CD review by Ian Dearden
I turned up at the University of Queensland at the start of 1974 as a 16 year old naïf, fresh down from the bush.
During Orientation Week, I was privileged to see and hear the extraordinary Mackenzie Theory, an avant-garde instrumental rock band headed by guitarist Rob Mackenzie, who later went on to play for many years with doo wop revivalist band, Sha Na Na.
Apart from the gobsmacking left field nature of the tunes, two things struck me – the amazing energy and rhythms that drummer Greg Sheehan extracted from a minimalist drum kit: and the haunting, soaring sounds of the viola of Cleis Pearce.
Fast forward fifteen years, and present as members of Coolangubra (named after a wilderness area in NSW) are Greg Sheehan, now undoubtedly one of Australia’s leading and most innovative percussionists: and Cleis Pearce, stunning violist. Together with Stephen Berry on guitar, this trio draws on elements of jazz, folk, Indian music, world rhythms and the avant-garde, to present music which defies description and categorisation.
At times frenzied and free, at times sweet and soothing, always restless and pushing boundaries, this is not always “easy” music to listen to, but it richly rewards the patient listener prepared to open their mind and just let the music flow through.
Each of these virtuoso musicians (supplemented by Steve Elphick on bass for three tracks) is keenly aware of the use of light and shade, and emotion and intelligence, to lead the listener through an often lengthy and improvised, but always compelling musical arc.
My favourite pieces on this album (released by the Arizona-based Celestial Harmonies record label in 1994, but containing recordings from 1989 and 1992) are the closing piece “The Start Of It All”, and the monumental 12 minute “Finding You (Again.)”
My research doesn’t reveal whether Coolangubra will be performing live any time soon, but if they do, don’t miss them.
All of the members are still active in contemporary music circles, so if you get the chance, go and see anything that anyone of them is involved in.
In the meantime, get your hands on this or any other Coolangubra album, dim the lights, close the shades, lie back and prepare to be transported.
It really is music as a mystical experience!