Composed, Uncomposed, Discomposed

Monday 30 July 2018

I’m allergic to jazz; don’t know why. Probably from being raised on rock, but I always hated rock music that held on to the past as a crutch, as a sign of validation, instead of using it as a springboard for something new. I’m incapable of hearing that innovation in jazz; I keep hearing these callbacks to the past as a sop to the audience and critics, lest the musos fall from favour for getting too far out of line. Everyone’s playing something really wild and free when somebody just has to throw in a ii-V progression to reassure everyone that they’re still listening to jazz. Self-conscious rock is no fun either.

I’m listening to Guède by a French quartet of Frédéric Blondy, David Chiesa, Rodolphe Loubatière, Pierce Warnecke: piano, double bass, drums, electronics. Two pieces, each bang on 30 minutes. Everything flows and avoids resolution, seemingly without effort. Just as things start to get too cosy, pitched sounds fade away and the group plays on with noises. The pulse remains and nothing breaks the surface of restrained dynamics, a continuum is maintained while the material remains in flux. It’s improvised, so I get fussy and start wondering if it all moves a little too smoothly without a guiding compositional logic.

In some ways, the sound is similar to some of Magnus Granberg’s recent music. Granberg’s pieces are open in form, but still composed. His most recent release, Es schwindelt mir, es brennt mein Eingeweide, is a long work recorded late last year. The sextet’s playing here is more sparse than usual, with the spine of the work formed by isolated notes traded back and forth between Granberg’s prepared piano and Christoph Schiller’s spinet. Other instruments elide between violin and viola da gamba, some percussion and very subtle electronics. At times, the rest of the ensemble retreats to an almost inaudible background haze; there’s a small surprise when the violin finally plays a sustained note. The musicians give shape and structure to an hour of the slightest material, with turns in sound and instrumentation that throws each preceding section into relief.

I’ve talked before about several releases on Anthony Pateras’ Immediata label, but did not discuss North Of North’s 2015 album The Moment In And Of Itself. The nature of the trio – Pateras on piano, Erkki Veltheim on violin and Scott Tinkler on trumpet – set off my anti-jazz snobbery. The combination of instruments threatens a certain level of fussiness but this risk is immediately exploded on the group’s new self-titled album, released on their own label. There are three pieces, each titled ‘Church of All Nations’ after the recording venue. The out-of-sequence numbering of the tracks suggests that they picked out the best bits from their session, as does the strength of the playing and the coherence of the music. It’s improvised and it’s relentless, each musician serving up dense blocks of sound that alternately mesh and clash. The playing focuses on texture and timbre, with their highly developed technique and harmonic sense directed towards a greater artistic statement.

Things Seen, Heard

Thursday 12 July 2018

It’s been too hot to take writing seriously and I’ve been busy working on a piece of my own music for a change. Haven’t been out to a gig for a while so did three last weekend. Friday was the start of this summer’s Music We’d Like To Hear series, full of new and revived music that falls into that category “Essential But Overlooked”. So much of the time we pay lip service to the idea that music is art, only to get cold feet and start second-guessing at an ill-defined understanding of Accessibility and Bums on Seats. I should be writing at greater length about this year’s set of concerts for publication later in Tempo.

I’d skipped a few recent gigs by 840 so on Saturday I spent another summer evening in church, listening to new pieces for viola and cello duo (with some Orlando Gibbons mixed in). There’s a pleasant trend amongst some current composers for achieving a kind of blankness of expression in music, of the sort that Cage admired in Satie. As with painting, there is music that exists by referring to something outside of itself and music that exists for itself. Gibbons’ music from the Jacobean age shares a similar foundation in aesthetic rules instead of individualised subjective taste; it sat very well amidst pieces by Garrett Sholdice’s Gymel and Alex Nikiporenko’s Carré, adapting simple methods to create something clean and new. It’s always nice to hear pieces by Eva-Maria Houben and Marc Sabat played live.

On Sunday Silver Road and Café Oto staged a nine-hour performance by Farmers Manual. It must be fifteen years since I last saw them play live; not that they gig very often these days. The venue was the shaft to Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe. There’s a nice garden on top, with a bar selling beer and Italian wines. At this type of gig it seems inevitable that more time will be spent outside enjoying the interesting surroundings, the weather, chatting with acquaintances and drinking than in the space itself paying attention to the music. The group seemed pretty laid back too, taking time out for food or drinks, sometimes en masse while the music continued below. There was still that fine attention to combining sounds in a way that seemed natural and surprising without being too slick or contrived, but the generous pacing left everything a little too flat. It felt more like they were trying out various ideas and less on building a sonic environment that rewarded both close and distant attention.