A quick addition to the previous jazz update featuring Theo Travis – as well as his imminent Essex date with Double Talk, he’ll be playing a free Sunday lunchtime show with his regular quartet Marc Parnell (drums), Alex Keen (bass) and Mike Gorman (piano). They’ll be “playing tracks from Theo’s solo catalogue including from albums such as ‘Live at Ronnies’, ‘Secret Island’ ‘Heart of the Sun’ and ‘Earth to Ether’.” It’s a low key event, but a high quality one; the kind that strangers walk into expecting some plodding duffer and coming out massively enthused instead.
Theo Travis Quartet The Eagle Tavern, 124 High Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1JT, England
Sunday 23rd April 2017, 1.00pm
Meanwhile, here are a few more London dates:
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Club Integral presents:
Spaceheads (with Rucksack Cinema) + Howie Reeve IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Friday 21st April 2017, 8.00pm – information
“Spaceheads are a duo. Andy Diagram’s hotwired trumpet produces live harmonised loops and breathy samples which he controls via a mobile phone attached to the top of his horn with a fish slice. The thick brass layers created are propelled by Richard Harrison’s drums, percussion and bent metal sheets. Over twenty-five years, Andy and Richard have achieved an intuition of what each is about to do next, which makes their semi-improvised gigs a joy to behold.
“Spaceheads formed in 1990 in Manchester and have toured the world and released eleven albums to date. Their latest album ‘Laughing Water’ was released in November 2016 and followed last years successful album ‘A Short Ride On The Arrow Of Time”. Both were released on their own label, Electric Brass Records.
“Rucksack Cinema a.k.a. Jaime Rory Lucy – has been supplying delirious, innovative live video imagery since 2007. His astonishing and almost preternatural ability to mix imagery with what is happening on stage as well as creating strange and wonderful atmospheres throughout a room has made him an intrinsic part of any Spaceheads gig.
“Howie Reeve plays solo bass and sings. He has released three albums, and a single (with Mike Watt of The Minutemen/fIREHOSE/The Stooges), and is about to release a new album titled ‘Not So Secret Garden’. Reeve previously found fame with experimental indie-pop band Tattie Toes and has been striding out on his own for several years, acoustic bass in hand, walking boot on footstool. His music is deeply introspective, considered and full of glorious dynamic range.”
(I’ve just had a listen to Howie’s stuff. Not the jazzy noodling or string squeak one might expect from an experimental-end gig: more of a richly harmonic multi-stopped bass guitar approach allied to nervy vocalising and alarming lyrics> He should be playing on one of Steve Lawson’s multi-bass nights. If you’re looking for an easy song-style tag to fix on Howie, though, the best thing to do is to tack away from jazz and head towards the eerie, distressingly beautiful DIY nightmare-folk of Lupin Crook, who’s been quiet for too long…)
“Splash Music Productions are proud to introduce the launch night of ‘Pixel Planet’ – the spectacular Album from Carl Hudson. Eclectic, futuristic, soulful, and danceable, Carl Hudson’s follow-up album to the critically acclaimed ‘Zoology For Martians’ doesn’t disappoint. ‘Pixel Planet’ oozes class from start to finish. His wizardry on the keyboard and his willingness to experiment with sound and melody, combine to create an aural extravagance that propels the listener to another world and compels their feet to dance.”
I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, since this “launch event” seems to be covering an album allegedly released over a year ago in February 2016… but if you like cosmic-tinged soul jazz in a Lonnie Liston Smith vein, or if you like warm music to Hubble to, this could be your thing. See below.
IKLECTIK/band press release below (tweaked and interfered with, as usual):
“Future Currents is the electric guitar ensemble formed by composer/improviser Alex Roth with the aim of exploring the full range of the guitar’s sonic potential and contributing to a redefinition of the instrument’s role in twenty-first century experimental music.
Future Currents: ‘Future Currents’ EP
“Bringing together three of the UK's most acclaimed improvising guitarists – Alex himself, Chris Montague ( of “Motorhead meets Mingus” jazz-rock trio Troyka) and Chris Sharkey (formerly part of both trioVD and Acoustic Ladyland, currently working solo as Survival Skills and as part of the Shiver trio) -the ensemble creates new music of extremes: expansive soundscapes informed as much by composers like Morton Feldman, Frank Zappa, Olivier Messiaen and Richard D. James as by pioneering guitarists such as Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, Ben Monder, Marc Ducret and Bill Frisell.
