LIVE: Spitalfields Festival Opening Concert

In its thirty-three years of existence, the summer festival Spitalfields Music has been carving out a strong reputation, in one particular area: it has developed into one of the best showcases for new British contemporary classical music, and has commissioned an impressive list of new works.

But times are a-changing, and Abigail Pogson and Diana Burrell have put on an impressive festival in difficult circumstances. This year’s opening concert was a departure from tradition- a jazz triple bill at Wilton’s Music Hall, of which the main event was Gwilym Simcock‘s new trio on superb form, includingYuri Goloubev(above).

Thanks to a reshuffling of the programme, the large and appreciative audience at Wilton’s Music Hall were in for surprises right from the start: Finn Peters walked onstage with alto saxophone in hand – and started the music off… by powering up his laptop.

This was Peters’ first ever complete solo set- but he definitely means business, and more bookings in this format will doubtless follow. The set drew on a very wide range of musical influences. He uses multi-tracks, and hiphop backings. Endings were often sudden and secco, but it was absolutely compelling listening.

Peters is not just a versatile instrumentalist, but a contemporary composer in the truest sense.

In his programme note for this solo project, the first debt Peters acknowledges is to the British jazz improvisers on saxophones who have trodden this path before him: Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, John Butcher. Peters also writes: ” Having seen John Surman do a solo set at a young age, this is something that I have wanted to do for a very long time.”

Peters has now taken this tradition forward. He was also having fun, for example sampling unlikelysaxophone sounds, such as amplified fingernail on reed, key-slaps, running his wedding ring over the souldered joint of the saxophone- the kind of thing would liven up an educational project- for kids of any age.

I will keep in mind one joyous moment: Peters stepped back up onto the Wilton’s stage proper, and for a moment played solo, undistorted , unamplified. The superb acoustic of Wilton’s was given the freedom to ring.

The second set, with Gwilym Simcock‘s trio of Yuri Goloubev and James Maddren was also a revelation. I heard this trio last November in one of its first gigs. The musicians were just getting to check each other out. And the journey of discovery travelled in the eight months since then is amazing.

Simcock has moved forward -again – as both player and composer. The material was mostly new tunes recorded for a new CD last month. On first hearing, the new compositions seemed more reflective. “New in Town” in particular seemed to me to be leaning more towards Tommy Flanagan than to Chick Corea. The pianism is, as ever, totally commanding- I think I heard a couple of passages in cascading falling sixths, for example- but Simcock just seems to have more to sing about.

I also clocked the sheer class which the prodigiously skilled and musical bassist Yuri Goloubev brings to the party. His bowing arm is a Rolls-Royce, which brings unexpected, concentrated lyricism to melodic lines . But he can also match Simcock for speed and scampering busy-ness in plucked solos when required. Plus there is an alertness and watchfulness in his gaze and his every gesture- it’s mesmerizing to watch.

When I was writing a feature about Maddren in 2007, I sought the opinion of a major figure in British jazz : “[Maddren] is open, he’s completely responsive to other musicians, he’s very subtle and his reactions are lightning-quick.” Well, eighteen months later, amen to all of the above.

The individual talents of the three players now seem properly unlocked, and what each can now bring to the cogency of the whole was in evidence throughout a completely absorbing set.

The duo of Dan Stern on reeds and Robert Mitchell on piano in the third set had possibly drawn the short straw. Stern played interesting and complex compositions convincingly on soprano and tenor saxes, with an agility reminiscent of Tim Garland. Mitchell made much use of the sustaining pedal and kept a full, joyful and reverberant sound going.

This was a brave and thoroughly successful venture by Spitalfields Festival.

Categories: miscellaneous

Leave a Reply