Tag Archives: John Edwards

December 2016 – upcoming gigs – ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ with Robert Mitchell, Debbie Sanders, Corey Mwamba, John Edwards, Elaine Michener, Mark Sanders and others (London, 8th); Trio Generations with Maggie Nichols/Lisa Ullén/Matilda Rolfsson (Cheltenham and London, 9th & 11th)

5 Dec

StaggerLee Wonders
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 8th December 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

'Staggerlee Wonders', 8th December 2016Billed as “an evening of radical poetry and prose fused with free improvised music”, this event’s title is taken from James Baldwin’s blazingly scornful, almost conversational poem – itself named for the black outlaw/hoodlum who flits and thunders through a set of conflicting American tales and songs, taking on the roles of murderer, proud badass, pimp and more.

In all cases, Stagger Lee’s become a byword and signifier for transgressive black resistance to cultural pressure and norms. A lengthy lope in a thickly jazzy, declamatory style, Baldwin’s version takes up the final, revolutionary Stagger Lee position, setting aside the thuggery, choosing instead to weigh up the protests, delusions and not-so-secret wickednesses of white hegemony in one Afro-American palm (seamed with exile, scepticism and righteous ire) before firing up his sardonic, acidic tongue to flay and spit the flesh right off their bones. It’s not clear whether Baldwin’s take will be performed as the evening’s centrepiece, or whether it simply serves as an inspiration; but it certainly sets the bar high, both artistically and politically.

Various performers, both black and white, are confirmed to attend. Hopefully, they’ll all rise to the explicit challenge. Reknowned for his weighty slowhand approach, jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has worked with Epiphany3, F-ire Collective and Panacea. Jazz/folktronicist Corey Mwamba plays small instruments, dulcimer and electronics across assorted projects but is best known for his highly dynamic, hammers-to-humming vibraphone playing and for the ongoing questioning spirit which he explores in both live music and academia (and any intersections he can make between the two). Voices come from restless, movement performer and polygenre singer Elaine Michener (recently seen at the Cockpit Theatre in a quartet with Alexander Hawkins) and from storytelling singer/composer Debbie Sanders (currently heading up Mina Minou Productions, previously embedded in proto-acid-jazz, trip-hop and British R&B via work with Skylab and Chapter & The Verse).

Bass and drums are provided by two stunning soloists who also happen to make up one of London music’s most formidable rhythm partnerships. Both double bass player John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders are capable of a breadth of sound and attack on their respective instruments, running across an orchestral breadth from whisper to hailstone attack (via conversation or monologue, from growling belligerence to kidding conversation or querying patter).

More people may be showing up to play, but that’s already a pretty thrilling loose sextet to work with and to choose from.

* * * * * *

Trio Generations is an intermittent name for a convocation of three top European improvisers, Maggie Nichols, Lisa Ullén and Matilda Rolfsson. Formed last year, they’re playing a couple of English shows to bookend the upcoming weekend. Outlines below, mostly from the Café Oto pages:

Trio Generations, 2016

Trio Generations, 2016

Maggie Nicols joined London’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1968 as a free improvisation vocalist. She then became active running voice workshops with an involvement in local experimental theatre. She later joined the group Centipede, led by Keith and Julie Tippets and in 1977, with musician/composer Lindsay Cooper, formed the remarkable Feminist Improvising Group. She lives in Wales and continues performing and recording challenging and beautiful work, in music and theatre, either in collaborations with a range of artists (Irene Schweitzer, Joelle Leandre, Ken Hyder, Caroline Kraabel) as well as solo.

Matilda Rolfsson is a Swedish percussionist and free improviser, based in Trondheim, Norway. During the spring of 2015 she was temporarily based in London where she finished her masters in free improvisation and the relationship between improvised music and dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During her London stay Matilda got the chance to meet and play with some of Londons most efficient improvisers: Phil Minton, Sylvia Hallett and London Improvisers Orchestra with Maggie Nichols. With her 20” vintage Gretsch bass drum, Tibetan bowls, gongs, bells and plastic isolations, sticks, fingers and brushes, Matilda explores the free improvisation and the instant compositions shaped in the moment: dynamics, orchestrations – structure and chaos. To make rules and break rules, always with the question: where’s the music going, and where’s the freedom?

