Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Minghe Morte, Andrew Plummer's World Sanguine Report & Bilbao Syndrome - 15.12.2008

"The thing is, we just want you to gag on our jazz," offered electric bassist, Colin Sutton as a revealing insight into the irreverent manifesto for this evening’s entertainment. It featured ten members, arranged into three ensembles, of the iconoclastic LIMA (Leeds Improvised Music Association) Collective. This was self-conscious music born from the most rebellious strains of jazz’s D.N.A.

Minghe Morte, a group that systematically deconstructs the tenor saxophone trio, opened proceedings. Their sound fuses jazz, funk, electronica, punk and death metal in a maelstrom of creative activity. It conveyed the impression of an experiment in human-computer interaction that teased the audiences’ sensory perception of the sounds created as phrases were bent, refracted, reverberated, looped and delayed. Dark, prowling, funk bass lines by Sutton intermixed with drummer, Chris Bussey’s hyper-active rock beat. Saxophonist, Christophe de Bezenac intelligently executed succinct funk-tinged Brecker-esque melodies with unambiguous post-Coltrane ‘sheets of sound’ muscularity.

Andrew Plummer’s World Sanguine Report plays English folk music burnished by a simmering resentment and a toxic malaise. Plummer’s sonorous vocals and brooding performance captured all the despondency and antagonism of the most disaffected and alienated elements of Western counter-culture. Matthew Bourne on Fender Rhodes struck a path somewhere between Sun-Ra and Keith Jarrett, while trumpeter, Alex Bonney contributed with regal, engaging melodies that betrayed both Latin and British folk influences.

Slayer and Napalm Death are hardly familiar names to most jazz audiences, but their progenies may well become so. Bilbao Syndrome, ever the entertainers, entered dressed head to toe in florescent white jump suites supplemented by reflector aviators. The electronic effects were heavy and intense. Bussey, Sutton and Bourne powered forth with vigorous bass lines, domineering metal beats and Arkestra inspired expressionism. Electric guitarist, Chris Sharkey built the harmonic tension with devious rock/metal artistry that brought a vociferously supportive section of the audience to their feet. Plummer excelled as death-jazz vocalist extraordinaire, displaying a formidable ferocity to glorious effect, with snarls, growls and guttural shrieks.

‘Bilbao Syndrome’ names an epidemic transmitted by civic enthusiasts who believe that iconic museums are the shortcut to successfully transforming a rust belt city into a Mecca of creativity. Needless to say it has its doubters. However, it cannot be doubted that these bands represent one of Europe’s most vibrant, creative and energetic music scenes.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Acoustic Ladyland - 11.12.2008

To pioneer a movement is no modest feat. To inspire creation is no meagre accomplishment. Acoustic Ladyland can however justifiably lay claim to both. The vanguard of the British post-jazz movement revealed their latest incarnation with an ever erupting swell of emotion and creativity. Electric guitarist, Chris Sharkey, co-founder of the LIMA Collective, replaces keyboardist, Tom Cawley who left to pursue his own project, "Curios". Poised with new material ready for the glare of the public eye, this resplendent quartet played with all the passion and verve that audiences have come to expect and on account of the rearranged line-up, a stimulating new dimension was revealed.

The compositions revealed an array of styles while maintaining a unique and identifiable sound. Drummer, Seb Rochford propelled the group with his distinctive punch and vitality from up-beat ska, through forceful funk to reflective post-rock. The taut, unpretentious and hard-edged melodies towed the compositions with phrases that seemed to have jazz in their genes but were played with the ferocity and drive of punk.

Highlights included, "Plant Hunters" which opened with a characteristically punk/rock but jazz infused melodic phrase played by tenor saxophonist, Pete Wareham over a light rock pulse laid down by Rochford. As Ruth Goller, on electric bass, broke into a strong blues/rock hook, Sharkey supplemented Wareham’s melodic lines with insistent, penetrating punk voicing. Having already worked with Wareham and Goller in "The Final Terror", the foundations for this demonstration of mutual understanding and appreciation had been set. Wareham’s saxophone roared like a tortured beast before transitioning into a jazz/rock vamp to draw the composition towards and ending illuminated by Sharkey’s sparse psychedelic phrasing. Rochford and Goller began, "Have Another Go" by combining a self-assured punk/rock beat with a throbbing baseline in advance of a bop-punk groove. Sharkey featured with brutal punk expansions on the main melodic line and phrasing which referenced Hendrix and McLaughlin.

The material performed will constitute the basis for Acoustic Ladyland’s next album. On this evening’s evidence, it will surely prove to be among 2009’s most dazzling releases.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Blink featuring Merit Stephanos

The Leverhulme Trust awards fellowships on the basis of originality, judgment, appropriate risk and the transcendence of barriers between traditional disciplines. It will come as no surprise to those who attended Blink’s latest performance at the Vortex that pianist and composer, Alcyona Mick received this award to help fund her debut album, "Around the Sun". Featuring Merit Stephanos on vocals, Blink developed their already distinctive sound by drawing inspiration from previously untapped sources.

The first set consisted in material from the trio’s eponymously named album. The absence of a bassist both necessitates a degree of harmonic responsibility when playing within a structure and creates an intriguing space for exploration when playing free. These qualities attained a degree of excellence during "Hall C", a dark, contemplative composition by Blink’s saxophonist, Robin Fincker. Mick’s simple and engaging bass part anchored the group. Once rooted, she explored some of the more abstract implications of the melody. She swirled across the entire range of the piano with phrasing evocative of Messiaen or Rachmaninoff. Fincker worked a poignant atonality into the main melody before launching into expansive melodic lines within the key signature and echoing them with ‘outside’ responses. As though propelled by this development drummer, Paul Clarvis broke into a characteristically strong, driving rock stride that saw the piece out.

Merit Stephanos infused the second set with a potent Arabian scent which, during the endearingly titled, "I’m his Darling, he’s my Darling", brought the group to the zenith of their inter-genre philosophy. It began as a hard-bop ballad with Mick delivering spacious, Monk-like voicing over terse cymbal effects and rumblings by Clarvis. Stephanos’ vocals distinguished themselves with their Middle Eastern intonation, elegance and emotional intimacy. While Mick and Clarvis built to a cinematic depth, Stephanos sang the lyrics with a clear and resounding heart, producing an utterly compelling performance. Fincker contributed with concise abstract calls before weaving Arabic inflections into the fabric of his fundamentally post-bop solo.

In years to come, Blink, together with a handful of other groups, will be adjudged to define a particular breed of early twenty-first century music which draws influence from multiple musical categories. Presently, the music is indefinable. We are left simply to bask in the glow of its romantic mysticism.