Maria Rud & Tommy Smith
(St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. 18 November 2022. Live review by Mark McKergow)
This extraordinary performance saw two masters of their art combining in a breath-taking improvised creation and evolution of painting and music.
Artist/painter Maria Rud and saxophone master Tommy Smith have collaborated before, on the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s superb Where Rivers Meet project which took free jazz compositions from the 1960s and set them for big band alongside Rud’s dramatic art. That project took place during the pandemic and so was without a live audience (although it was streamed and videoed – you can watch until February 2023 using this link). Rud produced paintings live during the performance with the art projected onto the huge east window of the medieval cathedral of St Giles on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. She has also worked live with musicians including percussionist Evelyn Glennie and has an alt-rock-art project Shamanic Live with Martin Metcalfe (Goodbye Mr McKenzie).
This performance was a different concept. Once again St Giles reverberated to music and art, and this time Tommy Smith improvised on tenor saxophone for an hour while Maria Rud painted and transformed her work. A live audience sat in rapt attention as the work unfolded. Russian-born and Edinburgh based, Rud works in a figurative way using her own distinctive vocabulary of figures, knights, shamanic characters, animals, symbols and landscapes. Her work is in collections all over the world and she is amazingly prolific – her ‘image a day’ project on Facebook is currently approaching its 1000th posting.
The performance started with Smith dramatically announcing his presence by raising his saxophone in front of the projector, a foreshadowing of the work to come. Starting at the back of the audience he moved forward playing a series of short phrases which really resonated in the space. Indeed, the third performer in this duet was the cathedral itself, both as an acoustic and as the overall shape of Rud’s emerging paintings. Paintings, plural. Working in acrylics on a specially designed light box, Rud worked with speed and skill not simply to paint, but to change and transform her own work moment by moment. The first few strokes might have been a reddish bird flying upwards – and then one more stroke and it’s a leaf falling downwards.
Tommy Smith must be one of the very few musicians who can approach an hour of unaccompanied improvisation on a solo chordless instrument. He has been making a feature of this style in recent years, finding interesting acoustics including churches, mausoleums and auditoriums. His facility on tenor sax means that he can include solo versions of tunes from various traditions – though this time the music seemed to arise from the occasion with occasional stylistic turns, perhaps towards a folk music mode, then into rapid arpeggios which left apparent chords hanging in the air. After about 20 minutes the cathedral clock began striking the hour of eight, and Smith immediately incorporated this sound into his performance by echoing the bell (exactly in key).
Even though they were working in totally different media, Smith and Rud were clearly working together. Rud matched her work to where the music found itself; blacks and blues for low-register passages, little textures and stylus marks with the top note sections. Repeatedly Rud paused and waited for Smith’s next phrase before jumping back in, holding her hands up in the pause as if to tell herself (and everyone else) that she was ready and waiting.
As the hour-long show progressed, Maria Rud produced image after image. Her lightbox is wipe-clean, which facility she uses to create ‘holes’ or spaces in the design which are then filled in, with textures coming and going by means of card edges, brushes and very frequently her fingers. A sentinel becomes a landscape becomes a church becomes a knight becomes a lamb… all in rich colours and textures. This work is not about moving towards a ‘finished product’, it is all about process. As the final notes faded and Rud put down her brushes, the audience applauded as if still open-mouthed about the astonishing art we had just witnessed.
LINKS: Maria Rud’s website
Previous LJN coverage of Maria Rud’s work with SNJO
Categories: Live review
This was one of, perhaps the, most exciting shows I’ve seen in a year of brilliant Edinburgh music & drama