WELCOME TO COUNTRY

Adam Simmons and Vikram Iyengar

Adam Simmons and Vikram Iyengar in The Calling.

REVIEW

The Calling — Adam Simmons, Concert 4 in The Usefulness of Art series, 7.30pm 4 May 2018, fortyfive downstairs

Coming to a performance without baggage is impossible, just as leaving that behind when writing a review can’t be done. But one way to judge any work of art is surely to ask whether and where it has taken us; down which paths, if any, has it prompted us to explore.

I came to The Calling having watched all except one of Adam Simmons’ short, explanatory videos prefacing this concert he describes as being “in four parts, with little bits in between”. As these videos explain, in this work he— with significant help from his Creative Music Ensemble and the Afrolankan Drumming System duo — explores themes of identity and belonging by drawing on his first visit to his mother’s homeland, Sri Lanka.

My parents were not born overseas. But I can identify a little with Simmons’ search for identity — he was born in Chelsea and grew up in a mix of Ballarat, Upwey and Westall before making Melbourne his home; I was born in Bairnsdale and grew up in Clayton, Orbost, Berwick and Horsham before moving to the city. It is quite a different experience from living only in one place. You tear up roots and move on, from security briefly fashioned to its absence.

Simmons clearly felt a more profound absence that drew him to Sri Lanka in 2016, a connection that he felt drawn to make with part of his cultural heritage.

The most affecting part of these prefatory videos, I felt, came in Simmons’ account of his experience at the temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Amid the populous bustle and noise of this place where people queued to see the site of the tooth of Buddha, he found a connection with his mother’s birthplace — a gentle smile that conveyed love, acceptance and welcome.

That experience inspired Part 4 of The Calling, entitled Connection: The Tooth of Buddha.

It resonated with me before I heard the music. Many years back when visiting that temple in Kandy I had a totally different, yet moving experience. Early on a still, cool morning, I wandered in those spaces free of people, absorbing the place in a kind of meditative exploration. My reverie then was broken only when a resident monk offered me a leaf-wrapped packet of sticky rice. The warmth and kindness of that simple act has remained with me.

There is not so much of a quietly meditative nature in the performance of The Calling. This work bristles with percussive variety, conveying the vibrancy, life and vitality found often in Sri Lanka.

Three transitional interludes employ imaginatively different approaches to bring train journeys into sharp relief, conveying via sounds and visuals the urgency of getting somewhere, the insistent patterns of wheels in motion, resonant whistles wailing into the distance and the colour and busyness of passenger interactions.

Of the four main compositional offerings, three offer a richly percussive mix of energy and intensity — the rhythms of life writ large. In the opening piece, The Calling, Ray Pereira (djembe, conga, dundun) and Kanchana Karuntaratna (gata bera, thammattama) provide a virtuosic spectacle that varies in tempo and intensity, competition and congruence. These two musicians who form The Afro-Lankan Drumming System are serious and exuberant as they converse via their instruments, displaying lightness and rapidity, dexterity and finesse. It is hard not to be mesmerised.

Eventually Niko Schauble and Hugh Harvey add their drums to the mix before wailing horns build the feel of a street parade or the madness of traffic. It develops into an occasionally discordant melee of resplendent mayhem.

In Part 3, Living: The Dance of Kottu Roti, an array of instruments combines to convey an unsettling but glorious cacophony of hammering, knocking and tinkling —bustle and chatter, colour and movement. So much is happening that we can only let it wash over us like a carnival, tasting and savouring flavours and smells.

Part 4 brings us to that Kandi temple, drums and cymbals signalling drama, helped by horns. On soprano saxophone, Simmons becomes the focus in a riveting solo, grabbing deep gasps of air to power sighs, wails and sonorous, almost plaintive notes. It is as if making a connection to deep cultural roots is not easy. It may require effort, perhaps anguish.

Gradually we become aware that only one instrument is playing, that the mayhem has subsided. A dancer, Vikram Iyengar, moves slowly and purposefully among the musicians to connect with and ultimately support Simmons in his soliloquy. Yet this is a relationship of mutuality — the player and the dancer lean on, and gain support from, each other. Almost too starkly lit, it is a most powerful image.

Three sharp drum beats bring us back to what must be the crowded, noise-filled temple.

