Sunday, August 08, 2010

Uncanny Reveries - Manchester Jazz Festival Day Eight

The Golden Age of Steam and TrioVD, Pavilion. Les Chisnall, St Anns Church. Orca Trio, Pavilion. Friday, 30th July 2010.

I made it in the nick of time to take my pew for Les Chisnall's solo piano recital at St Anns Church. I'm no stranger to Chisnall' playing, but this was the first time I've had the opportunity to see him solo. This was really wonderful stuff and undoubtably a highlight of the festival for me. Chisnall walks the perfect line between the best of classical, while allowing improvisations to take the pieces in new directions without the constraints of written notes. Chisnall explained that he believes Chopin was one the great improvisers, then treating us to a simple two chord Chopin piece whereafter Chisnall took the harmony in all sorts of strange and wonderful directions. There were all sorts of classical references in here, ranging from Bach to Debussy, all filtered through Chisnall's introspective Bill Evans tinged harmonic lens, culminating in a luscious improvisatory take on a Chisnall fave by english composer John Odgdon. The set concluded with the now familiar Mike Walker standard, 'Clockmaker', summarising a great set perfectly.

It was another 'mjf introduces' triumph from the 'Orca Trio' in the pavilion. I hadn't come across the relaxed confident playing of pianist Dominic Marshall before today, so this was another new one for me. There were some great Evans inspired composition skills on show here, and Marshall's lyrical playing was a delight. The band exhibit a very mature sense of the importance of space in the sound, giving the trio a lovely open and inviting texture. Drummer Dan Gardner knows a thing or two about how to groove as well.

Friday evening promised to be challenging, opening with the Golden Age of Steam, a trio complete with Mercury Award nominated Kit Downes on Hammond Organ. I was initially on my guard due to the off the mark self-conscious quirky humour from bass clarinet player James Allsopp, but the band did have an intriguingly wandering sound. The ruminating harmony seemed to stagger about, but far from in a typical free jazz way. It had much more of a Freud like uncanny familiarity that was a little disturbing, but also curiously inviting. It was like you knew where you were, then all of a sudden you realised you didn't. Downes enhanced the Hammond tones with some deep echoes and reverbs, sounding at times very reminiscent of the early Pink Floyd. The band definitely take you for a walk on the surreal side. Like an early morning reverie that you can't quite capture, but want to experience again. A gig here in York ought to be a must.

I saw TrioVD at the London Jazz Festival last year, and wasn't all that taken if I'm honest. Never having been a metal fan, I suppose it wasn't likely to work for me. However, perhaps I was more attentive this time, but I definitely got much more from their Manchester performance. It's full on aggro for sure, but extremely tight and delivered with head-slicing force. Squeals and grunts rained down aplenty from the saxophone of Christophe de Bezenac whilst guitarist Chris Sharkey scratched angular shards and fired machine gun note cluster attacks with a hefty distortion. Chris Bussey provided the necessary muscular force on drums to balance this fearsome energy powerhouse with some gripping bombast.

It really struck me seeing them this time that there's striking echoes of the King Crimson approach, something I've heard in a number of the bands at this year's festival. Maybe that's inevitable when you play heavy with odd time signatures and dark tonalities perhaps. Not for everyone this lot, but they're doing their own thing and well worth checking out. It might just be you.

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