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Live Reviews

Live From Old York: Jim White, Vijay Venkat, Adriano Adewale & Benjamin Taubkin

By Published: October 14, 2013
The NCEM continues its occasional, though ongoing, relationship with the Kala Sangam promoters of South Asian arts, whose headquarters are in Bradford. The multi-talented Vijay Venkat led a trio, dividing his time between bansuri bamboo flutes and the comparatively rarely-deployed vichitra veena (a fretless lute that's played in much the same fashion as a lap-steel guitar). In fact, Venkat is such an adept multi-instrumentalist that he even left one of his axes at home, electing not to play the violin at this recital. Born in Madras, Venkat concentrates on the South Indian carnatic mode, so his accompanying percussionists, Pirashanna Thevarajah and Pujenthan Sivagurunathan, were bearing the expected mridangam (two-headed drum) and kanjira (small tambourine, with only a single grouping of metal discs).

In a quite organised manner, Venkat dedicated each half of the gig to a single instrument, choosing bansuri for the first set and veena for the second. This avoided the potential variety and surprise of constantly switching, allowing the opportunity to establish a particular mood for each portion. The bansuri section possessed a lighter, more playful character, unavoidable when his flute array produced airy, tripping phrases, further influenced by the tendency for each raga interpretation to be concise, particularly when compared to the extended elaboration of a typical North Indian improvisation. The veena set, again influenced by the nature of the spotlit instrument, shimmered with a deeper, introspective sense, as Venkat's substantial rosewood slide (no Teflon modernity for him!) danced across the strings, with a startlingly fluid mobility. The centrepiece of this second half was "Aparadhamulanniyu," based around Raga Lathangi, and featuring an extensive percussion dialogue at its heart, the kanjira revealing its impressive rubbed-bass potential when closely-miked. This listener's aim was to be immersed fully into the very gradually intensifying atmosphere, particularly during the second set. Fortunately, your scribe managed to move away from the noisiest family in the history of concert-dom, during the intermission, fleeing across to the other side of the NCEM's cossetting converted-church acoustic, escaping potato-snack crunches'n'rustlings, persistent shaky-hand tablet-documentation and a particularly restless runaway infant. Subjective calm and inwardness were established for the delicate slidings of the veena during the second phase. This was highly evocative music that demanded complete submersion.

Benjamin Taubkin/Adriano Adewale
National Centre For Early Music
October 10, 2013

This was the eleventh and final date of a UK tour organised by global music promoters Making Tracks. The Brazilian duo of pianist Benjamin Taubkin and percussionist Adriano Adewale
Adriano Adewale
Adriano Adewale

have a manifesto of creating music in the moment, improvising each set without any prior musical discussion whatsoever. Adewale joked that they talk about absolutely every other matter, but enjoy a self-imposed taboo when it comes to pre-gig planning. Following such an intensive series of shows, it was gratifying that their inventions still held the tension of fresh discovery, as well as languishing in passages of calming introversion.

Adewale has been living in London for more than a decade, but Taubkin is apparently still working out of São Paulo. They met in 2009 at the Vortex club in London, which is where they recorded their first album. Given this penchant for improvisation, we might expect the music to sound like free jazz, but their approach tends to be tethered to actual tunes, rhythm and linear development, without much total abstraction or thematic dissection. Perhaps it's easier to consider Ludovico Einaudi, Tord Gustavsen or The Necks as similar souls, but these are only the vaguest of guides. Nor does Adewale and Taubkin's work sound excessively Brazilian, although there were ghosts of bossa and samba in a couple of the pieces. It's not much like moderne classical either, sounding too pleasantly melodic by far for such a categorisation. Ultimately, we're still talking improvised music, but without most of the expected sonic characters of such activity. Maybe it's closer to jamming. That might depend how much any given melody rears its head repeatedly during the tour. Anyway, is jamming just improvisation with beats?

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