Review: Notes Inégales/Oliver Coates

Notes Inégales in 2009. Photo credit: Chris Jinks

Notes Inégales/Oliver Coates
(Club Inégales, North Gower Street NW1, 7th June 2012. Review by Robert Edgar )

Peter Wiegold’s group Notes Inégales deliberately sets out to make itself adaptable, and also difficult to pigeonhole. The group, tonight featuring keyboard, piano, viola/violin, percussion, guitar/bass guitar and cello (in their second set) can range from from duo to dectet, and offers an attractive synthesis of contemporary composition and improvisation.

On Thursday the group played a set consisting of a group of improvisations based on subjects called out by the audience. Musical director/conductor /pianist Peter Wiegold is a warm and convivial host. He was fascinating to watch as he directs the shape and flow of the pieces through a series of hand-signals (designed to show when to harmonise, when to take a solo etc), and some wonderful keyboard playing. Little themes, motifs and melodies get passed around the group in a constant state of development. The players shy away from flashy solos, preferring to follow the grain, and to serve the teleology of the music.

Cellist Oliver Coates was on top form with a solo set consisting of Xenakis’s Kottos, an impromptu (and charming) rendition of the prelude to Bach’s Cello suite no.1 and a short piece called Avon by Matt Rogers which juxtaposed striking clustered notes with soaring widely spaced intervals. These served well as warm-ups before tackling the leviathan that is Kottos, which, according to the cellist, is named after a mythical Greek being with a hundred arms – some challenge for Coates, then, having just two. He worked his way valiantly through the complex architecture of the music from the harsh and dense beginning, to the descending harmonics and the almost folk-like melody at the end. His left hand was remarkable as was his ability to create a sense of false polyphony. At times, it really did sound as if there were several instruments playing, in a performance which was both authoritative and moving.

Perhaps the pieces best encapsulating the spirit of the night were a selection of three ‘concept’ scores by Matt Rogers. The scores did not have any notes or thematic material, nor could they have been considered anything like a lead sheet; rather, they were used as a general framework for improvisation, simply detailing things like the number of musical events or the general structure. Notes Inégales (joined now by Oliver Coates) were able to work within these limitations utilising an astonishing array of techniques and styles to create music of depth, variety and cohesiveness. There is a sober revolution going on within the London classical scene at the moment. This night was one of a few that have been popping up recently all over the city to feature a mixture of contemporary-classical, jazz and improvised music, away from the formality of the concert hall.

There are two more nights here in the coming weeks before the group come to the end of their season. Notes Inégales’ guests will be Trumpeter/ composer Byron Wallen on 21st June and composer/sound artist, Aleks Kolkowski on 5th July.

Oliver Coates, cello with Notes Inégales:

Peter Wiegold, director, keyboard
Martin Butler, piano
Max Baillie, violin, viola
Simon Limbrick, percussion
Joel Bell, guitar, bass guitar


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