Review: Pigfoot at the Vortex

Chris Batchelor

(The Vortex, April 19th. Review by Matthew Wright)

Pigfoot, Chris Batchelor’s new ‘21st-century acid trad’ band, with Liam Noble on piano, Paul Clarvis on drums and Oren Marshall on tuba, returned to the Vortex on Friday 19th, after a successful launch in the same venue in January. Their re-workings of the trad repertoire were stunning in their originality and almost anarchically gleeful sense of fun.

The first couple of numbers of a Pigfoot gig are an invigorating experience in creative dislocation. The melodies – staples of 1920s and 1930s pieces by Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Waller, Beiderbecke etc – were for the most part instantly recognisable, but the tonal palette, the harmony and above all the rhythm were bitingly fresh.

A typical technique was to alter the time signature, though the exhilarating novelty of the band’s sound was at least as much due to the swooping changes of pace within a tune, and the steely-gripped ensemble that made such loose-jointed playing work.

And just when their approach was beginning to feel familiar, they played a version of Beiderbecke’s ‘In a Mist’ that was suddenly introspective, almost minimalist. It fitted the piece perfectly.

Oren Marshall’s virtuosic tuba – two words that even in jazz you don’t often see together – added another dimension to their soundscape. Forget the intestinal plodding of an uninspired big band: Marshall’s tuba cried, squealed, groaned, whooped, and crashed like a breaking wave. He even managed to sing himself, through the mouthpiece.

There’s perhaps a touch of the Instant Composers’ Pool Orchestra about their combination of technical command and musical adventure. Otherwise, it’s difficult to know who to compare them to. Much of this repertoire has sadly been allowed to fade, grow stale through too-familiar and unimaginative repetition. Pigfoot reminded us that this music was once raucously subversive and intensely joyous.

They were good to watch, too, with Paul Clarvis alive with madcap glee, and Chris Batchelor electric with energy. Oren Marshall and his tuba swayed like a couple in a slow dance, joined at the lips, making beautiful music. Liam Noble, with his back to the audience, was to some extent left out of the visual display, but he made up for it with a supple, commanding performance, linking the brass lines as they jigged.

This is new music-making of the highest order. Fortunately the gig was recorded. Look out.

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