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...

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Back from London... a mighty gig at the Cafe Oto on Friday night - the first leg of the three - Matthew Shipp on fine piano pounding form, buttressed by John Edmunds, Mark Sanders and Paul Dunmall. Review to follow at some point - deciphering the Scrawls, as it were... sometime after early doors, one suspects. It's one of those days...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

See below...

Forgot to mention below - there is a good review of the Brötzmann residency's
third night here...

Review: Peter Brötzmann with Tony Marsh, John Edwards, Roland Ramanan at the Cafe Oto, London, Thursday 28th January, 2010...

I went to London for a couple of days last week in search of much-needed r and r. Already had a ticket for the Peter Brötzmann gig at the Cafe Oto and was looking forward to hearing him again. Arrived somewhat exhausted and had to have a rest before I went out in search of Dalston and the venue – by which time the rain was lashing down. An unpropitious start... I arrived a little too early and was reduced to huddling in a door outside the club where I met a young guy who had driven down from Manchester for the gig – a big Brötzmann fan who also truly dug Albert Ayler so we struck up a conversation, occasionally peering into the Oto where the band were having a quick run through and the staff laying out the room for the evening. By the time the doors opened there was a sizable bedraggled mob outside... Brötz remarked, rather wrily, at the end of his London Jazz Festival gig in 2008 (review here) that he didn't get invited to London very often. Looking at the horde who turned up on a foul night, hopefully this will change in the future. I managed to get in fairly quickly and grab my position for the night – a table against the wall facing the bandstand with easy access to the bar and the toilets, old hand that I am... This was my first time at the Oto and it's a good room, a blocky L shape with the bar in the L. Nothing fancy and who needs it – I had a seat, very quickly a drink to warm me up and was ready for the shindig as the place got more and more crowded.

Herr Brötzmann came out to play a solo set first off – starting on alto then moving onto what I assume was the taragato. Straight away, what struck me was the throaty power he generated up close. I've seen him in concert at the crap South Bank in a larger space (as mentioned above) but here you are never far from the bandstand. The conversation outside had generated the reminder of Milford Graves talking about Albert A, that he could blow the house down with his formidable sound and Peter Brötzmann reminded me here of his lineage. (The late Ayler's vibrato could have matched Joshua's trumpet section at the battle of Jericho in the shaking-down-the-walls scenario, one suspects). The lungpower, no doubt built up from playing tenor all these years, added to a lot of lower range playing made the alto sound more like his once-main horn at times, although he played all over its range and balanced the deeper moments with plenty of screeching through the registers to rip out some high flying squalls. Yet it wasn't all granularity – he has a melodic, quieter side that contrasts with the sturm und drang he is noted for. Fast tough-blown scrabbles were balanced by long, yearning notes, giving a folk-ish sound, a touch of Eastern Europe perhaps, opening up some different spaces. More so on the taragato which is an instrument that originated in Hungary. He also engaged in some interesting distortions on this horn, doing a curious rubbing/strangling motion across the top keys while his other hand fingered more conventionally lower down that produced some interesting sonics. Whether it is the years taking their toll – although he looks remarkably sturdy and a level of fitness is a prerequisite for playing wind instruments – or just a musical tactic, his lines are choppier than I remember, the melodies breaking quicker, statement and comment more delineated by this into shorter units.

The second set was freejazz blowout time – with a rhythm team of Tony Marsh and John on bass, what else? Edwards and his drum partner set a fierce pace, from the off, the bass thrummed, pummelled and slapped to provide a massive sound. Joined by Roland Ramanan on trumpet, Brötzmann commenced on tenor before switching his horns around, alto, taragato, clarinet. Wild and heady stuff, everyone looked as if they were enjoying themselves, the heat of the moment at one point bearing down on Edward's bass – he broke a string early in, but kept on going. A man who plays as much bass as he does, losing a string hardly counted, annoying though it must have been. Maybe Brotzman sends out a vibe – I remember the same thing happened at the Purcell Room when his electric bass player, Marino Pliakas, snapped a string! Unusual occurrence on either instrument, I would have thought... Ramanan was an exemplary partner, stabbing and probing, commenting on the sax action and unleashing occasional forays of longer lines when the spaces emerged for his solos. By and large staying within the usual range on his horn. There was a sense of good-natured rivalry, the locals taking no prisoners, but Brötzmann is still a world class player, capable of riding any storm and replying in kind - and more. Yet although the overall vibe was wild and abandoned, there were occasional moments of calm where he brought out his more lyrical side – these brief episodes pointed up all the more by the surrounding fire.

