Tag Archives: Roger Mitchell

LOUD AND PROUD V SUBTLY VARIED

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah          Image: Roger Mitchell

REVIEW

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues 2017

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was in the car on the way back from this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, along with Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones, Art Blakey and a bunch of others from the fifties. They were not wearing seatbelts.

They soothed my aching ears. They oozed class and they came uncluttered — clear and simple notes flowing out as the countryside rolled past. There was power and beauty in their gentle swing, unadorned by technological enhancements.

This year’s festival was a blast — but that tells only part of the story. There were full-on gigs that emulated rock concerts, shaking the foundations with pulsing, pounding beats and all manner of high-tech wizardry, and there were gigs with more subtlety, variations in intensity, more light and shade.

The crowds, of course, loved to have it loud, and yelled for more. In a year exhibiting much more music technology than previously, the bands that many will remember as their highlights will be those that went for it, no holds barred, going for broke.

If it sounds as if I’m complaining, it’s not that loud music or new gadgetry (its advance is inevitable) are necessarily bad, only that my preference is not to have high octane and/or high tech delivered quite so unremittingly. But that’s not necessarily a view shared by many.

Christian Scott

Final bows: From left, Shea Pierre piano and Rhodes, Kris Funn bass, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah trumpet and reverse flugel, Logan Richardson sax, Corey Fonville drums.

The full-throttle performances began on Friday at 10pm in Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre when Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (trumpet, reverse flugel) led a quintet that unexpectedly did not include flautist Elena Pinderhughes. On piano and Rhodes Shea Pierre had joined the band only a week ago. On alto saxophone Logan Richardson was a valued guest alongside long-time member and phenomenally talented bassist Kris Funn and prodigy Corey Fonville, who Scott said had prank-called him (acting as his grandmother) “every day for five years” in his campaign to join the group.

In this and a subsequent outing at 10.30pm Saturday this band absolutely wowed the packed theatre in a highly amped and virtuosic display that was potentially ear damaging and yet paid homage to deep musical traditions. Scott’s great grandmother was a Cuban pianist, his grandfather a chief of the New Orleans black Indians and his uncle is saxophonist Donald Harrison jnr.

Scott is eloquent with words as well as his extraordinary horns, in both concerts introducing the closing and compelling piece, The Last Chieftain, with a moving account of his grandfather’s distribution of food to people who needed it in New Orleans wards and the relevance of this example to our world now of bigotry and vulnerability.

Scott paid close attention to the sound quality, his fellow musicians and then to the audience, leaving no doubt about his talent. Why it had to be almost all so high voltage and so loud is a mystery to me, but few in the audience seemed to mind. I felt for Shea Pierre on piano and keys, who seemed to be a little on the outer in this group.

Another band that let loose from the word go was The Others, bringing Spiderbait’s Kram (drums) to the stage for the first time with jazz identities Paul Grabowsky (keys and electronics) and James Morrison (an array of horns). It was impossible to tell who was most excited, Grabowsky, Morrison, Kram or the audience. One audience member summed up this gig as “a collision of styles” and another as “you’ve just seen three men have orgasms on stage”. Both of those descriptions seemed not to be unfair.

Whether it was Kram drumming on the floor all around Morrison and the grand piano to eventually reach Grabowsky, who was looking coolly intimidating in dark shades as he drew weird wailings and high-pitched whistles from his electronic device, or the showman Morrison possibly being outshone or even stretched a little in the company of Kram, these three delivered energy and enthusiasm in spades, leaving the audience ecstatic.

As the lights went down I wished they had backed off just a little in one or two pieces, but boys will be boys. (I’d rather have heard Grabowsky’s monumental Moons of Jupiter suite.)

Another technologically rich and amply amplified performance was delivered in two outings by Auckland-born pianist Aron Ottingnon, who now lives in Paris, leading a trio with Kuba Gudz on drums and Samuel Dubois on steel pan and percussion. Ottingnon, who was runner-up in the 1999 National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta, is engaging and exuberant as well as capable of virtuosic work at the piano keyboard, assisted by electronic effects.

