Off Minor

Musings of a Jazz geek

Freedom of the City 2007

Posted May 10, 2007

Seven Sisters Road

The Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Martin Davidson curated Freedom of the City festival returned this bank holiday weekend for two days of ‘radical and improvised music’, at the Red Rose, Finsbury Park, London. Two days, two sessions a-piece, featuring twelve groups and many musicians, drawn mostly from London and the UK, but with a couple of international visitors… A great way to spend a slightly miserable bank holiday weekend, but also great to see condensed, perhaps, a good cross-section of ‘the scene’ and to catch up with a few names and faces that I’d only heard about or seen on record. A live-primer, of sorts…

There were so many groups coming thick and fast that some aspects have fallen out of my head already… So this won’t be a very intelligent discussion, but I’ll try and cover what I can remember coherently! I’ve stuck a few of my more interesting photos here… Didn’t get too many that were decent one way or the other (and most of them are from Monday, so scroll down…), but the rest I’ll put up on flickr at some point. This is also quite a long post, so I’ll reserve the right to continually fiddle, and reorganise things at a later date.

Sunday Afternoon

A slightly varied first day, kicked-off by the outstanding trio of Eddie Prévost (percussion), Joe Williamson (double bass) and Alan Wilkinson (saxes). Only Wilkinson had I seen before; he usually plays pretty intense and free, but this trio was actually pretty jazzy. I think the main jazz pulse came from Prévost, whose drums were pretty swinging, in the more conventional sense. Joe Williamson played some nice jazz-like lines, while Wilkinson sort of sprawled around fierily, on top… Didn’t plump for their trio CD, but got a Wilkinson/Prévost duo recording, although I haven’t listened to it yet (getting access to the large Psi/Emanem/Matchless/etc record stall at the back of the room was a worthwhile aspect of the festival itself!).

The second act was a largish group, Unit, which, from their ages, looked like it was probably something made up of music students. It was ok, kind-of overlapping melodies, but would have been better with a bit of structural editing; it got a bit too repetitive and could have been cut down a bit in length…

The afternoon finished with some nice textural stuff from a trio of Matt Milton (myspace), Bechir Saadé (his site) and Matt Davis. The instruments were all used ‘unconventionally’: Saadé making scattering, flattering, breathy sounds on bass clarinet; Matt Milton scratched away on a violin, initially using it as a sounding board for some bowed sticks, etc… Matt Davis spent the first half of the piece spending as much time as possible blowing a trumpet whilst not actually producing the sound of anything approaching that of a trumpet, and for the latter parts switched to laptop effects, perhaps processing and bringing back things that he had played earlier (that’s what it sounded like, but it was hard to tell…). It had a nice delicate, natural-sounding rhythm; essentially a collection of pure sounds, really. Dry and slow-paced, but it came together very well, with the trumpet-to-laptop switch breaking the piece up nicely, preventing it from burning out…

Sunday Evening

Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra

The evening was filled by outings of the London, and Glasgow, Improvisors Orchestras (separately, and together). On my return at 8 o’clock, The Red Rose was straining to fit in all of the LIO; I didn’t count but there were probably about 25–30 musicians crammed onto the stage, spilling out into the audience. It was a pretty monumental and impressive sight; after his introductions Martin Davidson almost ran from the stage… Itself, the music seemed to start off like an explosion, everyone playing at once, as a massive ensemble but one without real centre… After a while, Philipp Wachsmann put down his violin and emerged to the front, baton in hand, and proceded to conduct the form, by drawing in (or pushing out) various sections of the group (strings, horns, percussion), or by indicating individual players; this was repeated with another three ‘guest’ conductors who appeared, in turn, at various points throughout the performance (after Wachsmann: Alison Blunt, Ashley Wales, and Terry Day). This created some variation in the piece, but there was no real obvious structure; Ashley Wales tried to bring in some patterning to his conduction, but it ended up sounding a bit obvious and twee. Generally, it was just taking a massive maelstrom, and then making parts of it go away, or play louder; the conducted fragmentation didn’t really create anything specifically new, just altered the dynamics a bit… Having said that, Terry Day‘s contribution revolved around a sort-of anti-poem, Day crying out line after line, bringing the orchestra up into a sort of call-and-response. A lot of the musicians suddenly seemed to start beaming with suppresed laughter; maybe they were getting ‘into’ it, or maybe it was just the more formalised structure, but it seemed to come together to make something at that point. Hmm…

