Monday, July 09, 2007

Royal Festival Hall, 8th July, 2007... Cecil Taylor... Anthony Braxton, William Parker... Tony Oxley...

The first half opening act were a bit of a surprise – Polar Bear. Uncharitably, after a few minutes I thought they were a pub group, better suited to one of those once-smoky back rooms beloved of the scene. An interesting line-up – two tenors, bass drums and Leafcutter John on electronics, looking absurdly young – much of his created loops spurred the action and he had the best of it, I thought. But reliance on overstated back beat – ok in other contexts – strapped it all in, for me. Tonight of all nights, one would have expected a local band somewhere nearer to the stature – and sound world/conceptions? - of the main act. We have some, after all... There were a few times when they let go – especially on the last number which gave a strong hint of further potential– but I wondered whether they have worked out the integration of electronics properly yet – as I know myself, it's sometimes difficult for a laptop to respond in live performance at the speed of the other instruments – so they are to a certain extent reliant on the laptop to point the way – here Leafcutter started with bowed cymbal which he bent into intriguing looping sonorities and towards the end of the set a balloon! You had to be there... But the tunes didn't seem to go anywhere much, the soloing constrained apart from a couple of skronk-outs – Lockjaw Davis and Johnny Griffin this wasn't. Maybe that was the point I missed – that they weren't just a blowing jazz group out of the bebop family or the free improv lineage but were trying something new. In which case the rhythm was too rigid for me. A consequence of the loops? – that they forced that backbeat – although when they got away from the straight four, it loosened up and pointed towards further interesting areas... Or just an attempt to reach a wider audience... nothing wrong with that - I'd go see them live again, to be fair... But somehow... time and place?

Maybe it was all about contrast. Which there by God certainly was... The second half opened theatrically with the lights down and Tony Oxley striding onstage to position himself eventually behind his kit – like a character out of a Beckett play almost. Then Cecil – live miked offstage or recorded - recited something relating to African myth, eventually to dance lightly onstage with bells rattling (ridiculously lithe for his age – I couldn't do it!)– some kind of invocation, opening the ritual. He took his place at the piano – and they proceeded to play a set separated into sections by Cecil stopping occasionally and peering at his sheet music to select another page. Was this stuff written down? It seems unlikely... guidelines, maybe, because how the hell could you notate it? To compare his playing with an element, water, would perhaps give something of the delicate tinkling touches, like a fresh stream say, that emptied into a river where the rhythmic current gets stronger, the melodies fluidly stretched – until you were being swept out onto the ocean, through storms and wild sunrises. He moved through all of those areas, analogically, closely followed by the incomparable Oxley, an old playing chum who knows the pianist's mercurial moves well. He has a distinct drum/percussion sound, crashy cymbals with a rough timbre that seem far from the light and crisp hiss of conventional jazz drumming. Sharp fast-decaying sounds, snare flatter in resonance than one would expect, higher pitched from other small instruments and a bongo-y timbre, only using the bass drum sparingly – possibly in deference to the sheer crashing power of Taylor when he forays into the lower registers – you feared for the piano at times... This way, perhaps, his insistent pattering and snapping collaboration cut through cleanly. A thought: anyone who figured that Taylor has strayed far from 'jazz' piano would surely have been confounded tonight, if they had the ears to hear... his harmonic language can be dense, much of it coming from the 'european' twentieth century tradition - but is is embedded in a fierce rhythmic/melodic sense that flows from jazz (and beyond in his cultural heritage) - call and response building up simple patterns into wild complexities, many shards of almost bluesy figures jumping out at you. An exhilarating ride – but this was just the foreplay... They ended to wild applause – the town was waiting for them with great anticipation it seems.

Next up, the rather wonderful William Parker who took a bass solo as his cohorts departed the stage. Arco in the main, with chorded stopping playing a mournful elegaic lament, with east-european overtones at times. A masterclass – he let loose dazzling runs and swooning, swooping glissandos fired by both arco and pizzicato technique.

The band re-formed – with the addition of Anthony Braxton – who got a great cheer. Rightly so – I was at the last gig he played here on the same bill as Cecil T – and he stole the show... What followed pretty much defies my powers of description. I felt I was privileged to be present at a rare meeting of truly GREAT musical minds. Opening on a sound exploration worthy of the AACM (where Braxton originally sprang from), a four way conversation with Taylor inside the piano, Oxley dragging out his chains to rub against various parts of his kit and William Parker using two bows at times to extract as much as he could from his bass – was anyone expecting this? Braxton on contrabass(?) clarinet, an abstracted exercise in squawked sonorities. He swapped horns throughout, going from the deep murk of the large clarinet to the high piping freedoms of the sopranino sax, via soprano and his alto – this last at first having problems cutting through – the sound was dense and complex, covering the registers. Oxley dropped out a couple of times, sitting with hands folded in obvious enjoyment as Braxton and Taylor took the music further and higher, tracked by the solid bass of Parker. Braxton went from sparse, repeated notes, honked and bent frequently, to chitteringly hoarse runs to long fluid reels of notes. Eyes were on Cecil and him, I suppose, for this unique meeting – yet what combat there was occurred under good-natured rivalry – better to see it as a high-powered collaboration. Cecil can be overwhelming, after all – but Braxton was equal to the game, pausing occasionally to wipe his sweating face and his fogged-up glasses before changing horns, having a quick listen before plunging back in, towards the end rocking on his feet, almost dancing in an odd sort of skipping hop. And throughout the concert Cecil used light and shade and a large and subtle dynamic range, not just blasting out for the sake of it. At times, I felt that they had truly gone beyond the beyond , to echo Albert Ayler's famous phrase about his music, that it was about feelings not notes. A mighty, mighty performance from all four constituents. Like I said, I felt privileged to be there – a transcendental experience. But, hey, I'm a fan...

And Ornette tonight...

Written on the run - wifi at the Travelodge in Farringdon - with someone playing some nifty jazz guitar on acoustic a couple of tables from me... a nice start to the day...

6 comments:

Mr Blister said...

Thanks for that marvellous description of the concert. I think that part of it is being broadcast on Jazz on 3 this Friday...can hardly wait

Happy In Bag said...

I can almost hear it through your eloquent analysis. Thanks.

Rod... said...

thanks for kind comments - it was truly an amazing night... I look forward to the radio broadcasts - which I will probably record (ahem)... who knows what might trickle out at some point?

Eric said...

Yes it's official : on BBC 3 from 23:30 to 1:00 am this friday [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/jazzon3/pip/6ir82/]
Many thanks - sincerely - for your comments of the concert. This information is first hand, realy. Cheers from Montreal.

Rod... said...

Hi Eric -thanks - and hope you enjoy the show... I just came across a comment on another blog which said they thought the gig was a bore... different strokes etc...

Eric said...

I'm pretty sure the concerts were amazing and I'm trusting your views on it. John Fordham of the Guardian gives a great review of the two evenings (whith less details than yours!) and 4 stars... out of 5 !

[http://music.guardian.co.uk/live/story/0,,2123166,00.html#article_continue]