This trio was primarily about rhythms, effectively and gradually building intensity by subtly adjusting patterns and tempo. Gudz and Dubois, also utilising much technological wizardry, were attentive and responsive. After hearing two pieces in the Saturday night concert I was unsure whether Ottingnon’s trio was an ideal choice to end the jazz program on the Sunday, but that second outing dispelled those doubts. A small but appreciative audience attended the final festival gig.

Scott Tinkler’s DRUB was also, as expected, a fiery, full-on performance that was utterly engrossing, but I dropped in only long enough to clear the cobwebs from my brain between two very different concerts. It was an effective palate cleanser.

As mentioned earlier, the festival as a blast was far from the whole story. Fans of New Orleans piano styles had a treat in WPAC Theatre on Friday at a time usually reserved for a major jazz attraction, as UK-born Jon Cleary took us on a journey from Jelly Roll Morton to Fats Domino.

But I was still feeling the warm glow of other vibes, in particular from vocalist Melanie Taylor’s clear and moving rendition of Somewhere Called Home, performed with Tony Gould on piano during the festival’s opening Monash Sessions concert at 6pm in WPAC Theatre. Student musicians, along with Gould, Mike Nock, Paul Williamson (trumpet) and Rob Burke delivered a thoroughly engaging start to Wangaratta 2017 — I left on a high.

That mood continued at 7.30pm when the Kari Ikonen Trio (Finland) delivered the first of two demonstrations of how powerful music can be when carefully crafted, constantly varied and given lots of space. I had to leave that concert early, but heard all of the 11am Saturday outing by Kari Ikonen on piano, Olli Rantala on double bass and Markku Ounaskari on drums. At that early hour a good crowd was treated to gentle humour, shifts in dynamics, rich timbres of piano strings strummed, brooding bowed bass and deftly minimal drum work. The levels of intensity varied, the piano notes were at times icy or crystalline and at others verging on guttural.

That was a definite highlight, but Sunday took me to another level at 11am in WPAC Theatre when Phil Slater on trumpet joined Simon Barker on drums, Matt McMahon on piano, Matt Keegan on sax, and Brett Hirst on bass to premiere new works. From Slater’s breathy, opening horn notes it was evident we were to hear something special. His solemn input began what slowly built into a mesmerising set of might and beauty, peppered in places with musings, nibbles, short runs and bright shards of sound from the horn.

These were works of immense power, with no need of electronics or special effects and no need for sustained full-throttle playing. Yet this seamless, organically cohesive music sustained interest throughout. Sprinklings of rhythm from Barker, McMahon and Hirst perfectly complemented the work of Keegan and Slater. This was a deeply moving concert.

Two hours later an octet led by bassist Jonathan Zwartz brought Slater back to that stage among a talented bunch of “feckless rascals” who delivered melodically rich compositions by Swartz from a soon-to-be-released album. Again this was a band of luminaries — Barney McAll piano, Hamish Stuart drums, Julien Wilson tenor sax, Phil Slater trumpet, James Greening trombone, Fabian Hevia percussion and Steve Magnusson guitar. They served up a rich feast of exuberant and deeply affecting music spiced with much humour. McAll’s subtle input towards the end of the newly dubbed Julien Wilson’s Song of Love was spot-on.

In what became a Sunday brimming with local musicianship of the highest order, bassist Sam Anning gathered the impressive line-up of Andrea Keller piano, Mat Jodrell trumpet and flugel, Carl Mackey alto sax, Julien Wilson tenor sax and Danny Fischer drums to play his beautiful compositions with warmth and vitality. I love a well bent trumpet note and Jodrell does that well.

Anning also featured in saxophonist Angela Davis’s Quartet in St Pat’s Hall at noon Sunday, the close-knit ensemble delivering some appealingly gentle swing. A change in scheduling may have meant some missed the adventurous and awesome originals played by a young Melbourne quartet. Formed in mid 2015, this band comprising bassist Isaac Gunnoo, drummer Maddison Carter and siblings Flora Carbo (saxophone) and Theo Carbo (guitar) is worth keeping an eye on. They’ll go far.

