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August 2018 – upcoming London pop and rock gigs – The Mantis Opera, Bozo Zoo, The Butterfly Wheel and Imogen Bliss (25th August); Norwood & Brixton Foodbank fundraiser with Treasure Of Woe, Carl White and Apocalypse Jazz Unit (also 25th August)

15 Aug

The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss, 25th August 2018There are several reasons that I’ve been following the exploits of The Mantis Opera this year. One is the music: an illuminating synth-rock rush through cunningly orchestrated post-classical complexity and brainiac alternative pop, topped with similarly cerebral lyrics which slide fizzing, thinking ribbons through philosophy, logic and linguistic theory before binding them back into more down-to-earth life situations.

If this sounds hideously dry or snooty, it isn’t. This is simply music which is neither ashamed of its own cleverness, nor too self-absorbed or chilly to invite you along for the ride. They’re among an increasing number of newish, bumping-along-in-the-underground acts who share this kind of quirky enthusiasm and possess the requisite smarts and chops to back it up. Tom O.C. Wilson, Prescott, Thumpermonkey and Lost Crowns spring immediately to mind: bands and songwriters who see nothing wrong with turning out songs with the depth and twists of playful short stories, of compressed novels-of-ideas or of meandering Flann O’Brien-esque digressions.

As regards The Mantis Opera, I’ve been chucking around terms like “wide-awake brain music” and “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” and I’m not going to drop those yet, although I might have to come up with a few more if the band are going to keep up regular performances.



 
The other reason that I’m keeping an eye on The Mantis Opera is that they tend to keep interesting gig company. Whether they’re good at being invited or are inordinately good at charming their way into lineups, the band seem to have a knack for fitting onto a wide variety of different bills, and this end-of-the-month gig at Paper Dress Vintage is no exception.

Two summers old, already pegged as “rust-bucket swing” and compared to “Mark E. Smith manning the Hot Five”, Bozo Zoo play rootsy jazz-folk and rhythm & blues on drums, double bass and comfortably sleazy sax. Hollering, theatrical vocalist and off-the-wall lyricist Mark Warren (who also handles the inevitable, ubiquitous ukulele) ensures that they tilt into a similar realm of bulging-vein vigour and twisted circus berserkery to that of The Tiger Lillies. A few decades ago he was bobbing about in the kind of lucky-dip underground bands that showed up on Org Records compilations: now he’s singing up budding cabaret gallimaufries of music hall songs and ditties about chess grandmasters. On top of all this, Bozo Zoo seem to have fused Spinal Tap with Schrödinger, via recent online mutterings about “a new drummer but we’ve also kept our drummer… but it ain’t a band with two drummers… but we have got two drummers… it’s complicated.”


 

Hailing from east London and extensively festooned with mysticism, The Butterfly Wheel aren’t quite the esoteric revelation that they’d like to make out. Plenty of their surface schtick – the Gothic theatrical trappings, the Early Music dirge-wails, the stripping away of Western pop tropes in favour of frowning middle-continent antiquity – is more than familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Dead Can Dance (or of the host of intense, tousled imitators DCD spawned over three decades). What is refreshing is the shifts underneath those surface. A female duo, their songs reshuffle and transform archetypes for an increasingly feminised new time. There’s the sense of old stone patriarchal gods and legends being chipped away at; of more hopeful alternatives being birthed out of the sea; of the stories sitting up and rewriting themselves. We’ll have to see where it leads.



 
From Camberwell and Coldharbour, Imogen Bliss reshuffles Eastern European folk songs and tufty pop covers on voice, mandolin and loop station. The examples below are Armenian and Balkan/Romani, sandwiching a reworked Cure hit: the latter may not sound a great deal different to those pixiedreamgirl uke songs which still bog down every other cinema advert, but Imogen sounds awake and illuminated rather than sun-drenched and casually dreamy. I’m guessing that she’s got other tricks up her sleeve…

 
Paper Dress Presents…
The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Saturday, 25 August 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

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Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit, 25th August 2018On the same night, there’s this. Lovers of righteous noise, here’s your chance to sample some noise that’s a bit more righteous…

“London promoters Wrongpop and Chaos Theory have gotten together for a one-off special event to raise money for Norwood & Brixton Foodbank: some of the best new underground bands out there have agreed to bring you their sounds for this excellent cause, so it’ll be a phenomenal evening with extra positive vibes. 100% of ticket sales go to the charity.

“Formed from members of Long Slow Dissolve,The Love Me Tenders and Witchfist, Treasure Of Woe play stoner and psychedelic jams on guitar and drums. We’ve seen this duo doing their thing at The Facemelter last September and they just keep on recording their jams and releasing them online, so have a listen at the link and get down for the full live experience.


 
Carl White are a guitar/drums experimental rock duo, originally formed in Brighton and now based in London. Over the years they’ve shared the stage with acts such as Nitkowski, Alpha Male Tea Party, Flies Are Spies From Hell, Witching Waves and The Mae Shi.They’re currently working on a new EP, from which there will be a single/video released in the next couple of months.


 
Apocalypse Jazz Unit were started in 2013 by Rick Jensen as a recording project, after nearly three years of not making music. After numerous albums, Rick recruited some new and old musician buddies and started playing live. AJU quickly went from a small group to an over-the-top collective of psycho improvisers, with up to seventeen members at any one time. To date, they have released over seventy albums and have played a ton of gigs. AJU harnesses the spiritual fire of free-jazz of the ‘60s, mixed with a bit of disco when the mood takes them. Always high-energy and with a heavy sense of humour, AJU can easily swing from delicate and sombre, to full-blast horn mayhem.”


 
Wrongpop & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

May/June 2018 – upcoming London experimental music gigs – Shatner’s Bassoon and Man From Uranus at Stour Space (26th May), Author & Punisher, Trepaneringsritualen, Vera Bremerton at Electrowerkz (28th May); Stevie Richards’ Buchla workshop (2nd June)

15 May

Shatner's Bassoon + Man From Uranus, 26th May 2018

Shatner’s Bassoon + Man From Uranus
Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Old Ford, London, E3 2PA, England
Saturday 26th May 2018, 8.00pm
information

Leeds jazz-punk quintet Shatner’s Bassoon are returning to London a couple of weeks later to play a gig at reclaimed Lea-side venue Stour Space.

A band who’ll happily admit to being “steeped in malfunctioning improvisation, passive-aggressive minimalism, surreal avant-punk and free jazz trances”, they’re touting their first new album for three years. ‘Disco Erosion’ features “intricate yet often evasive song structures, angular rhythms and anxiety inducing psychedelia. The distinct featured instrumentation includes circuit bent delay pedals for keyboard, a myriad of off-kilter sax, a slice of Theremin, clarinet, cowbell and a pinch of Transylvanian organ. The result is a glitchy and deranged carnival of paranoia, which blends influences from the likes of Mr. Bungle, Frank Zappa, Cardiacs, Tim Berne, John Zorn, Man From Uranus and Fred Frith.”



 
Speaking of Man From Uranus, he’s playing the support slot. An “experimental library musician” and rogue psychedelic improviser, he’s spent fifteen years on the fringe rampaging on analogue synths, theremin and assorted devices to create music reminiscent of fantastical backroom mind-voyages or antique afternoons of strange kid’s telly.



 

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Author & Punisher + Trepaneringsritualen + Vera Bremerton, 28th May 2018

A couple of days later, there’s “an evening of heavy electronics, innovative drone, ritual ambient doom and industrial music” courtesy of Chaos Theory in one of their more synthetic, swampy and cthonic moods.

Author & Punisher is “the solo project of Tristan Shone (hailed by ‘Noisey/VICE’ as a “staggering genius in (his) ability to transform the auditory pollution of industry into music”. A mechanical engineer who wandered from native Boston to California to pursue his artistic interests, he ended up using his scientific skills to build custom musical instruments, which give added depth to the term “industrial”. The mechanical processes that give life to the music aim to reproduce the rhythms of industrial machinery and its relationship to their human operators; a merging of the flesh and the steel.”


 
In support, growl-and-hiss “solo visionary” Trepaneringsritualen will be delving into “themes of religion, magick and the occult realms of consciousness, taking musical cues from the old school of ritual ambient and death industrial. Rhythmic and seething at times, oozing forward with a creeping sense of desolation, Trepaneringsritualen conjures forth bleak but mesmerising visions of the end-times.”


 
Opening the show is Berlin-and-London resistance siren Vera Bremerton, “a visionary vocalist, producer and composer, who weaves dark tales of the female experience under religion, the patriarchy and general cultural hatred, using superhuman screams, industrial beats and gritty lyrics… A harrowing, enlightening and extreme experience.” Her work crosses a gamut between dark, driving, angry protest-pop nuggets and extended swathe-y textural clouds of hanging noise and vocal lacerations – see below.

 
Broken beats/London bass act With Towards Collapse add to the overall stew with DJ sets throughout the evening.

Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
Author & Punisher + Trepaneringsritualen + Vera Bremerton + Towards Collapse DJs
Electrowerkz @ Islington Metal Works, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Monday 28th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

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Stevie Richards' Modular Synthesis Workshop using Buchla Music Easel, 2nd June 2018

Meanwhile, if you’d like to dive deeper into electronic technology – or just hone or diversify the skills you already have, Stevie Richards (a.k.a Cleaninglady is hosting a noontime open workshop at IKLECTIK in early June, based around a legendary West Coast “suitcase synth” – the Buchla Music Easel. Dating back to 1973 (and, in recent years, reincarnated as software emulations by Arturia) the Easel is part of a family of electronic instruments created by Don Buchla, who avoided the word “synthesizer” since he believed that it implied a cloning of existing instrumental sounds. Instead (in parallel with the more conventional creations of Moog, Korg and others) he evolved a line of devices dedicated to creating new sounds; sometimes – but not always – avoiding the use of a standard tempered-scale keyboard, and incorporating a much more complex method of tone generation than those of his rivals. This has led to his creations being the instrument of choice for certain electronic musicians who demand a deeper, more detailed control of tone and timbre as well as the different thinking patterns which the instruments encourage.

While the workshop will be performed on, and led from, the Buchla Music Easel, apparently everything being taught and communicated is “applicable to all hardware in the modular synthesis world, and will hopefully help give you confidence and a deeper understanding of your instrument and it’s application in recording and live performance contexts.” Here’s a Loopop guide to the Easel, plus a video of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith working her own Easel. I’ve also added a recording of Stevie running a modular synth set in New York four years ago.



Modular Synthesis Workshop using Buchla Music Easel
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 11.00am
– information here, here and here
 

February to May 2017 – upcoming London jazz gigs – the LUME Lab season with Word of Moth, Julie Kjær, Craig Scott and Anton Hunter

31 Jan

News from London’s LUME jazz organization on their forthcoming season, featuring several of the performers who featured in last year’s LUMEFEST.

LUME Lab, 2017“LUME is back with something new for 2017: LUME Lab. Making a space for artists to create new work, four evenings of brand new composition and improvised music will be accompanied by the LUME Lab project blog, letting the audience in on the creative process.

“LUME Lab marks a change of direction for us: we’re moving away from being a platform for guest artists, rolling up our sleeves and getting involved in creating new music with the community of musicians who have gathered around LUME over the past three-and-a-half years.

“LUME Lab gigs will take place at IKLECTIK, the South London arts space that played host to our inaugural festival last summer and the LUMEkestra’s debut in November. The series opens in February with a new incarnation of our quartet Word Of Moth, then we settle down for the ride and get ready to enjoy new music from three of the most exciting artists on the UK scene right now. We invite you to join us. Tickets are available for individual gigs, and for slightly less you can purchase a season ticket for all four, or a ticket to use at two dates of your choice. Buy tickets now from our Luminous Bandcamp page.”

Word of Moth (photo © Tom Ward)Word Of Moth
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Wednesday 8th February 2017, 8.00pm
information

Word Of Moth’s ‘spontaneous group explorations and tightly-scored, big-booted riffs’ were praised by Daniel Spicer in ‘The Wire’ magazine after their appearance at LUME Festival. The collaborative quartet explores the intersection of freedom and structure, with LUME founders Dee Byrne (alto sax) and Cath Roberts (baritone sax) joined by Seth Bennett on bass and Johnny Hunter on drums.”
 
Julie Kjær © David LaskowskiJulie Kjær
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 16th March 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Saxophonist Julie Kjær is firmly established on the European stage. Her acclaimed trio with Steve Noble and John Edwards released its debut recording ‘Dobbeltgænger’ on the Clean Feed label in 2016, and she tours with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love‘s Large Unit as well as being involved in many other projects in the UK and beyond.”


