Adelaide is fortunate indeed to have access to musicians as eloquent and innovative as Adam Page, Matt Sheens and Ross Mchenry. Three artists with strikingly different temperaments and approaches, tonight (6 August) was a showcase of their creativity.
Opening the programme (which was part of Umbrella: Winter City Sounds) was Page performing a solo piece composed with Slava Grigoryan. 'The New Harvest' restlessly moved between ideas, looping and layering a saxophone to showcase the breadth of his vision and ability.
At times the constant movement suggested Brownian motion; looped stacatto, James Chance-esque skronk and percussive squeals transformed into a gaggle of honking geese, then diaphonous runs bounced off each other and coalesced before noteless breathing helped to build a percussive bed that sounded like a steam train taking off.
Matt Sheens' meditative 'Variations On A Massacre' showcased a different approach, building upon a single theme. Inspired by the recent Orlando massacre, the string quartet's frantic, scratchy opening contrasted with Sheens' appropriately elegiac piano and allowed it to ring out clearly.
The rhythm section kicked in with a sense of vitality and while the strings were at times dolorous, the propulsive energy of Sheens' piano kept the pace as things built up to a climactic gunshot snare.
Following intermission, the absurdly prolific Ross McHenry previewed a few pieces from his upcoming album, 'Child Of Somebody'. A natural bandleader who's always been able to give direction without overshadowing his playing partners, he was joined by regular collaborators Dylan Marshall (guitar) and Myele Manzanza (drums) along with a horn section for a notably warmer sound.
Despite their seemingly bleak inspiration (titles included 'Despair' and 'Stateless'), the jazz septet brought a lively swing to the compositions. Jason McMahon's soprano sax was particularly eloquent, while Manzanza is one of the more expressive percussionists around, using his whole body to play with palpable joy.
At times there was a hint of bossa groove, while Dylan Marshall's composition, 'Circles Within A Circle', was a dense, swirling number reminiscent of the best hypnotic Ethio jazz. In sharp contrast, the playfulness and ebullience disappeared immediately for 'Fragments'. Written by McHenry for this concert (but not featuring his playing), it utilised the string quartet, piano, bass and drums to evoke a Nordic winter. Appropriately sparse, it ultimately proved a little less accessible than his earlier works, the parts never quite fusing as seamlessly as they had earlier.
Matt Sheens then added Adam Page on flute for a new arrangement of a track from his 'Untranslatable' album, showcasing the strong sense of collaboration that ran across the evening before Page rounded things off with 'Ishmael'. Bringing every player from the evening back on stage, he conducted a wall of sound that was lush and dense – at times too much so, as he tried to shoehorn a plethora of ideas into the ten minutes – but thrilling nonetheless.
From McHenry's studied manner to Adam Page's wild exhortations and theatrics and Sheens' understated confidence, tonight was about three contrasting personalities. More than that, though, it was about three exciting young composers and musicians showcasing their works, and in that regards it was a great success.
The music was inventive, challenging and constantly engaging: one can only hope that Adelaide continues to be this fortunate.