The Hero’s Journey: Cave of Echoes

Here is a review and description of a concert that we did on Saturday night (Jan 8), the brainchild of mad genius Earl McCluskie and my first fully electronic show. A truly incredible experience to perform with fantastic jazz/classical musicians and improvisors including electric violinist Hugh March, guitarists Michael Occhipinti and Kevin Ramessar along with singer Jennifer Enns-Modolo, violist Doug Perry and Guy Few on trumpets. The dancers (Miranda Abbott and Lybydo) were amazing and though we never got to see the video projections, apparently they were amazing too.

And what is not described in the review is the process of mixing electronics, pre-recorded sound and live (both acoustic and amplified/altered). To be honest, I don’t really know what was going on behind the giant soundboards, but to me, this was a new use of recorded sound that brought unexpected dimensions to the live performance.

This show, along with Phenomenological Love Songs that we did last year, was a truly successful new music-improv – pop – jazz – rock – multi-media – sensory overload fusion event of the kind that I really really love. I am still a novice but it is an exhilarating experience. And yes, sequins were definitely part of the process!

Hero’s Journey almost too much of a good thing

By Stephen Preece

January 9, 2011

The rotunda at Kitchener City Hall morphed into a performance cave Saturday evening, complete with dancers, a giant video screen, and a collection of seven musicians representing some of Canada’s brightest lights in the classical, jazz and experimental genres.

The overarching theme for this extraordinary performance entitled The Hero’s Journey: Cave of Echoes, presented by Chestnut Hall Camerata (artistic director Earl McCluskie), drew inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), providing a loose frame for the four works, performed uninterrupted in an 80-minute program.

An initial repeated chacka-chang vamp from the electric guitars (Michael Occhipinti and Kevin Ramessar) set up a groove foundation infused with ambient noodling from two violins — one acoustic (Douglas Perry) and one electric (Hugh Marsh). This gradually evolved into a full ensemble thrust with increasingly complex rhythmic syncopation and an intricate unison line shared by trumpet (Guy Few), bassoon (Nadine Mackie Jackson), and vocals (Jennifer Enns-Modolo).

On-screen was a series of slow-pan landscapes — trees, fog, clouds, waterfall — setting the context for the hero’s origins. These softly muted images had an elemental feel suggesting an Eden-like natural purity. Through all of this, two black-clad dancers (Miranda Abbott and Libydo) from Event Horizons Dance, gradually came to life, starting from an inert position on the floor, their movement reflecting the musical evolution and feel.

This initial work entitled How the Violin was Born culminated in an extended cadenza, featuring Marsh’s virtuosic electric violin, complete with round and sinuous melodic fluttering, exotic scales and crossing-over harmonies.

The second work, exploring the nature of the hero, was adapted from Act III of The Cave by the iconic, contemporary composer Steve Reich.

Spoken and sung text fragments, pivoted off from the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, exploring the persistent tensions present in these broad-ranging religious myths. Visual and audio displays included images and sounds of ordinary people emphasizing the universality of the themes.

The ensemble responded heroically to a punishingly complex score complete with overlapping minimalist repetition, pointillistic rhythms, and taped drum and effects tracks. The dance elements mirrored with angular and sometimes jagged movements embodying the overall musical feel.

Through the production vehicle, The Chestnut Hall Camerata, artistic director Earl McCluskie has developed a reputation for dropping the artistic boundaries, presenting unique and interesting, thematically driven performances that captivate and enlighten.

The third piece on the program, featured music director Michael Occipinti’s composition The Great Farini. This wonderfully floating andante in 5/4 time, had a much more relaxed and sumptuous feel, with sunny, Italian-inspired melodies rendered by the violin, trumpet and bassoon. Visuals included scenic landscapes, a park boulevard, and images from an art gallery.

While the Reich had an intensely note-bound, concentration quality to it (in addition to somewhat overstaying its welcome), this piece seemed much more organic, natural and germane to the group — certainly, my favourite on the program.

The final piece upped the groove again with an arrangement of Forty Six and Two by the rock band Tool. A sense of driving rhythm, exotic melodies, and commanding vocals finished the concert with a punch.

In all, the evening was huge success, the combined efforts of nine masterful performers, and countless others in both artistic and technical support. If anything, it bordered on being too much of a good thing, the persistent stream of visual and aural stimuli proved dizzying at times. Nevertheless, the overall performance creativity and bravado of this organization is something not to be missed.

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