Nyilipidgi by Paul Grabowsky, Wilfred Brothers & Monash Art Ensemble, review by John McBeath
The best circumstance under which to listen to this album is in a live performance, but of course, opportunities for that are quite limited. I was fortunate to experience the work live at the 2016 Wangaratta Jazz Festival – where it achieved a standing ovation – and my opinion of it rose considerably.
Pianist/composer Paul Grabowsky began working with ceremonial musicians from Ngukurr, on the Roper River in South East Arnhem Land in 2004, and Nyilipidgi represents an apex of achievement where aspects of contemporary jazz are incorporated into Australian traditional music and vice versa.
Important contributions come from brothers Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred – vocals and clapsticks (Bilma) and David Yipininy Wilfred on didjeridu (Yidaki) – whose traditional vocals, in song and story, with music are united in quite brilliant ways with jazz orchestrations and solos from members of the Monash Art Ensemble.
Indigenous aspects are displayed in all tracks. From the very beginning in The First Dance for example, clapsticks and chanting transmute via a violin and percussion passage into big band staccato chords and a soft conversation that fades to a conclusion.
Grabowsky has overcome the almost unimaginable challenge of this musical achievement without sacrificing aspects of either genre. The cover notes are useful in explaining and elaborating: ‘Nyilipidgi does not attempt a superficial integration of differing traditions . . . that relegates music to the mere representation of style.’
What Grabowsky has achieved here is an original jazz symphony of monumental proportion utilising words, dances and songs (manikay) of the Wagilak clan somehow amalgamated with jazz influences in a quite moving original, musical landmark.
Review originally published by the Australian