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May 2020 – EP reviews – Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY’s ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ (“mysteries which slip into shadowed corners”)

7 May

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: 'CONFINEMENT-release3' EP

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ EP

Following their pair of releases last month, Brighton’s Confinement Tapes project is back for a second round – this time with Confinementeers Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes joined by honorary family member Chris Anderson (of Worthing’s Crayola Lectern), who’s also worked with Bic in Brighton kosmische juggernaut ZOFFF alongside what seems like a good half of Brighton’s psychedelic contingent (and, occasionally, The House of Love’s Terry Bickers).

(The third original Confinementeer, Jesse Cutts, has his own follow-up single too, but more on that later…)

Unlike the archived cover versions refurbished for the previous EP, ‘Bright Fivers’ is an all-new, all-original April recording in which Chris contributes as the anagrammatic Cola Ray, collaborating with Bic and Jo’s MUMMY. Initially, it’s his arpeggiating pianos (distanced and tinny, as if pulled from a dusty old 78) which dominates ‘Bright Fivers’; a solemn setting for Jo’s singing, which is loaded with both trepidity and authority. That’s only the prelude, though, and it’s severed from the rest of the piece by a jump-cut edit as loud and merciless as a sucker punch or an axe blow. You even hear the clunk as the mood shifts; Jo switching abruptly into deadpan recitation against a Bic backdrop of guitar static and wind texture, as impassive as the prophetess taken over by the voice of the prophecy.

Whether sung or spoken, the sentences are broken off; dark, punching surrealist gobbets of foreseeing and ruin. “Silence in the air. / Things endure, things evolve. / Between the slopes fivers fly up onto the dream floor. / Fire spreads her text of flame as serious as food / Our towers of graph paper fold up into the silence, / delicate as the girl who leaves the stone and the water – / and the bright moan of the green, / the collapse of a black age. / In the end we never know what we know.” It sounds like something buried deep in peat in order to time-travel; transmitting a warning, or possibly a testament.


 
‘The United Kingdom’ is (mostly) another eleven-year-old recovering from Jo Spratley’s Babyskullz solo project: one which just happens to fit in with ‘Bright Fivers’. It’s another recitation, delivered by Jo to pattering drumbox and orchestrated in minimal, thrifty make-do fashion. Two-finger melodica. Guttural just-picked-it up guitar lines and milk-bottle vibraphone. Cobwebby analogue synth gurgles, dub distancings and dirty blats of fireworks.

Something about the rhythm and chant suggests the cheesy old white-rap anti-classic ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Everything about the words doesn’t, as Jo narrates (in newsprint monotone) a set of disappearances. “A man who hears bells who loves cars” misses his train only to drop out of routine and out of existence; a corporate lawyer vanishes during her solo boat trip; fifty years ago, a cancer specialist who “wraps her dolls in graph-paper by the light of the moon” is last seen in car headlights by the edge of a cliff. All three are obliquely connected by hearts: their rhythms or their interruption, their presence as eviscerated occult trophies or as enigmatic markers; presumably also by the locked-up desires, secrets and clues they contain. All cases are left open; mysteries which slip into shadowed corners of modern folklore or Lynchian dreams. There’s a stress on the regular and on the irregular, but no conclusion on either.


 
As haunting as this can be (and it does build on regular repetition, an inconclusion which nags to be solved), it’s still Bic’s dark-psychedelia project Mikrokosmos which dominates this particular set, providing three tracks out of the five. Two are brief snapshot instrumentals, deliberately left incomplete or brought to dismissive halts. Recorded in 1993 during Mikrokosmos’ cramped early sessions in west London, ‘In the Machine Room’ is an jarring but strangely satisfying hybrid of claustrophobic paranoia and sweet naivety. An uncomfortable electronic hum and weirdly organic rattling (like mice beginning to panic inside a generator housing) passes into a bright nursery march played on assorted guitars, drums and bombastic little synths. For forty-eight seconds, post-industrial grot tussles with twinkly daydream.


 
I assume that Bic escaped from whatever it was that was polluting him: ‘Frag. Familiar’, from 2014, was completed nearly two decades later (long after Bic had quit London), but it missed the boat for Mikrocosmos’ ‘Terra Familiar’ abum. It’s as confusing as its predecessor. A sustained cosmic slam: a huge guitar downchord which is allowed to trail away, while delicate waltzing keyboards come forward to shine over the top. They dance with another brutally distorted guitar line – butterflies courting Bigfoot – before everything hits the wall, topples over and cuts off. There’s a farcical humour to this music. It shows you the stars but then suddenly pulls away the rug, or drops the time-clock on the telescope viewing: almost deliberately crass in the way it brings you back down to earth with a bump. I suspect that there’s a touch of reverse psychology here. To move forward properly, you have to overcome the bumps, denials and trip-ups.


