Review: Ma. CD launch

(CD Launch of The Last, Stoke Newington International Airport, January 22nd 2011, Review by Roderick McKinley

Last week saw the launch gig of Ma’s new album, The Last. The venue – Stoke Newington International Airport – is tucked away in a corner of north east London; half of the fun of finding it is seeing the looks on people’s faces when you ask for directions. Once there, scissor chandeliers, stencilled art walls, and other randomly placed artefacts reaffirm the sense that you’re an insider on to a well-kept secret.

When the quartet Ma arrived onstage, the atmosphere was piqued with expectation; pre-charged by the fierce and frantic jazz played by the earlier bands (the French band Loup and Webster/ Holub McLaren). Ma’s start immediately shifted the polarity. People arranged themselves to sit comfortably, instantly aware that a different and distant sort of journey lay ahead.

From the quietest instant by which they began, Ma’s sound evoked a vast and fathomless expanse which pervades their aural world. It is a strange and distant place with odd faint echoes of familiarity, as fickle forms effervesce in an almost-presence. It often feels orientation-less – the saxophone’s “past” melodic lines are often re-sampled and replayed with the “current” ones, in filtered, fragmentary forms – creating a feeling that all time is somehow set out at once.

The electronics, percussion, and keyboards, played with an impressive unity, creating a melded sound seemingly coming from a single source. Generally, Ross Stanley on organ provides grounding, space, and duration to the texture with sustained chords, while Dave Smith, percussion and Matt Calvert ‘s electronics interleave a complex echofabric with their rhythms. The soundscapes range greatly in character; from a still emptiness with fleeting almost tangible forms, to swirling, immense, crashing turbulences. Occasionally the sound coalesces into concrete rhythmic and thematic forms for a while, before subsiding back into a primitive warp and weft.

Tom Challenger ‘s saxophone-playing entwines intimately with these soundscapes, at times a part of them, though often slightly apart – like a wandering voice journeying through these surroundings. It formed a point of reference and identification for the listener, feeling at once familiar and remote. The emotions evoked ranged widely, at different times, intrepid, wistful, yearning, and defiant – the result was always genuine and compelling.

The overarching sense of vastness is further reinforced by the Ma’s use of duration. Motion happens in a very gradual way as one set of features slowly merges into the next. Often this moves in a direction of growing tension which somehow finds reserves to keep building on itself into an overwhelming intensity. Yet throughout the sense of space remains, like a clear, all-filling light that somehow just keeps getting brighter and brighter… until it dispels back into a stiller, fainter expanse.

Ma play full immersion music – I saw many others around me with their eyes closed whenever I opened my own. They return to music making which explores the wider spans of time, taking listeners on an expansive, introspective journey to distant reaches, far removed from the familiar world – a true listening experience.

Stoke Newington International Airport
Tom Challenger’s Myspace has video of this launch gig

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