“Pianist Lisa Ullén grew up in the northern part of Sweden, and is based in Stockholm. A versatile player with a singular musical vision, Lisa has repeatedly proven her ability to imprint her absolute sense for tonal texture on whatever musical context she appears in. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Lisa has collaborated extensively with many well-known Swedish artists and dancers, and has also scored several dramatic productions. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers.”
 
To provide a sense of what might be coming, here’s the full half-hour set from their debut performance at IKLECTIK in 2015: a fractured, prolonged collective improvisation which swaps mood, pace and suggestions like a game of speed poker, with passing shreds of blues. Although Lisa and Matilda match her with lethally-aimed flinders of explosive, challenging percussion and piano, Maggie remains the centre of attention via a performance that’s as much stand-up comedy or theatre piece as it is free jazz. She produces not only the clucks, hisses, pants and operatics of free-voice improv but a bewildering spiky cavalcade of female voices and archetypes (hopeful chitterer, wise sly crone, mother in labour, put-upon wailer, deft gossiper) while including fleeting lyrics from jazz, blues or music hall and assorted Dada twists (including a phase which sounds like a demonic toothbrushing session).


 

This month’s Trio Generations dates:

  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 9th December 2016, 8.00pm (with Chris Cundy) – information
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Monday 11th December 2016, 8.00pminformation

At the Café Oto show, John Edwards will be joining in to make the group a quartet. While there’s no support act at Oto, at the Xposed Club Cheltenham reedsman/multi-instrumentalist Chris Cundy will be providing a solo slot on bass clarinet and saxophone. A tactile extended-technique player, Chris began as a self-taught Medway busker coming into his own under the combined influence of Eric Dolphy (on record) and Billy Childish (in the flesh and in the kitchen). Following a relocation to Cheltenham to pursue fine art, Chris has broadened his scope into a world of other collaborations in film, electronica, free improvisation and pop. He’s worked extensively with Fyfe Dangerfield (as part of the Guillemots horn section and as an integral member of Gannets), with Canadian freak-folkers Timbre Timbre and a succession of left-field singer-songwriters. His extended techniques (including multi-phonics, circular breathing and microtonality) have also led him into exploring the works of Cage and Cardew and those of contemporary avant-garde composers such as Thanos Chrysakis and Pete M Wyer, as well as producing a growing number of albums of his own work.


 

Live reviews – ‘The Sound Of Satellite’ (featuring Sand, Lucha Libre, Yossarian, Karamazov, Heavy Q) @ Notre Dame Hall, London, Friday 9th October 1998 (“The Young Gods meet ‘Rugrats’…”)

13 Oct

This time, I’ve done it.

For once, I’ve arrived on time… and Notre Dame Hall is so empty that I reckon I’m going to be outnumbered by the bands. Above me, a glitterball spins very, very slowly. Off to stage-right, a slide is projected onto the wall back-to-front. Smoke drifts across from the other side of the stage, as if one of the boxes of gear has quietly caught fire. Horace Andy plays over the sound system. I’ve never noticed that squirmy edge to the sweetness of his voice; or how well it suits embarrassment.

No. It doesn’t go on like that. In fact, and independently of tonight’s acts, it ends up as one of the friendliest concerts I’ve been to in ages. But that first half-hour – of me as the lone non-label person in the house – gives me an idea of the risk which labels like Satellite take on whenever they put a night like this together. If you’re a mainstream label with a nice little crop of pushable guitar pop bands, and you want to hire out some dedicated pub for a concert party: well, fine, you’re probably onto a winner. If, alternatively, you’re a small label best known for fringe electronica such as Fridge, Rothko, and Add N To X (one of whom is DJ-ing tonight) and you’re hiring this big cinematic ballroom… then you must be trying not to sneak nervous, sidelong glances into the looming face of failure.

When I befriend Pete, the Satellite house photographer, he tells me that as soon as tonight is finished they’re taking the whole thing – lock, stock and barrel – over to Paris, to repeat the concert. Within the day. Gluttons for punishment. Or people who believe in what they have to offer.

* * * * * * * *

What they offer (or unleash) first is Heavy Q, whom I know from a single truly bizarre piece of experimental vinyl. He/she/it/they?… He. One Japanese guy, Lee Young Sin, in a glitterscaled wrestlers mask, hunched over a pair of samplers as if preparing to split them in half by sheer willpower (one of them, appropriately, is labelled “Quasimidi”). We’ll see him later as part of Lucha Libre, the other members of whom are tracing his every move with Handycams.

