Tag Archives: Lachlan Davidson

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

Dave Douglas

Trumpets: Jordan Murray, Niran Dasika, Ben Harrison, Dave Douglas

REVIEW: World premiere of Fabliaux for four ensembles by Dave Douglas, featuring the Monash Art Ensemble, Saturday 15 March, 7.30pm, Music Auditorium, Monash University

The nine movements of the composition visiting trumpet player Dave Douglas wrote for the Monash Art Ensemble seemed to flash past, although the performance must have lasted well over an hour.

Before we get to the music it’s worth mentioning one highlight that came in the form of words, spoken by Douglas after the sixth piece, Unknowing, Forgetting, which was written principally for the brass group. After sitting in with Jordan Murray on trombone and Niran Dasika and Ben Harrison on trumpets, Douglas paid tribute to students Dasika and Harrison.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas pays tribute

“I’ve been humbled before them,” he told the audience, before saying it was incumbent upon young Art Ensemble members as the next generation to take the reins, “lead us forward in music and be 10 times as good as we are”.

Douglas’s tribute was surely a moment for Dasika and Harrison to treasure, but also an insight into the value this visiting composer placed on the potential of an exciting ensemble that has been nurtured by Paul Grabowsky. It was another encouraging sign that talent and commitment are not hard to find among our young musicians — though fair remuneration for their efforts may be elusive.

Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas with Geoff Hughes and Craig Beard

The idea of Douglas’s Fabliaux suite, which harks back to the often bawdy and (he said) these days possibly offensive comic tales of medieval literature, was for the players to be grouped into reeds, brass, percussion and strings, with every group taking a primary role in a piece between those involving the whole ensemble. Nothing was locked in, because Douglas worked with the MAE to develop the suite through improvisation.

The changes of emphasis made the whole suite alive and interesting and there was, literally, never a dull moment. The opening piece, Forbidden Flags, soon introduced us to Australian Art Orchestra artistic director Peter Knight‘s carefully crafted electronic “static”, which added textural interest throughout the evening and always complemented rather than sought to dominate. There was a lot happening in this busy, but sombre piece. Douglas’s direction was ever present, but he did take up his instrument before the end.

String and percussion

Strings plus Grabowsky and Rafferty

Frieze featured the reeds, ushering in some shimmer before notes began to bend and develop sinuosity. There was some Knight chatter, horns were crying then chirruping. Strings contributed their own shimmer. This was sonically interesting, high chatter giving way to barracking with an occasional fart. Then we encountered sibilance and some piercing, high dissonance. I could not help smiling.

Legions had propulsion and gentle swing from the start, but its intensity and power grew, fired by the horns and with Lachlan Davidson taking us on soprano sax journey. Rhythm seemed to be the glue in this piece.

Gears featured percussion and the focus was on the changing interactions between Grabowsky on piano, Kieran Rafferty on drums, Knight’s electronics and Craig Beard on vibes. These four built drama and tension. With those elements, what’s not to love?

Before the fifth piece, Once Again The Mind, Douglas spoke about how the spark of invention can happen at the same time across the globe, and about how some may recognise use of isorhythm and the medieval hocket in this composition. Here’s a link on the  topic that may be interesting.

I heard dramatic statements before slower, quieter interludes. This had a souped up medieval feel. Murray contributed some delightful air-filled ‘bone that was effective when offset by electronic chatter and vibes. The piece provided an exchange of ideas between the horns and the strings with percussion. Rob Burke on clarinet and the strings players showed agitation and there were strong statements to end the piece.

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

Dave Douglas and Rob Burke

As mentioned, Douglas joined the brass section for Unknowing, Forgetting, in which trombone and three trumpets delivered some chatter and tweet before some wonderfully expressive weaving of notes that displayed how different valved horns can sound. The percussion section helped build pace and intensity before horns closed in unison.

Whirlwhind began with electronic splatter and muted horns. Douglas conducted as layers were added. There was some lovely textured clarity from the strings, then spectacular violin work by Liz Sellers, with plenty of note bending, then mild frenzy and echoes from carefully controlled horns. Mirko Guerrini on baritone sax and Paul Cornelius on tenor added a soft, deep interlude.

I found Whirlwind hard to describe. It had drama, but at times the sections seemed to be talking different languages, while at others there was collective shimmer. Perhaps group dynamics sums it up.

Wagon Wheel featured strings, opening with a sweet refrain that seemed tinged with a lament. A string-pluck festa led us, with help from Craig Beard on vibes, to finally focus on Geoff Hughes‘ guitar — it was good that he had this space.

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky in full flight

Tower of the Winds was full of vigour, treating us to a duo of Douglas on trumpet with Burke on clarinet, strong intervention by Knight and Kieran Rafferty on drums and then a Grabowsky piano solo that came with built-in contrast between his emphatic chords and his free-ranging right hand, his digging deep for notes and thunderous barrages. The end of the suite seemed to come in no time.

I’m sure good things are happening in music at universities all across Australia, but as an example of students and experienced musicians tackling an inventive suite written for them to test their mettle, this was an engrossing and invigorating performance.

ROGER MITCHELL

Fabliaux was  to be recorded in the Monash venue the next day. Watch for it to pop up somewhere.

