Concert Reviews

Monday 25th January

January 26, 2010

Harrison_SmithYesterday I bought, and began reading Daniel Barenboim’s Everything is Connected, a book I have been meaning to read for a while since it was recommended by a friend, and one chapter in, I am enjoying it so far. I mention this mainly because of a nice (if slightly pointless) metaphor Barenboim proposes in the opening pages- he says that a musical note that dies away into silence is similar to an object being pulled down by gravity. If you lift something up high in your hand, you need to expend energy to keep it there. The same could be said, according to Barenboim’s metaphor, of a sound made by a musician. If they make no attempt to keep it going, if they do not undertake the action required, it will fall away into silence.

A nice little idea, but I mention it for a reason. Just after reading this I saw Sebastian Lexer play a solo set at Café Oto as part of the Matchless Records CD launch night. If we extend Barenboim’s metaphor a little further, Lexer defies gravity. Sebastian plays piano+, a piano/MaxMSP combination I have mentioned before here more than once. Essentially, he plays and tinkers around inside the piano acoustically, but the sounds he makes, or at least the ones he chooses, are then picked up by microphones and instantly sent through whichever patch he selects and then out of a speaker set up beside the piano. This happens very very quickly though, so fast that before a single sound has had time to die away it is transformed and sent out again. So we see Lexer play a single short note on the piano’s keys. but maybe instead of decaying away naturally it might continually on as a flat sound, or twist and change into something else. Each time I have watched Sebastian play live (and its quite a few times now) I still remain baffled at the difference between what he seems to be playing and what I hear. It really is as if the rules of science are being bypassed. As a master pianist I’d love to know what Barenboim would make of Lexer’s playing.

Anyway despite having watched him perform a lot I had never seen a solo performance from Sebastian before. This one, designed to celebrate the success of his solo album Dazwischen was as good as I expected, beautifully balanced, completely improvised but with a strong sense of structure throughout. There were quiet, brooding moments where only gentle electronic murmurs could be heard, and loud hammered notes that would reach their digitally extended peak before blooming into swathes of dissonant sound. There was something almost symphonic about the performance, calm moments of understated beauty suddenly shifting into grand expressive statements and the inevitable recapitulations that followed. Regular readers will know my feelings on Sebastian Lexer’s music by now and this was just another gem of a concert. Not much more to say.

Lexer opened the evening’s events, and was followed by a solo performance by Harrison Smith. Eddie Prevost’s introduction to his set playfully lambasted anyone that did not know Smith’s music, and well, I must admit this was the first time I had head him play, either in person or on disc, despite his forty or so years making music. I have to say that when he just ambled out in front of the audience and began to just play he was amazing. he began with a bass clarinet, and just blew his way through an affecting, free improv workout that just seemed to stream out from him effortlessly. It wouldn’t be unfair to say his sound comes from the older school of improv, but aesthetics aside his music dripped in power and passion and was thoroughly moving, partly because of the almost offhand way he went about presenting it.

He then switched to saxophone and just picked up where he left off, bursting straight into it, until after aminute or so he decided the strap holding up the sax needed adjusting, stopped playing, asked us to “‘ang on a minute” then instantaneously ripped straight back into the music as if nothing had happened. I was really taken with the sheer strength of his musicianship and the expressive qualities of his playing that clearly came direct from the heart. Smith appears on a new CD containing an old recording of himslef alongside Prevost, Tony Moore and the late Paul Rutherford just out on Matchless. Not something I would usually go in search of, but I think I might having heard this performance.

I had to leave before the end of the last set, which came from the SUM trio of Prevost, Ross Lambert and Seymour Wright, because being a Sunday the last trains home are annoyingly earlier than usual. I still caught a little under forty minutes of their performance however, so I probably heard the majority of it. SUM are a really interesting group. They play free jazz, but wild free jazz based almost entirely on improvisation. Before they began, Prevost explained that the group aim to reroute the history of jazz through improvisation. He said that while they might use standard jazz tunes as a form of information for the music they do not ever quote directly. This of course means little to me. If they spent the whole set running from one quote to the next I wouldn’t have a clue! The thing is though, they really rock, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. Prevost works wih a full drum kit, looking more happy than I have ever seen him spraying bits of rhythm all over the place, completely jazzy but never settling on any one groove for more than a few seconds, his playing thoroughly expressive. Lambert played electric guitar in a fiery John McLaughlin meets Derek Bailey mode, again not really touching on melody very often but flowing notes out quick and fast. Seymour Wright was having a whale of a time, ripping wild lines around the others’ music, often blowing his heart out, circular breathing to keep up the momentum. If this sounds like they played hard, fast and loud well they did for much of the time, though they often brought things down to a muted crawl, perhaps with one of the three stepping out for a bit before things built up to another crescendo.

Its true that this isn’t an end of improvisation I naturally find myself enjoying, but I did take a lot of pleasure from last night’s set, which just seemed full of joy, fun and excitement. Sometimes when it is clear that the musicians are having a great time this makes the whole thing so much easier to enjoy. I don’t own SUM’s debut album just yet, and normally I wouldn’t see myself being attracted to it, but with this performance very much in my head, well you never know.

As Eddie Prevost said at the start of the evening then, something for everyone.

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