What he’s up to right now is squeezing out slice’n’dice anti-dance music as the hall begins to fill up; a scary dead-funk cyborg strop interspersed with cut-ups of Japanese telly chatter and cheering. At one point a sampled announcer burbles a bit of plain English – “breaking the earth for us tonight” – with the cheesy enthusiasm of someone who knows the next bit of hype which they can stick in their arm will be along in another few minutes. That same hysterically enthusiastic announcer will be weaving in and out of Lee’s music like a persistent hiccup; a glassy, untrustable ringmaster to his sonic circus.

Heavy Q’s second piece is a randomised assault of backbreaking drum sounds; drum’n’bass minus the calming balance of the bass. His third is a children’s chant, slapped up against a deathly brutal industrial tom rattle. As he moves over to rummage on his table of electronic debris, the sound runs on without him, mutating into Bollywood singsong, strangled by tortured electronics. By the end of it, Lee has turned himself into a vast, vulgar techno-god statue on top of the table. Arching back and moaning a deep thick bass vocal into his microphone, he’s almost at one with his sampler. He drinks from a sparkle ray-gun; he adjusts his electronics like he’s tying his shoelaces. Throwing a sarcastic cock-rock pose, he waves a theremin aerial around at phallus height.

Is this the answer to the problem of the personality void in electronica? Living up to the gigantic sonics by taking onto yourself the aspects of a monster movie?

* * * * * * * *

Talking of the personality void… things are working out contrary to expectations. At any given unpretentious, good-time indie gig, I’ll be out in the cold, a blip on the doorlist among self-satisfied strangers. Here, on a night that ought to smack of exclusive club, a night which you’d expect to exclude, I’m making ceaseless cheerful conversation. Buoyed by camaraderie, I and my new friends agree that, in contrast to Heavy Q’s theatrics, Karamasov have the slightly bored, stiff look of too many art-scene bands.

Perhaps it’s that old cliche of Teutonic cool: half of the band is genuinely German (guitarist/cellist Johannes von Weizsacker and stately blonde percussionist Berit Immig), while the London half (bassist Harry Rambaut and synth player Adam Stewart) aren’t exactly Essex ravers. Certainly their music’s lodged in European post-rock cool rather than Pacific rim commercial frenzy, their set opener wheeling along on Harry’s sproingy pre-jazz bass, Jonathan’s phased guitar scrub, and a lonely, farting-Dalek riff on Moogbass. They look at each other as if they’re setting up lab equipment; or preparing John Cage’s piano, like good little acolytes. Their second piece is something from the chillier end of Stereolab‘s science school, albeit with a few sniffs of quiet humanity appended. Echo-slapping cello effects, and skinny Moog squirts something like Philly soul strings, sketched and autopsied. The cello scrapes like a worn wheel; Berit’s oddly heavy-metal drumming is rookie-tense, but snaps tight regardless. On the beady-eyed Roadsnack, she switches to spiky organ against Jonathan’s piano-ping guitar.

Out on the floor, meanwhile, we’re waiting for them to enjoy themselves. I know, I know; there’s a certain credibility to that kind of icily unmoved, Euro-scientific music creation. But… Karamasov come across so much better when they drop it, hang out, and just play. It’s probably not intentional, but Uneven Surface sounds something like Genesis’ Watcher Of The Skies filtered through Faust. Hmmm. ‘The Wire’ would have a fit; but the bass stabs and drum riffs are received with joy by the Satellite audience. Happy Hour ain’t the Housemartins (which would’ve been interesting, come to think of it), but sounds more like Neu! reinventing lounge music, as Berit tinkles out melodies on the vibraphone. Most welcome of all is a piece I didn’t catch the name of, in which the increasingly impressive Berit sings in a detached Nico murmur (not unlike Elizabeth K.’s interjections for Eyeless In Gaza) over a tune not unlike a relaxed cross between Levitation and A.R. Kane (with a bit of the brisk arty hoppiness of a warmer German band, F.S.K).

During the next interval, the DJ plays Egg and Soft Machine rather than some fearsome tranche of blunt improv. A definite feeling of thaw is in the air.