“As its name suggests, Future Currents’ self-titled debut EP (featuring post-production by fellow guitarist Matt Calvert of Three Trapped Tigers), encapsulates a sense of existing in multiple tenses simultaneously (the
“now” and a projected “then”); but ‘Future Currents’ also connotes electricity – one of the defining elements of the ensemble’s sound. Further extending this theme, the track titles reference scientists and mathematicians who have made significant contributions to our understanding in this (or a related) field.”
This concert is a launch gig for the EP, which will also include screenings of short films by Morgan Beringer, including his illuminated sine wave video for the track ‘Fourier’.
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On Thursday, there’s a repeat London date for the loomingly beautiful music of Rothko and the spellbindingly expansive improv trio Ghost Mind…
Trace Recordings presents:
Rothko + Ghost Mind Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 17th November 2016, 7.30pm– information
Though anchored in every sense – musical, textural, timbral, compositional and organisational – by Mark Beazley’s strata-laying post-punk bass guitar tones, the lineup of Rothko has shifted and reshaped over the years; like a restless colony creature (or, indeed, a restless artist’s colony). Sometimes it’s just Mark, painting bleak but beautiful low-frequency soundpaintings in a hundred hues of grey and grit; sometimes it’s Mark and another bassist, or a small wall of bassists; sometimes it’s Mark plus appended art-rock or post-rock band, adding flute, guitar, violin, drumkit, glockenspiel or whatever.
Currently and confusingly, Rothko are managing to be two, but in three senses. There’s the project’s ongoing two-man lineup; then there’s the fact that there are two simultaneous and different versions of the lineup, operating in an amicable parallel. One of these is Mark plus recurring other-bass foil Michael D. Donnelly, instrumental and enmeshed; the other is Mark plus Band Of Holy Joy frontman Johnny Brown, who are releasing the first collection of their work next Monday as the album ‘A Young Fist Curled Around A Cinder For A Wager’.
It’s the Beazley/Brown lineup that’s playing at Servant Jazz Quarters, launching the record. From what I can gather, they’re a performative duo of Mark’s assertive, layered bass-scapes and Johnny’s spoken-word poetry; vivid, brutally honest evocations of childhood in a harsh, post-industrial rural community. Live, they’re augmented by the projected imagery of longtime Band of Holy Joy collaborator Inga Tillere, whose work taps into feelings of loss and dislocation, and whose photos of battered shacks and sheds (like ghosts of habitation) makes up the bones of the new album’s artwork. More is evolving at the current ‘…Young Fist…’ microsite.
(UPDATE – since I originally posted this, the album’s title track has surfaced on both Bandcamp and Soundcloud, so here it is…)
As for Ghost Mind, they’re a Cheltenham-based metaphysical quartet, a spin-off from long-running experimental group Cheltenham Improvisers Orchestra. Three playing members – Jon Andriessen on guitar and effects, Pete Robson on assorted trumpets and horns and Stuart Wilding on allsorts percussion – join forces with a fourth, conceptual member collated from found sounds and field recording atmospheres (gathered from around the planet, many of them from centres of human habitation) and characterised, for purposes of both performance and communion, as a kind of world consciousness.
It’s a high-faluting idea, which would drift into worthy pomposity in the wrong hands. When explored by a trio of such particular sensitivity and skill in interacting both with each other and with the tapes, it’s revelatory: simultaneously bringing the world in through the window while summoning up three other ones from within via the gateways of unfettered musical exploration, and somehow managing to blend all four into the same flowing movement.
For a fuller exploration and expansive dip into the soundworld of Ghost Mind (plus sundry bits of Rothko background, music and history), have a read of my preview for their shared gig at IKLECTIK back in June of this year. Alternatively, immerse yourself in the Ghost Mind concert recording below.
Open Music Archive with Leafcutter John The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Thursday 30th June 2016, 6.00pm – information
From the Museum’s press release, with tweaks:
“Join artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White, whose work is featured in our current exhibition ‘Found‘, for a mesmerising musical performance with electronic musician Leafcutter John.
“Eileen and Ben work at the intersection of art, music and information networks, seeking to challenge default mechanisms for the authorship, ownership and distribution of art. Their ongoing collaborative project Open Music Archive is an initiative to source, digitise and distribute out-of-copyright sound recordings (ranging from jazz and blues to folk and instrumental) and use these as a vehicle for collaborative projects exploring the material’s potential for reuse. The archive aims to distribute these recordings freely, form a site of exchange of knowledge and material, and be a vehicle for future collaborations and distributed projects.
