Tag Archives: Nat Grant

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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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:

THE OUTER LIMITS

Preview: Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival, April 29 to May 8, 2011

Mastaneh Nazarian

Mastaneh Nazarian barely contains her love for her Parker guitar

Yes, the image above is unashamedly a bid to attract attention to this preview of this year’s MJFF, but in my defence it is the picture guitarist Mastaneh Nazarian chose to be used on the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival website, which is where all the details of this festival can be found. Nazarian, who migrated from Teheran, Iran to the US and suffered “mild malnutrition” in Boston in the mid ’90s, will feature in a double bill with Jonathan Dimond‘s Loops and her group Kafka Pony, which she named after reading lots of Kafka, dreaming of a pink penguin and waking with the word “pony” on her lips.

Anyway, speaking of matters barely contained, my excitement is mounting about what’s on offer this year. Details are on the website, but here’s a quick glimpse of some highlights. First, because it is first, is the opening concert on Friday, April 29 at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon, which will give us a chance to hear a work so far aired at only in parts, at least in Melbourne and at Wangaratta. Andrea Keller Quartet, with two violins, viola and a cello, will perform Place, a 60-minute commissioned work in seven parts that draws inspiration from the area surrounding Bermagui NSW, and explores notions of belonging and identity. The quartet employs electronics, improvisation, preparations and acoustic instruments in the piece.

We’ve had two tantalising tastes of this work — at Uptown Jazz Cafe in August last year, when the quartet played Guluga and Belonging, and in the WPAC Theatre at Wangaratta Jazz 2010, when Belonging closed the set. I loved these tidbits and look forward to hearing the whole piece. The icing on the cake will be special guests Stephen Magnusson and Raj Jayaweera performing as a duo.

I have to keep this short and avoid mentioning every gig, tempting as that is. So, on Saturday, there’s a wild night in a warehouse opening with Ronny Ferella and Sam Price, who make up Peon, no doubt playing some similar material to what’s on their album Real Time, and ending in an iPhone mash-up — an app-created orgy of sounds under the watchful ear of Myles Mumford. You have to be there.

After Loops and Kafka Pony on Sunday, and Sam Bates Trio on Monday, a real highlight for me will be Band of Five Names on Tuesday, May 3, at Bennetts Lane. When this group (Phil Slater on trumpet and laptop, Matt McMahon on piano and Nord, Carl Dewhurst on guitar, Simon Barker on drums and percussion) performed at at Alpine MDF Theatre, Wangaratta in 2009, I thought of it as entering a musical space of light and shade, frenzy and reflection, and at times absolute simplicity. The ensemble was affective, slowly evolving and highly involving. I thought then, “How can a Nord sound so gentle?” and “Stillness can take root here”.

Zoe Scoglio‘s audio visual evening on Wednesday will be a treat for the ears, because Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Stephen Grant (cornet) and James McLean (drums) will accompany what Zoe has in store.

And in an unprecedented move, MJFF this year has some gigs out west, which is fantastic for those of us who believe more music should happen where so many of those who create it reside. The first performance at the Dancing Dog Cafe/Bar, on Thursday, May 5, features award-winning Peter Knight (trumpet and laptop electronics) and the irrepressible Motion. The second, on Saturday, May 7, features Nat Grant (solo percussion and electronics) and Kewti with “wild black metal experimental microtonal tropical jazz”. How can you resist that?

“What about the famous MJFF commission concert?”, you ask. Well, yes, it’s on at BMW Edge on Friday, May 6 and it must not be missed. That rascal Allan Browne will open with his “three turks and a wasp”. The drummer has a new piano-less quartet with Phillip Noy (alto sax), Sam Pankhurst (bass) and Stephen Grant (cornet) in dialogue, using new material written for the Fringe plus “compositions from the Duke and Jelly Roll”.

And for the main act, Fran Swinn, winner of this year’s APRA Composer Commission, has written Inform for jazz quartet and corde lisse (aerial circus act involving acrobatics on a vertically hanging rope). Circus Oz virtuoso acrobat/aerialist Rockie Stone (pictured below courtesy of Seth Gulob) will perform with the Fran Swinn Quartet (Swinn on guitar, Tamara Murphy on double bass, Ben Hendry on drums), and guest soloist Eugene Ball on trumpet.

Rockie

Rockie Stone at Circus Oz (Picture by Seth Gulob)

Swinn’s work promises to “integrate the forms and structures inherent in Jazz and improvised music with the forms and structures integral to a circus act” and acknowledges influences from dance, theatre and clowning as well as the music of Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Bill Frisell.

What could top that? Well, after such high-flying aerial pursuits it has to be time to sit. So Big Arse Sunday is exactly what’s needed. This year it’s at Cafe 303, 303 High Street, Northcote, from 2pm until about 9pm and the line-up includes Collider, Make Up Sex, Tinkler/Pankhurst/McLean, and 12 Tone Diamonds. And if you need a break from the music, the musicians you’ve heard or will hear later will probably be selling some nibbles or sitting on the door, so there’s a chance to chat.

With all these highlights, you may as well give in and decide you’ll never make it home before midnight during the Melboune Jazz Fringe Festival. This is a real grass roots festival run by musicians who volunteer lots of time to make it happen. If you’ve never dipped your toe in, try it. You won’t regret it.

ROGER MITCHELL