BF MD Leah is a musicologist by training and loves music and reviewing. It’s a way to express the joy that music brings.
2. We support live music
The Brits (say, in comparison with the Europeans) are not great at going out and getting involved in culture, whether that be dance, art, theatre or music. So we want you to encourage people to get out there and get involved in the rich culture that’s going on!
3. We support musicians
Sometimes the musicians we review are involved in some of our projects, so we want to support them in their other creative endeavours. It’s just being a good human really.
4. We respect music
By taking the time to write reviews it shows that we respect what people are working hard for and saying ‘this deserves to be written about’.
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.
What a delicious treat it was finally to hear Stoop Quintet play at the QEH Front Room. Introduced as the ‘passionate and unpredictable’ group from the University of York, this was actually (unlike much jazz promo) a fabulously accurate description.
Starting with the punchy Stoop Kid, its angular shape unashamedly announced the group’s arrival with a kick. Next up was Fable where the hypnotic minimalistic melody developed into beautiful guitar (Alex Munk) and sax (Sam Miles) unisons, with dovetailing piano lines. Miles played a beautiful tenor solo on this: he has a rich warm tone. Munk’s soulful solo sat easily alongside Miles’ and the pairs great soloing are a feature of the group.
Their third tune, Ranch, began with a simplistic repeated chordal piano idea – we had no idea where the tune was going to go. Once again it led to a screamer of a solo from Miles, with the tune ending in a way that can only be described as falling apart – leaves beautifully falling from a tree to the ground.
Despite Jonathan Brigg being band leader, the ‘rhythm’ section of Dave Smyth (Kit), Flo Moore (Upright Bass) and Brigg, feature significantly less as soloists within the ensemble. Instead they hold the complex grooves together, support and interplay with Miles and Munk like an experienced family and put the spark into the group. It’s actually rather refreshing that they don’t feel a need to solo to ‘prove’ themselves. The group would be severely lacking if they were not the backbone.
We wonder if the fifth tune Turn was so named due to the pedal-like melody ending with an embellishment, or ‘turn’, or whether it is that the tune reflects the idea of the piece as a whole. Either way – the relentless ostinato group that sat underneath the solos was beautiful.
The penultimate tune Confession was described by leader Brigg as exactly that: you will ‘hear our confessions’. Indeed the 7/4 groove set a tone of unease which led to a dark and rhapsodic piano solo by Brigg, really pushing the tonality of the piece. Munk and Miles soloed in by far the freest tune of the set. That said, the returns to the really rather rocky grooves acted as pillars supporting the work.
Having traversed many of the genres of contemporary music, SQ finished with Soldier On. Moore moved to the bow for this solemn and beautiful work. The simple but effective lyrical melody rhythmically (intentionally or not) fit to the words ‘Sol-dier on’. The melody thus literally telling us what to do.
Stoop Quintet are characterised by ostinato-esque melodies followed by chaos. They’re not afraid to let the music fall apart, disapparate* with timed elegance, then suddenly bring it back together as a coherent whole. It was a well thought out set, with movement of ideas and textures between tunes. Definitely worth seeing live.
The Old VicPress Release describes The Crucible as ‘the story of one man’s fight to save his identity in a repressive Puritan community where intolerance collides with lust and superstition, fuelling widespread hysteria with tragic results.’
Quite. Get ready to have that for 3hrs45 mins. But Yaël Farber‘s production is a great success. Beautifully set in the round, there is a full five minute dramatic overture before a word is heard. With subtle incidental music (not going to lie – definite hints of the dwarves song a la The Hobbit) great lighting and good use of ‘mist’ the first act opened onto the distraught Reverend Parris at the bedside of his ‘sick’ daughter Betty.
The fairly large cast (24) is lead by Richard Armitage as the tortured John Proctor – who despite previous ‘sins’ seeks redemption and what is right, to the bitter end. Of particular note were Samantha Colley (Abigail Williams) and Sarah Niles (Tituba). Colley’s passion as the manipulative Abigail highlighted the destructive and twisted culture of accusation and Niles as Tituba had us entranced with her weary ‘dance’ around the space. Whilst the moment Richard Armitage removed his shirt did not appear to have a direct dramatic merit, we’re not going to complain. The ensemble cast of ‘witches’ were also strong – moving with unity when under the ‘spirits spell’ and creating a very dark presence on stage.