 
Craig Scott (photo © Josh Crocker)Craig Scott
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Wednesday 19th April 2017, 8.00pm
information

Craig Scott’s music is ‘part human, part machine and revelling the glory and error of both.’ His studio project Craig Scott’s Lobotomy transforms recordings of improvisations by Craig and others using homemade equipment, re-constructing them with digital audio software. He is a member of formidable Leeds quintet Shatner’s Bassoon.”


 
Anton Hunter (photo © Mark Whitaker)Anton Hunter
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Wednesday 24th May 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Improvisation is at the core of Anton Hunter’s work. His Article XI project incorporates the personalities of eleven improvising musicians into the compositional process, exploring the relationship between composer and large ensemble. He leads his own trio with Seth Bennett and Johnny Hunter, and co-founded the long-running Manchester free improvisation night The Noise Upstairs.”


 

October 2016 – upcoming gigs – this weekend’s Wakizashi music festival in Bristol – two days of underground allsorts (22nd, 23rd)

19 Oct

Wakizashi Festival, Bristol, 22nd & 23rd October 2016There may still be tickets left for the “glut of experimental and cross-genre artists” descending on Bristol this weekend for the two-day, twenty-band Wakizashi music festival.

The shared brainchild of two Bristolian gig engines – PROBO Titans (who incubate and deliver bi-monthly rock, pop and experimental gigs) and Harry “Iceman” Furniss (restless jazz cornetter and leading fringeman within the Avon jazz underground), Wakizashi offers an exciting, intimate and intelligent spill of psychedelia, noise, post-punk, math rock, jazz strains, electronica and much more.

PROBO Titans & Harry Iceman Furniss present:
Wakizashi Festival:
– Get The Blessing + Hysterical Injury + Twin + Iyabe + Iceman Furniss Quartet + Human Bones + Charivari + Luui + Saltings (Saturday)
– Knifeworld + Edward Penfold + Evil Usses + Milon + Halftone + Drone Soul + Rafael Dornelles Trio + Uther Modes + Perverts (Sunday)
The Old Malt House, Little Ann Street, Bristol, BS2 9EB, England
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd October 2016 – starts 1.00pm, Saturday
– information here and here

Harry Furniss makes the most of his own involvement by appearing with his Iceman Furniss Quartet. His flowing cornet leads punk-art jazz moves over dogged springy bass rhythms and shuddering No Wave electric-curtain guitar (care of Danny Le Guilcher from Dynamite Pussy Club, whose other career as a printmaker seems to have literally rubbed off on his playing).


 
Further jazz directions are provided by Saturday’s headliners Get The Blessing (founded sixteen years ago over a mutual appreciation of Ornette Coleman,) provide rumbling, doomy trip-hop-tinged jazz-rock. They boast a rhythm section of art-rock/trip-hop/drum & bass go-to-men Clive Deamer and Jim Barr (who between them have kept the pulse going for Portishead, Radiohead, Hawkwind, Peter Gabriel and Roni Size) plus saxophonist Jake McMurchie (of Michelson Morley) and trumpeter Pete Judge (Eyebrow and Three Cane Whale), with another Portisheader, Adrian Utley, sometimes guesting on guitar. Their music brings along some of the flash and flair of jazz pioneers, but also the sense of being trapped in a small room with a lumbering, powerful inscrutable beast – with an equal chance of being either impressed or squashed.


 
Post-punk bass/drums/voice duo Hysterical Injury have a toe in the improv scene and a touch of folk. Their recent press tagging as some kind of “better version of Savages” belies the hovering thoughtfulness and the gentle dignity in their music beyond the softly roiling industrial bass textures. Singing bassist Annie Gardiner has a way with the writing and delivery of a surreal, conceptually suggestive lyric which baffles and entrances.


 
There’s something similarly compelling about the voice of Sophie Dawes, who sings for Iyabe further down the bill. As it was with missing-in-action Delicate AWOL singer Caroline Ross, Annie and Sophie’s voices and words are clear, weightless and elusive – keeping you listening while you try to figure out the messages and hidden narratives floating past in slow streams of isolated moment and fleeting detail.

Regarding Iyabe – considering that they’re a five-piece, they sound remarkably skeletal. Soft pings, drum clicks, bass shadows. At their most expansive, they’re a pencil-sketch ghost of Seefeel’s dub-rock dreaminess: other tracks are a hypnotic rain-drip of slowly growing consciousness. Recent moves towards alliances with remixers, further fleshing out the band’s sound, may point the way forward: but, as with Hysterical Injury, there’s already plenty in place.


 
Two more of Saturday’s bands provide further dispatches from rock’s dissolving, dreamier side. The mystery brainchild of Christelle Atenstaedt, Twin’s drawn-out one-woman Gothpop offers a wealth of detail in its hypnotic overlaid folk drones and its reverberant, tangled-roots guitar chug, which seems to reference both Cranes and Sandy Denny. With electric cello adding occasional extra texture to a droning, crashing armoury of blood-stained guitar fuzz, Bath-based post-rockers Charivari have a sombre lysergic depth; plus a repertoire of zurna-like Mediterranean melodies to add to their gloaming-murmurs, their evenstar twinkles and their post-Mogwai cascades of noise.



 
Begun as a solo project by Andrew Cooke (inspired by ancient ghost stories and the concept of the English eerie), Saltings has evolved into a three-piece drone collective. Andrew (plus string players Liz Muir and Caitlin Callahan) gradually unveil an occult soundtrack full of marine and maritime references, maybe as much inspired by Andrew’s origins in the port of Dublin as by the current trio’s Bristol harbouring. Sampler-moulded sounds (noise-grates, hull-knocks, whistles, water-throbs and motors) are enfolded with double bass and cello parts – whispered, minimal elegies for the undetermined; or baleful shadings; or queasy, discombobulated, John Adams-styled loops both shaken and slurred.



 
The sole hip hop representative on the bill, Luui, rolls out complex, constantly unfolding raps over seductively silky, time-flexed instrumental samples: slurred, narcotic Rhodes piano doodles, bits of glowing solo jazz guitar smeared into something blunted and sinister. Arced out in short, enveloping doses – most of his tracks are over and done in a couple of minutes – it’s both intimate and claustrophobic: a growing autumnal darkness, a slowly moiling confusion.


 
As Luui harmonises with himself (in subtle dischords), his flow folds over and over onto itself like piling lava, journeying from memories of childhood cheeriness into an increasing broody adult disaffection, shot with regrets, spiked with quick vicious jabs of obscenities and flashes of temper. As with the best, most unsettling confessional rap, you get a crooked window onto Luui’s unresolved world, see him wrestle with his conscience and his instincts and, though you see a little too much of him for comfort, for a while you’re matching breath with him too.


 
Initially known for upbeat Lou Reed drawls larded with guitar fuzz, Human Bones now seem to be moving towards a languorous cardboard-box take on Americana. Multi-instrumental looper Steve Strong, meanwhile, has set himself up as a one-man trip hop/math rock band, in which much of the emphasis seeming to be on the drum rhythm. See below for his Godspeedian live take on a grim, violent found story of road anarchy, in which his hopeful, orderly and dreamy guitar introduction gives way (under the growing brutality of the tale on tape) to the controlled heat of a drum beat through which he seems to be trying to slough off the increasing horror.




 

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It’s an odd festival indeed in which Knifeworld (Sunday’s headliners) are virtually the straightest act on the bill. That this is the case says plenty about Wakizashi, but it also says something about where Knifeworld are at the moment. Currently cruising on self-created, sunny psychedelic uplands, the London octet are enjoying a period of relative bliss and (for now) a more familial creative approach, as Kavus Torabi starts to share more of the writing with the crew of expert instrumental heads who make up his band. But if Knifeworld are the closest that the festival comes to pop, it’s still a zestfully spiked pop – brazen and crenellated, filled with monkey panache, their tunes still running exuberantly out of the ears with loopy spirals of melody and unexpected double-backs. If Henry Cow had woken up one morning and decided to steal a march on The Flaming Lips, they couldn’t have done much better than this.


 
More lysergic hints string through the day via the sleepy, lo-fi acidic pop of Edward Penfold, whose songs and instrumentals halo the everyday with a softly vibrating warmth. Sometimes they hint at a might-have-been Syd Barrett; one who ducked the madness and fled away to a healing West Coast hideaway, sending missives back to Cambridge in a rested, sprawling hand; faint blue ink on pale blue paper. On the other side of the coin are The Evil Usses – a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.


As with Saturday, two fringe full-jazz groups will be taking the stage. Led by saxophonist Dino Christodoulou, Milon are a mostly acoustic quartet, edging into something more speaker-warping via Neil Smith’s electric guitar and Pasquale Votino’s judiciously over-amplified double bass: Eager Legs sounds like Charles Mingus being pursued down a stuck groove by a bounding ball of Sharrock/McLaughlin electric guitar grit, with Dino keeping one hand on the wheel by some riffling, ruffling Coltrane-ish sax lines. While the Rafael Dornelles Trio might have Brazilian roots, don’t expect samba or even Tropicália: electric guitar, bass and drums are aiming for somewhere far more heatedly lyrical and direct. Tunes like Slave’s Escape and Indigenous Mass grab you straight from the title and power off in muscular, quick-sprung directions, with a fierce and formidable vigour (plus a buccaneering hint of the knife).



 
Saltings’ double bass player Caitlin Callahan returns as one-quarter of part-improvising, part-compositional, female quartet Halftone, alongside two similarly-inclined Bristolians (violinist Yvonna Magda, flautist Tina Hitchens) and a London ally (cellist Hannah Marshall). Formed earlier this year, the foursome play an unsettling, absently beautiful post-classical music evoking wind in the trees, unresolved conversations and difficulties around corners.


 
Drone Soul boast about their “sheer bleak nihilism” and stake a claim to the abrasive post-punk heritage of The Pop Group. At least part of that’s true – the post-punk bit, anyway – but I’d bat away the nihilistic posturings. This music might be on the dark and cavernous side, but it’s illuminated with a vivid energy which belies the band’s collective grizzliness. If they’re bringing you news of falling buildings or collapsing people, they’re doing it with an exuberant dark snarl. Think of Iggy Pop in-yer-face, think Suicide’s assault-by-sine-wave; and also give a little credit to a lost Bristol band, Lupine Howl, whose gonzo millenial motorik finds a fresh echo here.


 
Rhodri Karim – the Welsh-Arabian heart of Uther Modes – used to be a mournful pop scientist, making his name with sepulchural computer-pop songs which bobbed gently at the juncture of philosophy, physics and bedsit soul. More recently he’s swapped this for a new kind of songcraft, strapping up a bass guitar and pulling in other musicians. Now he reels out shifting part-sombre part-jazzy mutters, winding slate-grey but sensual vocals around echoing guitar curlicues; like a fresh breed of post-rock which refuses to stagnate and instead flexes its muscles and goes haring around the park.


 
While he can sometimes be found paddling around in the warm, shallow pools of downtempo electronica, Traces will shake the drips off his feet once he’s warmed up enough. His studio recordings are fine, but it’s his live improvisations that show him at full strength. They’re heart-warmingly intimate and cheery stretches of pick-you-up synthery – like an enthusiastic half-drunken 2am conversation between Max Tundra and Guy Sigsworth, following which they track down Jean-Michel Jarre, drag him away from his pyramids and lasers and force him back into a kitchen full of analogue keyboards. From tabletop synth noodles to Pong blip and cheekily squirting techno, a cunning wonkiness prevails without diminishing the music’s straightforward ambition. Traces sometimes labels it “devotional”, and I’m not entirely sure that he’s joking.


 
Finally, there’s the fall-apart electronic gagpunk of Perverts, with their squalling songs about angry muppets and guilty onanists; their one-finger clickstab of synth drums; their beady-eyed sampler-shreddings of lachrymose film music. I guess that they’re there to remind musicians and punters alike not to take it all too seriously. It’s just that they’re staring me out a little too intently. On record, at least, Perverts deliver their spoofs and squibs with a crazed and chilly eye: a brattier Residents with a crappier laptop; a young digital Punch waiting to knock everything down.


 

August 2016 – upcoming British tours – Sax Ruins & Barberos (16th-21st) overlap Massicot (18th-27th); with Housewives, a.P.A.t.t., That Fucking Tank, Big Naturals & Anthroprophh, Guttersnipe, Rattle, Negative Midas Touch, Soft Walls and The Furious Sleep all putting in appearances.

