My first gig of the year was, appropriately, Playtime at the Outhouse. Appropriately because despite only being one night every couple of weeks, it is the venue I probably go to most often. And not only because it’s just up the road.
Last Thursday it was an evening of wholly improvised music. Generally I try to avoid writing about improvised music because it is so hard to describe: “they played a whole lot of music. No tunes you’d recognise. And you can’t listen to again anyway.”
But this seemed so special that I’m going to try. The other gigs where I’ve seen them only playing improvised music, it’s been a trio – Tom Bancroft on drums, Graeme Stephen on guitar and Martin Kershaw on reeds. (This trio recorded one of their gigs and released it as a CD a while ago. So actually you CAN hear it again!) This time they were joined by Playtime regular Mario Caribe on bass, and Paul Harrison on piano. These five musicians play together in a variety of combos, so they know each other pretty well.
There is some kind of alchemy that happens when sympathetic musicians get together and improvise. What happened on this occasion was magical. I don’t think I’ve seen Caribe in such a free setting before. He was brilliant. Though the other four were, too. It just worked.
The focus shifted from one musician to another, sometimes abruptly but mostly gently sliding. Without the pauses within a more usual verse-chorus-solo song structure, these weren’t necessarily solos; and without that structure, there was no space for applause, either. As the attention moved from one musician to another, it wasn’t that one solo had finished and another begun, but rather that the subtle balance had tilted one way or another.
I was particularly impressed by Mario Caribe: I can’t remember seeing him play in such a free environment. (The other free improvised gigs at the Outhouse I’ve seen have been trios, with Mario goofing elsewhere.) He had a lovely tone and really added to the sound.
Which is not to diminish anyone else’s contribution – it’s just that I knew what to expect from them. The music was fluid, melodic, rhythmic – and free.