Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Matthew Shipp with John Edwards/Paul Dunmall/Mark Sanders at Cafe Oto, Friday February 12th, 2010...

At least it wasn't raining... but another grey day when I arrived in London with any idea of getting down to see the Arshile Gorky exhibition given up when I got out of St Pancras.

Got to the Cafe Oto in good time – I had mentally earmarked my position on the bench by the back wall so wanted to get through the doors early enough to grab it. Mission accomplished. Another crowded night for the first leg of New Yorker Matthew Shipp's three day tenure here, tonight supported by the mighty John Edwards, Mark Sanders and one of my all-time favourite horn players, Paul Dunmall.

Shipp starts, leading off slowly down low and the band come in. Dunmall plays a repeated short motif that I'd heard while they were doing a soundcheck and it pops up throughout the sets. At first Edwards' bass was struggling in the mix due to the deep thunder of Shipp's monster chords tangling up the sonic levels between the two instruments. You could feel the bass more than hear it. Mark Sanders was ticking along lightly, occasional flurries and sudden timbral rips coming through, a drummer who plays as much with expanded sonorities as well as rhythm. The bass became clearer as the bottom levels settled down – adjustment on the p.a.? Or just the band feeling their way through, perhaps? Shipp is a two-fisted player, introducing a reiterated thumping march-like series of chords that became another anchor for this set, echoed by the bass in places. The quartet divided up into occasional duos, or Dunmall dropping out for the piano, bass and drums, sections that occasionally evoked earlier modern jazz conventions with comping left hand and right hand spinning oblique melodies. As the set progressed Sanders became louder, more assertive, probably realising that the lower register hammerings of the piano needed more rhythmic stridency to balance up. Shipp was playing tough stuff, lightened up with occasional quieter flourishes. As the bass and drums balanced up, Edwards really started to drive it along – taking a short solo at one point that demonstrated all his skills – arco crossed with up-the- neck pizzicato one hand pinches and flurries, slaps to the instrument's bodywork, a dazzling display. As ever.
Dunmall inserted small chunks of melody into the fray, spinning into more elongated lines when the spirit moved, mainly within the standard tenor range, with some throaty lower register honks and blats.
An intriguing set, this first night, it was fascinating to witness these four musicians finding their places in the available spaces – or creating fresh areas to explore. The piano, of course, adds a verticality that had to be coped with. High energy stuff, nevertheless...

Second half. Shipp inside the piano, plucking bell- like tones for bass and the drummer to respond to. A game these guys know well – answered and echoed, Sanders moving to smaller instruments – brass bowls struck with mallets and cymbal manipulations. Creating a totally different sound environment from the first set which was intelligent planning. Dunmall stood benignly to the side for a while until he joined them with a breathy single repeated note, varying the timbre to fit the mood being evoked. Almost imperceptibly they moved back into band mode and 'free jazz.' Again, passages between the piano, bass and drums that approached a conventional 'jazz' swing – nothing as blatant as bebop and beyond cymbal ker-ching ker-ching and finger snaps on the off beats but a fluid rhythmic movement. Getting towards the end, they started to roar, Dunmall finding his feet on these thorny paths with some hard blowing negotiations. Ending on storms of applause. Rightly so. An intriguing night and I wish I could have gone to the next two to see how this all developed. Shipp did not play much solo piano which was a shame, perhaps, but obviously he had decided this was a communal effort. His piano, however, dominated the ensemble, powerful sonorities rising from hammered-out chords, never afraid of grabbing a chunk of clusters and banging them out repeatedly with great ferocity or using the ominous descending march-like progression which occurred several times and this vertical density dictated to a greater extent which way the music would move. Edwards and Sanders – and Dunmall perhaps to a fractionally lesser extent – rose to the challenges offered. I'm starting to fall in love with the Cafe Oto...

En passant... Matthew Shipp is noted for the variety of his collaborations, not just inside the 'jazz' continuum but beyond... Mapsadaisical has a good review here of his Saturday night performance with J Spaceman, John Coxon and Steve Noble...

2 comments:

mapsadaisical said...

Lovely review Rod. Of the three nights, this was the one I fancied most - but I already had tickets for another gig on the same night. Not just because it meant I'd be seeing Shipp playing piano, as opposed to the dense Farfisa drone of the following night (good in its own right, I have to say), but because I've never seen Paul Dumnall, and because John Edwards is always such a badass on bass.

You've got to doff your cap to Cafe Oto, they are booking some great stuff. Brotzmann last month, Matthew Shipp this, Joe McPhee with Chris Corsano soon, then the Arkestra...all in what little over a year ago was a disused factory in Dalston. Amazing.

Rod Warner said...

... thanks! I'm becoming a great fan of the Oto... going down next for Joe McPhee - then the Arkestra month after!