 
Another ‘Terra Familiar’ outtake, ‘Cell by Cell’, is more substantial and developed: a six-and-a-half minute song rather than a peculiar fragment. It’s also a dubbier return to Bic’s Dark Star days: almost a Massive Attack take on that band’s life-scarred fin-de-siècle urban psychedelia, taking in similar elements of Hawkwind space rock and Killing Joke post-punk grimness to offset Bic’s sighing, waify sweetness. There’s a Dark Star-ish sense of resignation too, a voice-of-the-casualty effect as Bic reflects on exhaustion and disassociation, on being swallowed by routine and self-absorption. ‘Just swim, / float to the surface – / as if it’s so easy, you show me again. / But time weighs me down so gently / and all our ideas just drift away, / sinking, / lost in the moment. / Ennui is so easy / and to the end we divide. / Cell by cell to solitary worlds – / undesigned, undesired. / Islands in an ocean of thought / turning inwards defied / to meet with the gaze of impermanence eyes…’


 
The formal Confinement message for this EP is one of “a constellation of songs brought together by this rarefied time. Pulled through the thickness of life and her knowing machine. Mixed and mastered in April 2020 and flung into the dark of these ends of days. Here we are. All alone, together, as one.” As a message of solidarity, it’s an ambiguous comfort: but, as they say, here we are. Questions unanswered. Brutal breaks in expectations. People disappearing, grips gradually lost. Name it, share the names, and perhaps fight it.

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT-release3
Download/streaming EP
Released: 7th May 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp (As with all Confinement Tapes releases, any money earned goes support care funds for Tim Smith, Tim Quy or Jon Poole of Cardiacs – see previous posts.)

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Crayola Lectern (Cola Ray) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Amazon Music

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp
 

February 2020 – single & track reviews – Gallery 47’s ‘I Wish I Was’; Wugo’s ‘Océan’; The Powdered Earth’s ‘Blossom’

28 Feb

Gallery 47: 'I Wish I Was'

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’

From the land of drifting day-jobs and lo-fi song nights, Nottingham’s Jack Peachey, a.k.a. Gallery 47, moves into his second decade of music. As ever, he sounds like a slacker Jon Anderson; one who never left the shared flats and scruffy bedrooms, nor left the airy space of ’60s pop: there’s the high birdy voice, the elevated melodies, the melancholia that only faintly tinges the carefree tunes (cloud shadow on a fine afternoon). His drowsy electric folk-pop is fragile without being brittle or vulnerable: he’s a blade of grass in the breeze, capable of bending in the unwelcome currents.

 
Look a bit deeper, though, and there’s existential horror, treated with a feather-light touch, belying the Andersonian falsetto with a touch of Elliott Smith. Even more, perhaps, a shade of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, in which everything under the sun also has an ominous shadow. Launching from a tabla zing but immediately settling for drums which flap and billow like a pair of antique flares, ‘I Wish I Was’ shows Jack gently adrift in a world of options, finding in each of them a nearing ghost of entrapment. “Did you know you can search for conditions online? / Read a graph of relative norms and real lives? / How close or far you are from the day you’re gonna die?” The gentle disappointments mass, almost imperceptibly, into a pall, neither family nor travel a solution, with escape into a spliff the only temporary remedy. “See, the jail we’re going to has no get-out card at all…” Throughout, though, the shrug is a gentle-spirited one. Jack doesn’t rail or sulk about things, just gently regrets them and lets them slip over him.

Wugo: ‘Océan’

Wugo: ‘Océan’

‘I Wish I Was’ is about helplessness settling around you like the flapping wings of a friendly pterodactyl. ‘Océan’, the latest song from French bedroom-popster Wugo, is apparently about “a sea change in people, a hope of a collective conscience to set things right.” It’s in his native French, so I can’t quote him directly. Translated, though, it’s a sighed state-of-the-world lament for a literal and figurative sea that’s been polluted by human short-sightedness and greed.

Wugo’s not slow to lay the blame, but he’s not quick to stagnate in despair either, travelling backwards in memory to honour how things once were, hoping that things will be in a better state in future decades, gently dropping a simple ultimatum. To catch the feeling for how it is, bask in the music: powder-blue puffs of synth and wriggly electronic lines like a kite-tail in the sky. Chillout minus the complacency.


 

The Powdered Earth: 'Blossom'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’

With their third single (after the curtain-raising instrumental of ‘The Atlantic‘ and the illustrative folk testimony of ‘Hold Your Breath‘), The Powdered Earth feel as if they’ve found their centre with ‘Blossom’. Neither of them men in the first flush of youth, they’re well aware that not all lives end in crashes or operatics: that some longer lives will fade delicately instead, like old watercolours.

While instrumental half George Moorey provides misty piano, gently lagging guitar and a touch of synth cello, vocalist Shane Young comes to the fore with a gently narrated observation of an ageing widower’s rituals as he gathers tree and hedge flowers for his empty house; male and meticulous, understated but kindly. If you’re looking for it, there are parallels with Wugo’s chillout in the overlaying of memory with the present (“he chuckles into space / at her disapproving face / as he takes the crystal glassware from its ornamental case. / Along the window sills, / beside dispenser packs of pills, / are the fragrance bottles salvaged from the sale. / She would joke his perfume was brown ale…” ), plus the overlapping of times and promises altered. What’s different is the matter-of-factness about the protracted aftermath of someone’s death, its quietus and continuance: “he ties each sandwich bag / with a disused Christmas tag / and documents the scent with studious care. / Then he shuffles round the house / that he once shared with his spouse / and he fills up every piece of crystalware.”).


 
The spoken poetry is deliberately workmanlike, relying on its sober intimations rather than on over-flowering, and it’s all the more effective for that. Last time around, I mentioned Arab Strap as an unlikely comparison; if Moffat and Middleton stood as witnesses and recounters to dirty realism and damn well made you care about it, Moorey and Young could be said to be doing the same thing for a more genteel and understated strand of realism. You could picture the lyric being spelled out on a bereavement card, or a silver-surfer web meme, but that doesn’t take anything away from its understated compassion. “So precious quick the petals start to brown – / once more into the fields in dressing gown…” Logging the quiet and unspectacular dignity of carrying on. Someone needs to do it.

