Tag Archives: Niko Schauble

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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A WINDOW ON OUR RAISON D’ÊTRE

 

The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2

The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2: Final moment

REVIEW

The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2, performed by the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne, August 24, 2017

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since this opening night performance, but vivid recollections remain. I recall thinking as the music faded to silence and a single spotlight played on a suspended “cloud”, that once again Adam Simmons and his crew had demonstrated the power and value of art.

Mundane matters — a computer failure and the need to find a replacement before packing for an imminent flight to Canada — brought me down the many stairs of this wonderful, hidden away venue in an unsettled state of mind.

Yet the sense of excitement and expectation engendered by the colourful Concert 1 of this series, with its streamers, balloons and joie de vivre, was heightened on this occasion by the imaginative set — devised by Diokno Pasilan and Christine Crawshaw — with suspended chairs and clumps of fluffy clouds.

Adam Simmons has recently written about his long preoccupation with Auguste Rodin’s views on The Usefulness of the Artist.

Rodin’s definition of the artist as “the man who takes pleasure in what he does” is immediately appealing — artists in all trades forming part of “an admirable society”. As someone who has come to love beekeeping — not just for the acquisition of honey, but for the deep pleasure it brings — I can identify closely with this concept.

But Rodin’s view is much more expansive than individual fulfilment: “I call useful all that gives us happiness.” And over many years Simmons — an energetic, creative and inspiring multi-instrumentalist and composer — has delved deeply into what art can offer.

“Beyond the more utilitarian nature of art being for economic or personal development, it is also how art can build community,” Adam Simmons has written. “Through performances with my ensembles … I have seen firsthand how music and art can bring disparate people together in shared and transformative experiences. Social connectedness has been identified as an important factor for health and wellbeing. I believe art is fundamental in helping us communicate and connect which other.

Simmons continues: “Artistic expression manages to convey understanding and insight via means other than language. The things that make art so powerful in this regard are the intangibles – the way it helps inspire, question, empathise and unite us, helping create stronger communities. I think that’s useful!”

That unity and sense of community is what has lingered in my mind so long after this second concert in a series of five that will stretch into 2018. The sense of fun and joy was still evident among the ensemble members, although the set and costumes conveyed a darker mood. As collective voices joined Pete Lawler’s distinctive and arresting solo vocals at the culmination of this concert, drawing the audience into their harmonic spell, I felt that we were indeed united and there was much power and benefit in that.

With any offering inspired by Adam Simmons there is going to be more than merely music. But additional elements — in this case the darkly Gothic costumes by Christine Crawshaw — are always beautifully integrated. As Simmons breathed gently and circularly into his bass clarinet to begin the Creative Music Ensemble’s journey through music originally conceived to highlight qualities that art engenders — acceptance, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith — we were enfolded in a sense of mystery.

The pieces, named for those qualities, were familiar. Origami’s album The Usefulness of Art was released in 2013. But this rendition, with 13 ensemble members (unfortunately some others were unavailable on opening night), was dramatically different. Simmons has assembled this ensemble with care and utilises their skills imaginatively. Each piece segued into the next in gradual transformations, swelling and receding as Simmons conducted from within, directing the gestation.

This was very much an ensemble work rather than an airing of solos, but there were highlights. Diokno Pasilan on gamelan instruments, Niko Schauble and Hugh Harvey on drums, Peter Lawler on a hand drum and Nat Grant on Marimba provided a rich feast of varied percussion that was at times an underlay and at others more prominent.

Most effective and affecting duos came from Paul Simmons (sax) and Gemma Horbury (trumpet), and Bryn Hills (trombone) with Adam Simmons (bass clarinet). Miranda Hill, with and without bow, was a ball of creative energy on double bass. David Brown, on guitar, not unexpectedly made deft and entirely apposite interventions. Cara Taber and Gideon Brazil on reeds enjoyed making great lamentations. Peter Lawler made fiendishly superb contributions on his mini synth and left a lingering impact with vocals that called to mind the Korean p’ansori singer Bae Il Dong.

This performance lasted 50 minutes, yet it seemed to flash past. Clearly the musicians enjoyed their outing greatly, yet there was a sombre feel in the music that went beyond the mood created by set and costumes. I felt this concert invited the audience to become deeply immersed in the work of creativity and, ultimately, to join in a shared experience.

Art had indeed opened a window on our raison d’être, as Rodin might have put it.

ROGER MITCHELL

Here’s a gallery of images from opening night:

OF JAZZ HEROES AND HIGHLIGHTS

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter at Hamer Hall … surely one of the jazz heroes.

REVIEW / RAVE

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, June 3 to June 12, 2016

One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had during this jazz festival — and I’ve had a few, before and after attending 15 concerts — was about the jazz hero.

The person I spoke to was a musician who said he wanted to move away from that approach or model in bands in which he played. In this context I recalled a wonderful concert in Melbourne in which a band gradually swapped players while the music continued, morphing into a new group as newcomers quietly joined in and then others moved off stage during the set.