Ensemble members for Fabliaux

Trumpet: Dave Douglas, Ben Harrison, Niran Dasika
Trombone: Jordan Murray
Flute, clarinet, soprano sax: Lachlan Davidson
Clarinet, alto sax: Rob Burke
Tenor: Paul Cornelius
Bass clarinet, baritone sax: Mirko Guerrini
Violin: Liz Sellers
Cello: Will Martina
Bass: Marty Holoubek
Guitar: Geoff Hughes
Piano: Paul Grabowsky
Drums: Kieran Rafferty
Tuned percussion: Craig Beard
Electronics: Peter Knight

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THE STING IN THE TAILFIN

Shapeshifters

Taking shape or taking off? Paul Grabowsky conducts Shapeshifter

GIG REVIEW: Shapeshifter, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, Melbourne, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Take two groups of musicians, add Paul Grabowsky and stir. The result is bound to be interesting.

In this case, Grabowsky as Musical Director has gathered six students from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and teamed them with seven members of the renowned Australian Art Orchestra to form Shapeshifter — “a dynamic new ensemble of 21st Century musicians”.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) O’Connor, Mamrot, Rex, Klas and Beck

In the first set, the ensemble played Variations (2001), based on a melody from the Suite du’n Goût Étranger (Suite in a Foreign Style) by 17th Century viola-da-gamba virtuoso Marin Marais. As Grabowsky explained, the piece puts the melody through a series of costume changes, each paying homage to composers past and present: Ennio Morricone, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, J.S. Bach and Olivier Messiaen.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and Davidson

Described in publicity material as “a kind of chamber concerto showing off the virtuosity of the players”, Variations would probably send a shock wave or two through any audience used to classical chamber music. Opening with pre-recorded music over which trumpeter Eugene Ball introduced squeals, whistles, growls and farts, the piece was often frenetic and often displayed dissonance or even discordancy.

Shapeshifters

Onslaughts: Philip Rex

Philip Rex on bass, with and without bow, helped mightily in the onslaughts, assisted by the superb Dave Beck on drums and percussionist Shanie Klas beating a small tin as if her life depended on its bell-like sound. A dirge of saxes was overlaid by upper register horns from Scott Tinkler and Ball.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: (from left) Hicks, Toohey and O’Connor

Joe O’Connor (keyboards) delivered some fierce runs, the notes well dug into the ivories. Brendan Toohey on bass clarinet added to the chatter of saxes in some bursts of AHBL (all hell breaking loose). James Macaulay‘s trombone worked well with Beck’s ‘plosive’ attacks and Dan Mamrot on guitar added significantly to what was a rich repertoire of timbres.

Variations was amazing, though I am sure I did not catch anything like all of its allusions of homage to composers. I would have to say it left me more marvelling than moved, but there was more to come from Shapeshifter after the break.

Shapeshifters

Horny: Tony Hicks solos with Shapeshifter

The second set opened with Tall Tales, a three-movement suite Grabowsky wrote in honour of filmmaker Fred Schepisi on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The first movement, Ngukurr Mon Amour, is based on the structure of manikay, the traditional song cycle form of the Yolngu peoples of Arnhem Land. The second, …and a bier for young Arnie is informed by the music of the young Arnold Schoenberg, and includes a miniature alto saxophone concerto. The third movement is entitled Wacky, Zany, Madcap.

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter at work

This piece quickly had me convinced it would be the standout of the night. From the first movement, which opened with Welsh’s violin acting as a drone to Rex’s vigorous bass, it was compelling, energy-filled and intense. To me, this was a better showcase for the ensemble than Variations, especially as epitomised in the work of Tinkler, Tony Hicks on tenor sax over the rhythms of Rex and Beck, Lachlan Davidson‘s alto saxophone when fired up, Macaulay’s classy ‘bone, which had Grabowsky clapping, and in some brass salvos fired as if by instruments of war.

Shapeshifters

Zestful: Paul Grabowsky

Grabowsky as conductor was lively, active, perky, vibrant, vital, zestful, not to mention eager, zealous and spirited. His hands darted into the air as he urged the players onwards and upwards to new heights, demonstrating the drive that will no doubt propel Shapeshifter as it develops and explores new material.

Shapeshifters

Serious business: Scott Tinkler

Unexpectedly, it was the closing composition, Grabowsky’s Tailfin, which left the strongest impression in this outing. This was a new arrangement of a piece composed in 1992 and released on the albums Viva Viva (1993) and Tales of Time and Space (2004). I was struck by the different feel of the piece in the hands of Shapeshifter — compared to the Time and Space version it was more weighty, with more depth and guts.

Beck led us into it with a long introduction effectively using brushes over the slow thump of the bass drum. When Tinkler got to the serious business of the key solo he drew applause and a call from Grabowsky to “play that again”.

Shapeshifters

Another place: Welsh and Tinkler

The other horns painted a slow, solemn picture behind Tinkler, before Welsh’s violin took us to another, primal place in tandem with Mamrot on guitar. O’Connor on piano released the tension, making way for Toohey to usher in some twists and turns against the backdrop of Rex, O’Connor and Beck.

This rendition of Tailfin was still spinning in my head long after I left the venue in a mad dash for the train. It remains the standout for me in an outing that showed Shapeshifter to be no mere will o’ the wisp.

ROGER MITCHELL

Shapeshifters

Shapeshifter: Rex and Beck

Shapeshifter players: Paul Grabowsky, Musical Director

Australian Art Orchestra musicians: Dave Beck drums; Lachlan Davidson alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Tony Hicks tenor saxophone; Philip Rex double bass; Scott Tinkler trumpet; Eugene Ball trumpet; Lizzy Welsh violin.

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music students: James Macaulay trombone; Paul Cornelius saxophone; Brendan Toohey clarinet &amp bass clarinet; Shanie Klas percussion; Dan Mamrot guitar; Joe O’Connor keys.

Shapeshifters

Leading man: Grabowsky as musical director