Looking Back: The Best Concerts of 2015

1 Eric Harland’s Voyager

505, June 3

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Eric Harland’s Voyager. Photo: Victor Alan.

Eric Harland’s daring music was like a glimpse of jazz circa 2020. A once-in-a-generation drummer, he is also a composer of sufficient breadth to transcend idiom, presenting his collaborators with diverse challenges and distinctive fields upon which to loose their highly focused improvising. The quintet contained such idiosyncratic musical personalities that sparks flew from every sonic collision. Among them Julian Lage proved the most exciting guitarist I have heard this century. Meanwhile Harland ensured our voyage was loaded with rhythmic enigmas, sonic dreams, emphatic dynamic shifts and vivid colours.


2 Turkey in Music

Capitol Theatre, March 4

What a gift from Turkey for Gallipoli’s centenary! The polar opposite of those awful “spectaculars” that ape the vulgarity of Olympic opening ceremonies, this was the pinnacle of traditional, classical and contemporary Turkish music. Traditional-instrument improvisers, the Samsun State Opera and Ballet Orchestra and operatic singers were joined by actor Josef Brown reading moving letters from Gallipoli soldiers, all presented with perfect amplified sound. Solo improvisations preceded each composition, so the concert became a dialogue between Turkey’s present and a past represented by a living, evolving, vibrant tradition.


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Stefano Bollani. Photo supplied.

3 Stefano Bollani & Hamilton de Holanda

City Recital Hall, June 5

Whether pianist Stefano Bollani’s uninhibited gusto ignited this music or the music fuelled his exuberance the mad spiral between the two turned music-making into theatre – which could pall were the results not so astounding. It became a game for two virtuosos with Hamilton de Holanda’s bandolim (a Brazilian mandolin cousin). If de Holanda over-played sometimes it was nonetheless with dazzling melodic and rhythmic flair. Bollani was often much more spare, brilliantly toying with the dynamics to produce high drama one moment and higher comedy the next.


Barney McAll’s ASIO

505, July 25

Barney McAll’s new compositions fostered improvising so inspired that this concert’s first set was among the year’s most exhilarating. Tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson unleashed stupendous power, guitarist Stephen Magnusson sculpted solos that broke free of gravity, and McAll cast such a spell at the piano that he even created the illusion of bending notes. The swelling and ebbing melody of one piece seemed to melt time, and elsewhere the ensemble intensity attained levels that had the audience spontaneously erupting in enthusiasm and disbelief.


Monsieur Camembert

Camelot, November 14

The cohesion, energy and abandon that Monsieur Camembert, the benchmark in local Gypsy music, brought to bear allowed me to experience an emotion so foreign I barely recognised it: elation. Yaron Hallis is a singer of wit, bonhomie and keen musical instincts. Song after song reached a seemingly insurmountable energy pitch, only for Eddie Bronson’s saxophone to explode the music into another realm, and on Dark Eyes he discharged tenor of such force that were it played near a cemetery there would be widespread resurrection.

Concerts by Audra McDonald (cabaret) and Joan Baez (folk) were masterclasses in the fine art of singing and in timelessness, respectively, and special plaudits go to the premieres of Lloyd Swanton’s Ambon and Matt McMahon’s Paths and Streams II.