May 1994 – live reviews – Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice at London Jazz Festival @ The Bloomsbury Theatre, Bloomsbury, London, 17th May 1994 (“behind the whimsy lies the mind of a genius, or a sadist. Probably both.”)

19 May

Time to open your eyes a little wider, ‘cos something strange is stirring in the home counties…

Those of you familiar with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks will be aware of the contribution made by one Django Bates on keyboards, tenor horn and compositional skills. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll also know that he and Earthworks’ brilliant saxophonist Iain Ballamy originally worked together in the anarchic and thoroughly enjoyable Loose Tubes, a jazz big band who sounded like a joyous drunken party in a brass instrument factory.

If you’re really keeping up with Bates’ freewheeling progress, you might also know that he has his own big band in the form of the seventeen-piece Delightful Precipice, featuring Ballamy and several other Loose Tubes-ers such as flautist Eddie Parker, clarinettist Dai Pritchard, saxophonists Julian Arguelles and Steve Buckley… well, a large chunk of the current British jazz scene, when it comes down to it. Certainly half of the musical population of London, clutching various brass and woodwind implements, seems to have ambled amiably onstage along with the flamboyant Bates. While this lot might not have the profiles of the Courtney Pines of this world, they’re probably doing more to extend the boundaries of innovative music. With Earthworks, Bates breaks new ground and moves the landscape around; with Delightful Precipice, he teeters teasingly on a thrilling new brink (as suggested by the title of tonight’s opener, ‘Tightrope’).

It’s certainly brinksmanship of a high order. From the first notes, I’m transfixed by the music Bates and co. are producing: all of you who speak knowledgeably of the complexities of prog bands should lend an ear to Delightful Precipice, and get an earful of Django Bates’ muse. It’s a rich, densely textured experience; this is music so complex and ferociously intelligent that I feel as if it’s forcing entry to my skull. Pressed back in my seat as the music powers on, rushing through my mind like irresistible floodwaters, I’m firstly overwhelmed by the sheer substance of it. Later, as it shows no sign of letting up, I feel my reluctant slow little brain being gently forced into activity; it’s like slowly being woken up, given a massage and a pep talk. This is music so cerebral that it even brings your mind up to speed.

‘Tightrope’ opens the show in slamming clusters of notes like being punched to death by brass, before the band gently finger-snap their way into ‘Armchair March’, a melancholy Bates-y stomp with long peals of English brass band sound (a Loose Tubes trademark). The following ‘Fox Across the Road’ is a menacing, darkly harmonic undulation, sliced up by samples of screeching car brakes, speech, beeps and horn toots, and savaged by Mike Mondesir’s slap-bass breaks.

Bates cuts an eccentric figure onstage – curly-headed, immaculately stylish and handsome, spinning around behind his keyboard or pulling out a hunting horn for a quick blast. His ironic smile, plus the reams of music manuscript spilling over the keyboard and the musing, other-worldly humour of his between-song comments give him the air of some elegantly mad professor, a Lewis Carroll of the jazz scene. He dedicates the handclappy lunacy of ‘Ice is Slippery’ to his sporting heroine, Tonya Harding. ‘The Loneliness of Being Right’ features a lengthy chunk of free-association gibberish (“Bud Freeman Hardy Willis… do not forsake me, oh my Darjeeling tea…”)

But don’t be fooled. Behind the whimsy lies the mind of a genius, or a sadist. Probably both. His music manages to balance both an astounding inventiveness and enough humour to keep us listening to it. There is the considerable problem that a poor sound mix renders his keyboard all but inaudible, but the guy still seems to be everywhere – dancing and conducting his ferociously complicated arrangements, playing behind his back, waltzing through ‘Queen of Puddings’, generally having a good time.

The second half of the show is more accessible than the dense and demanding first, opening with Eddie Parker’s breezy big-band rush ‘Exeter – King of Cities’, a carefree musical evocation of the Devon summer. We also get ‘Glad Afrika’, a revamp of Bates’ Loose Tubes standard ‘Sad Afrika’ translated into “happy stylee” in celebration of the end of apartheid. It’s a glorious burst of happy-sad brass, a cartwheeling piece rolling through chorale to cacophony and ending up in a great soft resolution.

Almost impossible to top; but Bates manages it when he straps on his tenor horn and walks out from behind his keyboard to deliver a reading of Earthworks’ ‘Candles Still Flicker in Romania’s Dark’ which reduces the original to a pale, ineffectual shadow. His horn playing is phenomenal, sputtering and spiralling, clutching at heaven and breaking hearts, devastatingly sad and angry. The band – as previously noted, a sterling group of musicians and no mere wallpaper backing – also excel themselves in their sudden subtlety on the wispy pulses of the chordal background.

For closers we get the hyper-percussive artillery of ‘Martin France at Seven-and-Three-Quarters’ (with the aforementioned drummer going to town on his rig electronics) and the wry musing on disappointment, ‘You Can’t Have Everything’, in which Bates and his horn break up the glumness by invading the audience. Plus, as an encore, there’s another of Bates’ grabs at incorporating different musical forms into his art – this time, it’s the noble English football chant, fused alongside some heavy rock wallop into the raucous ‘Discovering Metal’. I’m treating to the spectacle of the arty Bloomsbury audience gleefully yelling along to “woah-oh, oh oh oh!” like a bunch of benevolent hooligans.

Bates comments, as he shuffles the music for ‘You Can’t Have Everything’, that the fate of the modern British jazzer is to be famous for two weeks and then to be dropped by the record company. “Only joking,” he goes on. “The fact is that there is a British jazz scene, as long as we all make it happen.” Well, Delightful Precipice can provide us with a whole evening’s worth of reasons why we should.; and I’d urge you to become familiar with their arguments. Wit, technique, complexity and another jump forward in the universe of jazz. To think that this is happening in England!

Django Bates online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

The Bloomsbury Theatre online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

SWOONAGE

Swoon. /swo͞on/ A verb. To be emotionally affected by someone or something that one admires; become ecstatic. Here are some people and things that make me swoon. #swoon #swoonage

Post-Punk Monk

Searching for divinity in records from '78-'85 or so…

theartyassassin

...wandering through music...

Get In Her Ears

Promoting and Supporting Women in Music

Die or D.I.Y.?

...wandering through music...

The Music Aficionado

Quality articles about the golden age of music

THE ACTIVE LISTENER

...wandering through music...

Planet Hugill

...wandering through music...

Listening to Ladies

...wandering through music...

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

The Quietus | All Articles

...wandering through music...

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

furia log

...wandering through music...

A jumped-up pantry boy

To say the least, oh truly disappointed

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Organized sounds. If you like.

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

...wandering through music...

When The Horn Blows

...wandering through music...

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

FLIPSIDE REVIEWS

...wandering through music...

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

The One-Liner Miner

...wandering through music...

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Obat Kanker Payudara Ginseng RH 2

...wandering through music...

poplifer.wordpress.com/

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

Do The Math

...wandering through music...

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The World's Worst Records

...wandering through music...

Soundscapes

...wandering through music...

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

FRIDAY NIGHT BOYS

...wandering through music...

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

...wandering through music...

Life Just Bounces

...wandering through music...

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Aquarium Drunkard

...wandering through music...

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

NewFrontEars

...wandering through music...

%d bloggers like this: