Review: Denman Maroney, Tim Hodgkinson & Dominic Lash; John Butcher & Hannah Miller

Maroney/ Hodgkinson/ Lash/ Butcher/ Miller
Cafe Oto 9th January 2012
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

Denman Maroney, Tim Hodgkinson and Dominic Lash; John Butcher and Hannah Miller
(Cafe Oto, 9th January, 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The first musical event of the new year at Cafe Oto was a civilised affair, in the best sense of the word. In John Butcher‘s duo with Hannah Miller, the trio of Denman Maroney, Tim Hodgkinson and Dominic Lash and the final set which brought all five together onstage, any individual expression was for the benefit of the common good.

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There was no showboating and no overtly dominant voices – it was a subtly balanced and democratic confluence of like-minded musicianship where instrumentation bordering on the unusual did not even raise an eyebrow – it was the right blend at the right time in the right place.

Before the commencement of the first set, John Butcher paused a couple of times to make sure that incidental sounds from the room were all but banished, so that the finely balanced tensions that he and Hannah Miller were to contrive could be heard by an undiverted audience. Miller and Butcher share a deep respect for their instruments which recognises few conventional boundaries in the quest for the lighter edges and the cores of expression. Phrases of fluent technique were gently placed in fields of more deviant explorations as if to offer faux reassurance. Butcher’s puffs and punches of breath, clicks, hisses, rubbery squawks and sustained whistles were complemented by Miller, whose approach to the cello as both object and sonic vehicle saw her drag the bow down the fretboard with broad sweeping strokes, and grasp the strings to force out creaking strains. In the glow of the low registers she kicked out an intense drone and a glutinous flow of indistinct patterns which Butcher countered with sparks, wit and jabs, creating skeins of glistening indirectness.

The rich peregrinations of the trio started with an assertive force which was then dissipated and revisited. Denman Maroney, over from New York to reconvene with Tim Hodgkinson and Dominic Lash after their performance at The Stone in the autumn, has refined his technique of hyperpiano where the boundaries of the keyboard and the piano’s inner workings are dispensed with. Despite the physical demands of this approach, which involves reaching to the innermost parts of the piano body and the application of a range of implements to its wires and structure, Maroney maintained a gentle underpinning role, intermittently introducing chimes, jangling, zither strums and grating sawing – sounds that might conceivably be echoes from the outer voids – and lightly percussive structures from the keyboard.

Hodgkinson added an exhilarating stream of expressive statement, on an elegant, skinny metal clarinet – briefly dismantled and reconstituted sans the lower part of the barrel – and a grenadilla wood clarinet, introducing a more rounded tone, to offer a combination of bright precision and abstraction.

Lash, alert and confident on a massive double bass, like Miller earlier, mixed dynamic rhythmic momentum with a process of divination for the tones which the instrument might reveal through bouncing the bow on the strings, tapping the body, or a flurry of pummelling with his thumb close to the bridge.

Together, always sharply attentive to the hints and phrasing in the air, they achieved an engaging equilibrium in their search for lost phrases and resonances.

Finally, the quintet followed the routes set out earlier, and saw Maroney become the third string player before returning to the keyboard, with the group balancing points of accent – jumps, hops, steps, scrapes and hiccups – with an egalitarian quest for anonymity and diversion, to foster an impressive benchmark for the year ahead in Dalston.

Denman Maroney – hyperpiano
Tim Hodgkinson – clarinets
Dominic Lash – double bass
John Butcher – tenor sax
Hannah Miller – cello


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