14 Aug

I was only intending this post and the last one to be brief… I was going to quickly cover the upcoming Kiran Leonard tour and a couple of avant-prog dates in Yorkshire and London, but looking deeper into the latter meant that a whole lot of other dates and bands came springing out at me, as if I’d hit a tripwire.

Such are the ways of digging around for live previews for ‘Misfit City’ without a map or all of the details… I often come back with information on artists and venues I’ve never heard of before. (It’s exhilarating, and an education in itself, but it plays hell with my schedule.)

Anyway…

* * * * * * * *


 

Following their last UK visit (in October last year), Sax Ruins return for another go. The most active current version of the Ruins project (an ever-altering minimal-maximal mash-up of jazz, prog and avant-rock ideas centred, for three decades, around Japanese drummer and vocalist Tatsuya Yoshida) Sax Ruins features Tatsuya alongside Ryorchestra saxophone improviser Ryoko Ono in a spilling, furious, brassy power duo augmented by a battery of effects pedals, covering all bases from skronk to Rock In Opposition and big-band jazz across written and improvised material of baffling complexity.

The London show also features a set by what’s billed as “Ruins” – this is most probably a “Ruins-alone” drums-and-tapes set by Tatsuya rather than a spontaneous revival of the band’s original bass-and-drums lineup (unless a secret call’s gone out for ambitious London bass guitarists to step up and cover).
 

 

Tour dates in full:

  • Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Tuesday 16th August 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruins + Barberos) – information
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 17th August 2016, 7.30pm (with Barberos + Big Naturals & Anthroprophh) – information
  • Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, 29 Great Horton Road, Bradford, BD7 1AA, England, Thursday 18th August 2016, 7.00pm (with Barberos + a.P.A.t.T. + That Fucking Tank) – information here and here
  • The Car Park Space, 45-51 Duke Street, Liverpool, L1 5AP, England, Friday 19th August 2016, time t.b.c. (with Barberos) – information
  • Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival, Cardross Estate, Port of Menteith, Doune, FK8 3JY , Scotland, Saturday 20th August 2016 (with Barberos)
  • Islington Mill Arts Centre, James Street, Salford, M3 5HW, England, Sunday 21st August 2016, 5.00pm (with Barberos + a.P.A.t.T. + Massicot) – information

Along the tour, Sax Ruins are embracing and encouraging a set of post-Ruins bands. Support on all dates comes from Barberos – drumtronic electro-noise experimentalists from Liverpool. Live (and they’re very much a live concern), they resemble a trio convocation of nuclear power station workers and fetish gimps. A pair of kit drummers, swathed in or vacformed into latex bodysuits and full-head masks, batter away in parallel like wrestling brain hemispheres. A single begoggled head-nodding keyboard player exploits a baffling range of electronic organ sounds. Any or all of them can suddenly burst into cloth-muffled shouting. The sound varies from full-clog percussive noise-traps (the kind that’ll have you wondering whether the band’s deliberately using the wrong definition of “jam”), through to passing plateaux of psychedelic reflection and still points of droning, delicate hush.
 

 
In Bristol, both bands are joined by Big Naturals & Anthroprophh – a two-plus-one alliance featuring the noise-rock duo team of bass/electronic warper Gareth Turner and motorik-attack drummer Jesse Webb (Big Naturals) and rogue psychedelic sludge player Paul Allen from longstanding Bristolian psych-stoners The Heads. While it’s ostensibly Paul who travels under the Anthroprophh solo moniker, it’s increasingly unclear where the boundary lies between Anthroprophh and the partner duo, or whether there’s a boundary at all. Best to treat all three as a collective entity delivering a frowning fuzzed wall of experimental psychedelia: a ritual of heavy bricking.
 

 
Chipping in at Bradford and Salford (though, oddly enough, not at the Car Park show) are a.P.A.t.T., the deft and enigmatic gang of Liverpudlians who deliver a rolling multi-media extravaganza best described as “serious pranking”, and who skip around multiple musical styles in a boiling froth of play. Via their loose collective membership, they have family connections with a host of other Liverpool bands (including Barberos) but no-one ever seems to have sat down and laid out who’s who behind the pseudonyms and lab coats, the puffs of suspect facial hair and the occasional maskwork. Perhaps refraining to pin them down and pull them apart counts as a mark of respect.

Similarly, it’s difficult to summarise or bottle a.P.A.t.T. via anything that’s definitely representative, although tagging them as a Scouse spin on the methodology of The Residents is perhaps as good as anything. However, if you take a quick delve into the plinketting synth-pop minimalism and jazz operatics of Give My Regards To Bold St (with its playful am-dram video of everyday banality set against urban terrorism), their atmosphere/installation piece Seachimes or the Devo-esque Yes… That’s Positive (the last of which displays the punchy musicianship behind the art-school stunts) you might get an idea of how they work.
 



 
Also playing at the Bradford show are deafeningly loud drumkit-and-baritone-guitar duo That Fucking Tank, whose abrasive DIY noise rock has quaked venues from Yorkshire to China for nearly a decade and a half now. As with plenty of contemporary bass-end-plus-drums rock twosomes, you can track down a bit of Ruinous DNA in their work (alongside that of Nomeansno and Lightning Bolt), though they seem to be as much inspired by the nodding insouciant momentum of electronic dance as they do by any Rock In Opposition or post-hardcore ideas.
 

 

* * * * * * * *


 
At the Salford show, the Sax Ruins tour collides with (and briefly joins forces with) a different one by Genevan art-punks Massicot. Named after an electric paper cutter, the latter are a loose and twitchy four-woman array of scratch and propulsion. They pump out charming sophisti-primitive rhythmic instrumentals in which slice-happy guitar and lunging sproings of toy bass are decorated by squeaky violin and barky vocals, all of it bouncing atop a mattress of intricate drumming which apparently prides itself on a blend of “Krautrock and tropicalia”. All of the members draw on shared backgrounds of fine-art schooling and years of instinctive, untutored pre-Massicot bandwork (which, in drummer Colline Grosjean, has resulted in the creation of at least one accidental virtuoso).

Massicot’s music relies on maintaining and capturing the open-minded approach of the original improvisations which generate it, avoiding polish or emblandening; as a result, it keeps its instinctive, childlike sense of motion and immediacy. This kind of restless work – fizzing in a fug of assertive, iconoclastic female spontaneity – always gets the Slits and Raincoats names chucked at it, as well as that of No Wave: Massicot, however, pull off the trick or the triumph of making it sound like a fresh oblique discovery. For the curious, their first two albums – plus a demo – are available for free/pay-what-you-like at their Bandcamp site.
 

 

Here are the Massicot dates:

 

 
As with Sax Ruins, Massicot will be trailed and complemented by fellow travellers of one kind or another up and down the land. At London, Brighton, Exeter and Cambridge, the support comes from powerful, broody London four-piece Housewives. Noise-rock favourites since their formation in 2013, playing dissonant tectonic music with a future-chaos tinge on home-made guitars, the band mingle their rumbling No-Wave/no certainties approach and surging, forbidding dynamics with an adaptive and pragmatic artistic practicality, making drawbacks and serendipity a strong part of the process.

For instance, when their 2015 recording sessions at a remote country farm in France ran into trouble, Housewives salvaged them with a site-specific ingenuity entirely in tune with their musical ethos. With interference from the farm’s electric fence preventing proper recording of electric guitars and basses, the band postponed those particular tasks for another time and place and switched instead to working with the farm’s fabric rather than against it – making spontaneous field recordings; generating feedback models of the farm architecture by looping its ambient sounds; interacting with agricultural machinery by layering found items for percussion or playing reverberant drumkit parts from inside silage tanks. (The end results, with the guitars added from later and elsewhere, can be heard on their 2015 album ‘Work’. All this and a hint of Samuel Beckett, too.)
 


 
 
At Cambridge, there’ll be extra support from windstripped local post-punk ranters The Furious Sleep and at Brighton from Soft Walls, the psychedelic echo-pop/“Krauty bedroom noise” solo project by Cold Pumas/Faux Discx man Dan Reeves (which played at this year’s Lewes Psychedelic Festival).
 


 
In Leeds, Massicot will be joined by two bands. The only one that’s actually confirmed right now are mysterious local noiseniks Guttersnipe, who seem to have blown up (in all senses) this year. Consisting of cuddly, pseudonymously-frenzied couple Xyloxopa Violaxia and Bdallophytum Oxylepis, they’re a desperate lash-together of fragmenting volcanic drums, edge-of-unbearable guitar, flaying-knife electronics and blind, screeching, ranting vocals. In interviews, they talk up a cheery storm about black-metal fandom and deconstructive anti-technique. In action, they sound like a violent and querulous nervous breakdown, being bounced to pieces down an endless set of spiral staircases.
 

 
At Nottingham, two gigmates have been confirmed. Rattle are a warm, post-punkified union of double drum-set and conversational, exploring anti-pop vocal from Kogumaza‘s Katharine Eira Brown and Fists‘ Theresa Wrigley, whose air of distracted discovery belies their strategic percussive planning. (Read more details on both that and the Rattle mindset here.) Also on board is the writhing, sibilant, whispering one-woman power-electronics concern Negative Midas Touch, completing a lineup which renders the Notts gig an all-female experimentation zone.
 


 

June 2016 – upcoming London jazz – Entropi & Mike Chillingworth Trio at the Vortex, The Tommy Remon Quartet at Map (both on the 5th), and nearly ten hours of international LUME festival at the end of the month (26th)

31 May

There’s an imminent weekend of jazz coming up, plus an all-dayer at the end of the month…

* * * * * * * *

LUME presents:
Entropi & Mike Chillingworth Trio
Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Street, N16 8JH.
Sunday 5th June 2016, 7.30pm
more information

“To round off this season of LUME at The Vortex, we’ve got an exciting double bill of new and improvised music.

Entropi (photo by Carl Hyde)

Entropi (photo by Carl Hyde)

Entropi is a vehicle for Dee Byrne‘s ‘space-jazz’ compositions, exploring a narrative of life-pondering, stargazing and risk-taking. Juggling order and chaos, composition and improvisation, the group takes listeners on a journey with compelling group interplay, strong themes, open-ended improvisation, dark grooves and interweaving melodic textures. The ensemble comprises Dee (on alto saxophone), trumpeter Andre Canniere, keyboardist Rebecca Nash, drummer Matt Fisher and bassist Olie Brice. Having performed live together for some time, the band has achieved a striking empathy and freedom to take risks. Their debut album ‘New Era’ was released on the F-IRE Presents label in June 2015, with their second album to come on Whirlwind Recordings in 2017.

Mike Chillingworth

Mike Chillingworth

“We are really looking forward to welcoming alto saxophonist and composer Mike Chillingworth and his trio. In his own words:

“‘I formed this trio last year as a means to play music with an emphasis on spontaneity and improvisation. I have another project, a septet, which is all about detailed written compositions. This trio is the antidote to that. I will be performing with two fantastic improvisers: US drum legend Jeff Williams (who has played with everybody, including two of my favourite saxophonists Joe Lovano and Stan Getz) and Conor Chaplin on bass (who plays in many of the most exciting new UK bands at of the moment).

“I often deliberately avoid choosing repertoire for a gig until the last moment, often writing new tunes in the days leading up to a performance, or taking ideas from whatever I happen to be listening to at the time. Whatever we choose to play on this occasion the emphasis will be on improvising, communicating, listening and exploring together.'”

* * * * * * * *

On the same night, you’ve also got the chance to check out some new start-of-career talent at one of London’s nicest small venues – the Map Studio Café, tucked away in the Kentish Town side-streets. I’ve wanted to talk about this place since discovering it on a random stroll after a swimming session at the Prince of Wales Baths, when its easygoing atmosphere and hopeful spirit provided an ideal wind-down opportunity: the compact performance space upstairs and the talk of a built-in recording studio piqued my interest, and this week’s gig gives me something solid to plug…

Map Studio Café presents:
The Tommy Remon Quartet
Map Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Sunday 5th June 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Tommy Remon, 2016

Tommy Remon, 2016

Led by up-and-coming guitarist Tommy Remon, this quartet has emerged from the Tomorrow’s Warriors Organisation, which encourages young British jazz talent (focussing on people from the African diaspora, with an additional focus on encouraging girls and women into the form). Currently playing hard bop and modal tunes from the jazz canon, as well as their own original compositions, the band are at a self-confessed early stage despite their collective musical strength, and are hungry to develop further insight and breadth. Now, however, is the ideal time to catch them while they’re young, hungry and open, and about to start on their first significant expansion.