The only portion of this work that offers a less frenetic perspective is Part 2 – Place: The Pearl. Here Nat Grant and Carmen Chan on vibes draw us deep into the landscape, into ancient history and into the luxuriant humidity of a fecund rainforest. Eventually a slow melody delivered by the horns takes on a hymn-like feel, solemn and a little wistful. Deep notes draw us to the earth. There is a feeling that we are touching the heart of this land.

The strongest image of The Calling, for me, was that of Simmons supported wholly by Iyengar, symbolising his finding of a connection. The richest listening experience I found in Part 2, when place was tangible.

It is impossible, and unnecessary, to compare The Calling with other concerts in The Usefulness of Art series. But this work of art well and truly passed the test of taking us somewhere, of prompting exploration.

A few days after the performance I was reading Khaleed Hosseini’s novel And the Mountains Echoed. A remark by one of the characters seemed to fit Simmons’ mission:
“You are lucky to know where you came from. It is important to know this, to know your roots. … If not, your own life seems unreal to you. Like a puzzle. Like you have missed the beginning of a story …”

In The Calling, Adam Simmons shows that he found a significant part of his story. Yet, as he said while introducing the performance, it is worth asking how the treatment of disconnected people who have come to this nation may have been affected by our own displacements.

ROGER MITCHELL

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SO WHO DID RESCUE MELBOURNE’ S JAZZ?

Tortoni

Michael Tortoni on bass at the launch of World’s Best Jazz Club: The Story of Bennetts Lane by David James.        Image: Roger Mitchell

FOR THE RECORD

On April 19 I posted the news that musical entrepreneur and property developer Albert Dadon — who owns Bird’s Basement in Melbourne — had acquired the name and assets of Sydney’s jazz club The Basement and planned to reopen it as soon as possible.

This was significant news, especially for Sydney fans of improvised music. That post included material provided in a media release by Dadon, including a paragraph stating that “he rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000″.

The release went on to say that under Dadon’s leadership  the festival became “a Major with appropriate funding” and “grew from 5000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009”.

Reactions to the news about The Basement varied, but it probably surprises few that parts of Dadon’s media release have been questioned — these days “fact checked” is the usual term — and that alternative versions of history have been added to the mix.

Michael Tortoni, who is artistic director the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and runs The Jazzlab venue in Brunswick, was concerned that Mr Dadon’s version of events did not tally with his recollection.

KM2070071_1500xHe passed on an article by Robin Usher published in The Age on December 22, 2001 following the cancellation of Melbourne’s fifth international jazz festival due to the withdrawal of a $50,000 grant by Melbourne City Council.

Usher quotes Tortoni, then owner of the city’s main jazz venue, Bennetts Lane, as saying there was a need to maintain the tradition of the then summer festival and that “We decided to roll up our sleeves and work to get people through the door” to what was called the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival.

Usher quotes that Adrian Jackson, director of the cancelled festival, as applauding Tortoni for “trying to make the best of a bad situation” in promoting the January events. But Jackson does add that international stars wouldn’t necessarily be coming in a year’s time “unless there is a properly funded festival organisation to promote their performances”.

Tortoni is quoted as saying, “I’m using my infrastructure and staff to get the information out because I felt something had to be done to replace the festival organisation that we lost so suddenly.”

Interestingly, given that my post based on Dadon’s media release was headed “Dadon plans The Basement rescue”, Usher’s article had the headline “Jazz club owner rescues festival”.

The caption on Marina Oliphant‘s image of Tortoni at Bennetts Lane was: “Beat goes on: Michael Tortoni has stepped in after funding for the MIJF was cancelled.”

It is also interesting from a historical perspective that venues included in the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival in 2001 were Dizzy’s, the Corner Hotel, Manchester Lane, the 9th Ward, the Night Cat and Bar Open — a wide range indeed.

Owners of rival jazz clubs in Melbourne — albeit very different styles of venues — may well never agree on who rescued what at that difficult time in the history of jazz in Melbourne. But it is good to keep in mind just how tough it has been over the years for those arranging funding, promotion and funding for our jazz festivals.

After Dadon’s announcement about The Basement and his media release, it wasn’t long before a Facebook page emerged entitled Australian Jazz Fact Checker. It isn’t hard to imagine who may have set that up.