Some reviews (here and here) of their recorded works seem to draw a common observation: that it might be better with a bit more formalised composition, rather than kicking off a melee, and then trying to draw out structure afterwards; some alternative to trying to rely on self-organisation in a fist-fight. Maybe it was just too big? The Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra (their site and myspace) was a much smaller group; 14 people (see the photo above) and, then, there was less of the massive duplication of instruments found in the LIO. They played two pieces that were said to have been composed (I think ‘organised’ might have been the exact term used), whatever that meant in reality… And they sounded pretty good! Like something you’d hear on Hear and Now (that’s a bit vague, isn’t it?). They finished their own set with a free improvisation that started off pretty wicked, but I think soon decended into slight chaos. But having individual players rather than the sections of instruments made it a little more transparent, and easy to follow, than the behemoth that was the L.I.O.. The third part to that evening was supposed to see parts of LIO and GIO come together, but I had to leave early, to wrangle with engineering works on the Portsmouth line, so I missed that and can’t say what happened. I’d be interested to listen to some more of LIO on record—to see if I was just overwhelmed by the imposing live-presence—or give them another try live… (Supposedly, they play at the Red Rose on the first Sunday of every (?) month). Anyway, it’s pretty fantastic that such a group (as the LIO) exists, and it is a pretty incredible experience, but I remain to be convinced that it’s not just the musicians who are actually getting anything out of it; for this night, and for this man in the audience, I think Scotland won…

Monday Afternoon

Qua QuaJohn Russell / QuaQua

There was something of a change of mood on the Monday, but maybe that was just me getting into the festival spirit. The procedings kicked off with the group Barkingside: Alex Ward (clarinet, his site), Alexander Hawkins (piano, his site), Dominic Lash (double bass, myspace), and Paul May (percussion), a quartet which I think was really very well solid, Paul May doing some nice things with a minimal drum kit, Alex Ward playing some nice solid lines… But it was perhaps missing that little something extra… (Sorry, that’s even more vague.) I think the same was true of a large ensemble, Quaqua (which actually finished off the afternoon session); Quaqua is apparently the name given to ad hoc groups organised by guitarist John Russell; here he was joined by Ute Wassermann (voice), Chris Burn (trumpet), Stefan Keune (alto sax), Philipp Wachsmann (violin), Javier Carmona (percussion) and Ashley Wales (electronics). I particularly liked what Chris Burn was doing, and I’m liking Javier Carmona, as someone I’ve seen a few times in recent months… It was a kindof up piece, quite vigorous and active, the group as one, and sweet; good solid improvisationary music… Although, like my allusion regarding Alex Ward’s group, in the context of this very experimental festival, it was a bit straight-up. Anywhere else I would have been digging both groups massively but, for the time being, there were more unique sounds to be heard elsewhere…

One such highlight was Monday’s second act: from France, Pascal Marzan, on solo guitar. Very quiet, delicate, barely amplified guitar, and mesmerising in it’s beauty, really… Very careful lines and inventive rhythms, Marzan working a great structure and pace, and expanding his range with small physical preparations. A really masterful piece of playing, I thought; most of the audience seemed pretty enraptured, really, and you could have heard a pin drop (if you had got the guitarist to shut up)… If anyone reading this knows of a good Pascal Marzan record, please let me know in the comments!

Kallin BluntIvor Kallin / Alison Blunt

The act immediately following this had delicate elements, also… This was a string trio with Alison Blunt on violin, Hannah Marshall on cello, and Ivor Kallin on violin and viola (see photo)… It was clearly all very free, but with something lurking away under the surface, like some great conceptual composition wanting to break out. Though decliate and nimble, it was certainly vigorous and wide. It was like a very classical trio that had suddenly mastered some epiphany of freedom… (what?) Almost a mirror to the Glasgow Improvisor’s Orchestra (or even the LIO), which was almost coming from the other direction: a free-improvising group trying to reach something classically orchestral. Very strong.

Monday Evening

There seemed something of a darkness to the last three sets… Hmm, maybe that’s a bit of an exageration. The evening opened with a large group, 9!. In full, this is: Jennifer Allum (violin), Nathaniel Catchpole (tenor saxophone), Shakeed Abu Hamdan (electric bass), Ross Lambert (guitars), John Lely, Sebastian Lexer (piano, electronics + laptop), Eddie Prévost (percussion), Michael Rodgers (guitar + harmonica), Samantha Rebello (flute), Tara Stuckey (clarinet), Romauld Wadych (electronics), Jerry Wigens (clarinet), and Seymour Wright (alto sax). This was a big group, but one with lots of space… It started off pretty glitchy and textural, and pretty melancholic and dark, but changing as if you, the listener, were physically navigating through the music. There was good tension, and it was all engaging… It eventually moved to become sort of drone-based, tho I can’t remember where that came from… It sounded very contemporary, if that’s a fair word; I liked it very much… A contrast to the other big-group pieces, that all felt a little bit ‘full’ and clustered. This was very open and clear. There are some good (long) samples in the Interlace archives, most of which almost recreate the same mood.

