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March 2019 – music and theatre as ‘The Marchlands Arms’ takes over London’s transmigrational pub Ye Olde Mitre for a couple of evenings of border culture (23rd & 24th March)

19 Mar

A little way into the western edge of the City of London, between the jewellers’ quarter of Hatton Gardens and the gated enclave of Ely Place, there’s an inviting little alleyway – a tuckaway court still marked by Victorian streetlights, a little like an urban Narnia portal. As you wend your way up it, negotiating the gentle kink in the middle, a pub appears – a pub which gives the damnedest impression of having materialised from elsewhere and wedged itself into the cut-through.

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

Ye Olde Mitre (photographer unknown)

This pub, Ye Olde Mitre, has actually been around in some shape or form since the middle of the sixteenth century – and for a long time it was perhaps London’s only example of a place which was in another place. Specifically, it was legally a part of Cambridgeshire. The beneficiary of a legal agreement regarding land jurisdiction set up around the London estate of the Bishop of Ely, it was the drinking establishment for his London servants. There are tall tales about people on the run from the City of London coppers claiming sanctuary in there, and arguing that the City police had no jurisdiction within the pub walls; no more than the Met did either.

Obviously this is a quirk of law, power and accommodation – mostly a long-standing in-joke for pint-supping conveyancers dropping in from the Inns of Court. Nonetheless, visiting Ye Olde Mitre always feels like taking a step into another kingdom, one which disregards standard unities of time and place in favour of fashioning its own. There’s the mythic touch added by the resident cherry tree, of course (which dates back to Elizabethan times and comes complete with its own Queen Elizabeth legend); but even when you’re not looking for magical signifiers – and long before you’ve become swimmy-headed on beer – the pub has the relaxed, self-contained air of somewhere entirely separate from the London bustle. Many pubs strive to become places in their own right; friendly drop-in nations. Content as its own little capsule of peace, Ye Olde Mitre manages it much better than almost anywhere else I know.

The Marchland Arms, 23rd & 24th March 2019

It’s unsurprisingly that such a place – one that flaunts and celebrates its quirky liminality – has drawn the attention of Marchland, the music-and-theatre production alliance which fixes and thrives on ideas of history and borderlines (as evidenced in their previous festival at the Bridewell a year ago.). This coming weekend, they’ll be taking over the pub, recasting it as “The Marchland Arms” and filling it with nine performances in three separate sections, turning the different spaces within the pub into murmuring, discursive rooms within which performance, music and song will gently ricochet.

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Marchland Arms - 'Once & Future Europe'

Marchland Arms – ‘Once & Future Europe’

Three pieces make up the ‘Once And Future Europe’ section, triggered by Marchland’s “fascinat(ion with) the cultural history of the legendary states that once straddled Europe’s borders. For the three shows that make up this session we asked the artists involved to, in the words of Rimbaud, remember Europe and her ancient ramparts. This is work that explores the influence of those half-imaginary places on the European psyche, and how their legacy continues to influence our notions of identity and belonging.”

The first of these pieces, ‘Lyonesse’, appears to be (at root) a conceptual celebration and exploration of the mythical drowned kingdom between Cornwall and Brittany – in other words, the sunken link in the geographical continuity of the broader Celtic nation. On spec, that sounds like a dusty old disinterral of Edwardian romanticism; but judging by the participants and their preoccupations, it won’t be. Poet-ecologist Dom Bury will, I guess, be mingling Lyonessean legend from his own West Country roots with contemporary concerns about flooding and dissolution, bolstered interjections and engagements from Katharina Engel, a German academic and theatre director whose preoccupation with hills and climbing may also feed into the work. The two will be accompanied by music from singer Sophia Brumfitt and veteran percussionist/hammer dulcimer player Dhevdhas Nair in a rich blend of European Early Music, Indian subcontinental music, jazz and African elements: Euromyth interfolding with full-world diaspora.

 
The pub snug will house ‘The Capital of Europe’ in which Charles Webber – whose two-decade-plus career as a sound artist has seen him write multimedia sound/light-and-music operas (he’s the artistic director of operaNCV), plus work with Crass’ Eve Libertine and innumerable experimental musicians and theatre companies – and Strasbourgian poet/Théâtre Volière co-director Mick Wood collaborate on “an installation of treated sound, found objects, and cut up poetry”, providing “an unguided tour through the abandoned corners, quiet squares and restless banlieues of an ideal, unreal city on the Rhine.” Sounds delightfully like an old pub story, but one which unfolds into multiple additional dimensions and textures; like that European flaneur’s collaboration between Johnny Morris and China Miéville which never actually happened.

Transforming the lounge, the last of the three ‘Once And Future Europe’ pieces – ‘Ionic’ – asks us to reimagine the space as“a café in fin de siècle Alexandria” in which a new dance theatre piece will play out. Rambert School graduate Janacek Wood choreographs an episode of interweaving texts and movements based around the work of Cairo-based, Alexandria-born Egyptian-Greek poet Constantin Cavafy, whose early life saw his family relocate between France, England and Constantinople in their own mournful, economically-driven private diaspora.

Cavafy himself ended up writing a body of work that’s a Hellenistic re-examination of what Wiki summarises as “uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia.” The best-known of these poems is the sardonic Waiting For The Barbarians, in which an external exotic threat serves as both spice and hollowing-out of a moribund politics: I can’t think what that reminds me of now. Music comes from two Greek musicians – singer Savina Yannatou and classical guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis – and from electric guitarist/composer/personal ethnologist Alex Roth, who’s recently been pursuing his own Jewish diasporan heritage on a three-cornered journey that’s taken in Manchester, London and his current dwelling place of Warsaw.

