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February 2018 – upcoming London gigs (folk, jazz, soul, and eclectic acoustica) – Ian Beetlestone & the Drowning Rats (10th February); Matsudisho and Alice Phelps (18th February); plus Tell Tale Tusk (12th February), Alice Zawadski’s cello-heavy Valentine Show (14th February) and Kabantu’s album launch (8th February)

5 Feb

Even more than the Magic Garden (as covered a few posts back), Camden’s Green Note serves as a London folk-boutique par excellence. Most evenings, its small café space wedges in the cream of roots acts, the care they take over choice, presentation and atmosphere often justifying the priceyness of an evening out. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few things on offer there during early February:

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats
The Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England ·
Saturday 10th February 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Plenty of charming elements and conversational topics converge in Ian Beetlestone. He’s a Yorkshireman-turned-Londoner, a pop and chanson connoisseur, a gay man and a cabbie. Several of these come together in his lively, engaging cabbie’s blog; even more of them combine in the fact that for the last couple of years Ian’s driven the capital’s first (and, to date, only) rainbow-coloured taxi (for what it’s worth, it’s becoming a much-loved city ornament both inside and outside of Pride, and he gets more stick from fellow cabbies over the Transport for London logo than he does for the LGBT+ associations).

As for the musicality, that flourishes in his all-singing acoustic trio The Drowning Rats, who offer “(a) unique combination of ratty jazz, drowned pop, magic, mystery, darkness and light to the capricious twin deities of love and song with ever pleading, hopeful eyes.” Having started up in Leeds about a decade and a half ago (and survived a subsequent re-potting in London), they’ve been the players of regular gigs in Soho (until recently, at the Blue Posts) and their home turf of Kings Cross (at the Star of Kings) as well as the Green Note.


 
With Ian’s florid piano backed by Dom Coles’ drumkit and Tom Fry’s double bass (and with occasional visitations from beery horns and assorted vocal foils), they deliver songs bursting with melody, harmony and joie de vivre; nodding to Brel and barrelhouse, Tom Waits and Paul Weller, Nina Simone and the Shangri-Las; suffused with wry reflection, wit and camaraderie. Ian rolls them out in a joyful soul growl – honey, gravel, fur and phlegm, with the hint of a romantic tenor under the wear and tear. It’s a little Tom Waits, but it’s rather more Dr John (if instead of immersing himself in the Big Easy, he’d taken a ship up the Thames estuary to found a bayoux in a London canal basin).

If you’re specifically after queerness, you’ll find it in the subtle and rosy sexual glow which illuminates many of the songs like fireside warmth, and also in the elastic inclusive community etched out in hints and amongst the broader scope of Ian’s songwriting. Inclusivity’s the word, in fact: there’s little details and easter eggs sown throughout the songs if you want to pick them up and decode them, but in general it’s all woven together with subtlety and open-heartedness. You can walk through their door and enjoy epic magic-realist power ballads about the A40, jaunts around the concerns, compromises and evasions of friendships, sly ballads which put the boot into Soho gentrification, and cheerfully apocalyptic accounts of mornings-after… all without worrying that you need to belong to any particular club. Although, in the extremely cosy confines of the Green Note’s basement bar, you’ll soon feel as if you do belong to one.



 
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Matshidiso + Alice Phelps
The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Sunday 18th February 2018, 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Matshidiso, 2017
I’m not sure just how hard you have to work, just how much you have to do, blossom and branch out before you burst the “secret” side of “well-kept secret” wide open. I would have thought that Matshidiso would have reached that point a long time ago.

Music flows through pretty much everything she lives and does, stemming from the cosmopolitan stew of her upbringing (a native Londoner with Jamaican and Sotho heritage, a classical piano trainee with a parallel love of soul, hip-hop and the cream of 1970s singer-songwriters) and blossoming into her realisation of herself as do-it-all artist – on-call pianist and singer, producer/writer/arranger for herself and for others. Sometimes a band leader, always a constant communicator, Matshidiso has led creative workshops; run song sessions across the internet from her own front room and played venues from the Southbank Centre to South Africa. All this and she’s also a qualified and multilingual international human rights barrister (with experience fighting sex trafficking rings in Ethiopia); a spokesperson for activism around positive African and female identity; a visiting music therapist at the Royal Marsden; a rehabilitating coach and encourager for young male offenders at various prisons; and a onetime relief worker in Haiti.

