bass, sparkling trumpet, ornately carved red/gold wooden-cased gongs and metallophones, – looked gorgeous glowing in the stage lights. And despite it being a Tuesday night, we had a good (and appreciative) audience.
We were a bit nervous and nothing went quite perfectly, but I think we carried it off! Bianca’s vocal piece ‘I said no’ [see description Week 267!] packed a punch – there was a good second of silence after it finished, and I really enjoyed Bianca, Josh and Elliott’s long-form improvisation, featuring trumpet loops like swarms of bees, woozy bass lines, slick trumpet/bass counterpoints, and gamelan chime carillons underpinning bass and trumpet clicks and grinds. It happened to be Elliott’s 30th birthday, and Bianca had distributed party poppers to the audience which everyone let off at the close of the gig, as she brought in a cake with candles!
On Thursday I went to see ‘Cargo’, a new Aussie zombie movie, starring everyone’s favourite everyman, Martin Freeman! I’d read that it was more than a gore-fest (I’m not sure I would have braved it otherwise!), and it turned out to be quite a touching tale about the strength of love in the most extreme circumstances, with a right-on message about indigenous wisdom. Freeman has (so far) survived the zombie apocalypse, and is blindly heading into the Aussie bush in the hopes of finding a safe place to raise his two-year-old daughter. But danger is everywhere, and when he succumbs to the zombie virus, he has 48 hours left (before he ‘turns’!) to find someone to care for her.
Friday was the first day of winter and we were blessed with a gloriously bright still blue day. Tommy and I trekked over to the Collingwood Children’s Farm, and he was thrilled to re-acquaint himself with all the animals.
We said hello to the many different chickens (all puffed up and huge in the cold!), watched the cow being milked, and spent some time with the dozing baby calf.
We found long grass to feed to the cheeky sheep (so enthusiastic they were almost knocking small children over in their quest for food!) and the gentle guinea pigs.
We enjoyed watching all the birds (many congregate in this picturesque tree-lined bend of the Yarra river). Tommy reckoned the ibis looked like aeroplanes as they descended into the fields. The most exciting attraction, though, was the big red tractor!
At the furthest paddock (where we sought the donkey, in vain!), we bumped into Sam P. and Izzy. It was a lovely surprise – we hadn’t seen each other in far too long, and, happily, Izzy and Tommy (who don’t know each other, and are both often shy with strangers) really hit if off. We had lunch together in the almost-warm sunshine at the farm cafe – beautiful bowls of healthy and super-tasty salad – while the kids made each other giggle (see picture!).
The Melbourne International Jazz Festival started this week, with ‘An Evening with Branford Marsalis’ at the Recital Hall. Marsalis was one of the bright young things in jazz when I started playing the saxophone (he’s 57 now – this makes me feel very old!). As the gig was the first in the festival, there was an extended preamble, including an interesting ‘Welcome to Country’. It was effectively a mini-lecture on a few of the key tenets of indigenous culture, including celebration and the honouring of elders and country. This was followed by a dreadful (Australian) support act – a second-rate Nat King Cole-impersonator with a motley scratch band (it was like a bad episode of ‘The Voice’ – without the entertaining sarky comments!). If I hadn’t been stuck in the middle of a row, I would have walked out. Perhaps most disappointing was the audience, who seemed to be enjoying it (it begged the question – why on earth had they bothered to shell out for tickets for one of the best jazz musicians in the world, when they would have been just has happy with a cheesy lounge band?!).
Fortunately, this was instantly forgotten once Marsalis and his band hit the stage! He explained that he’d been in Melbourne for 12 days (recording a new album – which he said was ‘dreadful’! – at Monash Uni). He’d explored the city and been to a Footy match (he gleefully related that Richmond had ‘killed’ St Kilda!). The band’s opening number was a fierce and crunchy atonal funk thrash composed by bass-player, Eric Revis. The drummer (Justin Faulkner) was like a machine, ramping up the sound and density until it felt like he might explode, but instead he cued a mercurial, but instantly plausible, switch into a completely different groove (I was trying to process it – how did that just happen?!) – it was just one of the many examples of the group’s glorious musicianship.
The second track was a lush, relaxed, Dave-Sanborn-type melody, the musicians subtly subverting the tropes of the genre. This was followed by an impeccably rhythmic 5/4 latin number, which the remarkable pianist, Joey Calderazzo, appeared to dance his way through, rocking on the tips of his toes whilst setting up impossible contrapuntal patterns and delicious extended harmonies. The band played ‘The sunny side of the street’, managing to honour and capture the spirit of Louis Armstrong. I particularly loved a celebratory gospel/latin number, all joyous major chords, full of humour and brilliant rhythmical trades and phrases. It really was a privilege to hear such master musicians at work. I loved the way they could journey so far in their improvisations, the underpinning musical framework only sparsely referenced but so clearly informing every note, their ensemble so effortless that they could turn the mood and speed and timbre of the music on a sixpence.
The sun continued to shine at the weekend. Maisie was invited to a chocolate-making birthday party at the Elwood Sailing Club – a quirky pale yellow and blue 1960s structure right on the beach. During the party Natasha and I hung out on the foreshore, trying (unsuccessfully) to prevent our younger kids dashing into the freezing sea! Maisie and I enjoyed a stunning sunset over the distant cranes of the container port as we wended our way back home along the coast path.
There was more jazz that evening. Natalia had kindly offered me a free ticket to a recital given by the American singer Gretchen Parlato. Parlato has a crystal clear, versatile voice that she can bend to any style. At the moment she is exploring latin and samba classics with her unusual blend of musicians (guitar, electric cello and percussion). The group’s foot-tapping rhythms (often in mind-bending time signatures – 13/8 was one of them!) were wonderful – so intricate, light and playful. Parlato cruised effortlessly through tongue-twisting Jobim standards, enchanted everyone with a 5/4 version of the pop/soul classic ‘Sweet Love’, and slipped in a bit of Swingle-singers style Bach, ably accompanied by the mercurial cellist. She sang about the joys and challenges of looking after a small child (her own small blond-haired child rushed into her arms during the final applause), and ended with a rousing self-affirmation number (for us all to join in with) – ‘I am wonderful’! It was a really lovely, upbeat evening – I’d recommend it to anyone!