Robert Mitchell’s ‘Invocation’ @ Q.E.H

“Invocation is a personal and universal thank you to life-changing teachers… It is a reflection of the beauty inherent in those youngest members of this group, a celebration of those who fan the spark of creativity, a reflection on the long time it may take for an invaluable penny to drop, a warning to heed the wisdom of the Elders and a prayer for the future of education – an education which should elevate and not destroy talent by trying to place it into a narrow prison instead of an infinite garden.” (From ‘Invocation’ liner notes) – Robert Mitchell

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

There’s an age-old saying. ‘Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.’ Well the mind of piano maestro/composer Robert Mitchell knew no limits when he conceived and believed in bringing his vision of ‘Invocation’ into fruition – a ‘massive’ under-taking in the truest sense of the word. Having trialled this most ambitious of concepts a month or so earlier in Bournemouth, where lead vocalist and part catalyst Deborah Jordan now resides, Mr Mitchell was confident ‘Project Invocation’, which is so dear to his heart, would successfully make its transition to the more expansive and grandiose Queen Elizabeth Hall. How right he was! November 23 2014 will go down in history as the day that the Full World Premiere of ‘Invocation’ was performed in its entirety within a premium performance space as it was intended.

‘Invocation’ harnessed a broad musical spectrum of performers, incorporating legendary African Jazz and World music master percussionist Eugene Skeef, The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Renowned Chorus Master Gavin Carr (Baritone), Carolyn Date MBE (Chorus Secretary), Robert’s own band Panacea – fronted by his good friend, vocalist supreme Deborah Jordan, Goldsmiths (BIG) String lead by Julian Ferraretto (violin) and singers from Avonbourne and Hareward Colleges lead by Sam Priest. The one common denominator and the fulcrum around which all these entities revolved was pianist and visionary Mr Robert Mitchell.

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Jumoké Fashola
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The programme was introduced by Award Winning Broadcaster, Journalist, Singer, Actress and elegantly dressed Jumoké Fashola. “Good afternoon how are you? Oh my goodness, it’s the last day of the London Jazz Festival… We’ve lived it up for the past ten days I’m telling you; but we’re delighted you could be here at the EFG London Jazz Festival this afternoon. We’ll be hearing from a composer and pianist whose reputation has consistently grown as one of the U.K.’s most serious and respected composer/pianist. Now, this afternoon is a celebration of the life-changing impact of teachers – any teachers in the house? It’s all about you, the Muses that have guided us at one time or another. As you can see it is an epic cast. So please welcome Robert Mitchell with ‘Invocation!'”

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Eugene Skeef (percussion & narration)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

With the choir already in situ, the main ensemble gradually filtered onto the stage and assumed their positions. Prior to commencing, the main protagonist, Mitchell took time out to introduce the aforementioned and immensely talented support cast. One could hear a pin drop as a hush came over the auditorium, the air particles only being disturbed when percussionist and our narrator for the afternoon, Eugene Skeef, dressed in an all-black kaftan rose to his feet to give the first reading. ‘A house’ is based on an ancient Sumerian riddle:

“A house based on a foundation like the skies
A house one has covered with a veil like a secret box
A house set on a base like a goose
One enters it blind,
Leaves it seeing
A School.

As Eugene re-seated Robert Mitchell continued the narrative softly on piano, whilst Choir Master Gavin Carr gradually orchestrated in the tender vocals of the young singers from Avonbourne and Harewood Colleges. A short piano interlude provided the transition for the introduction of ‘Invocation’ project manager and lead vocalist Ms Deborah Jordan, whose cultured vocals sweetly ascended high into the Queen Elizabeth Hall backed by the measured harmonies of the Bournemouth Symphony choir.

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Deborah Jordan (voice)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

‘Invocation’ continued, building in tempo for the next seven minutes where the Goldsmiths (BIG) String lead by violin maestro Julian Ferraretto injected some Soul II Soul-esque string chords, supported by Robert’s fluid piano, playing and Laurie Lowe’s intuitive drumming. Then suddenly the high energy movement of the piece ceased and all eyes were drawn stage right to the South African percussionist Mr Eugene Skeef.

Surrounded by a plethora of percussive instruments, Eugene seemed to be drawing on inspiration from a higher source or calling on his African ancestors as he vocalised in his native dialect, whilst using his mouth and chest as additional percussive instruments. Picking up and beating the Arm drum repeatedly evoked Deborah Jordan to begin sparring with Mr Skeef in what can only be described as a tribal like interaction. The chain reaction had begun as once again Panacea drummer Laurie Lowe was sparked into action, gently teasing his symbols as an accompaniment to the ritualistic and ongoing vocal and percussive duelling of his colleagues. Eventually Laurie’s playing came evermore to the fore as he offered up an effective even paced mini solo.

