Tag Archives: Tony Levin

March 2018 – Stick Men on tour in Europe (2-31 March – also featuring Emanuele Cirani, The Fierce & The Dead and XaDu)

27 Feb

Throughout March, King Crimson-affiliated experimental rock trio Stick Men wind their bouncing, droning, percussive way around Europe. Fronted by veteran singing Chapman Stick maestro Tony Levin, propelled by drummer Pat Mastelotto (an ever-underrated master of electro-acoustic kit and rhythmic surprise) and completed by polydisciplinary Touch Guitarist Markus Reuter, their journey takes in assorted clubs, small theatres and music eateries in Austria, Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, France, Finland, Spain and England. These venues might be somewhat smaller than the lofty theatres which Pat and Tony have recently been filling as part of the current eight-man Crimson, but this is a positive thing. It’s one of the few chances you’ll get to experience this level of inventive extended rock musicality in this size of venue, and Stick Men (playing to growing, enthusiastic knots of people) deserve far better than their spin-off status, a box they’ve long since wriggled their way out of.


 
Via both instrumentation and the inescapable Crimson connection, the 1980 template set by the latter band’s ‘Discipline’ album casts quite a long shadow over Stick Men – the knotty polyphonic staccato, the metrical puzzles, the whomp’n’chunk of two sets of hands hitting two touchstyle fretboards. But this was always a template partly shaped by Tony; and although the band’s musical direction does draw somewhat on the flinty, monolithic ecstasies of Crimson music (expect a few ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic’ instrumentals to make a bloody-knuckled showing, alongside a voyage through Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’) and their last album carried the tongue-in-cheek title of ‘Prog Noir’ title, they’re not constrained by style, choosing rather to percolate within it like one of Tony’s beloved espressos before flooding outwards in all directions.

In fact, there’s a surprisingly un-prog breeziness to what they do. Tony might have waited until his autumn years before turning to frontman work, but his warm easygoing nature and gently kidding demeanour proves a fine fit for the role; and it’s his flowing omnivorous musicality (rather than Robert Fripp’s looming shadow) which ultimately sets Stick Men’s tone and releases their flow. Prior to and parallel to Crimson, Tony had five decades of first-call sessionwork: his glomping basslines backed and coloured the songs of Paul Simon, John Lennon, James Taylor, Peter Gabriel et al in a manner closer to conversational doo-wop singing than to simple low-end rooting, and some of that singing quality’s migrated to this project.


 
To an extent, Markus is stuck with a Frippish guitar role (he provides formidable reflections of the latter’s magisterial chops, ambient auroras and swarming killer-bee solo tone) but he also brings a different game to the stage. Outside of Stick Men, his own output has included free-form electric improv, protracted psychedelic drones, tundra-fire accompaniment to Siberian throat-singers, wild higher-mathematical dance frenzies and immense algorithmic orchestral pieces. With Stick Men his sometimes stern, magisterial-seeming stage presence regularly breaks out into unguarded humour and bursts of cerebral romanticism played out through the fretboard. Meanwhile Pat’s bridging, gizmo-assisted drumming can (and does) slip easily and unshowily between tacit Ringo Starr accompaniment, mathematical sledge-blows and intricate polyrhythmic dance-club rushes a la Marque Gilmore.



 
While most dates see the band playing alone, in Italy their Veneto date features support from Italian Chapman Sticker/bass guitarist/singer Emanuele Cirani, who usually trades in haunted, distorted block riffage as Colpo Rosso. In England, their Wolverhampton date is shared with friendly British troupe The Fierce & The Dead, who’ve been rebounding around the gaps between garage rock, prog, highlife and post-hardcore since 2010 and now seem poised on the brink of a substantial breakthrough. In Spain, the opening act in Madrid is XaDu, the hanging, questioning, avant-progressive jazz-rock duo put together by cross-genre Spanish drummer Xavi Reija and Serbian texture-jazz guitarist Dusan Jevcovic, who play up a complex two-man interplay while simultaneously sousing it in a dirty, deconstructive electrical storm.




