Words by Stephanie Eslake, 2022
If you asked us to come up with the name of one of Australia’s foremost saxophonists, we’d tell you: Jeremy Rose.
He founded the Earshift Music festival and label, has toured the concert halls of Europe, and received an overwhelming number of award nominations – ARIA, Jazz Bell Awards, Australian Music Prize, National Jazz Awards, the list continues.
So with all that in mind, why is Jeremy presenting a concert that focuses on an entirely different instrument – the drum?
“The drums are one of the most elemental forms of human expression,” Jeremy says.
“I’m fascinated by them; they have the power to alter our brain waves, conjure spirits, and form the backbeat of protest whose purpose is to disrupt society.”
His passion for percussion – and his reason for curating a new concert program – becomes vibrantly clear. Jeremy presents Disruption! The Voice of Drums in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, adopting the triple role of artistic director, co-composer, and saxophonist.
“The work takes impetus from the power of the drum, whether it be for societal change and protest, the ceremonial practices in traditional cultures, and as a source of healing in secular and sacred contexts,” Jeremy says.
While the saxophone is capable of percussive techniques, it’s mainly known for its ability to play single-line melodies. It may seem like a distant cousin to the drum – at first. But Jeremy recognises a shared history between these instruments.
“Drums and saxophone both have the power to create transcendental experiences,” Jeremy explains.
“There’s a rich tradition of saxophone and drum partnerships throughout the history of jazz music, too: John Coltrane and Elvin Jones, Ornette Coleman and Billy Higgins for a start. For many of these torchbearers, the drums provide inspiration and a platform to heighten their improvised melodic inventions.
“I’m also inspired when I play with a powerful drummer: they push me to new musical heights.”
In Disruption!, Jeremy unites with “two extraordinary drummers”: Chloe Kim (Yeajee Kim, 김예지) and Simon Barker. Together, they perform against Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig’s video art, and acoustic and electronic sounds from Jeremy’s Earshift Orchestra.
“This is a very special collaboration with an interesting dynamic. It’s intergenerational, with three generations of artists separated roughly by 10 years.”
Drummer and co-composer Simon has studied traditional music of East Asia and the Pacific, while drummer and co-composer Chloe has built a career across diverse genres of jazz, rock, and contemporary styles informed by her Korean heritage.
To Chloe, this collaboration represents the chance for Australia to finally explore the drums as centre-stage instruments.
“I think drum-focused music has not been so common in Western classical music,” Chloe says.
“I grew up in Korea – and Korea has a phenomenal drumming culture. In any festivals or markets I would go to, there have always been traditional Korean drummers playing, leading huge-scale ensembles with an incredible level of physical and performative energy.”
Touching on the societal role of drums, Chloe mentions “medicine drums” played to heal, drums that beat in protest, and shamanic drummers who “wish for the safety of the fisherman and successful fishing” on Korea’s east coast.
“With the physical understanding and experience of drumming affecting my emotions, mind, and body, I do not doubt that drums have historically been such powerful tools to raise one’s voice, and keep one grounded and continue moving forward with their belief.”
To create Disruption!, Jeremy first took Chloe and Simon’s solo recordings, composed new music for the six-piece Earshift Orchestra, then had Chloe and Simon rewrite their parts to create “a new work altogether”.
“My approach to rhythm was also somewhat unusual,” Jeremy adds. He crafted melodies and harmonies that would complement Chloe and Simon’s percussive lines, even incorporating a digital graphic score to remove their need for the music to be conducted. The result is something that could only have been achieved here and now – with this unique group of artists.
“Performer selection is a compositional choice just as much as what notes I put on the page for the artists to play. So I try to utilise each artist’s improvisational skills’ potential in the work, as well as my own,” Jeremy says.
“I love bringing people together through music. Music to me can create a sense of community; a gathering where we share and learn from each other.”
The gathering isn’t limited to the group, with drums being one of history’s most powerful tools of communication between player and audience.
Chloe hopes Melbourne Recital Centre listeners will “feel the vibration transferred from the stage to the seats: the vibration of the drums and music”.
“Drums are musical instruments that can execute beats and rhythms most clearly, and it makes everyone wants to groove along.”
Experience Disruption! The Voice of Drums at 7.30pm October 19 in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre. Presented by Melbourne Recital Centre & Melbourne International Jazz Festival.