Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review Crossing The Roper Bar II

Bennets Lane hosted Crossing the Roper Bar last night.  An ongoing collaboration between the traditional music of Roper River Communities - particularly the strong in heritage Wagilak group from Northern Arnhem Land and the Australian Art Orchestra.

When I heard of this collaboration I immediately bought the tickets.  Buying tickets to an event like this can be risk as we never know what to expect with such a bold approach to cultural meetings.  On one hand the songs of the Young Wagilak Group from Arnhem Land, ancient stories and traditions and the avante garde sounds of the Art Orchestra.  Being that I like both of the styles I deduced that this would be a good concert, and happily I wasn't wrong.

The Australian Art Orchestra called the project a visionary one and this is a accurate call. It is not jazz and it's definately not traditional Aboriginal music or songs, to me it suggests of something much more than the sum of its parts.  The question of what reconcilliation can even mean on a scope of Australia's scale has always plagued me and perhaps some of the answers lie in the results of such a concert series.
The Australian Art Orchestra's standard of musicianship is brilliant at worst.  Directed by Paul Grabowsky, pianist and heavyweight of Australia's Jazz community he fronts a team maestros including; multi instrumentalist of reeds and wind Tony Hicks, Guitars and Effects Stephen Magnusson, Acoustic Upright Bass - Phillip Rex and Drums and Percussion by Niko Schauble.  And the Wagilak Songmen were Daniel Wilfred - Vocals and Bilma or Talking Sticks and David Wilfred on Yidakki or Didgeridoo.

Apart they stand in high regard and together they create something that seems to transcend simply music.  I expected the Art Orchestra to be simply supporting the Songmen but the creative exchange seemed to flow both ways and the performance was unified.  Jazz formats in places indispersed with the chants and storytelling and the punctuating rythym of the Bilma and the constant drone of the Yidaki.  Ebbing between the bursts of reeds and grace of Grabowsky's mastery of the piano and keyboards, passing between moments of time and then off and beyond where our notions of time dissolve.  Elements of world music and improvised jazz as well as the humour and earth centred spirit of the Wagilak's repertoire.

It is rare to find such events and even better when they manage to capture a great idea and release it gracefully.  Another case for arts as a constant forge in healing the divides.

Musical Director, piano 
Paul Grabowsky
Bilma, vocals 
Daniel Wilfred
David Wilfred
Tony Hicks
Stephen Magnusson
Erkki Veltheim
Philip Rex
Niko Schauble

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