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’
Bad Production Records/AWAL (Kobalt)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: download via Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play or Spotify
Gallery 47 online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Wugo: ‘Océan’
Echo Orange (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
24th February 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Deezer, YouTube, Spotify
Wugo online:
Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘Hold Your Breath’, Broads & Milly Hurst’s ‘Happisburgh’, Lifeboats’ ‘Hurt’

31 Jan

The Powdered Earth: 'Hold Your Breath'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’

After their gently atmospheric piano overture earlier in the month, it’s proper debut-single time for Gloucester’s The Powdered Earth: time to find out what they’re actually about. Their ethos is apparently one of writing “little fictions… bringing storytelling to the fore” with a backdrop of “minimalist, melodic melancholia”. With a spec like that, and the previous evidence, you’d expect something like a more genteel piano-based Arab Strap.

Well, not quite… or not yet. Initially, ‘Hold Your Breath’ goes for what seems to be a much bigger and non-fictional story – that of the struggle against deforestation in Brazil – but they tell it in an understated way. In Brazil itself, this tale would probably have come through first-hand, via rap consciência or funk carioca, or possibly as some kind of mournful retro-fado. In the United States, it would probably been plunked or punked out over a banjo as a raucous post-Seeger tale of injustice visited on the working man. From their quiet corner of England, The Powdered Earth tell it in their own soft and sober way, trying to stay true to their instinctive sound while letting the story tell itself.

It sounds like a minimalist piano lieder, sung by Shane Young in a small, precise, discreet voice. George Moorey’s bolstering of synths (squashed brass, mechanical choirs) is similarly small and discreet. The lyrics, too, have the simplicity and directness of a pared-down folk song: “there were many of them. / They were gathered near the wood. / We had only handmade tools / and the clothes in which we stood… The ruling party wielded / the means to terrify, / but evil only triumphs / when we good men stand by.”

Listening to this is an odd experience, since it’s both detached and authoritative. You’re pulled into the gaps in the arrangement, into the void where the anger should be raging, as The Powdered Earth clarify that this is an outrage that occurs over and over again. “Miners brought the mercury / that made the river bend,” Shane pronounces. “Bolsonaro’s loggers / will leave nothing to defend.” The title itself is never mentioned; an unspoken warning to be decoded once you move out from the local outrage and start considering it as a small sign of a bigger problem.


 

Broads & Milly Hurst: 'Happinsburgh'

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happinsburgh’

Over on the other side of England, Norwich ambient ramblers Broads have teamed with kindred spirit Milly Hurst for an album of music inspired and partially built from field recordings made throughout the county of Norfolk. Named after a coastal village, ‘Happisburgh’ is a preview of that work; in itself, with its emphasis on widely-spaced reverberant piano, not too different from what The Powdered Earth are doing.

It’s wordless, though – their own sparse Debussian piano part backed up with a little glitch-static and a growing sweet, subliminal agreement of harmonium. The video is a sequence of slow pans across, and sustained shots of Happisburghian scenes: tumbled groyne stones on the sand, the red-banded lighthouse, blue-brown breakers under the wide Norfolk sky; a solitary cliff bench. The second part picks up speed with a rolling piano arpeggio, the sound of feet running through sand and gravel picked up, glitchified and looped. Towards the end, the footstep loop corrupts and stutters, becomes intermittent, vanishes.


 
Probing gently into location and inspiration, like an archaeologist with a fine brush, unlocks some of the messages. Like much of the Norfolk coast, Happisburgh is eroding, dropping fragment by fragment into the sea. It’s shored up by groynes and by its inhabitants’ reluctance to let it go; but has now been abandoned by government, its support withdrawn. It’s a vanishing village which also happens to be the oldest human settlement in Britain, with ancient flint tools in its earth strata, and with the earth’s oldest human footprints outside of Africa once discovered on its beach. Knowing this, the meanings of the sounds come into sombre and beautiful focus – the currents and tides in the shifting piano; the recorded footsteps, once clear as a bell, becoming obscured by time and processing, ultimately disintegrating out of the picture. Our history, even our deep history, vanishes in front of us.

Lifeboats: 'Hurt' (featuring Rena)

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt’ (featuring Rena)

While Lifeboats‘s ‘Hurt’ doesn’t share much musically with either ‘Happisburgh’ or ‘Hold Your Breath’ (being a piece of noisy post-shoegaze guitar pop) it does sort of fit in here by dint of a shared initial and a shared theme of loss, relinquishment and resistance. Lifeboats are a new teaming of Prod Pritchard (main songwriter for Oxfordshire bands Flow and Airstar, as well as being a right-hand man for Owen Paul) and Austrian singer-songwriter Rena (the latter listed as a guest on this single but, so far, very much part of the sound and craft).

‘Hurt’ bustles along on ahead-of-the-beat guitar thrums, not a million miles away from Ride, the Velvets or from Bowie’s “Heroes”. The last, in particular, serves as inspiration, since Rena’s vocal sings out a weathered but hopeful anthem of taking the blows but remaining resilient – “hurt is just a part of living / just like breathing. / We ache before we are – / and fate is beyond all reason; / and then, every season, / above what we control… / This life / we are born to live in, / and the darkness hiding / but the morning’s coming.” She imagines herself propelled, strengthened, along the airwaves, singing “though I’m cracked and shaking, / I will not be broken. / When life is taking its best shot, / say “is that really all you’ve got?” It’s a simple, solipsistic resistance compared to those implied or required in ‘Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Happisburgh’, but it’s there.