The other members of the band are double bass player Rio Kai (who’s played with Jason Yarde and Alex Garnett), drummer Patrick Boyle (Tomorrow’s Warriors Big Band, Nathaniel Facey) – both of whom previously worked with Tommy in a trio – and trumpeter Dylan Jones, who’s still an undergraduate at Trinity Laban, but is already a member of EZRA Collective. Between them, the band members have also worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors founder Gary Crosby, Nérija, Binker Golding and Kokoroko.

* * * * * * * *

Three weeks later we’ll be back with LUME, who are summarising their current state of play via their first festival, which they successfully crowdfunded following an appeal earlier in the year (with backup from Arts Council England, and the Austrian Cultural Forum). It looks as if it’s going to be both a broad and a familial occasion, with many LUME regulars reappearing in a variety of bands and contexts, with strong playing contributions from the LUME organisers themselves, and with a substantial presence as regards the female jazz musicians which LUME in part encourages (just over a quarter of the twenty-seven players involved are women, most of them also being group leaders, co-leaders and composers). Tickets are limited and are going on sale at the start of June.

LUME Festival 2016

LUME presents:
LUME Festival: Word Of Moth + Ant Traditions + Hot Beef Three + Little Church + Kjær/Musson/Marshall + Blueblut + Article XI
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Sunday 26th June 2016, 1.00pm-10.30pm
more information

  • The day’s headliners are Word Of Moth, the London-based collaborative quartet which includes the two LUME founders on saxophones (Dee Byrne on alto, Cath Roberts on baritone) alongside Seth Bennett (bass) and Tom Greenhalgh (drums).
  • Article XI is a freewheeling large ensemble led by guitarist Anton Hunter, originally put together for the 2014 Manchester Jazz Festival but deemed too good not to continue with. Mingling free improvisation with tightly-composed contrapuntal writing, it also features Oliver Dover (alto sax, also of Saxoctopus and many others), Tom Ward (tenor sax), Cath Roberts (baritone sax), Johnny Hunter (drums), Seth Bennett (bass), Graham South and Nick Walters (trumpets), and Tullis Rennie and Richard Foote (trombones).
  • Vienna-based Blueblut was founded by three musical powerhouses, famous in their respective spheres of jazz, electronic and avant-rock music. The band have the intensity of rock, the space and openness of electronica and the razor-sharp precision and wild improvisation of jazz. Featuring Led Bib’s Mark Holub on drums, Pamela Stickney on theremin and Chris Janka (flying machine maker, sound engineer, automata creator and Viennese Caractacus Potts figure) on guitar and overall production.
  • Musson/Kjær/Marshall are a fantastic London trio of committed European-scene improvisers and extended-technique instrumentalists, all of whom happen to be female: Rachel Musson (tenor sax), Julie Kjær (alto sax) and Hannah Marshall (cello).
  • Little Church are a Birmingham-based fusion quartet, playing compositions both from and inspired by Miles Davis’ electric period. Led by keyboard player David Austin Grey, the rest of the band is made up from Aaron Diaz (trumpet), Rachael Cohen (alto sax), Chris Mapp (double bass, bass guitar and electronics) and Tymek Joswiak (drums). Little Church fuses live acoustic instruments with synthesizers and electronics to produce a wonderfully ambient soundscape, which moves from meditative and hypnotising through to driving and funky with a seamless fluidity.
  • Hot Beef Three brings some of Leeds’ finest improvisers together: saxophonist Oliver Dover (see above),  guitarist Craig Scott (Ikestra, Craig Scott’s Lobotomy) and drummer Andrew Lisle. (All three already play together as part of Leeds’ notorious eclecti-chaos band Shatner’s Bassoon.)
  • Ant Traditions are a top-notch Manchester improv duo featuring Adam Fairhall (toy pianos) and Dave Birchall (electric guitar).

There’s a sonic buffet provided below to keep you happy until the end of June:








 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – a polymusical London Wednesday and weekend – young Royal Academy of Music composers invade the Forge; King Capisce, Jam Tarts Choir and Grace Lightman mellow out at Daylight Music; and Nøught, Golden Oriole and Dead Days Beyond Help (with Alan Wilkinson) tear up Café Oto

9 Mar

Some gig previews for what remains of the week…

* * * * * * * *

The first of the three gigs I’m posting about here features music that’s mostly new enough not to have any videos or soundclips available… If I’m wrong about this, I’ll post a few up later, but since I’m putting the original post up on the day of the gig, if you’re going you’ll just have to go on faith…

Academy Composers at The Forge: a concert of new works by composers from the Royal Academy of Music
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Wednesday 9th March 2016, 7.30pm
– more information here and here

“Join us for an exciting evening of new music and film! The concert will showcase a selection of new works by young composers, performed by the Royal Academy of Music‘s talented student ensembles and soloists. The evening will also feature a screening of new animation shorts, created during the annual collaborative project between the Royal Academy of Music and the Bristol School of Animation.”

Programme:

Short films from the Bristol School of Animation
Thomas Gibbs – Etudes Tableaux
Yuanfan Yang – Silhouettes
Maya Hishida – Three pieces for flute and piano
William ColeHer face was full of woe (for solo harp)
Matthew Olyver – Miranda’s Lesson (for mezzo soprano & accordion)
William Marsey – Three piano pieces about food
Tim Tate – Endless Present

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music’s offering for this coming Saturday shows their knack for promoting and harbouring music which walks a line between the intriguingly arty and the lunchtime cosy. This week, they’re putting on a young singer-songwriter who melds the sex-kitten rasp of Eartha Kitt with the sinous, sensuous spiritual dissolve of a latterday Kate Bush piano ballads; plus one of those energetic pop choirs which specializes in indie hits; and finally, a band which merges indie-rock and jazz (falling somewhere between Duke Ellington, South African township jazz, the easygoing Anglo-romanticism of Perfect Houseplants and string-shredding Mogwai-ish post rock).

Daylight Music 219

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight Music 219 – King Capisce + Jam Tarts Choir + Grace Lightman
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 12th March 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-want event (suggested donation: £5.00) – more information

Over to the Daylight word-of-mouth machine…

King Capisce is a five-piece from Sheffield have been moving from strength to strength in recent years, gathering praise from ‘The Guardian’ and ‘Drowned in Sound’. Tom Robinson at BBC 6Music, claims they’re “an exciting cross-genre talent, fusing jazz with other influences to create a sound that is unmistakably their own”.

The current set for 60-piece Brighton indie choir Jam Tarts Choir includes barnstorming interpretations of songs by artists as diverse as The Cure, Goldfrapp, Arcade Fire and Lambchop.

There’s something timeless about Grace Lightman. Maybe it’s that honeyed voice that ever so gently tugs at your heartstrings. Perhaps it’s those careful and considered nods to the iconic moments, faces and places of musical history….”

* * * * * * * *

The third gig rounds up jazz, prog, noise, grandeur and chaos and flings them all at the wall…

Nøught @ Cafe Oto, 13th March 2016

Nøught + Golden Oriole + Dead Days Beyond Help (with Alan Wilkinson)
Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Sunday 13th March 2016, 7.00pm
more information

“A killer, high-voltage line-up…

Nøught is a synthesis of the experimental, avant-punk, jazz-prog and noise-rock credos, distilled into the paradoxical confines of a musically volatile, instrumental power-quartet. Originally formed in Oxford in the late 90’s by eminent guitarist James Sedwards (also of Thurston Moore Group, Guapo ,The Devil), the current line-up has been based in London since 2002. Their music is profoundly exhilarating when encountered and often provokes an hypnotic sensation from an audience as their incendiary live performances can easily entice and captivate a listener, due to the highly artful, polished and demanding compositions. Pieces span the extremes of short, catchy, three minute eruptions to long, dense and evolving half-hour incantations. Nøught’s music provides an uncommonly refreshing, non-derivative sensibility and approach, and they continually astound as they develop, invoke and deliver their singularly potent blend of sonic diabolism.

“Featuring members of Norwegian noise-rock bands Staer and of Tralten Eller Utpult, skull-twisting face-melters Golden Oriole produce abstract and minimal music – musique pommes frites meets funky concrète.


 

Dead Days Beyond Help (Alex Ward and Jem Doulton) take the physical assault of rock and the free-wheeling exploration of post-idiomatic improvisation to new levels of power and density, while Alan Wilkinson comes blazing out of a saxophone tradition that includes the likes of Albert Ayler, Roscoe Mitchell, Mike Osborne, Evan Parker and Casper Brötzmann with a highly vocalized and personal style. DDBH’s most recent album (2014’s “Severance Pay” on Believers Roast Records), was described by ‘The Wire’ as “a reminder that there are still thrills aplenty to be gained from the pursuit of complexity”; and Stewart Lee has called Alan Wilkinson’s trio with John Edwards and Steve Noble “as powerful as The Stooges and as fluid as John Coltrane”. Given their collective pedigree of collaborations with such luminaries of free music and avant-rock as Derek Bailey, Thurston Moore, Tatsuya Yoshida, Talibam!, Weasel Walter and Chris Corsano, it is no surprise that when the three musicians join forces the results are brutally intense, deliriously virtuosic, and utterly untrammelled by stylistic constraints.”

* * * * * * * *

More March gigs to follow…
 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Laura Cannell & Phil Mill in Colchester; in London, Prescott, Charles Hayward and Kavus Torabi at Servant Jazz Quarters and Clara Sanabras’ musical spin on ‘The Tempest’ at the Barbican

28 Feb

As some of you may have guessed already, I’m treating this blog – including the long stretches during which I’m only posting up about live dates – as an ongoing education. Plenty of the musicians I’m covering I’ve only learned about shortly before covering them; in other cases, in pursuing their tour dates around Britain or elsewhere in the world, I’m learning about places, projects and initiatives which I might otherwise have been ignorant about.

I’ve posted plenty about Laura Cannell since the start of the year. Her slightly psychedelic yet deeply-rooted improvisations on early, mediaeval and imagined tunes and ideas (played on standard or overbowed fiddle or on double recorder) span and spark across several of my musical interests. As she makes her way across Britain this year in a meandering voyage from high-profile festival to half-hidden venue to multi-genre bill, I’m following along behind (at least with the gig news). Here’s where she is this week:

Laura Cannell, 2015

Laura Cannell + Phil Mill
Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, CO1 1NF, England
Tuesday 1st March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Playing in support is the Colchester experimental musician and sound artist Phil Mill, whose work “focuses on the use of field recordings and digital DIY softwares made for processing sound. He has recently been recording in a variety of locations in Europe, often associated with or identifiable as a territory or boundary between places and their sonic signatures. Phil’s music is often improvised, and he is currently developing software that reflects on this process – enabling the process of composition to reflect on the nature of the sound environment and the unpredictability of the soundscape.”

Below are videos of Laura in concert and one of ‘The Drifters’, a film soundtrack by Phil using only sounds from sea/environmental field recordings, which was commissioned for Colchester’s Lightbulb Festival in 2015.


 

* * * * * * * * *

In London, there’s another gig by one of the finest, most rubbery (and recently augmented) instrumental bands out there at the moment, playing hand-in-hand with some special guests in one of the city’s snuggest venues…

Prescott/Charles Hayward @ Servant Jazz Quarters, 1st March 2016

Prescott + Charles Hayward “begin anywhere” + Kavus Torabi (DJ)
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 2nd March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

“It’s the North London debut of a new-look, four-piece Prescott, featuring Keith Moliné (Pere Ubu, Two Pale Boys) alongside Kev Hopper (Stump), Rhodri Marsden (Scritti Politti) and Frank Byng (Snorkel, Crackle, many others). A mesmerising collection of new tunes featuring soaring melodies, nagging riffs and explosive sounds. Also, the legendary Charles Hayward (of This Heat and many other endeavours, including the recently resurgent This Is Not This Heat) will be at the piano with his (begin anywhere) project: “A solo song cycle sequence of betrayal, paranoia, subterfuge, as well as sound events, spoken word and percussion pieces, stark, minimal arrangements; an unexpected departure.” And binding the whole thing together from the safety of the DJ booth will be Kavus Torabi (Knifeworld, Gong, Cardiacs).”

