Get drummed, get jazzed up at 'The Hidden Tune' concert at REXKL

'The Hidden Tune' collaborative show between Orang Orang Drum Theatre and Germany's Angelika Niescier Trio made its debut in Europe earlier this year, with shows in Germany and the Netherlands. Photo: Frank Schindelbeck Jazz Photography

When saxophonist Angelika Niescier was awarded the German Jazz Prize in 2017, the jury back then pointed out: "With every tone and with every word she shows great curiosity about her partner's stance – doing so with a stylistic and integrative open-mindedness that encourages traversing new paths together rather than building on her own experience."

The Cologne-based musician's curiosity and desire to seek out new music adventures sees her back in Malaysia this weekend for an experimental-minded concert.

She will lead her jazz outfit Angelika Niescier Trio, which will play alongside percussion-based outfit Orang Orang Drum Theatre at The Hidden Tune live showcase series at REXKL from Aug 12-14.

It will feature six Orang Orang Drum Theatre percussionists, Niescier, trumpeter John-Dennis Renken and bassist Matthias Akeo Nowak.

This hour-long show was put together by Orang Orang Drum Theatre and Niescier in 2019, but the project was paused due to the pandemic. The KL staging was originally planned in April 2020.

"The Hidden Tune is not merely a mutual translation between two languages; it is a mixture of frequencies from two channels, hard to define yet full of excitement – a distinctive, striking musical collaboration across cultures," said Niescier about the postponed show back in 2020.

Finally, this year both groups enjoyed working together when the borders reopened and international travel made accessible.

The Hidden Tune had its European trek when it opened at the arts festival Kulturzentrum Bessunger Knabenschule in Darmstadt, Germany on May 27, followed by the Music Meeting Festival at Nijmegen, Netherlands (June 4) and the Moers Festival in Moers, Germany (June 5).

This weekend, it welcomes music lovers to its Malaysian debut at REXKL, an old cinema building space in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Making a new connection

Through the years, Niescier is known for her keen interest in wider artistic exchange and creative encounters. The saxophonist is also no stranger to the Malaysian music scene.

“It all started way back in 2016 at the Johor Jazz Festival. Angelika heard the unified pounding of the 24 Festive Drums (an art form with Malaysian origins) that we were playing.

"It was something she had never heard before and this sparked her interest. She was eager to carry out a musical dialogue with these drums,” recalled Zyee Leow, Orang Orang Drum Theatre assistant artistic director.

Niescier also performed at the Penang Island Jazz Festival in 2015 and returned for a jazz club gig at No Black Tie in KL in 2019.

That tour visit in 2019 sparked the creative collaboration that led to The Hidden Tune.

“She finally brought her saxophone to our studio in 2019 and we had a great jamming and improvisation session. And we realised that there's still more to be discovered from this experiment. This is how The Hidden Tune was born,” she added.

The Hidden Tune, which will be presented as an eight-part suite, is arguably the very first undertaking featuring these two genres – the 24 Festive Drums and European jazz – in this region and beyond.

On stage, the shigu (lion dance drum), jingu (barrel drum), jidor (a large double-headed barrel drum from Johor), Chinese gongs and East Malaysian gongs will combine with the jazz trio setting of the saxophone, trumpet and bass.

The 24 Festive Drums gave the traditional art of drumming in Chinese culture a rethink when it first emerged in Johor Baru in 1988.

Inspired by the solo drum used in the rhythmic lion dance and 24 solar terms used in traditional Chinese agricultural calendar, this new form of Malaysian Chinese percussion art/performance has since been widely practised and recognised in several countries worldwide.

This concert series is supported by the Goethe-Institut Malaysia, Yayasan Sime Darby, Boh Tea and arts portal Kakiseni.

More info here.

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