THIS is the third or fourth time I have heard and enjoyed the music of the Pagoda Project.
Although the ensemble appears in a number of different manifestations, the linchpins are invariably the same – the charismatic and highly versatile duo of Karen Wimhurst (clarinets) and Paul Hutchinson (accordion). As their website says, Pagoda Project brings together a unique blend of traditional folk music with jazz improvisation to create a warm and dynamic sound. And what is there not to enjoy? Fovant certainly loved it, and the village hall was absolutely jam packed last night; another sell-out for Rural Arts Touring and local promoter Beryl Paton who must have been truly delighted at the sound of those extra chairs being put out shortly before the evening was due to commence.
With some eccentric anecdotes and good natured banter between numbers, Wimhurst and Hutchinson put us at our ease and soon achieved a close rapport with what was quickly to become a very responsive and appreciative audience. There was nothing austere or elitist about what we were listening to either, and although we very soon came to expect the unexpected there was absolutely nothing to be wary of. What might start off pretty four-square, a wistful folksong or simple jig for example, or maybe something more akin to a hymn tune, would, by twists and turns, soon be taking us on a real magical mystery tour crossing both centuries and continents. What opened in the back streets of Montmartre might end up in the Balkans, what began its life in seventeenth century Kilburn could well be ending its days in a smoky jazz club in Harlem. Wonderful!
Seemingly spontaneous, but clearly very tightly structured, quirky rhythmic figures, harmonic ideas and melodic details were endlessly embroidered and developed while various melodies and counter-melodies wove in and out of each other with apparent ease. From moments of heartfelt melancholy to the vitality of those numbers where the pulse was constantly changing, the results were both infectious and refreshing. Quiet passages, I felt, were particularly well focussed and I was captivated by the delicacy of some of the accordion playing, Paul Hutchinson’s fingers simply skipping and dancing lightly over the keys.
As well as the evident virtuosity of the performers, the range of sounds and general variety of instrumental colour the duo were able to produce never ceased to delight. The audience in Fovant was evidently particularly intrigued by the bass clarinet while I, for one, am always impressed by anyone who can master circular breathing – a technique for producing continuous sound by breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth. Karen Wimhurst certainly made highly effective use of her skill with this technique in several of the pieces, very often adding an other-worldliness to the overall sound picture.
Three cheers then for the Pagoda Duo, for the wonderful work of our touring arts organisations and for their local promoters too, who despite ever diminishing budgets still manage to enrich our lives in such a tangible way. Five stars.