From one perspective, I should never have headed into London last night for another gig so soon after the last one, and after a day’s work that saw me up at five, just three hours after falling in bed knackered the night before. Still, I slept like a baby last night and as I was working a late shift this evening I was able to rest in bed a good while this morning. From the other perspective, the one concerned with my creative and musical stimulation however I am very pleased I went along.
Sadly, not many other people made the journey out. There were maybe twenty faces in the audience, and most of those other musicians. OK, so it was a wet rainy Monday night in New Cross but still its not often that Taku Unami comes to these shores, and the rest of the bill last night was pretty tasty as well. Not sure what’s up with audiences just lately. Still, from a purely selfish point of view it meant I could pick the best vantage points to sit for the night’s sets and nobody fell asleep on me this time.
The evening began with a short solo trumpet set by Jamie Coleman. I like Jamie’s playing, but have never seen him play solo before, and actually couldn’t quite picture in my head how he might go about it. He played in characteristically laid back fashion leaning back against the foot of the stage, legs crossed. He played notes, though each subtley underpinned by a frothy hiss. Beginning loosely, with each note lasting a few seconds and split apart by small silences, the improvisation developed so that little clusters of three notes appeared, gaining in volume and intensity as the set progressed. Its ages since I heard anyone let rip properly through a trumpet like this, and although the music didn’t veer anywhere near jazz I couldn’t get Miles Davis’ trumpet sound out of my head, probably as that is the only real reference point I have for this area of sound. The structure of the music actually was probably closer to Feldman than anything, as the irregular but vaguely repetitive patterns of sounds felt the same, though the rise in volume did not. The set probably only lasted about fifteen minutes but it was an enjoyable little addition to the bill, and very different to what came after it.
Taku Unami performed solo next, again scrabbling around in a far corner of the room, again with lights and cardboard boxes (massive ones this time, two or three of them, with one big enough for Taku to have climbed right into should he have chosen to. He didn’t though. Again he used clip on lights to create shadow images on the far wall, but much less so this time, possibly because the wall at Goldsmiths is a series of arches, painted blue and adorned with rather attractive radiators, making the shadow show a little less effective. The main difference between this performance and the duo with Angharad Davies the day before at CafÃ© Oto was Unami’s use of various small motor driven objects, that he placed inside the cardboard boxes, or on the hard wooden floor and let them rattle about, the echo spreading around the large very resonant hall. He would switch things off, crouch contemplatively for a while, move a light, step back, go and switch the sound off again, or introduces another, step away again, etc.. The tape measures appeared again, but this time he carefully lined them up across the hall, spreading away from his main working space, and this time seemingly having no other impact on anything, not lit by lights, and after the initial unravelling of the tape, making no further sounds. He did this time choose to hang one of the tapes from an ornamentally carved part of the wall, which sat within a beam of light, but otherwise the tapes seemed curiously detached from everything else happening. He also added claps this time, not many, just a few here and there, a couple in direct response to a particularly loud sneeze from the audience.
This performance, while a little less intimate, due to the much bigger performance space was as equally intriguing and engaging as the one the night before, highlighting to me that for now at least this is where Taku Unami’s improvisational interests lie. Coming before the immensely human music that followed it, it felt particularly abstracted and alien in these surroundings, which of course merely increased my interest in it.
The closing set came from the trio of Sebastian Lexer, (piano+) Eddie Prevost (stripped down percussion and tam tam) and Seymour Wright (sax). I have written before about my enjoyment of the Lexer/Wright duo this year, and in particular how I have felt the spirit of AMM in the way they play and interact, so adding Prevost to the group was always going to be an intriguing move for me. As he often does, Seymour Wright began making sounds before any announcements, while the lights were still on, and while Sebastian Lexer was still in the toilet (or off somewhere else anyway) he just let something I couldn’t quite identify rattle madly around on the floor at his feet, bumping into the sax every so often. Prevost joined him with a droning attack on the tam tam, partly by turning on the motor driven flail that creates a Unami-esque mechanical whirr, but also by coaxing a Wastell-esque wall of groaning sound from the tam tam. This consistent drone continued while the audience found their seats and Lexer returned, and switched off the lights before walking over to his instrument. (the photo above was captured while the lights were still on) Lexer then set about disrupting, and then halting the drone by intervening with a series of loud crashes and the ensuing decaying sounds.
There then followed a long set that went just about everywhere, and pulled me along with it as it went. There were loud, violent exchanges, the subtlest of electronic whispers wrapped around tiny metallic tinkles, complete halts disappearing into silence and deeply textured extended sections verging on drones again. The music overall was just too varied to describe its sound in a few lines here. This set defied every set of rules defining genre aesthetics and its only defining nature throughout was its thoroughly human feel, the result of three musicians pushing, testing, challenging and augmenting each other. Nothing was allowed to stay in place for long, every straight line ended in a sharp turn or disappeared into a tangled mess of other lines. There was poise, calm and whispered trembles as often as there was thunderous, crashing elation. Some parts didn’t work so well and fell apart, only for the pieces to be picked up, rolled into a ball and moulded into something new, but throughout the set the sensation of thoroughly joyful, inventive dialogue shone through. How much the musicians enjoyed the process was very clear, and albeit an old clichÃ© I have no doubt they would have played if nobody at all had turned up. Their engagement in the music had nothing to do with the other people sat in the room with them. We were just privileged to be there. Improvised music, when it is this infectious, this satisfying to hear, feel unfold around you, can feel like the best thing in the world. I think this will be my last gig of 2009, and it was a thoroughly pleasing way for the year to go out.
And somehow I stayed awake on the train home. No idea how. Then when I got to Didcot and walked home it started to rain. That woke me up for sure…
The next Interlace concert will be in early January (I forget the exact date, maybe the 7th??) and will include Jean-Luc Guionnet visiting from France. Looking forward to it.