Evans / Odamura / Elphick & Visions of Nar (Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival)
What do you get when you combine a koto saxophone, double bass and alto saxophone? The Evans / Odamura / Elphick Trio – one of the most exhilarating jazz concerts you have seen in Australia to date.
On Friday night at the Utzon Hall of the Sydney Opera House, koto master Satsuki Odamura joined Australia’s most famous and influential saxophonist Dr Sandy Evans and ARIA-winner bassist Steve Elphick, for the first half of a concert featuring an impressive array of Evans. and the compositions of Odamura.
Odamura and Elphick have both appeared on Evans’ albums in the past, including Rockpool mirror (Tall Poppies) of 2017, which saw the masterful pieces for the koto, such as His wild spirit (2019) for tenor saxophone, koto and koto bass, and Love is a deeper season (2020) for koto, bass koto and taiko.
In the Utzon room, the trio opened with What destination now?– Evans’ musical essay, exploring a feeling she harbors about the plight of the world after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Odamura bowed before entering her stage space, kneeling beside her 13-string instrument as she plucked the opening notes of the composition – a flash of sound that shocked the audience.
She meandered with Elphick on bass, the pair circling a central motif before Evans entered with a hypnotic passage. His swirling runs displayed his characteristic boldness, and his ability to immediately switch from courage to tenderness was astounding to hear.
She continued her sonic choreography as Odamura threw her arms and fingers around her instrument, sending the melody into a perpetual and memorable climax, as Elphick maintained his drones and reliable octave hops supporting the base of the room.
Already, the opening piece dazzled audiences with its genre flair, as the three legendary musicians sculpted a musical tale of adventure, exuberance and turbulence.
The composition of Elphick and Odamura in a trance, saw a more minimalist interpretation of the possibilities available for the double bass and the two kotos that Odamura had that evening; the 17-string bass koto and the 13-string koto. Elphick explained to the audience that he was interested in examining the characteristics of his instrument with that of Odamura; this piece was less about the explicit narrative, and more about the setting in atmosphere.
There was strength and athleticism in Odamura’s play – watching her change height with her left fingers and her thumb pressing the ropes was akin to seeing the graceful poise of an Olympic fencer.
His majestic approach to musical creation with Elphick and Evans created an atmosphere of solemnity and humility. The addition of the bass bow to the koto complimented Evans’ fierce solo – every note is performed with such care and thoughtfulness.
The trio finished their set with a range of compositions by Evans Rockpool mirror album including Yarrunga Lake, and Colors of Lake Yarrunga.
âThe past two years have been a time of change and suffering, uncertainty and unexpected happiness,â Evans said. “For me, I’m just incredibly happy to be here with these amazing musicians, who make my life worth living.”
Evans’ lively personality and charm emanated from every sound she ejected from her saxophone. We heard brilliant trills accompany the cascading swirling sounds of Odamura’s koto, as she moved the bridges of her instrument and deftly moved along the koto’s long frame.
The energy of their performance continued into the second half of the concert, when a quartet of young musicians enchanted the audience with their progressive approach to music inspired by Armenian mythologies.
In a series of world-building pieces, saxophonist Jeremy Rose and pianist Zelda Margossian presented their compositions as part of the ABC’s Fresh Start Fund, with the project, Visions of Nar, named after the goddess of the waters and the ocean – a powerful female force in Armenian mythology.
They were joined on stage by the extraordinary percussionist Adem Yilmaz, a member of Margossian’s own quintet, and this year’s Freedman Jazz Fellow, Hilary Geddes on guitar.
In an hour-long setting, the ensemble painted a vast soundscape of the towering mountains of Armenia and the cheerful surroundings of the vernissage market in the capital, Yerevan.
The ensemble worked cohesively, with each member displaying a high level of awareness of their role in creating the water, thunder and ocean scene in Nar dance, Girl of the seas and Mythical union, all composed by the ethno-jazz and folkloric style of Margossian.
As I sat in the audience, stopped by the vigorous playfulness of the music, I found myself thinking “What is jazz?” “
Exceeding existing limits? The creation of new sounds? The slow, gentle inculcation of sounds the world has yet to hear? Or the feeling of crossing foreign sound heights?
With respect to this group, all of the above. I enjoyed Margossian’s compositions, as her writing distributed the melodic and rhythmic singularity more evenly among all players.
His pieces have allowed each musician to display their own unique voice. Sometimes Rose would play many notes when he didn’t need them, and some high registers were compromised by spitting sounds. But overall, his tone was broad, expansive, and pleasant.
works by Rose, Birth song, Heaven and earth and Smoke and flames were good – with interesting and complex rhythms.
A tight rhythmic foundation was set up by Geddes on guitar and Yilmaz on percussion. The bar changes were initiated flawlessly and supported by a clarity of Margossian sound on the piano.
Sometimes Rose’s sax would cover Geddes’ intricate and sinuous guitar sequences, but it was always a piece that had ââ¦ the ability to bring together interesting personalities and cultures,â as Rose explained in presenting the song. ‘one of his pieces.
In the few times we have heard Geddes show off her talents, she has shown her speed and musical wit – someone who is clearly at the top of her instrument. Her self-awareness as a performer and musician as part of an ensemble is amazing.
Margossian’s solos were immersive and swept away in their power and austerity – there was a magnifying pull in her phrasing, and her on-stage connection with Yilmaz was magical to behold. It was as if they were connected by an invisible force, weaving perfectly together.
There is a feeling you get when you witness something remarkable happening in front of you – something called genius. It’s unique, distinct and rare, and you know it the moment you see it – in this case, listen to it. Yilmaz was that genius on Friday night, banging, banging, piercing and banging his collection of percussion instruments, which surrounded him like an astronaut surrounded by their flight control panels, ready to launch into space.
Throughout the concert, his use of the fiberskyn hand drum, cajon, udu drums, thunder drum, bells and maracas was extraordinary to see. His dexterity was fascinating to hear. His sound was pure and real, healthy and enchanting.
The performance evoked a mystical realm of quivering beauty – an area we have been fortunate enough to embrace.