Concert Reviews

Another city, another concert.

May 28, 2007

After a week that seemed to go on forever I cut it short Friday lunchtime and after a lot of trouble involving someone trying to fraudulently use my debit card I got on a train into London, before transferring across to the Eurostar terminal at Waterloo to head over to Brussels for the Radu Malfatti et al concert I mentioned a couple of posts back.

I’d never travelled on the Eurostar before, and the trip was as much an excuse to fill that gap in my experience as anything, and I’m really glad I made the effort. The train itself was nothing much to write home about, but its been a while since I made a long rail journey and it was great to turn off the work phone, relax with a book and my iPod and watch the graffiti strewn decay of London slip away into the drab Kent countryside before dipping under the English Channel and reappearing twenty minutes later in France.
The experience of going under the channel was supremely unremarkable, and the fields of France don’t look that different to their counterparts in the garden of England. One thing struck me immediately, and slightly oddly though, and that was the different design of electric pylons stretching across France compared to those I had just seen in the UK. Odd how little things jump out at you on a journey like that.

On the way I finished Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman collection of short stories, not bad all round, and listened to another Bach CD, this time a burn of Janos Starker’s rendition of Six suites for solo cello made for me by a friend determined to get me listening to more varied music! Really enjoyed the recording though, and made for great travelling music.

As I didn’t have a lot of time before the concert I grabbed a taxi from the Gare de Midi station in Brussels to my hotel, and oh boy that was a journey. During the two or three mile trip the taxi left the ground on at least two occasions, the driver had several heart attacks and swore in the direction of at least ten other vehicles in several languages before we arrived, slightly shellshocked at our destination. On the return trip Saturday I made sure I left enough time to be able to walk!

As I stayed just a short walk from the venue I took a leisurely stroll around some beautiful backstreets along the way, and stumbled across a bustling square full of people watching an open air jazz festival. As I carried on walking the music hung in the air for a while before disappearing several corners later. The music wasn’t of much interest but I couldn’t help but think this just wouldn’t happen in the UK.

At the venue I met up with David Bauwens, an online friend and a photographer friend of his Eleen, who took some of the photos shown here, thanks Eleen.
The concert was divided into two halves of about 90 minutes each, with all six of the musicians involved for all of the sets, Radu Malfatti (Trombone), Taku Sugimoto (Guitar), Christian Kesten (Vocals), Julia Eckhardt (Violin), Toshimaru Nakamura (No-input mixing board) and Lucio Capece (Bass clarinet and soprano sax).

The group’s aim was to investigate the area between composition and improvisation, and this was most apparent in the first three pieces of the evening, all written by Kesten. I’m not sure of the exact nature of the scores, so I could be missing something important, but the first, Without title was very Malfattiesque in tone, with long silences broken up by timed patches of sound, mostly muted tones that rose very slightly, with Sugimoto plucking one deadened note from his electric guitar repeatedly in quick succession. I was impressed by Kesten’s input, which is an unusual thing for me to say about an improvising vocalist. He made understated hissing noises, quite literally the sound of escaping air that blended into the overall atmosphere nicely.
Throughout the first half of the performance, and particularly obvious during the first composition, a young, somewhat overweight girl played football in the street outside the venue, screaming out happily every so often, and occasionally blowing on a referee’s whistle, adding a distant, pleasing context for the music to take place in.

After the austerity of the first piece, the second and third added some further elements to proceedings.Dodger Stadium and Cypress Park seemed to be related works and included video elements that were projected onto the white wall behind the musicians, with the audio from the film filtered into the room via a couple of speakers. The films burst onto the wall at timed intervals. Each were static shots filmed at seemingly random locations, one for each composition (probably the locations that provided the works with their titles). Dodger Stadium featured a shot of what appeared to be an empty car park with grey buildings in the background. The accompanying audio kept a low profile, wind blowing softly over the mic and the occasional passing ‘plane blended beautifully into the music.

These pieces played with the audience perceptions of composition and improvisation. Whilst the musicians seemed to be following a score closely, with only two or three playing at one time, providing soft, restrained sounds, the film added another dimension, which blurred with the sounds coming into the hall from the street right outside the venue to create a nice mix of the accidental and intentional.

During the score, Lucio Capece suddenly on cue took an apple and started to peel it and then eat it (from the look on his face he didn’t enjoy it either!). at another point Erckhardt stopped and poured a glass of water from a bottle and took a drink, a moment that seemed like a natural intrusion on the music until two of the other musicians did the same in quick succession, changing what had just appeared to be a thirsty musician into part of the composition.

