Featuring Yvette Audain (saxophone)
With: Hong Yul Yang (piano)
Katherine Hebley (‘cello)
Damon Key (soprano sax)
Donald Nicholls (tenor sax)
Nicola Haddock (baritone sax)
Zyia-Li Teh (tenor sax)
Andrew Uren (baritone sax)
Anthony Young (conductor, “bulletproof petals”)
Tracks: Grooves Unspoken / Hazine (Treasure) / Meditations upon Nasreddin Hoca
Hold Fast / An Irksome Vengeance / bulletproof petals / A Charleston Kick With Steel Caps
The CD launch at “Meow”, Edward St., Wellington
Featuring Yvette Audain (soprano sax, clarinet, recorder, Irish whistle)
with Jonathan Berkahn (piano and accordion)
Sunday, October 19th, 2014
Yvette Audain modestly commented beforehand that what would make her night would be at least TWO people in the audience for the launch of her CD “Grooves Unspoken”. Well, she got her wish and more, besides – not a great deal more, but those of us who were there were caught up in the creative and recreative web and waft of the music and its performance. And with the surroundings and amenities available at “Meow” in Edward Street in Wellington, we wanted for nothing as we listened to and grooved along with both Yvette and her fellow-performer Jonathan Berkahn – the latter had told me before the performance that he was still getting to grips with some of the material, but to my ears this wasn’t evident in his playing, versatile musician that he is!
The two musicians pretty well replicated the first four tracks on Audain’s CD, Jonathan Berkahn “filling in” more than adequately for the pianist featured on the CD, Hong Yul Yang in the title piece “Grooves Unspoken” and also the lovely “Meditations Upon Nasreddin Hoca”. The other two tracks featured the composer herself, demonstrating her versatility in playing both saxophone and clarinet. The former instrument evoked plenty of exotic ambience and colour in a piece called “Hazine” (Treasure), while the latter’s tones paid homage to Audain’s own part-Scottish ancestry in “Hold Fast” (the McLeod family’s motto!), mixing plenty of melodic fluidity with equal amounts of rhythmic vitality.
Hearing these four tracks “live” gave oceans of extra atmosphere to my later listening to the CD – the choreography of interaction, the physical gesturing and the direct contact with the tones and timbres of the instruments in question came back readily to my subsequent listening sessions. The CD had been planned beautifully as regards order, the sounds of each track seeming to effortlessly give way to each instance of organic flow or marked contrast as it happened. Most appropriately the album (as did the evening) began with a piece of unashamed homage to a past giant, whose music Audain acknowledged as a formative experience – this was Dave Brubeck, whose signature album “Time Out” had obviously made a telling impression, judging by the “echoes” present in Audain’s beautifully-constructed piece, very appropriately named “Grooves Unspoken”.
From this we were taken elsewhere, to places replete with Middle-Eastern flavours and gypsy-like impulses. This was the aforementioned “Hazine”, a patient, measured and evocative creation whose character gradually shed its rhythmic carriage in favour of freer, more ambient sequences of figuration – spaces opened up via long-breathed notes and occasional pitch-bending, all of which conjured up a real sense of time passing, almost Omar Khayyam-like, into oblivion.
Not quite as overtly exotic, but as suggestive regarding different moods and realms was “Meditations Upon Nasreddin Hoca”. The work was made up of a number of ritualistic exchanges between piano and saxophone (again, Hong Yui Yang was the CD’s excellent pianist) – voices striving to unite but separated by distance or circumstance. A wide-eyed opening evoked a soul contemplating “the inverted bowl we call the sky”, one that was partly delighting in, partly despairing at the star-clusters and their loneliness. Whatever answer it was that came from the lonely spaces took the form of an invitation to dance and exult, which piano and sax did, revelling in the interchanges, before again seeming to part company. I loved the smoky lower register of Audain’s instrument, even if she very briefly seemed to lose her line to breathiness on a single high note, but recovering almost immediately and taking up with the piano once again. Throughout the two instruments would contrive to separate, join and separate again, bringing something new to each exchange after tasting their individually-wrought moments of disjointedness. The final exchange, an Eastern-flavoured dance, by turns sinuous and angular, re-established the “together but different” character of the interactions throughout, concluding with an exciting and confident flourish.
“Hold Fast” took its name from the motto of the Scottish McLeod clan, to which the composer’s grandmother belonged. The opening sounded a kind of clarion call, perhaps a summoning of the said clan, replete with Scottish snap and pipe-skirl, the declamations occasionally giving way to startling moments of rhythmic impulse, complete with occasional foot-stampings. One of Audain’s earliest compositions, the piece aptly honoured a tradition of both song and dance.
I loved the title “An Irksome Vengeance” and thought the combination of clarinet and ‘cello most splendidly explored the ensuing timbral concoctions, as well as staying true to the composer’s aim of keeping a basic pulse to the fore. I can’t really speak for musical currencies such as “post-grunge” and “progressive rock”, but thought that the music’s dynamism and knees-and-elbows angularities were, to say the least, arresting. And I thought the liveliness of the exchanges didn’t let up, even through the more lyrical sequences. Fantastic playing by both Audain and the ‘cellist Katherine Hebley – the ending itself was a treat, a masterpiece of po-faced comedy. One assumed the “vengeance” in question had by that time been wrought, or, alternatively, tossed aside as too “irksome” for any further consideration!
All three of the final trio of pieces on the CD seemed to me to particularly command the attention – the second piece, “bulletproof petals”, scored for a quartet of saxophones, sounded an outlandish note at the beginning, before taking a five-note figure and “deconstructing” it with no little glee. A wistful phrase was solemnly passed around the group, though like children told to be serious, splutters and giggles ensued. The wistful phrase returned, this time more formally and contrapuntally, and just as it seemed something imposing and grand was welling up out of the growing confidence, the splutters and giggles returned – one was left with unanswered questions, such as, “Was the “thick skin” of the composer’s explanation of the piece too easily penetrated?” and “Did the creative resolve buckle under the weight of derision too soon?”
But my favorite piece on the album had to be the final one, “A Charleston Kick with Steel Caps”, a piece that never let up in its “swing”, through different tempi and rhythmic trajectories – in fact, so involved was the CD’s “live” audience with the performance that they were ready to applaud at the first hint, midway through, of a final cadence, all too ready to deprive themselves of a wonderfully raucous buildup to a characteristically upbeat throwaway ending. I thought the music had the spirit of the times – a trifle Kurt Weill-ish in places, even, as well as its composer’s fingerprints on things like the derivation of the accompanying rhythms of the final section of the dance from earlier in the work – organic thinking which involved all of the instruments in melodic, or motivic as well as harmonic contributions to the whole.
Briefly, I thought the disc’s contents a happy amalgam of “entertainment” and “provocative” pieces – in this respect I thought particularly well of the last three works on the CD, culminating in, for me, a piece that seemed to sum up Yvette Audain’s achievement in making her playing such a gift to all kinds of sensibility. This is not to under-appreciate the other, earlier pieces, just as bagatelles, divertimenti and serenades are the sunnier sides of deeper purposes. “Grooves Unspoken” is a delight, an uninhibited and unashamed self-portrait of creative impulse that Audain can be justly proud of.
(Visit Yvette Audain’s website at www.yvetteaudain.com for further information)