 

Full dates:

  • Planet Live Club, Via del Commercio 36, 00154 Roma, Italy, Friday 2nd March 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Viperclub, Via Pistoiese 309/4, Piazza Ilaria Alpi e Miran Hrovatin, 5, 50145 Firenze, Italy, Saturday 3rd March 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Blue Note, Via Pietro Borsieri 37, 20159 Milano,, Italy, Sunday 4th March 2018, 9.00pminformation
  • Club Il Giardino Lugagnano, Via Ugo Foscolo, 37060 Sona, Veneto, Italy, Monday 5th March 2018, 9.00pm (with Emanuele Cirani) – information here and here
  • Porgy & Bess, Riemergasse 11, 1010 Vienna, Austria, Wednesday 7th March 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Budapest Jazz Club, Hollán Ernő utca 7. 1136 Budapest, Hungary, Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • BlueNote Jazz & Music Restaurant, J.Hašku 18,
    915 01 Nové Mesto nad Váhom, Slovak Republic, Saturday 10th March 2018, 8.00pm
    – information here and here
  • Sono Centrum, Veveří 105, 603 00 Brno, Czech Republic, Sunday 11th March 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Lucerna Bar, Vodičkova 36, 110 00 Praha, Czech Republic, Tuesday 13th March 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Robin 2, 20-28 Mount Pleasant, Bilston, Wolverhampton, WV14 7LJ, England, Thursday 15th March 2018, 8.00pm (with The Fierce & The Dead) – information here and here
  • Acapela Studios, Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff, CF15 9QD, Wales, Friday 16th March 2018, 9.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Trading Boundaries, Sheffield Green, near Fletching, East Sussex, TN22 3RB, England, Saturday 17th March 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • L’Empreinte, 301 Avenue de l’Europe, Savigny-le-Temple, Paris, France, Sunday 18th March 2018, 6.00pm – information here and here
  • Tavastia, Urho Kekkosen katu 6, Helsinki 00100,Finland, Monday 19th March 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Validi Karkia Club, Pori, Finland, Tuesday 20th March 2018, 8.30pm – information here
  • Sala Bikini, Av.Diagonal 547, L’Illa Diagonal 08029, Barcelona, Espana, Thursday 29th March 2018 – information t.b.c.
  • Cool Stage, Madrid, Espana, Friday 30th March 2018, 8.00pm (with XaDu) – information here and here
  • La Cochera Cabaret, Avenida de los Guindos 19, 29004 Málaga, Espana, Saturday 31st March 2018, 9.00pm – information here

 

REVIEW – Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter: ‘Islands’ single, 2013 (“setting things right as well as respecting the source”)

9 Sep

Fletcher/Fletcher/Reuter: 'Islands'

Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter: ‘Islands’

Ironically, we often record cover versions to find out – or to show – who we are.

Markus Reuter, for instance, would prefer it if other people could stop telling him who he is. Too many of them are telling him that he’s obliged to be the twenty-first century’s Robert Fripp. They can’t get past his Frippic virtuosity on touch guitar, his past as a Fripp student, or his work with the man’s former King Crimson colleagues (in Stick Men and Tuner). They can’t even get over the fact that these days he plays all of the Fripp parts in the Crimson ProjeKCt…

Ah. Well, all right, but Markus’ vivid success in the sprawling latterday Crimson family shouldn’t have to box in a musician as stubbornly wide-ranging as he is. Yet it does, even though you don’t have to scratch him too deeply to discover that he’s not as enFrippened as he seems. When it comes to willful and wayward yet methodical 1970s virtuosi, Mike Oldfield is kernelled deeper in Markus’ heart than Fripp is. Hence this unexpected and open-armed cover of a long-forgotten Oldfield song, recorded by Markus in cahoots with long-term collaborators Lee and Lisa Fletcher, and demonstrating that Markus deals with more musical colours than just ‘Red’ ones.

