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The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2

The Usefulness of Art, Concert 2: Final moment


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.


Here’s a gallery of images from opening night:




Ready to tour: Origami (Image supplied)


Origami is touring this month to support the release of two new CDs, Karaoke and The Usefulness of Art.

The line-up: Adam Simmons alto sax and bass clarinet, Howard Cairns double bass, Hugh Harvey drums (Anthony Baker played drums on the albums)

This tour and these two albums are a must not to miss, not only because of the music, but also to view the wonder of the hand-folded album covers that have become the hallmark of this trio. These are bound to be collector’s items — if you can get one.

Anyone who has heard Origami’s earlier album The Blues of Joy will know that the band is capable of enfolding the listener in music that is accessible as well as beautiful, while at other times daring to unfold our preconceptions and take us down pathways that are not as familiar.

I am sorry to have to miss the Melbourne launch of The Usefulness of Art, but I highly recommend this collection of compositions, which gives voice to Simmons’ feelings at a time when the arts are not always considered too important in our society. In particular, this album is apposite given the recent cut to funding of the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative.

I had the privilege of sitting in at the recording session for this album. Don’t miss it. As for Karaoke, who can resist? Go on, you know you love it. This is Origami’s take on some songs that are well known.

The Origami tour dates and places are listed below:

Melbourne Mon 11 March. Musica @ La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton 7:30pm
Ballarat Sun 17 March. L’espresso, 417 Sturt St 8pm
Canberra Mon 18 March, The Front Gallery & Cafe, Shop 3, 1 Wattle Pl, Lyneham 7:30pm
Newcastle Tue 19 March, The Grand Hotel (presented by NIMA), cnr Church & Bolton streets 7:30pm
Sydney Thu 21 March, Colbourne Ave, cnr Colbourne Ave and St Johns Rd, Glebe 8pm
Canberra Fri 22 March, The Village Festival, Glebe Pk – http://www.thevillagefestival.com.au time TBC
Paraparap Sun 24 March, Wolseley Winery, 1790 Hendy Main Rd, Paraparap 3pm
Melbourne Thu 28 March, Melbourne Recital Centre, 31 Sturt St, Southbank 7pm

Here’s some background provided by the band:

Origami is the most recent of Adam Simmons’ various projects, which include the Adam Simmons Quartet, New Blood, Collider, La Société des Antipodes and the renowned Adam Simmons Toy Band. He has contributed to numerous ensembles and recordings over many years, including in recent times: Gotye, Tania Bosak, John McAll’s Black Money, Kutcha Edwards, bucketrider and many others.

Howard Cairns , a band leader in his own right as well as a pivotal member of Way Out West, brings a beautifully gentle strength in his bass playing that helps to define the sound of Origami. Founding drummer, Anthony Baker, has unfortunately withdrawn from regular duties with Origami , but the incoming Hugh Harvey complements the trio’s sound with ease, bringing his own exuberant style to the group.

Peter Wockner in Limelight Magazine, 2012, writes:

Simmons has been on the Melbourne scene since the 1990s, but this could be his defining moment. Origami, with masterly technique, embraces some of the most vital aspects of jazz tradition and yet has an utterly contemporary relevance. Swing, groove, interplay, self-expression, and in the example of past masters such as Rollins, has embraced pop without compromising artistic integrity.

Karaoke (2013) and The Usefulness of Art (2013) are distributed nationally by Trailblazer Records – contact Richard Fields, (03) 9510 1435
For physical and/or digital sales, (inc. 24bit, 96Khz quality) visit Fatrain