I heard an extraordinary concert last night at the Red Rose in London, part of the Mopomoso series organised by John Russell. First was the duo of Chris Dadge and David Laing, two thirds of the Canadian group The Bent Spoon Trio. They had played in Oxford on Wednesday but I was out of town then so it was good to be able to hear their intense but sensitive free-jazz derived music. Mick Beck then played a solo set - one piece each on bassoon and tenor sax. As it happens, this was the third such set I had heard from Mick in as many weeks (he has been on a solo tour) and for my money it was the best - very focussed but unpredicable, intensely timbral, mostly abstract but with a rhythmic kick to it.
The main event, however, was the acoustic quartet of Evan Parker on tenor saxophone, John Edwards on double bass, John Russell on acoustic guitar and Peter Evans on trumpet and piccolo trumpet. A similar group to this, with Mark Sanders (on percussion) rather than Evans recorded the CD London Air Lift just over ten years ago. This has long been one of my very favourite and most often played CDs of improvised music. The music is often dense yet always transparent, with the musicians constantly interweaving their playing with each other so that nobody emerges as 'soloist' or 'accompanist'. I have heard Parker on a number of occassions with just Edwards and Sanders; these groups have been wonderful, but they draw on more free jazz - louder, more robust, and with more of a hierarchy of instrumental roles. I did once hear a trio of Parker, Edwards and Russell, which had had many of the qualities I love about the recording, but the dynamics and complexity of relationship available in a quartet are very different to those of a trio. And so, a quartet of Parker, Edwards, Russell and pianist Agusti Fernandez at last month's Freedom of the City festival promised much. Any yet Fernadez's noisy, dense and raucous playing pushed the group into a different area - Edwards followed the piano with powerfully muscular bass playing, Parker was somewhat obscured and Russell - except in a beautiful duet passage with Parker - often wholly inaudible. So I was intrigued to see what difference swapping one musician would make to the music.
And what a difference! Evans has been talked about a lot recently, largely because of the release of his solo CD More is More, on Parker's Psi label. I finally bought this CD fairly recently, and I have enjoyed it. Evan's technique and imagination are extraordinary, though what I really like about the album is that it doesn't sound as if Evans has worked out a defined solo 'concept' - he improvises naturally, according to his musical instincts. However, I hadn't been quite as gripped by the album as some people I have talked to - I have played it maybe four times since buying it. Anyway, the real test of any improviser is in how they play with others. Even my very favourite solo improvisers (Derek Bailey, John Butcher) I would usually on balance rather here in company. Did Evans pass the test? With flying colours and then some, I would say. Some of what he did required extraordinary technique, but he never flaunted it. The interplay was four-way all the time - in fact, apart from a very brief passage of John Edwards on his own towards the end, which became a trio with Russell and Evans, all four musicians pretty much played throughout. But there was always space, and even when it got spiky and noisy one could hear what each player was doing - they balanced perfectly between blending their sounds with each other and marking out sonic territories of their own, continually but coherently shifting the musical foreground and background. In such detailed, interwoven music picking out favourite moments is difficult but there was a remarkable passage where Evans and Parker tossed a phrase back and forth, blending seamlessly between audible gesture and response and an inextricable skein of high harmonics. I will stop here as I know gushes can be exhausting to read, but suffice it to say that I really hope that this group continues to perform, and also that there will be a CD forthcoming to take its place on my shelves alongside London Air Lift.
I'm still as into the dubstep as I was last time I posted. Another recommendation for information and comment about the scene and solid musical taste is Markin Clark's blog, Blackdown. The small scene/broad church aspect of the music is realy appealing to me - where else would kode9, a Scot with solid academic credentials who enthuses about Deleuze and Ballard, be seen as a peer to the 21-year old Skream from Croydon without anyone batting an eyelid? Informative and entertaining videoed interviews with both of them can be found here.
Small world synchonicities keep appealing to me and there have been quite a few in connection to this music - kode9's enthusiasm for Ballard, for example, when only in February I read my first Ballard novel (The Drowned World - which interested me at the beginning but lost me by the end, partly because of its casual 1960s racism); or for RZA and the Wu-Tang clan, who I first listened to properly at the end of last year, and whose hugely entertaining and thought-provoking Wu-Tang Manual I had just started reading when I got into dubstep. More weirdly, a friend of mine from sixth form that I haven't kept in touch with but have seen from time to time, Rowan Collinson, who used to work for radio production company Somethin' Else, I recently saw referred to in relation to an early (2003) BBC documentary on dubstep - a blog that archived the documentary commented:
"Massive props to Rowan Collinson, who produced the documentary for Somethin' Else. In fact Rowan was the first person to get dubstep played on Radio 1 - before Peel, before Mary-Anne Hobbes, before the lot of them. And where's his medal? Where's his parade? ;-)"
I second that and Rowan if you read this get in touch!
By the way, mentioning Deleuze as I did above, I always thought I didn't share a birthday with anyone interesting but I discovered today that actually I share one not only with Deleuze but with Cary Grant, A.A. Milne and Oliver Hardy. That's not a bad bunch - and who cares if Kevin Costner wants to crash the party?
I final recommendation - on Friday, prompted by having enjoyed the South Bank Show on him and having always meant to buy a Pulp record but never doing so, I got a copy of Jarvis Cocker's solo record from last year. Proper rousing, moving and puzzling rock songs, all of them immediate but with plenty of sonic and lyrical layers - and the hidden track at the end, 'Running the World' is my new favourite song. Check out this great karaoke version: