September 2006

Lê Quan Ninh
at the Guelph Jazz Festival
September 8, 2006Guelph Youth Music Centre Guelph
Percussion Without Borders
by Tom Sekowski with photo by Roger Humbert
French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh is known best for his extravagant skills, he’s also very much a textured player. A while back, during the mid 90’s, I witnessed his spectacular prowess on sheets of metal as he played with his former outfit Idiome 1238. One thing that I remember to this very day is just how structurally sound the whole performance was. Idiome 1238 was about intensity; about extremes. They wanted to take Peter Brotzmann’s “Machine Gun” octet to the next level. They needed people to feel the ground move beneath them as they played. Next time around, Ninh showed up in town with Quatuor Hêlios, but this time, the pieces were prepared. Everything was more or less composed and structured.
It’s no surprise that I became very excited when I learned the Guelph Jazz Festival decided to invite Ninh for a very rare solo show. Booked at the acoustically perfect Guelph Youth Music Centre, Ninh came in to the center of the stage where his floor-tom was positioned. Over the course of the next hour, he proceeded to drum up a storm, using mallets, metal balls, and other objects. He scraped away on the sides of the drum. He then used the cymbal and crashed it on top of the tom and on its sides. One of the best moments came when he decided to use the room as a percussive tool. He walked around the stage and crashed, rubbed, and caressed the room’s walls with the cymbal in his hand. The loud rumbling moments arrived as Ninh set up an organically pleasing wall of sound. There were crashing moments of intense, orgasmic heights. As these died down, the room was nearly silent and a new ritual of delicate intensity began from scratch. Ninh knows best how to sculpt sound, how to get the most minute sounds out of a scratch or a tumble.
No encore was heard as none was needed. Lê Quan Ninh completed his mission. The audience was left gaping with their jaws hung low. Without a hint of a doubt, I knew I just witnessed something special and unique. This won’t be repeated. This was instant composition and improvisational prowess at its heights. The Guelph Jazz Festival has a long-standing tradition of booking percussionists for solo concerts. We’ve already seen spectacular shows from Gerry Hemingway, Eddie Prevost, Han Bennink and others. What new surprises will await us next year?
We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report
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© The Live Music Report – 2006