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Marchland Arms - 'Customs & Duty'

Marchland Arms – ‘Customs & Duty’

Three more pieces make up ‘Customs & Duty’, “a session of shows exploring the interaction between folk culture and high art, and how identities shift when the lines between arbitrarily imagined communities are blurred… Must we declare our customs at the customs post? Is it our duty to pay duty on them? To whom do they belong? Who decides what they’re worth? What will they cost us when they’re taken away, dissected, repackaged, and sold back to us?”

For this, there’ll be a variation on the ‘Before and After Schengen’ piece which was one of last year’s Marchland centrepieces: Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes responses to Spanish photographer Ignacio Evangelista’s photos of border facilities, with guests and actors from the Marchland Arms Company contributing to a staging of the outcome, making the room “the Kafka-esque border post of a once or future East-European regime.”

Last time around at Marchland, Carneval String Trio’s viola player Shiry Rashkovsky contributed the ‘Shengen’ music. This year, she’s reviving a nineteenth-century middle-European tale with storyteller James Peacock in the shape of ‘Fritz and the Bohemian’ a tale of kindness, cyclic events and wanderings (“each year, on the first day of Spring, an itinerant musician comes to play beneath Fritz Kobus’ window…”).

Rounding off this section is a new Théâtre Volière play, ‘Goethe in Alsace’ – a one-act historical tale of cultural enrichment, “careless play-acting (and) casual cruelty” set around the border region of France and Germany, and questioning the assumptions and entitlements surrounding nascent male artists and the women whom they select as muses.

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Marchland Arms - 'The Northern Marches'

Marchland Arms – ‘The Northern Marches’

The three final Marchland Arms pieces comprise ‘The Northern Marches’ and focus specifically on the Scottish and English border country “(a) region, rich with the history of the Border Reivers of the debatable lands, the Roman garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall, and dramatic elopements to Gretna Green, has other, fresher stories to tell. How does its often romanticised past inform the Scottish borders’ present, and to whom do its stories old and new actually belong?” For this section, there’s a play (of sorts), a talk and a musical session.

Théâtre Volière return – teamed with poet Katie Hale and singing, fiddle-playing Scottish music specialist Lori Watson – to deliver a preview of ‘Gretna’: an actors/reciter/musician performance and ongoing project “exploring the culture of the region from the perspective of the women so often written out of its history.”

On the trail of linguistics and naming, University of Glasgow professor Eila Williamson provides ‘The Meaningful Merse’; throwing a little light on her REELS project work (Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland) in “a fascinating look at how history’s great, long term shifts in ethnic and cultural identity are often written in to the localised place-names, folk memory and dialects of Europe’s border regions.”

Finally, Lori Watson returns with her own set, performing in duo and bringing Scottish coastal and border folk music to close out the section in “a haunting collision between traditional music and found, ambient sound, in a performance ranging from the intimate to the epic.”

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There’s a general preview here:

 
Dates and times:

Marchland presents:
‘The Marchland Arms’
Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, off Ely Place/Hatton Garden, Holborn, London, EC1N 6SJ, England

February 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs in London and Cambridge – Seed Ensemble (1st February); Warmer Than Blood (2nd February); Irreversible Entanglements and Matana Roberts (2nd February)

28 Jan

Cassie Kinoshi & SEED Ensemble, 1st February 2019

Perhaps there’s not a great deal that I need to say about Cassie Kinoshi. The most visible of the current generation of jazzwomen from the Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Collective, she’s clearly on the ascendant, working extensively across the jazz, classical, dance and drama worlds, and with her two-year-old SEED Ensemble now getting high-profile gigs. One of these is at Kings Place this Friday, in which SEED unveil their debut album ‘Driftglass’, showing off the end product of the multicultural London influences which inspire them: groove-based British jazz with strong flavour of West African and Caribbean diasporan music.

If that sounds a bit cuddly, then check out the title – and the combative, sarcastic thump – of the second of the two clips below. It’s a parodic, pointed Mingus-worthy musical representation of white people’s fear-driven misconceptions about black people, drawing on the wildness, grief and defiance of New Orleans funeral music and underpinned by the double-low-end honk-n’razz attack of Theon Cross’ tuba and Rio Kai’s double bass.



 
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Up in Cambridge the following day, guitarist/composer Chris Montague (previously seen in here via his work with Alex Roth and Chris Sharkey in Future Currents) reveals his new project Warmer Than Blood. It’s a trio in which he combines with pianist Kit Downes (Troyka, F-IRE Collective) and bass guitarist Ruth Goller, whose pedigree takes in a host of projects from Acoustic Ladyland to Sephardim ballad revivers Sephiroth plus (amongst others) the manouche of Kamao Quintet, the punk jazz of Let Spin and rough-edged North African-influenced Melt Yourself Down, the Latin folk of Oriole and the up-in-the-air experimental indie-rock of Bug Prentice.

Warmer Than Blood, 2nd February 2019

All three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time.”

Warmer Than Blood are a couple of months away from properly recording a debut album, but two live tracks on their homepage point the way in which they’re going. Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.

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Back in London, and also on the Saturday, the Barbican’s Milton Court hosts Brooklyn-based “liberation-minded free jazz collective” Irreversible Entanglements. If you’re after a jazz band to represent and reflect these increasingly ugly, stormy, oppressive times from the bottom up, you couldn’t find a better one – but be careful what you wish for. They aren’t an easy listen, and they’ve got no intention of being so.

