UNEARTHING A HIDDEN HARMONY

Review by Kline Smith | 1 January 2021

Daniel opens the subsequent track languishing over his keys. No apologies are made for the sombre that cohabits the namelessness of each song. Freeman Gumede’s requisite bass instinctively adds colour and tonality – it’s sporadic and methodical, descending into lilts of pulsating joy before ceasing back into hushed tones like those reserved for conversations stolen late at night.

Supported by ConcertsSA, in collaboration with the Centre for Creative Arts Centre, Daniel draws inspiration from the earlier artworks of Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period in which the painter memorialised the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. Daniel’s sensuous, declamatory set both echoes and rejects Picasso’s dark (albeit never ominous) palette which consisted almost exclusively of monochromatic shades of blue.
And while themes of love lost and the gaunt processes of change often and understandably find representation in the melancholy, Daniel’s interpretations coalesce into a body of energy that is raw and rich in personality. “The concept was to go back to where I started, which goes back to Pablo painting in blue and only in blue,” Daniel reasons, ascribing his departure from heavily produced electronic material to a yearning to return to the piano where his writing began; to the profound simplicities of Picasso’s blues.

His set opens with delicate lyricism as pages from Poetry Africa’s nostalgic digital artwork steadily descend from the top of the illuminated backdrop. Nkululeko ‘Page’ Ngwenya, a familiar face and voice on Durban’s poetry stages, is foregrounded. Page’s popularity is owed largely to his capacity for tenderness and subtlety, traits that become palpable as soon as he speaks: “More often than not I’m a willing skydiver,” he starts, “These clouds have carried me before.”

The delivery stirs a rousing mood that doesn’t feel indulgently introspective. All the while Daniel limits physical movement to an occasional wrist lifted gently from the keys, his stillness allowing the audience to free-fall into Page’s wordscape. Brief silences in Daniel’s sensitive playing offer an intimately ruminative space for meaning and understanding to be negotiated. The result is a wonderfully translucent sound borne from an impressive proliferation of styles that somehow manages to remain rooted in its minimalistic distinctiveness.

Simple, unassuming language lends credence to Page’s credibility – only a few lines evoke striking imagery. His understated, elegant approach is at times so delicate and tender it can move you to tears. But there’s more to the sound than being consistently beautiful – it is a reminder that poetry doesn’t solely exist within a literary realm; but in a religious one, a social one, a cultural one.

“You know there’s a heartbreak song for people like us,” Page declares. And you suddenly cannot help but wonder if by bringing these various instances of heartbreak together, both Page and Picasso, poet and painter, were documenting the final stages of processing a necessary grieving that we are become witness to.

“Colours, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” Picasso later remarked.

Daniel opens the subsequent track languishing over his keys. No apologies are made for the sombre that cohabits the namelessness of each song. Freeman Gumede’s requisite bass instinctively adds colour and tonality – it’s sporadic and methodical, descending into lilts of pulsating joy before ceasing back into hushed tones like those reserved for conversations stolen late at night.

“When Daniel’s piano picks up again it is still smooth, soothing, filled with emotional depth. He is a dexterous performer whose arresting technique transudes the energy in the music so that his rationale speaks right through it. The band, playing not just with command but with abandon and distinct lucidness, deftly manage to create a compelling musical narrative that is as expansive as it is intimate.

By the time Untitled 3 begins, the band’s committed playing has left an indelible impression on you. They are a modest yet formidable presence, restrained in gesture so that the music can speak for itself. Riley G’s drumming is consistently controlled throughout, but what he’s able to achieve in the last few minutes of the set is something to behold. He plays with a maturity and individuality akin to a musician twice his age, something I marvel at every time I hear him.

Picasso explained that his paintings are underpinned by a philosophy that values the hidden harmony over the obvious one. By this he meant that the obvious is often on the surface, and that the surface can deceive because it can be cultivated, conditioned.

But Daniel’s exploration delves far deeper to unearth a hidden harmony that resides in the perspicacious of his interpretations, helping to expand the sound of his compositions. Hediscards conventional, by-the-book harmonic progressions and stays true to the experimental nature of this project, the culmination of which can only be described as an exhilarating performance that is engaging, polished and magnificently enthralling..

Catch his triumphant virtual concert, still available to watch here.

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