Expatriate Australian horn player Nadje Noordhuis now living in New York chose Theo Carbo to join her hand-picked band, along with James Shipp (USA) on synthesisers and percussion, Gian Slater on vocals and Chris Hale on bass, playing her compositions written for this festival gig. There were hints of nostalgia in these pieces, which celebrated Noordhuis’s luxuriantly rich tones on trumpet and flugelhorn in a performance to sink into. Slater’s vocals were tailored to match the mood, which never ventured into edgy.

The mood was less predictable when Noordhuis reunited with festival programming team member Adam Simmons and French guitarist Philippe Guidat — all three had been thrown together in a Music Omi Artist Residency in upstate New York in 2007 — to form a disparate sextet with French percussionist Pascal Rollando, James Shipp (vibes/percussion) and Chris Hale (bass). Plenty of humour was added to the mix in this delightful outing, especially in an impromptu instrumental battle between Shipp and Simmons. This recipe — mix a few varied musicians and stir — worked a treat.

Other line-ups that worked well were a trio not often enough heard comprising Nick Haywood on bass with Colin Hopkins piano and Niko Schauble on drums, and Antelodic — featuring the unusual combination of Robbie Melville on guitar with two saxophonists, Gideon Brazil on tenor and Monty Mackenzie on alto sax and clarinet.

In the National Jazz Awards finals, the hard-working judges — Nadje Noordhuis, Scott Tinkler and trombonist Adrian Sherriff — awarded the honours as follows: 1st James Macaulay, 29, trombone, Victoria; 2nd Niran Dasika, 23, trumpet, Victoria; and 3rd Thomas Avgenicos, 21, trumpet, NSW. As is always the case, the finals performances attracted a large audience to hear quality performances. The backing band of Tom O’Halloran piano, Brendan Clarke bass and Ben Vanderwal drums also deserves high praise.

One standout artist at this festival deserves a separate post — partly because of the impact of her performances and partly because it was far from what you’d expect to find in a jazz festival program. Multilingual vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and dancer Jen Shyu gave two concerts — one in Holy Trinity Cathedral on Saturday in a duo with Simon Barker, and another on Sunday in WPAC Theatre with Barker, James Shipp on vibraphone and Veronique Serret on six-string violin.

Her compelling out-of-left-field expositions of drama, theatre, dance and expressively virtuosic vocals were engrossing, shocking, funny, moving, confronting and often puzzling. It was a visual feast as even the simplest moves — such as picking up or putting down an instrument — were imbued with grace and poise. Shyu sang and spoke in seven languages and played piano, violin, moon lute and percussion.

I was fascinated, but also frustrated at not always following the narrative, even though having the unexpected benefit of seeing the same work, Song of Silver Geese, twice. (I had expected a different work at the second outing.)

It is impossible to be at all festival gigs. I regret having missed Barney McAll’s ASIO, Cleverhorse, Slipper, Gian Slater with McAll and Barker, Guidat/Rollando in duo, Digital Seed, Mike Nock’s solo piano, Nick Tsiavos’s Liminal, Lo-Res, Zac Hurren, Katie Noonan and Karin Shaupp. Origami’s Wu-Xing – The Five Elements was just beginning as I left, so I hope that will be staged again soon.

To sum up, Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues 2017 offered the high-tech and high-volume outings that many will have loved, but I was happiest — and very satisfied indeed — to have heard many concerts in which loud and proud was less important than exquisitely varied.

ROGER MITCHELL

PS: There were a few niggles — program inconsistencies, line-ups missing on the festival app, gigs starting late, overly pushy security guards at the Pinsent — but these can wait.

PPS: More images will be added later.

PPPS: If you read this far, accept a gold star and free access to a DRUB recording session (no ear plugs provided).

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REVOLVING DOORS: 17 GIGS IN 10 DAYS

Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii performs in Kira Kira

Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii performs in Kira Kira … “an absolute triumph”.

REVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, June 1 – 11, 2017

To say this festival ended on a high note is undeniable. It was also a long note — or collection of many notes.

Speedball — a quintet formed in Perth 17 years ago and whose members now mostly live in Melbourne — played possibly the longest set of the festival to a packed house at The Jazzlab, wowing the enthusiastic throng with pieces off their debut album, We Have Moved, for one hour 41 minutes. It seemed half that.