Irreversible Entanglements, 2nd February 2019

Free jazz (especially, though not always, when it becomes a hand-me-down in the hands of white musicians) can often be a fussy, elitist abstraction. Irreversible Entanglements uncompromisingly return it to its roots in black radicalism and to an absolute connection to the injustices of society. In doing that, they’re stepping into the first-generation protest-jazz shoes of Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman, Max Roach, Albert Ayler.

If you’ve been reading ‘Misfit City’ over the last couple of months, you may remember Elaine Mitchener reviving this tradition with her Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde project last month. While operating in a similar field, Irreversible Entanglements have no interest in curating those impetus and protests as museum pieces. Instead, they create their own protest. It should go without saying that they’re tied deeply into the #BlackLivesMatter initiative. Originally forming the band four years ago to play at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, bassist Luke Stewart and poet/proclaimer Camae Ayewa subsequently added trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes for more rhythm and flammability.

The resulting quintet sounds far bigger, far angrier and far more righteous than seems possible, jetting out sheets of rattling, scouring brass over gargantuan shifting rhythms like wrenched building piles. Key to it all is the fierce female voice at the core. Camae’s better known for her Moor Mother solo project, in which she declaims jarring, terrifying accounts of personal and cultural pain over a barrage of hip-hop/slamtronic sound. I’ve written previously about the way in which her deep drilling of psychic scar-tissue within the African-American experience turns her into time-traveller, authorative witness-bearer and angry documentarian. With Irreversible Entanglements, she taps into another heady well of black American cultural memory, this one passed down via saxophones, bop and overblown sheets of sound. It’s not the first time that a jazz band has been centred on a woman’s voice, but you’ll rarely, if ever, have heard it done this way, in which the texts and the delivery not only match the hurricane of music, but simultaneously drive and ride them. This is serious schooling.



 

In support at Milton Court is Chicago-born, New York-based saxophonist and sound experimentalist Matana Roberts. While it’s not unusual for a jazz player to appear on a record on post-rock spearhead label Constellation, it is unusual for one to be signed to the label. Matana, however, is not a standard jazzer (she prefers the term “sound adventurer”, considering herself to be a hybrid connected to multiple sonic approaches), and she was probably signed more because of her general experimental tendencies than because of her past collaborations with Silver Mt. Zion and with Tortoise members.

An orchestral clarinettist with a politicized background, Matana journeyed through punk, Riot Grrl and avant-garde music to where she is now. Though she seems quite capable of punching out Chicago post-bop/free sax on the stand, she doesn’t restrict herself to standard (though demanding) jazz forms. Instead, she treats music as a prime artistic unifier crossing over into dance, theatre, poetry…. not in itself unusual, but rather than just strapping standard music tropes onto other forms she allows those forms to wash in, dissolving and reforming her approach to her music.

Matana’s best known for her ongoing ‘Coin, Coin’ series, a projected twelve-album project started in 2005 and still in its relatively early stages (it’s about a third done). In this, whether working on her own or with others, she utilises a technique she originally dubbed “panoramic sound quilting”, joining together blocks of noise and scoring from a variety of sources but with an assemblage idea borrowed from rag-bag folk art. In particular when she’s recording alone, her pieces feature multiple Matanas – some rolling out saxophone lines, but many engaged in vocal chants or drones, or layered swatches of conversation. Some sing or scream, or hurtle along the arresting bloodied ribbon that separates the two: like Moor Mother, Matana takes pride in black history and resistance while establishing that it has to be represented via a certain sound of historical pain. The rawness there goes beyond filters of culture and into filters of humanness.”

Unsurprisingly, her performances have a reputation for being immersive experiences. Sounds like she’ll make the perfect gigmate for Irreversible Entanglements.



 
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Dates:

Jazz re:freshed present:
SEED Ensemble
Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Listen! presents
Warmer Than Blood
Unitarian Church, 5 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge, CB1 1JW, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Irreversible Entanglements + Matana Roberts
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – the Sound of 2019 with Chelsea Carmichael, Nihilism and Vertaal (9th January); Alexandra Ridout in the first part of the next installment of Jazz Herstory (17th January); Steam Down invite you to be on their debut album (26th January)

6 Jan

Jazz Refreshed: Chelsea Carmichael + Vertaal + Nihilism, 9th January 2019

On 9th January, tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael (from SEED Ensemble/NYJO Jazz Messengers) jumps into a bigger spotlight at the Jazz Cafe, as part of Tastemakers Jazz’s ‘Sound of 2019’ evening. At twenty-five, the time’s right for her to step out; with recent apprenticeships with Terence Blanchard, Courtney Pine, and Etienne Charles (as well as work with Indo-jazz fusioneer Arun Ghosh and as right-hand reedswoman for SEED’s Cassie Kinoshi) helping to shape whatever she does now. This will apparently be the debut of her first project under her own name: so new that I don’t know who else is in it yet, nor anything bar the fact that it’ll be influenced by Chelsea’s “love of groove and intricate rhythms”, and probably isn’t the Mingus-flavoured quintet she brought to the City Beerfest last summer.

Meanwhile, here’s Chelsea blowing tenor with SEED…


 
In the middle of the bill is electro-acoustic quintet Nihilism – a tuneful cluster of post-bop hip hop, Grapelli hot jazz, funk, grime and Mahavishnu fusion flickering around a median age of twenty. At the core of it (but not restricting it) is a classic acoustic sound revitalised by latterday British dance music, bedrocked by soprano saxophonist Shango Ijishakin, Berklee-trained pianist Lorenz Okello-Osengor and drummer Benjamin Appiah. Lorenz also dabbles in synths, while bassist Christopher Luu juggles his time between acoustic upright and a batch of electronic devices. Their debut EP ‘Exposition’ surfaced in November 2018, a couple of years after they’d formed and honed themselves with frequent gigging.

