REVIEW Soft Soft Loud by Rosalind Appleby

A review of Soft Soft Loud: Tuomo Prattala, Felix Zenger and ensemble
Reviewed by Rosalind Appleby
on the 2nd March 2015
for the West Australian
Fremantle Arts Centre

Tuomo Prattala, Felix Zenger and Tilman Robinson gave crossover a good name during their concert at the Fremantle Arts Centre on Friday night.

The unusual collaboration between a pop singer, beatboxer and jazz arranger is what audiences have come to expect from the Soft Soft Loud concert series, thanks to the vision of artistic director Matthew Hoy who prioritises the collaborative nature of chamber music above the restrictions of “genre”.

The evening began with a free-ranging solo from virtuosic Finnish beatboxer Zenger whose “show and tell” included covers of Snoop Dog, Michael Jackson, The White Stripes and a Stand By Me sing-a-long plus an impromptu lesson with the audience hilariously attempting to mimic the “p, t, poh, tszt” sounds.

Zenger was joined by his compatriot pianist/songwriter Prattala and a nine-piece orchestra of Australian classical musicians for an extended arrangement of Prattala’s compositions. The 70 minute work by ex-Perth composer Robinson couched Prattala’s fairly standard jazz and R’n’B-flavoured pop songs within a rich and complex sound world, fused with references to Scandinavian composers Pekka Kuusisto, Johanna Juhola, Johann Johannsson, Valgeir Sigurossson and Jan Sandstrom.

The ensemble of four string players and four wind/brass gave an organ-like warmth to the jazz-inflected chords in the arrangement of Waiting for Someone, while Zenger and an extra percussionist added textural detail to Ordinary. Robinson directed from trombone when a conductor was required and he and the other instrumentalists added occasional backing vocals and percussion. Three mixing desks of effects (operated by Zenger, Prattala and Robinson) layered drones and loops into the mix.

With this much going on there’s the risk of aural muddiness and it is tribute both to the performers and Robinson’s arrangements that the sound was busy but not cluttered.

The breadth and purity of sound quality in The New Mystique was something a producer in a recording studio might spend hours trying to manufacture.

And we were experiencing it live, with the emotional resonance that happens between audience and performers when chamber music is at its best.