Pete Lee’s Narcissus opened to a rammed house on this cold January evening at The Vortex, bringing fire and frenzy to East London.
Opening with a recent composition which was still ‘unnamed‘ Pete Lee (piano) started the tune with solo piano. A structurally complex work which integrated solo, heavy groove and ballad vibes, it really showed how many influences this ensemble has. Next up was Mirror Stage which brought tenor player Nadim Teimoori to the stage (we have previously heard Narcissus with Josh Arcoleo). Mirror Stage was a frenzy of sound with beautiful unison lines between Teimoori and Huw Foster (bass) moving on to what can only be described as a meditation of groove. (Pairing of unison lines across different instrument combinations is a delicious Narcissus hallmark). Lee’s solo here was a history of music for the piano, Brahmsian flourishes juxtaposed with contemporary ‘jazz’ harmony, alongside ‘piano basics’ of octaves and fourths. You never knew what was coming next. Tom Varrall on guitar demanded attention with a frenetic solo which inspired energy from the rest of the band. With sax returning with the head, guitar continuing soloing and the rest of the band playing a rhythmically displaced groove it was insane controlled mayhem. The colour of the guitar and sax voices blended so well that sounds were interlaced, lost and beautifully fused.
Third tune of the night, Criss Cross, moved sound worlds effortlessly, starting with solo bass which we mistook for guitar soloing, such was the lyricism. North African sounding filmic modes then segued into Sci-fi Blake’s 7-esque sounds from synth (a Dave Smith Prophet 12) with further sounds reminiscent of something you’d hear from the early days of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.Ali Thynne, ever the master at the drums, changed the vibe completely, playing with hands on snare and toms. The tune went everywhere, a tango, sci-fi, romantic piano and then a phenomenal blow by Teimoori which brought the first full audience applause mid-tune. It was fantastic to see how much the band were loving Teimoori’s playing – Varrall especially. We wish we’d taken a photo of his face. Last tune of the night was the familiar Writer’s Block (vimeo below), a great tune which is forceful, angry, melodic with in your face groove. It’s our favourite actually.
Lee has a great band: five strong musical characters, each vibrant and individualistic, which he has nurtured to create a phenomenal sound. It’s chaotic, energetic, wild, they’re influenced by jazz, pop, disco, Rachmaninov and Debussy, modes, tangos, electronica – and remarkably it has a beautiful cohesion. Narcissus is sublime chaos, a great schizophrenic identity crisis of genre which against all odds makes sense.
Can’t wait to hear them again – (though we want more of the Dave Smith synth)! ~BF
As regular readers will know, we love intimate venues. We’ll take a smokily lit pub over a 3,500 seat theatre any day. This evening the scene opened at the King’s Head Theatre, a theatre pub since 1970, with Verdi’s La Traviataset in the opulent and glamourous inter-war 1920s USA.
Produced by Opera Up Close, the five-strong cast (full cast list below) did a fantastic job enveloping us in the tragedy of a dying woman who gives up everything she treasures for her love. And love is the theme. In writing this we found that many of our adjectives describe the heart, so do forgive our repetitiveness.
Louisa Tee in the lead role of Violetta has us hearing her every heartbeat and she sung with heart-wrenching passion the words of a woman who has lost and sacrificed all. Lawrence Olsworth-Peter as Alfredo was heartbreaking. Olsworth-Peter’s Alfredo, a somewhat shy and love-smitten man at the start manages despite this to shine beyond the sparkles of a lavish party and profess his true love for Violetta. His duets with Tee were beautiful and sensitive, with the voices matching and intertwining seamlessly.
With the perceived betrayal of Violetta, Alfredo responds the only way he can think how, ‘becoming’ an angry revenge seeking hedonist. The deeply sad bitterness that came across in this was a frightening contrast to the naive love filled Alfredo we had seen. When Alfredo realised that Violetta does still love him it was a weight lifted off his shoulders and he returned to the pure and honest heart he truly has. Tee and Olsworth-Peter were the bright lights of the opera, effortlessly absorbing us into their world.