The film that appeared in places during Cypress Park was shot inside what looked like an empty restaurant, though every so often people would enter the room unaware of the filming, providing a loud burst of sound into the mix. Again the inclusion of this film seemed to play with ideas of chance and improvisation, yet placed these elements into a semi-composed scenario, blurring any distinction between the two. I really enjoyed these two works. I have quite possibly read them incorrectly and taken from them things that were not there, but they certainly set me thinking.

The final piece of the first half of the concert was a short composition by Taku Sugimoto entitled Doremilogy 1-12. I have to be honest this piece was lost on me. It consisted of the musicians playing short bursts of scales, (literally, Do, Re, Me) with short silences between them. The piece lasted about five minutes and just left me perplexed. Asking the great man about the composition afterwards didn’t shed much more light on the subject, so we shall move swiftly along!

After the break we received a real treat. The six musicians played a beautiful restrained improvisation filled with tension and calm at the same time, a warm, flowing study that put a massive smile on my face. Neither Malfatti or Sugimoto improvise very often, and this occasion was a joy to behold. All of the musicians seemed comfortable in the grouping, which generated a slowly evolving music that was very much informed by their compositional playing, yet at the same time very much free from the constraints.

Capece’s playing was particularly impressive, with cardboard tubes and other paraphernalia helping him produce deeply textured lines of sound that combined with Malfatti’s masterful use of grey colours and Kesten’s hissing vocalisations to great effect, with Sugimoto’s occasional chiming notes adding counterpoint.
The drive behind the set seemed to come from the combination of Eckhardt’s subtle use of circular bowing and Toshi Nakamura’s comparatively violent feedback outbursts that were the loudest element of the music and pulled proceedings along, keeping the music from falling into a murky stasis.
This set alone was well worth the trip, a superbly balanced performance by six exceptional musicians that seemed very comfortable in each other’s company.

515741871_49d399ccce_oThe last performance of the evening consisted of a long composition by Radu Malfatti entitled Bruxelles Quartet +2. The night before in Ghent the group had played the same score that consisted of a set of timings within which all of the players played a restrained single sound together, with the silences between the notes differing in duration and the pitch of the notes altering only very slightly. Tonight although the same work was performed, the musicians were asked to each begin at a different time of their choosing, within five minutes of each other. This resulted in the patches of sound overlapping in places, with short silences peeking through here and there, giving the effect of shadows overlaid on each other and moving slowly across one another as time progressed.

Having spent a considerable amount of time with Malfatti’s compositional work in recent months this treatment of his piece provided a fascinating variation on his music. Watching the musicians having to concentrate alone on their own individual stopwatch controlled parts was interesting in itself, but the music that developed had the feel of Feldman’s later long works to it, a serene beauty formed from patterns in the music that exist but remain hard for the listener to pin down.

Wandering back through the city to my hotel much later on I passed by the jazz festival again, still as busy and active as before, the place buzzing with sound as people milled around chattering and shouting, yet the stage was now empty and the musicians’ chairs vacant. I smiled to myself at this situation as I bought one of the tastiest kebabs I’ve ever eaten from one of the surliest kebab sellers I’ve ever met and wandered on my way.

The next morning after a pretty bad breakfast I spent a few hours wandering the city with my camera, relaxing and enjoying the complete break from my usual surroundings. Some of the resulting pictures can be found here

A great short break all around. Many thanks to all of the musicians and the Qo-2 organisers who are doing some great work. I’m sure I’ll make the trip there again some time. Their future programme is here

Thanks also to Eleen for letting me use a couple of her photos above. More can be seen here

Comments (8)

  • J.K. Brogan

    May 28, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for the wonderful review and for including and linking to the photos!

  • robert

    May 28, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Nice report Richard, sounds like an interesting mix of music. Also enjoyed the trainspotting :)

  • Anonymous

    May 29, 2007 at 1:44 am

    plenty of open air jazz festivals in the uk ….. you need to get out and about a little more in your own country.

  • Brian Olewnick

    May 29, 2007 at 5:28 am

    Good stuff, Richard, thanks.

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 29, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks fo rthe kind comments.

    And Mr Anonymous, I do get out in my own country, an awful lot, all four corners of it. I haven’t run into any open air jazz festivals as yet, maybe I’m just doing a good job of avoiding them.

    Incidentally from now on I intend to delete all comments left anonymously or under obvious false names. Please take the trouble of typing your name. Thanks

  • jon abbey

    May 30, 2007 at 9:21 am

    he means business, he deleted my “marmite rules!” anonymous post even. :)

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 30, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Yeah but now its not anonymous I need to see how to get it back again :)

  • Richard Pinnell

    June 5, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Hmm seems the first anonymous post was a wind-up too. Remind me next time I see an open air jazz festival to see if a certain Mr Wastell can be found in the crowd….

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