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Robert Mitchell (piano/composer)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Baton was then passed on to ‘Invocation’ initiator and pianist extraordinaire Mr Robert Mitchell, who proceeded to exhibit to us why Steinway are so proud to have him as one of their premier artists. An intense, impassioned and impressive three-minute solo was offered up; in fact, it was so intense and so impassioned that at times it seemed as if his hands were moving at warp speed across the keys and that they would soon catch-a-fire. At times he elevated from his stool creating a more powerful down force on the keys. The reintroduction of Deborah’s vocals signalled the end of Robert’s solo. However, two minutes later Mr Lowe got his full and proper time in the spotlight, with a tight and expressive solo of his own, his hands and drumsticks all a blur, as Eugene Skeef and Gavin Carr looked on, whilst Julian Ferraretto nodded appreciatively.

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Deborah Jordan (voice), Tom Mason (bass) & Gavin Carr (chorus master/baritone)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Soon after the First Movement of ‘Invocation’ came to a rousing end, with Chorus Master Gavin Carr, arms raised aloft , conducted The Bournemouth Symphony Choir, Goldsmiths (BIG) String, Eugene Skeef, and all the members of Panacea in bringing the opening offering to a very precise and abrupt conclusion. The Second Movement ‘A Song for Alice’ was preceded as with the First, with a short narration courtesy of Eugene Skeef; this time reading a Chinese Proverb entitled ‘Teachers Open the Door’:

“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”

The proverb is in reference to the fact that a teacher can introduce a student to knowledge, but the student must apply that knowledge himself or herself. The difference between Eugene’s first reading and this is second, is that it was followed by Chorus Master and vocalist, Gavin Carr turning 180° to face the audience and singing the same Chinese Proverb in his velvety rich baritone, simultaneously surprising and pleasantly pleasing those gathered in the auditorium.

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Gavin Carr (chorus master and baritone)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Second Movement saw ‘Invocation’ really start to gather momentum as Deborah Jordan was given free rein to open her lungs and did not disappoint, exercising her vocal chords to the maximum. A rising tide raises all ships, and Deborah’s soaring vocal seem to inspire the entire ‘Invocation’ ensemble to raise their intensity several notches higher. ‘A Song for Alice’ was definitely much more ethereal with regard to its tone and ambience. Robert Mitchell brought all the musical strands together with a delicately presented two-minute solo outro.

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Robert Mitchell (piano/composer)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Eugene Skeef’s introductory reading prior to the Third Movement was ‘Reach High’ by Pamela Vaull Starr:

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul.
Dream deep, for every dream perceives the goal.”

As with the Second Movement, baritone Gavin Carr addressed the punters repeating Eugene’s eloquent reading in his unique inimitable vocal style. This succinctly segued into a Robert Mitchell Tubular Bells-esque cyclical piano loop; best described as the piano version of Rashan Roland Kirk’s circular breathing technique. Deborah Jordan then proved why she is one of the premier live vocalist in the country and such an invaluable asset to the project. Seemingly feeding on the wholesome energy being provided by the powerhouse combination of Panacea, Eugene Skeef, Goldsmiths (Big) String and The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Ms Jordan did indeed reach high for the stars hidden within her soul, offering up a majestic vocal performance full of power and poise, arching her back in order to accentuate and enunciate each word clearly and then towards the end of her solo actively engaging in eye contact with Chorus Master Gavin Carr.

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Deborah Jordan (voice), Gavin Carr (chorus master/baritone)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The mini pause provided a subtle transition into the Fourth Movement entitled ‘You’ll Understand’ and was also the signal for the singers from Avonbourne and Harewood Colleges to rise to their feet and relay in song a famous and poignant quote by the leader of the Indian Independence Movement Mahatma Gandhi ‘Keep Your Thoughts Positive’:

Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviour.
Keep your behaviour positive, because your behaviour become your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.

‘You’ll understand’ had a more refined and classical feel to it, which is heightened by the liberal and most welcome use of Julian Ferraretto and Goldsmiths (BIG) String, who provided embellished, lush and rounded soundscapes to the Movement. The young college singers deserve a special mention for their beautiful angelic voices as and professionalism given their tender years.

