Witnessing this performance of Christopher Hale’s Sylvan Coda Project at the Dunstan Playhouse was something akin to being parachuted into some mystical musical wonderland, such is the soaring originality of this amazing group of eight musicians and singers.
Led by Hale on the rarely seen electrified six-string acoustic bass and influenced by his roots in Flamenco and Afro-Cuban music, the Sylvan Coda Project (all the music is from the album of the same name) skilfully blends these forms into a jazz-style format, at times reminiscent of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 on steroids and maybe a little LSD! But that description would seem to diminish the scope and magnitude of this work.
The intricate sound is driven by a complex percussion bed led by Ben Vanderwal on drums, supported by Johnny Tedesco and the three female singers, Gian Slater, Jacq Gawler and Hannah Cameron on a variety of percussion instruments. Add to this the extraordinary bass playing of leader Hale and something unique happens. It is difficult to describe Hale’s bass work. The Flamenco and Afro-Cuban roots are obvious as he plays his instrument perhaps more like you would expect from a baritone guitar. Solid foundation, yes, but so much more is offered – chords, complex riffs, arpeggios and runs all flow with rare skill and seeming ease in a totally unique style. The instrument itself is a thing of beauty with a unique organic woody tone.
The complex layers build with the dexterous skill and tone of Nathan Slater’s nylon string guitar adding color and melody to the complex rhythms. The final piece of the instrumental puzzle is the smoky understated tenor sax of Julian Banks adding a dreamy texture to the mix.
Percussionist Johnny Tedesco also delivered an amazing Flamenco tap dance cameo of breathtaking speed, skill and strength, his fast moving feet literally a blur at times.
But perhaps the most spellbinding, hypnotic aspect of this work are the vocals of the three female singers. There’s not a lyric as such in sight, as the voices led by the purity of Gian Slater, are used as musical instruments, not really scat style but texture and complex harmonies are the order of the day. At times they step back from the microphones to sing through small megaphones; at others the sound is a whispered whistling effect; then at others you could easily imagine the sirens singing on the rocks of ancient legend.
This was a truly stunning performance ably supported by the Flamenco variations of the Aloysius Leeson Quartet, Leeson himself a guitarist of great skill, supported by internationally renowned violinist Julian Ferraretto, Australia’s only gypsy flamenco singer El Titi de Algeciras and dancer Kristy Manuel. A Moorish Flamenco interpretation was the standout of this fine supporting performance.
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