The Neilson, January 14


Hamed Sadeghi and Lloyd Swanton. Photos: Wendell Teodoro.

The sound cuts the air with the brightness of a sword: all ringing metal and attack. It comes from the tar, a Persian lute that Hamed Sadeghi has made a fixture of several Sydney Festivals, including his underscore for William Zappa’s unforgettable The Iliad Out Loud in 2019. This time he’s composed a suite called Empty Voices, inspired by Sufi mysticism, and assembled a new septet to perform it.

As befits the source, the music was usually meditative, with the opening of Taarof (a Persian concept akin to extravagant politeness) phrased like slow breathing, the tar glistening above the darker harmonies of the four horns and double bass. Often these horns were used to generate drones and backdrops, despite the players being notable improvisers: Sandy Evans (tenor and soprano saxophones), Paul Cutlan (bass clarinet), Tom Avgenicos (trumpet) and Michael Avgenicos (alto saxophone). Elsewhere they coiled around each other like finely wrought threads of gold, and, inevitably, each member had a moment in the sun. Cutlan’s came on Sonorite, his solo’s foundation a simple motif explored from all imaginable angles, before he delved deeper into the possibilities of the piece and into his instrument’s grumbling lowest notes. Evans’s came on the snaking groove of Mother Tongue, her soprano sound initially restrained and graceful, before she broadened it to a more braying effect, and while the notes danced over the rhythm as if lighter than air, they were also weighted with yearning.

Adem Yilmaz. Photos: Wendell Teodoro.

Suf featured percussionist Adem Yilmaz consummately balancing sparseness and density, while the colours he employed shifted and morphed, as light does on moire fabric. His rhythm-section partner was bassist Lloyd Swanton of The Necks, a handy man to have if the music’s gist is to be hypnotic.

The final Bittersweet had the Avgenicos brothers’ horns fluently interweaving over a groove evoking a long journey. It was all so gentle and transporting that to emerge once more into a still-dazzling afternoon and encounter the harsh reality of traffic was oddly confronting