Brisbane Vocal Jazz Festival- Alan Smith
Rhiannon and Laurence Hobgood – Saturday August 3rd, 2019
It’s Saturday night. And it’s Day 3 of the 2019 Brisbane Vocal Jazz Festival. You have just parked your car. And if I may offer a word of advice before you come in……just for tonight….leave all of the following in that car…
Your preconceptions about what Jazz is.
Your yearning for the familiar, in melody and lyric.
Your desire to tap your feet to a defined, confined, comfortable musical form and structure.
The Duke, Count Basie, Miles, Trane, Ella, Sarah, Carmen, Billie, Frank, Chet, Nat, Kurt Elling… Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Eden Ahbez….. You can get all of that tomorrow night. Or next week.
For on this night, what you will need is a willingness to try something new. To let go. To slip into the rare opportunity of experiencing and sharing something that is oh, so very different.
As tonight, the Brisbane Jazz Club presents Laurence Hobgood and Rhiannon, as they present a totally spontaneous and free-form show, that they have never performed before.
And for your reviewer at least, this was indeed, something new and different. I have never experienced its like before.
From Laurence’s first notes and Rhiannon’s introductory ooh-aahs and doo-dahs, I found myself thinking, ‘Er…hmmmmm….er. What is THIS?’ ‘Is this self-indulgence?’ ‘What does the audience get?’ ‘Is this an ‘acquired’ taste? If so, could I ever hope to acquire it? Would I want to?’
And perhaps, apart from those who attended the workshop earlier today, and therefore had some fore-knowledge of what to expect, I felt I was just one among many in the audience, who were wondering much the same thing.
And now, as I wonder about just how to describe the night, I have considered the option of presenting my review in a form much like tonight’s performance; as a stream of consciousness; as a sequence of words and phrases from my ten pages of notes….
Doo. Fah. Moo. Too. And periwinkle blue. Free. River. Sound. I don’t have to hang around.
Shenandoah. Baby eyes. Your hair in the morning. Wishes. Wise.
With a footnote, such as, ‘Imagine this set to an improv piece by a Grammy Award-winning piano player. Then knock yourself out. Make of it, take from it, what you will. Enjoy yourself. Go. Be free. And oh, please…sing along.’
And, if you had been here, that might actually be enough to capture the essence of the night.
But these two outstanding performers and their unique performance, demand much more…
Beyond the unmasked scepticism of my initial reaction, as the performance progressed, I began to sense the subtlety with which Rhiannon and Laurence were challenging us to shed our preconceptions; ‘Let go, and climb on board with us, as we explore who we are. Who I am. Who you are. As an individual, alone. As one among many. As one among the choir.’
And while short on spear-throwing gestures and threatening tongues, their challenge had no less power than an Aboriginal War Dance or a Maori Haka.
And for many of us, it worked. With a steady, grounded, believable, trust-able and skillful collaboration and on-stage presence, they guided us on a wonderfully free-form meander, through a colourful, busy, buzzy and vibrant landscape.
Across fields, they took us. Along rivers. Among the stars. Sharing love. And loss. And danger. And exhilaration. And exploration. And discovery. Challenging us to step beyond the expected; beyond our comfort zone; to experience a new view, a new sense, of the world.
At this time. In this place. In this very moment.
Indeed, the performance was so spontaneous, and so ‘in the moment’, that at one point, I found myself musing about a sudden burst of flooding rain and a rising Brisbane River. And I felt quite certain that, even in such a dramatically changing circumstance, tonight, these two artists would have simply embraced this new element of the moment, and played on.
Later, in a chat with Rhiannon and Laurence, I asked…
In your flawless collaboration, who is following whom?The response included, ‘In a typical two-person conversation, 80% of the focus will be on what YOU want to say. For us, on stage, 80% of our individual focus is on what THE OTHER PERSON is saying/doing, and where they are going.’
Do you have anything resembling a Set List? Broad smiles, and a resounding ‘No’, was the reply.
And when it was all over, a grateful and supercharged audience rose to applaud the power, the wonder and the magic of this performance.
