Tag Archives: London Contemporary Music Festival (event)

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

3 Jan

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

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

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

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





 
* * * * * * * *

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

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

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


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

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

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



 

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


 
Dates:

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

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

December 2015 – upcoming London gigs – the 2015 London Contemporary Music Festival part 1 (sounds for and from London, West Coast America and the time continuum)

6 Dec

Friday this week sees the start of the London Contemporary Music Festival, which (as if it were part of a conspiracy theory) is lurking in a giant underground bunker near Baker Street…

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.25 – information – tickets

London takes centre stage in our opening night, as we celebrate the exploratory fringes of the city’s music scene and the collective imperative that has been a spur to some of the capital’s greatest experiments. The proliferation of collectives among young musician-composers is reflected in new commissions from some of the most adventurous of these musical laboratories. The night will include premieres from Charlie Hope and Jamie Hamilton (a.k.a. Topophobia), Neil Luck (performing with his Squib Box ensemble) and John Wall & Tom Mudd (Utterpsalm and Contingent Events). We hear recent work by composers Edward Henderson (Bastard Assignments), Shelley Parker and the artist duo Claudia Hunte. We welcome an iconic figure and chronicler of London’s musical edgelands, David Toop, and offer a live improvisation from Poulomi Desai (Usurp), who started the Hounslow Arts Co-op at the age of 14.

We also offer a world premiere from artists Richard Wilson and Anne Bean. In the 1980s, Anne, Richard and Paul Burwell formed the legendary Bow Gamelan Ensemble, enthralled by the aural poetry and parallel visions of the Thames. Now, Wilson and Bean enter the territory as W0B. Theirs is a world that cracks and splinters and grinds into being as it races backwards and forwards through friendships of forty years. ‘NALEMAG’ becomes the totemic incarnation of their endless scrabbling around boat-yards, scrap-yards, gas depots, pyrotechnic munitions, voyages on many rivers in countless vessels and a frenzy of carrying, welding, investigating and making across the planet. The trajectory culminates with a landmark new AV performance from south London’s Visionist, whose singular language emerges from the fragmentation of dubstep and grime.

Programme:

David Toop – Many Private Concerts
Anne Bean/Richard Wilson – NALEMAG (world premiere)
Poulomi Desai – Vermillion Sands (world premiere)
Neil Luck – Via Gut (world premiere – LCMF commission)
Jamie Hamilton/Charlie Hope – New work (world premiere)
Edward Henderson – Tape Piece
Claudia Hunte – The Elephant In The Room Is Afraid Of Dying
Shelley Parker – Live set
John Wall – Live set
Tom Mudd – Live set
Visionist – Live set (AV)

* * * * * * * *

The second LCMF night, on Saturday, sees the series take a broad stylistic and historical sweep across twentieth and twenty-first century California (with one digression to Alaska, so it’s not all sun.)

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

The second night of LCMF 2015 is dedicated to the music of the American West Coast, an exploration of 100 years of musical non-conformism, from the piano insurrections of Henry Cowell to the deep listening of Pauline Oliveros (performing her own music on v-accordion). Oliveros is joined by another founding legend of the pioneering San Francisco Tape Music Center, Morton Subotnick, who presents a solo Buchla set and the UK premiere of a 1960s Tape Center composition with a film by Tony Martin. Another composer associated with the Tape Center was Terry Riley, whose ‘Keyboard Study No. 2’ gets a rare outing.

Alongside this we zig-zag through the experimental landscape, calling on John Cage‘s concussive ‘First Construction (In Metal)’, which premiered in Seattle in 1939, John Luther Adams‘s monumental ‘Among Red Mountains’ and Catherine Lamb‘s subterranean ‘Frames’. We excavate two gems from California’s 1980s computer music scene, Maggi Payne‘s ‘Flights Of Fancy’ and Carl Stone‘s ‘Wall Me Do’. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Uprising we present an extremely rare performance from Otis O’Solomon, whose collective The Watts Prophets emerged from the rubble of that uprising and helped lay the foundations for hip-hop.

Programme:

Henry Cowell – The Banshee (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
John Cage – First Construction (in Metal) (for percussion ensemble) – performed by PERC’M and Serge Vuille
Morton Subotnick/Tony Martin – PLAY! No. 3 (1965) (UK premiere)
Terry Riley – Keyboard Study No. 2
Maggi Payne – Flights of Fancy
Carl Stone – Wall Me Do
John Luther Adams – Among Red Mountains (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
Catherine Lamb – Frames for cello & bass recorder (UK premiere) – performed by Anton Lukoszevieze/Lucia Mense
Otis O’Solomon – Selected poems
Pauline Oliveros – Pauline’s Solo (1992)
Morton Subotnick – solo Buchla set


* * * * * * * *

On Sunday, the third LCMF event has a polycultural and temporal feel:

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways to Kill Time’

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

Time is stretched, bent and finally dissolved in ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’. Sound artist Ellen Fullman opens the night with a UK premiere of The Watch Reprise, which will be performed on her 50-foot Long String instrument that one writer compared to “standing inside a giant grand piano.” Ethiopian composer, pianist and nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou makes her first visit to the UK to perform a selection of her intimate piano miniatures that seem to drift through space. Plus Minus Ensemble, meanwhile, offers up the intricate and disorientating world of Bryn Harrison‘s ‘Repetitions In Extended Time’ (conducted by Mark Knoop and featuring strings, organs, piano, guitar and clarinet). Mixing spoken text and music, theatre maker Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment) and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva offer a set of fragmentary improvisations in ‘Seeping Through’, a work fresh from a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe. We end with a time-obliterating live set from doom pioneer Stephen O’Malley, whose work within and beyond his seminal group Sunn O))) exists in a kind of transcendent stasis.

Programme:

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – selected piano works
Bryn Harrison – Repetitions in Extended Time
Tim Etchells/Aisha Orazbayeva – Seeping Through
Ellen Fullman – The Watch Reprise (world premiere)
Stephen O’Malley – live set

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