I have experienced one of my two favorite concerts in this year’s jazz festival on February 19th: The Saiyuki Project from Nguyên Lê, Prabhu Edouard and Mieko Miyazaki. I have chosen the word “experience” intentionally because there were more than music on the stage and there were more than sound in the hall. The name Saiyuki comes from a book. It means “The Journey from East to West”. It may be confusing at first when I say that this journey is from Japan to India but the meaning is fully understood when the fact that India is accepted as west according to Japan. Therefore, it is meaningful that Japan koto player Mieko Miyazaki and Indian tabla player Prabhu Edouard came together for French born Vietnamese guitar player Nguyên Lê’s project. Nguyên Lê had the idea to set such a band for a long time; however it took time for him to find virtuosos. The compositions and arrangements in the album are inspired from many different musical sources of many different cultures.
I went to the concert hall very early and had a coffee with the band members before the concert. After that, I could get the chance to witness the sound-check. I have watched the incredible preparations made by these musicians to turn their performances into an unforgettable experience for almost two hours. Both koto and tabla are instruments that are played while sitting. There were already two raised platforms on the stage for these musicians. Especially the work done by Prabhu Edouard for good sound was almost obsessive. The musicians personally tested in order how the music is heard from the audience stalls. The resultant sound conditions were the best that can be reached with these equipments in this hall.
The concert, which is started just after these preparations were far more energetic than the album’s performances. The musicians were in their traditional clothes on the stage. The concert has started with a slow entrance made by Azur. Nguyên Lê was wonderful with his well-known guitar tone as always. I suppose the tabla should have been listened by the audience before. However I think koto was very new to them. I can describe it as a long version of kanun (the Turkish Instrument) whose frets are changed before each piece. It has a very mysterious sound carrying you suddenly to the far East. After that, we listened to Kokopanitsa, which is composed by Nguyên Lê with some additions to Bulgarian Kopanitsa. The piece is introduced by Nguyên Lê. It was a very difficult piece to follow considering the rhythmic structure. For the third piece Sangam, Nguyên Lê gave the introduction to Prabhu and he explained the piece in detail. During the performance of this piece there were interactive vocal performances with the audience. Prabhu Edouard is a famous tabla player. I am sure that the ones that have listened to this instrument before know that tabla talks within its rhythms.
Mieko Miyazaki has explained the story of the fourth piece Izanagi and Izanami which is about the union of two gods and creation of Japan. This performance were almost theatral thanks to Mieko’s mimics and tonations. I think Mieko has impressed many audience from Ankara with her vocal technique. We sometimes felt ourselves in a suspense movie. The sound in the hall were wonderfully wide in dynamic range. The descriptions made by vocals of Prabhu and Mieko were not performances that can always be seen in every musical event. Nguyên Lê set the tension in the music meanwhile successfully. This performance has been applauded for a long time by the audience. Then, we have listened the softer Ila and entertaining Sweet Ganesh from these wonderful musicians. The dialog between Prabhu’s vocal/tabla and the audience were impressive. The concert gathered very long applauses from the audience in Ankara and the encore is made by Haeju Arirang piece.
You can also read the interview I have made with Nguyên Lê after the concert: http://fatih-erkan.blogspot.com/2013/02/interview-with-nguyen-le-after-saiyuki.html