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Bass instincts drive unique flamenco fusion

Arts & Culture

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Composer and guitar player Christopher Hale’s latest project is an original fusion of flamenco, jazz, rock and Afro-Cuban influences, enhanced by percussive footwork by flamenco dancer Johnny Tedesco.

Sylvan Coda, which will play in South Australia for the first time as part of the Adelaide International Guitar Festival this weekend, has the warm, laid-back feel of a group of friends united in harmony. And that’s exactly what it is, with the band including Hale’s partner Gian Slater (vocals), her brother Nathan Slater (nylon string guitar), and long-time friends Julian Banks (sax) and flamenco dancer Tedesco (percussion).

“I’d played for 12 years in a trio with a couple of really close friends,” Hale tells InDaily. “Then my very dear friend [pianist] Will Poskitt died very suddenly and tragically, and after that I sort of took a break from writing music and leading groups.”

Eventually he began composing and playing again, “and very naturally and organically just drawing in my friends to play it”.

With a Brazilian percussionist as his first music teacher, Hale played percussion and guitar throughout his childhood, before settling on bass when he began college. But he wasn’t content to play it the way most musicians do, instead devising a six-string acoustic bass guitar that could “speak” the way he wanted it to.

“One of the things that is characteristic of my background has been absorbing different styles and playing different styles of music every night,” he says, “so when I come to play my own music they have all entered my bloodstream in a very natural way.

“I have tried to create music that has the feel of flamenco, the Afro-Cuban and the rock music that that I love, but in an original way.”

He says those attending Sylvan Coda’s show at the Dunstan Playhouse this Sunday (July 20) can expect to see “eight people on stage giving their all” in a performance with the passion and energy of traditional flamenco, but presented in a progressive way with original rhythmic cycles.

Hale, who was recently awarded the Freedman Fellowship for Jazz, deliberately sets out to take listeners on an unfolding journey with his own compositions.

“I’m interested in capturing a feeling of music that might not necessarily be a caricature of an emotional state,” he says. “I am interested in creating a certain kind of foggy, ambiguous world that people can enter and be swept along with.”

In addition to the Sylvan Coda show, Hale will also be playing at a late-night jazz session on Saturday night with Ben Hauptmann and James Muller,

Artistic Director Slava Grigoryan’s 2014 Adelaide International Guitar Festival will open on Thursday with a “Spanish extravaganza” featuring Adelaide’s Flamenco Areti and Spanish flamenco stars the José Antonio Rodríguez Trio, who have been secured through a collaboration with Spain’s Córdoba Guitar Festival.

Grigoryan says another highlight of the program, which includes many of his own personal heroes, will be Spanish classical music legend Pepe Romero. He will play a show with young Brazilian guitarist Yamandu Costa and the Adelaide Art Orchestra, as well as performing in the Festival Gala and hosting a master-class.

“It’s his 70th birthday and he’s still at the very top of his game,” Grigoryan says of Romero. “He’s as busy as he’s ever been and playing really brilliantly.”

UK electronic guitar wizard Guthrie Govan (see InDaily interview), Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya and Dutch Gypsy-jazz family the Stochelo Rosenberg Trio are among other Guitar Festival guests who are revered by fans, yet not so well-known in the wider music world.

“It’s the same with any music outside the commercial mainstream,” Grigoryan says.

“Most of the artists we are looking at are in that group of musicians who are astonishing at what they do but their kind of music can be quite complicated, very deep, very meaningful, and I guess it doesn’t have the commercial potential of a pop singer.

“A lot of these players are new to a wider Australian audience. I guess that’s the joy of this festival.”

Grigoryan is also excited to be showcasing the Adelaide Guitar Festival Orchestra, which consists of 50 young South Australian players aged nine to 18 who were handpicked by himself and Brisbane guitar ensemble specialist Paul Svoboda during visits to schools across the state. They will join with 25 young players from Svoboda’s Aurora Guitar Ensemble in opening the Stochelo Rosenberg Trio’s closing-night show.

“We are hoping this orchestra will have a life outside the festival so they can meet and play throughout the year,” Grigoryan says.

“The guitar in general can be a very solitary instrument when you’re growing up … there are not a lot of ensembles, but that’s such a big part of music-making and transforming one’s understanding of music.

“Given that we have such an important festival, it’s important to have that ensemble.

The Adelaide International Guitar Festival opens on Thursday and continues through until Sunday. The full program can be viewed online.

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