Sunday, 8 February 2009

Seb Rochford/Troyka/Zed-U/Normal Gimbel - 26.01.09

Soho - the spiritual home of British modern jazz. As if to echo the days when Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Peter King and others could be found experimenting with the latest musical developments, the Pizza Express Jazz Club featured four distinct and diverse musical acts that each ride on the crest of the latest wave to emanate from the jazz idiom.

The role of the guitar playing folk-laureate does not typically find Seb Rochford within its domain of practise. Tonight however, was about defying convention. This solo set revealed an instinctive, late Chet Baker-esque anti-technique on vocals and acoustic guitar. The Bonnie Prince Billy folk/punk aesthetic haunted the melodies which themselves derived from a folk/country tradition.

To conjure a statement of intent, Troyka’s set descended upon the venue with a heavy electronic reverb effect. Drummer, Josh Blakemore built the sound with tight funk inspired rhythmic patterns which transmuted into a heavy progressive-rock beat. Electric guitarist, Chris Montague injected angular post-bop/rock phrases that resonated with a Bill Frisell “country” infliction. A sense of in-performance compositional development radiated from Kit Downes’ electric keyboard. His powerfully funk infused melodic progression siphoned into sparse melodic and rhythmic distortions illuminated by electronic refractions.

Norman Gimbel, an American lyricist who wrote for contemporary musical luminaries such as Dave Grusin, Michel Legrand and Antonio Carlos Jobim would have been endeared by the third set performance of Normal Gimbel. This a cappella duo featuring Alice Grant and Ruth Goller, brought sardonic contemporary lyrics to a choral singing style that borrowed from the twentieth century classical post-minimalism of John Adams. “I’ve come to understand why people who are bored sometimes jump off a cliff...” they chimed with enigmatic charm and self-conscious provocation.

Pensive, introspective, menacing meditations provided an optimal contrast. Zed-U opened with searching contributions from its three protagonists. On tenor saxophone, Shabaka Hutchings hypnotically circulated around the core theme, emphasising its inherently arresting design. Over drummer, Tom Skinner’s burnishing rock groove, Hutchings developed the phrase with brutal abstract Brotzmann-esque atonal and a-melodic saxophonistics to reveal the extreme noise end of his technique. Neil Charles’ electric bass line engaged in a virtuous spiral of intensity with Hutchings. Charles infused the post-jazz/prog-rock aesthetic with powerful bashment, soca and dub implications.

The vivacity and diversity of this programme energised a thrilled audience, emphatically proving that this scene is a spirited voice for contemporary British culture.

Seb Rochford


Normal Gimbel


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