* Image copyright Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved.
(Café Oto, Sunday 11 September 2011 – night 1 of 2 night residency. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston.)
Lean Left are a lethal combination of radical commitment, sonic intensity and breathtaking fluency from four musicians who, between them, have rarely strayed from the outermost borders of jazz and punk.
We knew we were in for a tough night when guitarist Terrie Hessels ominously took to the stage with a screwdriver gripped firmly in his jaws. Hessels and Andy Moor, the guitarists from punk vanguard band The Ex, have honed to perfection their distinctive approaches to the guitar, and provided a driving, pneumatic wall of sound from the left and right flanks of Café Oto’s stage. Hessels applied screwdriver and drumstick to the pickups, strings and body of his Mad Max-battered brown customised guitar, used his fingers instead of the traditional bottleneck in slide guitar passages, to leave a trail of continual invention in his wake. Moor, equally energetic, was a constantly vibrating body of energy, red T-shirt, red guitar body, mixing a relentless chordal onslaught with brief acoustic touches.
Ken Vandermark set off at a blistering, supercharged pace, coaxing an astounding expressive range from his tenor, recalling his duets with Peter Brötzmann earlier in the year, and later used the clarinet to carve out sputtering patterns while Hessel held his guitar head to the floor, like a geiger counter, sending metallic vibrations through the instrument. Paul Nilssen-Love‘s complex brew of articulated post-punk-jazz percussion consistently maintained the rhythmic backbone with ferocious technical aplomb.
The relentless flow was reinforced as they each bounced ideas off each other with disarmingly telegraphic reflexes. There was genuine sense of enjoyment as they perhaps surpassed their own demanding standards, characterised by a parity and unity in both intensity and invention. It felt like being right at the working coal face – only the coal dust was missing. Amidst the industrial tension riffs surfaced and evaporated. The echoing bells and buoys of Hendrix’s ‘1983 … a Merman I should turn to be’ were evoked in an abstract passage from Nilssen-Love at the end of the first set, giving an almost surreal, nautical twist to the proceedings.
|Lean Left * Image copyright Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved.|
For the second set they were joined by master saxophonist Ab Baars, whose searing, whistling runs saw the ever-generous Vandermark take a back seat to allow Baars the freedom to build his own carefully wrought structures. Their ensuing high octane tenor duet was followed by a brief solo spot where Baars’s dexterity and nuanced playing was given that bit of extra breathing space, before the ensemble built up an emphatic final crescendo.
The density, clarity and balance maintained throughout the two sets was a breathtaking reminder that this stormy, industrial territory is where many of the most pressing questions are asked of the structure and content of jazz today.
Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone and clarinet)
Paal Nilssen-Love (percussion)
Terrie Hessels (guitar)
Andy Moor (guitar)
Guest: Ab Baars (tenor saxophone)