So, thank you Rhiannon and Laurence for your guidance on a wondrous journey, and for taking us, so skillfully and sublimely, from ‘Hmmmm?’……to a standing ovation!!
Rhiannon creates magic with passion, originality
FRIDAY, 28 APRIL 2006
Rhiannon. Great Hall, Arts Centre, April 27. Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd.
In every jazz festival there is always one act that completely blows me away, and, even though I've got a whole heap of goodies to listen to before the 2006 festival is through, I'm prepared to use up my wow card right now on Rhiannon.
This was one amazing voice emanating from a truly wonderful lady in one of the most honest and passionate performances I've seen from anybody in any musical genre.
Rhiannon's vibrant personality and larger-than-life stage persona are matched only by the smorgasbord of vocalisations she manages to conjure up. I say conjure because the result is often magical, perhaps even spiritual.
From the arresting opening I knew that here was a performer right out of left field with a very original take on the art of singing.
What Rhiannon does is way beyond scat, as it melds together performance art, recitation, straight singing and, well, noises, into something that really connects in a very idiosyncratic way. She deploys all the ethnic, tribal, primal sounds you can imagine, with a liberal dash of kindergarten distress and environmental imitation. Then out of all that springs a classic tune like Autumn Leaves, or some Keith Jarrett, and even the Beatles ballad Blackbird.
The mood easily switched as the songs moved seamlessly into one another, and then she went into overdrive for a quick-fire assault on, say, modern living, rather like a menopausal volcano, starting soft then building up to the big explosion.
The tight backing trio must have had a ball backing her, and probably quite a few challenging moments, too.
They were the dream team to have as backing, led by the ubiquitous talent of Tom Rainey on piano. Rainey was the link between Rhiannon and the band. She could not wish for better. Ritchie Pickard turned in another top night, this time on bass guitar, and the sinuous drumming of Nick Gaffaney was absolutely brilliant, often delicate and understated but providing the funky minimalist riffs around which Rhiannon wove her streams of consciousness.
Onstage spontaneity as metaphor for life
The singer Rhiannon lives in the moment as she gracefully shifts through styles
LOS ANGELES TIMES
January 22, 2005
By Don Heckman, Times Staff Writer
Rhiannon, yet another of San Francisco's talented cadre of singers, doesn't look like a revolutionary. When she first strolled onto the stage Thursday at the Vic in Santa Monica, her warm, even maternal appearance suggested an evening of quietly engaging music making.
Engaging it was. But it was a lot more, as Rhiannon began illuminating the links between jazz, voice, improvisation and life. She started her opening number with a breathtaking sequence of vocal sounds, singing percussive pops, clicks and swoops, adding soft-toned melodies, astonishing the full-house crowd as well as her accompanying musicians.
That was just the beginning of a set that embraced unique interpretations of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" — far surpassing, in imaginative qualities, other recent covers of the song — and Lennon-McCartney's "Blackbird"; several of Rhiannon's own works, including a hilarious, rap-like romp through a piece describing, at breathless speed, the trials and tribulations of a busy workday morning; and several spontaneous improvisational passages with her players and the audience.
Rhiannon (who uses only the single, Celtic-derived name) did all this with pinpoint musicality, soaring invention and irresistible passion. A veteran of the women's movement, her efforts were powerfully invested with the subtle, many-layered strengths of women's culture, driven by her ensemble experiences with her own female ensemble, Alive!, and her work with Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra.
When she wasn't captivating her audience with her vocal energies, she was intimately reactive to the hard-swinging efforts of the talented young pianist Josh Nelson and the superb rhythm team of bassist Abraham Laboriel and drummer Alex Acuña.
In the study guide with "Flight," her two-CD set on vocal improvisation, Rhiannon writes that "Improvisation is a gift, a necessity, a skill, a dance with the unknown." That skill now needs revival and restoration, because, she notes, "When you improvise you become part of all that is alive…. " In her quietly revolutionary fashion, Rhiannon displayed the fundamental, convincing reality of that thought.