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Julian Ferraretto (Lead Violin) & Goldsmiths (BIG) String
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

As a precursor to the Fifth Movement, ‘The Memoir Casts a Spell,’ Eugene Skeef addressed the microphone once again to recite the brief but impactful Ngoreme Proverb ‘If you refuse the elders’ advice’:

‘If you refuse the elders’ advice you will walk the whole day.’

As had now become a routine process, Gavin Carr bellowed out the proverb in song, his voice resonating off all four walls of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and nestling deep within one’s conscience. ‘The Memoir Casts a Spell’ was a much busier affair, with piano, percussion and strings heavily involved in the mix; the ever-present constant being Laurie Lowe’s pulsating drum ‘n’ bass high energy rhythms.

Three quarters of the way in, Robert Mitchell decided to throw his hat into the ring – and so the piano versus drum duel escalated. Mitchell’s solo this time around was even more electrifying than his first, oftentimes leaning over the piano keys and playing them jack hammer like; his animated facial expressions showing that he was fully engaged in the moment.

The peaks and troughs and undulations of this Fifth Movement were extremely impressive, moving from a frenetic one hundred mile an hour breakneck speed and then back down to an extremely sedate pace in an instant the next and back again. The overseer Gavin Carr made sure that all notes were played and sung exactly as rehearsed, especially by his choristers. Following a few more silky piano runs from Mitchell and dynamic drum patterns from Lowe, Deborah Jordan rejoined the party singing the main chorus even more fervently than before.

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The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus & Avonbourne & Harewood Colleges
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Eugene Skeef’s final reading was from ‘I came to the conclusion’ by Dr Martin Luther King Jr

“I came to the conclusion that there is an existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself; nobody else can speak for you.”

On this occasion the Sixth and Final Movement ‘Pure’ was not followed by Gavin Carr, but instead by three short, sharp hand claps from Robert Mitchell which ushered in the final instalment of ‘Invocation’. The feel good musical vibe of the Sixth Movement involved all parties on stage; Sam Priest’s young college singers syncing sublimely with The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, and likewise Panacea working in harmony with Goldsmiths (BIG) String, providing a magical ‘sense-a-round’ effect, best described as sound in 3D.

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Eugene Skeef (percussion & narration)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Robert Mitchell, Deborah Jordan and Eugene Skeef metaphorically lightly tap-danced on top of all of this with gentle piano tinkling, floating vocal inflections and extremely subtle percussion placement respectively. The acoustically and live instrumentation friendly Queen Elizabeth Hall definitely showcased Robert Mitchell’s ‘Invocation’ as he had no doubt envisaged it in his mind’s eye. As the movement progressed we were indeed treated to a final superb piano flourish from our leading man. Having been musically intoxicated and absorbed for what seemed like a very short hour, it was left to Gavin Carr, who with a decisive down-swoop of his right arm, brought Robert Mitchell’s ‘Invocation’ to its climax.

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Deborah Jordan (voice)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Rising from his piano stool, Robert took time out to acknowledge the plaudits from the audience, but he was also quick to acknowledge all the singers and musicians in turn with him on the stage. Deborah Jordan then respectfully took the microphone and edified the main man, “None of this music would exist without this incredible musician that has astounded all of us for many, many a year. He is a beautiful spirit; he wrote this piece as an ‘Invocation’ and I feel he truly has achieved his task – Mr Robert Mitchell!”

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

With the well deserved applause still ringing in his ears, and clasping the microphone in both hands, Mr Mitchell nodded appreciatively before going on to give his final soliloquy. “Thank you! Thank you! Special thanks again to the Arts Council for their great support, to Sound Storm in Bournemouth for their support, and of course to the magnificent London Jazz Festival – John Cummings, Amy Pierce and all the crew at Serious (Promotions) for allowing us to do this here. I hope that you enjoyed this Festival; it gets more and more spectacular with each year. We desperately need your support, we need live music, we need this creativity to be taught and shared in schools for this to be superbly strong. This is all very close to us in London, let alone the whole country. So we are awash with folk all over the place, so look after them. It’s been a real pleasure to play for you. Thank you and good afternoon!”

Michael J Edwards

‘World Teachers Day’ – 5th October: An annual celebration of teachers and the muses worldwide.

A Big Mike and ukvibe thanks to Emma Perry for arranging for the UK Team to cover this event so comprehensively.

Essential Gig Date:
http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk
EFG London Jazz Festival: http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

Essential Websites:
http://www.robertmitchellmusic.com/
http://www.bschorus.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/GoldsmithsbigString
http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk/

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

travelling the spaceways since 1993