Monthly Archives: April 2010

“Sutra”. Sadler’s Wells, London, March 2010.

The weekend finished off with a visit to Sadler’s Well to see Sutra, a display of marshal arts by Shaolin monks, designed by Antony Gormley and set to music by Szymon Brzóska. The set was magical – simple boxes which allowed the monks to appear and disappear across the stage, the monks building new structures for them to perform on. The music was excellent – percussive and minimal. This was a really enjoyable performance – part dance, part installation, part acrobatics. Great stuff.

Andy Sheppard and Guests. London, March 2010.

I have been listening to Andy Sheppard’s saxophone for over 20 years – he was one of the foremost musicians of the mid-80s British jazz revival. He plays in lots of different formats; last time I saw him, just before Christmas, he was in a trio with a bass player and iconoclastic drummer Seb Rochford. I really loved that gig, and when I saw Sheppard was playing with Rochford and pianist Rita Marcotulli, I reckoned it was a must-see.

It was a different format though: Sheppard played first with Marcotulli, then with Rochford, then Marcotulli again and finally in trio with both of them. The duet with Marcotulli worked beautifully. The piano was quite sparse, creating a slightly folk-like backdrop to Sheppard’s playing. They shared the credits, playing alternately Marcotulli’s and Sheppard’s compositions. I loved the sound they created – though quiet, it was powerful and emotional.

In contrast, I didn’t think the duets with Rochford worked at all: there didn’t seem to be any connection between them at all. I think it would have been better to hear Sheppard completely solo, because I thought the drums got in the way. (Once again, I disagree dramatically with John Fordham!) This changed completely when they played as a trio, the piano bringing balance to the music. As a trio, I thought the music was excellent – powerful and compelling; great stuff.

“How It Is”: Miroslaw Balka at Tate Modern. January 2010.

Back in January, we went to Tate Modern where we walked into a black box. We went back a couple of weeks ago, just to see the box again. It is an installation by Miroslaw Balka: essentially, a giant container wagon, unlit. Walking in is like walking into black; an unknown darkness; it changes one’s perception, the way you sense people around you, and how you relate to space. It feels vast and unending – until you walk into the back wall. Turning, the entrance – the only source of light – is dimly illuminated from windows in the Tate’s end wall. Framed by the darkness, the windows themselves became a work of art – like a washed out Rothko. The whole effect was amazing; we stayed in the box for perhaps twenty minutes, whilst other people came and went. (The experience wasn’t heightened by shouting, running, fighting teenagers.) Despite the signs banning it, I snuck a couple of pictures – other people had their phones out taking pictures, some using flash (ffs!), and I thought I could hardly cause more disturbance than the kids running about. As it was, my partner, sitting in the dark, was unaware that I had taken any pictures, so the shutter seemed not to disturb at all. (I must write a post about the taking photographs in art spaces and concert halls sometime: institutions responses seem so contradictory.)

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Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa and Haiti Benefit. London, March 2010.

I recently saw Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa at the Vortex. I had forgotten that Iyer was playing in duet – I have seen him before playing solo, as well as in bands. I hadn’t heard of Mahanthappabefore, but I thought they were excellent together. The alto playing went from Bird-like runs through wailing to staccato rhythms; Iyer’s piano was superb throughout. The music was very rhythmic, and seemed both highly improvised and strictly written, the two artists knowing precisely where they were in the pieces and what was going on whilst improvising lengthy solos. This was brilliant stuff.

Whilst there I briefly chatted to the two guys standing next to me; I recognised one as the critic John Fordham, and said that I read his pieces – I had to stop myself from adding “…and I disagree with most of them!” It was Fordham who pointed out how much of the music that night was based on written arrangements. The other guy next to Fordham was very quietly spoken, but he seemed to know most of the people in the venue – there was a stream of people coming up to say hi. He seemed friendly to everyone. I guessed he was a musician; it turns out he was a jazz dj, Kevin LeGendre – he hosted the Vortex’s benefit for Haiti.

The benefit was a varied evening, and I won’t go into all the different acts that played; but I did like some of the pictures I took…

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Alyn Cosker Quartet. London, January 2010.

Back in January, I saw the Alyn Cosker quartet play in London. I meant to write about it at the time, but it got lost in a trip away; and also – well, it was good, but really not my kind of music. It is harder to write about things I don’t like so much (but maybe a useful trick).

I know Cosker from his work with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Tommy Smith; he can be a very loud brash drummer, but he can also be very gentle and delicate, too – a rare mix.

His own music is strictly jazz fusion – the bits fused being rock-funk. He plays in complex time signatures, with great energy – there wasn’t so much of the thoughtful, gentle Cosker here.

He featured Seamus Blake on saxophone – another forceful, muscular player. It sounded to me like he was playing what he would have played in any other setting – as if there wasn’t a natural fit to their music.

Mike Janisch was on bass – both electric and acoustic. I much preferred the sound of his acoustic playing – acoustic bass just seems so much more subtle.

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All in all, the music was too samey and bombastic – a bit too much. I think Cosker is a great drummer, but I think on this evidence I prefer him as a sideman rather than leader.