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.
- The Roisin Dubh, Dominic Street, Galway, Ireland, Wednesday 9th March 2016, 9.00pm – more information
- Fred Zeppelin’s, 8 Parliament Street, Cork, County Cork, Ireland, Thursday 10th March 2016– free event – more information
- The Loft @ The Grand Social, 35 Lower Liffey Street, Dublin, 1 D,, Ireland, Friday 11th March 2016, 8.00pm (with ReDiviDeR)
- DROP The Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England, Sunday 13th March 2016
- The Mother’s Ruin, 7-9 St. Nicholas St, Bristol BS1 1UE, England, Monday 14th March 2016 (with Lambhorn) – more information
- LUME @ IKLECTIK Art Lab, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Lambeth, London, SE1 7LG, England, Wednesday 16th March 2016 (with Taupe)
- Number 39, 39-41 Bridge St, Darwen, Blackburn, BB3 2AA, England, Thursday 17th March 2016 (with Tasmin A) – more information
- Fusebox @ The Fox & Newt, 9 Burley Street, Leeds, LS3 1LD, England, Friday 18th March 2016, 8.00pm (with Motherese and guests) – more information
- 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.
* * * * * * * *
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.
Innovate Guildford Festival of Science and the Arts presents:
Poppy Porter & Steve Lawson
G Live, London Road, Guildford, GU1 2AA, England,
Saturday 12th March 2016, at some point between 10.00am and 4.00pm – free event – more information
“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.”
* * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * *
More gig news shortly…