Tag Archives: Kanchana Karunaratna


Adam Simmons and Vikram Iyengar

Adam Simmons and Vikram Iyengar in The Calling.


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.



Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura plays koto with Way Out West


Way Out West plays Footscray Community Arts Centre, 7.30pm Tuesday 3 June for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival

It was a significant milestone last night when Peter Knight‘s ensemble Way Out West played in Footscray at the venue in which the band — with a slightly different line-up — played its first gig 14 years ago. It was also significant in that the MIJF was venturing out west for the first time this year.

Yay! A crowded house for jazz out west.

Yay! A crowded house for jazz out west.

It was a relief to see that the seats in the FCAC Performance Space were filling quickly. Westies are waking up to the delights of live music.

Band shows its colours: instruments await Way Out West players.

Band shows its colours: instruments await Way Out West players.

I rarely post images in colour (more of that in a moment), but in this case the lighting complemented the array of instruments assembled on stage for Way Out West musicians, who must need a large truck to carry their gear. There are two versions of the Japanese koto for Satsuki Odamura and a bewildering array of drums and percussion devices played by Ray Pereira — he seems to add an instrument every year.

In the black: Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

In the red: what unkind lighting can do to Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

Waiting in the dark on the side with the young photographers clad in light blue MIJF T-shirts before the performance, I wondered what the lighting would be like. Let’s face it, lighting is only of concern to photographers and not punters, but that does not mean it is unimportant. In most venues it is passable at best. Often one or two members of a band are in bright light, the others all in darkness. The wonderful red spots are the bane of music photographers’ lives.

When the lights came up, and we had two songs in which to take our shots (a rule seemingly ignored by the T-shirted snappers), I groaned inwardly. Again, I understand that audiences do not care about lighting provided the music is good, but we take photographs to help promote the bands and the music, and to attract more people to live music. Let’s just say that the image above shows what happens in red light. The image below shows why many photographers turn shots into black and white in a bid to resurrect what they can.

In the black: Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

In the black: Raj Jayaweera on drums and Paul Williamson on tenor sax.

While on about photography at gigs and festivals, controls are vital to protect the listening experience of patrons and in order not to drive musicians mad. But the rule of first two songs only has its problems, because in jazz that could be very short or very long. And the imposed limit means that the clicking is going to go on regardless of whether the first two songs are quiet or not, because that’s the only window of opportunity. Really it would be better if photographers respected the music and did not shoot at all in quiet passages. Unless, of course, they can afford completely silent cameras. I’m still searching for an affordable camera that is completely silent and yet copes with low light.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

Way Out West played four new compositions — Latest and Breaking, The Birds, Nine Years Later (dedicated to Peter Knight’s son Quinn, 9) and Anthony Blaise. The oldies were Music For April and the closing Is the Moon Really This Far Away? This post is a rave with pics rather than a review, but I loved the new material, especially The Birds and Nine Years Later.

Satsuki Odamura

Satsuki Odamura

The main changes in line-up to Way Out West have been the addition of Odamura on kotos and Lucas Michailidis on guitar. With a new album coming out soon (more details later), the band has moved on and is entering a new era with a different feel. It works. The new pieces utilise the koto well, as well as Pereira’s diverse talents.

Lucas Michailidis and Howard Cairns

Lucas Michailidis and Howard Cairns

Michailides is another significant addition and he brings exceptional musicianship along with an ability to sync with other players.

Peter Knight on fire

Peter Knight on fire

Peter Knight on trumpet and flugel was in fine and fiery form on the horns, but for me his work on laptop in Nine Years Later was the highlight.

Paul Williamson

Paul Williamson pumps it out.

Paul Williamson is a seasoned and spectacular performer. In this outing I felt that he and Howard Cairns, along with the New York resident Raj Jayaweera did not have enough time in the spotlight. But the nature of this ensemble is that it works as a group, so it is not about solos.

That said, it would not be Way Out West without Ray Pereira in a drumming duel with someone. In this case it was guest Sri Lankan drummer Kanchana Karunaratna, who wowed the crowd with their rapid-fire technique and virtuosity.

Everyone loves a good drum stoush, but I loved this band’s layered subtlety best of all.


Kanchana Karunaratna and Lucas Michailidis

Kanchana Karunaratna and Lucas Michailidis



Milton the band

GIG: Milton performs at Kindred Studios, 212a Whitehall Street, Yarraville, 1.30pm to 4.30pm, Sunday, 27 January 2013, $10/$5 concession — kids U12 welcome & free! BBQ food available for purchase.

If you are not off the The Edge, Fed Square to hear the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s 30th anniversary concert (from 2pm), then consider digging out your dancing shoes and making a few moves with Milton the band.

Western suburbanites may know the band, but visitors from afar are welcome when Milton returns for a series of Sunday gigs at that wonderfully relaxed space in Yarraville, Kindred Studios.

Milton features a three-piece percussion section, bass, drums, two guitars, keyboards and sax, with guest vocalists and other instrumentalists added as required.

If you can’t make it on 27 January, mark these dates in the diary: Sunday 27 January, Sunday 24 Feb, Sunday 24 Mar, Sunday 28 Apr and
Sunday 26 May.

To whet your appetite, here’s a few pictures from the December gig.


Milton’s Leo Dale with Peter Knight sitting in on trumpet.


Louise Goh on keys.

David Marama

David Marama on guitar and vocals.

Leo Dale

Leo Dale hits a sublime note.

Ray Pereira

Ray Pereira knows he’s being watched, but that won’t stop him.