Tuesday 1 July 2014

Shirley Smart - Melange

Shirley Smart - Cello
Sometimes a group of musicians suit their venue so well it makes the evening all the more powerful. The faded glory and peeling walls of Wilton's Music Hall played host to the flavoursome music of Melange last month (20/06/2014). Wait a minute, this 7 piece group are neither fading in their talents nor afflicted with shabbiness. It was the earthy and rooted quality of their music that sat so wonderfully at Wilton's. The grade II listed building was built in 1859 and understandably still wears it scars. It has a pock marked honesty that interior decorators often try to imitate but everything on show here had authenticity.

Like their surroundings the Melange Collective have gathered their music and narratives through an equally interesting journey. Formed by cellist Shirley Smart after returning from 10 years living, working and studying in Jerusalem they blend music from North  Africa, Turkey, Asia, Brazil and the Middle East anmongst other

Stefanos Tsourelis - Oud
Despite Smart taking centre stage it was Stefanos Tsourelis who immediately caught the eye with his oud. It is my job to translate what I hear to the sketchbook and before me was the musical equivalent. The sound of Tsourelis' pear shaped palette was light and colourful, more watercolour but with the occasional charcoal swipe. His pursed lips also gave him the air of a painter who, standing back from his canvas, squints his eyes to admire his handiwork.

Peter Michaels - Guitar
The stage lighting shot off the guitar of Peter Michaels as if he were being baked under the midday sun or trying to send Morse code via signal mirror. On his Bulgarian yogurt inspired tune his playing was fractious and bubbling. His head was bowed with the memory of the after-effects of eating the aforementioned bacterially fermented milk product.

One of the delights of this performance was the interaction between Shirley Smart and her fellow collective members. Amongst Michaels whirls and slides she was messy in the most seductive of ways. We picked through her repertoire as though she had spread it out on her bedroom floor, exotic coloured scarfs churned with postcards. There was intricate jewellery and a rich but pungent layer of foreign detritus like a gap-year student who had just returned from 6 months InterRailing. It was a delight to pick through her Turkish souvenirs in particular.

Maurizio Minardi - Accordion
Like any good collective, Melange were only as good as the sum of their parts. Lets kick fair play into the long grass though, we didn't hear enough of Maurizio Minardi. His 'This is not a Rhumba' was one of the tunes that the rest of the evening pivoted around. Wilton's Hall was so busy that I viewed just a flank of the dynamic accordionist, and amongst the further tunes we tasted his talents but were never sated.

Joe Browne - Saxophone
Joe Browne featured on selected tunes throughout the evening and he made up for his absences with a spirited performance when he did step into the spotlight. He blowed hard and fervent on soprano saxophone in particular, often his face turned a scorching puce, the commitment to the cause evident even to those in the rear seats.

Often second sets can be a disappointment after a successful first but Melange came back stronger. Michele Montolli bowing on bass, his resonance filling the high ceilinged hall. The tension as Demi Garcia Sabat worked up a lather on percussion and those glasses which slid closer and closer to the end of his nose. Fortunately never falling into his lap.

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The oud with its throaty beginning was conversational on the Iraqi tune 'Foq El-Nakhal' and Stefanos Tsourelis brought to it a humour that was thoughtful and dare I say (without sounding pretentious) philosophical. It was the playful jousting between Michaels and Minardi that brought the most joy. They teased one another with affection, like two old friends.

Demi Garcia Sabat - Percussion
Relationships were the theme for the night, of the future and the past, east and west and that between music and the atmospheric hall it flourished in. The mind and the hand which guided my pencil were happy bedfellows too. Both eye and ear would like to experience the richness of Melange again, and so shall I, for where they go I shall follow.


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