Review: Partager opening night

Partager: First night of four-night festival
Zhenya Strigalev and Nick Ramm/ Emil Parisien Quartet/ Andy Emler Megaoctet with Marc Ducret.
Kings Place, May 5th 2010)

Short preamble. I was at a live music industry round table yesterday. A question which kept on coming from the promoters was this: how they could stop the erosion of the magic and the mystery of the live experience. Here’s the problem. Rock and and particularly rock nostalgia fans know the length of every note, the shape of every tune. They’ve heard the records.They’ve seen the live hundreds of times on Youtube. They want to be emailed set lists in advance. They want everything to be EXACTLY as it is on the record. They want no surprises. So, how do you keep the magic there? How do you re-create the raw excitement of what one participant remembered as “discovering an unknown punk band in a shit-hole in Staffordshire in 1978?”

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I found that the promoters’ rhetorical question was answered within hours. At the “Partager” Festival at Kings Place, which got off to a strong start last night. Simple. Bring on the improvisers.

The moment I will savour from last night was the entrance of guitarist Marc Ducret as guest with Andy Emler’s Megaoctet (or perhaps nonet, or why not mini-dectet?). Ducret weaved a gripping two-minute narrative from distortion effects. That was something special.

The Megaoctet itself is something of an institution, formed in 1989, and yet it keeps a freshness. There are lively characters in this band. Imagine how different the world would be if Loose Tubes had stuck together…. Emler’s group has welcomed over the years many of the top French-based improvisers.

The Emler style embraces Varese, Stravinsky (I hear the circus music) Mingus and Frank Zappa. He describes all of these presences in his music with the splendidly untranslateable French adjective “incontournable.” It’s muscular, assertive music. The latest album (on Naive) is called “Crouch, Touch, Engage” (which for the uninitiated it’s rugby parlance, and for pedants it omits the word pause). The band was on late, and, sadly, the audience had begun to thin during their set, which was a shame. Try the Youtube clip above.

The opening act was a playful take on Django Reinhardt from the highly individual saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev and the ever-resourceful and adaptable pianist Nick Ramm. We are blessed in London with a mega-explosion of piano talent, and Nick Ramm is now on the worryingly long list entitled: “Pianists-I-would-be-glad-to-go-out-to hear-any-night-of-the week.”

I sat uncomfortably close to the Emile Parisien Quartet, which builds intricate structures out very short ideas and phrases. Emile Parisien and pianist Julien Touery have been working together for around six years. They are very different musicians, but now have an eerily familiar ability to shadow phrasing and nuance. Bus sitting as close as I was, the repeated noise-builds including fists and forearms from Thoery and the drum kit of Sylvain Darrifourcq at full tilt was simply too loud.

Partager will have revealed plenty more surprises by Saturday. One thing that’s certain about this festival is that any listener is going to make some discoveries. I know I will enjoy Fly on Friday night. This is one of the great improvising units of our time. But for the rest, I’m prepared to take a risk, follow Patsy Craig’s programming instincts.See you there.

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