Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sculthorpe Songbook Project

Difficult to categorise, but you know when you're introducing a group of musicians of this calibre that something beautiful could happen. It's a trust thing.

Calibre? Phil Slater (trumpet), Matt McMahon (piano), Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Simon Barker (drums), Steve Elphick (bass) and the Silo String Quartet. Guest vocalists Katie Noonan and Tim Friedman. That should do it.

And if you also know that the music they are working with is filled with space and textures, complexity and a wide range of influences, another dimension of expectation kicks in. Somewhere I read that this is 'a unique contemporary cross-genre collaboration that re-imagines the music of Peter Sculthorpe'. Looking back over the two evenings I heard this concert, I could agree with that!

The music started with Carl's guitar, a slow building hum to a vibration, then a gong from Simon... the piano starts quietly and then Steve bows the bass. Phil's trumpet sounds out. We're off. There's a wild look in Simon's eye.

This first piece was 'Singing Sun'. The music chosen for this project comes from a wide range of Sculthorpe pieces. We were walked through it by Phil, Matt and Tim... I'd heard two of the songs before... the Calmo movement from Sculthorpe's piano concerto is on Matt's CD Paths and Streams and Bone Epilogue is on Strobe Coma Virgo Phil Slater's 2003 CD. I'm blogging this a week after it happened and it's been bugging me all week 'Where had I heard that track before?' It was only my favourite, on replay replay replay when I first heard Strobe Coma Virgo.

There are other writers who will do a better blow-by-blow description of what they heard. For me, subjective as usual, I was excited by the opportunity to hear / see Phil, Matt and Simon play together. They have a special something that comes from a deeply shared sensibility or approach. Carl's playing with all of them, separately and together, taps into that. Steve Elphick is a bass player I've always admired deeply. Also from Sydney, he has played with these musicians before, too. He is a great listener but mostly I think what I love about his playing is that along with his willingness to have an adventure, he has a combined lightness and sureness of touch.

Let's go to Katie. I was a big fan of George, which is where we first heard her I guess. This was all before I started to listen to this other music. And I haven't always enjoyed Katie's voice in the jazz context, though I've been an admirer of hers for years. Tonight changed what I feel about her voice; I liked what I heard.

Then the Tim Friedman. The connection(s) with Sculthorpe gave him one reason to be there and I loved the additional texture that his voice and singing added.

The string quartet added yet another type of texture. And while other punters told me that they wish the strings had been used more, I'm not that brave. I had what felt like the perfect amounts of everything going into my ears.

As for the music. Such a tapestry, such a landscape... The first night (Friday) I took hardly any notes. I guess I was just open to whatever was being offered. The second night I (barely) pulled myself together and put pen to paper.

  • Eyes and ears wide open in happy surprise at Katie's singing on 'Maranoa Lullaby'
  • Phil's acknowledgement of Peter Sculthorpe and of Sculthorpe's sources and his gratitude at Sculthorpe's letting them 'mess around' with his music.
  • Simon's solo with chains in 'Pemunkah' and the way that Carl's guitar sounded like a choir in the background
  • The dark, hollow sounds in this song, and the way Phil's trumpet wove like golden light through the darkness
  • The story behind 'It'll Rise Again' and Tim's singing of it. He had more fun on the second night. I guess it takes a night or two to know a room.
  • Phil's trumpet again on 'Music from Kakadu'
  • Katie (again) on 'The Stars Turn'. The palpable longing. Matt and Caerwen (cello).
  • The way Tim's and Katie's voices complemented each other in 'Love' (from Sculthorpes' Love: 200)
  • The lyrics of 'Out the Back' and the string movement in it.
  • On 'Bone Epilogue' Steve Elphick sounding like 3 instruments at once with his playing and bowing and plinking below the bridge

Thanks to Roger for the pic and check him out for more detail on this concert.

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