“The artists found this long-forgotten vinyl in the personal collection of architect Luis Barragán, whilst on an artists’ residency in Mexico City, 2012. Treating it as a found object to be excavated, Simpson and White extracted and separated copyright-expired sounds from within the original recording, creating a public sonic inventory of thousands of samples. This has been pressed onto vinyl for inclusion in ‘Found’ and can be heard by visitors as they explore the exhibition. It has also been released into the public domain for re-use, as part of the Open Music Archive’s aim to initiate creative collaboration through the music of the past. You can hear it by clicking on the link below:
“For this event, Eileen and Ben will provide an audiovisual introduction to the archive, followed by a live Leafcutter John remix of Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman’s 1958 record ‘Music for Children’ – effectively, an exclusive live set assembled from samples of xylophones, glockenspiels, drum hits, crashing cymbals and fragments of children’s voices. The live performance will be recorded for future copyleft release.”
Some examples of a similar previous Leafcutter John/Sound Music Archive project follow:
“Regarding the ‘Found‘ exhibition in general, it’s the result of the Museum’s Foundling Fellow Cornelia Parker inviting sixty outstanding artists from a range of creative disciplines to respond to the theme of “found”, reflecting on the Museum’s heritage. Combining new and existing work with found objects kept for their significance, this major exhibition unfolds throughout the Museum, interacting with historic works in the Collection and with each other. Parker’s inspiration has in part been taken from the Museum’s eighteenth-century tokens – small objects left by mothers with their babies as a means of identification should they ever return to the Foundling Hospital to claim their child.
“Other artists participating in ‘Found’ include: Ron Arad RA, Phyllida Barlow RA, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Deacon RA, Tacita Dean RA, Jeremy Deller, Edmund de Waal, Brian Eno, Antony Gormley RA, Mona Hatoum, Thomas Heatherwick RA, Christian Marclay, Mike Nelson, Laure Prouvost, David Shrigley, Bob and Roberta Smith RA, Wolfgang Tillmans RA, Marina Warner, Gillian Wearing RA and Rachel Whiteread.”
‘Untitled’ by Rachel Whiteread, 2016 (for ‘Found’ exhibition at the Foundling Museum, London)
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Further up country:
Gawain Hewitt & Steve Lawson: ‘Beneath the Waves’ mac birmingham, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, England
Sunday 3rd July 2016, 7.30pm – information
“Sound artist Gawain Hewitt presents a live improvisation combining water processed with live electronics and field recordings he has made of water in London, Norway and Bangladesh, three places where water – and ice – are at the very core of both their history and their future.
“Gawain will be performing for the first time with Birmingham resident, bassist/improvisor Steve Lawson, internationally renowned for his innovative use of processing and looping to create emotive, melodic soundscapes. This will be a unique performance showcasing two musicians exploring both the sonics of water and electronic/acoustic collaboration in real time.”
There’s not much more background information out there on ‘Beneath The Waves’ (it’s sounding as if it’s the kind of gig you really need to attend and discover). However, anyone who’s interested in music technology (and who liked the concept of the Mi.Mu. glove instruments used as part of the Whispers & Hurricanes gig earlier in the month) might be interested to hear that Gawain leads research and development for Drake Music, one of the Mi.Mu. project contributors.
As for Steve, longtime ‘Misfit City’ readers will recognise him as a frequently-appearing name: newer readers and those who don’t know about him can find plenty of posts here covering some of his polymathic, melodious and deeply textured musical work from the past decade-and-a-half.
Three more engaging shows around the London fringes. Two have press releases which speak for themselves, while I wrote some babble for the other one (since it’s the first time I’ve covered one of the bands in a long time, while the other band turns out to be a trio who could use some more words spent on them)…
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Crick Crack Club Presents
Fairytales for Grown-ups – The Devil’s Purse The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Wednesday 22nd June 2016, 7:30 pm – information
“Beguiling, tricksy, highly-strung, and suspiciously helpful – the Little People are waiting in the shadows, beneath your feet, under the tables, and even in the cracks in the walls. They’re waiting to prove just how hard it is to tell that they are there… On hot summer nights their world is a breath away and on long winter evenings they have far too much time on their hands.
“Dominic Kelly, Bridget Marsden and Leif Ottosson fuse storytelling performance and Nordic music in a wild journey into the cinema of the imagination. A lost traveller finds himself guided through the mountain mists; a farmer marries an apparently perfect wife; a drunk gambles with a purse that is forever full, and an anxious mother watches her child turn to skin and bone… Come spend some time in the company of Themselves, the Gentry Below, the Good Folk, the sylphs, the sprites, the fairies, and a labyrinth of stories.
“Dominic is a performance storyteller whose dynamic style has captivated audiences across the UK, Sweden, and around the world. He has performed in many prominent venues and festivals including The Barbican and the National Theatre in London, The Times Literature Festival, and on tour internationally from India to the Arctic Circle. Bridget and Leif form a duo whose interpretations of Nordic folk music take place in a filmic borderland of tunes and soundscapes. Leif challenges conventional ways of using the accordion and has distinguished himself on the Swedish folk scene as an instrumentalist, composer and arranger. Bridget studied folk music at Stockholm’s Kungliga Musikhögskolan: her band Stormsteg won Best Newcomer at the Swedish Folk & World Music Awards 2012.”