All of which would be gems on anyone’s resume (and which suggests someone who’s already learned and given back more than most of us will in an entire lifetime) but as a musician, the final proof has to be in the songs Matshidiso sings. Traditional they might be, but she’s learnt well from the craft of forebears such as Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and Lauryn Hill, creating harmonically rich keyboard-driven work drawing from songwriter soul, gospel and pop through which she roams with self-awareness and generous interest in other people’s efforts and struggles.


 
Maybe Matshidiso’s relatively low profile is because of the fact that, despite being the best part of a decade into her career, she’s yet to record a debut album, or even that many releases. There’s been a smattering of very occasional singles; there’s been a 2012 EP of nursery rhymes reconfigured for adults (an idea that fits neatly into of what ‘The Guardian’s called her whimsical yet solicitous approach, and one that’s far more successful than its spec would suggest). In many artists this would seem to be a flaw – a shortage of the hunger, the self-assertion, the pushy pride which is needed to succeed.

I’d suggest the opposite – that Matshidiso’s artistic presence is one that’s absolutely caught up in the moment, too much so to have prioritised lumping her output down into artefacts or commodities. Her work is live, whether it’s in the concerts in which she improvises made-up-on-the-spot stories from the personal accounts of audience members, or the connection she makes with prisoners, the lost, the under-represented as part of work which goes beyond being an entertainer and engages itself with re-weaving music (with all of its connecting and healing qualities) back into the fabric of everyday life.



 

Opening the show is Leeds-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alice Phelps (who, with her full band, was delighting Daylight Music earlier in the weekend). Harpist, guitarist, pianist, violinist and rich grainy singer, Alice spins blues into folk, Irish, Chinese and otherworldly elements to create original songs and a full-bodied chamber pop. On this occasion, she’s on her own; but she’ll be back at the Green Note next month with a full ensemble of strings, harp and choir. For now, enjoy her songs in their simpler format.



 

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A few more familiar faces are showing up at the Green Note at around the same time. On 12th February, contemporary female folk ensemble Tell Tale Tusk, who work “spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies…around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new” bring their harmonies and humour back to Camden Town for an evening of old and new songs. On 14th February, Alice Zawadzki – whose name has been scattered around these pages for her voice and/or violin work alone or with Sefiroth, Jamie Safir and others – presents a Valentine’s Day Special of known and unknown songs, covers and originals (assisted by dual cello improvisers Alice Purton and Shirley Smart). Or – if you fancy a different venue and a different blend of polycultural acoustica – then on 8th February Manchester world quintet Kabantu are launching their debut album down at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Plentiful…




 

February 2018 – upcoming classical etc. gigs – Tre Voci, Kit Downes and Southbank Gamelan Players in London (7th February); Psappha’s ‘Caught In Treetops’ concert in Manchester (15th February)

2 Feb

Tre Voci + Kit Downes + Southbank Gamelan Ensemble, 7th February 2018

Tre Voci presents:
‘Auro’ (with Tre Voci + Kit Downes + Southbank Gamelan Players + Nonclassical DJ set)
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Wednesday 7th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Classical/experimental cello trio Tre Voci (who, back in December, were integrating and sparring with an Iranian hand-drummer and a Norwegian soprano, continue their tradition of cross-pollinating musical events by collaborating with jazz pianist/organist Kit Downes and four players from London-based Indonesian percussion ensemble the Southbank Gamelan Players at a pre-launch event for their upcoming EP ‘Auro’ (released on 25th February).

