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R. Carlos Nakai shows off traditional flute with the Sedona Symphony
R. Carlos Nakai shows off traditional flute with the Sedona Symphony
R. Carlos Nakai shows off traditional flute with the Sedona Symphony

Published on: 05/15/2024

Description

American Indian flutist R. Carlos Nakai performs with the Sedona Symphony under the direction of Artistic Director Janna Hymes at the Sedona Performing Arts Center on Saturday, April 27. Photo courtesy Larry Kane.

The Sedona Symphony sold out the Sedona Performing Arts Center for its end-of-season pops concert on the evening of April 27, which featured a return appearance by American Indian flutist R. Carlos Nakai. Perhaps the most prominent player of the traditional instrument active in today’s music scene, Nakai has released 41 albums since 1983 and received 11 Grammy nominations.

Nakai combined his performance with anthropological commentary, addressing the origins of the American Indian flute as it is currently known. While the end-blown flute is the oldest musical instrument, being contemporaneous with most or all of the existence of modern human societies, the absence of written and archaeological evidence has so far made it impossible to document the pre-Columbian usage of the flute in North America. In his remarks, Nakai favored the hypothesis that exposure to central European organ-building methods heavily influenced the version of the instrument in common use today, as it bears a strong relationship to organ pipes. This new and innovative flute, Nakai said, effectively made those early players in Massachusetts the rock ’n’ roll stars of their day.

“The world of music and musicians is more powerful than any of the politicians,” Nakai declared, commenting on music’s ability to change minds and attitudes. “Music gets through all the blocks that cultures have … Music is the language of the world.”

This music, Nakai, pointed out, is simply the manipulation of a sine wave, and the simplest and earliest way to manipulate a sine wave is the end-blown flute. Nakai observed that all music likely began with the playing of the vocal lines of ceremonial chants on an instrument. He himself plays a range of flutes pitched in keys including A minor, G minor, B flat and E natural, as well as the eagle-bone whistle.

In his opening selection, “Far From Water,” a placid work composed by James DeMars, Nakai immediately demonstrated impressive delicacy of control over his instrument. He then performed four of his own compositions, orchestrated by his collaborator Billy Williams. In “Shaman’s Call,” he made the flute sound like an outright whoop, but then changed the mood and let the Symphony get romantic for a bit before reentering on the eagle-bone whistle. For “Comes the Dawn,” which had a grander sweep, he switched to a deeper-voiced flute on which he alternated with the French horn in a lovely interplay.

Guest percussionist Will Clipman, a frequent collaborator of Nakai, joined him for the more yearning emotions of “Fourth World.” The final number of the four, “Little Dog,” switched things up with swirling violins and a vigorous drumbeat like hooves fading into the distance, an adventurous, journey-type song. The general lightness and airiness of the Symphony’s strings perfectly complemented Nakai’s playing, which itself involved a distinctive combination of vibrato and rubato at the end of phrases.

The “Ashokan Farewell” of Jay Ungar followed as an orchestral interlude. It began with a long solo by the concertmaster, who was progressively joined in the theme by the rest of the strings, the winds and the brass as the layers of the piece built up in a fine example of the orchestra working with smooth efficiency. The “Farewell” is a quiet but confident work, expressing wistfulness — but the sort of wistfulness that is based on great confidence and deep memory.

The Symphony players then got to sit back and observe as Nakai demonstrated some of his techniques and instruments while discussing them with the audience. He even dropped briefly into Hawaiian chant.

Clipman joined him with an udu, an Igbo percussion instrument that is essentially a modified clay jug producing different pitches and tones when struck with the hand, and the two improvised an entire sequence together with great finesse. Their performance reminded the audience what that very first music that Nakai talked about might have sounded like. It was a demonstration of creation in action at the most basic human level.

After the improvisation, the full ensemble returned to Nakai’s composition “Inner Voices,” for which he again reverted to the deeper flute that was accompanied by a comparably deeper tone from the Symphony. Immersive and exploratory, it formed a single line of melody very close to the listeners, with Clipman lightly teasing the cymbal in the background. Special recognition is due to bassists Lance Roederer and Mik Jordahl for their skilled control of the long, subtle low parts the work demanded.

The program also featured two short pieces by California composer Alan Lee Silva, “Western Dawn” and “Rock Canyon Club.” These could best be described as hoedowns for strings, thick with folk motifs and reflecting the influence of generations of TV Westerns. While enjoyable enough, with some opportunity for tuneful statements by the violins, they fell short in their dramatic force because the composer chose to orchestrate them for strings alone, without brass, timpani, or the gradual leveling up of the dynamics needed to leave the audience trembling in their seats with excitement. “Rock Canyon Club” worked better than “Western Dawn” but could still have used some added snap. Both pieces were, however, consistent with the Southwestern atmosphere of the evening.

And now, Nakai quipped to the audience as his show drew to an end, “there’s an Irish pub I need to get to.”

News Source : https://www.redrocknews.com/2024/05/13/r-carlos-nakai-shows-off-traditional-flute-with-the-sedona-symphony/

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