Mike Walker & Stuart McCallum, Freedom Principle at the Sand Bar, Manchester. Tuesday 16th October 2012
I finally made it down to one of the Freedom Principle jazz sessions at the Sandbar a few days ago for the first time in too long. The focus of this return was the unusual duo pairing of two local guitar aces, Mike Walker and Stuart McCallum. Both players using only acoustic guitars added to the unusualness, albeit amplified and through various effects units. Walker generally played 'uneffected' but for a bit of reverb, McCallum taking on the job of producing soundscape echo loop backdrops for most pieces.
The first track set the tone, a Frisell interpretation that immediately reminded me of lush Nick Drake textures. Dreamy open sounding chord arpeggios were the order of the day for many pieces, the players generally swapping arpeggio duties whilst the other improvised. There were a few more or less set pieces such as Walker's 'Wallenda's Last Stand', McCallum taking on the melody line here. An in-context take on 'All the Things You Are' late on in the set was one of the highlights, the familiar swung melody played straight over some idiosyncratic harmonic twists and turns.
Many elements worked really well here, and there were not a few quite beautiful moments. Overall the folky drone approach did feel a little mono-thematic however, and at times the interplay between the players seemed a little confused and out of sync to my ear. I noticed some people's attention re-focussing when Walker played snippets of funk groove here and there to check his sound. Perhaps the addition of a few pieces like this would help diversify the set.