We’re keeping this brief – but a clear highlight from the show was the moment in court when Elizabeth Proctor (Anna Madeley) is asked if she suspected her husband of infidelity. Of course, set in the round, the audience is naturally part of the court observers. Such was the tension of awaiting her response – the entire audience gasped at her (we won’t give spoilers) response. That’s a great success. When the audience forgets they are watching a play.
A great and dark production, Faber’s Crucible explores the confusion of identity, belief, persecution and prosecution, family, state, individuality, love, infidelity and truth.
The Crucible runs until September 13th 2014. Get tickets here. Full cast list below. Disclaimer: we saw the pre-press previews – so it can only get better! ~BF
The Crucible, Wednesday June 25th 2014, Old Vic Theatre London
Richard Armitage – John Proctor
Harry Attwell – Thomas Putnam Samantha Colley – Abigail Williams Marama Corlett – Betty Parris
Jack Ellis – Deputy Governor Danforth
Ann Firband – Rebecca Nurse
William Gaunt – Giles Corey Natalie Gavin – Mary Warren
Christopher Godwin – Judge Hathorne
Catherine Hammond – Voice of Martha Corey Hannah Hutch – Ensemble Lauren Lyle – Ensemble Anna Madeley – Elizabeth Proctor
Paddy Navin – Sarah Good Sarah Niles – Tituba
Tom Peters – Marshall Herrick
Neil Salvage – Francis Nurse
Rebecca Saire – Mrs Ann Putnam Adrian Schiller – Reverend John Hale
Michael Thomas – Reverent Parris Alan Vicary – Ezekiel Cheever Daisy Waterstone – Susanna Walcott
Matt Weyland – Hopkins
Zara White – Ensemble
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.
Two things stood out. Firstly: whilst we went to listen to the music of the films we may have seen, in listening the result was mirrored: it inspired us to see the films (again). It is a great thing that the visual and aural complement each other so well.
Secondly: despite the first point, the music still stands in its own right without any need for the visual: Psycho and Tom & Jerry are case in point.
The perfomance was fantastic. The 1950s Hollywood sound was generated with full horn, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and rhythm sections, alongside the great sweeping and warm tones of the strings.
Herrmann’s Psycho invoked one of the most bizarre responses we have ever seen in a live music audience. As soon as the repeated violin lines with full harmonics emerged – there was a physical lurch and bizarre involuntary murmur. The question really is whether the ‘screeching’ violin timbre invoked the response, or whether the association with the film is so vivid that it is that which raises the hackles. Either way – the JW strings played this wonderfully. It was also interesting to watch the orchestra ‘breathe’ during the ‘stabbing’ patterns. They literally lent in and out of their instruments with their bow movements giving us a visual stab pattern.
Tom and Jerry was hilarious. The audience were laughing and cheering. The orchestra itself plays cat and mouse. The muted trombone had his line stolen by the flute; the clarinet came and surprised us then stole the melody again; the trumpets and cymbals argued with one another as to who could play the shortest and loudest. Then of course we had the literal humour: water splashing around, bubble wrap being crinkled, snoring. It’s so refreshing to listen to this without seeing the cartoon: the quality of the music is high, and it was so well performed. It was clear the JW orchestra were enjoying themselves and therefore so did we.
The audience adored Venera Gimadieva with her rendition of Citizen Kane and Howard McGill’s sax playing in A Place in the Sun was wonderful. His pure tone resonated beautifully. Playing alone in the great Royal Albert Hall he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Too rarely does the RAH hear solo sax fill that great space. Jane Monheit and Matthew Ford did a fine job with the Movie Medley and it was great to hear the orchestra come alive and burst into full on Big Band sounds. Mike Lovatt did a top job on trumpet.
The night finished with Ben-Hur, a tale of a man whose life changes when he sees Christ’s crucifiction and the forgiveness that brings. It was a genius way to end a great night. What more could you want than that great RAH organ on full whack – with 15 of the best brass players going full blow.
Great programming, great spectacle, spectacular playing. Don’t miss it on BBC Four – August 30th.