 
The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happisburgh’
Humm Recordings, HUMM08 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon; stream from Deezer or Spotify
Broads online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Deezer Instagram Spotify
Milly Hurst online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt (featuring Rena)’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Qobuz or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Lifeboats online:
Soundcloud Spotify

 

January/February 2020 – upcoming London folk/singer-songwriter/experimental gigs – Aga Ujma, Yoni Silver, Yael Roberts, Merlin Nova and Sophie Le Roux at Mortal Oil 2 (24th January) plus Aga Ujma and Nina Harries at PinDrop Session (28th February) and Aga Ujma and The Sages at SOAS (21st February)

22 Jan

Mortal Oil 2, 24th January 2020

More new-ish performance territories; this time down in south London by Nunhead Green, where a somewhat battered but much-loved and independent-spirited shopping local parade currently hosts the Strange Parade venue. The latter is hosting “a night of low-voltage experimental acoustic performance and visual art” at the end of the week, co-curated by Merlin Nova along with filmmaker and photographer Sophie le Roux. This is the second night in the series, which aims to “use no electronic machines (apart from a kettle) and aim to curate acts which have used as little electricity as possible during the processes of their practices.” Tea, whiskey and pom bears are provided as an extra audience incentive; and the last event, back in November, featured (in addition to Merlin) performances by avant-garde double bassist Otto Willberg, all-forms free dancer Sofia Filippou and visual artist Flora Hunt.

Merlin’s been in here several times before as a boundary-hopping singer-instrumentalist, sound artist, poet and monologuist who plunges her imagination and thirst for performance into any opportunity and shapes her art and the situation to fit. Initially a radio broadcaster and soundscaper, she’s the possessor of an unsettling vocal range and a ravenous perspective which she uses for everything from imaginary dronefolk music and the weirdest of weird pop to solo audio dramas…. here’s a selection of what she gets up to.


https://soundcloud.com/user-615512661/to-the-sun

 
Of the two other musicians featured this week, ‘Misfit City’ has previously crossed paths with bass clarinettist/saxophonist Yoni Silver while he was backing Charles Hayward in twisty groove ensemble Timestretch Alarmsong during October last year, and as part of the Ashley Paul Ensemble back in 2017, although he’s also noted for his work with the Hyperion Ensemble. He also sings and plays violin, piano and computer, sometimes simultaneously, so his options for noisemaking are pretty varied. Here’s the A-side of his recent ‘Nethertongue’ cassette, one of his Denis D’Or trio tracks and a solo…



 
As for Aga Ujma, I’ve been hearing about her for a while: a young Polish singer-songwriter and composer also enthralled by English and Indonesian music forms and the connections she makes between them. Though she can quite happily make her way as a singing guitarist with a nice line in Joanna Newson covers (an artist she sometimes resembles, not least in the reedy glory of her vocals) she’s a committed ethnologist who creates art in accordance with her extensive studies, and is as much likely to accompany herself on a quiverful of rarer instruments – the Javanese gamelan-related gender barung xylophone and plucked siter; or the Indonesian sasando, “a gorgeous thirty-two-string, butterfly-winged zither”.




 
The remainder of the evening’s visual art component comes from Yael Roberts, who “hand-prints from found wood to create large scale installations (exploring themes of death, mortality, repetition, and presence.” While she’s got a parallel line in performance art (much of which is captured on video and stills here), her contributions to this particular evening appear to be static art: a set of ceramics made in collaboration with Goldtapped Gallery’s Juliet Fleming.

* * * * * * * *

Aga Ujma + Nina Harries, 28th February 2020I should also mention that Aga Ujma is also playing a couple of other London gigs in February. One is a LaLa Records’ Pin Drop Sessions in Peckham where she’s in a double bill with double bass player singer-songwriter Nina Harries.

As a player, Nina follows in a family tradition (her father Tim Harries has double-bassed prominently for Steeleye Span, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and Brian Eno, amongst others). That said, her musical development and appetites are very much her own; formed not just by parental example and extensive classical training but by immersion in dance theatre and in work with “story telling star gazing ukulele agit-pop” band The Burning Glass, gonzo bluesman John Fairhurst, folk-punkers Barbarella’s Bang Bang, electro-classicalists the London Electronic Orchestra and Symphonica. Her technique’s impeccable and her songwriter voice wide and unfettered, as happy with the whimsical as the mesmeric.




 
The other concert, a week earlier, is a SOAS music showcase in the centre of town which also features world fusion band The Sages (previously The Seven Sages), featuring Yijia Tu, Peadar Connolly-Davey and Gregor Bauer, and blending music strands from East Asian folk music and Chinese Sizhu with those of western forms of folk and indie rock.

The Sages + Aga Ujma, 21st February 2020

More about them here – “as a diverse cosmopolitan generation growing up under an age of globalization and other social changes, the band aims to explore to break through concepts such as “East” and “West,” cultural identity, and musical “genres” through both original composition and adaption of traditional folk music. Indeed the “The Sages 竹林七贤” is a reference to a group of seven literati, artists and scholars in ancient China who chose to escape mundane and hypocritical secular life and status to live in the remote natural countryside with the companionship of music, poetry, art (and wine) in search of a higher spiritual fulfilment.”

