Exotic Bird on a Wire

I attended several parts of the Guelph Jazz Festival last weekend and enjoyed most of it very much. My favourite haunt is usually the free Jazz tent in downtown Guelph. I heard performances there by Manouche and then The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band. I thought the high energy and terrific synchronization of Manouche to be a treat and was impressed by how many people were dancing. I’ve heard better from The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band but they were fun to listen too.

Gyorgy Szabados (Hungary) and Vladimir Tarasov (Lithuania) played on Saturday September 9 just after the gala party which Karen and I attended. It is hard to describe what was accomplished on their first concert in North America. People have called the piano a percussion instrument (the strings are struck with hammers after all) and so it isn’t really that crazy to say that a piano can harmonize with drums and other percussion instruments. The performance made it all too clear that such harmony was possible, I heard it with my own ears.
At certain points Szabados would lean forward off the piano bench and reach into the grand piano to make very bizarre sounds that certainly felt like they belonged.  Tarasov is a master Jazz percussionist!
It’s a remarkable experience to hear and see these two men perform. I don’t know how long they played exactly but it was surely over an hour and a half… it was so absolutely enthralling that it seemed like no time at all. It was, in retrospect, the highlight of the festival for Karen and I.

Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the 2nd part of the double bill with Steve Coleman and the Five Elementals. These performers seemed to be competing with each other rather than cooperating and I felt like I couldn’t wait for it be over. In fact several people did leave in the middle of the performance.

I’ve since had the opportunity to listen to an album called Triotone done by Szabados, Tarasov with Sax player Anthony Braxton. Although it’s not the same as being there to watch the magic of the concert happening before you it is certainly an interesting listening experience.

On Sunday night, at the last concert of the venue, we were treated with a show by Autorickshaw with guests Trichy Sankaran & Kevin Breit.

Part cultural lesson, part jazz, part sub-continental immersion Autorickshaw are a feast for the ears and eyes. “Exotic Bird on a Wire” was a very interesting adaptation of Leonard Cohen’s song. I normally don’t like cover songs but there are rare times when something new is created and here was a good example. I didn’t get the impression that Autorickshaw was hanging unto anyone’s coattails. A lilting Indian version of the familiar tune, it started out with Indian words and later on was added to with English lyrics. It made me think of an altogether foreign wire and bird.

I also enjoyed “So the Journey Goes” which is the title track from their album to be released sometime this fall. It speaks to traveling the rails in India as a 2nd generation Indian returned to the homeland. Quite moving. Kevin Breit’s guitar sounded more like a brass instrument the way he played it: delivered in riffs like punctuated blows on a trombone or trumpet or something altogether new.

The last song featured all 6 performers in a highly percussive set with the tabla and mrdangam tag-teaming the beat. Trichy was so expressive with his face and head during his playing it was hard not to stare at him playing. At one point it was only him playing but the sound from the mrdangam is so rich it sounded like several instruments.


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