Alfred Newman: 20th Century Fox Fanfare
Alfred Newman: How to Marry a Millionaire / Street Scene
Bronislau Kaper: Forever, Darling / Confetti
David Raksin: Laura / Suite
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho / Suite for Strings
Bernard Herrmann: Citizen Kane / Salammbô’s Aria
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of Robin Hood / Suite
Jerome Moross: The Big Country / Main Title
Max Steiner: Casablanca / Suite
Move Theme Song Medley: An Affair to Remember / Something’s Gotta Give / Young at Heart / It’s Magic / The Tender Trap / My Foolish Heart / Three Coins in the Fountain / Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing / That’s Amore / Que Sera, Sera / All the Way
First up: Metamorphic, launching their new album ‘Coalescence’. Headed up by pianist Laura Cole, they place themselves on the ‘folk-jazz’ side of the music scene. It was great to hear groove based lines juxtaposed with wild improvised sections. The writing is great, and they were tight. There were beautiful moments with horn stabs and stops suddenly let the pure vocal line of Kerry Andrewshine through. Alto Sax player Chris Williams stood out: he clearly loves playing with the group and fed off the rest of the band to create some beautiful virtuosic solo lines.
Then we were silenced by Royst, a trio of voices creating harmonies we didn’t even know existed. What makes them quite so wonderful, is that each of their voices really is VERY different , and yet they can still blend beautifully. Interlacing complex rhythmic loops (acoustically) with melody and panache, it’s impossible to take your eyes and ears away from these three. ‘This Is Sound’ by Kari Bleivik stood out for it melodic flavours, exploring scales and modes alongside rhythmic switches.
The final set brought these two groups together. Reeds are as lyrical as voices – and the mix was just sublime. There were moments of serenity when each member of both groups sang, chaos when the horns were let free over the voices.
You must grab a chance to see this collaboration. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear ‘jazz’ with such original variety and freedom.
But you know what? It was just fantastic. There was an audience sing-a-long for ‘We’ll meet again’ (I went with three singers, we loved it, don’t tell a soul!), with the rest sung beautifully by Laurie Ashworth. Another great soloist, Pianist Victor Sangiorgio performed Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto with unhindered dexterous flyingly fast fingers.
The Walton (Henry V: a Shakespeare Scenario), complete with fabulous British actor Samuel West, was all an over eager audience member could want. A ridiculous (that’s a positive thing) brass section, a massive and fabulous percussion section, and something wonderfully novel: melodies you could hum afterwards. West was effortlessly musical in his role as narrator with such timings, slight nuances and charm that had an audience, who only moments before had been singing joyfully along, in silent awe, wrapped in the words of prayer to God, with thanks of a battle won.
The Hertfordshire Chorus sung well and Keith Lockhart was master at the reigns – bringing every cymbal crash, tuba blast and string vibrato line together with delightful energy.
If you’d like to listen, the concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in ‘Afternoon on 3’ on Tuesday 25th June at 14:00. (This was announced. Programme suggested broadcast date of 24th)
John Ireland: Epic March for Orchestra
John Ireland: Music While You Work medley (March ‘Calling All Workers’ Eric Coates, Bank Holiday from ‘Cockney Suite’ Albert Ketèlbey, Waltz ‘Nights of Gladness’ Charles Ancliffe, Merrymakers’ Dance from ‘Nell Gwyn’ Edward German)
Songs made popular by Vera Lynne: The White Cliffs of Dover, Yours, We’ll Meet Again.
Clifton Parker: Seascape from ‘Western Approaches’
We’ve come across the Merry Opera team before. Their Magic Flute, a great dove-tailing of narratives between Schikaneder’s plot and Mozart’s life, was a visual and aural delight. Great performances from tenor Lawrence Olsworth-Peter and mezzo Gemma Morsley.
MO’s staged Messiah was once again very well sung – with thought provoking staging and dress. As characters from every walk of life surrounded us before the show had even begun: a stressed out business man, a pious church cleaner, a girl from the council estate; we knew we were in for something a little different.
Roderick Morris‘ “He was despised and rejected by men” was particularly poignant. Beautifully sung, the whole cast, now dressed in black, turned their backs to Morris, a reminder of how each one of us, whether a business man, a church lady, or a young girl has turned our backs to Jesus.
The final transformation to white (seen above) was a vivid reminder of what the crucifixion accomplished: sin being taken away, paid for on the cross so God no longer sees us covered in sin, but pure white.
Fabulous organist Chad Kelly deserves mention: he made the never-ending baroque lines flow with ease alongside astonishing accuracy. Mezzo Kate Symonds-Joy, the ‘girl from the council estate’ also stood out, singing with depth and passion. Quite a wonderful surprise when the girl in the hoody turned around and showed us what she was made of!
Rumours abound that more dates are to be added around Autumn 2013. Great news for a great show.