United States Varied, American Railroad: Silkroad Ensemble / Rhiannon Giddens (inventive director). Cal Performances, Zellerbach Corridor, College of California, Berkeley, 17.11.2023. (HS)
Silkroad Ensemble: Rhiannon Giddens (banjo/vocals), Mazz Swift (violin/vocals), Wu Man (pipa), Sandeep Das (tabla), Haruka Fujii (percussion), Shawn Conley (bass), Karen Ouzounian (cello/vocals), Kaoru Watanabe (Japanese flutes/percussion), Michi Wiancko (violin)
Visitor artists: Pura Fé (voice, metal guitar), Francesco Turrisi (body drums/accordion), Niwel Tsumbu (guitar), Yazhi Guo (suona)
When cellist Yo-Yo Ma conceived Silkroad in 1998, the thought was to carry virtuosic musicians of disparate cultures collectively to create one thing new. The mannequin was the trade of concepts and traditions that occurred alongside the historic Silk Street, which stretched from Japanese Asia to Western Europe.
No street leads from there to North America, however that didn’t cease Rhiannon Giddens, the polymath musical artist to whom Ma handed the baton as inventive director of the ensemble final yr. Silkroad at all times comprised a rotating solid of musicians because it toured the world, so why not embrace artists representing the varied cultures of america? The end result, American Railroad, layers the music of varied ethnic teams, which we used to name ‘minorities’, who offered the labor to construct the transcontinental railroad within the second half of the nineteenth century.
The exhilarating outcomes crammed Zellerbach Corridor in Berkeley with jaw-dropping artistry, magnificence and memorable freshness, as musicians from China, India, Japan, the American South and indigenous cultures got here collectively to play with dazzling proficiency, every contributing a distinct hue to the palette.
Appropriately, this system started with a music created by Tuscarora tribe descendent Pura Fé, who sang it in a duet with Giddens to honor the indigenous individuals whose land the railroad traversed. That led to an Irish jig, deconstructed, its components rearranged by Maeve Gilchrist right into a pitch-perfect musical evocation of a prepare engine increase steam. (Irish immigrants have been among the many first laborers to work constructing the railroad.)
‘Swannanoa Tunnel’, an African-American work music, was subsequent, and it grew to become a recurring theme for the remainder of the efficiency, usually introducing particular person items. In a single beautiful second, violinists Michi Wiancko and Mazz Swift, cellist Karen Ouzounian and bassist Shawn Conley reworked it right into a classical string quartet.
In opposition to projected historic scenes of laborers at work on the development, every member of the ensemble had solo alternatives and exchanges, generally improvised, with different musicians. Each appeared to high no matter had preceded it.
On the Asian facet, Sandeep Das delivered a compact tour of what his tablas might do in a classical Indian rela, coaxing out melodies and sophisticated rhythms in a tour-de-force solo efficiency. Not coincidentally, rela interprets as ‘rail’ or ‘prepare’, and calls to thoughts the tough, daunting work wanted to span each India and america with railroads.
At different occasions Chinese language reed devices and tropes featured in Yazhi Guo’s artistry on suona and sheng. An arresting Japanese drum solo by Haruka Fujii dazzled with its musicality because it constructed to an enormous climax.
Two highlights demonstrated the breadth and depth of those musicians.
Swift’s voice and the deft decorations of Wu Man on the pipa (Chinese language guitar) made magic with ‘Have You Seen My Man’, a ballad of a lady praising her misplaced lover, written for Silkroad by the extraordinary jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant. The music expanded right into a full-scale hymn with the wealthy harmonies of marimba and tuned percussion by Haruka Fujii. That music might simply turn out to be a jazz commonplace.
Pipa artist and composer Wu Man’s adaptation of ‘Wet Day’, a standard folks tune in Guangdong in southern China, paired her distinctive contact on the pipa with Giddons’s velvety voice and proficiency on banjo to create moments of sheer magnificence.
Most strikingly avant-garde was ‘Wíhaŋblapi Mázačhaŋku’ (or ‘Railroad Desires’) by the Oglala Lakota composer Kite. In workshops, Silkroad members translated their goals right into a graphic, utilizing a Lakota form package to behave because the rating. Distinctive, improvised percussion sequences flowed from the graphic’s varied shapes, which circled again to a central determine, the music rising with layered dissonances. It obtained a robust response from the sold-out viewers.
Swift’s ‘Oh Shout!’, a Gospel-chorus writ giant, introduced the proceedings to a ultimate climax, its rhythms and joyfulness making a landing-place after so many items impressed by cultural struggles.
An unnamed encore began with a rustic fiddle tune led by Giddens that served as a launch pad for transient solos by every of the musicians, a becoming conclusion to a night of extremely distinctive and rewarding music.