Some examples of what The Sages play are here:

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Mortal Oil 2: Aga Ujma + Yoni Silver + Yael Roberts + Merlin Nova + Sophie Le Roux
Strange Parade, 123 Evelina Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3HB, England
Friday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

SOAS Concert Series presents:
The Sages + Aga Ujma
Brunei Gallery @ SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 0XG, England
Friday 21st February 2020, 8.00pm
– information here and here

LaLa Records presents
PinDrop Session: Aga Ujma & Nina Harries
One & All Cafe, 28 Peckham Rye, Peckham, London, SE15 4JR, England
Friday 28th February 2020, 7.30pm
– £10 or pay-what-you-can event – information here and here
 

October/November 2019 – Moor Mother’s ‘The Great Bailout’ with the London Contemporary Orchestra in Kraków, Gateshead, Ghent and London (6th, 12th, 16th, 23rd October), with Galya Bisengalieva and Klein joining in London. Plus further Moor Mother dates in Utrecht, Helsinki and Madrid with Zonal, Eartheater and Cruhda (7th, 11th, 15th November)

1 Oct

The unnerving, brilliant Afrofuturist beat-poet and sonic manipulator Camae Ayewa – a.k.a. Moor Mother – swings back to Europe for a brace of concerts during October and November, during which she’ll showcase her latest project, ‘The Great Bailout’. This is a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra (arguably the capital’s most committed ensemble to both new classical concert music and its intersection with other musical forms and disciplines). It follows Moor Mother’s earlier work this year as part of liberation-jazz group Irreversible Entanglements and her recent contributions to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s fiftieth anniversary album ‘We Are All On The Edge’ (in which she layered her poetry over the exuberant live improvisations of the surviving members of the original resistance jazz band.) For a more in-depth summary of her explosive protest-griot work, click here.

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: 'The Great Bailout' tour, October 2019

There’s not much advance publicity regarding ‘The Great Bailout’. What there is lays the ground for performances of “a free-verse poem that acts as a non-linear word map about colonialism, slavery and commerce in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.” Given that Moor Mother’s previous work has consistently exploded conceptual/emotional bombs underneath the economic, social and psychic legacy of slavery and racism in America, you can expect her to have come up with something ferociously critical of the cherished white-British myths and veilings around the history and repercussions of Empire. As the organisers put it, “we can’t help but expect the first few rows… to leave this performance with singed eyebrows and melted glasses at the very least.”

I’m guessing that the project title refers to one of the most miserable semi-secrets of the eventual abolition of British slavery – this being the handsome payoffs eventually delivered (post-emancipation) not to the freed slaves themselves as backpay, apology or recompense, but to their indignant and haughtily entitled British former owners as property compensation. This kind of withering, righteous black interrogation invading white concert halls (in fact, being invited in) is in keeping with the necessary re-examinations of the roots of modern Western culture. I’m reminded of Doris Salcedo’s colossal ‘Shibboleth’ installation at the Tate Modern, in which she slashed the gallery floor with an ever-widening crack standing for the original Tate sugar money, its dirty roots in plantation slavery, and the consequent ethical undermining of the gallery and its history – a microcosm of white Western culture and wealth and the exploitation underneath.

It’s also in keeping with the ongoing rumblings and debate regarding the slave-trading roots of Bristol, the strategic heartland of the Middle Passage’s triangular trade – with the slave trader imprints on the names of its great buildings and statuary (some of which were recently and pointedly encircled with diagrammatics of slave ships and their suffering human cargo). You can’t help thinking that the organisers of ‘The Great Bailout’ really missed a trick by not scheduling a Bristol date, and perhaps a Liverpool one, alongside the London one. Gateshead – which does get a ‘Bailout’ date – has less of a stained history in this matter, along with its sister city Newcastle: distanced from the heart of the trade, and with the Tyneside anti-slavery movement being an early starter. London, though, grew fat on the profits, with its own triangular trade bigger than anywhere else in Britain.

There may be different resonances associated with the two continental European venues on the tour. Kraków is a little detached from diasporan agony, its own kind of historic slavery having been in the form of homegrown serfdom (Poland’s class savagery was traditionally applied to its own peasants, and its colonialist oppressions visited on the nearby Ukraine rather than on Africa). Ghent, on the other hand, hosted and shaped the 1814 treaty in which, in part, Britain and Belgium applied themselves to ending African slavery and the Middle Passage trade (albeit on their own terms, part of the strategic power-plays of the age as much as it was through any humane impulses).

It’ll be interesting to see if Moor Mother will have taken note of these things, dredged up these uncomfortable stains and compromised atonements and woven them in too. Whether each city on the tour route is given its own case to answer – hidden bones coming to light after two-and-a-half centuries of obscuring and snowjobbing.


 
There will be extras at the London show. Experimental violinist and London Contemporary Orchestra member Galya Bisengalieva will be performing an opening set of her own electroacoustic chamber music, duetting live violin with cunningly sculpted electronic sound-shaping. What I’ve heard so far is elegant and highly dramatic: sonic booms, string drones, eerie hard-eyed processional melodies against harshly majestic electronic architecture and steppe-scapes reflecting Galya’s own Kazakh background.

 
A second opening set is being provided by British-Nigerian south London glitch artiste Klein. An abstractioneer for three years, she started out being hailed as a kind of reinventor of gospel. Certainly her early recordings dipped into the form and she’s admitted that for many years it was her only reference point. It didn’t take her long, however, to move far beyond it. Other early tracks came across as a collagist log of the sounds of her community: not straightforward field recordings, but crafted patchworks of impressions and implicit meaning, finding vocal and musical fragments as important, in themselves, as actual complete sentences and phrases. Her ‘Tommy’ album, in 2017, was a kind of vaporously dissolved Afro-London laptop opera.