The gig’s being done in cahoots with Nonclassical, who are releasing the EP, performing (via head honcho Gabriel Prokofiev) a DJ set embracing and challenging western classical traditions, and hosting this interview in which Tre Voci’s Torun Stavseng and Gregor Riddell expound on the EP and on what they’re hoping to achieve with the concert. The interview reveals that not only will there be a extra guest appearance from cellist and singer Laura Moody, but that in an attempt to emphasise “the transcendental qualities of Gamelan music (which) lend (themselves) well to an innovative use of light and space” they’ll attempt to use the Chapel’s architecture to transport the audience into a “kaleidoscopic, illusory realm playing with their sense of space, time, light and sound. We will position the Gamelan players on the main stage whilst Kit will be hidden behind the organ and the cellos symmetrically dispersed in the corners of the chapel, with the aim to create an interplay with the sound reflections against the stone walls.”

The collective piece being performed and premiered here is ‘To Shadow’, composed by Bryn Harrison, which he describes as consisting of “rising lines in which the parts ghost each other… An idea I’ve been working with in this piece and other recent projects has been to increase the levels of repetition as the piece continues to create the feeling of being inside the music. I like to resist change when I working, trying to think into an idea rather than out of or away from it. There’s a different kind of musical development at play, where the act of listening changes rather than from specifically what happens in the music. I’m interested to see how this work with this particular combination of instruments and with the freer elements that Kit brings to the piece.”

Kit’s own recent ‘Obsidian’ album featured him playing various structured improvisations on a variety of church organ, so it looks as if the Chapel’s resident Willis organ will also be taking a jazz hammering. In addition, Kit has written a quartet piece for the ‘Auro’ EP (‘The Cult of John Frum’) which features himself on Hammond organ and will be performed at the concert. Depending on various sources, the concert will also feature fifteenth century music rearranged for cello trio (probably the Josquin des Prez and Johannes Ockeghem pieces featured on ‘Auro’), various group improvisations and a performance of John Cage’s ‘The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs’.





 
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Psappha presents:
‘Caught In Treetops’
St Michael’s Church, 36-38 George Leigh Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 5DG, England
Thursday 15th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Psappha, 15th February 2018Mancunian classical ensemble Psappha are performing a showcase of emerging composers at a mid-month concert in their main Manchester home.

‘Caught In Treetops’ is centred around Charlotte Bray’s piece of the same title, a work for solo violin and ensemble which responds to two contrasting lunar poems (“A Match with the Moon” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and “The Moon Sails Out” by Federico García Lorca). For this concert, it will features guest appearances by violinist Benedict Holland and conductor Mark Heron. Here’s an earlier performance of the piece by Neue Musik and Wibert Aerts:


 
The concert also showcases a selection of pieces from Psappha’s own emerging composer schemes. Robert Reid Allan‘s ‘The Palace Of Light’ is a sympathetic piano tribute to a notorious Glasgow cottaging location, musically characterised by tinkling water-dripping notes and an apprehensive, fractured romanticism, while Anna Clyne’s ‘Paintbox’ is “an immersive soundscape which combines recorded voice, breathing and other sound loops with a sonorous cello line” exploring “the life-changing effects of the atomic bomb.” James Williamson‘s ‘Fault-Klang’ equates extended clarinet techniques with geologic upheaval; Michael Cryne‘s flute-and-pedal-electronics piece ‘In Cloud Light’ takes its inspiration from the kinetic wind sculptures of American artist Anthony Howe. Will Frampton‘s ‘The Greening Variations’ is a violin/cello/piano trio in which each successive variation refreshes – or “greens” the previous one on an instrument-by-instrument journey “commencing…in an extreme register before narrating its way to a climatic melody accompanied by distinctive trill figures.” Written for mixed-percussion soloist, Lucy Armstrong‘s ‘Space Adventure’ works from a pulp science fiction scenario of hapless human explorers being obliterated by merciless aliens. Inspired by “an experience of being trapped in a place that is usually bustling with life, but is now deserted”, Bethan Morgan-Williams‘s ‘In Kenopsia’ is a unsettling, deceptive duet between a trombonist and a violinist (the first a live performer, the second only a strange mnemonic presence on electronic samples pieced together, warped and reshaped as a phantom accompanist).

Bar the Clyne, all of these pieces are already well-established in the Psappha repertoire, and you can watch and listen to previous performance of them below. In addition, if you turn up with your ticket at 6.40pm before the concert, there’ll be a “Demystifying New Music” talk introducing you to the composers and expanding upon their ideas.