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Rothko + Ghost Mind IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 23rd June 2016, 8.00pm – information
At IKLECTIK, a concert of two fascinating experimental acts creating powerfully visual and immersive music.
Aiming to explore the full sonic possibilities of his instrument (and inspired by the towering ‘Seagram Murals’ in the Tate Gallery), bass guitarist Mark Beazley founded Rothko in London during 1997. The initial lineup was a triple-bass trio with Crawford Blair and Jon Meade (of on-off London math-rockers Geiger Counter), which for three years clanged, droned, whirred and rumbled around its own constantly expanding iron-grey niche.
Creating great frowning arches of dark notes, torrential thrums of noise or transcendent etched outlines in the lower ranges, Rothko insisted on being judged as pure music, batting away any enclosing accusations of being post-punk, post-Gothic, post-rock, or anything similar. Somehow they managed to achieve this aim, defying all expectations by becoming universal and making inroads into the awareness, the perception and the affections of a wide and diverse audience. They found favour amongst the kind of sternly political art-music devotees who’d immerse themselves in ‘The Wire’, amongst the brain-knitting psychedelic leanings of London math-rock enthusiasts, and amongst the surprised followers of various indie bands who’d taken a shine to them and taken the opportunity to stick them onto a live bill. After three albums (and various EPs and collaborations) they bowed out in 2001 after a successful support slot with Porcupine Tree, playing to an audience of progressive rock fans.
While the original Rothko is arguably the best-known version, Mark maintained the Rothko name and core concept for another nine years across a solo presentation, a bass duo, an wide-screen ambient septet (which swallowed up consenting fellow travellers Delicate AWOL) and a more rhythmic quartet. While the various versions of the band were always underpinned by Mark’s resonant four-string underlay – a slatey burr or baritonic voice speaking out of the deep – the bass-guitar-only rule was relaxed to allow other instruments into the space such as flute, voice, electric guitar, piano and viola (while the synths and drums of the last and longest-lived lineup even occasionally hinted at a post-Can rumble). After Rothko, Mark took his skills and explorations solo, and formed new bass-friendly projects: Low Bias (with Pere Ubu’s syntheur Gagarin), Signals (with Phil Julian and textural guitarist Chris Gowers), Tetherdown (with Anne Garner and James Murray), and Rome Pays Off (in which he reunited with Crawford Blair)
Reactivated in 2015, a revived Rothko saw Mark re-teamed with ex-Delicate AWOL bassist and later solo recordist Michael D. Donnelly (his main partner in the post-2000 lineups). Together, they revisited their previous duo work while expanding it with additional lessons learned (in technique, in sonic attitude, in being an interpreter of feeling) during the five year break. A new EP, ‘Severed Tense’ arrived in September last year; a new album ‘Discover The Lost’ is now available on pre-order.
(recent Rothko track Truths And Signs)
This particular gig at IKLECTIK, however, showcases a newer Rothko lineup of Mark plus Johny Brown (the latter better known as the frontman of long-running post-punk poetry rockers Band Of Holy Joy, with whom Mark played during the Rothko layoff). Eschewing both past and recent work, they’ll be performing a set of all-new material from a work in progress – a new album called ‘A Young Fist Wrapped Around A Cinder For A Wager’, which they’re planning to record shortly.
While I might be behind the most recent developments, listening to the recent Beazley/Donnelly material has reminded me about what drew me to Rothko in the first place – their ability to grab such fascinating visual evocations out of the kind of low frequencies which you’d think would restrict them. From dirty crumbling bass notes they sketch a grumbling, majestic London ambience of half-forgotten post-industrial structure: the kind you find while turning down sidestreets running under grimy, half-forgotten Victorian railway viaducts or hosting the grand shells of factories. At least, that’s what they seem to do from where I’m listening. Mark apparently draws significant inspiration from sojourns in quiet rural locations far from the pressure and grime of great cities. It’s generally true that what any one listener draws out of Rothko tends to be only a few facets of the band’s mysterious kaleidoscope.