For those not on Facebook (Zuckerberg and Cambridge-Analytica eat your heart out) here are some responses to parts of Albert Dadon’s media release:

“He rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000.”

Fact Check: False
Albare Dadon wasn’t even part of the festival in 2000, let alone ‘saving it’. An article about it can be found in The Age on December 22, 2001.

“Under his leadership the festival grew from 5,000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009.”

Fact Check: Partially True
Albare Dadon did leave the festival, however the circumstances behind why he did so are sealed behind a confidentiality agreement.

“Mr Dadon opened Bird’s Basement, below his Jazz Corner Hotel at 350 William St. in Melbourne’s CBD in March 2016 and committed himself to make it one of the world’s most renowned. Today, the club, a sister venue of Manhattan’s Birdland, regularly features world class musicians and is recognised internationally as Australia’s premier jazz venue.

Fact Check: Maybe?
I’m not sure who recognises it as the premier Australian jazz venue, but I’m sure he could find someone to quote.

“As Albare, he often performed at the Sydney Basement.”

Fact Check:
Depends on your definition of ‘often’
Albare and Urbanity performed at the venue twice in 5 years

“their album Urban Soul, this year enjoyed Billboard chart and critical success in the United States.”

Fact Check: False
I could only find one review by an independent journalist who rated the album 3.5/5 stars. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as a critical success.

The identity of the fact checker is not stated, but will readily come to mind, I’m sure. Albert Dadon is welcome to respond to Michael Tortoni’s interpretation of events.

ROGER MITCHELL

IMG_2050_mono_1500x

Michael Tortoni takes a bow. Image: Roger Mitchell

 

DADON PLANS THE BASEMENT RESCUE

Albert Dadon

Albert Dadon at the 2013 Jazz Bell Awards in Melbourne.

BREAKING NEWS

Musical entrepreneur and property developer Albert Dadon has acquired the name and assets of Sydney’s jazz club The Basement and plans to reopen it as soon as possible.

The oldest jazz and blues club in Australia, The Basement closed its doors in March. The shutdown sparked debate about the dying live music scene in Sydney.

Mr Dadon is now examining possible CBD locations for the club and is appealing to the public and others to suggest a suitable venue.

‘’I was saddened to see The Basement close its doors. It was a loss to the cultural health of the city and Australia,’ Mr Dadon said. “I hope that with the help of those who are committed to retain and reinvigorate Sydney’s music scene we will find an ideal new location of The Basement.”

A jazz guitarist (he goes by the stage name Albare), Mr Dadon has long had a passion for live music.

A media release from Mr Dadon today, April 19, 2018, states:

“He rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000. Mr Dadon took the project to the government and proposed transforming the festival into a Major with appropriate funding. Under his leadership the festival grew from 5,000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009.

“In 2002 Mr Dadon established the annual Australian Jazz Bell Awards (named after Australian legend and patron of the event the late Graeme Bell, AO) to celebrate excellence in Australian jazz scene. Today ‘the Bells’ are the most prestigious awards in the Australian jazz calendar.

“Mr Dadon opened Bird’s Basement, below his Jazz Corner Hotel at 350 William St. in Melbourne’s CBD in March 2016 and committed himself to make it one of the world’s most renowned. Today, the club, a sister venue of Manhattan’s Birdland, regularly features world class musicians and is recognised internationally as Australia’s premier jazz venue.

“As Albare, he often performed at the Sydney Basement. He has recorded 11 albums. With his long time pianist companion Phil Turcio, their band, Urbanity, and their album Urban Soul, this year enjoyed Billboard chart and critical success in the United States. Urban Soul is distributed in Australia by MGM.

“Mr Dadon is determined to make The Basement a must stopover for tourists and a regular experience for Sydney and regional jazz enthusiasts.

“I would love to provide Sydneysiders with a wonderful 21st century experience, similar to what we created in Melbourne at Bird’s Basement,’ he says. ‘In the meantime we will be looking at broadcasting all our shows live from Melbourne in our soon to be launched app.’

“Mr Dadon holds an Order of Australia for his services to the arts and business and was recently awarded ‘the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite’ by French President Macron.”