 

February 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Christine Tobin’s PELT (3rd February); Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! plus JAE (11th February); Adam Ben Ezra plus the Dan Casimir Quintet (16th February)

28 Jan

A quick whistle-stop, cut’n’paste rush through some of early February’s interesting jazz gigs… not much from me this time, so you’ll just have to trust the press releases…

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Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin: ‘PELT’
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Saturday 3rd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Having been an integral part of the UK music scene for many years, Christine Tobin is now based between NYC and London. The Irish-born vocalist and composer is renowned for her unique rich voice and original compositional style. With eleven highly acclaimed albums under her own name and four major awards under her belt, Christine is treasured in the UK and far beyond as one of the leading lights on the contemporary scene. MOJO described her as an artist who “really transcends glib genre-fication. Her expressive range acknowledges finely acquired folk, jazz and 20th-century classical influences, which already sets her apart. And everything is shot through with an unmistakable refinement, free-spirited earthiness and giddy romanticism… this singer-songwriter is in a field of one.”

“Christine’s most recent album – 2016’s ‘PELT’ – is her settings of poems and lyrics by contemporary Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon. Although a continuation of her alchemy with fine words and music and her exploration of the chemistry between the two, ‘PELT’ marks a new direction and a new musical soundscape… both daring and dreamlike, passionate and playful. Tobin leads her musicians across a kaleidoscopic panorama, sometimes as junkyard blues philosopher, or snappy beat seductress, sometimes as a conduit for exquisite zen-like harmonies, or reflective Americana.


 
“The seed of the idea for setting Paul Muldoon’s poems came when the pair were invited to collaborate and perform a piece at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2011. Christine had long admired Muldoon’s work and he was greatly impressed by her British Composer Award-winning settings of W.B. Yeats. When they discussed setting his poems, Paul gave Christine a copy of his collection ‘Paul Muldoon Poems 1968 – 1998’ and gave her carte blanche to choose the poems she wished to work with. He also sent her new lyrics and as the project unfolded, the texts chosen ended up a being mix of poems and lyrics. The result is a rich and engaging collection with Tobin’s trademark originality.”

(Meanwhile, I’ve been slack enough to miss the fact that this is just part of an ongoing British tour which, by the time it hits London, will already have been through Bridport, Calstock, Torrington, Exeter, Southampton and Derby and is going on to Gateshead, Cardiff, Bristol and Nottingham before winding up at Birmingham on 10th February. For the full dates and details, check here: more on the personnel below.

“For this tour, Tobin has assembled a stellar band which includes seminal figures on the jazz scene Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Phil Robson (guitar/electronics), Steve Hamilton (piano/keyboard/laptop), Kate Shortt (cello/vocals/deaf signing), Richard Jones (violin), Dave Whitford (upright/electric bass) and Simon Lea (drums). In ‘Jazzwise’ magazine, Peter Quinn described them as “a cast of players who are all perfectly attuned to Tobin’s vision and artistry.” The London concert will feature a guest reading by the acclaimed multi-award winning Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, who has also collaborated with Christine on past projects.”

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Jason Yarde's TRiO !WAH! + JAE, 11th February 2018

Tom Skinner presents
Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! + JAE
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DU, England
Sunday 11th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

“On 11th February, revered jazz drummer Tom Skinner returns for a Sunday evening residency at The Pickle Factory, curating a forward-thinking evening of jazz music every other month. Over the past year Tom has hosted some true jazz greats – Ezra Collective, Shabaka Hutchings – and has some special evenings planned for 2018.

“This time, Tom Skinner invites monster ex-Jazz Warrior multi-reedist Jason Yarde – famed for his work as an arranger with the sadly departed Hugh Masekela – who presents his lauded jazz ensemble TRiO !WAH!, featuring Yarde on saxes, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Mike Pickering. In contrast to playing in the big bands of Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Hermeto Pascoal, Roy Ayers, Manu Dibango and his own Acoutastic Bombastic, Trio WAH! is a chance to hear Yarde’s playing and compositions in an intimate and stripped-down setting. Jason and Larry (Courtney Pine, Byron Wallen, etc) forged their musical relationship through playing in the original Jazz Warriors; and Mike (Billy Jenkins, Christine Tobin, etc) and Jason through the London based twelve-piece Rare Mix. Over the fifteen-plus years since, they have developed a fluid trio connection covering greatly varied musical terrain.