Afterwards, the crowd seemed to thicken in the relatively new — and much acclaimed —Brunswick venue run by festival artistic director Michael Tortoni as the festival’s allegedly hardest working bass player Sam Anning returned to the stage with Mark Fitzgibbon and Danny Fischer for the final late night jam session. I slipped away to digest the music I’d heard in 17 concerts over 10 days.

A couple of encounters have stayed in my mind. One was a conversation with a fellow from up north (Wollongong, I think he said) who’d taken time off work to come to Melbourne, stay at The Langham, and hear music. No hard core jazz fan, he’d been initially attracted by James Morrison’s gig with Patti Austin, then decided to stay on. At the end of the set by Swiss trio MaxMantis on Friday, June 9, he was smiling broadly.

The other was a fan moment. Awaiting doors open at The Jazzlab on Wednesday, I hardly noticed a car pull up and an older couple alight. Their younger colleague tried the door, unsuccessfully, and then I realised I was standing on the footpath on a cold Melbourne night with renowned Carla Bley and Steve Swallow. Cool. Not long after that they joined Monash Art Ensemble and saxophonist Andy Sheppard on stage in Appearing Nightly, a welcome opportunity to catch these visiting jazz luminaries at close quarters.

Small venues allow that kind of intimacy, but they do fill up. Among the festival gigs to sell out were, at The Jazzlab, Tal Cohen Quintet, Bill Frisell Trio, Tigran Hamasyan (twice) and The Necks (four times); and, at 170 Russell, Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles. The drawing power of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, as celebrated by Patti Austin, James Morrison and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, was evident in two sold-out concerts at much larger Hamer Hall. All of the concerts I attended at The Toff in Town were either packed or well attended, and there were reports of many bums on seats at other club sessions.

International artists were impressive, but Australian artists — including expatriates and those who have spent time abroad — were up there with the visitors in providing music that captivates, intrigues and delights. That’s hardly a surprise.

It’s always difficult to find a single thread running through such a diverse collection of concerts, and a list of my highlights is bound to be so governed by personal taste that it would not be all that helpful. It’s more useful, perhaps, to explore what is it that attracts us to the music — scripted and improvised — that is being delivered at festival concerts often so markedly different. Is it the virtuosic solos, the ebb and flow of a cohesive ensemble’s evolving offerings, the evident interplay, the long years of experience that make for mutual understanding in a trio or ensemble, the fiery and spectacular playing either individually or collectively, the tension and drama in a composition, the art of entertainment or the surprise of something new and totally different?

Two international trios playing at Melbourne Recital Centre delivered pretty much what was expected from world renowned players with long, illustrious pedigrees. Johnathan Blake’s drum solos in Kenny Barron’s trio excited many, but his amazingly long effort in Bud-Like often seemed to involve a cascade of rolling repetitions and I preferred his shorter offering in Calypso, where his work seemed more integral to the piece, referencing the melody throughout. This well oiled and assured trio tapped into deep jazz roots with ease. I’d hoped for more fire from Barron’s keys, but loved the way he infused swing so unobtrusively, awakening interest in the listener.

Carla Bley is respected for her compositions and arrangements rather than her solos and referred to her charts often during her trio’s outing with Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard. Humour shone through the trio’s “brand new” piece, Beautiful Telephones — dedicated to Donald Trump because apparently that’s what he first noticed when entering the White House — with its references to iconic American tunes, but I loved the way Bley and Swallow almost, but not quite, filled the spaces as they interacted. The highlight was their three-part piece Andando el Tiempo, written about addiction and recovery, which seemed too gentle for its theme yet so beautiful that the audience felt applause would be intrusive. Sheppard’s soprano sax seemed effortlessly fluid.

Applause was similarly denied Brisbane vocalist Kristin Berardi at times in her BFK trio’s exploration of freshly recorded material with Luxembourg vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher at The Toff, ironically marred by hand dryer noise during their rendition of Begin Again (perhaps they should have). Schumacher, who had joined BFK a few days earlier in time for their recording session, came on stage after the trio’s opener Revolving Doors, which Berardi explained was named after she called for suggestions from the audience at Ric’s Bar in Brisbane. Other suggestions were “Aliens” and “The Slime Attack”.

