Karaoke. The Usefulness of Art

Fat Rain
Reviewed by , May 2nd, 2014

 Origami’s 2011 debut The Blues of Joy featured a collection of original compositions augmented by a covers of pop tunes by the likes of Snow Patrol and OutKast. Now this Melbourne-based trio is back and this time they have expanded on their formula by releasing two CDs simultaneously – one of original compositions and one of pop/rock covers.

Led by saxophonist and multi-woodwind doubler Adam Simmons, the rhythm section is comprised of veteran bassist Howard Cairns and drummer Anthony Baker.

Adam Simmons

The album of covers is appropriately entitled Karaoke. As with Origami’s debut album, Simmons plays alto sax exclusively on this disc. All the tunes come from Australian songwriters. Some are very familiar – such as Gotye’s Grammy winning Somebody That I Used To Know and INXS’ Never Tear Us Apart – others less so (No Time At All by the Parrots, anyone?).

Of particular interest are two very different takes on Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat. I’ve long considered this tale of a man on death row as one of the most aggressively visceral performances in Australian rock, so it’s always interesting to see how others interpret the work. The first version is a high energy, expressionist explosion of sound. The saxophone trills and screams with guttural squalls as the drums pound a barrage of violent blasts. This isn’t polite cocktail hour jazz; rather an emotional manifestation akin to the sensation of touching a raw nerve. The second take on The Mercy Seat is altogether more subdued. Cave’s melody is delivered simply and unadorned by the saxophone while the bass accompanies with sensitivity and Barker marks time on the cymbals. The two renditions highlight different aspects of Cave’s tune; one focussing on the melodic aspects and the other on the emotional turbulence. It’s interesting to then go and listen to Frock’s interpretation of the same tune on their 2009 CD Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

The second album is entitled The Usefulness of Art and contains six original tunes by Simmons. Recently signed to Selmer Paris’s artist roster, Simmons plays his new bass clarinet throughout this album. Inspired by French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s views on the importance of art to our lives, the compositions have titles like Faith, Compassion and Generosity.

Acceptance is a beautiful melody that shows off Simmons’ gorgeous bass clarinet tone. Barker’s mallets conjure cymbal swells as Cairns intones a counterpoint to the melody. This piece alone is reason enough to buy the album.

Empathy is a motivic piece which grows organically from a three note fragment into an expansive melody. The interplay between the bass and the bass clarinet is particularly telepathic on this track. A few minutes in Barker changes gear to a galloping ride figure that urges Simmons to a series of fluttering runs in the upper register. Cairns’ solo that follows is superb.

In some ways these two albums are very different. Karaoke, with its reliance on pre-existing tunes from the pop/rock canon is naturally more tuneful, yet it rarely reaches the depths of emotion that are found in abundance on The Usefulness of Art. Both discs show that Origami is a trio of empathetic players that clearly bring out the best in each other. It’s clear that they are hitting their stride. I look forward to seeing what Simmons and his cohorts bring us next.

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