Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Awfully Big Adventure - New Zealand World War One veterans tell theirstories - by Jane Tolerton - Penguin

So What was it like to be a New Zealand soldier in the First World War?  What impact did the war have on those who returned? It's all here.

The title tells it all.  Enclosed between the covers of this book are the many voices of ordinary Kiwi jokers.  Good blokes who were just part of this event.  They couldn't escape or run from it.  Some embraced the adventure wile others just went because culture, lore, duty, crowd swell and peer pressure told them to.  The bok traces one path through the ghosts of many men, who are now in Heaven  Tolerton's tight clipped quotes provide snappy, poignant sound bites from a major oral history project undertaken before it was too late in the mid-1980's.  These are the transliterations of 80 veterans interviewed for the World War One Oral History Archive.  Respected journalist Jane Tolerton revisits the interviews and sets pieces in a chronology for 21st-century readers to follow the progress and human experience of the war - in the words of those who were there.  The men, who until the project, had possibly never spoken as cadidly about their subject.  They give first witness snapshts of every aspect of their journey from the pre-war exitement, to the disembarkment of troop shis, the onboard travel through the Pacific to the Suez Canal and the final, horrific landings at Gallipoli and other locations in Europe.  The men tell their tales with the safety of many year's distance but some how you can still hear the tremours in their voices and imagine the white, drawn faces of each narrator and the memories are unlocked again and spill out like sugar from a jar.  Some take hold and stick.  Some disolve quickly.  Some stain.  Some are sweet.  Some are sickly. This is an easy read. At least initially.  But every reader will add there own layers, their own spin.  And so they should.  Lest we forget!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Liner Notes (18/4/2013)

New Work from Rattle Records

Tim Gummer, Keith Hill and Steve Garden shared a vision for a music label that would champion a carefully chosen but diverse range of contemporary instrumental music - compositions and performances unfettered by commercial pressures or constraints. Tim and Steve operated a small recording studio in downtown Auckland where Gitbox Rebellion and From Scratch were recording. Inspired by European music label ECM (and New Zealand's own maverick label, Flying Nun), Rattle sought to create an empathetic framework for music that wasn’t adequately supported by the labels of the day.

Encouraged by the critical success of Pesky Digits and Songs For Heroes, we recorded a number of composers and performers for our next release, the compilation CD, Different Tracks. This album set the tone and direction for the majority of projects that followed. The first was Te Ku Te Whe, the seminal debut of Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne.  Since then Rattle has gone from strength to strength - you can read the whole story here ...

Mantis - Reuben Bradley

MANTIS is a celebration of the music and memory of Drew Menzies. These recordings are by no means definitive. They are an example of how open Drew’s compositions are, and a representation of the collective response to his music from the assembled musicians and arrangers.

Reuben Bradley’s vision for this project was so infectious that each collaborator were willing to take time out of their busy (in some cases crushing) schedules to freely support Reuben’s aspirations. The results speak for themselves – warm, lucid, generous performances, captured and presented with great affection and skill. But the primary motivation for their unconditional support for the project was the memory and music of a much loved and dearly missed friend.

“In 2007, Drew and I talked about the huge scope possible in arranging for string quartet and jazz quartet. Searching for a way to bring recognition to Drew and his music, I remembered our discussions and decided that his music would suit such arrangements – a fantastic way to showcase both his jazz & classical sides.” – Reuben Bradley.

“After Andrew left for America, we found several hand written manuscripts in our rubbish bin at home – these were all recovered and have been included on the recording. We are both pleased and proud to know that people will get to hear Andrew’s music due to the dedication and commitment of his friends.” – Glenda & Peter Menzies

Click here to learn more ...

The Gaia Theory - Omar Carmenates

THE GAIA THEORY is inspired by of the scientific theory of the same name that contends all living and non-living things on Earth work together to sustain life. This controversial theory, named after the Greek earth goddess Gaia, suggests that each organism on the planet is intertwined with every other. The Gaia Theory seeks to demonstrate a similar connective force through music.