“From tight and constantly shifting rhythmic patterns to free flowing rhapsodic episodes, Trio !WAH! can cover the calm and the storm within a few bars, never losing the important elements of rhythm, melody and even harmony in this exposed format. ‘Jazzwise’ noted that the group “modulates easily from spacious post-bop to dirty grooves via Ornette-ish noise, showing a creative approach to form”, while ‘The Guardian’ said “it’s fascinating to witness how seamlessly Yarde’s writing and improvising intertwine… Swing, hip-hop, improv, you name it, he can make it all sound as if it was meant to live together, and he’s getting better at it all the time…”


 
“They’re joined by JAE, a mysterious keyboard and drums duo playing music influenced by King Tubby, Madlib and Larry Levan…”

(I found a little more on JAE, to render them less annoyingly anonymous. It turns out that it’s a team-up of longterm south London jazz buddies Joe Armon Jones (keyboard player with Ezra Collective, Sumo Chief, Nubya Garcia band and others) and drummer Jake Long (drummer with Maisha, SE Dub Collective and Where Pathways Meet).

Also, here’s eighty easygoing seconds of JAE doodle…

 

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Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet, 16th February 2018

Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Friday 16th February 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“Double bass phenomenon, multi-instrumentalist and online sensation Adam Ben Ezra; a man seemingly on a mission to bring his instrument from its status as a background note to the dominant front-presence it deserves. For the past few years Adam has been pushing his craft in new, exciting directions and carving out a unique spot for himself in today’s international musical landscape, with both his virtuosity and musicianship earning him great success along the way.

“With more than ten million hits on YouTube and a strong following on all social media platforms, it is clear Adam is a bonafide star in the internet world. However, his success is certainly not limited to the web, having performed around the globe in major international music festivals and shared stages with some of the world’s fusion giants – including Pat Metheny, Victor Wooten and Richard Bona – over the last few years.


 
“Support comes from award winning bassist and composer Dan Casimir. Having made a name for himself with his EP ‘Escapee’, released on Jazz re:freshed in 2016, Dan has also lent his bass skills to the likes of Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ashley Henry, Camilla George and Nubya Garcia to name a few.”


 
(As far as I know, the Dan Casimir Quintet is Dan plus pianist Sarah Tandy, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, singer Tess Hirst and drummer Olly Sarkar…)
 

February 2018 – upcoming London folk etc. gigs at the Magic Garden – Emma Lohan and Lánre (4th February); Echo Trails and Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet (8th February)

27 Jan

Riffling through the music schedules at Battersea’s Magic Garden pub reminds me of my incurable habits and hopes as regards raiding the CD racks in charity shops. Though it’s not the place for tribute bands, per se, there’s a lot of cover and tribute music being played there – straight evocations of New Orleans funk, Latin jazz, folk-blues or Celtic sessions – but picking out something I really personally want, something a little more original or eclectically fused, is more hit-and-miss.

Thankfully, the Magic Garden’s a place I keep checking back on, since a few of those more original gems tend to show up and flourish there.

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Emma Lohan, 4th February 2018

Sunday Folk: Emma Lohan + Lánre
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Sunday 4th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

February’s first Sunday sees the Magic Garden hosting the lovely bubbling folk-pop of Galway globetrotter Emma Lohan – her debut appearance at the venue, but one of an increasing number of recent wanders across the Irish Sea. Though she’s been billed variously as “Atlantic-folk meets ethno-pop” or “folk fusion that lies somewhere between sean nós and surf pop”, neither description quite does justice to what she creates: beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion, which effortlessly blend together jigs, jazz, acoustic dreampop and palm-patter drawing on a palette of petal-skittering guitar, strings, kalimba, gently glowing hornwork and glockenspiel.

As to where it all comes from… well, there’s Irishness in the curve of her accent (and in some of the sessional lightness and fluidity to how everything fits together on the records), but in its wholeness her music embraces world funk, beach pop, psychedelic Balearic haze and uncoiling rhythms from South America, West Africa and Asia. Emma’s clearly the rolling stone which softly gathers everything.




