Concert Reviews

Saturday 28th May

May 28, 2011

DSCF3495So last night’s concert then. Obviously because I had a hand in the organisation of this one I don’t think I can really write anything that objective about the event, but I can try and describe things a little, and add a few comments from Julie, my girlfriend, who attended last night’s show, and helped out with its organisation, even though she generally speaking can’t stand the music I listen to! There were two sets last night, an opener by the trio of Patrick Farmer, Sarah Hughes and Stephen Cornford, followed by the Norwegian/Japanese quintet Koboku Senju.

The opening performance was a real mix. The trio of Farmer, Hughes and Cornford is a group that shows a lot of promise. A CD featuring them, recorded a couple of months back in Oxford is due for release some time this summer. Their mix of tonal, textural and downright ugly sounds works well for me, and last night they showed how the various elements in that mix come together, and equally how they disrupt each other. At one point last night Sarah Hughes, playing amplified autoharp found a space in the music to pick out a little melodic passage, actually really very tuneful, just a pattern of four softly plucked notes repeated over and over. If this element was nice to listen to, the sudden, very loud attack from Farmer that virtually bludgeoned everything else out of the way, (in fact a wire scrubber forced down onto a contact mic) was quite the opposite, but this constant collision of soft and beautiful sounds with abrupt and often unpleasant sounds made the set for me. Julie wasn’t so much a fan of the Farmer, Hughes, Cornford trio, but that maybe doesn’t surprise me as the music they made was some way off of accessible. Talking to her tonight to try and understand her perspective on this music I made her sit and listen to, she used the word ‘disjointed’ to describe the opening trio, which is a possibly quite obvious, but also very accurate description of the music.

The second set was quite a different affair. Koboku Senju are the brass trio of Espen Reinertsen (saxophone) Eivind Lønning (trumpet) and Martin Taxt (tuba) alongside the Japanese pairing of Tetuzi Akiyama (acoustic guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no input mixing board). Julie was a much bigger fan of this group’s music, and actually quite enjoyed their set, much to my pleasure and surprise. They played in a far more calm, acoustically warm, and perhaps more traditionally beautiful manner though, and even broke into slow jazzy melody here and there, with Lønning’s trumpet often leading these sections very nicely indeed. I too enjoyed Koboku Senju’s performance a lot, though I even surprised myself at which parts I liked the most, with my preference leaning away from the more abstract parts and towards the semi-tuneful, which is unusual for me. I think Julie said something both interesting and valid about the experience of listening to this group- experiencing the music live rather than on a CD made all the difference. Often the quintet, given their close understanding of each other’s music would almost merge their sounds into one another, so that the individual identities of the musicians would get lost for the greater good of the music. Listening and watching live though allowed us to understand how the individual contributions worked together better. Julie spoke about how if she heard the music on CD she might have little interest, but being able to watch it performed, following the short journey from a brass player putting the mouthpiece of his instrument to his lips through to hearing the sounds come out made all the difference. Julie was fascinated by the way that Reinertsen seemed to almost assault his sax, appearing to blow hard through it, only for the slightest of sounds to emerge. The connection between the musician holding the instrument and the actual sounds produced is possible one I personally might take for granted, and actually often misjudge completely, but to a newcomer to the music this kind of thinking and evaluation of the connection between musicians’ actions and sound make all the difference.

If I think about it, despite my regular failed attempts to sit through concerts with my eyes closed, I too take much more from concerts when I watch and understand where sounds might be coming from. A good example might even have occurred last night when during the first set Sarah Hughes took a partly inflated balloon and dropped it repeatedly onto the amplified strings of her autoharp. Watching this happen was really nice, a kind of simple and beautiful little cameo amongst a lot of gritty, dirty sound from Cornford and Farmer, but if I heard a recording of the set, I would just hear a repeated dull chime. Knowing how that sound was made added to my experience of the evening, gave context to what I heard, and although it made the concert slightly more theatrical, and even caused me to take a quick photo, which normally is something that detracts from my ability to focus on the music as a whole, but here somehow added something.

Anyway, a lot of waffle I know, but I don’t think I could really write a proper review of last night’s concert, and it was nice to talk about the music a little with Julie, take on a different perspective of it maybe and then bore you to tears with it here. A CD review tomorrow!

Comments (6)

  • Uroboros

    May 29, 2011 at 12:04 am

    I missed the start of the first set, and when I did get there I couldn’t quite see what the musicians were doing, but I liked what I heard – the contrasts between the abrasive, crashing-stuff-into-contact mic’s sounds and the more delicate, sometimes melodic contributions from Sarah a particularly nice touch.

    I loved Koboku Senju, and was quite taken with the tight, controlled interplay between the brass instruments, as well as with Akiyama’s contributions. The latter is also quite a scene to behold! a bit like a blues guitarist (well, I guess he is one) doing his thing, occasionally tapping his foot to a rhythm that wasn’t there, but somehow finding a way to fit the musical context just right. The latter third of the set lost it a bit for me, from the part when they started playing jazz to the drone-like ending – but the rest of the set I thought was fantastic, some moments holding a lot of tension, others just displaying some excellent dialogue, and some beautiful coincidences that I couldn’t find the words to describe right now, but were really nice to witness.

    Here’s to more interesting concerts in Oxford.

  • Jack Harris

    May 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Hi Richard

    You might be interested in reading some of Denis Smalley’s article “Spectromorphology”. In it he talks of notions of gesture-as-act resulting in a particular sound shape, or spectroorphologies, and how electronic-acoustic technology puts these processes through various stages of removal, or gesture surrogacy.

    Jack

  • simon reynell

    May 29, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I really enjoyed the concert; thanks to everyone concerned with organising it and/or playing at it.

    The first trio were excellent, as challenging and unpredictable as I expected (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). It was interesting to hear Stephen Cornford playing feedback electronics without using a piano body as he normally does. The results were good, and certainly have a practical advantage in that he no longer has to drag a wrecked piano everywhere he plays, but I did sometimes miss those fantastic long deep resonances that he gets from his usual set up. Overall as Julie suggests, it was a treat of sonic disjunction.

    I also enjoyed Koboku Senju a good deal – perhaps more than I thought I would. I get a real pleasure just from watching musicians who have great instrumental technique, and this was evident from all of the quintet. Like Uroboros, I found the final third of the set harder to focus on, but till then I was hooked in and thoroughly engaged. I found Eiving Lonning’s trumpet playing especially impressive, and though I’ve never been particularly grabbed by Tetuzi Akiyama on disc, seeing him live was somehow much more powerful. Lovely stuff all round.

  • Richard Pinnell

    May 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks for the comments all, (and thank you Simon and Nicolae for coming….)

  • lawrencedunn

    June 2, 2011 at 3:32 am

    I has written a review of this’n, ‘ere: http://lawrencedunn.blogspot.com/2011/05/oxford-koboku-senju-farmer-hughes.html

    v nice gig besides, I hope Art Jericho might like to do some more, can certainly help out if you’d like.

    Best.

    L

  • Richard Pinnell

    June 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for this Lawrence, was good to see you there.

    Not sure if we will do anything else, maybe… thanks for the offer of help.

    Another review, from Mr Grundy is here.

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