Despite Lorenz’ Berklee crown, Nihilism’s true secret weapon appears to be their electric violinist and occasional singer/rapper Saskia Horton, a twenty-one-year-old ball of energy and onetime fiddler for FKA Twigs. With an extra double life in theatre and dance, she choreographs and performs in a variety of street and dance-club styles (including krumping and waacking), and brings an assertive physicality to the band’s music every time she bows a string.


 
Toting a “spiritual jazz-funk” tag, Vertaal are an open-socketed duo (keyboard player Theo Howarth and drummer Ajit Gill) perpetually plugging in a rich turnover of guest players. Here’s a taste of them, with the core duo augmented on that occasion by bassist Warren Woodcraft, saxophonist Loren Hignell and percussionist Simon Todd. Who knows who’ll be joining Ajit and Theo on the night?


 
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On 17th January, Jazz Herstory resume their staging of female-led jazz concerts over at Poplar Union. It kicks off this year with a performance by trumpeter and bandleader Alexandra Ridout – still only nineteen, but already packing awards for BBC Young Musician of the Year (in 2016) and as 2017 runner-up rising star in the Jazz Awards, as well as hirings by Clarke Tracy and Dave Holland and time spent with her two-generation family jazz band The Ridouts.

Jazz Herstory presents: Alexandra Ridout, 17th January 2019

She’s bringing along a quintet of fellow teenagers. Pianist Noah Stoneman and guitarist Miles Mindlin are each a fresh-faced seventeen, while bassist Freddie Jensen and drummer Luca Caruso are both nineteen: fresh-faced they may be, but they have equal facility in classic swing, contemporary post-bop, funk and balladry. (Expect an audience with its fair share of middle-aged jazzers with mingled expressions of inspiration, chagrin and vague – or in some case, actual – parental pride.)

Here’s the quintet at work – admittedly with a Stoneman original rather than the sheaf of Ridout tunes which will be played on the night. Also attached is Alexandra’s Young Musician performance from three years ago.



 
Jazz HerStory continues over the next couple of months with performances by Rosie Turton and Ms. Maurice, but more on that nearer to February…

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On the 26th, interactively-minded Deptford crew Steam Down have invited everyone down to the Albany to help them record their first album. It’s going to be a live one, caught in full audio-visual with attendees and responders on an equal footing to the band. “There is no audience, we are all the music, everyone’s participation matters. The collective’s sessions are a co-creative experience between the audience and musicians. A mutual exchange of energy and vibes between the groovers and movers, the band and the crowd.”

Steam Down, 26th January 2019All of this is in keeping with Steam Down’s African-inspired collective ethos. One-and-a-half years old now, the project was founded by saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Ahnanse and they’ve already reached out beyond their south London base to light up gigs in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Oslo. They’re a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz.

That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity. Occasionally the words “church” and “spiritual warfare” are used.

Steam Down’s shifting but family-loyal cloud of membership has included tuba boss Theon Cross, Maisha/Nérija saxophonist Nubya Garcia and keyboard player Dominic Canning (the latter also contributing at ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant-Garde‘ on the 7th). In the rhythmatist corner are Sons Of Kemet/Nok Cultural Ensemble’s young drum-sage Edward Wakili “Nache” Hick and beatmaker Tilé “D’Vo” Gichigi-Lipere. There’s also a bevy of integral singer-poet-rappers in the shape of CarLi Adams, Norwegian-Philipino And Is Phi, Brother Portrait, sometime DJ/illustrator/maker Alex Rita, and the Afro-liminally-minded polymath Nadeem Din-Gabisi (DJ, artist, poet and broadcaster). Multiple talents are at play, with many members teaching and plenty of them producing. They’re a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose, and there are sub-groups, independent familial endeavours and more (for instance, And Is Phi and D’vo work together as Sawa-Manga in a lineup including Saskia Horton from Nihilism).

This particular gig features a Steam Down line-up of Ahnanse, Alex, Dominic, Portrait, Theon, Nadeem, Nache and Sawa Manga plus Nihilism drummer Benjamin Appiah, singer Naima Adams and crunktronic Leeds beatmaker Wonky Logic. Also in the frame are a ton of integrated name guests from up and down the UK jazz scene – no details yet on who they’ll be, but rest assured they’ll be committed to their seat at the table..


 
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Dates:

Jazz re:freshed & Jazz Cafe present:
The Sounds of 2019 featuring Chelsea Carmichael + Nihilism + Vertaal
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jazz Herstory presents:
Alexandra Ridout
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Thursday 17th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here


Steam Down: ‘The Live Album’
The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG, England
Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

January 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Monelise, Laura Victoria, Paul Reynolds and Paul Go free in Peckham; Amy Balog at the Poetry Café; The Osiris Club, Kavus Torabi and ANTA in Camden (all 9th January)

4 Jan

Three for next Wednesday…

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Monelise + Laura Victoria + Paul Reynolds + Paul Go, 9th January 2019

A free gig down in Peckham showcases four independent songwriters, with recent Goldsmiths graduate Monelise at the head of the bill. Positioning herself in the dreamy, arty end of pop, she tosses leading comparisons and tells around like chiffon scarves – David Lynch, Kate Bush, her own synaesthesia – and the talk-up seems to be working so far, with her videos being played in Topshop and a Pledgemusic campaign working hard at getting her debut EP completed (and her live shows up and running across a Mediterranean living-room tour and an Edinburgh Fringe fixture). She’s clearly as much a visual artist as a musical one, with her final degree show at the Deptford Albany last December already featuring screens, visuals and drifting snatches of 1920s opera shellac as well as a four-piece band.

