Venue 505, February 2, 2013
In a way it’s all one. Joseph Tawadros’s uproarious ‘tween-song schtick and his virtuoso improvising are both about telling stories; about engaging, communicating, moving. Sometimes the schtick went on too long, but always there was a pay-off: a gale of laughter that swept the packed room like a palette-cleanser before the next course.
Tawadros, Australia’s leading oud player, puts his instrument (and compositions) in diverse contexts, including with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the classical guitars of the Grigoryan brothers and the masterful jazz piano of Matt McMahon, not to mention his two albums recorded with the cream of new York’s improvisers. Among these various aggregations this trio, with his ever-present brother, James, on req (small tambourine) and bendir (frame drum), and Steve Hunter on bass, is the most nimble and flexible.
It was fascinating hearing Hunter playing Tawadros’s Arabic-based music less than a week after hearing him playing Flamenco with Bandaluzia Flamenco, the two genres having overlaps and sharing musicological sources. Tawadros’s intricate, snaking unison lines exploit not only all of Hunter’s extraordinary facility, but also his flair for loading those riffs with drama and effervescence.
If you want your compositions to effervesce James Tawadros is your go-to man. While his bendir is a moodier instrument – a drum in a minor key – his req makes the music fizz and spark with an improbable array of tonal colours and popping rhythms.
The oud’s treble notes could be diaphanous even as the lower notes grumbled out their earthiness, the two completely intertwined as Joseph’s imagination exploded across the fingerboard. During the slow, solo introductions he seemed to be sculpting the face and sides of each note, so comprehensive was his control of plectrum attack and sound-shape.
The collective sound was radiantly warm, with large chunks of the three instruments’ output sitting in a similar part of the sonic spectrum. The downside was the oud sometimes washing out the bass during Hunter’s solos. Either the bass must be boosted at these times or Tawadros should play less.
There were no such problem catching the labyrinthine delicacy of the oud solos, with Hunter and James often sparsely enunciating the rhythms. Heal was a lament that would make concrete weep. Reason and Passion exemplified just how explicitly the oud bridges east and west, sounding variously like a koto, a sitar, a European lute and a guitar.