Tag Archives: Nat Grant

WIND AS BREATH, BREATH AS LIFE

Wang Zheng-Ting

Wang Zheng-Ting on sheng in The Kites of Tianjing    Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

The Kites of Tianjin, Concert 5 in The Usefulness of Art series, fortyfive downstairs, Thursday 26 July, 730pm. Further performances 27, 28 and 29 July.

It would be fitting to describe The Kites of Tianjin as breathtaking, yet the reverse is true.

The fifth in a series of concerts collectively entitled The Usefulness of Art, first performed at fortyfive downstairs on Thursday night by Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble with guest Wang Zheng-Ting on sheng (a polyphonic Chinese mouth-blown free reed instrument), is breathtakingly beautiful. But rather than taking breath away, it fills the audience with life-giving breath.

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Simmons has become known in this concert series for creating many moving and energising musical moments, especially at the beginnings and endings of his works. At the end of Concert 2, in August 2017, audience members were drawn to add their voices to the powerful vocals of Pete Lawler to powerful effect.

The Kites of Tianjin ending also draws the audience in to share and engage with the ensemble, but in a totally different way. We gradually become aware that the music is becoming breath-like and, in an utterly magic experience, realise as the music fades that all that remains is the breathing. Like gentle waves washing on a sea shore the breathing takes us to an utterly restful and peaceful place. Instead of our breath being taken, we are filled with and enlivened by our own breathing.

Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble with guest Wang Zheng-Ting

Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble with guest Wang Zheng-Ting   Image: Roger Mitchell

Inspired by a visit by Ting and Simmons to Shanghai and Tianjin in April, where they meet Wei Guoqiu, who is from a famed kite-making family, The Kites of Tianjin is really all about how wind gives life to kites, as breath does to much music and to us as breathing beings.

In composing the work, Simmons does not presume to be able to write Chinese music, but uses notes that are familiar to Ting and yet will allow him to improvise. The result is wonderfully cohesive.

Simmons opens the concert with breathy shakuhachi, his notes powerfully pushing skywards in the darkened space, conveying urgency and then calm, seeming to celebrate breath as a life force. The effect of Niko Schauble’s glowering cymbals and delicate brush work, along with slow swells of sound from flutes, is ethereal.

Kites by Rachaeldaisy form a colourful backdrop for the performers, who are clad in hues of blue.

Carmen Chan

Carmen Chan on marimba in The Kites of Tianjin.    Image: Roger Mitchell

Carmen Chan on her magnificent marimba paves the way for the first sounds from the bamboo pipes of Ting’s sheng, his watery vibrato shimmering then evolving into slow and surreal organ-like chords. This is electrifyingly atmospheric.

No concert performed by this ensemble would be without some clutter and clash, but Ting shows he can match it with the drums behind and dancing horns up front in a long percussive piece. This is followed by a lively and melodic period of busyness and bustle with, to me, the feel of a Chinese opera. It could also suggest the frenzied flying of kites in all directions, sharply tugged by a vigorous wind. Eventually the whole band unites to deliver chant-like and almost martial patterns.

One of many highlights comes when Simmons on tenor sax and Ting on sheng join in a playful and engaging duet, chasing each other’s contributions with notes — Ting’s at times vibrato and at others startlingly high and fragile — that could represent the kites of Wei Guoqiu darting across the sky over Tianjin. The duet draws applause.

Niko Schauble at the drum kit and Wang Zheng-Ting on flute.

Niko Schauble at the drum kit and Wang Zheng-Ting on flute.   Image: Roger Mitchell

Marimba and drums open a layered piece that is grounded in complexity and topped with dancing high, agile notes from Ting on a small flute. I love the way the melody rises out of the melee and stray notes seem to fly out of the mix before a sense of unity gradually develops, the horns resplendent over a glorious mayhem of percussion before it all dies away in a weirdly evocative chatter.

At one point Gideon Brazil and Gemma Horbury fly small hand kites around the stage, but they are not often caught by the light.

Penultimately, Schauble’s cymbal rumble and Nat Grant on glockenspiel, backed by Howard Cairns on bowed bass, usher in Ting back on sheng for an interlude I could listen to forever, it is so fragile, peaceful and floating on air. Flutes join in, well spaced, as the music takes us seamlessly into the final breath-filling finale.

The Kites of Tianjin seems short at not quite an hour, and less of a journey than the previous concert, The Calling. It has much complexity at times and yet the overall effect is conveyed with potent simplicity. We breathe. We live.

Don’t miss the chance to hear this concert.

ROGER MITCHELL

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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

STRINGS ATTACHED — AND LOVING IT

Xani Kolac

Xani Kolac performs at Bennetts Lane in her MWIJF project.

REVIEW:

Xani Kolac Project, Bennetts Lane, Sunday 6 December, 8pm
Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival Dec 3 — 13, 2015

Line-up: Xani Kolac electric violin/vocals, Arlene Fletcher double bass, Nat Grant percussion/vibraphone, Leah Zweck viola and guest Mark Leahy on drum kit

I first encountered Xani Kolac back in April 2010 when she played her electric violin solo from a tiny, elevated “secret space” in the Brood Box Gallery during one of the best of Melbourne’s Jazz Fringe festivals. She made a strong impression, performing four original compositions in her debut with a laptop, sending soaring surges of sound sashaying into the room below. Her closing number ended with the words, “I’ll play whatever I like because I choose to die happy”.

Kolac, who many will know from her work in The Twoks with Mark Leahy, is an exhilarating, volatile artist who exudes excitement and invites expectations of the unexpected. This ensemble, formed especially for the MWIJF, promised “a musical exploration of the tension between the asymmetry in loneliness and the symmetry of coming home”.

Perhaps that’s what we were given,  but at evening’s end I came away with a lingering and sustaining sense of uplift that arose from diversity and virtuosity provided by these musicians, who, as was pointed out at the beginning, were chosen “not just because they [Mark excepted] are women, but because they are awesome musicians”.

Zweck’s viola brought depth and resonance to the opening Adagio, Grant’s vibes were exquisite in Little Green Ball and her intricate, nuanced solo that followed. The ensemble’s version of The Twoks’ brand new song Christmas Time  was a hoot.

Opening the second set, Fletcher provided a solid foundation for the ensemble’s rendition of her composition Timing, then followed with an all-too-brief solo. Then followed a spectacular achievement — Kolac’s arrangement of Chopin’s Prelude No.4 in E Minor. For a group so newly formed to perform this so well speaks volumes about the calibre of these musicians.

Zweck treated us to a Telemann piece for her solo before Forbidden Fruit (with Grant on drums)  and a wild solo improvisation by Kolac that had a Perfect vocal ending. For First Light, a Twoks piece, Fletcher joined in on vocals in a trio of violin, bass and drums. Our spirits were lifted so far that the closing Scalpel failed to slice into our joy.

If the asymmetry Kolac has found in loneliness found expression in this ensemble’s outing then she should be invited to be “coming home” more often and in this august company.

It was a hoot.

ROGER MITCHELL

Here’s a few pictures from the concert: