Two shows coming up on the Friday…
Friday Tonic presents:
Central Bar @ Royal Festival Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Friday 26th February 2016, 5.30pm – free event – more information
“Making its Southbank Centre debut in quartet form, players from Project Instrumental invite you to greet Friday evening sipping on the sonorities of some 21st-century string quartets. Described as “simply knockout” (Alex Julyan, Wellcome Trust Fellow) and selected as a Time Out London Critic’s Choice, Project Instrumental brings thrilling performances to unbounded audiences. Instrument-inspired, rather than genre-led, the group evolves around a core of strings and what can be done with them, across genres and instrumental combinations, to create truly enlivening performances, for anyone. Bold, imaginative and boundary defying, this virtuosic group strips back the peripherals with their straightforward contemporary approach to, to create not just concerts, but experiences.”
Thomas Seltz: String Quartet No.1
Joby Talbot: String Quartet No.2
Nico Muhly: Diacritical Marks
Bryce Dessner: Tenebre
Though Project Instrumental haven’t made this explicit, all of the contemporary classical composers whose quartets are being played either originally stem from, or confidently dip into, a broad field of popular music. Nico Muhly has long been a byword for latterday classical/pop crossovers, balancing operas and contemporary music ensemble commissions with arrangements and co-writes for Grizzly Bear, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons and Philip Glass. Joby Talbot spent nine years playing on and expanding Neil Hannon’s chamber-pop songs for The Divine Comedy before moving on to a diverse compositional career of ballets, concerti, orchestral and choral works and madrigals (while still doing film scores and arrangement works relating to pop, such as his reworking of songs by The White Stripes for choreographer Wayne McGregor). Bryce Dessner is still best known as half of the guitar/compositional team for Brooklyn indie-rock darlings The National, but balances this against a powerfully prolific output of orchestral, percussion, film and installation-based instrumental works, as well as classical improvisation with the Clogs quintet and work curating Cleveland’s MusicNOW New Music festival for ten years.
Even the most obscure of the four, Thomas Seltz, spent his teenage years recording and touring as a rock guitarist and songwriter with French rock bands (most notably TORO) before making the shift to classical composition at the University of Edinburgh from 2006. Since then, he’s maintained his interest in the classical/popular faultline, writing an electric bass guitar concerto (for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and John Patitucci), ‘Awesome X’ (a comic opera about reality TV) and ‘Mandarin’ (a concerto written for Chinese erhu player Peng Yueqiang and Edinburgh crossover-chamber ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber).
All four composers refuse to be pigeonholed either by their established classical reputations or by their current or past roots/impingements upon pop and rock, seeing it all as a set of disciplines between which they can step as they choose. Seltz’s quartet (completed only last year) documents and honours his musical history, in particular his transition from rock musician to contemporary composer, via rock-inspired “strong dynamic, rhythmic and melodic elements”. Talbot’s possesses a wheeling dovelike softness in its graceful minimal approach, while Dessner’s takes tips from Reich, Adams and Glass but explodes them with a hoedown vigour. Sidestepping his confessed anxieties regarding the emotional exposure of the form, Muhly’s is bookended by an emphasis on lively ticking mechanisms and accents, counterbalanced by a more rhapsodic (and possibly concealing) middle section.
It seems as if this Project Instrumental set (or most of it) will be repeated at a National Portrait Gallery Late Shift appearance on April 1st (PI have been performing versions of it since at least last November). I’ll repost details closer to the time. Also in April, look out for a Britten Sinfonia mini-tour featuring a Bryce Dessner premiere.
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Eddie Parker’s Mister Vertigo
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Friday 26th February 2016, 8.00pm – more information
Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been crossing paths with Eddie Parker on record, in concert and (on a few occasions) in person. Back in the ‘80s he was a key member of the raucous, expansive yet deceptively deep-thinking jazz band Loose Tubes, holding his own as both player and composer alongside Django Bates, Steve Berry, Chris Batchelor and many others who went on to shape both pre-millennial British jazz and what came afterwards. While Loose Tubes may always be Eddie’s best-known gig (he also went on to play and write in the sequel band Delightful Precipice), like most jazz musicians he has form elsewhere; having worked as part of John Stevens’ Freebop and as an outstanding soloist and collaborator in the band of South African pianist Bheki Mseleku, as well as leading various groups including the “quartet of twenty instruments” Twittering Machine. In all of these projects, he’s known predominantly for the assured brilliance of his flute playing. Elegant and assertive, full-toned and flexible without ever being forced, it’s an expression of a supple mind-muscle which can shape-shift from tripping lightness to pooling shade in a single graceful motion.
Eddie should, however, be at least as well regarded for his skill as an all-in composer. Drawn from his early training in avant-garde classical, fleshed out by his immersion in jazz, and characterized by both an egalitarian ethos and a sophisticated-magpie taste for eclectic listening, his compositions draw on a vast array of ideas, influences and traditions. Around jazz touchstones such as Gil Evans, Mahavishnu, Eric Dolphy and Weather Report swim disparate seasonings and elements – South Africa, Stravinsky and Debussy; Elizabethan chamber music; salsa and progressive rock; mantras and mediaevalism; Bartok, Berg, Berio and Brazilian – but never in a mere showy and dyspeptic jam of ideas.
