Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Saturday 31st October, 2009...















Saturday – a straightener in old Hector's House then over the road for tonight's fandango. Starting with Chora – very much an acoustic improvising band with minimal electronics, violin, little instruments, clarinets – driven by supple and strong drumming to give them a steely yet flexible framework. A keyboard of some description (I assume – he was at the back of the stage slightly offsighted from where I was sitting) set up a drone some way in, coming in and easing back, providing a bottom line of structure. This was a well-paced set, using the time allotment efficiently to build to a crescendo of a clarinet duosquawling around each other before finally ebbing away. Superb – they should maybe have been further up the bill... There is a hand-hewn freshness to their work that pulls drones, free jazz rhythmic gestures and a folky dance into a unique space. I was thinking about when I first saw the Incredible String Band back in the back of the day at the Cousins club, how they exploded acoustic folk with so many different instruments and rhythms, the road that perhaps they did not travel, of further explorations into the free jazz explorations that were also such a feature of London and beyond in the late sixties, is one that fancifully leads to... Chora, who are doing it now...






Struggled into the gallery which was jammed for a related band via the Sheffield connection, The Hunter Gracchus' anarcho-collectivist counter hegemonic succour.' Blimey.  A trio, upended drums on the floor, a sax player, some kind of exotic stringed instrument. They seemed to be aiming for a ritualistic performance, as if trying to reinvent music from the ground up via rhythms, scrapes and breaths – the sax mouthpiece was utilised as a sound source more than the complete instrument was played, like a psychedelic hunting horn. I don't know if they were consciously named after the eery Franz Kafka short story but there was some attempt at calling up another world, something primal, going way back like archeologists of morning, maybe, to slightly bend that phrase from Charles Olson. At one point one of those Indian drone thangs that Allen Ginsburg used to intone over got a severe pounding - Omni Mani Padre...SQUAWK!  Ending up all crouched over the drum head blowing into several odd looking metal objects. The folk influence, veering away from electronics to produce raw 'natural' sounds? Good stuff – but again, I would like to see them in a more friendly space. Don't dig the gallery...




Back to the main venue for an epic performance by Simon Whetham, sat at the mixing desk to use the darkened hall as a canvas – a mix of electronic sounds and processed field recordings that used all the available acoustic area in a powerful set that truly evoked the name of the festival – colour out of space...

Always ready for a divertissement but Justice Yeldham was somewhat unlucky when his power supply kept cutting in and out – I couldn't hear a lot of what he was shouting to the nearby audience as he was off-mike, a lot of swearing it seemed, but he gamely tried to persevere with his bizarre act – using a contact-miked jagged piece of glass pressed to his face and blown on/manipulated with his fingers to produce, when it worked – some extraordinary sounds. It looked as if it might be somewhat dangerous – children, don't try this at home – and I think he smashed the glass in the end as the set was totally buggered. Shame – he almost pulled through by sheer personality – well, if you're going to blow through broken glass it implies a certain wry take on things. Cue for mucho H and S activites as several people earnestly swept the stage to remove all the fragments. One shouldn't laugh...



Some free jazz... Steve Noble/Alan Wilkinson unfortunately playing without the mighty John Edwards who was indisposed. But a stunning set nevertheless, coherent free improvised jazz with the pair coming straight at ya – high-powered blowing on baritone sax and splattering drums, interspersed throughout by Wilkerson's vocal outbursts of wordless wahoo – giving me the fanciful thought that he was like an avant garde version of the late Lennie Hastings ( a reference that will only make sense to older Brit jazz buffs – 'Ooyah Ooyah!'). The vocalising sound poetry gave a broader line of attack which linked up to many other acts over the weekend – an intelligent move – and also fitted seamlessly with the movement of the music, jazz sax playing being particularly close to the human voice, if you think about it. Noble parried, prodded and accompanied as the sax player switched to alto and back – demonstrating a sure technique on some rapid yet accurate high-register blowing. Hi-energy stuff played with fire and some wit, yet more than just scattered squalling – some fascinating development and interplay here. Went down a storm to a packed house...



































Then über-weird jumped in... Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer, rigged out in cod-tropical knaki and pith helmets, gave a shattering deconstruction of the old pop song, 'The Lion Sleep Tonight.' Deconstructed? They smashed it to pieces, in the old phrase, 'from arsehole to breakfast time,' and scattered the bloody fragments far and wide – and long... long... long... Jesus, the Kommissar hurled himself about on stage re-iterating 'Wimoweh,' over and over for what seemed like eternity to the point where I wanted to kill him... His partner similarly writhed about the stage singing(?) mangled bits of the song, howling, shrieking... against a hilarious yet somewhat poingnant film projection of a bloke in a scruffy lion suit walking on and on through some black and white shoreline and scrubland. On and on and on. Very funny and very clever and it pushed the joke to the utmost – and then some. The relief was palpable when bloody 'Wimoweh' finally stopped...

A lot of anticipation for the final act, guitar and drums duo Bill Orcutt/Paul Hession. Master percussionist and six string hero – Orcutt, ex Harry Pussy, given a big write up/review in the current Wire on his return to the scene with a highly rated solo album. I wondered how this would work out – interestingly, there are many links with free jazz and the punk/noise underground, which were played out here. There was a nagging thought that Orcutt might not have quite the chops needed for this level although Hession's open polyrhythms gave multidirections to move about in with plenty of space to float or dig in. A certain amount of repetition developed – maybe intentional as rock works more from repetition than free jazz. Yet overall an interesting experiment. Orcutt is certainly a fluent guitarist and it proved that the barriers are more artificial perhaps than real – free jazz, which does not spin through cycles of harmonic changes that force certain directions and techniques, by its openness should be well capable of mixing with the rawer, more avant rock/noise without either side compromising (a spectre of 'jazz-rock' looming from the old days – 'let the shipwrecks of others be your seamarks,' what?). A thought I had – another guitar would have been interesting and someone like James 'Blood' Ulmer who does the new voodoo folk blues and can also rip it up on side orders of bebop-inspired chromaticism that takes his playing into provocative areas.

But leave us not carp – another act I'd like to hear again to see how they develop. And they went down mightily...

Back the hotel through the madness of Halloween on the Brighton streets. Ah-woo, Werewolves of Sussex... Soundtrack in the bar tonight – Funk – James Brown to Chic. Up on the one, y'all...

2 comments:

mapsadaisical said...

I'm jealous! Every year I think "I really must go to Colour Out Of Space" but the logistics of organising a weekend in Brighton inevitably defeats my lame efforts. Would have been particularly excited about seeing (yup, you guessed it) Bill Orcutt - his new solo LP is phenomenal. Having read your write-up I think I need to hear some Kodama and Chora too...

Rod Warner said...

Apologies for late comment on your comment (if that makes sense...)... been horrendously knackered/busy in tedious alternation...
This festival really is worth getting to if you can - it's well run, full of enthusiastic people with a great young vibe that accepts old loons like me and a few others of more advanced years, crammed with good and diverse musics... what else can I say? Brighton a great town as well...