With roots in the Cheltenham Improvisers Orchestra, Ghost Mind is an experimental soundscape collaboration currently consisting of trumpet player Pete Robson, percussionist Stuart Wilding, and Jon Andriessen on heavily-treated guitar, combined with a background of found sounds gathered from around the planet. They present themselves as “a four-person trio” (the fourth member being the titular ghost). Live, they’re a magical concoction, with Stuart’s percussion exploits recalling the startling, fleeting and unforgettable work that Jamie Muir brought to various Derek Bailey bands and King Crimson in the 1970s, Pete’s trumpet journeying from jazz-mute musings and trombone impressions to free-improv mouthpiece splutters, and Jon’s heavily-processed guitar creating dense architectural fabrics and noise blocks but sometimes rising up with plangent, momentary clean licks.
Working together, Ghost Mind create aural experiences which suggest both the world traveller and the documentary edit suite. Their instrumental illustrations and interspersed field recordings link temples to shopping precincts or treetops hung with birdsong, or link toyshops to ping-pong matches; while further human-driven sounds flicker briefly through the mileu via interjections of harmonica and glockenspiel, water-warbling bird whistles, drum notes to shoe-scrapes and miscellaneous tickings. The fact that it all sounds musical throughout – as compelling to children and casual attendees as to dedicated deep listeners – is another of their creative triumphs.
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Ánde Somby: The Animals Inside The Man And The Man Outside The Animals Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 24th June 2016, 7.00pm – information
“The Sámi people are a transnational minority living in Sápmi, an area of land stretching across the borders of northern Scandinavia, Finland, and throughout the Kola Peninsula of north-western Russia. Yoik (also spelt joik or jojk) is the Sámi’s ancient and characteristic vocal art, with yoiks traditionally used to invoke a person, animal, place, or experience. You don’t yoik about something, you just ‘yoik it’.
“Ánde Somby yoiks animals including salmon, grouse, bear, crow and mosquito, but his signature yoik is that of the wolf. The wolf yoik is a traditional yoik that Somby has developed with dramatic elements in an expressive performance. Somby has been an active musician since 1976 and has performed for royalty, heads of state and even at the funeral of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren! His many animal yoiks are inspired by the idea of transformation in the pre-Christian Sámi religion, when the noaidi (shaman) used yoiks to transform into an animal and back into a human. Somby is also a professor of law at the University of Tromsø and is engaged in Sámi social and political issues.
“In January 2016 Somby released the album “Yoiking With The Winged Ones”, recorded outdoors in Lofoten by the renowned British sound artist artist and field recorder, Chris Watson. The recordings took place in Kvalnes, mid June 2014, in a moment while the Arctic winds were having a little rest.”
In a few days time, Swiss avant-rock trio Schnellertollermeier begin a tour of Ireland and England. The group’s mellifluous name cutely overlaps and portmanteaus those of each of its members – bass guitarist Andi Schnellmann, guitar player Manuel Troller and drummer David Meier – but also mirrors their working method. Their music, too, is an overlap – a mosaic of small obsessive note-figures either written or improvised, which all three pick up on and play with almost neurologically tight collective timing. They’re also masters of dynamics, able to play each fragment at clean moth-wing softness or biting punk fuzz-roar at will and in sync as the moment demands.
They’re not quite rock, despite the electric power-team lineup and the locked, riffing minimalism. They’re not quite jazz, although they function on a similar level of technical assurance, small-group telepathy and potentially mutative rhythm. They describe themselves as “a little about quiet, and a lot about anger, silliness and precision,” which is one way of drawing a loose line around their bag of impetus.If they’re anything, Schnellertollermeir are an unconstrained cellular dance – fizzing on what’s initially a fixed grid of possibilities, then working around it at ever-smaller, ever-more-complex levels of detail and option; using slivers of math-rock, post-hardcore and free-jazz idiom to get themselves there.
The other quote they toss out is that the group “sounds like classic literature, where you have to keep on re-reading a sentence until you understand. But when you have finally understood, you understand a lot more.” Listening to them myself, they’re more like a tremendously extended Peter Blegvad palindrome – clever, obscurely arch, coasting on the brink of tumbledown nonsense but staying in place and in grace by a touch of sheer skill and a hinting at a good deep-level joke to share.
Dulcimer Bar, 567 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 0AE, England, Saturday 19th March 2016 (with Shatner’s Bassoon) – more information
While most of the tour appears to be one-act concerts for Schnellertollermeir alone, at points it sweeps up interesting local bands as well. Unfortunately I can’t find out much about the Darwen support act Tasmin A – apart from the fact that she’s a tourmate and backing singer for JD Meatyard (a.k.a. John Donaldson of Levellers 5) – but the Dublin gig features ReDiviDeR, an anagram-fixated two-horns-no-chords quartet led by drummer/composer Matt Jacobson with Derek Whyte (bass) and Nick Roth (alto sax) and Colm O’Hara (trombone), playing “downtown grooves , catchy melodies and collective improves” and taking inspiration from Charles Mingus, Steve Coleman, Deerhoof and Phil Ivey. In support at the Bristol gig are the “instrumental surf prog” band Lambhorn, while the London gig features Taupe (the hip hop and heavy metal-quoting “power-jazz commando team” who first showed up on my radar at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival).
