Concourse Theatre, July 15
A year on, and who’d have thought we’d be back reviewing live streams rather than flesh-and-blood concerts? The row of empty seats just visible in the foreground at Chatswood Concourse carried something of the gloom of a hat on a coffin. Were there any silver lining, it was that in the intervening year the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall series has come along to hoist production values above most of last year’s streaming efforts. The sound was exceptionally clear (if slightly brittle) and the vision good.
It’s hard to imagine a more apt band to capture the prevailing sombre mood than Elysian Fields, especially when concentrating on material from its Fika album, subtitled The Scandinavian Project, with all the dark foreboding that implies. The genre-crossing, epoch-bridging ensemble began with the elegiac Lat till Far (Tune to My Father), performed by a trio of Matt McMahon’s piano, Jenny Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba and Susie Bishop’s violin, the stringed instruments startlingly like tenor and soprano voices sharing an aria as they circled the piano.
Combining Eriksson’s electrified version of an instrument whose heyday was the 17th century, and Bishop’s violin and operatic singing on the one hand, and McMahon, Matt Keegan’s saxophones, Jacques Emery’s double bass and Dave Goodman’s drums on the other, the band can conjure a deep and mysterious sense of the centuries conversing; of courtly elegance sharing a convivial exchange with the liberalities of contemporary jazz-inflected improvising.
McMahon’s arrangement of Sofia Karlsson’s Frid Pa Jord (Peace of Earth) exemplified this, with the porcelain delicacy of Bishop’s soprano in dialogue with the viol, arco bass, piano, and Goodman using mallets on the drums. Another highlight was an excerpt from Jan Gunnar Hoff’s mass, Meditatus, with the viol and Bishop’s exquisitely-phrased singing offering prayer-like lines, before Keegan’s tenor stormed into the foreground with 21st-century vigour. Again and again, however, it was the viola da gamba that elevated the enthralling to the singular, its sumptuous sound the thread sewing together the concept and the material.