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…

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Bohman Brothers Present, 2-May-07 — David Leahy, Jamie McCarthy, Angeline Conaghan, and others…

Posted May 4, 2007

Battersea Arts Centre

A nice Bohman Brothers Present (at Battersea Arts Centre), with three groups… And I might be dropping myself in it, since I ended up the last (only) member of the audience still standing. First:

David Leahy, Jamie McCarthy, Angeline Conaghan
I really liked this… Conaghan (myspace) sang some pretty intense vocals; the odd piece of fragmented song-line, the rest: sort of long vibrating throaty tones, sounding like some unknown language, cut-and-spliced, mashed up; wrong; great. Not just scatting! David Leahy (myspace) played nice bass, getting quite manic in places, and pretty exciting. Jamie McCarthy (myspace, and as doghead) played some nice bluesy*-sounding violin, and sang along a bit as well. It was an interesting coming together of styles – the bass, the rootsy violin, and the broken-operatic voice; quite nice! (* Probably not bluesy; American of some description, I’ll think of the right word later…)

Steve Beresford and Satoko Fukuda
Satoko Fukuda was also playing violin, making some rich, wide sounds. Steve Beresford was as genius as ever, playing inside and outside of his piano, using it as a complete instrument and pulling out every possible sound… and not even dropping a beat as he pulled out a screwdriver to fix some troublesome fixture inside the piano cabinet… Someone said that it’s often difficult for strings and piano to come together, but I thought it worked really well and it sounded pretty special (whatever I know). Fukuda apparently has a CD in the Emanem pipeline (with Veryan Weston and Hannah Marshall)… I’ll have to keep an eye out!…

Adam Bohman, Adrian Northover, and David Leahy
David Leahy stood in to replace an incapacitated Dave Tucker (who would have been playing guitar); Northover played some shreaking lines on alto and soprano saxes; Leahy had fun in the back, while Adam Bohman clamped contact mikes to pieces of junk (see here), bowing, beating, plucking wires, strings, springs, light bulbs, forks, table boards… Sometime I should get round to writing about Reality Fandango, his acoustic duo recordings with Roger Smith, which is awesome. I just found this Adam Bohman solo CD, which looks cool; the mp3 link on that page gives a perfect representation of the mad humour there is in everything he seems to do. I hope it’s not rude to start laughing…

PS. The next Bohman Brothers Present is next Thursday (against normal practise, which would have made it a week next Wednesday), supposedly featuring Ingrid Laubrock playing the music of Steve Lacy?!?


Paal Nilssen-Love – Townorchestrahouse

Posted May 2, 2007

Townorchestrahouse record cover

I remember reading a review of this in The Wire, or something, ages ago, but was never able to actually track it down… But last week I found it on eMusic, and I just can’t stop listening to it. Paal Nilssen-Love (d), Sten Sandell (p), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (b), and Evan Parker (ts/ss), recorded live at the 2002 Kongsberg Jazz festival. And it’s a proper twin-set-and-encore live recording, so it’s a good almost-as-if-you-are-there-but-obviously-not thing.

The tracks are Town (first set), Orchestra (second set) and House (encore). (Is Townorchestrahouse a literal Norwegian–English translation?) Parker plays tenor on Town, and the whole group is really full-on. It’s noticeable (tho, I don’t mean, too noticeable) how close they seem to be following each other, trying to play to each other’s styles; sort of like the Norwegians trying to work out how to play Evan Parker; Evan Parker working out how to play Norwegian. The second set, Orchestra, sees Parker come back on soprano for the most part, and there’s a definite change in the group dynamics; a bit looser in the sense that, on Town, they’re trying to play as a unit, whereas on Orchestra they’re playing as four individual members of one group… Parker’s soprano just sounds so excellent! The highpoint is his own solo, about two thirds of the way through, where the rest of the band just peel away and drop out; the only sound left is the sax, the audible dynamics of the club itself, passing traffic outside… and it’s beautiful. In retrospect it’s like the whole piece is a build up to this peak, the frantic rhythms and build of Parker’s solo-playing reflected in the movement of the preceding twenty minutes of group improvisation (there’s a more eloquent description of this at One Final Note).

Paal Nilssen-Love plays great throughout, but then I think he always does; I like his style, it’s almost as if he’s soloing behind everything. Sten Sandell plays some great scattering melodies, everywhere. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten I’ve heard on other stuff (like, with Atomic and The Scorch Trio) but I’ve never really *heard* him; other reviews seemed to imply that he’s not at his best on this disc, but I’m loving his great deep guttural sounds; it seems such a peculiarly deep bass sound. He plays out the first set solo, and it sounds pretty special.

Looking around, it turns out that it’s quite easy to get hold of this disc after-all, and I definitely recommend it (although it’s been out a few years already so I’m probably the last man alive to hear it). Get it from Clean Feed records direct, or try eMusic.