Monsieur Camembert

Camelot, November 14

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Jim Pennell, Marcello Maio, Eddie Bronson, Yaron Hallis and Mark Harris pretend that if they stare hard enough at the camera no one will notice that they have just shrunk a camel. Photo supplied.

The last time I had this much fun at a gig predates my active memory. Monsieur Camembert helped kick-start the local Gypsy music craze in 1999, and is now the idiom’s benchmark. The personnel has evolved to the point where it is impossible to imagine a more ideal musician in each role, and the band played with such cohesion, energy and abandon that I experienced an emotion so foreign I barely recognised it: elation.

Across those 16 years Yaron Hallis has grown phenomenally as a singer and leader. Any trace of self-consciousness has melted into endless humour, bonhomie, enthusiasm and keen musical instincts. His voice has deepened and strengthened, and he uses it more adroitly, although Dance Me To The End of Love could have been more understated from both singer and band.

In Eddie Bronson Hallis has Australia’s finest saxophonist. Song after song reached a seemingly insurmountable energy pitch, only for Bronson’s tenor to explode the music into another realm. His sound was rich, ripe and as buoyant as any sound can be, and on Dark Eyes he unleashed tenor of such force that were it played near a cemetery there would be widespread resurrection. On Can I Have You, Please his soprano came slicing through the music like a meat-cleaver through the mind, and on Cigaretta his burly singing brought the house down.

Brilliance, however, was peppering the music across the stage. Marcello’s Maio’s shattered-glass piano solo on Hava Nagila was breathtaking, and his accordion helps define the band. Mark Harris is a not only an exceptional bassist, but a versatile, accomplished singer, Jim Pennell is a beautifully lyrical guitarist, and Jess Ciampa the most adaptable drummer/percussionist around, turning cunning arrangements into ingenious orchestrations.

Amid the mayhem Hallis paused to offer Nuages as a response to the evil in Paris. After a guitar solo as gentle as the fleeciest clouds, Bronson’s vibrato-laden soprano pulsed with some deep cry of what it is to be human.