These days, memories of black church music continue to drift and prowl through Klein’s increasingly adventurous recordings, but they’re only part of her palette. While she keeps a toehold on more mainstream black musical ideas (a track like Changes sidles up to drill music, a shuffling slide of plate over plate, of violent masculine monologue recounted), most latterday Kleinwork is miasmic re-sortings of black vocal fragments over dark ambient dreamquakes and feathertwig beats: sometimes sobs or dramatic breaths, or slivers of story (somehow bigger than they appear, the way that individual black stories so often seem to trail implication entire cultural histories). Either that or they’re ribbons of dirty noise, swirls of demonstration with strange vocal glitches playing across them – gasps, lip noises, inchoate expressiveness.





 
* * * * * * * *

Moor Mother’s own roots are in gospel too, although she’s previously qualified that “my family used to listen to scary gospel—Mahalia Jackson, people who were not just waiting for Jesus to come, but being like, “This is what we’re living with, we’re going to push through. I’m climbing up the rough side of the mountain, and we’re going to get into this chariot and go to a better place”…” There’ll be more evidence of “negro spirituals flipped, remixed, and recaptured” on the second full Moor Mother album, ‘Analog Fluids Of Sonic Black Holes’, which is emerging on 8th November. In keeping with her work so far, the record will cover the themes of “myth, black mothers, vodun, quantum futurism and post-colonial street narratives.”


 
I’m guessing that this material, or spins on it, will be in strong evidence in the three further European dates Moor Mother will be playing in November following the ‘Great Bailout’ events. The first of these will be in Utrecht, as part of the Le Guess Who? Festival. Here, she’ll be rejoining Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick‘s “smacked-out hip hop” project Zonal (as one of two featured vocalists, alongside “fire-and-brimstone dub poet” Nazamba).



 
The second event is her headlining show in Helsinki. There, she’ll be supported by Alex Drewchin – a.k.a. non-binary multi-media art’n’music hopper Eartheater: who, over a five-year span in New York, has graduated from straightforward, deliquescing dreampop covers of Kate Bush songs to flittering unorthodox trance pop and sprawling, deconstructed anti-manifestos of collaged noise and brain-jumps. Beyond the electronics, current Eartheater work reflects the idea of body as instrument, psyche as testbed, ears and memory as record-and-playback devices.

The most recent Eartheater album, ‘IRISIRI‘, is a simultaneous explosion and dismantling of sonic and conceptual ideas across the spectrum. Plunderphonic chamber music samples, scraping noise effects, dance beats and thoroughly masticated chunks of ruined pop spat out and left on New York lamp posts, in apartment stairwells and practise spaces, leaving a scattering of recombinable fragments for other people to get stuck on and to mull over; flitting word associations and deconstructions of gender, of memories, of momentary definitions. There’s even the occasional joke (“I have no metaphor for you today – I’m off work…”). It’s both impersonal and entirely personal in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em running of personal insights and questions through a mill of big city information overload. Yes, it raises more questions than it provides coherent answers, but at least it’s intent on chopping out a space of possibilities in the first place.




 
Moor Mother’s other headliner is in Madrid, where she’ll be supported by emerging Spanish eclectician Cruhda. The latter’s work is softer and in some ways more accessible than that of most of the other people covered in this post, but that’s selling it short. It’s disruptive, just in a subtler way.

Crudha’s debut EP ‘Íbera Morte‘ is founded on selections and deliberate echoes of Spanish folk music, refracted through any number of home-studio cut-up-and-stick-in methods and stylings – musical box clinkings, Dead Can Dance Gothicity; Autotune and didgeridoo buzzes; structural interruptions and glitchtronics. Sylvan organ-drone folk gets carved into by straying intrusive beats like a prowling beast on a campside sortie; by warping bass synth growls; and by vocal cut-ups and lead lines from raw railing roars to dovelike sighs and monastic harmonies. It’d be crass simply to call Crudha a Spanish Björk, but there’s a similar breadth of imagination and reconstructive willpower here, as well as a similar reluctance to abandon melody.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: ‘The Great Bailout’

Zonal feat. Moor Mother & Nazamba;
Le Guess Who? 2019 @ TivoliVredenburg, Vredenburgkade 11, 3511 WC, Utrecht, Netherlands – Thursday 7th November 2019, time t.b.c.
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Eartheater
Tavastia Klubi, Urho Kekkosen katu, 6 Helsinki, Finland – Monday 11th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Cruhda
Siroco, Calle de San Dimas 3, 28015 Madrid, Spain – Friday 15th November 2019, 9.30pm
– information here and here
 

September/October 2019 – upcoming singer-songwriter gigs – Holly Penfield unleashes ‘Tree Woman’ in California and London (22nd September, 31st October)

15 Sep

Visibly enjoying her second wind as a singer-songwriter (and still wielding the exuberance that she brought both to her initial shot as such and to her subsequent role as cabaret supernova), Holly Penfield is finally launching ‘Tree Woman’, her long-delayed fourth album of original songs. There are a couple of launch date shows – one in her birthplace of Berkeley, California and the other in her longstanding hometown, London. On both dates she’s backed by a full band.

