fri 21/02/2020

Freedom: The Art of Improvisation Festival, The Vortex, Dalston | reviews, news & interviews

Freedom: The Art of Improvisation Festival, The Vortex, Dalston

Freedom: The Art of Improvisation Festival, The Vortex, Dalston

The final day of this inaugural free jazz festival proves British improv is in rude health

Black Top: Pat Thomas and Orphy Robinson, fluid and free-wheeling improvisers

Freedom Festival, a new event curated by vibes player and electronicist Orphy Robinson and vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, is all about bringing improvised music out of the shadows and into the limelight. All the same, it felt strange going to the Vortex in broad daylight. Gigs here don’t usually get started much before 9 pm (I’d always assumed that improvising musicians only came out at night), and darkness seems to lend itself to the free jazz atmosphere.

After appearances from Tony Kofi’s Sphinx Trio and Byron Wallen on the first day, it was down to the Freeform Improv Strings to start the final afternoon. A short improvisation from violinist Alison Blunt and cellist Kate Shortt incorporated beguiling snatches of dialogue along with scampering pizzicato lines and trembling melodies. James O’Sullivan prepared his guitar with spanners and plastic rods, producing sudden pops and gargling distortion, and Theo Sinarkis reached for a broken bow, wrapping the limp horsehair around the strings of his bass to delicate, percussive effect.

Robinson unleashed trippy electronics, dub effects and disorientating vocal samples

The session ended with a collective improvisation from all the strings on stage that opened with palm slaps and yelping guitar before settling into something softer and more mysterious, with special guest Steve Beresford’s piano lines insinuating themselves into the music like white-hot nerve fibres.

Flautist Rowland Sutherland, whose new quartet features Ansuman Biswas on percussion, Guillaume Viltard on bass and Steve Beresford on piano and electronics, has recently returned from studying with shakuhachi masters in Japan. You could hear it in his playing, in the thumps of air that marked the beginnings of his phrases and the haziness of his sound, uncannily like that of the Japanese wooden flute.

Bucolic melodies were a recurring feature in the set, which wove together renditions of “Desert Cry” and “Message from the Nile” by McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson’s “Earth” and Sutherland’s own “Gentle Euphoria”, along with passages of free improvisation. But what really stood out was the variety with which the group played: Viltard and Biswas orchestrated chugging, spontaneous grooves and Beresford swiped at the keyboard, firing off scatterbrained lines that sank into silky chords of Bill Evans-like purity. There were wheezing riffs set up on bronchial alto flute and bursts of whistling, Clanger-like electronics, yet the development always felt organic and progressions never sounded forced.

A set from Black Top was just as inspiring. Led by Orphy Robinson on xylosynth and electronics and Pat Thomas on keyboards, the group’s line-up is constantly in flux. Here they were joined by Cleveland Watkiss, saxophonist Rachel Musson, trumpeter Roland Ramanan, bassist Otto Williams and drummer Mark Mondesir, for a performance that was dizzyingly diverse in its references.

Robinson unleashed trippy electronics, dub effects and disorientating vocal samples (“many mumbling mice are making midnight music” was my personal favourite). Williams brought grungy basslines and juddering, stiff-limbed grooves. Watkiss offered poignant laments, soulful refrains and the skiffling sound of beatbox snare drum, and Ramanan and Musson locked horns, orchestrating passages of Brötzmann-like anarchy with Mondesir and Thomas churning away behind them.

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Beresford swiped at the keyboard, firing off scatter-brained lines that sank into silky chords of Bill Evans-like purity


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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