Much has been spun about ‘Prog-Post Jazz’ group Let Spin. On a customary wet and miserable Dalston evening the Vortex audience were, wine glasses in hand, ready to hear their second album launch: Let Go.
Ruth Goller (bass) started the set with her tune I like to Sound Like a Rainforest. With its lyrically lamenting bass line it drew the audience’s attention with simple effectiveness. Sax and guitar entered with the melody and it quickly settled into a strong 6/8 groove. The improv section was much freer and angrier, giving us the first taste of the inner mind of Let Go. Ending with a ‘bell’ toll, Rainforest was a great emotional journey of sounds.
Rainforest set the structural precedent for the next two tunes (Disa & All Animals are Beautiful): strong groove based head in irregular time, heavily free middle section, with a return to the groove at the end.
Disa by drummer Finlay Panter was rhythmically driven (9/4, 4/4, 5/4 time) and it was immediately clear that each member of Let Spin has a clearly distinctive compositional voice. Whilst the improv sections in the first three tunes went in similar directions, the tunes were clearly characterised by their writers.
Fourth in the set was the guitar led E.V.A., a tune by Guitarist Moss Freed. The sax danced on top of the guitar line like the crest on a wave: sax sat perfectly with the guitar and was yet comfortably independent. E.V.A. was the first tune that ‘kept time’ throughout, refreshingly departing from the signature sound of the set thus far. It was well placed in the set and by the applause level afterwards, it was an audience favourite.
The final tune of the first set was saxophonist Chris Williams’ ‘Walt’s Waltz’, a great tune in which the raucous Led Bib influences are clear. (We initially understood the title to be ‘Waltz Waltz’ and with the 6/4 riff this made sense. Nice to have an extra layer of meaning). The massive sound was ice water to the face (we like ice water) and the epic chaos in the middle was fun and a great way to end the first set.
Let Spin resists many of the traditional quartet idioms, for example each member taking a ‘token solo’. Sax acts as a voice, taking the tune and often giving us the most explosive solos. There are clear sections ‘without sax’ in which the various band members let loose, each musician dripping with virtuosity and creating varied and complex sound worlds.
The second set opened with 102 Hill Street, a tune from their first album Let Spin.The band came alive in this tune – a triumphal announcement letting us know that they were ready to play and show us what they’ve got.
Let Go contains two tunes from each band member. Their website describes them as ‘a band that is not afraid to make the most of their individual voices’. This is actually true (hurray for accurate band descriptions). The variety of the timbres in which they inhabit makes it much more interesting and accessible.
They play on this and the audience were asked to guess who wrote the next tune: Rotation. (we got it right! Panter. Stickers for us). His naturally rhythmically driven writing identifies strongly with him.
Next up was Killing our Dreams (Williams), a beautiful tune, as near to a ballad as we would ever hear with Let Spin. The writing for sax is highly lyrical, with repetition within a small range with Freed playing beautifully underneath. The band built behind the simple sax line in an utterly symphonic way in its colour and texture. The sound was huge, and the symphonic effect was completed by the three tonic major chords upon which it finished. True Beethoven.
Rothko’s Field had a latin flavour with Goller, Panter and Freed filling the space perfectly with their signature taste. Up and At Them (Williams) finished the set. The strong bass line played as ever energetically and powerfully by Goller, led to a great solo from Freed and top playing from Panter. The massive timbres were a great way to finish.
To such applause they gave us an encore lullaby with which to send us home, the final tune from their first album, A Change Is Coming.
Let Spin certainly gave us a show. We cannot undervalue the great and distinctive voices brought by each member of the band. The variety is great, keeps us listening and exploring. Williams, Freed, Goller and Panter each write so powerfully and differently it is a wonderful thing when it all comes together.
It was great to hear one of London’s finest Orchestras, the London Philharmonic, play on Saturday night and to see Vladimir Jurowski conduct. Jurowski conducted the Russian composers with flair, his physicality demonstrating the shape of the sound he intended.
