Review: From Havana to Here
From Havana to Here
Brisbane City Hall, 25 October 2005
Programming & Production Coordinator
BEMAC (Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre)
‘Jumping Fences’ are a unique Australian group with a particular cultural connection with another country (in their case Cuba). They write excellent songs and are fronted by the beautiful voice of Sue Monk. Above all however, their most endearing quality is a sense of integrity about who they are and what they write about. Their live performances rely on genuine musicianship, unpretentious presentation and an informed outlook. ‘Cosmo Folk’ is a recent label someone came up with that in many ways seems appropriate for their more eclectic approach.
‘Jumping Fences’ bring a repertoire of songs closely connected with their experiences in Cuba, gained through visits in 1985, 1996 and 2001. During their last two visits they performed as invited guests at concerts in both Havana and Santiago at the other end of the island. In 2001 they also performed together with other singer/songwriters at a concert in the Sala Caturla in Havana’s prestigious Amadeo Roldán Theatre.
So imagine yourself seated in a lush tropical garden courtyard, facing the patio of a stately old Spanish building built of marble and stone, in the capital city of Cuba, Havana, late one afternoon. This is just where Sue Monk and Lachlan Hurse, the two founder members of Jumping Fences found themselves in January, 2001, seated alongside Cuban dancers, singers and musicians who were performing at a regular concert held in this wonderful venue. Sue and Lachlan had been invited to perform their songs, and it was part of the marvellous musical journey that these musicians have taken which has seen them travel to Cuba on three occasions, studying music, performing at concerts, and absorbing Cuban musical influences into their own songs, many of which were featured at the City Hall concert. Sue on guitar and vocals and Lachlan on bass guitar, were joined by the rest of their current line-up, lyrical violinist Michal Postula and percussionists James Harper and Oscar Orellana, to take us on their very personal journey through Cuba, and back.
Tú Mi Delirio (‘You, my madness’, by César Portillo de la Luz) performed as a solo by Sue on guitar and voice, was inspired by a rendition of the song by Portillo de la Luz himself, a renowned Cuban veteran, whom Sue and Lachlan heard late one night at the Cuban nightclub El Gato Tuerto. César was a pioneer of the ‘filin’ (feeling) movement in Cuba back in the 1940s, and was still performing at 81 years old. This was one of the high points in the concert for me, underlining that Sue has a wonderful voice and expressive delivery that needs very little dressing.
Distancia y Latido (‘Distance and heartbeat/ yearning’, by Frank Gonzalez) is a contemporary bolero which Sue sang very beautifully. Cuban song melodies are intricate and obviously require good vocal intonation. Sue and Lachlan met Frank Gonzalez in 1996, and subsequently performed the song with Frank in one of Havana’s notable concert halls when they returned to Cuba in 2001.
‘Bebiendonos un Té’ (‘We’re having a cup of tea’), was another high point of the concert for me, with some nice violin from Michal. A boss nova composed in a Brazilian style by Barima Gort, Sue’s teacher during their most recent trip to Cuba, the love song highlights the rich harmonic progressions which are part of this style.
‘On the Chain’ is an original by Lachlan and Sue, written as part of a workplace project they undertook through the Brisbane City Council. They have also performed the song in the intimate concert hall, Sala Caturla, in Havana’s Amadeo Roldan Theatre, with some of the wonderful Cuban musicians that have inspired them. The song incorporates some Cuban elements with a ‘montuno’ section at the end. ‘On the Chain’ is a good example of how ‘Jumping Fences’ compositions are now naturally underpinned by the rich Cuban influences they have absorbed.
The group worked well together with refreshingly light and precise percussion from James Harper, rather than the more ‘four-square’ rhythmic approach that many groups fall into when they use bass guitar and kit drums. The violin, although articulate and expressive, always compliments the vocals.
My only disappointment with the concert was that they didn’t perform ‘Distant Love No Telephone’, an excellent ‘Jumping Fences’ original. You’ll have to buy the CD to see what I mean!