In a charming genre mash-up double bill at the Independent, the String Contingent performed their last concert for the promotional tour of their new album with opening duo Blue and Sentimental. Written during a tour of northern Australia, From Here or Somewhere Else is an album celebrating the unique physical and social landscape of Australia.
Self-described as quirky, accordion and guitar duo Blue and Sentimental warmed the room with their unusual sound combining the romantic drama of Argentinian tango with powerful jazz and their original work. Emily-Rose Sarkova and Luke Chapman opened with the song that inspired their band name “Blue and Sentimental” which centred Sarkova’s sweet and silky vocals over Chapman’s animated guitar playing. Their next piece, the Louis Armstrong classic “I Get Ideas”, exemplified their fusion style by injecting tango aspects of the original song “Adios Muchachos”.
Another favourite demonstrated Sarkova’s accordion training with a piece very reminiscent of a French city scene. Then, Blue and Sentimental chose to take advantage of the Steinway & Sons piano on display in the theatre and performed two original pieces. Both pieces, but particularly the second titled “A Welcome Breeze” showed off yet another side of the duo with a more singer-songwriter edge that was simultaneously relaxing and uplifting.
Before returning to the accordion, Sarkova shared a piece she learnt while studying tango in Buenos Aires but which represents the more every-man genre of folklórica. “Alfonsina y el Mar” written by Mercedes Sosa tells the story of Alfonsina Storni, a famous Argentinian poet, who drowned in 1938. It combines the unique passions of sadness and love to remember a beloved writer in the Argentinian community.
Their final songs put a much lighter spin on things to close out the first half of the concert. “Just Squeeze Me” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” returned to the jazzy, 1940s era dance music from earlier that gets toes tapping and hips swinging pretty quickly. No matter the genre, Blue and Sentimental are a bright duo who play with an enthusiastic lightness that is endearing and infectious.
For the second half of the concert, string trio the String Contingent played through the track list of their newest album, From Here or Somewhere Else. While usually playing with band regular Graham McLeod on guitar, Chris Stone and Holly Downes were instead joined by Rachel Johnston on cello for this tour. In an attempt to escape the repetition and familiarity of east coast cities and venues, in 2018, the group decided to tour along the top half of Australia from Cairns to Broome where they found their notion of Australia and their connection to it forever altered. On this trip they wrote the album to replicate the feelings of sleeping under the stars, staring out over the horizon, and entering unfamiliar communities.
Starting with a piece called “Broome Time”, Stone describes the “out-of-time”ness prevalent in northern Australia where the construction of hours and schedules fades away into a more organic conception of time. Other songs like “Fug” speak directly to the hardships of tour life and the particular difficulties that travelling through a desert present. These two pieces also particularly demonstrate the unique sound of the String Contingent, which prides itself on the differences between each member’s musical background and the varying skills that brings to their work. The layering of loops and rifts to build and shift aural soundscapes works as an almost ADM, acoustic dance music, in the same way that EDM, electronic dance music, uses repeating rhythms to create an exciting tension in the music.
“Dreamers of Patagonia”, written by McLeod, reveals a rawer and more dramatic tone with sharp dissonance between the three instruments. At the same time “Savannah Country”, which Stone described as an attempt to capture the feeling of waking up disorientated after sleeping under the sky when it feels like the earth and stars stretch into infinity before and in front of you, showed off the experimentation in their compositions. Using plucking to replicate footsteps and playing the deep resonance of the double bass (Downes) off of the pitter-patter of the violin (Stone) focuses on the narrative possibilities of music rather than, or in conjunction with, rhythm or harmony.
The trio played with remarkable professionalism and attention to the detail of their instruments and compositions. Their endeavour to recreate the social, spiritual, and physical space between Cairns and Broome speaks to their ambitious and exciting approach to folk and bluegrass music in Australia. At the very least, the life captured in their playing demands a physical response from the audience and what more could music ask for?
For more information about future performances from Blue and Sentimental, please visit Emily-Rose Sarkova’s website. For more information about the String Contingent’s future performances and to purchase the album, please visit their website.