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2011 – Geoffrey Winston’s selection

Peter Brötzmann
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston, February 2011. All Rights Reserved

Geoffrey Winston writes:

There has been an avalanche of tremendous music in 2011 at London’s most adventurous and committed jazz/new music destinations, the Vortex and Cafe Oto, and at other offbeat and high profile venues.

This selection, I hope, will give a flavour of the riches that were on offer.

Craig Taborn‘s solo piano sets at the Vortex had a sprinkling of magic about them, articulating the essence of what makes great live performance so compelling. With his virtuosic expression came both a rare tension and clarity, and his near foetal posture as he drew closer to the keyboard spoke volumes about his relationship to the piano.

– This was a fitting complement to Matthew Shipp‘s earlier trio performance at the same venue where, in the company of Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey, Shipp subversively reinterpreted the mainstream in a rushing stream of invention.

– When the eleven-man Brötzmann Chicago Tentet settled in for 3 nights at Cafe Oto, its massed firepower constantly shifted gear with synchromesh fluency, such that it became a near-Ellingtonian spectacle where musicians, all of whom qualify as leaders in their own right, were happy to subvert their egos to Peter Brötzmann’s gently directorial impulse in a continual blaze of wonderfully painted sound strokes and washes.

– A few nights earlier Peter Brötzmann and Keiji Haino gave an astounding two and a half hour improvised concert – the perfect balance of two masters – which saw the guitarist head into the viscerally abstract and Brötzmann, on brass and woodwind, echoing, then leading off from Haino’s initial statements, before they duetted with a joint imagination that kept reconstituting itself as the ideas kept on flowing.

Christian Marclay‘s graphic score, ‘Manga Scroll’ was interpreted by improvising singer Phil Minton with breathtaking and electrifying immediacy. Minton makes no concessions to convention as his inspired and illuminating delivery took in all kinds of peripheral and unexpected sound articulations which linked the primeval and the inchoate to the emotional and expressive. Steve Beresford completed the triumvirate, turning a tabletop of gizmos into a giant keyboard, while Marclay nudged the proceedings with abstracted fragments emanating from a bank of Calofone turntables.

Peter Evans joined Okkyung Lee and Evan Parker for a rivetting evening which mixed highly attuned ensemble and duet sequences with inward-facing solo extemporisations. Evans employed the principle of the trumpet’s mute with vision and temporarily dismantled his instrument to give voice to a purely breath-driven passages while Lee sensuously elicited timbres, tones and percussive notes from her cello and Parker skated to fill in with sparkling soprano trills and a full tenor roar.

– The year wouldn’t be complete without mention of a wild card – the massive achievement by highly accomplished saxophonist, Andre Vida, who gave 403 half-hour performances – nine a day – as the improvising performer in Anri Sala’s film and sound installation at the Serpentine Gallery. I saw the first, the penultimate and one other of the improvisations which Vida made against Sala’s film and the soundtrack of Jemeel Moondoc, filmed whilst playing alto sax suspended from a bleak tower block in Berlin. Vida’s stamina and mental resolve were unflinching, his technical depth and range were impressive, making each session a uniquely enriching experience for the gallery’s visitors.

There were other memorable performances – Lean Left, Aaron Goldberg Trio, Eugene Chadbourne, The Thirteenth Assembly, Mainly Other People Do the Killing, Archie Shepp and Joachim Kühn, Wadada Leo Smith,Henry Grimes, Keith Rowe, to name but a few – all of whom deserve more than a mention.

A huge thanks to the musicians, the promoters and the venues for bringing this to London’s table. Good wishes, in any key, for the year ahead!

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