Flora McIntosh as Flora (!) brought fabulous comic relief with great timing and a relatable reality, which had the whole theatre chuckling (what lady after all, doesn’t fiddle around with her necklace and pretend it’s a moustache?). McIntosh’s strong and rich voice rang out, especially alongside Dario Dugandzic and Christopher Jacklin (the Baron and German respectively). Jacklin showed us the over-bearing, controlling though ultimately repentant father with flair and control, whilst Dugandzic brought a much darker, yet beautiful flavour to the complex narrative.
The orchestration (a new one, by Harry Blake) was very much appreciated by this listener. Reduced to piano, cello and clarinet, the music was realised with lyricism, character and astute attention to detail. Verdi’s beautiful dovetailing lines between orchestra and voices was picked up by the clarinet (Sarah Douglas) and Douglas did a fine job playing with delicacy, precision and warmth.
And to those behind the scenes – we applaud you too. The costume design was sublime: flappers, fur, watches, waistcoats, heels and bling. The staging and lighting simple yet detailed: deco drinks cabinet, gramophone, chaise long with a beautiful striped throw, large windows and curtains.
Thank-you Opera Up Close – we cried and went through it with you. A great evening and a humble reminder of why we really do love music so much.
The Con Cellar Bar is one of our favourite venues; we’ve been regular visitors since its early days. It’s a rare and special space where you hear the music in all its purity: no need to mic up horns or the kick, just play as you are. It’s a secret you have to know about to get to, it’s slightly out of the way; you always bump into somebody you know, it’s always rammed, and the music is always, and I mean always, great. We’ve never heard a bad gig there.
So much is due to the faithful work of the late Rich Turner – whose dedication and passion for live music spread through a community of young jazz musicians, to make the Con a favourite of musicians and audiences of all generations. Now George Crowley, Dan Nicholls, Sam Jesson & Tom Challenger run the monthly Friday night. Remarkably, they’ve managed to get a double bill of the best jazz musicians in the country, for only a fiver each month. They do a great job. Perhaps this really IS London’s best kept secret. And we’ve just blogged it. Oh well, don’t tell too many people. It’s OURS!
So we’ll keep this brief. First off was Joe Wright’s Nightjar (see below for musicians/links/set). Set alight by Alice Zawadzki’s hauntingly beautiful vocals, the folk influences in harmony and rhythms were evident in Spencer’s writing before he told us one of his tunes was based on the 15th Century folk song, the Bonnie Banks of Fordie. The writing really is exquisite. The dovetailing of the vocal and sax lines was aurally mesmerising, and there is just so much space! Jeff Spencer on bass was a great example of the old cliché ‘less is more’. Grounding the group effortlessly, yet giving the sound time to breath was Spencer’s gift to the group. Playing around with tempos appears to be a Nightjar speciality. Several times they pulled back the tempo like a steam train, gradually grinding to a perfect halt. On the other end of the spectrum we really enjoyed Laura Stands Tall with the repeated firey opening line ‘A total lack of respect’ crying out throughout the song. Spencer’s electronic effects with tenor sax brought an other-worldness to the already dreamlike folk vibe, and James Maddren on drums brought spacious complexity to the mix. We were excited to find out that you can watch Nightjar’s Strange Placeshere.
After the traditional raffle (who could resist the chance of winning Sainsbury’s wine, a firework, or top prize, a toffee apple?) Freddie Gavita’s Quartet emerged (again see below for musicians/links/sets). A group of friends who clearly play together often (much laughing, conversation & in-jokes whilst playing) this was a night where Gavita pulled out many of his old well-loved tunes. Our favourite was the more groove based Turnaround featuring a storming piano solo by Tom Cawley, with fierce playing from James Maddren to finish it off. Maddren’s playing so captured performers and audiences alike – that Gavita immediately commented ‘Thanks James – that’s fabulous mate’. Last up was The Buffalo Trace – which holds a very special connection to us. Fred toured with us to Kentucky, and this song is named after a beautiful whiskey produced at a distillery we visited. Fred played beautifully over this tune, the lilting melody reflecting the southern-American state. Mick Coady on bass brought out some stellar sounds to the chilled out last song. It was a great second set. Fred’s natural charm and humility had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.