Holly Penfield - 22nd September & 31st October 2019

What I wrote about her return to full singer-songwriter action last year still holds true, so here it is (and you can read all about about her over the years by clicking here)…

“From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

 
“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).


 
“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).


 
“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”


 

Dates:

April/May 2019 – upcoming folk/experimental gigs – Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ season

30 Mar

Details on the upcoming season of Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ – slightly massaged press text follows…

'Singing With Nightingales', April/May 2019

“Join folk singer, song collector and nature lover Sam Lee in the forest, sit by the fireside and listen to intoxicating song, as some of the finest musicians in the land duet with the sweet sound of the nightingale. Immerse yourself in the folklore and ways of our native birds, savour the music of world-renowned guest artists from folk, classical, world music, and jazz arenas. Join us in a rare and thrilling journey as darkness falls upon the springtime woodlands of Kent, Sussex and Gloucestershire from 18th April to 26th May.

“Each year, for a few months from mid-April, a few thousand nightingales fly to the southern UK from Africa. They can be heard in just a small number of special locations, taking up songful residence after dusk. The territorial males serenade loyally each night for no more than six weeks among the blackthorn and forest margins, giving unbelievable privilege to those who know where to go. Inspired by infamous recordings of cellist Beatrice Harrison playing with nightingales as far back as 1924, Sam has been hosting reverent celebrations of this endangered bird each spring since 2014. These events have spanned multiple events at four different sites, a ‘Pick of The Year’ BBC Radio 4 documentary, a critically acclaimed adaptation for theatres and concert halls, and many broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.

“As well as the outdoor night shows, you can also enjoy the sound of the nightingales’ song in the comfort of concert halls across the UK from 14th April. After a hugely popular run in 2018, our ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ tour is back, bringing you diverse musicians in relaxed, low-lit settings improvising in collaboration with live birdsong via live broadcast feed from the countryside. Joining Sam on stage will be a duo (depending on the date) of either violin-playing jazz world/folk singer Alice Zawadzki plus kora-playing Senegalese Griot Kadialy Kouyate, or Welsh folk-singer/songwriter/harpist Georgia Ruth plus Bristolian post-jazz trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Pete Judge. In addition, an abridged version of ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ will feature at London’s South Bank as the late show in the ‘Absolute Bird’ concert (a night of classical music inspired by birdsong).


 
“Brand new for this year, we are launching a mini festival experience with the nightingales at Fingringhoe Wick , Essex, on 27th April. Hosted by Sam, the night will feature three performances from Irish 10-string drone fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh and from experimental songwriters and instrumentalists Serafina Steer and Cosmo Sheldrake, all joined in song with the nightingale.

We’re offering return travel from London for selected events; and we’re very happy to say that we have received some funding from Arts Council England which means we’re able to put a number of concessions tickets on sale for selected events. These are strictly for people on low income. We also have a number of concession tickets available for our Singing With Nightingales Festival event at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve, Essex on April 27th.”

Other musicians involved in the open air concerts come from a variety of different genres. There are classical and jazz flautists (Paul Cheneour; and Marsyas Trio‘s Helen Vidovich) and assorted polygenre players (eclectic South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, post-classical/post-folk chamberist Kate St John, Globe Theatre music director Bill Barclay, multi-instrumental composer Christo Squier). There are singers from various strands of contemporary folk (Lisa Knapp, Furrow Collective’s Lucy Farrell, ESKA) and soul-jazz singer-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. There’s the choral work of vocal trio Blood Moon Project (featuring Heloise Tunstall Behrens, Tanya Auclair and Luisa Gerstein). There are also representatives of music from further afield (Zimbabwean singer/mbira master Chartwell Dutiro, travelling shakuhachi-ist Adrian Freedman, Afghan music specialists John Baily & Veronica Doubleday and Dublin vocalist Fergus “Faró” Cahillane, the latter known for Irish and Irish/Viking acappella folk work with Anúna and M’anam).


 
Update, 13th April – in the latest development, ‘Singing With Nightingales’ is linking up in London with the Extinction Rebellion movement, on 29th April, for a “peaceful sit down intervention” in central London, called ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square‘:

“In the midst of the heightened attention to climate change and environmental catastrophe we want to bring people together in celebration of the musical beauty of the natural world. Poets, musicians and nature lovers will join together to perform the most romantic rebellion.

“Written in 1939, the renowned ballad tells of the impossible moment when a now critically endangered nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) sings in Mayfair’s famous garden square. Nightingales have not been heard in Central London, let alone Mayfair, for several hundred years. However, through the magical power of people and technology this April 29th, XR, Sam Lee, The Nest Collective and a pop-up flash mob of nature enthusiasts, musicians and supporters will gather to rewild nightingale song back into Berkeley Square.

“Through synchronised streaming of the nightingale’s mesmeric yet seldom heard courtship song via mobile phones and mobile speakers, our pop-up action will fill the park and surrounding streets with the song of a creature nearing extinction on this island. The birdsong will be accompanied by offerings from musicians, singers, poets and anyone who wants to collaborate with the finest singer in the world. This central London rewilding action aims to bring poetic focus to the shocking demise of our own native species and give Londoners the opportunity to hear a once ubiquitous songbird, now near extinct in the UK, in its mythic notional home.”