I’ll just add this quote of my own here, from the last time Prescott played London:

“ a percolating musical alliance… According to The Harrison’s blurb, the band deliver “a curious mix of the melodic and discordant with syncopated funky, skewed beats and lopsided, sometimes jabbing riffs that emerge from a complex web of musical interactions and expand or contract like sections of a stuck record.”< The band themselves talk about "jabbing heteroclite riffs, circular rhythmic patterns, vibrating harmonic clashes, irregular note intervals, all contrasted with pockets of beautiful melody" and their trick of "microriffing" – repeating the same tiny melodic segment for “as long as they can hold their nerve” (out of a sense of persistence, a zest for irritancy or a desire to pay homage to loop culture) . I’ll add that while these descriptions make Prescott sound like a set of ticks on a battered art-music bingo card, they’re actually one of the most entertaining and even danceable bands I’ve seen in recent years; pumping out a surprisingly melodious batch of hiccups, peculiar grooves and inventive colours, and sometimes seeming to plug into a monstrous late-Miles Davis synth-fusion groove (entirely by mistake).”

There, that should do it – but here’s some video of the new-look Prescott quartet…


* * * * * * * * *

Lastly for now, something mixing classical drama, classical music and folk work…

A Hum About Mine Ears

Shakespeare400 presents:
Barbican Shakespeare Weekender – Play On…
‘A Hum About Mine Ears’: Clara Sanabras/Chorus Of Dissent/Vox Holloway/Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Harvey Brough
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Sunday 6th March 2016, 6.00pm
– more information here and here

“Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ is set in new surroundings in this performance of vocalist and composer Clara Sanabras’s new album ‘A Hum About Mine Ears’. More than a simple soundtrack to the play, ‘A Hum About Mine Ears’ takes some of the ideas and themes in ‘The Tempest’ – loss and retrieval, exile and reunion – and relates them to Sanabras’s own experiences as an emigrant.

While some songs lift direct passages from the play, surrounding these in Britten Sinfonia’s soaring strings and the swirling vocals of choirs Chorus of Dissent and Vox Holloway, conducted by Harvey Brough, others place the characters in more modern settings – Sanabras’s powerful soprano solos casting Ariel as a festival-crazed free-loving spirit, or Miranda as a free and independent woman, emancipated from Prospero. Drawing on elements of everything from blues and jazz to European folk, see one of Shakespeare’s most famous works unravelled in a performance as deep, mysterious and expansive as ‘The Tempest’ itself.

This concert takes place as a part of Shakespeare400 – a year of celebrations in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.”

* * * * * * * *

Plenty, plenty more March gig news is on the way…

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs (12th to 18th) – an art rock blitz with Sax Ruins and Richard Pinhas; new classical music with Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea; William D. Drake, Bill Pritchard and Bill Botting make a trio of songwriting Bills for Daylight Music; Sex Swing, Early Mammal and Casual Sect make a racket; Laura Moody and a host of others play at Match&Fuse

7 Oct

And October rushes on…

Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 12th October 2015Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Monday 12th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £11.00

Ruins (in both their original configuration and their various spinoffs) are among the best-known and most influential of Japanese experimental rock bands, with their complex rhythmic ideas and expression stretching across progressive rock, Rock in Opposition, jazz and punk. Founded in 1985, their stretchy, power-flurried drums-and-voice/bass guitar/nothing else approach has been described as “a palace revolt against the established role of the rhythm section” and set the initial format for any number of loud-bastard bass-and-drums duos. Since 1994 they’ve also run assorted noise-rock and improv collaborations including Ronruins (a romping trio alliance with multi-instrumentalist Ron Anderson) and longstanding hook-ups with Derek Bailey, Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Keiji Haino. Post-2004, Ruins has given way to Ruins-alone: a solo project in both practical and actual terms, with Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins’ drummer, jabberer, main composer and only consistent member) opting to tour and record solo as a drums-and-tapes act.

Active since 2006, Sax Ruins is yet another iteration of the Ruins concept – a musical tag team in which Yoshida spars happily with Nagoya-based saxophonist Ryoko Ono of Ryorchestra (an all-round improviser steeped in jazz, rock, funk, rhythm & blues classical and hip hop. Their recordings are “extremely complex with irregular beats, frequent excessive overdubbing, and restructured orchestration. The result sounds like a big band playing progressive jazz hardcore. For live performance of Sax Ruins they make hardcore sound like a huge band by full use of effects, also incorporating improvisation. Their shows unfold as a vehement drama.” For further evidence, see below.

Composer, guitarist and synthesizer player Richard Pinhas has often laboured under the reductive tag of “the French Robert Fripp”. This is unfair to him; he may have begun as an admirer of both Fripp and Brian Eno, but whatever he’s learned from them he took in his own direction. Starting out in the early ‘70s with a Sorbonne philosophy doctorate, a keen interest in speculative science fiction and a brief stint heading the post-Hawkwind psych outfit Schizo, Pinhas went on to lead the second-generation progressive rock band Heldon for four years between 1974 and 1978. Geographically and conceptually, Heldon sat bang in the ‘70s midpoint between the artier end of British prog, the proggier end of British art-pop and the chilly sequenced robo-mantras of German electronics. Initially inspired by King Crimson, Eno and Tangerine Dream, they also shared both musicians and ideas with Magma, and at times squinted over the Atlantic towards Zappa and Utopia: no passive followers, they always brought their own assertive, inquiring spin to the party. (A late ‘90s revival version of the band brought in the psychedelic punk and techno imperatives of the dance movement).

Since Heldon, Pinhas has pursued an ongoing and diverse solo career. It’s taken in collaborations with Scanner, Peter Frohmader, Merzbow, Råd Kjetil Senza Testa, Wolf Eyes and Pascal Fromade, plus assorted words-and music projects involving speculative writers and philosophers such as Maurice Dantec, Philip K. Dick, Gilles Deleuze, Norman Spinrad and Chloe Delaume (these include the cyberpunk-inspired Schizotrope). When performing solo, Pinhas uses a loops-layers-and-textures guitar approach which parallels (and to some ears, surpasses) the densely processed and layered Soundscapes work of his original inspiration Fripp. I guess it’s most likely that he’ll employ this at Corsica Studios on the 12th (although as Tatsuya Yoshida has been another of Pinhas’ collaborators over the years, perhaps you might expect another spontaneous team-up…)

Up-to-date info on the concert is here, with tickets available here.

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During the midweek, there’s a set of new or rare contemporary classical pieces being performed in Camden Town.

Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, 2015

Picking Up The Pieces: Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Wednesday 14th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00/£12.00

Here’s what the Forge has to say about it:

Described by BBC Music Magazine as ‘agile, incisive and impassioned’ violinist Darragh Morgan and pianist Mary Dullea are renowned soloists of new music as well as members of The Fidelio Trio, one of the UK’s leading chamber ensembles. ‘Picking up the Pieces’ explores new and recent repertoire, much of it written for this duo, by a diverse selection of composers. Among the program items, Richard Causton’s ‘Seven States of Rain’ (dedicated to Mary and Darragh) won the first ever British Composers’ Award; while Gerald Barry’s ‘Midday’ receives its world premiere alongside other London premieres from Camden Reeves and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly.

Programme:

Richard Causton – Seven States of Rain
Gerald Barry – Midday (world premiere)
Benedict Schlepper-Connolly – Ekstase I (UK premiere)
Dobrinka Tabakova – Through the Cold Smoke
Kate Whitley – Three Pieces for violin and piano
Sam Hayden – Picking up the Pieces
Camden Reeves – Gorgon’s Head (London premiere)

Here’s the original premiere recording of Darragh and Mary playing ‘Seven States of Rain’.

Tickets and up-to-date information are here. This concert is being recorded by BBC Radio for future transmission on Hear & Now.

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On the Saturday, it’s a triple bill of Bills at Daylight Music. Now that’s cute, even for them. Here are the words direct from the top…

Daylight Music 203, 17th October 2015

Daylight Music 203: William D. Drake + Bill Pritchard + Bill Botting (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 17th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

For his fifth solo excursion, former Cardiacs keysmith William D Drake takes us on a serpentine path through the inner regions of ‘Revere Reach’, a part-imagined landscape composed of memory and fantasy. At once heart-felt, hearty and absurd, its heady reveries blend ancient-seeming modal folk melody with an obliquely-slanted rock thrust.

Bill Pritchard is a beloved cult British-born singer/songwriter. You may remember. You may not. He started writing songs for various bands at school but it wasn’t until he spent time in Bordeaux as part of a college degree that his style flourished. He did a weekly show with two friends on the radio station La Vie au Grand Hertz (part of the burgeoning ‘radio libre’ movement) and was introduced to a lot of French artists from Antoine to Taxi Girl. In 2014 Bill released – Trip to the Coast (Tapeste Records). He’s recently resurfaced with a cracking new album, the songs of which are classic Bill Pritchard. Guitar pop, hooky chorus’, melodic ballads and personal everyday lyrics about love, loss, and Stoke-On-Trent.

Our final Bill is Bill Botting – best known as the bass player from Allo Darlin with the encouraging face, or as one half of indie electro wierdos Moustache of Insanity. Bill returned to playing his own music sometime in 2014. What started as a solo act has now grown into a complete band featuring members of Owl and Mouse, Allo Darlin and The Wave Pictures. A 7-inch single out later in the year on the wiaiwya label has a country slant but an indie heart.

Up-to-date info on this particular Daylight Music afternoon is here.

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On the Saturday evening, Baba Yaga’s Hut is running another gig, much of it apparently based around the noise-and-sludge projects which record at south London’s Dropout Studio in Camberwell. I’ve got to admit that I’m quite ambivalent about the hit-and-miss nature of noise-rock – I suspect that it’s too much of a haven for charlatans, and if I can’t drag out anything interesting to say about the noise they produce bar a slew of reference points, then what am I doing if not reviewing my own boredom? – but I like BYH’s omnivorous, ambitious and sharing attitude as promoters, so I’m happy to boost the signal on this one.

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect (Baba Yaga’s HutThe Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, UK, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £7.00

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th October 2015
Sex Swing are “a drone supergroup” featuring South London noisenik Tim Cedar (one of Dropout Studio’s owner/producers, previously a member of both Ligament and Part Chimp), Dethscalator’s Dan Chandler and Stuart Bell, Jason Stoll (bass player with Liverpool kraut-psych band Mugstar) and skronkophonist Colin Webster. On aural evidence, they inhabit a post-Can, post-Suicide hinterland of hell, spring-echoed and tannoy-vocaled – a sinister quotidian landscape of blank anomie and oppression; a Los Alamos penal colony haunted by uranium ghosts, ancient Morse telegraphs, metal fatigue and the zombie husks of Albert Ayler and Ian Curtis. (Well, that’s certainly someone’s perfect birthday present.)

Described variously as raw power, psych-blues, primitive lysergia and threatening backwoods jams, Early Mammal are another Dropout-affiliated Camberwell band. They’re a stoner rock three-piece who’ve drawn further comparisons not just to latterday stoner crews like White Hills or Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, or to predictable perennial touchstones like Captain Beefheart and Hawkwind parallels; but also to broody Harvest Records psych (Edgar Broughton and the ‘Obscured by Clouds’ Pink Floyd), Irmin Schmidt and (a rare and welcome cite, this) the grand dramatics of Aphrodite’s Child (the late-‘60s Greek prog band which skirted the 1966 Paris riots and served as an unlikely launch pad for both Vangelis and Demis Roussos).

Past incarnations have seen Early Mammal stir in some “Turkish-flavoured synth”, but the current lineup is a power trio of ex-Elks guitarist Rob Herian and 85bear’s Ben Tat and Ben Davis, adding baritone guitar and drone box to the usual guitar/bass/drums array.

I’m less sure about the south London/Dropout associations as regards Casual Sect, who seem to be north-of-the-river people; but, armed with their own hardcore noise-punk, they’ll either clatter away like wind-up toys or belly-sprawl on great bluffs of surly noise. They seem to love both citing and mocking conspiracy theory, so I’ll let them yell away on their own behalf – see below…


 
Up-to-date info on this gig is here, and tickets are available from here.

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Laura Moody’s captivating cello-and-voice songcraft (which edges along the boundary lines of avant-garde classical, art pop and heart-on-sleeve folk music, while demonstrating a daunting mastery of both vocal and instrument) has been a favourite of mine for a while. On this particular week, she’s performing as part of the Match&Fuse Festival in London on 17th October, which I’d have made more of a noise about had I cottoned on to it earlier. She’ll be following up her London show with a date on 20th October at Leeds College of Music: unfortunately, this concert (which also features a talk) is only for LCM students/staff, but if you happen to be attending the college, grab the chance to go along.

