I first met Adam Simmons a year or two after I moved from Adelaide to Melbourne in 2004. One of my first regular gigs was in a band called The Pearly Shells: they’re still going strong today. The repertoire ranged from jazz, swing and New Orleans music to blues and rock ‘n’ roll: basically, anything. The size of the band varied from a small quartet right up to a full big band, and when it was the full component it was usually Adam in the baritone saxophone chair.
Sometime after this, Adam called me up and asked me to replace the outgoing drummer in his trio, Origami. This led to an ongoing association with Adam and his music that includes Origami, the duet series 100:25:1, and most recently, the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble.
The ASCME is a group of improvising musicians and sound and visual artists from a variety of backgrounds. Unusually, for an arena as interconnected as the Melbourne improvised music scene, many of the musicians were previously unknown to me. This is indicative of Adam’s incredibly broad and diverse musical and personal associations (as evidenced by his 100:25:1 project, where he performed duos with 100 different musicians over 25 days, all connected by their unique relationship with Adam). An essential facet and huge asset of the ASCME is the diversity of musical personalities he has pulled together. Far from sounding like a disparate mishmash of idiosyncratic musical voices, the ensemble sound is coherent and focused, the various members united by a clarity of vision, intent and aesthetic.
How Adam achieves this balanced, unified sound is, frankly, beyond me. His “instructions” consist mainly of veiled analogies, unfinished sentences characterised by words like “maybe”, “kind of” and “a bit of a…”, and gestures that are best described as nebulous. Yet all this is delivered with a benevolent smile that projects trust, fun, solidarity and an irrepressible spirit of adventure. Adam’s hands-off, autonomous leadership inspires and empowers the musicians to contribute selflessly to elevate the music: a true celebration of community and collaboration.
At its heart, the music of the ASCME is inclusive. From the zany, sacred Space music of the Sun Ra project, to the quirky, intense virtuosity of the Concerto for Piano and Toy Band with Michael Kieran Harvey, to the meditative celebration of The Usefulness of Art, the music of the ASCME invites audience and performers alike to participate and revel in a shared experience that is immediate, honest and pure The titles of the five principal sections of Adam’s The Usefulness of Art suite can also be used to describe defining characteristics of his own personality and that of the ASCME: Acceptance, Empathy, Generosity, Compassion and Faith.
Adam Simmons and the Arcko Ensemble present Travelling Tales at fortyfivedownstairs from Thursday 7th December. More information and tickets available here.