Nyilipidgi by Paul Grabowsky, Wilfred Brothers & Monash Art Ensemble, review by John McBeath


Album:  Nyilipidgi
Artist:   Paul Grabowsky, Wilfred Brothers & Monash Art Ensemble
Release Date: June 2016
Label:    ABC Jazz

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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

For just over 24 years I have been a freelance writer, publishing in that time a wide variety of genres: news items, live concert reviews, travel articles, features, personality profiles, and CD and book reviews. I have written for various in-flight magazines, The Adelaide Review, The Republican, The Bulletin, The Australian, The Advertiser, The Melbourne Herald Sun and several regional newspapers. In 1994 I won a national travel-writing prize sponsored by The Australian newspaper, which led to my writing regularly for that paper. Since 2003 I have been jazz critic for The Advertiser and The Australian newspapers, on average contributing weekly to each paper. In 2005 I won a national Jazz Writing Competition sponsored by the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.