I await with interest the freshly minted quartet’s album, but on the night the trio of Berardi’s compelling vocals — she has the ability to delight with or without words — along with Sean Foran’s piano and Rafael Karlen’s sax provided the most force, especially in Will I Ever Rest?, No Shepherds Live Here and Karlen’s Bushfire Break.

Words were integral to two performances, both at The Jazzlab. I have reviewed Andrea Keller’s Still Night: Music in Poetry previously, but on the festival’s final night I was even more impressed by this exploration of our feelings about death using sung poetry. Vince Jones’s voice grew stronger during the set, alternating and harmonising in perfect synergy with Gian Slater’s exquisite vocals, especially for If Death is Kind and the closing I am a little church (no great cathedral). Julien Wilson (reeds) and Stephen Magnusson (guitar) add so much to this work, which will be recorded when funds permit.

Pianist Hue Blanes utilised the words of speeches in his PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission entitled Things That Have Been Said. Blanes assembled a formidable quartet for this imaginative work and the challenge was to integrate recorded fragments of speech with his music. At times I struggled to pick up the words amid the superbly executed musical contributions, and found it difficult to digest both simultaneously. Yet there was more than mere humour in the insertion of Donald Trump’s “we will determine the future of the world for many, many people” and the space given to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” lines was ideal. The closing Eulogy featuring musicians speaking was most effective, but overall I wonder whether the spoken words could also be delivered visually to enhance the impact of this adventurous work.

Adventurous also was Kira Kira, the presentation of four compositions commissioned under the MIJF’s International Exchange program and featuring Australians Alister Spence (fender rhodes and effects) and Tony Buck (drums and percussion) with Japanese artists Satoko Fujii (piano) and Natsuki Tamura (trumpet). This song cycle created as a result of an ongoing relationship between Spence and Fujii was an absolute triumph and for me the highlight of this festival. From the moment these four began their first texturally spectacular piece I was riveted — so much so that I find it hard to explain its appeal. Yet these pieces held me entranced as they changed, developed, and evolved, creating tension and holding attention in sequences that never lacked the ability to engross. I tore myself away to make another concert as Tamura’s horn rose in resplendent glory, as I left pondering the fact that the appeal of these pieces was not in swing or in melody or in virtuosic solos, but in incredibly successful collectivism and mutual awareness of the creative process.

It was a similar yet vastly different collectivism that made the Jim Black Quartet work so well at The Toff. Black’s ability at the drum kit, along with his energy and enthusiasm, would be enough to guarantee satisfaction, but the synergy — there’s that word again — between him and Julien Wilson on reeds, Chris Hale on electric bass and Stephen Magnusson on guitar made this so much more. Throughout the set there were times when individuals took prominence, but this outing was far removed from some in which solo follows solo. Instead, it seemed as if what emerged was being developed on the run by those involved. This was music going somewhere, but the destination was most likely not predetermined.

Energy generated from the drum kit was also a feature of Ari Hoenig’s trio from the US with Nitai Hershkovits on piano and Or Bareket on bass. Hoenig is a frequent visitor to Australia and much-loved because of his ability at the kit and wildly enthusiastic approach, which includes his party trick of tuning the drums so that he can play melodies. There was plenty of drama, power and finesse in Hershkovits’ expressive playing and I loved the way this trio varied dynamics and tempo, all three attentive to each other’s changes throughout.

Attentiveness is written all over the face of Bill Frisell, even when the lighting (from behind his head) at The Jazzlab puts his hint of a smile in deep shadow (Note to self: resist indulgent comments related purely to photography). What a treat to see and hear Frisell up close along with Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. You don’t want to be anywhere else when you’re immersed in this trio’s extended-play pieces that pulsate and undulate as they explore and rework simple melodies.

It no doubt helped that I’d watched Emma Franz’s documentary on Frisell a few hours earlier, but my feeling was that this music was akin to a living being going through accelerated evolution yet without any hurry, constantly adapting and developing in a seamless manner, the parts forming a unity and yet shaping further change. As with the Jim Black Quartet, it’s the journey rather than the destination that seems to matter for Frisell as momentum ebbs and flows. Moon River was a treat, as were later excursions into toe-tapping country and a Bond tune.