I admire the ambition and industry, even if I’m not yet sold on the output. The influences Monelise is citing have the ability to reach down into your deep dreams and jar you. In comparison, she herself still seems content to drift along on the surface of a dusk dream, sounding pretty and basking in moonlight. I can only go by what I’m seeing. It’s possible that Monelise’s keeping her cards close to her chest as regards what she’s put out so far, and perhaps the live show’s the only current way of appreciating her in full. Available evidence shows two versions of her – the managed one (who releases slick spiritual-couture videos and tracks which blend contemporary pop and trip hop into seamless, depthless musings), and the far more interesting and unpolished live Monelise (who strives and juggles simultaneous singing, keyboards and theremin, and who might be shakier and more erratic at the moment but who also offers possibilities of growing, learning and interacting which her hermetically-sealed recorded persona currently doesn’t).



 
There are no such abstractions or evasions in the music of Laura Victoria. A onetime scion of Tyneside youth folk ensemble FolkESTRA North, she belts out punchy songs of life and love drawing from English folk, acoustic pop and Americana, accompanying herself on cello and leading a three-piece band featuring drummer Josh Wolfsohn and fiddler/banjoist Jo Cooper. Now up to her third album, and having been a regular presence on folk scene gigs up and down the country for twelve years, she’s confident and fully formed: what you see is what you get. I see sunniness, vigour and empathy in equal measure. In addition, she runs folk singing classes at Morley College and IKLECTIK, and has done at least one sprightly, ramshackle Joan Jett cover, if anyone’s interested…



 
Paul Go is another transplanted Northumbrian folkie, although of a very different order and style to Laura. His only available song so far is soft, shy and sweet – a gentle, momentary folk-pop sketch with brush drums, donkey-ride fingerpicking and fiddle contrasting awkward human reclusiveness with the unconscious confident grace of animals. Of the other two tracks he’s released, one’s a skittish, part-broken guitar improvisation designed to make use of the acoustic space of Ealing’s Vestry Hall. The other shows an unexpected interest in Chinese music, featuring the slithering sigh of an erhu fiddle, chimes and a guest narrative in Mandarin. Hopefully some of these other sides of Paul will bleed through in the concert: soft suburban musing and amiability are fine, but extra dimensions are better.



 
That’s something which already holds true for Paul Reynolds. Sometimes part of triple-threat modern folk trio Vespers, he plays bass for his own projects and for various other people, but graduates to piano for his own solo songs and for spacious, introverted instrumental improvisations (sometimes artfully jarred by odd tunings and by interspersed sound effects and electronics). I’m guessing that the songs will take preeminence this time around. Evidence so far suggests that they’re in the classic vein of chamber-folk touched with elements of classical and chanson, and thrumming behind a patina of English reserve: a mixture of craft and of carefully harboured emotion. Paul’s also got a sideline in little sonic experimental dramas such as The Brading Experience, suggesting a quietly uncontainable musician and aural imagination behind the meticulous skill.

 
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All right – in advance of her spoken word/musical set at the Poetry Cafe, here’s Amy Balog‘s opening statement:

“The hungry vulture of feminism is circling in the grey sky above the dying Femme Fatale. She’s being tortured to death by girls who don’t understand her power, thinking it somehow makes them weaker. Her admirers are collecting her sweet, priceless blood in vintage crystal flasks, trying to preserve at least this one colour still left in a humourless and passionless world. But she’s still breathing, and it’s not too late to save her from a cruel demise…”

Amy Balog: 'The Dying Femme Fatale', 9th January 2019

I’m not sure quite what to make of Amy yet. She’s a Hungarian Londoner infused with Gothic prose and horror erotica; a refugee from science journalism who carried out a moonlight flit into the world of speculative fiction and dream psychology. Having reinvented herself as a novelist and poet, she’s now (at the age of twenty-seven) standing up in front of audiences to deliver a performance-poetry manifesto exploring “the nature of femininity and feminine power from a perspective critical of contemporary feminism… other themes include political correctness, identity politics, religion and mental illness.” As part of the process, she’s struck up an alliance with jazz-psych guitarist Carlos Ferrao, who brings a splintery musical soundscape to her recitations – hollowbody chugs, echoes and grumbles, deliquescing now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t riffs.


 
Heh. I’ve never much trusted anyone who scorns and decries “political correctness” and uses that ire as a rallying call. Having watched or suffered losses and setbacks related to mental illness, I’m suspicious of anything which politicises or potentially celebrates madness; and the fact remains that if you’re a woman arguing against feminism, you’re basically aiming an axe at your own ankles. That said, there’s more to Amy than flashy reactionary advertising or self-indulgent apologism. By her own admission, there’s plenty of Camille Paglia in her work, plenty of Jung, Nietzsche, Poe and the Comte du Lautréamont – the bloodwork of surrealism, expressionism, contrarian thought, like a kind of Goth take on Lydia Lunch.

Don’t expect measured, objective consideration here. Amy’s interested in transformative apocalypses, irrational dream quests and night journeys, the truth implicit in the fluid and contradictory power balance between artist and muse, or about the flip side of objectification. Her female narrators may be thwarted or humiliated or imperilled, but they’re also resistant and strangely bulletproof, with a core of self-will: heroic archetypes determined to establish their own concept of femaleness. Core to this is Amy’s own perception of beauty as a force in its own right – it threads through her words, and her Gothic redhead looks and sensual witchy Tori Amos presence are an integral part of her work; the vessel for the wine.