 

In support is London-Afropean singer-songwriter Lánre, presenting an unplugged take on material from last year’s ‘Human’ EP and from nearly a decade of music making (including the band GK Real and songs which have seen her invited to perform in Paris). In the studio, she layers her simple, direct spiritual songs (many of them touching on the healing of black-girl wounds – beauty and worth, the straining for a sense of home) with rich blankets of ambient, post-gospel and choral-soul arrangement, sometimes stirring in a little country guitar or traditional Yoruba walking song. Live, whether playing solo or working with a band, African-American rootings show more clearly, seeming to touch on similar turf to Odetta or Erykah Badu, but also Toni Morrison and Arthur Lee.





 
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Echo Trails + Alba&Leo Elsewhere Quartet, 8th February 2018
Echo Trails + Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Thursday 8th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

Selling Echo Trails as being some kind of hopeful mashup of “epic groove and post-rock” is a massive undersell. Just because they’ve got a little Godspeed string thunder in them on occasion (and know a thing or two about old-school jazz’n’R&B propulsion) doesn’t mean that they’re one of those bands that milk the juice out of other genres and feed it into papery approximations.

A well-honed acoustic band is like a set of unhindered precision muscles, able to flex rhythms on the fly and dance in unexpected curves, and this is just such a band. Fronted by Dimitra Tzanakaki (a ballsy, smouldering Greek blend of Beth Gibbons, Tori Amos and Bette Midler) they’re a supple alliance of guitar, voluble double bass, viola and drumkit, the song undercarriage slipping easily from Mediterranean folk to psychobilly to a salsa set-to or to shedbashing Led Zeppelin thrills. Since their arrival in 2014 they’ve phased out keyboard and phased in pedalwork, enriching texture even as the instrumentation shrank: hence the post-rock tag, but there’s Schönberg, Piaf, Korn, Temper Trap, bebop and Hidden Orchestra tucked into their bag of influences along with Godspeed.




 
Back in their home country of Croatia, Alba Nacinovich and Leo Škec – trading as Alba&Leo – are already reknowned for being one of the best jazz-folk duos in the country. Having relocating to London last year from their hometown of Rijeka, they’re in with a good chance of getting the same reputation over here. Initially and deceptively a childlike presence, Alba turns out to have fiery focus, flexible tone, eclectic tastes and a laser-guided skill at everything from vocalise to pure pop; Leo is a dizzyingly skilled, mostly-acoustic-and-pedals guitarist with a mastery of percussive fingerstyle, quicksilver jazz runs and subtle electronic soundshaping. Tossing around terms like “augmented reality” like magicians’ scarves, they dip with equal verve into cover reinventions and original songs in both Croatian and English; while they’re still finding their feet with the latter, the music and the pattering, driving skills are already there. The quickest, laziest comparison is a junior, Slavic Tuck & Patti, minus the cheesecloth and cuddliness… but Alba&Leo won’t be junior for long.

For this gig, Alba&Leo are appearing in expanded and augmented form as The Elsewhere, a new quartet in which they’re bolstered by broad-based percussionist Sass Hoory (a specialist in Middle Eastern sounds) and polydisciplinary cellist Natalie Rozario (who’s drawing on a skillset that crosses theatre, jazz and opera). The show is part of an explosion of early-2018 Alba&Leo activity which includes a free evening with slow-jamming folk/R&B singer Breantonia and “love child of Sting and Edith Piaf” Miri at Borough’s Gladstone Arms on 3rd February, a duo gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott‘s on 30th January, and the actual debut of The Elsewhere at Harringay’s Jam In A Jar the following day on the 31st. I’ve got no Elsewhere clips, but here are some of Alba&Leo in assorted action…




 

February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

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Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
* * * * * * * *

Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

February 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – More News From Nowhere presents a hunk of skronk from Colin Webster, ORE, Well Hung Game and Graham Dunning (1st February); Champion Version’s ‘Edition 2’ sound-and-image evening with Adrena Adrena, Thomas Stone and James Alec Hardy (15th February)

16 Jan

A quick pair of experimental sound pointers for the coming month in London…

* * * * * * * *

More News From Nowhere presents:
MNFN #23: Dunning/Webster/Underwood + Well Hung Game + ORE + Colin Webster Vs. The Tape Loops
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, N4 1DN London, United Kingdom
Thursday 1st February 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

More News From Nowhere #23, 1st February 2018

Regular Walthamstow avant-gardeners More News From Nowhere travel a few train stops westwards to New River Studios, in order to present a night of improvised fury with, as they put it “four flavours of brass-heavy skronk.”