Many composers (jazz or otherwise) turn out music which seems to be disassociated from their day-to-day personality, or which is at least canted towards a slightly different space or a stand-alone ideal. This is not the case with Eddie. His tunes and arrangements are a clear reflection of the man himself – by turns committed, kind, cheeky, bucolic and fiery; all with a glittering riverine current of lively intelligence and an eye on the small details of the world. He’s also pretty lucid as regards talking about them – his own blog comments on early and recent material that he’s written for Loose Tubes are well worth reading.
These skills haven’t gone unrecognised, and commissions for Eddie from the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and Ensemble Bash are just part of it: but there’s also been immensely valuable community composing, promotion and guidance work from Eddie, such as his efforts with with Impro Integrated and his ongoing children’s educational project Groove On. His 2001 endeavour ‘People Symphony’ picked up on the human and cultural complexity of London, sprawling via public performance and collective practise across four London boroughs and thirty pro musicians plus students of all ages, abilities and disabilities, joining in a rich stew of Indian, Brazilian, African and Turkish-inspired music mingled with jazz, rock and pop. All of this is memorable – still, in the process of digging up information for this news post, it struck me how little information on it survives. Perhaps much of Eddie’s work is like most jazz performances – a collision of opportunity and uniqueness tied to a particular time and place, a particular coming-together of people which (especially on a good night) results in a grand flare of cooperation and shared memory, echoing on in the minds and the rolled-out histories of those who were there, but forever unknown to everyone who was outside that room on that night. Maybe there’s something precious in that, but I can’t help but feel that there should be more memory, more awareness… a fuller appreciation of what’s gone down and soared up.
Rather than go on in this vein, instead I’ll be a little more positive and draw the attention to Eddie’s longest-running concern: his Mister Vertigo sextet, who play in London this weekend. Eddie’s longterm cohorts Steve Watts (double bass, another Loose Tuber), Julian Nicholas (saxophone) and Mike Pickering (drums) have been in the band since its mid-‘90s inception, while the newest recruits are up-and-coming guitarist Rob Luft (replacing John Parricelli) and pianist Matt Robinson, who follows in the footsteps of Troyka’s Kit Downes and the band’s long-standing original piano maverick Pete Saberton (who died in 2012). As a unit, Mister Vertigo is a light-footed, easily accessible ensemble whose apparent breeziness subtly disguises the opportunity to experience Eddie’s compositional work up close and intimate. Expect fine playing, a warm chamber of illuminated discourse and wide-ranging thought.
Embeddable examples of Eddie’s work are thin on the ground, but here’s a brief video of Mister Vertigo in action (albeit with Eddie leading from keyboard rather than flute) plus a Debussy-inspired piano piece from Groove Music…
Incidentally, Eddie’s occasional keyboard work has developed into a fuller occupation in recent years, due not least to his work as one of a battalion of keyboard players in the vintage analogue synth group The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, for which he also composes. He’s just released an album of synth compositions called ‘The Exoplanets Suite’, which will be launched at the Mister Vertigo gig (copies should be available there for about £12.00, but can also be ordered via Eddie’s Facebook page).
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The following evening, there’s a Daylight Music afternoon with no particular theme… or, to put it another, an afternoon of their own free eclectica.
Daylight Music presents:
Daylight 217: Stick In The Wheel + No Cars + Alabaster dePlume
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 27th February 2016, 12.00pm – free/pay-what-you-like event (£5.00 donation suggested) – more information
Stick In The Wheel are a folk band from East London. Championed by John Kennedy (Radio X/Mercury judge) and fresh from winning fRoots Magazine’s 2015 Album of the Year, they’re “ripping apart the preconceptions surrounding folk music to retrieve the tender, beating heart at the centre of traditional English culture” (CLASH Music) – as the band themselves put it, “this is our culture, our tradition.”
No Cars is a Japanese pop band formed and based in Hackney, London UK – a mixture of rock, garage, gipsy, swing, jazz, calypso, punk, Punjabi etc. with a Japanese pop twist.
Alabaster dePlume (Gus Fairbairn), is a performer, writer and musician. Since 2011 he has produced three albums on Manchester label Debt Records, toured Europe as a solo performer, produced short films, and written/performed a play with circus-aerial in Dublin. He has also presented a series of combined-arts events, and his recordings are played on national radio, most recently described as “cheerfully uneasy” on Radio 3.
Joel Clayton – from Indo-Anglo folk-fusioneers (and unlikely steampunk-scene heroes) Sunday Driver, and sometimes known as trappedanimal – joins us on sitar in our fourth/in-between slot this week.
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News on March concerts coming up shortly…