Perhaps it’s best to allow for the fact that feminism, by its very nature, is a broad church with room for multiple perspectives and considerations; that there are many pathways to female assertion and that none of them should be readily shouted down; and that Amy’s still in the early stages of her night journey. Despite her determined stance, at the moment there are more questions and challenges in place than answers. It may be interesting to see where she goes.



 
* * * * * * * *

The Osiris Club + Kavus Torabi + ANTA, 9th January 2019A heavier, more masculine psychedelia gets an airing up at the Black Heart, where record label Old Empire are putting on a night of darker and/or harder sounds, headed up by occult post-punk/progressive metal metallers The Osiris Club.

Originally formed with the intent of fusing horror film soundtracks with instrumental avant-metal, the OC has now swollen to a full-on song septet. The changes seem to be resulting in accessible, gloomily elegant tritone epics of tingling guitar and droning indie vocal; as if The House of Love had thrown their hands up in the air and confessed to having been fantasy comics fans all along (while various members of Fantômas grinned and egg them on in the background). That said, for epics such as A Winter’s Night On Sentinel Hill the Club pull out all of the Hawkwind oscillators and Van Der Graaf/Iron Maiden declamations, unveiling a Lovecraft-prog grandeur in full glorious/ghastly melodrama.



 
No such code-switching games for ANTA – described by Chaos Theory as the purveyors of “velvetine cosmic textures delivered as a hammer blow to the soul”, they open the show with their own enthusiastically convoluted, heavy-prog brain-tangling rock swing. Sandwiched in the middle is Kavus Torabi. Having recently exploded the Garage at the helm of his psychedelic prog octet Knifeworld, he returns to the sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow of his solo work; trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Monelise + Laura Victoria + Paul Reynolds + Paul Go
Rye Wax, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England
Wednesday, 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

The Poetry Society presents:
Amy Balog: ‘The Dying Femme Fatale – An Evening of Poetry and Music’
The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BX, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Old Empire presents:
The Osiris Club + Kavus Torabi + Anta
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – memories of black resistance and striving in Elaine Mitchener’s ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde’ (7th January) and Rufus Reid’s ‘Quiet Pride’ (29th January)

3 Jan

This month, there are two very different opportunities to immerse yourself in historical music stemming from black resistance and the American civil rights struggle; the conflation of brutual oppression, storms, suffering and self-assertion which inform today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement.

One of these events is an edgy art-scream of vintage fighting classics, happening inside a rough-walled underground music stronghold. The other features music that’s barely seven years old, takes place in a lofty varnished orchestral concert hall at the heart of the British classical music world, comes varnished by a couple of Grammy nominations and represents the other end of the struggle: more well-spoken, staunchly dignified, talking back at the oppressor in something closer to his own language on his own terrain.

Would each of these efforts give the other house room? I’d like to think that they would.

* * * * * * * *

'Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde', 7th January 2019

Tireless vocal/physical-movement improviser and conceptual explorer Elaine Mitchener returns to Café Oto with a revival of her ‘Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde’ project (originally compiled and performed for the London Festival of Contemporary Music at the end of 2017). Re-examining 1960s and 1970s works composed by Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman and Jeanne Lee, it studies and recreates “the overflow of experiment that occurred within improvised music, often springing directly from lived experiences of racial injustice… combin(ing) vocals and text with experimental jazz forms.”

Musical direction for the evening will come from reknowned saxophonist Jason Yarde – an improviser-composer who steps confidently between jazz and conservatoire culture. He’ll be at the head of a band consisting of pianist Dominic Canning, Elaine’s regular bassist Neil Charles, trumpeter and flautist Byron Wallen and the consistently staggering drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders. It’s a little unclear as to whether Elaine’s regular sparring partner Alexander Hawkins will be joining in on keyboards this time, but expat American poet Dante Micheaux is down to join Elaine on spoken/sung word.

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

It’s safe to say that while this music’s around fifty years old now, the content’s not going to be cosy. Expect some old wounds, some revolutionaries’ pride and some old fire to be raked over and rekindled. As Elaine writes, “these works illuminate an occluded moment in American cultural history, when the avant-garde aesthetics of new jazz doubled as a metaphor for the imminent politics of civil rights.

“Composed in very specific response to the perilous condition of black people in America, the works’ synthesis of experimental sensibilities, radical political sentiment, and gutbucket expression cuts across boundaries of time and space to resonate universally in the here and now. In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, these works speak powerfully of the need for resistance and resilience, sound stark and original, their hypermodernism firmly rooted in vernacular tradition.”

It doesn’t seem that anything of the previous show’s been recorded (or if it has been, it’s not been released), so here’s a little from one of Elaine’s previous projects as an indicator; plus a little Shepp, Lee and Jarman.





 
* * * * * * * *

Reminding us that the politics of dignity and survival (and the business of conveying an urgent message) comes in many different forms and tones, African-American double bassist Rufus Reid is reviving his 2012 jazz orchestra suite ‘Quiet Pride’ in London later in January. A limber, elegant musician and composer with profound roots in classical trumpet and bass, Rufus (like Jason Yarde) also straddles the worlds of jazz and music education with equal enthusiasm, grace and fervour. He has been playing in both small and sizeable jazz groups since the late ‘60s and composing for about the same length of time, moving into the world of large-scale compositions in 2011 with his symphonic orchestral work ‘Mass Transit’.