There’ll be more on Laura shortly, as she’s embarking on a brief British tour next month which dovetails quite neatly with some other brief tours I’d like to tie together in a post. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, I might as well provide a quick rundown of the Match&Fuse events. This will be a short and scrappy cut’n’paste’n’link, since I’m honouring my own last-minute pickup (and, to be honest, because I exhausted myself listing out all the details of the Manchester Jazz Festival events earlier in the year).

By the sound of it, though, the festival deserves more attention than I’m providing. Even just on spec, it’s a delightful bursting suitcase of British and European music; much of which consists of various forms of jazz and improvisation, but which also takes in electronica, math rock, accordion-driven Tyrolean folk-rap, vocalese, glam punk, the aforementioned Ms. Moody and what appears to be a huge scratch ensemble closing the events each night. It’s spread over three days including a wild triple event on the Saturday. Tickets are starting to sell out; so if you want to attend, be quick.

Match&Fuse Festival, London, 2015

Committed to the composers and bands who propel, compel and challenge, Match&Fuse turns it on and ignites the 4th London festival in October. Dissolving barriers between genres and countries, it’s a rare chance to hear a spectrum of sounds from underground European and UK artists. On Saturday 17th October our popular wristband event will give you access to three Dalston venues and about thirteen artists and bands. Strike a match…

The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Thursday 15th October 2015, 7.30pm – £9.90

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6LA, UK, Friday 16th October 2015, 7.30pm – £13.20

The Vortex/Café Oto/Oto Project Space/ Servant Jazz Quarters simultaneous event, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm – £11.00/£16.50

Café Oto/Oto Project Space, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK

Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, UK

The Vortex Jazz Club/Vortex Downstairs, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK

Full details of Match&Fuse London 2015 are here and here, with tickets (including wristbands) available here. There’s also a playlist available – see below.

 
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More October gig previews coming up shortly, plus some more for November…
 

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs – electro-industrial (Necro Deathmort, DeadFader and Cementimental), intercontinental at Café Oto (Maurice Louca, John Bence and Sam Shalabi), fringe jazz (The Geordie Approach and A Sweet Niche), noise-rock (Hey Colossus, Lower Slaughter and Kogumaza), acoustic/alt.country at Daylight Music (Applewood Road, Holly Macve, Arborist) and the Fidelio Trio with Beethoven, Ravel and a Benjamin Dwyer premiere

4 Oct

More gigs for the coming week…

Firstly, Baba Yaga’s Hut are running an evening at Corsica Studios, which takes in the London date of an electro-industrial tour.

Necro Deathmort/DeadFader/Cementimental @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 5th October 2015Necro Deathmort + Deadfader + Cementimental (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Monday 5th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £6.00

As if Necro Deathmort‘s name didn’t tell you enough about them, over an eight year career they’ve released albums called ‘This Beat Is Necrotronic’ and ‘Music Of Bleak Origin’ (although more recent albums have seen a shift towards a less morbid and more science-fictional outlook. Dark electronica festival veterans with a drone, doom and noise approach, the project entangles electronic instrumentalist AJ Cookson (The Montauk Project, Medes, Sol Invicto) with Matthew Rozeik (guitarist from post-metal/post-prog band Astrohenge). Their music rises from gurgling boneyard beats, medical-equipment breakdowns, squishy miasmas and faux-sax drones towards something ruined and regal – a grand deathbed vision.

Sharing Necro Deathmort’s current tour is Berlin-based dubstep/noise/electro fusilladeer DeadFader – memorably described as “chainsaw-step” by Baked Goods Distribution (who went on to rave about how the project coughs up “the most seismic grooves imaginable” and that the music “sinks its teeth into your arm and refuses to let go”). I can’t top that as a description right now – have a listen below and see if you agree with it.

Joining Necro Deathmort and DeadFader for the London date are CementimentalEverything I can dig up about these guys is a barking blur of ludicrous disinformation: almost the only lucid facts coughed up from their promotional flotsam is that they’re led by a “noisician” called Dr. Age (or Tim Drage, who may or may not have a daytime/surface job in cute Lego animations) and have been doing “harsh noise, circuit-bending, rough music since 2000AD”. The Dr. is supported by a cast of obscure and possibly imaginary characters – a guitarist called Toru, a part-time turntablist, a man called Mrs Columbo (who handles the incoherent screaming), and “additionalists” called Murray the Eel and Sir Concord Discount (the latter’s a “rock goblin”). Maybe this makes Centimental sound like the joke band on the bill, and there’s plenty of humour in what they do (a couple of early tracks were called Too Long and Merzbow It Ain’t, while a more recent one’s called Commendable Amputation Of An Excessive Gargoyle), but the fact remains that they’ve been going for nearly half again as long as their gigmates. Draw your own conclusions.


 

Up-to-date info here, tickets here.

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On the Thursday, there’s a Cafe Oto convening of music from Cairo, Bristol and Montreal, running in parallel to events in Egypt and Lebanon and covering a broad variety of influences and outcomes.

Maurice Louca + John Bence + Sam Shalabi, October 8th 2015

Maurice Louca + John Bence + Sam Shalabi (Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK, October 8th 2015, 8.00pm) – £12.00/£14.00

Cafe Oto, in collaboration with Thirtythree Thirtythree   and Nawa Recordings, bring you the second edition of the five-part event series entitled ‘Labyrinths’ (or ‘Mātāhāt’ in Arabic) and based in London, Cairo and Beirut over October and November.

Maurice Louca is an Egyptian musician and composer born in Cairo where he lives and works. As well as being the co-founder of the bands Bikya, Alif and Dwarves Of East Agouza, he lends his sound to numerous projects, composing for theatre, film and contemporary art. Inspired by many influences, from psychedelic to Egyptian shaabi, his second album ‘Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot)’, released on Nawa Recordings in November 2014, shattered the confines of musical and cultural labelling and was dubbed by many as a game-changer for the region’s bustling independent music scene. Amidst his collaborations and inconspicuous touring across Europe and the Arab world in the last few years, Louca has sought a richer and much more complex sound. ‘Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan’, the fruit of such intense reinvention and a departure from his first solo album ‘Garraya’, is a work that leaves ample space for fluidity and improvisation, paving the way for unique live renderings.

From a family background rich in classical pedigree and firmly embedded in Bristol’s forward-facing electronic music culture, John Bence has pooled a breadth of influence scarcely credible for a composer only entering his second decade, and now he is starting to put his inspiration into live and recorded motion. As a producer he is already thinking ten steps ahead, often incorporating voice or home recorded percussion into his cyclical technique of scoring, recording, manipulating, re-scoring and re-recording in waves, creating heady, intoxicating ripples of harmony and noise. An obscure snippet of dub-plate drone under a previous moniker was enough for Nicolas Jaar, who instantly approached him about a release on his Other People label. Six months on, ‘Disquiet’ was released – a masterful hybrid of classical and electronic clocking in at a tantalising ten minutes. More, much more, is coming. Mercurial, elusive and of seemingly limitless imagination, John Bence is rising to the surface.

Sam Shalabi is an Egyptian-Canadian composer and improviser living between Montreal, Quebec and Cairo, Egypt. Beginning in punk rock in the late 70s, his work has evolved into a fusion of experimental, modern Arabic music that incorporates traditional Arabic, shaabi, noise, classical, text, free improvisation and jazz. He has released five solo albums (including ‘On Hashish’- a musical mediation on German writer Walter Benjamin; ‘Osama’, an audio collage on Arabophobia in the wake of 9/11; and his most recent ‘Music for Arabs’), five albums with Shalabi Effect (a free improvisation quartet that bridges western psychedelic music and Arabic Maqam scales) and three albums with Land Of Kush (an experimental 30-member orchestra for which he composes). He has appeared on over sixty albums and toured Europe, North America and North Africa. Recent projects include the release of the sixth Shalabi Effect album, a duo album with Stefan Christoff, two albums on the Italian label Sagittarius with Beirut, Turkish and Egyptian musicians and a tour in the eastern U.S with Alvarius B (playing solo oud). He is also releasing ‘Isis and Osiris’ (a new composition for oud and electronics) on Nashazphone as well as releasing an album with The Dwarves Of East Agouza (a Cairo based trio with Maurice Louca and Alan Bishop) while currently working on his sixth solo album.

Tickets and up-to-date information are here and here.

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“More accomplished musicians have a loud argument about what ‘jazz’ even is these days,” say Chaos Theory Promotions. Their Jazz Market evenings continue to provide space for such arguments, and here’s another one…

Jazz Market - The Geordie Approach + A Sweet Niche, 9th October 2015

The Geordie Approach + A Sweet Niche (Chaos Theory Promotions present The Jazz Market @ The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, London, E2 9AG, UK, Friday 9th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £5.00/£7.00

The Geordie Approach is possibly the oldest secret from three internationally renowned musicians who’ve been working together for over ten years. It features acclaimed Leeds guitarist and producer Chris Sharkey (Acoustic Ladyland/Shiver/TrioVD), and Norwegian musicians Petter Frost Fadnes and Ståle Birkeland, best known for playing sax and bass respectively in Stavanger Kitchen Orchestra. This uncompromising and experimental trio pursues music within loose improvisational structures, adding a surprisingly broad range of flavours to their overall sound world. The trio has a reputation for adapting and utilizing their performance space in an extremely effective and engaging manner. Birkeland, Frost Fadnes and Sharkey produce musical elements that often are contradictory in shape, moving between melody and noise, ambient grooves and abstract textures. They have performed across Europe, Japan and the UK in churches, art galleries, improvisation clubs, squats, abandoned tobacco houses, jazz festivals, concert halls and flamenco clubs. Each performance is a unique experience.

We hail the return of jazz punk trio A Sweet Niche to The Jazz Market after a seriously impressive performance in 2013. Band composers Keir Cooper and Oliver Sellwood (on guitar and saxophone respectively) explore an aesthetic of intricate rhythms & song-structures within a punchy energetic rock band format. The nature of their collaboration is unique; Keir is an award-winning non-academy artist and Oliver is an award-winning PhD composer and academic. Despite their two tangential angles of experience, they have a shared musical vocabulary honed over nearly two decades. With new album ‘EJECT’ on the way in 2016 (and the recent addition of Big Beat Manifesto drummer Tim Doyle to the band), it’s high time we pulled these performers out of the murky underworld they reside in.

Tickets are available from here, and up-to-date information is here.

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There’s another Baba Yaga’s Hut evening on the same night as the Oto gig, this time concentrating on various noise-rock angles (from the reformatting of classic rock to the restructuring of sound to the straightforward joy of a gibbering hardcore racket.) See below.

Hey Colossus/Lower Slaughter/Kogumaza @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 9th October 2015Hey Colossus + Lower Slaughter + Kogumaza (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Electrowerkz, The Islington Metal Works, 7 Torrens Street, Angel, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, UK, 9th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.00

Variously from Somerset, Watford and London, six-piece Hey Colossus https://www.facebook.com/heycolossus have spent a decade gradually becoming alt.rock darlings thanks to their   journey through assorted doomy noise rock avenues. Their current recipe involves slowing down and narcotising their alleged classic rock influences (Fleetwood Mac is one of those cited) via psychedelic echo and a certain post-rock dourness. It works well too – much of the time they sound like a guttering Led Zeppelin on strong cough mixture, or feed crunching brass-riff processionals and Stoogesque whomps through an amber-toned ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ filter.

I suspect that the concept of supergroups doesn’t fit into noiserock and post-hardcore. Nonetheless, Brighton’s Lower Slaughter  does sort of fit into that category, uniting people better known for other bands (bass player Barney Wakefield for Shudder Pulps, guitarist Jon Wood for “harsh party music” outfit Fat Bicth, Max Levy for vertiginously nervy singing in King Of Cats) and welding them together into a noisy, queasy-confident, raw-scream whole.

Creating hypnotic drones and grooves via two guitars and tom-centric drumming, Nottingham quartet Kogumaza have their feet in sludge metal and in post-rock; but while the latter’s become an increasing predictable and conservative genre Kogumaza have set out to reclaim some of its earlier, more inventive ideas (such as the lapping sonics of Seefeel) via their fourth member, live sound mixer Mark Spivey, who brings in dub-inspired approaches and old tape-looping techology to further manipulate and displace the band’s sound both live and on record. Fond of collaborations and split releases, they’ve also been known to bring in an unexpected banjo (although they probably won’t tonight).


 
Up-to-date info here, tickets here.