* * * * * * * *

Full dates for everything:

Open-air shows at Green Farm Kent, Church Lane, Shadoxhurst, Kent, TN26 1LS, England

  • Friday 19th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Bill Barclay) – information here and here
  • Saturday 20th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Paul Cheneour) – information here and here
  • Sunday 21st April 2019 (featuring Sam Lee & Christo Squier) – information here and here
  • Friday 17th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Helen Vidovich) – information here and here
  • Saturday 18th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Abel Selaocoe) – information here and here
  • Sunday 19th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Blood Moon Project) – information here and here

Open-air shows at a secret location near Spithurst, Lewes, Sussex, BN8 5EF, England

  • Thursday 25th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 26th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 3rd May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lisa Knapp) – information here and here
  • Saturday 4th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Kate St John) – information here and here
  • Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Ayanna Witter-Johnson) – information here and here
  • Monday 6th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lucy Farrell) – information here and here
  • Saturday 25th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee + ESKA + John Baily & Veronica Doubleday) – information here and here
  • Sunday 26th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Fergus Cahillane) – information here and here

Open-air shows at Highnam Woods, Highnam, Gloucestershire, GL2 8AA, England

  • Thursday 9th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Pete Judge) – information here and here
  • Friday 10th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Chartwell Dutiro) – information here and here
  • Saturday 11th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Adrian Freedman) – information here and here

‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ (indoor concerts)

  • Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ, England – Tuesday 23rd April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Warwick Arts Centre, University Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England – Wednesday 24th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL, Tuesday 30th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Wyeside Arts Centre, Castle Street, Builth Wells, LD2 3BN, Wales – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • St Laurence’s Church, Church Street, Stroud, GL5 1JL, England – Wednesday 15th May 2019, … (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here.
  • Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NB, England – Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • Junction II @ Cambridge Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge, CB1 7GX, England – Thursday 23rd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • ’Absolute Bird: Translating Nature’ Queen Elizabeth Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England – Friday 24th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee, Alice Zawadzki plus selected members of City of London Sinfonia) – information here and here.

Singing With Nightingales: Festival (with Sam Lee + Serafina Steer + Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh + Cosmo Sheldrake)
Visitor Centre @ Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, South Green Road, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7DN, England
Saturday 27th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Extinction Rebellion: ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’
Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J, England
Monday 29th April 2019, 6.00pm
– information here
 

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.



 
* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.



 
* * * * * * * *

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 classical gigs – baroque, folk and present-day music intertwine at the second Baroque At The Edge festival (4th to 6th January)

2 Jan

Baroque At The Edge festivalAs regards classical music, this month appears to be opening with London’s second annual Baroque At The Edge festival across the 4th, 5th and 6th January. Dividing its time between the Clerkenwell classical-church venues of LSO St Lukes and St James Clerkenwell, it starts from a baroque basis but roughly postulates (as it did last year) along the genre-blurring lines of “imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Purcell a folk-fiddler, and Monteverdi a minimalist…”

Following on from 2018’s debut festival, there’ll be a return engagement with concert dramatist Clare Norburn. Having tackled the murderous guilt and glory of Carlo Gesualdo last time around, Clare’s new work ‘Burying The Dead’ (premiered in the West Country last May) is another deathbed dream drama: this time set in 1695 and focusing on the final protracted thoughts and hallucinations of Henry Purcell as “dream-like memories of the Plague, the Fire of London, family life and the vibrant Restoration stage merge seamlessly with his exquisite vocal and instrumental music.” Said music will be provided by London-based baroque ensemble Ceruleo, who commissioned the play, while actor Niall Ashdown features as Purcell.


 
There’s more Purcell-related goings-on via Cecil Sharp House choir director and Wing-It Singer leader Sally Davies, who with her chorally-minded pianist daughter Holly Cullen Davies is running an open-to-all English folksong workshop, focussing on the songs Purcell would have known and referred to. In a similar spirit, the festival’s closing concert features a team-up of Dipper Malkin (John Dipper on fourteen-string viola d’amore, Dave Malkin on guitar and vocals) and singing storyteller Nick Hennessy – all three keen folk-steeped reinventors, on this occasion exploring how “the sophistication of Purcell meets the soul of English folk.”



 
Several more cross-disciplinary players are taking part. Violist Liam Byrne promises a concert in which you can “expect anything, anyhow, from (Marin) Marais to (Nico) Muhly, although he’s keeping schtum on whether he’s playing pure and acoustic or with the electronics or conceptual tricks which make up the other side of his playing. Path-forging post-classical singer Nora Fischer, accompanied by theorbo lutenist Mike Fentross, will delve into the world of seventeenth century song with “intimate and exquisite re-imaginings of works by Purcell, Peri, Monteverdi and others.”




 

Elsewhere in the festival, vigorous violinist Elicia Silverstein will join the dots between Bach and Biber (representing the baroque) and Luciano Berio and Salvatore Sciarrino (representing the contemporary), as demonstrated on her 2018 debut recording ‘The Dreams And Fables I Fashion’. Replacing a planned baroque piano concert from Gabriela Montero (after she had to drop out following surgery), her fellow pianist David Greilsammer provides his ‘Scarlatti:Cage:Sonatas’ dual keyboard programme which constantly interlaces the music of Domenico Scarlatti with the twentieth-century prepared piano compositions of John Cage (hardware, wood and rubber resonating and burring between the strings).




 
Less compressed information, plus full dates and ticket info, can be found at the festival’s homepage and Facebook page.

‘Baroque At The Edge’
LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, St Lukes, London, EC1V 9NG, England
St James Clerkenwell, Clerkenwell Close, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 0EA, England
Friday 4th January to Saturday 6th January 2019 (various times)
– information here and here
 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

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