Every selection in The Gaia Theory was chosen for having a link with some aspect of our world. From the cross-cultural connections in the music of John Psathas, to the unique recycled found objects in Christopher Deane’s The Scavenger’s Footprints, it is my hope that my album provides a musical means to contemplate the significance of our relationships with each other and with our planet. - Omar Carmenates, 2012

All music performed by Omar Carmenates
with Brian Nozny and the Florida State University Percussion Ensemble
Justin Alexander, Luis Rivera, Sidonie Wade, Tommy Dobbs, Matthew Filosa, and Melinda Leoce

Under the artistic direction of Conservatorium Staff member, David Theak, the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra commissioned Canadian composer Dr. David Lisik to write an extended composition for jazz orchestra, featuring US jazz luminaries Alex Sipiagin (trumpet) and Bob Sheppard (saxophone). Walkabout was inspired by the James Vance Marshall novel, The Children. The ten movements of Walkabout form a unified suite that follows the original storyline yet work well as individual pieces, from the dramatic opening track (which establishes the core themes of the work) through to the complex but coherent closing piece, the rhythmically hypnotic, Ritual Dance.   Click here to learn more ...


Walkabout - Dave Lisik

Dave Lisik
Canadian composer and trumpeter, Dr Dave Lisik is Lecturer in Jazz Composition, Arranging and Theory at the New Zealand School of Music. Dave's diverse portfolio of compositions and arrangements includes 400+ works for jazz, classical and electronic groups of all types. His Dave Lisik Orchestra released a debut CD in 2010 entitled Coming Through Slaughter, featuring Tim Hagans, Donny McCaslin, Luis Bonilla and Matt Wilson. The Orchestra has two new projects underway, Origin of Species and Metropolis, both planned for release in 2013.

Bob Sheppard
A household name for saxophonists worldwide, Bob Sheppard has done it all. Superstar names such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Perter Erskine, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and many, many, many legends pack his world-class resume. Splitting his time between Los Angeles, and New York, Bob's forged working relationships with the best musicians on both coasts and has appeared on several grammy award winning CD's most recently with Joni Mitchell.

Alex Sipiagin
Russian born, New York based trumpeter, Alex Sipiagin has a reputation as the leading post-bop jazz trumpet player in the world through his work with Dave Holland Big Band, Dave Holland Quintet and the Mingus Big Band. As a soloist, Sipiagin has released 11 recordings under his name, mostly with Criss Cross Jazz including his latest release "Destinations unnown", and has toured extensively throughout Europe, Japan and Russia as a bandleader and sideman.

The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra
Th Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra is widely acknowledged as Australia's leading jazz orchestra and was nominated as Australian Jazz Ensemble of the Year in 2006, 2007 & 2009. Musically this ensemble represents many of the finest youngimprovisers Australia has to offer, and features original music from Sydney's most dynamic and creative large ensemble composers all packaged into one exciting super-ensemble. Individually, the orchestra's members have dominated Australia's top prizes over the last decade.

Flaubert's Dance - Phil Broadhurst Quartet

If the Phil Broadhurst Quartet’s previous outing, Delayed Reaction, was a little hesitant in places, this new album sweeps all uncertainty aside. The quartet is fully and confidently on their metal, and each of Phil’s Broadhurst’s new compositions are finely written, deeply attractive pieces. Cameron Sangster replaces Alain Koetsier on drums, Oli Holland and Roger Manins return on acoustic bass and tenor saxophone respectively, and trumpet player Mike Booth guests again on three tracks.

Where Delayed Reaction was a tribute to legendary jazz pianist/composer, Michel Petrucciani, the compositions on Flaubert’s Dance reflect a wide diversity of influences in Phil’s writing and performing, from Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett to Many Katché, Elaine Elias and Tomaz Stanko. The title track pays homage to Enrico Pieranunzi, First Shot updates the rhythmic feel of Herbie Hancock’s Toys (from Speak Like a Child), Integrity and Scoreless reflects Phil’s enthusiasm for the ECM label and the music of Katché and Stanko, Stretched by the joyful music of Elias, while Loping was written with a number of musicians and composers in mind.

While one might recognise the flavour of these giants of jazz peeking in around the edges from time to time, the music on this album resolutely belongs to Phil Broadhurst and his exceptional quartet. What’s more, this is a very mature piece of work, showing great style, concentration, articulation and beauty. Flaubert’s Dance is an autumnal gem, graceful and restrained, but with bags of passion and unfettered enthusiasm for jazz.