My first visit to Oto – and I left wondering why it had taken me so long... accident, really. But I enjoyed both the music and the venue, impressed by a London audience who, on a crowded, standing room only night, listened throughout with rapt attention. Who says that free jazz can't communicate? They loved it all and applauded heartily. I'm already booked in for Matthew Shipp and the Arkestra... can't wait.


Everything is belated at the moment - but I hope to finally get some kind of a review of Peter Brotzmann's first night at the Cafe Oto up asap...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

We get requests... re-ups...

I had a request for some re-ups from the other week so here they are... Original post is here...

Evan Parker
Evan Parker (ts) Barry Guy (b) Paul Lytton (d)


Gene Ammons/Richard Groove Holmes
Gene Ammons (ts) Richard Holmes (org) Gene Edwards (g) Leroy Henderson (d)
Exactly like you


Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman (as, tp, vln) David Izenzon (b) Charles Moffett (d)
Clergyman's Dream


Jimmy Giuffre
Jimmy Guiffre (cl) Bob Brookmeyer (v-tr) Jim Hall (g)
Blue Monk


Monday, February 01, 2010

Review... Future of Folk Concert at the Grand Union Club, Barrow, Monday, January 25th, 2010

Down to the Soar Bridge Inn on Monday 25th January for their young folk musicians feature, compered by Tom Kitching and Gren Bartley who also closed the show. Back in the day... many folk clubs used to be like this, a mixture of ages, old and new musics, a mélange that worked – and drew a large audience... One of my beefs with the current scene is that there is too often a preponderance of older people, playing and audience, a demographic factor that bodes ill for the future, tempered perhaps by the fact that the audiences are still around but are fragmented,  go to different venues – acoustic sessions etc. Overall, there are plenty of young musicians using 'folk' either as a mainstream or a springboard to experimentation, yet you don't always see this in the average 'folk' club. Tonight was some proof indeed that the heart is still beating in the old body. House sold out and Bill Wilkes looked a happy man as we were treated to a sample of the moment. Starting with Andy Parr who seemed absurdly young but managed the opening spot with quiet panache – he kept his nerves in check on what must have been a daunting evening. Andy plays concertina, flute, whistle and sings in a high plaintive voice. His instrumental skills passed the test – a couple of fluffs here and there not detracting from his energy and skill. For me, his singing was the highlight of the set – I don't engage with instrumental folk music in the same way so freely declare my bias – but his choice of song was interesting and intelligently placed for this crowd who have firepower to spare in the choruses but know when to rein back and not overwhelm – as tonight. The Graham Miles song 'Snows of Winter' was given a sensitive reading buttressed by the assembled voices and the surprise for me – 'Wild Mountain Thyme.' A song that I remember hearing by the McPeake Family in the mid-sixties when, as a young jazz buff, I first became acquainted with folk music, which became one of those anthems that got sang to death. Yet: tonight given a totally fresh reading. Parr's voice was especially poignant here I thought and gave a marvellous link backwards for many here tonight in a natural rather than schmalzy manner.

Like I said, instrumental folk music is not my cup of meat but the duo next up played a vibrant, bouncing set, fluency coming from their paired melodeons that demonstrated an empathy beyond just knowing the notes – apparently they have played together for a good few years and this comes over in their music. Great stuff from Claire Haliday and Lauren Kluge and a nice contrast to keep the night rolling. Could almost convert me into moseying along to a ceilidh...

