(Mark Rowan-Hull and the Amit Chaudhuri Band, North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, June 4th 2010, review by Alison Hoblyn)
On Friday, the increasingly innovative North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford hosted two performers who have filled the post of Creative Arts Fellow at Oxford’s Wolfson College – a forward-thinking institution, known for its encouragement of artists who can work with more than one art form.
The evening was a mix of visual art and music. The music part came from Amit Chaudhuri who first explained himself, describing his background as a writer-singer in the Indian classical tradition. In 1970’s Bombay he wanted to be James Taylor but this ambition faded as he took against the music of the 80’s. However, one day, as he sang the morning raga, Todi, with its pentatonic scale, he fancied he could hear the riff from Clapton’s Layla. Later, in an Indian hotel lobby, he caught the strains of Auld Lang Syne in a cheesy Asian song. This led to the project ‘This is Not Fusion’ in 2005, bringing together western jazz/blues/rock with Indian raga. He wanted us to know that he used all his musical experiences to ‘treat music as sound’. So, they began with this Layla-like piece; Amit – a slight boyish figure – cupped his left hand to his ear as if to constantly monitor all sounds that issued from him. And they were lovely sounds; he has a melodic light voice, at times reminiscent of Sting. He sang wordless notes (he explained he was singing the Indian equivalent of doh-ray-me) over a resonating bass guitar riff.
Meanwhile, stage left, artist Mark Rowan-Hull was covering a canvas in a spontaneous response to the music. Looking the epitome of a romantic long-haired artist in loose shirt and bare feet he theatrically made curling marks in slate grey and jade green. Earlier Mark had explained his synaesthesia (sensory experiences becoming intertwined) which for him means he ‘sees’ music as colours. In this case he was making colour judgments in the context of the stage lighting which changed the hues of the pigments. He responded to the beat and pace of the music with his brush; strokes chopped or flowed. Not surprising then that he’s also a jazz pianist. I could see how this music could encourage the physical desire to paint.
The wordless driving sounds somehow disengaged the intellect and urged the brain into a more playful state. And it was interesting to see art simply as performance, just working within the context of time, like the music. By the end of the show he’d bravely created seven large pieces, some on perspex screens so he could face the audience while painting. He moved from Hoyland-like abstract colour pools to the kind of mark-making found in paintings of that other synaesthete, Kandinsky.
The musical repertoire was wonderfully eclectic, bobbing from classical raga-style to Amit’s take on Gershwin’s Summertime or The Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, interspersed with his own compositions; these had intriguing story-telling lyrics (testament to Amit’s other talent as a regularly published author, and tutor of creative writing at University of East Anglia). The tabla player Hanif Khan was particularly mesmerising and guitarists Paul Williams and Adam Moore delighted with a consistent dialogue. Bart Dietrich on piano came into his own especially in ‘Rain’.
My only reservation about this double event was that there was a lot going on – and it was sometimes hard to know where the ‘correspondence’ was or where to focus attention.
What will stay with me is the music; Amit’s band moved seamlessly through genres whilst retaining an individual style. The musicians worked together; measured, gauged and satisfyingly moved sounds into spaces between each other, as if achieving the perfect placement of colour on canvas.
This is Not Fusion CD by Amit Chauduri / Babel
Image above from an article describing Mark Rowan-Hull’s work in Studio International