Marcio Mattos

‘Contemporary’ was probably a very unfortunate adjective, and the second act—a trio of Veryan Weston (piano), Paul Rutherford (trombone), and Marcio Mattos (cello)—was definately ‘state of the art’, but, at the same time, clearly coming from a stream of music rooted in something a little more traditional; closer to some sort of jazz-history, I think. And I think that that’s because it was slightly more definitely tuneful, in a sort of John Coltrane Sun Ship sense. Whatever it was, there was also the obvious feeling that these three were true masters of the music, there was such immediacy of impact, and the music was just so full. Marcio Mattos, I really enjoyed, specifically; his easy but delicate lines were, just fundamentally, impressive. Overall just such an impressively structured, organised piece of music, with great detail and engaging drive… Fantastic to see (and also nice to finally put a face to the name Paul Rutherford).

After that, it turns out, all good things must come to an end, the festival closing with a hot Evan Parker quartet, with John Russell (guitar), John Edwards (double bass), and Agusti Fernández (piano). This was in some way the classic Evan Parker quartet sound, Parker’s tenor: tumbling and cascading flurries of sound, with Parker himself ever cool, relaxed and in control. John Edwards as immediate and as solid as ever, really. John Russell got some nice percussive elements out of his acoustic guitar (and special kudos for having to deal with what looked like a continual stream of breaking strings). It was very nice to get to see Agusti Fernández after hearing him only once before in Evan Parker’s Electro-acoustic ensemble. Fast and complex runs, and showing great emotion, personally… Whereas Parker/Edwards/Russell were sort of zoning out (or in) to the music, Fernández was visibly enjoying what was going on, getting quite excited within the band… And again, like the previous trio, one of the great strengths of this caliber of group is their ability to create massive spontaneous structure within the music, although it’s probably an old jazz-like thing of organising into group playing and solos (or almost solos). But it creates separate, defined movements within the piece that add just that bit of extra interest, really, so it comes out as looking like a complete piece of music. Plus it’s just so damn slick and cool. I guess, being a ‘Classic Evan Parker’ sound makes it all generally, thematically predictable, but when the music itself is just as fundamentally good as this… who cares, it really is just awesome.

No Responses to “Freedom of the City 2007”

Gravatarmapsadaisical said:

#1 (on 10/2/2007 at 9:19 pm )

Thanks for this great review. I almost went to this at the weekend, and you make me wish I had.

I’m amused by your comments about Eddie Prevost “swinging”. I once went to see Eddie play in a very small venue somewhere, and he was sitting at a table having a drink. A friend of mine got talking to him about what he did, and he said he was a drummer. What sort of drummer? He paused. A jazz drummer? “I’m not sure that is what you would call it” he replied.

Other than that…Evan Parker, Alan Wilkinson, John Edwards, Ashley Wales (and I’ve seen Nat Catchpole play a couple of times before) – sounds like good stuff to me. Never heard of Pascal Marzan I’m afraid so no recommendations forthcoming here, but if I do see something I’ll check it out

GravatarMatt said:

#2 (on 11/2/2007 at 12:11 am )

Thanks for having the patience to read it!

Nah, Prevost was definitely swinging on Sunday… Maybe not quite bebop! I bought a couple of CDs off him at the event, I’ll have to see whether it was just the mood on the day!

GravatarDan Warburton said:

#3 (on 18/2/2007 at 6:22 am )

Pascal will be curating a two-day festival of improvised music in Paris at the Espace Jemappes on July 6th and 7th. He will of course be playing, along with myself, Jean Bordé (bass), Bertrand Gauguet (saxes), Simon Fell (bass) and some visiting Brits, Messrs Turner, Russell and Beresford. Quite who’s going to play with whom when is still to be determined, but if you’d like a weekend a Paris give it a thought. I hope the event will be recorded. Maybe you knew also that Pascal recorded in London with John Russell and Roger Smith earlier this year. Let’s hope those recordings see the light of day soon.
Thanks for the review.

GravatarTerina said:

#4 (on 30/2/2007 at 10:56 pm )

Hi there I am trying to get intouch with Tara Stuckey. Would be great if someone could pass on my email address. Cheers! The email is as follows:

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