Elysian Fields at Foundry 616 –10 October 2019
About six monthsago I had the very great pleasure of attending the launch of What Can I Say, the debut release from Elysian Fields, Australia’s only electric viola da gamba group so I was really looking forward to hearing them again live. Made up of jazz and baroque musicians, they manage to effortlessly meld seventeenth century musical traditions with Nordic folk tunes and twenty-first century improvised music to create something very special – but Elysian Fields is a band that’s impossible to pigeonhole and a challenge to adequately describe.
The evening began with ‘Cold Soul’, a beautiful composition by saxophonist Matt Keegan intended to convey the majesty of a Scandinavian winter. In fact, in a nod to Jenny Eriksson’s Swedish roots, Scandinavia was something of a focus of the evening’s repertoire, which included some Swedish folk songs, a Norwegian work and original pieces inspired by that northern landscape. It’s a cliche and I’m sorry, but it has to be said: Susie Bishop has the voice of an angel. When she sang Sofia Karlsson’s ‘Peace on Earth’ – in Swedish, no less –you could have heard a pin drop. Her approach to another old Swedish folk song about young love lost was reminiscent of the haunting voice of Loreena McKennitt. And as if she doesn’t have enough talent already, Susie is also a wonderful violinist. Playing a midsummer dance her violin was like bees buzzing happily around the honeysuckle.
But of course, this is a band overflowing with imaginative musicians. Jenny Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba is the anchor around which the good ship Elysian Fields sails. She was clearly enjoying herself onstage, relaxed and on fire. A few pieces – such as ‘Living’ and her own composition, ‘Anna’ -particularly showcased the gorgeous rich tones of her remarkable instrument. There’s not much I can say about pianist Matt McMahon that hasn’t already been said. He has an endless reserve of lyricism, and it’s no wonder that he’sone of the most in-demand musicians in the country. Matt Keegan plays the saxophones like a snake charmer. Whether in a more baroque-style piece like ‘The Garden Party’ – written by Eriksson– or in his own slightly more jazzy composition ‘Elysium’, Keegan is mesmerising. Dave Goodman is such a sensitive drummer, sometimes merely glancing at the cymbals or brushing unobtrusively (especially in bassist Siebe Pogson’s‘The Tragedy, The Journey and the Destination’) and other times confidently giving roots to the blooms produced by the other musicians. He thrummed a little tattoo in Jenny’s ‘The Garden Party’, originally written for her baroque ensemble The Marais Project, and went to town in‘Rescue’, another Pogson composition.
Not yet 30, Siebe Pogson is proving himself a fine composer. ‘The Broken Heart’ is energetic and exciting, ‘Dark Dreaming’ has a striding sense of purpose, and the crowd was fired up by ‘Rescue’ with its funky groove, a piece that gave the musicians a chance to really chop out and show just how versatile they are. And he plays a mean bass too.
The night ended with a strikingly beautiful version of e.s.t.‘s‘Belief, Beleft, Below’ and everyone went home feeling very happy, having heard a winning combination of delicate melodies and fat grooving tunes played by some pretty amazing musicians. Highly recommended indeed.