Ed Dudley and James Allsopp will provide “absolutely rinsing live electronics and baritone sax” as Well Hung Game, while “drone doom tuba” player Sam Underwood plays a set as ORE. Saxophonist Colin Webster brings along a set – billed more as a kind of sweaty, frantic wrestle – of live improvisations in tandem with pre-recorded tape loops provided through a general callout for contributions (which was answered by friends, colleagues and sympathisers including Ian Stonehouse, Phil Julian, Stephan Barrett and Marcus Hamblett). The apparent idea is to subvert the improvising process by playing against and in concord with music which is “constant, unprocessed, and to some extent predictable… this presents an interesting challenge to develop music through a one-way conversation.”

At the end of the evening, Colin and Sam will team up with decks’n’FX wizard Graham Dunning for a session of “brass and turntable minimalist patience.”

Samples below:





 

* * * * * * * *

Champion Versions Edition 2, 15th February 2018

Champion Version presents:
Edition 2: Adrena Adrena + Thomas Stone + James Alec Hardy
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 15th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Champion Version present the second in their new series of triple-bill concerts, with a lineup that spans ritual drumwork, radiophonics and assorted mergings and collisions within the audiovisual sphere.

Adrena Adrena are a collaboration between Boredoms/Seefell drummer E-Da Kazuhisa & visual artist Daisy Dickinson. The duo cut a raw blend of drums, noise and organic visual work, featuring in their performances an eight-foot white sphere that hangs above Kazuhisa’s drum kit and which Dickinson maps videos onto; her work was described by William Barns-Graham of ‘Fluid Radio’ as “cosmological and transcendental, drawing attention to the wonder of the earth and our sensuality on it.” The pair completed a short film in 2016, ‘Man On The Hill’, which features E-da playing drums on fire in the mountains.

 
“The winner of the 2015 NonClassical Records Battle Of The Bands, Thomas Stone creates his immersive music using contrabassoon, samplers, loop pedals and activated percussion. Blurring the boundaries between electronic and acoustic sound production the music explores themes of ritual and presence. An enforced simplicity runs throughout the dreamlike sound world conjured from slowly evolving motifs using the lowest and highest notes possible on the contra’, accompanied by a hiss and murmur from the percussion and pulse-driven samples breaking to moments of fragile beauty.


 
“Audio-visual artist James Alec Hardy creates feedback systems as a means for negotiating ideas and simplifying complexity, which are manifested by using obsolete analogue video and audio. Sceptical of the ways in which new technology lends itself to the entrapment of minds using specialised propaganda and manipulated suggestion, Hardy creates work that subverts and repurposes old technology.

“Using obsolete analogue equipment, arrays of monitors become symbolic motifs, simple tribal shapes are interrupted and reconstructed, and video sequences are performative, produced by the physical manipulation of machines. Video acts as a physical and sculptural object rather than a virtual electronic portrayal of image and sound. Immediate and sensitive, it conveys his ideas directly in our age of high video literacy, functioning as the meditative stage for the mind and unravelling its own truth by suggesting that truth and narrative are, ultimately, subjective.”


 
As with the preceding Edition concert, there will be a limited edition five-copies-only 7″ vinyl single featuring music by the artists performing. Assigned by random draw, these will only be available at this event.
 