On the second night of this festival, June 4, I went to The Reverence Hotel in Footscray to hear 30/70 Collective make “future soul and hip-hop meet in the middle via jaunty boom bap”, to quote the program. As they say in some news programs, more on that story later.

After the first set by members of the collective who formed A Brother Scratch, the 30/70 Collective band members did something I have never seen before at a gig — they went into a huddle.

30/70 Collective

30/70 Collective in a huddle before performing.

Already feeling the warm glow from the first set of music that was out of my familiarity zone, so to speak, I was quite taken by this musical group hug, which seemed designed to engender team spirit. It was not long before the packed room was moving to the hypnotic grooves — myself included.

By now you’ll have realised this is more of a rave than a hard-nosed review. But there is a point. The musician mentioned who wants to move away from dependence on heroes in jazz described 30/70 Collective as being like a family. That certainly fitted with my impression from the vibes in the pub.

I decided to try applying the idea of avoiding heroes to the reviewing of a festival. Bear with me.

Reviewers often mention their list of standout gigs or highlights during a festival. I have often done that. And I’ve often asked other patrons and other reviewers to name the bands they’ve most enjoyed. It’s a natural thing, especially if there is limited space in a review, to pick the standouts.

But what if a festival review was more like a collective of gigs? Then I could value each for its special qualities — what worked well and even what didn’t. That’s how I feel about the mix of very different MIJF concerts that I went to this year.

Children of the Light Trio

Children of the Light Trio at Bennetts Lane

On night eight of the MIJF I went to Bennetts Lane at 10pm to hear Children of the Light Trio consisting of Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums — Wayne Shorter‘s band without the hero, if you like.

That’s laughable, you’ll say, because each member of this trio is a hero in their own right. True, but — and I’m already breaking with the “no highlights” approach — that band’s performance without Shorter that night was the gig I’d have to say has stayed with me and will do so for a long time to come.

On the final night of the festival I did hear Wayne Shorter with the members of this band. Afterwards I heard snippets of opinion, including comments that he did not play for a great portion of the set, that some say he’s too comfortable with Perez, Patitucci and Blade, and, notwithstanding, that this hero of jazz is on a different plane from any of the great players still alive.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne Shorter plays Hamer Hall

Hearing Shorter at Hamer Hall was special. Getting relatively close to record some images was pretty special.

Hearing him in conversation with Jon Faine, Wilbur Wilde and Kristin Berardi on ABC radio 774 was also special — and at times hilarious. His refusal to get bogged down by labels and his wish to think so broadly about life made me wonder whether Wayne Shorter would want to be put on a pedestal.

I enjoyed his playing on this occasion a lot more than when I heard him some years ago at The Palais in St Kilda, which is perhaps a sign that I had then been uneducated in what to expect — frequent changes of direction and very short bursts of sax. This time he did not play for too long in the set, but what he contributed was considered and just right in the moment.

That said, after reflection, I took more away from his quartet members’ gig as a trio in the much smaller venue. Of course it would be far too exclusive to have Shorter perform to such a limited audience.

Anyway, my search for a hook or a story on which to hang reflections on this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival has ended — albeit in way too meandering a fashion — at that strong image of 30/70 Collective in a huddle. To that image I add some showing large ensembles featured at this festival at the ends of their concerts.

the migration

Stu Hunter and musicians after “the migration” at Malthouse Theatre.

We’ve seen some big projects come to fruition on stage this year — Stu Hunter‘s the migration, the Monash Art Ensemble‘s performance with Tomasz Stanko, the release of a new album by Peter Knight’s Way Out West.

Jordan Murray and Tomasz Stanko with Monash Art Ensemble

Jordan Murray and Tomasz Stanko with Monash Art Ensemble

All of these have involved a lot of work and huge collective effort.

Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life

Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life

And of course in smaller ensembles such as Andrea Keller’s Transients, the Allan Browne Quintet performing Ithaca Bound at Uptown Jazz Cafe, Keyon Harrold with Twi-Life, Shai Maestro Trio, the Tomasz Stanko Band and the Tribute to Allan Browne trio of Paul Grabowsky, Mirko Guerrini and Niko Schauble, we have heard the results of collective interaction.

Even in the solo gig by Paolo Angeli at the Bluestone Church in Footscray we saw how his instrument’s many parts worked together to produce different styles of music.

Interaction is what makes the diverse music that makes up jazz so engrossing, inventive and wonderful. And each musician brings to the stage the formative background that has shaped them — influences that interact and find expression in changing ways as they practise and play.

Some of us will love, like or not like some of the music we hear from improvising musicians, but at its core is that interaction. We see and delight in it as we watch the faces of the musicians at work.

End of rave. In the days ahead I will add a few, much shorter, separate posts — with pictures — to cover concerts I attended as part of this festival.

In the meantime, musicians will be playing live in lots of venues around Melbourne, so get out there. You won’t regret it.

ROGER MITCHELL