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Review: Riot Ensemble @ MeWe360 30.01.2015

Riot Ensemble, Blue Flamingo, Harry Cameron-Penny MeWe360 Aaron Holloway-Nahum Blue Flamingo Kate Walter Adam Swayne

With an evening out in Soho, you never know what to expect. Sat in MeWe360 it was a surprisingly traditional urban setting.  It is a ‘modern office’, but this space with its sofas, random chairs and a piano made a great setting for chamber music – a genre as old as music itself.  It’s rare to be sitting on the floor listening to great contemporary music in such intimate surroundings and as Riot Ensemble‘s Artistic Director Aaron Holloway-Nahum  introduced the evening we knew we were in for a great night.

The programme started with Felipe Lara‘s, “Livro dos Sonhos” (Book of Dreams) a song for clarinet with piano.  Angular angry unisons began the piece which was full of timbral contrasts. Moments of diatonic melody spattered this sound world of harmonics, accents and frights with masterful clarinet control by clarinettist Harry Cameron-Penny.  Adam Swayne on Piano played with precision and the pair play very well together.

Next up was the UK premiere of Marco Momi‘s ‘Reloading Vanishing’ for solo flute.   Kate Walter played this so very engagingly. The piece calls for vocalisation, gasps, emotive outbursts as well as simultaneous flute playing. Walter’s character brought the piece alive.  A Riot Ensemble trademark is to use other media in their work (see our previous review here). This evening they had a screen with information, most interestingly a preview of the score. Thus in ‘Reloading Vanishing’ it was intriguing to read the instruction ‘confidentially’ at the top of the score, getting a glimpse of the composer’s ‘intention’.*

Amy Beth Kirsten‘s ‘Speak to Me’ for pianist finished the first half, with Holloway-Nahum introducing Kirsten’s composition style as a ‘physical not intellectual’ activity.  Swayne absolutely owned this piece – which is based on the myth of Echo, Narcissus and Juno – and eloquently (and helpfully) reminded the audience of the story.  The music has three parts.  Firstly Echo talking incessantly to distract Juno, her adulterous husband, secondly Juno cursing Echo and finally Echo frustrated that she can no longer speak.  Kirsten is just a great writer.  Her improvisational influences are so evident.  The first section is great stream-of-consciousness for pianist in which Swayne both sings/speaks and plays.  The cursing is dark and repetitive – a migraine of intensity of a curse and Swayne’s quite remarkable skill as an actor emerged as he spoke with harsh intensity.  Finally when Echo is trapped and can no longer speak, the music recalls what was once spoken and Swayne (consciously or not) realised the pain on his face. Someone had taken away his power to speak.  Echo tries to recall the music but can’t assert herself.  This is an epic piece of music by Kirsten.  The end is heartbreaking, a requiem for a voice that has been lost and a soul destroyed.

The second half  opened with Augusta Read Thomas‘ ‘Capricci’ (Hummingbird Romance) a piece inspired by New Orleans jazz improvisation.  It was a great dance for flute and clarinet and showed Thomas’ clear and intimate understanding of these instruments.  This duet was great to observe. Cameron-Penny and Walter moved together as they played demonstrating flawless technique and great virtuosity.  At moments the tonalities echoed Schoenberg just as he was beginning his 12-tone experimentation.

‘Invocation to Ate’ by Arne Gieshoff was next up, a piece focussing on obsession.  Once more the range of the flute’s colours was superbly demonstrated by Walter’s excellent technique and performance.

The night finished with two trios, the first being Jose Manuel Serrano‘s ‘Espantajo de Resca’.  Holloway-Nahum once more told the work’s story: music evoking the ghostly figures left on the sand and bark as the flood recedes from Serrano’s hometown.  This piece is an echo of an image with haunting breezes of melody.  Once again Swayne at the piano uses his voice in the work – but the eery sounds don’t add human reality to the work, rather they take it away, creating an even darker, beautiful sound.  The rich sounds from Walter and Cameron-Penny developed Serrano’s world into a beautiful soundscape.

The evening’s title piece ‘The Riot’ by Jonathan Harvey finished the night, a work designed to show the (as Holloway-Nahum put it) ‘sheer virtuosity’ of the musicians and how it was ‘utterly clear how hard’ it is to play.  This is a mayhem of a piece.  Moments of utter diatonicism (cycle of fifths, major thirds) were interspersed with exclamation and madness.   It’s actually great to hear a composer who’s not afraid to use even pulse and functional harmony every now and again – jazz influences too were clear.

It was a great concert with phenomenal music and well thought out programme. The setting was intimate and this made a big change to how the music was received:  sitting comfortably with a drink in your hand is an inviting setting.  It is a new (and yet so old) way to hear the music.  Holloway-Nahum’s great insight into the composer’s ideas and thoughts (Harvey’s daughter Anna and Gieshoff himself were present too)  made the music much more tangible and thought-provoking.

Check out the Riot Ensemble’s upcoming performances here.  Well worth it for this breath of fresh contemporary musical air.