January/February 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 1) with Kronos Quartet, Xenia Rubinos, Face The Music, Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering and Bang On A Can (27th January, 5th February, 15th February)

15 Jan

Looking over to America, the Saturday after next sees the first date in New York City’s snappy, broad-based Ecstatic Music Festival.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018

“Starting on 27th January and running through 26th April 2018, the festival, hailed as “the alt-classical world’s main showcase” (‘The New York Times’), will feature collaborations from more than seventy-five composers and performers from different musical genres across the sonic spectrum, including Kronos Quartet, the Bang On A Can All-Stars, Margaret Leng Tan, Glasser, Xenia Rubinos, Mantra Percussion, Mahogany L. Browne, Carla Kihlstedt, Patrick Zimmerli, Ethan Iverson, Buke & Gase’s Arone Dyer, and many more. A collaboration between New Amsterdam Presents and Kaufman Music Center, the festival has nine collaborative one-night-only performances featuring world premieres, new arrangements and the exclusive opportunity to hear artists discuss their work.”

Here are some details for the first three shows (taken from the programme and tweaked/expanded where necessary), spread out from the end of January to the middle of February:

Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz's Civil Engineering, 27th January 2018

Xenia Rubinos can make social consciousness sensual,” says the ‘New York Times’. Her catchy yet exuberantly visceral songs meld weighty social issues with intimately personal ones and draw from a broad palette of influences ranging from Caribbean and jazz to indie rock, hip-hop and punk.


 
“Xenia will team up with Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering, a high-energy, ten-member multi-dimensional big band led by the protean multi-instrumentalist Adam Schatz, “New York’s indie-rock Zelig” (‘New York Observer’) and Landlady frontman, to perform new arrangements of her songs, his songs, and composers they love, and to premiere new works written for the Ecstatic Music Festival.


 
“Regarding the project, Adam claims to be “chasing the spirits of Duke Ellington and Gene Wilder. I am trying to operate at a large scale that hits at the heart and can go anywhere at any time. Songs, improvisations, and adventures with a big band of impossibly talented people. This is Civil Engineering.” The band has included Alec Spiegelman, Ross Edwards, Brandon Seabrook (Seabrook Power Plant, Needle Driver), Ross Gallagher, Noah Garabedian (Big Butter And The Egg Men, Ravi Coltrane), Stephanie Richards, Curtis Hasselbring (The New Mellow Edwards, Decoupage, The Curha-chestra) and Patrick Breiner.

Kronos Quartet & Face The Music, 5th February 2018

“The adventurous, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet – one of the most celebrated and influential ensembles of our time – joins NYC’s acclaimed youth new music ensemble (and Kaufman in-house orchestra) Face the Music to perform new works written for Kronos’ “Fifty for the Future”, a commissioning, education and legacy project showcasing contemporary approaches to the string quartet that features new works by some of today’s foremost composers.



 
The two ensembles will perform separately and together: there’s no details on the Kronos setlist yet, or on the combined programme, but Face the Music will be performing Yotam Haber‘s ‘From The Book’ and Kala Ramnath‘s ‘Amrit’.

Bang On A Can People's Commissioning Fund Concert, 15th February 2018

“Co-founded in 1987 by composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang On A Can has grown from a one-off concert band to a ceaselessly active, multi-bodied and internationally famous New Music ensemble, building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. Set up in 1997, long before crowd-funding became the norm through Kickstarter and the like, Bang On A Can’s People’s Commissioning Fund has pooled contributions of all sizes from hundreds of friends and fans. Since its inception as a radical partnership between artists and audiences to commission works from adventurous composers, it has commissioned over fifty works of music for New York’s electric Bang on a Can All-Stars.

“This concert, compiling new commissions for 2018 and a few old favourites, is a New Sounds Live co-presentation: it will be hosted by WNYC’s John Schaefer and streamed live. There will be world premieres of pieces by George Lewis and Angélica Negrón, plus a new look at “historic” PCF-commissioned pieces by Pamela Z, Annea Lockwood, Lukas Ligeti and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.”


 
All concerts are performed at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA. Dates and times below:

  • Xenia Rubinos & Adam Schatz’s Civil Engineering – Saturday 27th January 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Kronos Quartet & Face The Music – Monday 5th February 2018, 7:30pm – information here and here
  • Bang on a Can People’s Commissioning Fund Concert – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30pmhere and here

For those who might not have already followed up on the remaining six dates between March and April, I’ll stick up reminders closer to the time…
 

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