Review: Tamil Rogeon and the Australian Youth Orchestra take The Nightcat to Rio

Walking into the dimly lit and smoky Nightcat in Fitzroy, I was greeted by a literal orchestra of chairs, sheet music and anticipation of what was to be unlike any other night I’ve spent at one of Melbourne’s most eclectic venues. After seven long years of writing and recording in Brazil, LA, Paris, London and Melbourne, Tamil Rogeon (The Raah Project, Harvey Sutherland and Bermuda) along with the Australian Youth Orchestra, was about to perform 24 Hours In Lapa – a 12-part song cycle exploring the tragic loss of Joseph Martin who was shot dead in 2007 by an undercover policeman in Lapa, Rio De Janeiro while celebrating his 30th birthday.

While waiting for the orchestra to take the stage, I heard stories of Tamil from a friend of his I was introduced to. She talked of Tamil, violin in hand, jamming with locals in the streets of Rio De Janeiro, and his passion and total emersion in the music and culture of Brazil. I had seen Tamil perform once before with Harvey Sutherland and Bermuda (and was blown away), and after hearing about his experience abroad and passion for Brazilian music, I was eagerly awaiting his ambitious performance as a solo artist. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too much longer, as punters quickly shuffled into place while the 35-piece orchestra took the stage and Tamil assumed the position as conductor and lead violinist, announcing the night as a celebration: “The sad part’s at the end.”

What followed was a seamless synthesis of modern orchestral music, contemporary jazz, hip-hop and electronica, reminiscent of Miguel Atwood Fergueson’s tribute to J Dilla on “Suite For Ma Duke’s”. However where Fergueson drew upon his love of hip-hop, Rogeon sourced his extensive knowledge and passion of Brazilian rhythm, melody and harmony to underpin his compositions and performance. Tamil’s previous arrangement of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” really shone bright throughout the piece as well, as new-romantic orchestration interplayed with Latin grooves laid down by the rhythm section and electronics.

After a contemplative and luscious orchestral opening, “The Splendour” got the crowd moving early in the set as the charismatic Bobby Valentine took the stage and theatrically crooned the audience with ease. “Does Nothing End?” saw local favourite Allysha Joy (30/70) deliver a beautifully subtle performance over upbeat Latin grooves that kept everyone moving and shaking, and Ryan Ritchie (True Live) launched explosive verses in “Jealousy”, lyrically transporting us to a club in Lapa, and that’s exactly where we ended up. The electronic rhythms and intensity picked up in the middle of the set and Tamil, wild-eyed and brandishing his violin as a weapon of choice, launched into shredding solos that seemed to defy the instrument’s capabilities and sounded more like a Hendrix guitar solo.

Just as effortlessly as the night transcended from modern-classical performance to heated Rio nightclub, we emerged the other end with another stunning vocal performance from Allysha Joy in the Antonio Carlos Jobim-esque “Living In A Dream”, before tragedy struck and we solemnly emerged bleary eyed in pensive orchestral arrangements, signifying the untimely demise of Joseph Martin and end of the 12-parts of 24 Hours In Lapa.

One of the most significant aspects of the night was the experience of seeing a 35-piece orchestra in a bar/club setting. By taking the orchestra out of what would traditionally be a theatre or recital hall, the music was able to transcend genres and boundaries and the audience was able to fully experience the narrative in Tamil’s composition, particularly in the belly of the piece titled Late Afternoon, Early Evening and Evening.

Keen to leave the night on a high, Tamil and his army of musicians performed and encore of “The Splendour” (after tracking down Bobby Valentine in the carpark) to an audience eager to move and shake once again.

Rogeon’s performance of 24-Hours In Lapa was a brilliant exploration of vice, recklessness and untimely death through the guise of Brazilian and contemporary music. Years of travelling, writing and recording culminated in a finely tuned and emotional performance that took The Nightcat on a sonic journey of heightened emotions and musical exploration for which the audience were along for the ride every step of the way.

The reviewer saw this performance on Friday, April 28th.