Review: Byron Wallen/ Cleveland Watkiss

Byron Wallen/Cleveland Watkiss
(Kings Place Hall Two, part of Out Hear, May 24th 2010)

This was a very neat idea indeed, and decidedly the better for being so simple. Byron Wallen and Cleveland Watkiss, two busy, extremely versatile musicians were invited as part of the Monday Out Hear series in Kings Place to just to go with the flow, bring along some visual and audible props, talk, sing, play, and follow their well-honed instincts as performers and their imaginations.

John L Walters was the instigator of this performance, but, modestly, doesn’t claim the credit for the idea: he says that a previous performance which he saw, and reviewed at Stratford in 2003 , had stuck indelibly in his mind.

It was a natural, unforced, well-paced performance which didn’t need programme notes. In fact, congratulations to John L Walters for keeping his description of what we were going to hear to just one elegantly turned sentence in the hand-out. Any more would have been superfluous, and normally is. Glossy books and over-production just aren’t necessary to overlay a performance this assured and personal.

Too many concepts and too much exegesis can get in the way. In fact it makes me wonder how much second-rate stuff gets overblown through an excess of verbiage. These artists can just be their excellent selves, perform and let their music speak out. And to tell the occasional nice story – like Wallen’s memory of an encounter with Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet -above- prior to its sale at Christie’s. The context – and good sound and visuals engineering, as ever from the Kings Place team – allowed them to do that.

It started well with an uncluttered piano improvisation by Byron Wallen. But most of the sounds were produced with breath. Wallen conjured up a fascinating range of timbres on open trumpet, on Miles-ish muted trumpet, on flute and on various conch shells and pipes. Watkiss’s vocal compass and dexterity and electronic effects are a national monument. I particularly enjoyed some harmonizing which carried reminders of Schumann’s”Of Foreign Lands…” and just before the end a duo version of Blue Monk. Loose, laid back. mellow, loved it.

The audience gathered in Hall Two was disappointingly small . And the programme might be better next time limited to an hour. But this is a show which for its honesty and warmth deserves to be heard again and again.

The next Out Hear is by the Elision Ensemble
on June 7th.

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1 reply »

  1. Excellent analysis, i thought it was an inspired idea, and congratulations to all involved.

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