Surprisingly for a Manchester show, the gig at the Dulcimer Bar doesn’t feature any of the masses of experimental projects which throng the city. Instead, “six-piece madcap surrealists”Shatner’s Bassoon (a double-drum pile-on of jazz and wayward electronics barely containing Michael Bardon, Ollie Dover, Joost Hendrickx, Andrew Lisle, Johnny Richards and Craig Scott) hop across the Pennines from Leeds. The Leeds gig itself features Motherese – a teamup of vocalist/violist Aby Vulliamy, pianist/singer Laura Cole (of Metamorphic) and improvising singer Maria Jardardottir. Motherese aren’t even playing their first gig for a couple of days yet, so I’ll feature more about them in the next post.
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Steve Lawson (bass guitar virtuoso, loop musician, occasional avant-garde teddy bear and unstoppable Twittergob) can generally be relied upon to conceive, or latch onto, interesting gigs. With his own work spanning from textural ambience and tasteful but outgoing songwriter accompaniment to New Age, multi-collaborator jazz fusion and even political death metal (and since he’s a man who’s perpetually enthused by new contexts to explore) he’s naturally going to be drawn to more unorthodox events… and, generally speaking, not the standard type of unorthodox events either. This month he has two of them in southern England.
“As a synaesthetic, abstract artist/jeweller Poppy Porter has a visual response to sound – she specialises in making jewellery inspired by the abstract shapes and colours of her synaesthetic inner landscape, and her art is mostly object-centred (as she puts it, “sound goes into my ears and art comes out of my hands”). Steve Lawson is a solo bassist who is best known for his improvised music and whose art is almost solely performed.
The duo perform in a collaboration that follows the evolving process of the work between them. Steve plays, building a layered, improvised sonic landscape to which Poppy responds by drawing what she “sees” synaesthesically (shape, colour, movement). Steve then reacts to what has been drawn, using the fresh drawings as a visual score and improvises further. A feedback loop is created between them. Although Poppy and Steve’s individual art forms are different, there is a meeting of minds that pushes beyond the physical object or sonic creation giving rise to a visual, musical, aural and performance element in the work.
Following the performance, the audience will have an opportunity to have a go at drawing the music themselves. The idea of this workshop is to get the audience to try looking at the world in a different way. Rather than drawing an object, Poppy and Steve ask the audience to have a go at expressing how the music affects them. Paper and pencils will be provided and the audience can then listen to Steve play and express what the music is telling them in whatever way they choose with the art materials. We hope that the audience will be inspired to look at creating art in unusual ways and become aware of how we all think and express ourselves differently.”
For the precise performance time, it’s probably best to check on Steve’s Facebook or Twitter accounts closer to the time. This event is part of a larger one-day festival of imagination and practical application taking place in Guildford over the course of a day. Further details and a promo video are below:
“Innovate Guildford will ignite the imaginations of young and old through a stunning showcase of innovation taking place in Guildford – from cutting-edge research to a sneak preview into the future. Our free festival is for everyone and will particularly appeal to young people – to inspire and nurture the scientists, engineers, artists and innovators of tomorrow.”
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Steve’s second March event is more familiar territory for him, since it’s what’s described as “a night of genre-defying solo bass performances from some of the most innovative bass players around.” Pretty much a plural version of the day-job, then.
Gigs In The Gallery presents:
“Sorry To Hear You’re a Bassist!” – Steve Lawson + BassDbler + Grant Sharkey + A Ninja Slob Drew Me + Greyum May (DJ sets) The Art House, 178 Above Bar Street, Southampton, SO14 7DW, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.30pm – more information
J.D. Short, a.k.a. BassDbler, grew up playing alternative rock and hardcore in Chicago, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Louisville before studying music formally and moving on to build guitars for Rickenbacker. It was only on his relocation to New Zealand that he developed an affinity for electronic music and realised that it held a similar DIY ethic to the music of his youth. The resulting approach also partially inspired by science fiction (specifically Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ saga) described by Aquarius Records as “bass-heavy dubstep electro-prog ambience” has been revealed on a pair of albums: ‘Slow Blade Penetrates The Shield’ and its slightly-more-acoustic follow-up ‘Machine & Ghola’. When not working on BassDbler projects J.D. creates film scores and works as music director for the Giant Fire Breathing Robot website and podcasts.
