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Water Pushes Sand

12 October 2015 | 4:12 pm | Ben Meyer

"The work fuses experimental jazz with the rhythms and melodies of China's Sichuan province."

Australian Art Orchestra and Arts Centre Melbourne, in association with Melbourne Festival present Water Pushes Sand. Conducted by Erik Griswold (who also plays the piano) the work fuses experimental jazz with the rhythms and melodies of China's Sichuan province. The ten-piece ensemble combines piano, saxophone, trumpet, double bass and percussion with bamboo flute, suona (a thin reed horn), gu zheng (imagine a harp played horizontally with a solid backboard) and the powerful vocals of singer Zheng Sheng Li. There are also lots of gongs.

Visual displays by Scott Morrison take the audience to typical streetscapes of the Sichuan province, showcasing hectic traffic and China's rapid and recent transformations. Griswold provides commentary about the changes he has noticed from first visiting China in the late '90s until today. These interludes don't really add much to the performance and ultimately prevent hearing the Chinese performers' own perspectives. Nevertheless the collaborations between the instruments are fantastic. Timothy O'Dwyer and Zhou Yu engage each other in a highly entertaining and funny saxophone and suona duel. The conclusion of the piece sees Zheng Sheng Li return wearing an elaborate costume that allows him to change between colourful masks at the blink of an eye. Water Pushes Sand is an excellent collaboration that results in exciting and interesting music.