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

‘Quiet Pride’ was written to honour and illustrate the work of late African–American sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, and Rufus has taken it around the universities and culture halls of the USA whenever possible. This particular performance of the suite will be rendered by the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra under the direction of London jazz composer and educator Scott Stroman (with, I think, Rufus as conductor). While Rufus prefers to play alongside or surrounded by actual Catlett prints and sculptures for honour, reflection and continuity, there aren’t any to hand at the Guildhall and so the performance will be accompanied by projected Catlett images.


 
Set against the Oto show, it could be tempting to decry this as bourgeois slickness, a birch-and-beech art gallery indulgence co-opting jazz into the spaces of white power structures or celebrating some kind of house-Negro ethic. That would be unfair, shallow and revolting. To dispel that kind of wretched political preciousness, consider Elizabeth Catlett’s actual life; the source of her art and the ultimate inspiration for Rufus’ humming, quick-footed, assertive music in which (according to ‘All About Jazz’s Dan Bilawsky) “chamber-esque civility can give way to a feeling of uncertainty which, in turn, can morph into swing. Focus shifts from the textural to the rhythmic, the background to the foreground, and the subtle to the obvious. The music is mutable and multifaceted but that’s not really surprising; sculptures can take on different meaning when viewed from different angles so the music should certainly do the same.”

A pioneering presence as both a black and a female sculptor in America (at a time when few of either were to be found – or, more pertinently, allowed) Elizabeth perpetually fused art and activism, mostly through effort and moral choices. Flat-out rejected as a scholar by the Carnegie Institute of Technology due to her skin colour; struggling against direct, demoralising racist university policies while studying for a Masters in Iowa (and, later on, being stripped of her American citizenship as a result of her Communist associations and her gestures of solidarity with striking Mexican railway workers), hers is a story of personal industry, profound ethical responsibility, and effort against the odds.

Her time in Mexico (where she settled for much of her life, first learning and subsequently teaching) was also the catalyst for the crystallizing of her artistic vision, uniting her early influences of Henry Moore, Diego Rivera and pre-Columbian American sculpture with a commitment to combining aspirational concepts of strength and fierce dignity with representative figure forms. “I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful” she’d assert, later. “I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.”



 

Elizabeth’s figures and prints survive her and bear witness to her particular vision. Emblematic of black dignity, of powerful maternal femininity, of a refusal to be chained down by prejudices and programmes, they cradle their children; staunchly assert their curves; stand straight-backed, defiant and admirable; reveal the hidden or overlooked complexities of the black mind and sense of self; or punch the air as a simple, stark and meaningful mark of resistance. They’re already, in their way, as direct and as intricate as jazz: something which Rufus clearly understood from the start and has strived himself to bring across in music.


 
Dates:

Elaine Mitchener Projects presents:
Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde: Jason Yarde + Elaine Mitchener + Mark Sanders + Neil Charles + Dante Micheaux + Byron Wallen + Alexander Hawkins
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 7th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Guildhall Jazz Orchestra/Rufus Reid/Scott Stroman: ‘Quiet Pride – The Elizabeth Catlett Project’
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Tuesday 29th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

October 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – Bellatrix and Amy León; Clémentine March, Garden Party and Svetlana Smith (both 2nd October)

29 Sep

Bellatrix + Amy León, 2nd October 2018Polydisciplinary pop-charmer Belle Ehresman – better known as Bellatrix – pops up at Elektrowerx at the start of October. She’s been on the up for a couple of years now: the former leader of The Boxettes and a onetime UK beatboxing champion (as well as someone who’s chalked up a parallel musical life as a jazz double bassist), she’s recently subsumed all of these skills into a freeform pop approach.

I caught her a couple of years ago at Rich Mix, just her on her own. Citing influences from Bjork, Ravel, Nina Simone and Sun Ra, to Mingus, Fleetwood Mac and The Pharcyde, she was nothing if not eclectic. For half an hour the venue was her sketchpad as she flung out work-in-progress – a set of unclenched, openhanded musicality in which she finger-painted in assured fashion on mini-synth, loop station and double bass; unfurling songs, meditations and mouth-driven beatscapes in jazz, experimental pop and the loosest of hip hop tones; floating dreamily a little way above the earth.

Since then, Belle’s put together a band, spat out a couple of quirky EPs and stormed the big streaming services, bypassing Bandcamp and Soundcloud to go straight with the Tidals, the Deezers and the Spotifys. For all the boho trappings and the whimsicality (her first EP was called ‘Real Stuffed Owls’), there’s clearly quite a bit of faith and funding behind her. While her former freeformery has settled into more accessible attention-gripping songcraft, I’m hoping that her wholesome world will mesh enough with the demands of that level of glaring attention sharky commercial demands: dropping into one of her sessions should feel like visiting an enchanted workshop, not like chasing a YouTuber.



 
In support is New York singer, songwriter and slam-poet Amy León. Once part of the Nuyorican Slam Team, she now rolls solo: a powerful, joyous, positive-political performer with her work rooted in specific experiences (blackness, womanhood, social inequality) and fusing them all into a compulsive stew of hip-hop spoken-word and sung R&B. Amy’s subject matter’s stirred by rage and outrage, the surviving of brutality and broad sweeps of oppression. Her ethic is to overcome it (in time-honoured civil-rights-movement manner), via a celebration of love, bursting through shame and tears with defiance.

She can sing like battered, determined grass, giving with the gale; she can speak soft; she can wail with rage. Her hard-hitting grit will anchor Belle’s dextrous free-floating thistledown. It would be fascinating to see what they came up with together.