A few sketchy parallels can be drawn here. When Oldfield released the original Islands single (back in 1987, towards the uglier end of his Virgin Records contract), he wasn’t entirely sure who he was. Though he’d made his name via intricate, acclaimed confections of multi-instrumental experimental rock, spatial Celtic folk and classical minimalism, by the mid-’80s Virgin had talked him into writing hit-and-miss pop songs dressed up with fat blobs of Fairlight, gated reverb and arena grease. The ‘Islands’ album floundered to cover both poles – a side of lengthy neoclassical fare (heavily spiced with chants, electric flourishes and whirring jazz flute) counterweighted a side of echoing pomp-rock (with straining guest singers and drums like torpid cannons). Even back then, this didn’t age well, despite spawning a vapid video album in which Bonnie Tyler and Kevin Ayers (in ‘Miami Vice’ regalia and power-frosted hairdos) sang and jostled their way through pastel-misted virtual realities and through corny CGI blizzards of New Age totems, ducking flying Tutankhamuns as they went.

At that point Mike Oldfield was pretty lost. Though he’d only stick the situation out for one more album (before rebelling and revitalizing himself via the inspired slice-and-dice music of ‘Amarok’) in 1987 he seemed beached. Islands – the song – ended up a little lost as well. Uniting strands of John Donne, Celtic Big Music and Dream Academy oboe, it could have triumphed over the crash of reverb: with its lyric of loneliness unclenching it could have become one of the decade’s all-join-hands power ballads. It even had Bonnie Tyler singing it, all sandpaper and yodels. What actually happened is that it floated round the middle of various European charts for a while and then sank.

In contrast to the lacquered, divided and ultimately stranded figure that Oldfield cut in the late ’80s, Lee Fletcher comes to Islands knowing himself and knowing what he’s doing. After a decade of quiet self-apprenticeship and networking, the Fletcher sound has blossomed into a rich pool of talented instrumentalists and instrumentation – digital blips to rattling jazz, frosty-fanged art-rock guitars to keening folk and glowing chamber music, choreographed with a mixture of precise delicacy and expansive flair. His auteur-producer take on Islands doesn’t just restore the song’s appeal. As a string quartet jumps from scratchy shellac recording to full live presence alongside uillean pipes and whistle – and as Markus rides happily at the centre of the song, his touch guitar chords and slithers fanning out like a nerve map – it restores the song’s lost Oldfield-ness. This could be as much rebuke as tribute. Either way, there’s the feel of setting things right as well as respecting the source.

There’s a little of the undulant Saharan patter of a Peter Gabriel song (reinforced by Tony Levin’s prowling spring of a bass part). There’s the spirit of an Irish pub session, too (Alan Burton’s pipework recalls other Oldfield moments, such as the haunted morning chills of ‘Ommadawn’ or Paddy Moloney’s warmer dip-ins on ‘Five Miles Out’ and ‘Amarok’). Finally, there’s the third side of the Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter team – Lisa Fletcher. Compared to Lee or to Markus, it’s less clear whether she knows who she is, musically. More to the point, it’s not even clear whether she thinks its important. She’s the only member of the F|F|R trio who’s got form for actual impersonation (if you don’t believe me, check out her startling Sinead O’Connor impression from an old series of ‘Stars In Their Eyes’) and for now, she’s keeping up that sensuous and welcoming vocal persona with which she helmed Lee’s ‘Faith In Worthless Things‘ last year – a flushed, de-gushed and beautifully controlled Kate Bush mezzo which slips supple invisible fingers round the lyrics, caresses them, and passes on by.

It’s a low-key take compared to Bonnie’s hearts-and-guts original. What matters, though, is that it works: a vocal and a sentiment that’s a welling rather than a sobbing, and far better at catching the quickening thaw that’s being voiced in Oldfield’s lyrics. Beyond the beautiful sound, Lisa remains something of an enigma as a singer and as an adept interpreter – still playing a game of veils in which flashes of other singers, other sentiments distract our curiosity, and behind which she’s drawing out other people’s words and launching them with the subtlest of spins. It makes me wonder what she’ll sound like when she’s singing her own songs. For now, she’s transformed Islands into a shimmering welcome rather than an emotive wrack, and has kept her own mystery as she does it. No easy trick.

Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter: ‘Islands’
Unsung Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 10th June 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp

Fletcher|Fletcher|Reuter online:
Bandcamp

Lee Fletcher online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

Lisa Fletcher online:
Facebook

Markus Reuter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

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