LAND WITH NO SUN II:
DANCE OF THE EARTH
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (27 February 2015)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 February 2016 with the title "When Earth becomes an illusion of paradise".
TO Ensemble is the new name of Tze n Looking Glass Orchestra (TLGO), a cross-over fusion group led by jazz pianist Tze Toh. Despite the name change, this latest concert carried on with the environmental concerns raised in previous instalments of his Land With No Sun cycle .
Just to recap: in the the near future, a post-apocalyptic earth now occupies cities in the sky, and its inhabitants wonder what it was like living in the old planet that had been ravaged by war and pollution. A young girl sees a holograph of a whale and makes a hazardous trip down to what is now terra incognito.
The Prologue titled Oscurita / Darkness was sung in Italian by soprano Yap Shin Min, simply because creator-composer Tze preferred the romanticism of the language. Its operatic quality recalled the film scores of Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, and a concertante element was also provided by Christina Zhou's violin.
Moving into Chapter One: Lullaby Of The Machines, a world constricted by conformity, rules and regulations dictated the tone of the music. Tze's piano shifted within limited chordal sequences, minimalist in a Satiesque way, while Wong Wei Lung provided a mechanical rhythmic drumbeat. Etude-like piano passages and Wendy Phua's bass guitar figurations further contributed to this toccata of repetition.
Augmented by looped film footage, this chapter reminded one of installation art, those abstract scenarios that populate modern art museums the world over. A breakthrough was provided by Teo Boon Chye's tenor saxophone, whose marvelous role of improvising on the spot seemed to turn the music on its head.
Chapter Two: March Of Man thus became a watershed, with humans taking the initiative. Thus Lazar T. Sebastine's carnatic violin in The Surface / Desert was a breath of fresh air, his ragas finally getting the music into a more independent groove. This also heralded woodwinds to engage in a droll dance of their own in Mountains / Thilafushi (with visuals displaying heaps of rubbish), led by Yukari Blest's flute and more saxy improvs from Teo.
In The Submerged City, piano and alto sax sultrily dallied in E minor, which to these ears cleverly merged a Chopinesque nocturne with a Bachian prelude. Yap's wordless melismata simulated children's laughter in The Ruins / City Dawn, while violin accompanied by Miyata Masato's acoustic bass accounted for the melancholy of The Secret Forest.
Chapter Three: Dance Of The Earth saw further collaborations between soloists. In Protector / Vishnu, Sebastine was the protagonist, with the raga giving way to Teo's sax. Both did not play from notated scores, instead making up the music as they went. River was the confluence of both violin traditions, Western and Indian, the result being a mellifluous mix.
If there were an apotheosis, Organic Forest represented by an expanse of green forests and vegetation was a glorification of the G major chord. All the soloists, strings and offstage woodwinds came together for one long love-in, a celebration of what Gaia used to be before mankind's desecration. The Wind, a short music-less scene with Nadia Wheaton's quivering voice-over, later revealed that every good moment and feeling that transpired had been a dream, an illusion of paradise.