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And finally, from all of this noise to something acoustic for a Saturday noontime…

Daylight Music 202

Daylight Music 202: Applewood Road, Holly Macve + Arborist (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 10th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

An early afternoon of songwriter-folk, America and alternative country from one of ‘Misfit City’s favourite free/pay-what-you-like events:

Applewood Road is an Australian/American alliance of three solo songwriters – Amy Speace, Amber Rubarth  (also known as one half of The Paper Raincoat) and Emily Barker (also known for her work with the-low-country and The Red Clay Halo). In September 2014, they all met for the first time in a cafe in East Nashville. Two hours later they had written the song they called Applewood Road. They booked studio time at Nashville’s super-cool analogue studio Welcome To 1979, and the following week recorded the song live to tape, with just double bass as accompaniment. So excited were they by the song, they decided to expand the idea in to a whole album. Six months later they reconvened in Nashville to write, rehearse and record songs to make up a full album, with the project and album all called ‘Applewood Road’. This is their first show in the UK, with the debut Applewood Road album due for an early 2016 release on Gearbox Records.

Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde says, of Holly Macve“little is known of Holly other than she is a 20 year old from Yorkshire who appeared out of nowhere in Brighton late last year. I had a tip-off to go to a basement bar where she was playing. In a room full of beery boys chatting across all the music beforehand, the minute Holly opened her mouth the room fell silent. Hers is a rare gift.” Simon signed her shortly afterwards. The label has yet to release anything formally, but Holly herself has posted a demo track onto Soundcloud (see below), and she’s already won support slots with Ben Howard and Mercury Rev on the strength of what she’s offering.

Having previously worked as a songwriter around France, London and Dublin, Mark McCambridge played his first show as Arborist in February 2013, opening for James Yorkston in Belfast. A solo tour of Ireland followed before impressive performances led to notable support slots alongside Low, Cat Power, Echo & The Bunnymen and Alasdair Roberts. In May 2015 Arborist released the country-tinged ‘Twisted Arrow’. Recorded during dark winter nights in Belfast and in Dayton, Ohio (and featuring vocal harmonies by Kim Deal). A debut album is due this coming winter.

 

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Not finally, in fact – there’s a chance to squeeze in a last-minute classical addition, since it’s always a shame to miss a premiere.

The Fidelio Trio, 2015

The Fidelio Trio @ The London Chamber Music Series (Hall One, Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, UK, Sunday 11th October 2015, 6.30pm) – £9.50 to £29.50

The celebrated Fidelio Trio – Mary Dullea (piano), Adi Tal (cello), Darragh Morgan (violin) – perform Beethoven’s hugely popular ‘Ghost Trio’, with its iconic eerie slow movement, and also Ravel’s remarkably imaginative and colourful ‘Piano Trio’, premiered 100 years ago this year in Paris in 1915.

In between comes the premiere of Irish composer Benjamin Dwyer‘s ‘Nocturnal’, inspired by Benjamin Britten’s famous own ‘Nocturnal after John Dowland (for solo guitar)’, and drawing upon a theme from Britten’s opera ‘Gloriana’, as well as a madrigal by English early seventeenth-century composer Thomas Wilbye. There will be a free pre-concert talk at 5.15pm in the St Pancras Room at Kings Place, in which composer and LCM Series director Peter Fribbins interviews Benjamin Dwyer about his new work and his interest in the music of Benjamin Britten.

More information here and tickets here.

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More October gig previews coming up shortly…

August 2015 – upcoming gigs – the Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

May 2013 – live reviews – Chaos Theory presents ‘Jazz Market’ @ The Luxe, Spitalfields, London, 29th May 2013 (featuring A Sweet Niche, Macchina del Tempo, What?! – with guests Yasmyn Hendrix, Moo Clef, Chloe Herington) (“tunes and stutters and babels”)

30 May

Walking into the Luxe, I feel even shabbier than usual. I fear those spotless white napkins and wooden counters; I look sidelong at the pricey menu; I sidle off to the side door as soon as possible. Like most of the rest of Spitalfields, this place has gone upmarket and left me behind. Until about a decade ago, it was the Spitz – another restaurant, another bar, another venue. Much loved, and more boho-genteel: I’d come here for electronica, for rock of the post- and mathy variety, and for the occasional off-centre songwriter.

Occasionally I’d come for jazz – something which, as a language, still sits oddly in London’s mouth. It’s not that the city spurns jazz – enough London musicians, venues and festivals give the lie to that. But I feel that sometime it seems a little deracinated here, even in a town where more recent arrivals like reggae and salsa now seem like part of tradition. Supper jazz might be healthy, foyer spaces still welcoming, but outside of grants or outright corporate sponsorship, it’s mostly a tribute to the tenacity and dedication of London’s jazzers that the music keeps its personal, inventive foothold here. The old Spitz was a place which welcomed jazz in plenty of its diverse strands and split-tongued digressions. When you were at a Spitz jazz event, you could feel the music striving, feel its life; and when all of that ended London jazz was diminished.

This picture’s a little too gloomy. There were – and are – other venues, and for those who still want it, the displaced spirit of the Spitz lives on elsewhere as a jazz collective. But it’s heartening that Chaos Theory Promotions (that mobile feast of wide-spanning musical interest, springing from place to place across London) seem to be paying a little homage to old times when they drop their Jazz Market night into the Luxe. Some things stay changed, sadly. I’ve not been here in years, but in Spitz days the music owned the top floor (and a Shoreditch panorama, such as it was). Now it’s down in the basement bar, sharing with the comedy and competing with the toilets: sidelined. Never mind. The Chaos brokers themselves are brimful of enthusiasm, and three jazz trios have come to chat.

What?! sway and chop through something (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What?! sway and chop through something (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

If jazz is a language, What?! keep it as handfuls of sentences plunged into a deep baggy pocket, mixed up with anything else they’ve found during the week. Everything in the pocket is regularly hauled up for inspection, to be chucked and scattered casually across a table, just to see how it will fall. The boys certainly aren’t purists, although their taste for locating comfortable licks and riffs in whichever genre they’re toying with does keep you guessing as to how much of what they do is serious. In keeping with this, they’re acting as class clowns tonight. In fetching scarlet dressing-gown and shades, his white-man dreads spilling from a Rasta cap, guitarist Niels Bakx is part-Trustafarian and part-trannie. Bass guitarist Ago Collura, his back turned to the audience, is Reverse Man – a white mask strapped to the back of his head beneath his Tyrolean stovepipe hat, a collar and tie sprouting from the nape of his neck. Having apparently lost a bet, sparky drummer Raphael Lanthaler performs stripped to the waist and down to his underpants (though he’s been allowed to keep his hatful of bright rainbow-dyed feathers as well as his delighted grin).

On record, What?! strut and step like a cool-jazz function band about to be warmed-up and overcome by a sly sense of mischief. Both of their recent singles make a showing tonight – the Brubeck reggae of Tikka Masala (now with extra curlicues from Ago’s bass and curves of wah on the rhythm guitar); a spiked-up, rockier version of Schwaffelen, passing a swaying cats-cradle of jazz and ska touches over and over the tune. This kind of music is what they’re most at home with. It’s not, however, what they’re most drawn to doing. What?! like to stray – prancing into diced-up, chequered rock patterns dominated by the thwack of Raphael’s tom; laying out a sun-stroked Caribbean hiccup for a minute; or suddenly picking up and pelting through some driving motorbike music. Still very young (at an age where anything and everything can be hysterically funny), and still drunk on the musical options that surround them as busy session players and broad listeners, What?! can certainly groove: but they won’t settle.

What?! - unexpectedly naked drummer... (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What?! – unexpectedly naked drummer… (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

It’s unclear how many of the band’s disruptions, false halts and oblique quotes are written rather than improvised, but their sense of fun constantly overpowers their artfulness, and every so often their humour dips towards novelty territory. When they slip into a quick strum through Happy Birthday for a friend, it’s warm but a touch too crowd-pleasing. I doubt that What?! wouldn’t care if anyone told them that. An easy-going and sociable band, they’ve invited buddies up to play and clearly thrive on it.

Like a dayglo Tom Waits in his checkered-tablecloth bowler and green tints, the jazz-prankster Moo Clef sits in for a couple of songs. One he plays straight, blowing a fiesta trumpet over a reggae section, fluent and cool-fired. For the other, he adds various sung, rapped and chanted interjections that he tweaks and filters into cartoon oddities via effects pedals. At one point, a chipmunk-voiced cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit takes over, the band smoothly slipping into light-touch Nirvana riffage. The joke wobbles somewhere between Battles and Zappa: disarming romp, or sarcastic cheese. (Or lounge act. Ha.)

It’s a different story when Yasmyn Hendrix and her flower-child headscarf step up to front the trio for Stay With Me. Usually she’s found in unlikely venues, crafting herself castles out of her own vocal loops. Here she plays it straight and soulful, her light but bluesy vocals lounging and skittering over What?!’s skein of tango-funk and Come Together dub-shimmer. For a while, the band sit back and enjoy playing as accompanists. For a while, they stay rooted. They’re good at it. Those quick-cut style shifts and the metafoolery are just part of their choices, not their only option.

Still, in between clear individual pieces the band improvise loosely, and as much with genre as with anything else. They’ll roll out a strolling lunar echo (Raphael sighing and gusting on the drums with near-silent brushstrokes while Niels caresses out wide chords), or crawl through a fragmented, broken-backed jazz ballad that they’ve deconstructed to the point of disintegration. Once they spit out a talking-blues bossa (with Niels on vivid slide guitar), only to refit it midway and produce a tumbling complex skeleton of arpeggiated notes, traveling from Elmore James to Gilberto to Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen in a matter of minutes. Towards the end, they throw in a grunge-rock climb complete with punk screaming. Raphael (tonight’s head joker) continually tosses in triggers: false stops and starts, or stalking who-blinks-first contests with Ago.

Again, how much of this is quick coin whipped out of a trick-bag is unclear. What is clear is What?!’s breadth of reference, be it a midsection of shoegazing-summer guitar-echo, a little reggae chip or a mass-less bridging passage of math-rock brewing like a disappearing wreath of mercury fumes. Sometimes their work is a puzzle; sometimes it’s cut-and-shunt. Sometimes, though, it seems as if they’ve scattered themselves out a bit too far, becoming a set of waggling jazz-hands where they should be a breathing, scatting jazz lung. They could do with a little time to breathe in and rethink, maybe.

On first sighting, Macchina del Tempo are raw-boned, hard-faced men. They look like the kind of band that shows up at remote and friendless small-town gigs, purely to prey on other bands. You could imagine them cornering some other, more hapless group in order to swipe and swig their beer in front of them, shake them down for their gig money and then steal their van, all without cracking those stony expressions.

Stocky guitarist Walter Fazio, glowering above his inverted Slayer goatee, looks particularly fearsome, purposeful and frowning – the kind of man who’d grunt one word and unleash hell. Then you see him play. As he smiles, broad and unguarded, while one of his liquid runs of notes hits the spot, then you understand what Macchina del Tempo are really about. Jazz Market regulars, this fusion trio made common cause a few years ago. Two Brits and an Italian, forged in and scarred by the grim working heat of innumerable cover bands, they made a leap to somewhere they could flower.

Macchina del Tempo heading towards fusion temperature (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Macchina del Tempo heading towards fusion temperature (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What Macchina del Tempo provide tonight is a strong contrast to What?!’s permanent state of playful. Effortlessly inventive but tightly-drilled, they roll out four long and muscular pieces of driving jazz-rock ,each with a gritty core which suggests that there might be something to that initial hard-man appearance. If you’re imagining the kind of shrill sterile tech-wank that afflicted jazz-fusion when it gulped down the wrong bits of synthpop and heavy metal at the end of the ‘70s, think again – and think further back. There’s certainly plenty of rock in here, but from the organic end, in which sweat and texture add body and warmth as well as disrupting any shop-fresh sheen.

Certainly Macchina are as much Motorhead as they are Mahavishnu or Metheny (and, given the choice, they appear to be more Rush than Yellowjackets). One of their offerings blends a long-throw fusion funk with creamy jazz metal, a tight seethe of musicality with a laddering, gibbon swing to it. Another starts as a swinging Jimmy Page-meets-Sonny Sharrock hydra – tremendously fluent, ribbed with dissonant slashes but full of tight prog-rock pounces of unison guitar and bass, with a strong rumbling taste of Ace Of Spades (and a final united scurry like La Villa Strangiato).

