INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Australian JUNE 16, 2009 - by John Shand & Bruce Elder
SELFLESS ART ENSURES BRILLIANT ENDING TO A LUMINOUS TIME
Pure Scenius, Seun Kuti And Egypt 80. Sydney Opera House, June 14 and 12.
"If we start thinking about music as theatre rather than autobiography, we'll go somewhere much more interesting," observed Brian Eno against a gentle wash of music.
The three concerts constituting the finale to his Luminous festival affirmed that in two senses: the theatre of the music-making process was as enthralling as the music itself and, more importantly, this was selfless art, with the participants always servants of the musical thread rather than the music existing to make individual stars flare brighter.
Eno's gift as a facilitator of others' artistry was abundantly obvious. He had assembled disparate collaborators and provided loosely defined fields of activity for them to improvise within, so that all had scope to express their musical personalities within music that had shape, focus and direction.
Four British players - Eno (electronics, treatments, vocals), Jon Hopkins (electronics), live-wire vocalist Karl Hyde (of Underworld) and versatile guitarist Leo Abrahams - joined Australia's inventors of acoustic, jazz-inflected minimalism, The Necks (pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck).
Beforehand there seemed a danger of The Necks's unique and complete conception being ravaged by any interlopers. But Eno was astute enough to suggest musical contexts in which The Necks could do what they do - and arguably be the music's linchpin - while being embellished with flawless empathy.
The music was mostly sparse and ruminative, with some glistening piano duets from Abrahams and Hopkins. There was an occasional discrete song sung by Hyde and thrilling passages where all players stoked up a furnace of electronic and acoustic sound, lashed by Buck's consistently inventive and brilliant drumming.
Earlier, the compulsive rhythms of Afrobeat finally reached the Opera Theatre. With Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Eno's superbly curated concerts demonstrated that a rich and complex world music dance act - there were fourteen musicians and singers on stage - works very, very well in a venue known mostly for orchestras.
To see Seun Kuti is, on one level, to enjoy the sheer exuberance and steamy sensuality of Afrobeat while being given a lesson in the complex links between African and African-American music. One minute he is all sexuality and preening self-adoration - an African James Brown. The next minute he is bent nearly double doing some ancient Nigerian dance.
Musically Egypt 80, which is made up mostly of members from Kuti's famous father's band, is a force of nature.
Their vitality and urgency made for a hugely enjoyable evening when, for a brief and glorious moment, the Opera Theatre became a steamy Lagos nightclub.