 
Bellatrix + Amy Leon
Electrowerkz, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith, 2nd October 2018 On the same night, Friends Serene are putting on a show of their own. Headlining is former Water Babies member and current Snapped Ankles-er Clémentine March – French-born, Brazil-schooled, London-cradled. Solo, she mixes the pressing, noisy dynamic of ‘90s indie rock with the airy, summery liberation of French and Latin pop melodies. Clanging, precisely-tooled guitar parts (like little iron chandeliers) mesh gently with her sleepy Gallic coo, which in turn rises to indie-siren clarions as she rambles across three languages at will. She’s a sleepy intermittent whirlwind, variously flicking up the debris and festival decorations in Mediterranean towns, and sometimes swirling them into intent little vortices as the mood takes her.


 
In support, Garden Party are the duo of singer Yujin Jo and instrumentalist George Edmondson. They bring along bedsit-glamour trip hop sounds in a Portishead/Moloko tradition, reaching towards a skinny R&B feel. It sounds thin as tissue paper or thrift-shop bedsheets at points, and Yujin’s voice is a tiny Eartha-kitten laze. Still, Garden Party revel in the worn, recovered texture of their soundworld and – on recent track Real Tapes – sometimes reach out for something a little more ambitious; rattling their collection of instruments, oddments and samples to reach out through the radio towards a bigger world.

 
Russian-inspired “neurotic synthpop duo” Svetlana Smith complete the bill: they’ve had a debut EP out since July, which you can find on Spotify if you like. As with Bellatrix, they seem to have vaulted a promotional stage: and since I object to streaming services which rip their clients off, I avoid Spotify like the plague and have stayed pretty ignorant as to what SS sound like. However, both ‘Bittersweet Symphonies‘ and ‘From the Streets‘ caught them just under a year ago: the latter highlighted “innocent but empowering love songs, preaching about love for yourself not another, all bought together in an elegant package taped together by sickly sweet and catchy melodies” while the former reported back on something “cynical and sexy, sweet but deadly… synth-pop with bitter lyrics of heartbreak and disdain.”

That’s the way of it, I suppose: a person can show completely different faces to different people on the same occasion, and one man’s light ear candy is another’s compelling poison. At least they agreed on the initial sweet taste; while I’m left wondering whether Svetlana Smith is deliberately Janus-faced, a kind of emotional double agent or just some kind of cannily blank song-canvas. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

This is a free event, but the usual “book-your-slot-first-and-turn-up-early” business applies.

Friends Serene presents:
Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here, here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Phaze Theory blends occult Blake-and-Yeats visions with brooding jazz rock (28th August)

25 Aug

Phaze Theory, 28th August 2018

When I think of musicians citing the mystical, revolutionary poetry of Yeats or Blake, I’m likely to think of assorted classic rock fops; or young white literate/ dissolute pretenders fitting the pair in between their Rimbaud and Verlaine namedrops. The Libertines loved Blake; as have a swathe of musicans ranging from stadium botherers Robert Plant, Richard Ashcroft and U2 to dedicated underground upsetters like The Fugs, Duglen and Coil. Further delving turns up quotings and reverent steals by Pet Shop Boys and Bloc Party, plus the fact that Blake himself was a songwriter. As for Yeats, Joni Mitchell has set him to music, as has Van Morrison: the Hold Steady met him at a party in Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Bright Eyes quotes him in Four Winds; and from her debut album, Sinead O’Connor’s devastating Troy reshapes and reclaims his ‘No Second Troy’.

As for those who take on both, there’s North Sea Radio Orchestra with their sweet folk-toned chamber music settings. More prominently, there’s Patti Smith, who shook Blake-and-Yeats vision out into her early punk poetry and has kept it up ever since. Then there’s Patti’s ardent acolyte, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who’s kept both by him on his travels: snarling about Blakean tigers and savage earth hearts on his debut album, capping ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by fusing Yeats fairy tales with New York minimalism and Irish chamber-folk, and devoting a whole album to Yeats-isms twenty-three years after that.


 
What I’m getting at is that Blake-and-Yeats setters and expressers, in music, tend to be storm-tossed white romantics… with the music to match. Bar guesting singers here and there (including some formidable soul wailers), Phaze Theory are certainly white, are probably romantics, and may well be storm-tossed, but it’s initially a surprise to encounter their own take on this particular poetry; working it as a collective muse for a band that, while it calls its music art rock, has more in common with reggae, dub and the glowering Dark Magus electric wrack of Miles Davis in the early ‘70s.

Around in various forms since 2014, they’re led by a questing mystic of a tuba player, Christopher Barrett. Their conservatoire backgrounds and well-schooled chops belie their strange geological ferocity, stemming from an interest in Britain’s occult traditions and how these break through into sounds and words. Dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos” they lay claim to “roots in the deep grooves of the earth and the city and our branches reaching to the stars… we seek to free your feet, open your heart and liberate your spirit.”

In tone and intent, and at full heat, they’re an unexpected outpost of New Weird Britain, set in a jazzier wilderness in which Marco Quarantotto’s echoed drums, Tal Janes’ gnarled heavy guitar and in particular Barrett’s rumbling, adroit, effects-burnished electric tuba (which shifts seamlessly from bass to horn parts, sometimes with no immediate break) probe and scald across a foreboding, eerie terrain of post-industrial brambles, Tannoy vocals and perhaps a little Hendrix crunch. Compare and contrast their troubling, hallucinatory take on The Song of Wandering Aengus (recorded with Manchester singer Rae Jones) with the polished, melodious elegance of the Waterboys version above.



 
Currently collaborating with London rhythm-&-blues/Southern soul singer Arthur Lea, this imminent end-of-the-month gig at the Vortex is part of their ongoing process of bringing their music back to London and England after a brief Californian shift. Back to the grime but also back to the original fertility, I guess.

Phaze Theory
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Tuesday 28th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

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