 

Musicians
Clarinet – Harry Cameron-Penny
Piano –  Adam Swayne
Flute – Kate Walter

Full Programme
1) Felipe Lara ‘Livro dos Sonhos’ (Book of Dreams)
2) Marco Momi ‘Reloading Vanishing’
3) Amy Beth Kirsten ‘Speak to Me’

Interval

4) Augusta Read Thomas – ‘Capricci’ (Hummingbird Romance)
5) Arne Gieshoff  – ‘Invocation to Ate’
6) Jose Manuel Serrano – ‘Espantajo de Resca’
7) Jonathan Harvey – ‘The Riot’

 

*there is no way on earth we are going to get into a discussion on the realisation of the composer’s intention and whether or not it is a valid idea.  This is just a review.  Hence the quotation marks.  The end.  ~BF

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REVIEW: Narcissus at Pizza Express 04.01.15

 

Narcissus pete lee josh arcoleo ali thynne tom varrall huw foster

We are big Narcissus fans and we were looking forward to hearing them at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on this brisk January afternoon.  Last time we reviewed  them almost exactly a year ago, we described them as: ‘sublime chaos, a great schizophrenic identity crisis of genre which against all odds makes sense.’

Eager to hear their signature pop grooves and melodic lines that weave through the Narcissus sound, we were a little unsettled to hear at the top of the set an aimless sound world.  Whilst pianist and leader Peter Lee still played with heartbreaking beauty we were longing to hear melody with regular time, longing to know where this tune was going.  So unusual was this start, that when the melodic ‘head’ was breathed into life by sax player Josh Arcoleo, it was like the shoulders relaxing down after being taught with tension.  No wonder it had that effect: Lee told us afterwards that the tune is entitled, Bi-Polar.  The ‘aimless’ alongside ‘happiness’ juxtaposition is a new sound to Narcissus.  Highly effective and definitely an unnerving start to the set it was good to hear the group play slightly riskier tunes.

Dependency starts as many Narcissus tunes do, with a piano introduction: hymn-like homophonic sounds.  It has parallels with The Dreamer – a cover played later in the set.  Dependency, with it’s lilting 6/8 rhythms, also welcomed guitarist Tom Varrall to the stage.  In some ways it’s a very ‘classical’ tune – with an exposition of the melody and a haunting piano cadenza leading back to the head.   The tune ended as it started, with the rest of the band adding small sounds, like a memory, lost in the echoes of subtone. Mirror Stage, a tune familiar to regular listeners starts with sparse unison chords, sounding like a syncopated bell chiming on the hour.  The much awaited delicious groove appears, alongside beautiful melodies. This is possibly our favourite tune in the set.  Lee’s Dave Smith synth emerged.  We’ve raved about how much we love it and it’s radiophonic workshop sounds before, so we won’t so do again here.  Narcissus went crazy.  Arcoleo and Lee were epic and Varrall played a great funky guitar riff behind the madness.

The final tune of the first set, Did you have something to say? (Lee added, ‘in this case, no’) included most notably a beautiful bass solo from Foster.  Most distinctively it ended with a frankly funny 80s synth sound wall from Lee.  It appeared to have the rest of the band laughing too.  It acted as a response to the tune’s question:  Did you actually have something to say?  No.  Make of that what you will.

Untitled announced the start of the second set – with an epic solo from Varrall.  It’s perhaps the most ‘pop’ influenced tune of the set, with groove juxtaposed by lyrical balladic melodies.  Criss Cross featured the beautiful lines of Huw Foster on bass – giving space to explore that sound world with no hurry.  Just before they started their only cover of the set, The Dreamer, Lee explained that this tune demonstrated the more electronic route these guys have decided to pursue.  That comes as no surprise – the distinctive sound of Lee’s synth playing have become more and more involved and each time we hear them play – and choosing the electronic vibes of this Mehliana tune fit in perfectly. The Dreamer segued seamlessly into Writer’s Block  a tune where you never know what’s coming next.  Yes, we happen to know this tune fairly well, it’s performed on most their gigs and is strong melodically and harmonically.  Yet still it is filled with surprises and the band work so well as a whole on this tune. Narcissus are an electric ensemble, juxtaposing solid groove with utter chaos.  They sit together so well and love listening to one another play.  There are moments that are just massive – and then a mere breath later, there is a perfect silence.  Maybe that is what they do best.  Cherish the quiet.

Dear Narissus – please please please record an album.

Line up and set list are below.  You can find out more here.

~BF
Pete Lee’s Narcissus at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, 13:30, 04.01.2015

Peter Lee – Piano/Synth/Compositions
Ali Thynne – Drums
Josh Arcoleo – Sax
Huw Foster – Bass
Tom Varrall – Guitar

Set 1

1) Bi-Polar
2) Dependency
3) Mirror Stage
4) Did you have something to say?

Set 2

1) Untitled
2) Criss Cross
3) The Dreamer (Mehliana Cover)
4) Writer’s Block

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Down Street Party Band @ Floripa

down street party wedding band from London play live at floripa london as they're really cool and fun and cheap and value for money!  All at Blue Flamingo!

One of our epic party bands are playing at Floripa London this Wednesday 7th January 2014.  Check out the Facebook event here and check out their website here.  Playing all things pop, soul, motown, rock and all that’s in-between!