* * * * * * * *

Yossarian turns out to be both a band (two keyboardists out of a ’50s B-movie and a drummer) and a bald mad-scientist character, looking not unlike Alan McGee. This is Tim London – Yossarian’s prime human body. In a previous life, he was the slightly warped pop brains behind Soho (if you remember the Smiths-sampling ‘Hippychick’, not that there was much else).
These days he’s wrapping his cortex round far artier pop shapes. One piece – all drones, cymballine drums and organ – sounds like Mark Hollis knitting together Labradford and Spiritualized; a chorus of “I will call, and you will come” and an unexpected blaze of harmonica. Other pieces sound like late ‘60s Scott Walker sitting down hard on late ‘80s Pet Shop Boys, and others…

Vocoders, yet! Those pained machine voices are back, along with Air-style pretty melodies served with an avant-garde hiss and a cheesy Bontempi beat under the flagrant detail. What is this nut trying to morph into and sell to us now? E.L.P.? The Glitter Band? By the time I’ve decided that it’s a sort of electronica ‘Parklife’ with car-crash keyboards, he’s exploring bleak Bowie ‘Low’-ies and hitching them up onto Prodigy-style wall-of-fire beatoramas like an erupting Las Vegas volcano.

All of a sudden, I see Tim London revealed as electronic art’s own John Shuttleworth, and relax a bit. It’s an impression carried in his archness, in his taste for a classically creaky lounge-pop tune, his self- conscious anti-cool (“I’ve never played in that time signature before”, he drawls), his total deadpan approach to the ridiculous or to any intimations of hubris, and most of all in the way that, having thrown electronics at us all evening, he encores by – get this – playing the spoons. Respect is due. My old man’s a Cyberman an’ all that.

* * * * * * * *

Osakan noisefreak-fusioneers Lucha Libre have bigger hats than anyone else. They also have bigger presence, taking the stage like EMF used to do. They possess a double-brass frontline – one capering trombonist leader (Teruhiko Heima) in a Kiss ‘Destroyer’ T-shirt; one surreally dignified sax player (Akifumi Minamimoto). There’s also a transplanted heavy metal core in the shape of Takashi Sakuma, a sampler-wielding guitarist with long tartan shorts, a serious Van Halen fixation, and one of those hilariously literal Japanese sweatshirts. This one reads “Pretty Tough Sport”. Finally, they have a digital heart on frantic overdrive – everyone except drummer Jun Tsutusui seems to be doubling on synth.

By their seventh number their bassist (Lee Young Sin, back in a different guise) is walking on his hands and playing the synth with his head amidst a hurricane of Coltrane-meets-Black-Sabbath saxophone. Before that, we’ve been privy to a Donington’s-worth of heavy-metal axe abuse; a swelter of industrial goofing and salsa horns; and a stage act best described as The Young Gods meet ‘Rugrats’. We’ve also, as a responsible audience, totally turned around received notions about arty label nights by absolutely loving it to bits and yelling for more, as the twit from ‘Melody Maker’ shakes his head and frets about missing ‘Friends’. Lucha Libre continue their delightful murder of cool regardless.

Now they sound like ships coming into a drunken docking on Mars – big trombone blurts, the rattle and squiggle of electronic timepieces, and phenomenal yowls and divebombs from the metal kid. Now they’re on a big, spacious, tricky funk beat: Akifumi an oasis of reedy calm as a funky harpsichord riff pops up from keyboardist Soichi Murota and the band head into the slabby, tottering, Theremin-ized jazz-funk of the ‘We Have No Our Groove’ single. Next, they pull out in order to plait Led Zeppelin into the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme.

By the encore, Teruhiko is hammering out a torn tom tattoo on a commandeered chunk of Jun’s drumkit. Stuck horn drones giggle at him; the sax thrashes – squalling and wailing – in a cauldron of frenzied bop, and Takahashi fires Heavy Q’s abandoned raygun into his guitar pickups. It’s like seeing a particularly extrovert software virus trash your screen, in blazes of grinning colour. As they settle into a long final lope, razzing trombone carrying the melody over the clipped sax and Durutti guitar picking, the air inexplicably fills with a powdery scent of flowers. This is some sort of Lucha Libre Japanese magic, I guess: the sort of thing which that passionately confused nation throws up so well.