The advertised band apparently had to drop out late but Gren had a dep handy – Jess Morgan, from Norwich. A singer-songwriter, thrown into a folky audience – she said self-deprecatingly 'My link to folk music is a bit tenuous' – but she made out ok and they are not a shut-down puritan audience here, in the main. Interesting mixture of fragility and strength, songs spun out from her life experience with an emotional edge that carried them along well. I thought she was great – a lucky accident that provided another dimension to the theme of the night.

Lucy Ward up to the plate. I saw her a couple of months ago at this venue and was bowled over by her energy and confidence. Very up-front – 'Ay up, you all right.' Derby neat, me duck - her accent gives a natural channel to the 'tradition' without the usual linguistic contortions. (Inverted commas used to indicate the uneasy and disputed ground that word alludes to). Lucy is very much a force of nature with an abundance of sheer good-natured energy. Like all the musicians here tonight, she has a sharp intelligence and is obviously destined for a succesful career in music - or beyond. A wide range on display – 'The Fairy Boy' and Alex Glasgow's fierce 'Close the coalhouse door,' the raw Lal Waterson song 'Red Wine and Promises,' her own compositions – from the bawdy poignance of 'The Canny Lad' to the sensitivity of 'Adelphi' and contemporary relevance of ''A Life backwards.' Lucy also gave a tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle with 'Heart like a Wheel' which hit a strong emotional chord. Going out by inviting the mighty GU4 to join her on an impromptu 'House of the Rising Sun,' which was a coup de théâtre – and another resurrected war-horse with some new breath pumped into it.

Gren and Tom – I declare my interest, knowing both these gentlemen somewhat and having reviewed them often before. As they have been building their careers – as a duo and in their separate endeavours – every time I have dropped in on various points along the road I have been impressed with the speed of the learning. New material assimilated, stage personas solidifying, technique allied to emotion, energy and commitment of course – but also the plain fact that they are diamond geezers. So I'm a star-fucker – shoot me... Onto the music. A paradigmatic start: 'Green Bed' was an old English song that travelled to the US, which justifies the backbeat on two and four. Gren and Tom have evolved a fascinating and varied repertoire that incorporates English, American material - and beyond - plus self-penned songs and tunes that flows seamlessly as guitar and banjo are swopped round.  Veering more towards the U.S. tonight with a wild version of the 'Levi Jefferson Rag,' Tom's rampaging fiddle daring Gren's fingerpicking to keep up – which it did. Followed by the old Gus Cannon song 'Walk Right In' with Gren switching to banjo.  Then a sensitive reading of Blind Willie Johnson's 'You're going to need somebody on your bond.'  They vary their sets with solo spots that showcase the variety of their interests.  Tom first tonight with a dazzling rendition of a tune the name of which I didn't catch.  Apologies to Mr Kitching... Slap ma ears... Tonight an added bonus – an old friend, Big Dave, back from his travels and invited by Gren to join him in a song they used to perform a while back during university days – a raucous version of 'Barratt's Privateers.'  Tom returned for Gren's own 'Fly Fly.'  After which, a swing back into the tradition with 'Old Sir Simon the King' - helter skelter words to a jogging rhythm.  Then the moving 'No More Auction Block' which is a brave song to attempt but they have worked out how to do a sympathetic rendition without being self-conscious about the subject matter - slavery.  'The Jolly Wagoner' was given a brisk run, the old cart bouncing on syncopation and hoe-down, as it were. 
The evening went out on  another old favourite of yesteryear, with all the musicians present invited up to play along on 'Long John.' Another link in the chain... the ghosts of skiffle evoked via the shadow of 'Long Lost John etc...

The balance they achieve between the traditions is interesting - there's a strong American influence rhythmically and an obvious debt to the blues but avoiding obvious clichés - you don't hear many bent/blue notes for example, as if the African-American streams are filtered back across the English tradition to eliminate any obvious 'blackface' renditions.

So: a great night - and one that perhaps bodes well for the future...