In 2013 singing/songwriting/double-bass-playing Grant Sharkey (previously a member of Southampton drum-and-two-basses absurdists Toupé) pledged to independently record and release an album every six months over a period of twenty years. Now it’s 2016 and he’s up to six albums – one of which is a single forty-five-minute song (dealing with “how amazing live music is compared to a life of television”), while another he wrote while recovering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome surgery on both wrists.Usually the albums are recorded around Grant’s bass and voice with drums and assorted guest vocals added later, although ukelele and other sounds aren’t unknown.
Grant’s most recent effort is the combined album/political concept ‘Ignoramus’, which was released into the wild last November and which is (depending on how you look at it) either a set of double-bass-plus-voice songs or a philosophical/political manifesto for a new nation based on questioning our current course as a species, or probably both. It follows up and inverts some of the portrayals in his previous, nationalism-inspired album ‘Goon’ – “the five-part life-cycle of someone that doesn’t ask any questions about their situation.”
Another Southampton act – A Ninja Slob Drew Me – is extended-range seven-string bass player Daniel James, who since 2007 has created “moody, mostly instrumental albums” of finger-tapped ambience and distortion, citing post-rock, film soundtracks and trip hop as influences. After four albums as a solo act, Daniel introduced violinist and vocalist Jo Stevens into the project last year as a full partner, with their first album as a duo due to arrive later this year.
Former Ozric Tentacles/Firebird bass player Greyum May (more recently occupied with his own psychedelic/progressive project Keepers Brew) will be playing host but (as far as I know) will be staying off the bass himself in favour of playing a DJ set of “the best in bass-heavy tunes.”
Headlining, Steve Lawson will presumably be offering what he usually offers – deftly melodic bass playing which he’ll simultaneously loop, layer, warp, e-bow and KAOSS-Pad into semi-improvised minimal-maximal solo orchestrations which mingle jazz tunefulness, crowd-pleasing rock directness, and the textured rhythmic detail of prime electronica. Half of the time it won’t sound like a bass, and a third of the time it’ll sound like nothing on earth; with the added bonus being that you won’t necessarily need to be a hardened avant-gardener to appreciate it.
Gregarious loop bassist Steve Lawson has announced (at pretty short notice) three gigs in England over the coming week. As ever, they’ll be a tuneful/melodic/noisy hybrid of jazz, pop, electronic and ambient influences squeezed through Steve’s battery of sound treatments, and salted by the usual mixture of stand-up comedy, general gabby friendliness and opinionation; the last of which isn’t a word, but is a pretty good definition of what Steve does when he’s not playing, and sometimes when he is playing. At a Lawson gig you get the whole brand, and then some. You can take your family; you can take your friends; you can take a donkey whose legs are in need of a bit of honing…
Steve Lawson + Echo Engine + others (SoundCellar @ The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1NE, UK, Thursday June 25th – 8.30pm, £8.50 )
This is the one which counts as a full gig – a solo Steve Lawson set, after which he’ll be joined by the Echo Engine trio (Daniel Biro on keyboards, ) plus ex Bjork/D’Influence drummer Pascal Consoli and the ECM-inspired saxophonist Jon Lloyd. Up-to-date info is here and here, and you can reserve your ticket via email here.
Scott Pellegrom + Andy Edwards + Adam Gammage (Birmingham Dream Cymbals Day @ Glee Club, Birmingham, B5 4TD, UK – Sunday June 28th, 6.00pm – £10.00/£15.00)
This is actually a drum clinic appearance, at which Steve will be playing with drummer and regular collaborator Andy Edwards. Up-to-date info is here and tickets are here. Also performing are Adam Gammage (Baxter Dury band) and Scott Pellegrom.
Ian Smith’s 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday June 29th, 6.00pm – £13.20
Steve will be performing at this expansive celebratory gig for London Improvisers Orchestra founder Ian Smith – an event so substantial that it needs its own section further down this post. Steve will be playing in the 10pm slot alongside drummer Jason Cooper and guitarist Reeves Gabrels (both currently members of The Cure). Tickets here: more on the event in a moment.
And now, some more on the Ian Smith birthday event at the Vortex at the end of the month, which sees a remarkable lineup of British jazz players and other improvisers swarm into Dalston to pay tribute to one of their own living heroes. (Hopefully the timings I’ve cited here are right, as the layouts in the original postings are a little confusing…)
Ian Smith’s 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday June 29th, 6.00pm – £13.20
Ian MacGowan (aka Smith) arrived in London in 1990 from Dublin with two phone numbers in his hand: John Stevens and Derek Bailey. Those were the only two numbers he wanted at the time, but as the months went on he got to know and play with many amazing musicians – he founded The Gathering with Maggie Nichols, and the London Improvisers Orchestra with Steve Beresford and Evan Parker. He ended up playing and recording with John and Derek, and plays with anybody who wants to start from nothing. Most of tonight’s cast are old friends; some new; all are beautifully personal voices. He’ll be playing with most of them.
