(Vortex, February 21st 2010, credit for all photos: Stéphanie Knibbe)
I went on the Sunday, the last night of five-night Loop Collective Festival at the Vortex and heard Matthew Bourne, Outhouse and the Ivo Neame Quartet.
The Loop Collective Festival has presented eighteen bands,including guests, and hosted three album launches (see below) . It brought out the crew from Jazz on 3 to record the Saturday, and also brought out the superlatives from one commentator who was moved to dub Phronesis “the most exciting and imaginative piano trio since EST.”
London has such a vibrant year-round band-life. Many of the entities in the Loop Colllective have interlocking personnel. Drummers Dave Smith, Ben Reynolds and Tim Giles are ubiquitous. Because they’re good. They also listen to each other and support each other. The audience last night contained many members of the bands who had appeared on the other nights. Two-thirds of Phronesis were also up on the stand as one-half of the Ivo Neame Quartet. Commentators might like the comfort of rankings, pecking orders, and the rawness of every-band-for-itself. But at ground level, what happens feels a lot more more like collaboration. Plus a sense that in this extensive pool of hugely talented London musicians, something special and worthy of far wider attention is happening.
Matthew Bourne. “Do you have an imagination?” was the question in the sound clip which Bourne had extracted from The Innocents, Truman Capote’s remake of the Turn of the Screw. He used it, and others, to good effect. Bourne certainly has an imagination, both as a beachcomber for literary and film quotes, but above all as a pianist. The night’s opening set, it seemed could be, and was, appreciated on many different levels. It stood up as stand-up. It worked again and again as music- people were picking up influences of stride, Messiaen and John Cage, as well as a Keith Jarrett parody. There were also moments of unashamed emotion.
Bourne included a sequence where the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire, and repeated sound-clips about getting a dwindling number of troops “into the chopper” raised a short-lived, hollow laugh as the audience was reminded of the tragedy of war. The ending, with a quote from Great Expectations, “If she tears your heart to pieces, love her,” brought a remarkable set to a soft and elegaic close.
Outhouse – Robin Fincker and Tom Challenger on reeds, Johnny Brierley on bass and Dave Smith on drums played the second set of the evening. The band has as its base Smith’s completely alive and endlessly resourceful and imaginative drummng, with Brierley in perfect lock-step. It’s no wonder that Smith is first call for so many bands. The band worked through complex material with hardly a page of manuscript in sight. Fincker and Challenger both have a beautiful focussed tone on two tenor saxes, and they are strong musicians who interweave and call-and-respond with great subtlety, and by turns with either the grace or the power required. But the strongest impression this band left me was of its Smith/Brierley rhythmic engine -room. It could propel an ocean liner.
Ivo Neame’s Quartet with Jim Hart on vibes, Jasper Hoiby on bass and James Maddren on drums gave a generally upbeat and happy set to bring both the evening and the festival to a satisfying and suitable close. Neame’s manner of presenting to an audience may be diffident in the extreme, but he is a big musician. His compositions have real character, his collaboration and sparring with Hart works a treat, and his soloing goes off in fascinating directions. I noticed he kept on getting looks of sheer delight from other band members. Maddren always has the focussed, attentive stare which never misses anything, and was as responsive and on-the-case as ever. Hart and Hoiby both have onstage charisma, are bandleaders in their own right, but Neame’s quartet looks for all concerned like an ideal playing context.
Yes, something special is happening in London. In some of our older industries- steel and opera would both be good examples – Britain is on the outer fringes of the European action. In newer industries like improvised music London is at the very beating heart of it.
Note: the album launches were Ivo Neame’s Caught in the Light of Day (Edition Records), Fringe Magnetic’s Empty Spaces (Loop) and The Golden Age of Steam’s Raspberry Tongue (Babel). The Loop Collective receives some support from Arts Council England and from the PRS Foundation. In addition to the recording by Jazz on 3, some of the recordings may also emerge on Alex Bonney’s site http://www.earcconnector.co.uk/