“Despite his many achievements, Broadhurst is not content to rest on his laurels, which is perhaps the key to his continued growth as a musician. [His music is] a testament to the global language of jazz, which crosses international boundaries with enviable ease.” – Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz


The Rodger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra

Under the artistic and musical direction of Rodger Fox, the Wellington Jazz Orchestra is arguably the tightest, brightest, most musically literate exponent of big band jazz this country has seen. Their debut recording, Journey Home (featuring compositions and arrangements by ex-pat jazz-giant, Alan Broadbent), won Best Jazz Album at the 2012 NZ Music Awards, but this second album raises the bar even higher.

The Capitol Sessions marks Rodger’s 40 years of unwavering commitment to big band jazz, and it’s only fitting that it should have been recorded in one of the world’s great studios. As John Fenton so aptly put it in his liner notes, Capitol Studios is an iconic studio, where the ghosts of Les Paul, Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra hover over every note.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Vatican Diaries - John Thavis - Penguin

John Thavis is a journalist, an author and speaker specializing in Vatican and religious affairs. He is known in the trade as a “Vaticanista” - it's a 'calling' that became clear only after a circuitous career path. He is a Catholic, so that's useful. He has a background in archaeology, also good to know and he's been writing on the Papal City and it's many aspects for many years. You can read all about him on his website:

As a seasoned reporter Thavis takes us straight in through the tradesmen's entrance, on a Vatican visit that no regular tourist or amateur art historian would undertake. In the first chapter he's inspecting the Sistine Chapel and analysing the 'techno-chimney' - a high fallutin' gadget that ensure the right smoke is produced when a new Pope is elected. In fact the first chapter gives us the whole behind the scenes gossip, fact and reality of what happened that time around. You can imagine similar goings on during the latest pope-vote.

Often his info comes from the vantage of the reportorial fly on the wall. Thavis, who's now retired as the Rome bureau chief of the Catholic News Service, takes a candid and, I found anyway, agnostic look at the goings-on at Saint Peter’s. A good example is the problematic events that occurred at the Vatican Bank. This is a wonderful case study in mismanagement and ego-induced blunderings. We are talking major scandal! The Bank is a considerable worldwide enterprise with 400,000 priestly representatives. Thavis doesn't say it but the need is obvious to have some kind of overarching governance structure that holds the Bank's leader's to account. But of course No - this is the Papacy. Secrecy and Mystery also mask the fine balance between regular incompetence, egos and corrupting influences. This, Thavis always hints at but always leaves the reader to ultimately conclude for themselves that all has never, ever been right in the state of Vatican. Never is, never will be.

Now, much history resonates throughout all church events but Thavis only concentrates on the history he has witnessed firsthand, including the process of bell-ringing on the naming of a new pope and the work of various functionaries in the organization. There's also the fight to save a unique ancient cemetery against the need for more underground parking and how the matter of the Legion of Christ was bungled when their founder was exposed as a con artist. Also there was the matter of His Holiness turning a blind eye to an anti-Semitic bishop. Thavis also talks about his time on the road with the Pope, and mentions the ridiculous and futile visit by George W. Bush a couple of years back.

He also reviews, in much laboured and dedicated detail, the stalling of the canonizing of the late John Paul or Pius XII, whose dodgy wartime antics are still up for debate and scrutiny.

And, especially provocative are the chapters dealing with the mismanagement of a host of diverse sex scandals which just never seem to end and an appraisal of the opaque personality of Benedict. This is a man who seems, at least in public to be detached, disengaged and often distracted. Now, with the benefit hindsight, we know that his resignation was the thorough revelation of the character flaw. Essentially, Thavis will conclude, Benedict was not the man that should have become pope and when it all became too much he took to diving under the pews of the first monastery. Of course, like many in political life, a pope’s remarks are subject to considerable spin, “part of the great communications disconnect at the Vatican.” (Yet now, His Holiness has acquired the Twitter handle “@pontifex.” How it’s used remains to be seen.) We wonder how much of a seat warmer he really was. Thavis doesn't ask that question. I wish he had. Who's really running the VC and the Catholic world. Why do Catholic leaders, especially in Africa still promote abstinence over sexual education and protection methods? Why does the church still, still, still retain the vast riches, when it's flock remain poor, destitute in the third world, the second and now after the economic crisis the first world as well?

Given the recent papacy elections Thavis's book is timely, provocative and illuminating plus it's fully accessible to members of the faith and doubters alike. Unlike this reviewer he stays down off the high moral horse, which in retrospect, is the best way to travel!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Yellow Buoy - poems from 2007 - 2012 by CK Stead - Auckland University Press

Reading Stead's new collection, I was reminded of another of his poems: Sonnet.

