Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nick Parnell: Bach to Brazil

There's a vibraphone convention going on in Canberra at the moment, not that we've heard a lot about it. Alas, American vibes legend Joe Locke has withdrawn from both the conference and his scheduled gig at the Street, but we were still in luck with a Street performance by home-grown (Adelaide) visiting wunderkind Nick Parnell.

Parnell's star has been steadily in ascendance over the last few years; he's been working with everyone from the Russian Ballet to Musica Viva and has a recent CD release through ABC Classics. So it was surprising that so few people turned out to hear this fantastic programme.

The concert started out with a gorgeous but predictable programme: the three Gershwin preludes, some Bach, Satie's Gymnopaedie1, Debussy's Claire de Lune. Absolutely beautiful (for a few bars in the Gershwin I did think Parnell and pianist Matthew Binion were an iota out of synch, but then I decided it was just the arrangement), but not exactly ground-breaking. But, honestly, so wonderful to listen to that I forgot to care about having my horizons stretched.

I should have known better, given the calibre of this artist. After a piece I hadn't heard, the deeply soothing Crystal Mallets by Arthur Lipman, Parnell explained to the audience that he had a strategy to stop us from drifting off - apparently it has happened - and launched into a massive percussion extravaganza of his own devising, Spanish Drum Solo.  GAME ON.

The first set closed with a deceptively simple but quite brilliant work by Steve Reich, Clapping Music.  Parnell and Binion involved the audience in clapping a simple rhythm: 3-2-1-2; half the audience then shifted that forward a beat and clapped the same rhythm in counterpoint. Fun! And tricky. And then - Binion kept up the original pattern, but at triple the tempo, while Parnell moved forward a beat with every iteration, until the piece came full circle. It was quite remarkable and I've never heard anything quite like it - though as it was written in 1972 that's obviously entirely my own fault.

The second set was mainly taken up by Ney Rosauro's vast Brazilian Rhapsody. When Parnell announced that this was a 27 minute percussive piece I had uneasy flashbacks to Farewell Cream, but I need not have feared - what we received was a musical tour de force in which Parnell played every piece of percussion on stage - I counted at least 40 - from evocative rainforest sounds made with wine glasses, chimes and the tiniest tom I've ever seen, through Latin rhythms with guiros, djembes and bongos to full on storms of crashing cymbals and bass drum.  Suck it, Ginger Baker.

Our encore was a pretty, lively little vibraphone piece called Burlesquo, the cherry on a rich and interesting cake. Parnell is a lovely musician, and I am looking forward to his next visit already.

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