Julien Lage Quintet
(Vortex, May 18th 2011, Second night of two)
This has been the second night in a week when a London audience has proved its musicality. Cleveland Watkiss turned our ramshackle crew on Saturday night into a very respectable chorus indeed, and last night the charismatic 33 year old percussionist from Bogota in Columbia, Tupac Mantilla (above) was getting crisp and accurate responses to the rhythmic challenges he chucked out to a clearly musical Vortex audience.
Mantilla then did a showpiece with Jorge Roeder on bass and Lage on guitar- a version of Neal Hefti’s Lil’ Darlin’. The only thing I didn’t see him hitting last night was that mellifluous structural pillar at the Vortex (Mantilla is probably the ideal person to come back and do a concerto on it!). But he did hit all of the following:
-every possible surface of Roeder’s bass, including squeaking the varnish
-his own bum-cheeks (through his jeans, steady on)
-his hollowed normal facial cheeks and an open mouth
-heads, shoulders knees and toes
-hand clapping, producing an extraordinary timbre range
-all parts of a drumkit
Mantilla is an extrovert, yes a crowd pleaser, but a fine percussionist. I just rejoice in the fact that “world music,” which used to be a grubby dollars-and-cents business, with as its main purpose to make the executives of large record companies lick their lips, is now developing a tangible musical legacy. I’m excited to see the skills transfer of percussion techniques and sounds from all over the world to new generations of these classically trained players who bring such overwhelming energy to music.
Guitarist and bandleader Julian Lage appears older, but is in fact just 23 years old. He’d already been the subject of a TV documentary at the age of 8. He has awesome guitar technique. There clearly has been a strong and benign modern folk bluegrass influence from Bela Fleck, and from mentor Gary Burton.
But where’s he going? What about these compositions depicting something sounding like Farmville? I’m not sure. The “Gladwell” pieces played last night didn’t really leave any sort of mark on me. And the closer, a tussle with Dan Blake on tenor left me mainly with the thought – a room like the Vortex already has memories that come off its walls – of how well Phil Robson and Julian Siegel of Partisans do the same kind of sparring, and that Julian, the completely equipped tenor saxophonist – or Mark Turner – would have landed a few more punches on Lage than Blake did last night.
These doubts I think put me in a minority. I sensed everyone else there was loving it.
UPDATE : not everybody – here’s Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph
It says something fascinating to me especially about the Vortex room: when heard in a small room such as the Vortex, it's about more than technical competence and expertise. It's that the audience can feel that they are able to have a dialogue with the musicians. Where we have the situation as in a club like the Vortex, it is possible for this to be underestimated. They may well have appeared to approach the gig in the way that they did to compensate for their lack of performance experience so far. (They actually mentioned how they have so little chance to perform in such spaces back home.)
I dipped in and out of the gig a bit, so remained more enthused by what I heard. So I may not have been so brow beaten.
By the way, I was really encouraged by the enthusiasm of the band for what is going on over here. Julian was excited when I offered him a Phil Robson album (because he had been introduced to Phil's playing via Billy Hart); while after the gig, they dashed off to catch the end of Evan Parker's set at Cafe Oto.
A repeat of this attitude of the Vortex audience was demonstrated by Matthew Halsall's band last night. They had a few doubts before the gig – which involves remixing of his past albums with D.J. and beat boxer – as to how the audience would respond. By the second tune, they knew that it was with them, to the extent that at one point, they left their video camera on to film the crowd present.