However, Walter’s persistently inventive guitar playing ensures that the band’s music never boils dry. There might be a bit of Hendrix in his floating horn-wail of lead line, continually playing a push, stroke’n’stretch game with its envelope. There’s probably a pinch of Allan Holdsworth ripple, some dirty Mike Stern blues or Foley McCrearey whumph, an occasional trilling coil of fretboard tapping… whatever there is, it’s subsumed into Walter’s own voice. For the forty minutes he’s onstage, he’s playing almost continually and never once puts a foot wrong. For the full set, he wraps you in the ins and outs of his conversation, his pauses for thought, his gently brooding reflections, frowns and unspoken implications. Guitarists this compelling and fertile are rare – and they’re a pleasure to encounter.

Macchina del Tempo - Jamie McKenzie nails a scale (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Macchina del Tempo – Jamie McKenzie nails a scale (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

From the start, it’s also been clear that Macchina have an utter mastery of the flexible groove. While drummer Mick Claridge can certainly swing, it’s only part of his vocabulary as the band drive and chivvy through their smooth shifts of time and tempo. On bass guitar, Jamie McKenzie plays neither the great soloist nor the staid, conservative backliner. Instead he firmly unzips the chords in all their glory, then fingers his way around and across the scales in a continous springy roam. A dextrous fretted fingerstylist, he knows where every note needs to go. His playing creates a webbing of involved, swung-baroque bass-line, over which Walter’s guitar can flicker like a sly chameleon whenever it needs to. Mick subtly supports the arc; swirls under it, drums cruising and lifting like a river-rise.

A prolix music blogger lurks in the shadows... (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A prolix music blogger lurks in the shadows… (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)


They’re certainly making an impact – around me, bodies rapidly lose their reluctance, peeling up from the Luxe’s dark faux-leather sofas to sway and wave to the Macchina percolations. A third piece, though it starts with a crabby rock sidle strangely similar to You Really Got Me, soon turns into electric-chicken jazz funk. Mick slides greasy rhythms from hand to hand even as he pins the piece to the floor, a human nail-gun. For the last in their foursome of amplified groove, the band’s funk turns a little Mahavishnu: full of tensing stops, bullish balance and hot scraps sliding unregarding from that smouldering guitar. Even now, deep into their set, the three Macchina men seem transformed by their playing. Seeing those tough faces softened and gentled into something resembling reverence – it does the heart good.

What?! have the playful end of things covered tonight. Macchina del Tempo have so convincingly laid claim to solidity and substance that they’d be tough to follow with something similar. It falls to A Sweet Niche, then, to stagger splay-armed along the edge; to rake their nails down the rough wall of art and shout the appropriate odds.

A Sweet Niche drive forward (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche drive forward (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ben Handysides drums with dainty motions but powerful strikes. He looks like a handsome public-school rugger star who’s thinking about becoming a poet; he can play jazz, folk, progressive rock, kletzmer and sundry permutations of all of those and more. This makes him a shoo-in for A Sweet Niche when they play live. While they’ve already got an established drummer for composing and recording, he lives, rather disobligingly, far off in Cornwall (where he can presumably maintain the freshness required for their studio sessions). Everyone else in the band besides Ben seems to have intense sidelines in film, or theatre, or the spiky world of contemporary classical. Perhaps this explains the open-marriage, flyaway feel of the band; and why Ben currently seems like a blond bridge linking the two remaining poles of A Sweet Niche together.

A Sweet Niche - Oliver Sellwood's baritone lecture (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Oliver Sellwood’s baritone lecture (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

One of these two poles is Oliver Sellwood, on baritone sax. He’s a fluid rippling player (with plenty of bassy skronk in him whenever he needs it) and he’s as well turned out as his playing: neat haircut, neat glasses, unflappable demeanour. He can blow like a demon, but he delivers these storms coolly and professorial, as if chatting from a podium. The other pole is on the other side of Ben and looks as if he’ll rattle himself to bits at any moment. In his agony-scarlet sweat top, Keir Cooper is spindly and driven; bristle-bearded, and playing a guitar as if someone will nail him to it at set’s end. Everything about him screams “art lifer”. He’s the filmmaker. He probably sleeps once or twice every five years, if someone else talks him into it.

A Sweet Niche cast off with a clutch of snaking instrumental wiggles. Oliver’s baritone sax tattoo soon settles into a blaring drone, around which Ben casts up a ticking construction set before the band blaze up into distortion. Keir is clearly going to be the splinter in the jam – his face crumples into walnut creases as he drives shattered howls out of his guitar. Ben looks loose in comparison, his drumsticks dangling like plucked lilies. Oliver disregards them both, ripping off a sax solo as if he was wrenching a seam from a jacket: it’s a little Arabian in tone, a reproving and arrogant ripple of grace above the chaos, of which there’s plenty more to come.

A Sweet Niche - Keir Cooper, about to bounce off another wall (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Keir Cooper, about to bounce off another wall (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Their second salvo, Eye Music II is crash noise from the off. Their third begins as a kind of minimalist ska, then becomes Yaketty-Yak re-imagined for math-rockers. After Ben delivers a burst of horse-clopping rimshots, they break for another swirl of Arabian saxophone, heavy on the romance, before heading back towards the ska armed with hammer-swipes of noise. To top it off, the coda is a lullaby pop tune.

As a band – or, perhaps, as a spasm – A Sweet Niche seem to crouch somewhere between John Zorn (in his more impish Naked City moods) and the wracked, Maoist judders of English free jazz. Moments where a passage of brittle swing mutates into a kind of thrash samba could be put down to dark humour, but it’s difficult to calculate the shape of the band’s intent when a cheerful passage of saxophone sleaze is overtaken by screeching guitar alarm and then a taut, distant game of musical tag as Keir and Oliver dot each other with single notes and with silence.

It’s tricky to pin down whether what they do is political, or disruptive for its own sake, or just a natural expression of brain hiccups; or whether all of these options are equally valued or dismissed. Besides their wary body language – which could be a deceptive feint anyway – they give little away personally. There are no arcane jokes at the microphone, and few wacky titles (although the choppy ta-ta-ta and carousel echos of Bananagirl inspire even more confusion, as if Bagpuss had joined Slayer).

A Sweet Niche - Keir Cooper plays another agonizing chord (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Keir Cooper plays another agonizing chord (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ultimately A Sweet Niche’s aim seems to be to blow their education out of their minds, like a bolus of brain-snot. Chunks of structure regularly whiz past our ears (Oliver, in particular, has a knack for hurling fervent and compressed musical dialogue) while Keir is ceaseless in shaking off his thoughts as an urgent, committed racket. At one point, following a particularly intense bit of guitar wringing, he blinks with astonishment. For a few seconds, he looks relieved, with a surprised smile and the hint of shy laughter fluttering round his chops, and a “where did that come from?” shrug lifting his arms. As they head towards the end of their set, though, their disruptive peace-destroying turns into a dotted bounce. Bit by bit, they’re turning to a dance even if at the next song they’ll be trying to squash us against the wall with ripped slices of metallic thrash-hop.

They end with a thunderous, purging blast through Duodecimal. Then, bizarrely, they’re back for an encore, augmented by Chloe Herington (the unflappable reedswoman from Chrome Hoof, VALVE and Knifeworld) who suddenly pops up to moonlight and to add a new factor to the band’s unruly chemistry. There’s plenty of muttering, subtle stares and subliminal eyebrow gestures before they get started. It’s unclear whether they’re cueing each other, playing chicken or attempting some kind of disguised wink-murder.

A Sweet Niche with a pensive Chloe Herington (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche with a pensive Chloe Herington (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Just as I’m losing interest, they reel out a tremendous length of jazz-thrash-turned-sludge-metal. Her alto sax hovering, Chloe stays silent for most of it before jerking into place right at the pell-mell coda. She blows ten or fifteen seconds of twisting Coltrane overblowing over the roar, and then everything crashes to a halt. The night’s over, and so is A Sweet Niche’s psychological shell game. The strains and strange focusses slough away like last month’s bandages: with the instruments down, they’re suddenly warm with each other.

Chloe Herington waits for a cue which only she knows about (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Chloe Herington waits for a cue which only she knows about (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ten minutes later, sleepy and stumbling, I’m making my way south-west of Spitalfields and I’m ever so slightly lost. Trying to find the tube, I’m wandering past the cluster of City skyscrapers by Bishopsgate – pushy assertions, half-formed nubbins and works-in-progress, garlanded by lights: and the finished statements, shoved heavenwards. Appropriate really.

Around my midnight bleariness (and as I’m passing the arrested concrete stump of the Pinnacle building, humiliated and frozen by market forces) I’m thinking dimly about language again, about tunes and stutters and babels and temporary silences. I don’t come to a conclusion, but as the last echoes of the gig swirl away in my mind I’m feeling glad that this part of town’s got some of its more unusual dialogues back.

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July 1999 – EP reviews – Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot’s ‘Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot’ EP (“an explosion in a fairground repair shop… a belting mixture of howling-for-vengeance free-jazz saxes, prog-from-hell and hardcore trash-blues”)

7 Jul

Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot: 'Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot' EP

Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot: ‘Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot’ EP

You already know Cardiacs, or you ought to. They’re that gang of besuited gentlemen from Chessington, Kingston and Milton Keynes – upsetters of pop rules known for busting out of tight waistcoats, with a sound like an explosion in a fairground repair shop. And who specialise in hatefully brilliant singles midway between masochism and ecstacy, as pleasurable as scratching a really luxurious, pestilential itch.

Sleep All Eyes Open doesn’t let that line of guilty pleasures down, tying knots in Super Furry Animals and The Glitter Band to make a glammy mess of noisy guitars and monkey-gland logic. Here’s something that really enjoys how gloriously dumb-to-the-max it is – listen to those handclaps, and that dum-dum riff bouncing its knuckles along the ground. Yet it evolves fast, ideas yomping around, running off into ever-more crowded angles and arguments while Tim Smith yelps like a circusful of trampolining dogs. Cardiacs always cram their songs to bursting point but never lose any of it to blind alleys or prog meandering. And if I still haven’t a clue what they’re singing about, I think there’s something in the back of my head which does, whooping and waving a flag whenever I hear them let something like this out of the box.


 
The five-year-old bonus tracks (from the mind-boggling ‘Sing to God’ album) haven’t worn badly either. Dirty Boy hammers and claws through seven minutes of huge black-metal guitars and ends up flailing against the wall in an ecstatic stuck groove of wailing choir and electric-shock organ. Foundling is a mediaeval creak of sleep, death and aching men’s feet, worthy of Robert Wyatt. And there’s a celebratory, singalongaTim instrumental mix of Insect Hooves on Lassie- and that’s so tuneful it could get a corpse up and idiot-dancing within seconds. These guys are old enough to be Blur’s granddads, for God’s sake – how come they still make almost any other British rock group sound half-hearted and half-asleep?




 
Camp Blackfoot, hanging onto the other half of this EP, grab the challenge with both hands and a ravening mouthful of teeth. It says here that they’ve chewed their way out of the corpse of Thirteen Ghosts (Oxford’s finest in thrash-improv… hmmm), and they don’t bother with all that business of the dichotomy between social discipline and chaotic emotions. They just hit the record button and scream. A belting mixture of howling-for-vengeance free-jazz saxes, prog-from- hell and hardcore trash-blues comes tumbling out onto the carpet and burns a huge hole in it. Somewhere, Lester Bangs is laughing his head off.


 
If you wanted to hear serious avant-garde psychobilly locked into a no-holds-barred deathmatch with art-noise, you’ve come to the right place. Ruins forcibly manhandling the Blues Explosion into a blender wouldn’t even come close to The Blue Hood’s shredding monster-movie music; while The Other Giaconda is what might’ve happened had King Crimson ever really exploded onstage in squalling Stooges style, neurotic precision blowing the safety valve a foot deep into the ceiling. And The Red Mist tops the lot- squiggly Morricone noises that burst into enormous barbed- wire riffing and an epically hallucinating murder song, a weird doomed narrative which sees a desperate man’s mutter rising to a horrified scream: “The street melts under my feet… I’m drowning in a boiling sea of salt,/ faces are ugly / I – Mother of God!”



 
Songs to crash your car to, and the soundtrack to strutting away from the blaze looking cooler than ever. Not really something that works with Coldplay, I think.

Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot: ‘Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot’
Org Records, ORG 056CD (5 028151 010568)
CD-only EP
Released: 5th July 1999

Get it from: (2020 update) Limited edition of 1,000 – best obtained second-hand.
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Camp Blackfoot online:
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