* * * * * * * *

With a massive wall of dry-ice fog and a sound like Satan belching (it’s some sort of conch, in fact), Sand prepare to close the evening. A massive mound of frizzy dreadlocks hoves into view and starts growling Andean death-metal at us. Crops wither within a three-mile radius.

This thing is – to stretch the Trades Description Act a little – Sand’s singer. Whether it’s possible to declare a force of nature part of your band is a matter for Sand and their lawyers. They used to be called Germ, which is an understatement and a half. They should have been Epidemic. To put Sand into perspective, they are something of a return to normality after Lucha Libre’s mad playground display, even if they do both feature upfront trombone. Sand are also, by far, the most assured band on tonight – elastic harmonic bass from John Edwards, the precise touches on Rowan Oliver’s looping drums, the wash of ravishing electro-gale off Tim Wright’s keyboards: a bit like Rain Tree Crow with a trombone, but only if they’d been fronted by David Sylvian’s monster-from-the-Id. This is something which the Sonic Youth-style drumsticked drone guitar and the ‘Bitches Brew’ mute on Hilary Jeffery’s trombone only accentuates.

The monster on vocals – whose name is, apparently, George – evidently knows harmonic overtone chanting. His reverberating rasp blends in with the trombone’s blare, the slipping geological sample and the Bruford threes which Rowan is now shooting off the top of his kit. The mike slips deeper into that mane of dreads. From the unseen mouth the Devil pukes noise, sprawling and rolling: echoes of Diamanda Galas, balled’n’bassed up, or of Magma. If many of the smooth dream-rock tones of Sand suggest a vigorous muscle-flexing tone-up, that voice feels like being rolled hard in the gravel afterwards. Among other things, Sand offer a crushing world-music for the ever-so-slightly masochistic.

“You can dance to the next one,” comments band spokesman Hilary, draining the spit from his trombone as John brings on a double bass to play… well, some salsa from hell; the guitar and keyboard filling up the spaces in the music with an inspired patina of drone-trash. As another Sand piece forms (a reedy melodica, skullclick percussion, a lost wail from Mr Mountain as the band traverses a flat, disturning plain of atonal movement) you wonder whether this band would ever really make you want to dance. Why should you want them to, when instead you can suffer the perverse enjoyment of feeling Sand twitch the crust of the earth from under your feet?

* * * * * * * *

I don’t care. The liberating, socialising force of dance was the one aspect of electronic music that was ignored tonight; possibly because it was redundant. In between writing my notes I’ve filled my ears, had a doughnut, leafed through vinyl stalls, and spent an evening in the belly of the art-beast, chatting away to some of the nicest people I’ve met in ten years of making up gig numbers.

I finally let my tired eyelids swell, and turn my weary ankles homewards. Satellite are packing up, engrimed with cigarette smoke and fired up on the warmth of the evening, making ready to ship it all across the Channel to the City of Light.

This time, I don’t fear for them.

Sand online:
Homepage

Lucha Libre online:
Homepage

Yossarian online:
Homepage

Karamazov online:
Homepage

Heavy Q Connection online:
Homepage

Satellite Records online:
Homepage

(2018 update – after twenty years, it’s no surprise that most of those bands and projects have long since ended. Post-2001, Satellite Records was mostly reabsorbed into its ongoing parent label, Soul Jazz; and the Satellite, Yossarian, Lucha Libre and Heavy Q links above connect only to discographies. Yossarian’s Tim London (a.k.a. Tim Brinkhurst) now works as a film-maker, as a music lecturer at the British & Irish Modern Music Institute in Birmingham, and as producer, most notably with Young Fathers. The members of Karamazov are still friends and collaborators, working together in various combinations in The Chap and Omo. Sand also continues in various forms and names, generally helmed by Tim Wright and Hilary Jeffery. It’s unclear what’s become of the members of Lucha Libre, although saxophonist Akifumi Minamimoto did also put some time in with “jazz/R.I.O. progsters” Djamra. Meanwhile, Notre Dame Hall ended four decades of musical history covering beat pop to punk to avant-gardery in 2001, when it became first the Venue theatre and then the Leicester Square Theatre.

Oh – and sorry about the lack of pictures. When I got friendly with Satellite’s photographer, it clearly didn’t include me blagging post-concert photos out of him.)

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