Hosted by Riverside Theatres, this was an extraordinary display of musical virtuosity from the Ephemera Trio. It was led by composer Keyna Wilkins (on keys and flute) whose extraordinary talent was teamed with the incredible skills of Elsen Price on double bass and Will Gilbert on trumpet.
Designed to coincide with Perseid meteor shower, an event that occurs once a year around July/August – this sequence of space-inspired music vignettes took us on an immersive visual and aural journey to worlds beyond our own. It was an exciting fusion of sound that used NASA recordings of electromagnetic waves from planets – compiled by astrophysicist Professor Paul Francis – as a backdrop to largely improvised jazz explorations.
This was all played out against a fascinating visual backdrop of projections drawn from space probe footage. Unfortunately, the lighting rig compromised these images on occasion with too much spill and reflection, but that should be easily fixed in future performances.
And while all that may sound a bit esoteric, it really was a wonderful and haunting experience, part soundtrack to a sci-fi movie, part jazz concert and part meditation on the nature of the universe. It appealed to the inner space geek, as well as the musically appreciative audience. And while improvisational jazz has certainly met with divisive fandom over the years, this concept seemed to suit it perfectly. It really felt as if it has found its niche in this incarnation.
Watching these three consummate artists at work was quite breath-taking. Each brought a diversity of experience and passion to the pieces, magically extracting a distinctive stellar sound world from their very earth-bound instruments. Watching Wilkins turn her piano into a percussive instrument, and her flute into some angelic siren call, while Gilbert transformed his trumpet into a breathy woodwind before soaring into intriguing almost computer driven piping, was mesmerising. And throbbing through it all, Price’s double bass sung the heartbeat of life itself.
Wilkins has said in interviews that, to her, the electromagnetic sounds are ‘similar to whale sounds. They have pitches, that are closely related to the harmonic series. They are beautiful and immediately take you to an alien ethereal place and away from mere human concerns’. And it’s a fair comparison. Like the call of whales, the soundscape reaches inside and touches some very visceral emotions about our place in the universe.
This event was a one-off concert at Riverside, but if you get the chance to see it elsewhere you should leap at the opportunity. You can find their work on jazz streaming platforms, and they will present their work Equinox at Mona in Tasmania on 16 September – so it may be time for a well-earned holiday south.
Ephemera Trio: Keyna Wilkins on keys and flute, Elsen Price on double bass and Will Gilbert on trumpet.
Meteor Orbit was performed for one night only at Riverside Theatres at Sydney on 23 July 2023.