Gaga wrestles with emotional pain and ponders her oversized public persona, usually without succumbing to self-obsession. Instead, tracks such as Replay, a filtered Parisian swirl, give psychological insight a Gothic tingle; only when she’s dancing can she feel this fear. The Elton John collaboration, Sine From Above, is bonkers, but Chromatica mostly succeeds as an engaging celebration amid strange times. CM
GREAT SOUTHERN ROAD (Electric Entertainment)
“We are somehow connected/Connected by our differences,” Chris O’Doherty sings as the album starts, sounding creaky, dusty, amiable. “We have in common all this distance between us.” Which is sweet, and might warm the cockles of your heart, especially if you’ve been sitting at home for a couple of months wondering when, or if, you’ll be allowed out to see actual people.
But, just as the early shuffle becomes a kind of aquatic sway right before one of those surfside guitar lines of Reg Mombassa, there is a bit more to it, and to the album, than first impressions intimate. The trickiness of being human with other humans isn’t a joke being hidden here. Instead, there are strong suggestions of the black dog visiting; there are failures and flaws in people and relationships.
But there are little Mombassa lyrical light touches and O’Doherty quietly poetic moments, melodically pure ’60s LA throwbacks and meandering country blues. There’s no big grief, instead a steady accumulation of small sadnesses that bring weight. Even when melancholic, Dog Trumpet still find a way to make it feel like they’re floating that weight up just enough to be carried. BZ
THE EARLY BIRD GETS (Aerophonic/Birdland)
It’s like a blade – not so much a scalpel as a scythe – hewing its way straight into your central nervous system. I first heard it soon after a general anaesthetic, and I swear hospitals could use Dave Rempis’ alto sound to clear their recovery rooms faster. At one point on the opening Crypto Vo Lans it becomes a growling squall, and that’s before we reach his tenor and baritone, which could leave cyclonic carnage in their wake. Think of the most visceral saxophonists you’ve heard – Albert Ayler, Mark Simmonds, Evan Parker, et al – and add Rempis to the list immediately.
This trio album with Brandon Lopez (bass) and Ryan Packard (drums, electronics) is jazz that can bubble and boil, and then, on Neo Aves, spook the socks off you. Another Rempis album released simultaneously, Apsis, is just as good.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that these guys are Chicago-based, because you hear a lineage from Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonists Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell: this is that special.
Perhaps it’s some effect of wind blasting off Lake Michigan, or perhaps it reflects the historical community spirit among the players there, as opposed to New York’s more combative environment. JS
Vienna Philharmonic/Andris Nelsons
VIENNA NEW YEAR’S CONCERT 2020 (Sony)
The New Year’s Day concert in Vienna is one of the most famous events in the classical calendar, a fixture since 1939. For the 81st concert, new-generation megastar Andris Nelsons took the podium and produced the sort of stylish, idiomatic performance for which the Vienna Philharmonic is noted in this repertoire: a real Viennese lilt, lots of delicate rubato, but – thankfully – not overly schmaltzy.
Rhythms are crisp, with plenty of momentum, so it is easy to imagine swirling skirts and dashing uniforms. Various Strausses – Johanns I and II, Josef and Eduard – dominate as usual, but there is also a lot of rare repertoire, such as the Ziehrer overture that opens the concert, Josef’s Cupido polka and Eduard’s Knall und Fall polka.
Other rarities include a gavotte by Josef Hellmesberger II, a galop by Hans Christian Lumbye and six contradances by Beethoven. In fact, nine of the 16 works before the encores are being played here for the first time. One piece often played, Johan II’s Tritsch-Tratsch polka is very contemporary – it shows his disdain for fake news in a paper of that name. The last two encores are utterly obligatory: The Beautiful Blue Danube, then the Radetzky March. BZ
Craig Mathieson is a TV, film and music writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
John Shand has written about music and theatre since 1981 in more than 30 publications, including for Fairfax Media since 1993. He is also a playwright, author, poet, librettist, drummer and winner of the 2017 Walkley Arts Journalism Award
Bernard is a freelance writer who specialises in music.
Barney Zwartz, a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, was religion editor of The Age from 2002 to 2013.