Today the water is so still, so clear,

looking down through the window of my mask

it seemed for a moment possible to fall

through fifteen, twenty feet of crystal nothing

in which the small fish, fork-tailed grey and black,

or silver with the faintest touch of blue,

hang like mobiles in a grandchild's bedroom.

Who would dream this ambient element

could ever be harmful to health -

that such a rock-garden of weightless comfort

and the fatal reassurance of shifty light

might clap a bag over your breathless soul?

Here even the valley of the shadow of death

has taken upon itself the mantle of beauty.

It’s a clean and clear approach. It’s like lake water on a still warm morning. Stead is probably our best known novelist, poet, critic, teacher and all-around writer – after all his personal bookshelf has over 40 titles, and given his 80 years that’s a burn rate of 2 per year! Astounding. His practised fluency is evident in the The Yellow Buoy as the poems are controlled, structured poems. There’s the occasional meander off-topic, but always with an eye on the road and the clock. This literacy tiki tour has little time for toilet stops and lunch breaks as it is! There are no words wasted or energy expended unnecessarily on the part of the reader. That doesn’t mean he’s an economical write, just aware of the time limitations of his audience. I can’t see Karl penning the “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner or some such…”

The Yellow Buoy is mostly set in Europe, where Stead spends spends several months of each year now. Italy, France, Croatia as well as Colombia and Venezuela all get a mention, but often returning to weave in references to Kiwi poets and New Zealand customs when the reader least expects it.

A recurring theme is the piwakawaka. In some Maori legends, the bird is a sign of impending death when it appears inside a house.

Stead mentions the famous Maori myth about how death goddess Hine-nui-te-po killed Maui because the fantail couldn't stop laughing as he tried to climb inside her, describing the twittering bird as "script-writer also of dark memorials".

More prosaically, he also talks about how a fantail likes to hover around his compost bin, waiting for the lid to be lifted so it can catch fruit flies.

So it’s no surprise that in Nine Ways of Looking at a Fantail, Stead has his ghostly fantail serve Katherine Mansfield and her long-time friend Ida Baker:

A visitor (Ida

would have said)

from the other

side, like the

butterfly that carried

Katy's secret

post-mortem codes

to the transcriber

of her letters.

Of course Stead’s a dedicated Mansfield scholar. He wrote the novel, Mansfield, on her life and is also compiling a collection of her letters and journal entries. Katherine Mansfield - Cornwall, May 1916 is set in the twin stone cottages where Mansfield, English novelist D.H. Lawrence and their respective partners shared a rocky relationship. The poem describes the fondness between Lawrence and Mansfield despite their firey clashes:

She's seen him beat his wife

he's watched her

emasculate her husband.

Between them there's no need

of lies or pretence.

The poem before it, Isola Bella, was written for the 2008 Katherine Mansfield Centenary Conference in London. In the poem, Stead rehearses what he would say to Mansfield if they met in Menton, near Provence - "Friend or foe?" she calls to him. I can see why Mansfield would appeal to Stead. Both writers strongly identify with New Zealand but prefer to spend large chunks of their lives overseas, and both prize clarity and directness in their work over all else.

This is Stead’s fifteenth collection and Mansfield is not the only writer he talks about. Many others known to me and others and some not, Eugenio Montale and Carlo Vita are referenced in some way. But fear not, this is a collection with enough depth to dive but shallow enough not to drown. And there are simpleobservations that don’t need much to appreciate like Names: about a cat Debussy and the fantasies of his owner to travel once the commitment of his life has gone.

When Claude Debussy

Died our friend

Ljuba who live in


By the canal

decided from now on

Her life would be

Catless – no more

midnight serenades,

No more 2am. Scratching at the

window, no more

Visits to the

vet with frost-bitten

Ears and battle

Wounds. Now she would

Travel. She practised

Placenames aloud –

‘Grand Rapids’


Savouring the sound –

Until, that is, a

ginger stray, half grown

With paws like

Lion cub came

By. His purr was consonant,

His growl spoke

Of the Caucasus. She

Called him Pushkin

To finish, I have to steal from the liner notes:

“These poems wisely urge the reader to stay alert, to pay attention , to the ‘poetic moment / so easily missed / so quickly lost ‘. “ Indeed!

You can read more about CK Stead on his biography page at NZ Book Council Website.