Yefim Bronfman did a fine job with the UK premiere of Magnus Lindberg‘s Piano Concerto No.2. It fit nicely with the programme, the Debussy and Russian influences clear to hear with great ranges in textures and relationship between piano and orchestra. Bronfman brought the work to life with ease – singing, stomping and dancing all over the piano.
The Prokofiev excerpts were dynamic, and the Stravinsky was played with a warm rich sound. Stravinsky’s animal sounds were played fabulously – you could feel the bear walking across the stage with his thudding steps. Beautiful.
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.
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!
It was so exciting finally to see Alice Zawadzki and her band live and with the packed crowd at The Crypt, Camberwell this Saturday, South London was excited too.
Zawadzki is utterly captivating in every part of her performance. She can tell a story with her eyes alone, so when you add her voice, violin and the band you are willingly transported to another place.
Much of the music came from her recent album China Lane, starting the evening with its lead song Ring of Fire. Next up was Indome Para Marsilia, beguiling in its haunting beginnings, juxtaposed with pure groove. She sung masterfully in Ladino, and throughout the evening managed to sing in English, Swedish and Polish as well.
Zawadzki then moved on to Trochę Mitośći which was our favourite: texturally and harmonically it could be a Lied of the classical world. A song known to Zawadzki from her great aunt in Poland, it tells of a woman wanting the man with beautiful dark eyes. Zawadzki has a voice with many colours in it, folk, jazz, soul to name but a few, and here she starts with a sound clearly evoking the 1950s. Trochę Mitośći then morphs into a beautifully rhapsodic duet for violin and guitar. Who even knew this sound was possible.
Cellist Shirley Smart guested in a number of tunes, including a new song Superior Virtue. The song was a duet for Zawadski and Smart, and demonstrated gifted use of narrative and musical story-telling techniques.
In You as Man the strength of each individual band member was evident. Pete Lee on keys/synth put the Radiophonic Workshop to shame with his epic mastery of the Prophet 12. Alex Roth destroyed it with his solo there too. As did Tom McCredie. It’s a frankly ridiculous band. This is not to omit drummer Jon Scott. He was on it all night, and owned Cat, a song about ‘the soul of a cat getting into the body of a woman’.
She’s just totally on it all. At ease. It is a band that works well together, they know where to leave space for each other, where to sit. It’s a band that’s just right.
There are many more words we could write. But if words were adequate we wouldn’t have the music. You have to go and hear her. There is no genre that isn’t covered. In fact. Forget genre. She is her own new genre.
We’ve now downloaded the album, which you can do here. Naughty us. We really should have done it much earlier.
1. Ring of Fire (Zawadzki) ‘The magic and wonder of being being a teenager drunk on cider’
2. Indome Para Marsilia (trad. Sephardic arr Alex Roth, sung in Ladino) ‘A song about a girl flung far away from her homeland, wondering what the world will bring’
3. Trochę Mitośći ‘A Little Love’ (trad. Polish) ‘A lady who falls in love with a man with deep dark eyes. Sung by my great aunt Anna Borey Protassewicz during the fifties in Poland. She recorded loads of songs with the Radio Orchestra in Bydgoszcz and I transcribed with one off an old vinyl of hers and rearranged it.’
4. Dicho Me Habian Dicho (trad. Sephardic, sung in Ladino) ‘From the fifteenth centure, a time when Jews were expelled from Spain, a song of a girl worried nobody will marry her because of her skin colour’
5. Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light (Zawadzki) ‘A song of sunrise in Denmark’
1. Cat (Zawadzki) ‘the soul of a cat getting into the body of a woman and influencing her affections’
2. Uti Mitt Hjärta ‘In my Heart’ (Kraya, arr Zawadzki, Swedish) ‘inside your heart I see your happiness. Within my body I feel your love’
3. Superior Virtue (Zawadzki) ‘How an unfulfilled love is ever the more romantic because it was never acted upon’
4. You as a man and I as a women (Zawadzki) ‘When you think it’s over and you’re not quite sure if you can keep going’
5. You Can Leave Your Hat On (Etta James)
6. I’m Gonna Leave You Where I Met You (Rudy Stephenson/Nina Simon).