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The Chaos Orchestra presents 'The Rite', The Vortex | reviews, news & interviews

The Chaos Orchestra presents 'The Rite', The Vortex

The Chaos Orchestra presents 'The Rite', The Vortex

Jazz trumpeter Laura Jurd leads improvisers' collective in centenary celebration of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'

Laura Jurd conducts The Chaos OrchestraLester Barnes

Still only a year out of college, the diversely gifted trumpeter, composer and bandleader Laura Jurd has risen rapidly to prominence, enterprisingly bypassing the ritual of hanging around to be noticed by creating her own scene and ensembles. One of these, the Chaos Collective, this week curated a small festival in which another, the Chaos Orchestra, last night performed a range of new work.

Most hotly anticipated were the arrangements of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, celebrating the centenary of its first performance.   

Django Bates tells the story of Charlie Parker’s spontaneous inclusion of a quotation from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in his music, on spotting the Russian composer in his audience in New York in 1951. Characterised by scandalously disruptive rhythm and a determination to provoke, jazz and Stravinsky seem like obvious bedfellows. Yet for all the snuggling up of classical and jazz in the last decade or two, genuinely successful crossover is still very difficult, and therefore rare.  

Kinsella's characteristic restraint and delicacy (precious qualities in jazz singers) made the feeling so much sharper

Three of the five Chaos composers’ pieces recalled Stravinsky’s subversiveness. The set opened with Elliot Galvin’s fragment of dissonant saxophone giving way to a beautifully restrained statement of Stravinsky’s melody. Next came Jurd’s composition, an edgily sophisticated collage of scrabbling guitar, frantic piano and polyrhythmic drumming, followed by Will Scott’s brass-led meltdown, both glowing with Stravinskian rage.  

The final two of the set were enjoyable big band pieces, though while Stravinsky’s motifs were there, his iconoclasm was harder to trace. Whether through nerves (the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite provoked one of the greatest riots in history of the theatre, though it’s hard to think of any musical novelty that would unsettle the über-hipsters of the Vortex’s Dalston locale), or unfamiliarity, the playing was slightly tentative.

The second set, on paper the less exciting, was both a more dynamic performance and, with the addition of singer Lauren Kinsella, a more varied repertoire. A song has never had a been more accurately titled than Jurd’s own composition "Oh So Beautiful", a delirious, ecstatic evocation that built quickly to a swooning climax from an unsettled rocking opening. Kinsella, perhaps best known for her vocal improvisations, sang actual words, and her characteristic restraint and delicacy (precious qualities in jazz singers) made the feeling so much sharper.

The other song in the set, Jurd’s John Donne-based piece "No Man Is an Island", suffered from a few problems of sound balance, but its contrasting textures of voice, flute and brass, and the way the mood built up, then concluded with Galvin’s tensely plucked piano strings, gave it gut-wrenching impact. Kinsella and Jurd are a potent combination: while these songs have the unmistakeable sound of jazz, in their serious subject matter, they are more like Schubert than ‘shoop-de-woop’.

There were a few rough edges, though for a young, experimental group, settling into the distinguished tradition of improvising collectives like Loop, F-IRE, and the daddy, Loose Tubes, this was an encouraging sign of commitment. The Stravinsky pieces deserve re-playing (without, perhaps, the freight of centenary expectations), though most exciting, unexpectedly, were the songs, which seem to offer real innovation in the jazz song. The orchestra has an album in preparation; if it contains the best of last night, prepare for the splash.

  • The Chaos Festival concludes on October 25 at Battersea Mess and Music Hall with a charity concert in aid of Key Changes, a music therapy charity.
While these songs have the unmistakeable sound of jazz, in their serious subject matter they are more like Schubert than ‘shoop-de-woop’


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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