Wire WXXV festival, at Conway Hall, 12/11/07 » Han Bennink (drums), John Tchicai (saxes), Sunny Murray (drums), Spring Heel Jack (electronics), John Edwards (bass), Orphy Robinson (marimba), Tony Marsh (drums) «
Wire magazine’s WXXV festival (that is: 25th birthday festival, for all the square cats) has been in motion for a couple of weeks. Plans to go to more have disintigrated into a start with this night, at Conway Hall. (A new venue for me; pretty nice ;) ) Three sets with three groupings, each a different drummer, Spring Heel Jack (Ashley Wales, John Coxon) providing continuity throughout (the pair also presumably providing much of the organisation as an extension of their Back in Your Town club nights).
Their Han Bennink-backed trio started the night. Bennink is someone I’ve heard having fun on disc, a little bit, with Br ötzmann, Nerve Beats, and the like… But seeing him before me, I was knocked clean over ;) A slightly manic figure, with rolled up trouser legs, a grin that looks just a little bit too crooked… But he sat down behind the kit and started belting out grooving free rhythms that were like nothing else. John Coxon’s top-form broken electronic guitar-playing, pushing in glitches, Wales’ electronics pushing bass-line grooves on an obvious dance music tip. Fantastically moving, jiving, honest, fun… Bennink a true inspiration. When his cymbals fell over and crashed to the floor it was still perfect. His immense grasp of playing space, moving out front to sit behind a single snare drum but flailing his arms (and legs) behind himself to hit that odd beat that he’d left behind, was such a clean, open pleasure to watch. Should probably have bought their CD! The mixture of driving free drums, and the pounding electronic beats made this… Free Improv that you can dance to? Not quite, but still very cool.
The second act saw Han Bennink replaced with Tony Marsh, and Orphy Robinson and John Edwards added, along side the great figure of John Tchicai; he of Coltrane’s Ascension… A bit disappointing seeing him assume a slightly marginal role, playing brief sax (and bass clarinet!) passages alongside the colossal (but easy tempered) sound-scapes of SHJ, bass, drums and marimba. The piece was cool, and the playing was great, but it wasn’t quite as killer as Bennink et al, mainly because it seemed a bit too pre-meditated. John Edwards played some cool and interesting textural passages, and Tchicai was nice and vocal on bass clarinet, but didn’t quite grab me as much as the other music.
The evening finished with the same ensemble, but with Tony Marsh replaced by the great bear-figure of (free jazz legend) Sunny Murray. He launched off with a mesmerising and satisfyingly jazzy solo opener, catching most slightly off-guard, with Edwards, some minutes later, catching a drift and pulling the group in with a deep funk bass line. Maybe I’m just not subtle enough, but this was a lot more exciting. Unfortunately, maybe due to pressures of time—or perhaps because Murray had just had enough—as soon as the thing quietened into a lull, the drummer took it upon himself to bring the piece to an abrupt halt, finishing the proceedings as Coxon was still plucking out from his guitar. Watching him dance up from his kit and across the stage, taking his applause, I just wished that they could have played on longer…
Some more photos on flickr: