Concert Reviews

Thursday 21st May

May 21, 2009

Well its nice to be able to collapse at home tonight after work. I’m really feeling the after effects of a few crazy days tonight. Not that I have any regrets at all about making my second and third trip to Café Oto in a four day period, it is always a pleasure, but making that journey straight off the back of a ten hour shift in the dayjob two days on the trot takes it out of you. Last night I was pretty unsociable simply because I was lacking the power of speech for most of the evening. I was reminded of those early episodes of Star Trek that I watched as a kid, when after the Enterprise had been damaged by enemy fire Kirk would instruct Scotty to divert all power away from anything that was not completely essential until repairs could be carried out… Anyway this wouldn’t be a post at TWE without it beginning with a moan about how tired I have been 😉 As i said, I really enjoyed the two days. There was a lot of music to take in again though and a lot to try and write about, so I will just mention the first of the two days’ shows this evening, and write up Wednesday tomorrow.

I have listened to a lot of Seijiro Murayama’s music over recent months and found it a great pleasure, so I definitely wanted to make the effort. On Tuesday night he opened the show with a solo performance on his minimal (essentially just a snare drum and preparations) percussion set-up. Tuesday night’s show was quite disappointingly attended, with maybe only fifteen people sat watching. For once though I think the low numbers helped the evening’s music, as this solo set was very quiet, very austere and really needed the absolute quiet that it received. Murayama used a single mic attached to his wrist to capture some of the sounds from his drum, which he then sometimes amplified through the PA, with a volume pedal controlling to what degree. There was a solemn, almost ritualistic feel to his playing. He began by rubbing a small wooden stick up and down a piece of ribbed plastic tube resting on the skin of the snare to create a hollow, echoing throb of sound. Later he scratched quietly at the drum with a wire brush and even broke into a low, groaning vocal moan at one point that somehow sounded better than you might think it could.

This opening set was followed by a splendid duo performance by Terry Day (born 1940) and Ute Kanngiesser (born I would guess sometime in the mid-eighties, sorry Ute if I I have got this wrong! 😉 ) That Day is technically old enough to be Kanngiesser’s grandfather didn’t matter a jot though. One of the great things about how improvised music has been developing in London of late has been the way different generations of musicians have come together so easily with the danger of improvisation as their common ground. Different styles of playing appear together regularly on the same concert bills, divisions that used to exist between different sets of musicians are slowly evaporating and performances like this one are becoming all the more common. Kanngiesser played as powerfully as she has on each occasion I have seen her of late, an energetic, yet always graceful and controlled flurry of bowed cello playing. It has been maybe a decade since I last saw Terry Day play in a small group, but I don’t know why as his musicianship here was really great, a mixture of remarkable skill, excellent timing and a fair amount of humour. He played a series of bamboo rods that had been fashioned into kazoo-like flutes, some everyday balloons, his bottle of water which he shook like a percussion instrument, tipping some of the water out onto the concrete floor, the splashes working bizarrely well with Kanngiesser’s playing, and even broke into an impromptu human beatboxing passage at one point. For all of its quirkiness though Day’s contribution was bright, sharp and thoroughly focussed on its interaction with the cello. I found myself riveted. The music was fast, busy and talkative but always completely engaging, due in no small part to the high degree of skill involved in its performance. The instant, completely controlled sounds that Day was able to pull at will from a simple balloon brought to his lips was in itself quite staggering.

The evening closed with the duo of Murayama and Phil Durrant, on this occasion playing his maschine, which seems to be an instrument developed as a controller linked to computer software designed for creating dance music, but here somehow driving what sounds like an analogue synth emulator. Certainly if I was just listening to the music Durrant makes with this tool blind on a CD I would have no doubt that I was in fact hearing an old-school synth. This set up seems to allow him to use computer generated sounds in a more hands-on, tactile manner. He didn’t touch the laptop itself at any point, the sounds generated instead by tweaking a large bank of dials and buttons.

It was thoroughly interesting to watch and listen to these two experienced, highly skilled musicians seek out common ground between their admittedly quite different sets of sounds. Murayama’s playing was full of tiny crackles, dry scrapes and rubs, plus more soft vocal moans. I wonder though if this soundworld would have been better suited to the hisses and rumbles we are more used to from Durrant’s straight laptop work rather than the bleeps and whistles of synth. They made things work though, finding a slow pace together that allowed both to initiate passages of sound for the other to follow into, and such is the ability of these two musicians that the set flowed nicely, but perhaps the music had to fight to reconcile the differences between the two sets of sound a little too much. It felt that the search for a way of bringing the differences in instrumentation together hampered the development of the music beyond this a little. I have no doubt that these two very sensitive and like-minded musicians could make very strong music together, but this was I believe the first meeting between them, and it felt like a bit of an exploratory affair and maybe next time they would do things differently. Still, an enjoyable and again engaging set.

Café Oto with only a few people in attendance was still a lovely place to spend an evening. The atmosphere there puts me in a good mood every time. It really has become the centre point for a thriving improv community right now, and while what is going on with the music feels important and inspirational, Oto just feels completely comfortable and familiar, removing so much of the stress involved with arranging and promoting gigs that sapped the energy of musicians previously.

Anyway I will write up the Wednesday gig tomorrow, duos between Murayama with Seymour Wright and Eddie Prevost and a splendid bass solo from Guillaume Viltard.

Oh I forgot to say, the header image today comes from an iPhone shot of the shadow cast by some of the plants scattered around Oto. I really like the way this came out, might leave that one up there a while.

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