“I want you all to get up and dance!” was brave Kate Luxmoore ‘s sudden, unexpected instruction to a half-full Purcell Room on the South Bank last night. She was ushering in the last number, a township-infused version of the folksong I Gave my Love a Cherry, at the launch gig of her new CD “The Grove” (Oyeku Records). The happy vibe in the room definitely went up another notch, but the invitation to dance was only taken up by just one or two couples.
Luxmoore is a classically trained clarinettist and bass clarinettist with that big, schooled, English sound. She is also a composer and a prolific educator- she studied with that towering figure in British music education Peter Renshaw. Luxmoore carries over the influence of her classroom work into her compostions, and her assured teacherly mode of communication into her work as bandleader.
Luxmoore grew up in rural West Dorset, and English folk song is a major influence on her composition. But it is filtered through the experience of many strands of music from all over the world. The minimalism of Steve Reich- curiously referred to in the past tense – has left its mark. And tango, and klezmer, and West African music. The improvised sections of Luxmoore’s melodies are typically over a cycled four-bar vamp. This variety of language combined with simplicity of expression must work very well in the classroom.
A dominant presence onstage throughout last night’s South Bank concert was live-wire Nigerian-born percussionist Lekan Babalola, a former associate of Cassandra Wilson, with a mile-wide smile, roaming free and very effectively over various hand-drums, and bells, and giving constant life and impetus.
The Luxmoore band included the matchless Karen Street on accordion and Omar Puente on violin. Puente, another 24 carat professional, seemed occasionally ill-at-ease. He was constantly trying to adjust sound levels with hand signals, but he did let rip properly and convincingly in a composition by Luxmoore inspired by his homeland, Havana Song.
Peter Maxted on bass was solid and fluent. Berklee-schooled Marco Piccioni on guitar looks like Alastair McGowan, has elaborate gestures, a curious posture on the instrument, but made the most of his solos.
But what really brought the evening to blistering life by the arrival half way through the second set of Cleveland Watkiss (above). His first number was Bonfa’s Manha de Carnaval , and both Street and Puente were able to freer, to give more, to stretch out as improvisers over the longer form of this song.
An interesting and ultimately rewarding evening.