Tag Archives: The Usefulness of Art

ART AWAKENS EMPATHY

Adam Simmons

Adam Simmons during Travelling Tales

REVIEW

Travelling Tales, The Usefulness of Art concert 3, Adam Simmons with Arcko Symphonic Ensemble, 3pm December 10, 2017 at fortyfive downstairs

The collection of thoughts, inspirations and observations that inspired compositions in the third concert in Adam Simmons’ series collectively titled The Usefulness of Art would have been familiar to anyone who has spent time travelling.

These included the sense of adventure as we set out to explore the unknown, the opportunities to gain cultural and historic insights, the intensity of all-night experiences that extended until dawn, the rewards and risks of getting off the beaten track and the pleasure of tasting bread fresh from a bakery after a night of solving the world’s problems.

But Simmons’ inspirations also invited us to reflect on less positive but still powerful experiences encountered in the world. The program notes for his piece Threnody, a lament, refer to mourning for travellers who are on the road out of necessity rather than for pleasure. For me, this recalled one deeply affecting night spent talking with tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka as they tearfully farewelled families forcibly being repatriated to the south of India the next day.

Threnody was, for me, the most affecting piece in concert 3. It began with sonorous, plaintive strings under red lighting, Simmons standing behind the Arcko players, but not contributing. Then, as he moved forward, his tenor sax began a sour, rasping and agonising cry over the drone of strings that continued until the piece died away. It felt full of suffering and loss.

In this series of concerts Simmons has drawn deeply on Auguste Rodin’s view of the usefulness of the artist, including his declaration: “I call useful all that gives us happiness.”

Threnody felt like a reminder that at times it is important that we are not happy, having had our empathy awakened by the situation of others, able to feel compassion and to be motivated by anger to action.

Reflecting on this since hearing Travelling Tales, I’ve been reminded of how important the artists – painters, poets, musicians – were in motivating change in Iran before the fall of the Shah. The usefulness art was palpably evident then.

Of course the other eight pieces in concert 3 had quite a different flavour.

On the evening after this afternoon recital I recall telling a friend that this concert differed from the previous two in the TUoA series because Simmons was playing solos, with improvisations, while Arcko players acted as a unit playing from musical scores and under the baton of conductor Timothy Phillips. Viewed in that way Simmons was the star of the show, so to speak, and Arcko Symphonic Ensemble the skilled backing band.

But that view was wrong and does not do justice to the interaction between ensemble and soloist. Certainly Adam Simmons’ contributions stood out in this performance — I have never heard him play more evocatively — but it was the unity of the ensemble with soloist that delivered in spades. Everything Simmons created on bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones was delivered into a soundscape created by Arcko players with subtlety and verve.

This unity of soloist with ensemble was evident from the opening piece, Beginnings, when Simmons’ light and air-filled musings on soprano sax – his notes wandering freely to give a taste of journeys ahead – were perfectly complemented by a slow undercurrent of strings. And in A Single Step Arcko players contributed drama and built intensity with sharply repetitive patterns as a contrast to soft, deep tenor sax notes and later muted explorations. The strings acted as a subtle drone in A Nod to the Old World, swelling and receding beneath the serenity of floating notes from bass clarinet.

In The City that Never Sleeps Arcko players awaken us to work collaboratively with Simmons in creating a wonderful complexity, soloist and strings taking different paths and varying intensity to build the busyness. And in Living by Numbers the symphonic strength and agility of Arcko was on show as Simmons on soprano sax perfectly captured the disturbing mood of adventure, risk-taking, daring and danger. In A Song for Sharing, ensemble and tenor sax did exactly that, working a melody into a round with strings seemingly egging on the soloist. Strings and soprano sax embraced fondly in the closing Warm Croissants.

The one solo piece in this concert, Milosc, was a sublime demonstration of how expressive a saxophone can be, notes at times soaring and flaring, then fragile.

Adam Simmons has said that each of these TUoA concerts will develop from what has gone before in the series. They have been so different that we await with great expectations the two yet to come. It has always seemed unfortunate and unnecessary that an artist feels the need to prove the usefulness of art. That’s a given. Travelling Tales has demonstrated how powerfully affecting art can be.

ROGER MITCHELL

A few images from the night:

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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:

BE ENFOLDED, BE UNFOLDED

Origami

Ready to tour: Origami (Image supplied)

CD LAUNCH TOUR

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

ROGER MITCHELL