Steve Lawson: ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline – Part 1’
Dedicating an entire album to a cat sounds unforgivably twee, but Steve Lawson really couldn’t care less. He’s probably immune to any such embarrassment, having long fostered an image as The Cuddly Solo Bass Player (This included a stint braving potentially fatal scorn from Level 42 fans, when he played some unmanly support slots to their heroes while wearing angora coats, glitterball T-shirts and heterosexual nail varnish. If he isn’t immune to embarrassment, at least he can claim that that’s something Paul Simonon never had the balls to do.) There’s also solidity to his gesture: the cat in question is Steve’s old and ailing Abyssinian, and Steve himself is a firm believer in the lessons gained from loving our companions (pets included) and learning to accept their ageing and their eventual deaths.
Originally ‘Lessons Learned From An Ancient Feline Pt 1’ was a free companion release for the second Steve Lawson album – ‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘. As such, it’s inevitably less ordered. At the crudest summary, it’s an outtakes-plus kind of release compiling the bits of the ‘…Chicken’ sessions which didn’t fit comfortably onto the main album. Even so it gives a surprisingly effective rough’n’ready look at Lawson’s prolific and wide-ranging talent. The lover of pretty tunes who’s also a serious gear-hound and sound-mangler; the electronic texture looper who’ll groove like Gilberto. The distorted beat-science meddler with a thoroughly un-ironic taste for playing Fly Me To The Moon straight with no chaser or spoiler.
On the easy side, there are a couple of bits of Lawson the Latin lover. The opening One Hip Cat is a twangy Brazilian-style guitar study, allowing him to display some accomplished jazzy chops inside its lazy summery breeziness. There’s a hint of what’s to come via in the shape of the occasional odd drones undercutting the music; drifting in like the suspicion of sharky shadows deep below blue lagoon water. Here Endeth The Lesson is one of Steve’s loop-assisted live collaborations with himself – a duet between a slow Latin rhythm bass with a pillowy tone and a solo fretless bass carrying the tune. The latter (high and tenor-y) sings off into the dusk with an impeccable spacey melodicism, ultimately sliding away into a sleeper’s fade.
Either of these two pieces could have fitted into a summer jazz festival of samba and ice cream, and they’d also have matched those glitterball T-shirts. Two neighbouring pieces definitely couldn’t. Cute names notwithstanding, both Framulous Jam and Evil Harv’s Evil Empire are discombobulated systems music. Like everything else on the album, they’re generated solely by Steve’s bass guitar and effects rack in real time. Unlike the easy-on-the-ear pieces, they sound thoroughly electronic and abstracted.
Evil Harv’s Evil Empire arrays fast and atonal binary-on-off hums, mingling them with suspension-bridge twangs and plucks and snips. Interrupt silences and backward sounds are stewed into the brew, before all is ultimately rendered into a backdrop for some of Lawson’s roaming, unbounded glissandi. In Framulous Jam, harmonic chime-chords are worried gently by electronic interrupts, setting up interesting conflicts between hanging sustain and random blip-jitters. Both could sidle into those earnest meets in obscure juice bars, haunted by men from ‘The Wire’ intent on watching other men frown over gurgling laptops.
Ultimately, the album’s centrepiece is the saccharin-titled but sonically stretching two-parter Sleep Eat Snuggle Repeat. In the first part, angelic traces of sustained E-bow bass – thrillingly vocal – move between foggy front of cold and warm textures, exchanging almost imperceptibly. In echoing caverns beyond, pings ring like stressed piano notes, clocks tick, water drops, wah-pedals disgorge diffuse gushes of sound, and bubble-motors pulse and spurt. Part two builds on the preceding one. A float of sounds and traces are punctuated, now and again, by a giant organ-like roar as the digital stops are eased out. It’s pure abstract indulgence, but mightily effective. It sounds like the dreams of a flea on a whale.
The big joke is that behind the twee titles lurks Steve’s most bizarre album yet, and one which stakes his most effective claim to being a serious experimental musician as well as a family-friendly melody man. What was the most important lesson which Steve Lawson learned from his cat? Why, to move when you least expect it…
Steve Lawson: ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 1’
Pillow Mountain Records/Bandcamp, PMR 0013(B) (no barcode)
Released: 2nd September 2002
Buy it from: Bandcamp, download only. The original release was a CD-R included with early orders of ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’: some copies may be in circulation second-hand.