If Frisell is a giant in the jazz scene, Gentle Giants was the album launched at The Jazzlab on my opening festival gig by expatriate Australian pianist Tal Cohen in the first of two starkly contrasting concert double-ups. Jamie Oehlers on tenor sax delivered some vigorous solos, Greg Osby (US) was fairly restrained, but Cohen was the giant on the night, playing with swing, great power and fragility. Lo Haya was the highlight composition.

Much more amped-up and pumped was, at The Toff, The Donny McCaslin Group, given prominence through the band’s work with David Bowie on his final album Blackstar. McCaslin has much stage presence and is a great entertainer, as well as not being shy of expressing his political leanings (sound IMHO). Jason Lindner was attentive and creative on keys and Zach Danziger energetic at the drum kit for this high-octane performance, but the star was the talented and engaging McCaslin. I was most drawn to the more surreal Bowie compositions this group played, but it was obvious that there is a strong demand among younger fans for this style of music. As someone commented later, the audience went wild when the saxophone played a high note. It was an example of virtuosic solo appeal — but maybe some of these patrons could get out more.

The other disparate double bill began with Poland’s NAK Trio, described as “a charismatically unconventional outfit” of four instruments (bass, drums and the left and right hands of pianist Dominik Wania). They opened with Wooing to Woo, but I thought there was little effort to woo the audience. Wania delivered plenty of momentum from the piano and keyboard, adding force and flourish via his obviously skilled, robust and expansive approach, but there was insufficient variation or space to add interest. Melbourne’s Marty Holoubek did a mighty job sitting in for the trio’s usual bassist Michal Kapczuk, but drummer Jacek Kochan seemed overly busy and intent on filling every gap.

By contrast, Swiss trio MaxMantis — Lukas Gernet piano, Rafael Jerjen bass, Samuel Buttiker drums — showed they were entertainers from the outset, injecting warmth and fun into a set that displayed their infectious enthusiasm as well as musical ability. Apparently this was a relatively tame performance from this band (or clan, as they like to put it), which delivered much variation and space, as well as a zany take on some Swiss folk tunes. Their encore Theme Song for a Power Hen sums up the mood, which was upbeat, offbeat and quirky.

As MaxMantis exemplified quirky, the festival’s only solo performer, Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, epitomised the indefinable. Armed with grand piano, a synthesiser and his falsetto vocals, he incorporated electronic effects with classical piano variations and mouth percussion in spasmodic bursts and sudden pulses of sound, forming patterns and discarding them in fragmented forms filled at times with drama, agitation and unrest while at others dipping into gentler, lyrical interludes. Intensity was built and fell away, dynamics varied mightily and emphatic harshness gave way to gentle repose, albeit briefly. His final piece, Nairian Odyssey, was appealingly abstract and ended with intense mouth percussion that enthralled the packed audience at The Jazzlab. I left feeling ambivalent, finding that his set was more a series of effects than a journey, that unlike the collective development in Kira Kira, Hamasyan’s pieces did not seem to be going anywhere.

It’s a big leap from solo keys to Appearing Nightly, in which the Carla Bley Trio members joined Monash Art Ensemble at The Jazzlab to deliver sprightly versions of Bley’s tunes from the 2008 live album of that name — swing-era standards with oomph. There is something about the sound of a big band turning up the volume that warms the heart and feeds the soul. Bley obviously enjoyed playing pieces she’d not encountered for years and the Monash musicians delivered great solos and tight coordination with verve and gusto. They threatened to lift the roof at times.

Which brings me back to Speedball — not a big band, but so loud at times that in the front row I was tempted to break out the improvised ear plugs. Amid all the swing and spirited power of this quintet, which entertained us for such a long set that nevertheless seemed to flash past, it was drummer Daniel Susnjar’s composition Gospel that stole the show, featuring bowed bass from Sam Anning and an opening piano solo from Grant Windsor in which you could have heard a pin drop, the audience being so rapt.

It was an ideal finish.

