Friday, October 09, 2009

Madhouse Back in the House

Mike Walker Sextet, Band on the Wall, Thursday 8th October 2009

The occurrence of a welcome return to the newly reopened and refurbished Band on the Wall happened last night for an initially somewhat phased looking Mike Walker with his Sextet. The place doubtless now has a different atmosphere, one which Mike admitted threw him for a song or two, with him having many strong memories of the place in its previous less reverent guise.

Mike showcased much of the material from the 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' album, as well as material from last year's Manchester Jazz Festival commission, 'Ropes' and a couple of new tunes. The set opened with a familiar cover of Steve Swallow's 'Ladies in Mercedes'. Keyboard player Malcolm Edmonson's synth was a bit plinky for my taste on this whilst the overall sound was bedding down. A fast angular take on 'Solar' followed to warm things up. Mike announced that the next song, 'A Real Embrace' was for Annie, his mum, the solo guitar introduction of which was really quite familially moving. A gorgeous duo version of 'Clockmaker' from Mike and Les Chisnall on the grand piano was wistful and reflective in a suitably autumnal way. The pace and fire then upped for a complex new song, 'Laugh Lines'. Some fast bop playing from Iain and Mike hit the sweet spot, and the closing unison head was delivered with satisfying precision.

The expansive 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' track opened the second set. This is a personal fave of mine, and it gives Mike a great opportunity to stretch out and blow with real force. Others at the Band on the Wall last night clearly agreed, as this track was the best received track of the night. The time signature metrical tricks of 'EAminG' gave drummer Pat Illingworth a chance to earn his money and kept double bass player Steve Watts honest to boot. I wasn't entirely convinced by this track so I will reserve judgement for another hearing. The unison horn and guitar line did have a certain digital pitch shift quality not unlike our blessed ring modulator. The keyboard strings worked best on a charming version of 'Wallenda's Last Stand', the parts sounding convincing capturing the wind gust effect that knocked poor Wallenda off his rope for the last time. Les Chisnall was once again a delight on this one. Some more bristling fire storm guitar from Mike finished a fine evening on the, once again, wrong footing meter of 'Dad Logic', and the encore sweetness of 'Safe Home' sent us home with smiles on our faces.

P.S. Despite a bust amp requiring a loan replacement from a local mate, last night's gig at The Continental in Preston (Sat 10th October) was phenomenal. Mike was a good as you'll ever hear him, particularly on the 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' track. Really glad I made the effort to go. The Continental's a great venue as well.

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