Visions of Nar ??
Evans / Elphick / Odamura ??
Utzon Hall, Sydney Opera House, November 19
With international travel currently being a scarce commodity, this evening we are fortunate to be transported not only to space but also to time in the refined warmth of an elegant living room in Yerevan, circa 1947.
Visions of Nar is a series of meditations on the Armenian goddess of the sea, Tsovinar, composed variously by Zela Margossian and Jeremy Rose. Their synergistic collaboration works wonders: Margossian’s deep sentimentality is conveyed by the precision of her saxophone while the pieces written by Rose would be in danger of cerebral pastiche without the lived cultural truth of her piano lines. The sound is complemented by the harmonics of Hilary Geddes’ electric guitar and a virtuoso array of skillful Middle Eastern percussion by Adem Yilmaz.
There is no slump in the show as each composition offers enough innovation for each performer to showcase their formidable talents, but the aptly titled ensemble opening The Beginning and Daughter of the Seas stand out as high notes. An ABC-commissioned recording is on the cards and shows great promise.
Don’t be put off by the “Dr” on behalf of Dr Sandy Evans. This is not a mere so-called jazz honorary title, nor a generation of unattainable and academic random noise. Rather, it is a testament to the doctor’s deep understanding of his craft, an understanding that fuels visionary compositions that bounce the standard jazz saxophone off the otherworldly 17-string koto without sounding artificial.
While perhaps politically unhappy, it is sonically glorious that a performance of the Women’s Jazz Festival features Steve Elphick. His bass is the essential unifier of the music, linking the Japanese formalism of Satsuki Odamura to the free-spirited improvisations of Evans and for that, his gender will be forgiven.
Experimental and exciting, each piece displays ingenious variety while performing a constant theme of playful interactions between musical traditions and sounds: in a trance can be mistaken for a bass and koto tuning exercise before turning into some species of (beautiful) whale song; Sound wheel slowly add koto highlights to the brooding bass and Colors of Lake Yarrunga superimpose everything line by line, to achieve a dizzying chromatic finish.
Artificial: never; exuberant: everywhere.