ROGER MITCHELL

REVERBERATIONS OF SOUND

KAGE_OUT-OF-EARSHOT_photo-Jeff-Busby_1500x

Out of Earshot                       Image: Jeff Busby

REVIEW: Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2017

KAGE: Out of Earshot, 7.30pm, June 1, 2017 at Chunky Move, 111 Sturt Street, South Melbourne

What a change to review a performance that is not a one-off. The dance group KAGE, which was established in 1997 by Victorian College of the Arts dance graduates Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck, will present this dance theatre  many times during the jazz festival (see MIJF program for details), so there will be more opportunities to hear, or feel, what’s presented.

I would strongly suggest that you take those opportunities, because this is a thrilling, compelling and challenging work. Having experienced it once, I immediately felt I’d like to do so again.

But before turning up I’d urge you to keep in mind the words of American Deaf Visual Artist Christine Sun Kim: “In Deaf culture, movement is equivalent to sound. Sound doesn’t have to be … only felt through the ears, it can be felt tactually or experienced as a visual or even as an idea.”

One of the artists in Out Of Earshot, Melbourne dancer Anna Seymour, was born profoundly deaf. At one point in the performance she lies across the lap of drummer Myele Manzanza — who jazz fans may know through his work with Ross McHenry or Marcus Strickland — with her ear to the skin of a drum. It is a powerful image.

This work is not meant especially for people who are deaf or whose hearing is impaired. Rather it aims to shift an audience’s perception of sound. Many in the audience on opening night were signing beforehand, and at the end delivered their applause by drumming feet and raising hands while rapidly twisting wrists. That suggested they were appreciative, but I can’t say what it was like to experience this without hearing or with limited hearing.

Out of Earshot Image: Jeff Busby

Out of Earshot                      Image: Jeff Busby

The mechanics of Out of Earshot are simple to explain, undeniably not easy to execute. Four dancers react to Manzanza’s rhythms, which he creates using bodies, the floor and a drum kit that the dancers move and rotate. Panels of light on three walls change colour and reflect the beat visually. The dancers also tell stories in their interactions with each other and the drummer. It is physically demanding and calls for taut responses as well as slow rolls and grapplings. Body contact is integral. All five performers are superb.

Program notes explain that Out of Earshot focuses on passion, empathy, exhilaration and intimacy; that it treats silence not as a lack of sound but a state that can convey emotion and feeling; and that it offers us glimpses of many global experiences, learned and from research.

So does it deliver? There is no doubt about that, although I may not have noticed or understood all that was being communicated.

This performance begins and ends with body percussion that conveys and reflects the heartbeats within us. In between I felt the dancers explored many things: the acceptance of closeness; trust, mutual or one-way; struggle and support; connectedness and distance; silence and separation (via protective earmuffs); the attraction and power of rhythm; a beat as initiating action; agitation (perhaps with being separated from sound); touch as a life-giving force; sound as a controlling mechanism; sound as absence (exemplified in silent drumming, silent singing); initiation and submission in relationships; and delightful humour (when Elle Evangelista channels Nicki Minaj’s rap song Super Bass with its entirely apt line “you’ve got my heartbeat running away”).

Out of Earshot Image: Jeff Busby

Out of Earshot                           Image: Jeff Busby

I was blown away by Manzanza’s work with his drumsticks while seated on the floor. I was puzzled by dancers’ grappling with and clinging to the drummer, possibly to distract him, curb his volume or cool his fire. I was intrigued by how much body contact could occur without necessarily conveying intimacy and how little eye contact there seemed to be in many of these interactions — perhaps reflecting our society’s separateness. And I was moved and mystified by powerful coupling almost at the end, when Anna Seymour’s hand over Timothy Ohl‘s eyes was a constant amid their closeness.

Out of Earshot

Out of Earshot                       Image: Jeff Busby

It is hard not to feel the connectedness of humanity when all performers gather at the end, linked by the simple heartbeats created from their bodies.

There was much skill on show in Out of Earshot and many provocative and stimulating thoughts arising from the interactions and movements that an audience could take away to ponder. It is worth seeing and hearing this work — not only via the ears. Its reverberations will be felt long after you leave.

ROGER MITCHELL 

 

 

KAGE creates performances that “relate and respond to current social thinking”.