Music Review: Umi no Uzu

What: UMI NO UZU – Aaron Choulai and the Australian Art Orchestra

When: 2 February 2019

Where: Nexus Arts

Cost: $30 (W) $20 (U)


Aaron Choulai (Tokyo/Papua New Guinea) – Piano accordion/keyboard/electronics

Kojoe (Tokyo) – Rapper

Miyama Mcqueen-Tokita (Tokyo/Melbourne) – Koto

Peter Knight (Melbourne) – Trumpet & electronics

Ian Whitehurst – Tenor saxophone

Erkki Veltheim (Melbourne)- Violin

Chris Hale – Acoustic bass guitar 

Joe Talia (Tokyo/Melbourne) – Drums & electronics

Beizj Studio – Light and visual realisation  

Popy Oil – video images

A group of around 50 people were all densely fit in to the Nexus Arts hall, the dark and intimate cabaret set-up denoted that we were in for a comfortable and relaxing experience.

Aaron Choulai’s latest work is innovative and captivating. He showcases his creation with an incredible array of instruments and musicians from the Australian Art Orchestra that you would not traditionally expect to mesh well together. To name a few, Choulai muses with the pairings of a violin, an accordion and a Koto (Japanese harp). Although it is an unorthodox match, the composition and score for each instrument intermingled effortlessly to create a deeply rhythmic performance. 

Choulai curates a musical experience that initially seems slow, but as the piece progresses the audience realises the measured tempo is excruciatingly intentional. I was caught up in the suspense of the music, as well as the tension created between the distinct segments of the songs.

The artful strain of the music effectively conveyed a tone of expectancy, putting you almost in a trance-like state of mind, and we the audience are taken on a journey; swept away with the rise and fall of every movement of the music. 

Furthermore, the build-up slowly led us to portions of upbeat jazz and hip-hop. In addition, with Kojoe’s raps layered over the top it contrasted surprisingly well. These head-bopping segments would only last a couple of minutes and leave the audience craving more as the musicians slipped back in to re-building the tension in a slow and measured manner. 

Throughout the entire performance, we are also mesmerised by the visual video backdrop and abrupt electronic static-like sounds. Choulai has managed to curate a musical experience that allows the visuals to move over the audience like waves, creating a fully immersive experience. 

Kojoe, who is famous for his work in both Japan and New York hip-hop scenes, was smooth, and articulated with attitude. Miyama had a powerful voice that pierced through the droning drum beats and low bass segments. Considering the awkward positioning of the group on stage they remained tight in their syncopation and communication.

I thought it was a questionable choice for Choulai to be drinking and vaping throughout the performance. It was a casual setting, however, I feel there should be a higher standard of decorum upheld in a performance setting.

What a privilege to witness the musicality of these talented people in such an intimate setting. Considering the following night they performed to a sold out show in Melbourne of 500 people, being so close and witnessing their talent is one I will never forget.

4/5 stars

– by Rachel Wong

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