Julien Desprez solo + In Bed With
(Vortex, 23rd January 2015. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
With so much French spoken it could easily have been the east of Paris, but on Friday the 23rd the Jazz Shuttle had landed in east London bringing exciting cross-channel chaos to the Vortex.
The night started with Julien Desprez perched on stage alone, untrimmed strings waving madly from the end of his guitar like his errant hair as he embarked on his 25 minute solo journey, Acapulco. With overdrive and metal licks accompanied with a strong backing hum, what at first appeared to be a Gallic disregard for musical convention and concert niceties evolved into a deeply enthralling performance. Desprez alternated shredding for France with near silently tapping, the slap of strings on fretboard barely audible yet beautifully controlled. At times the raw industrial sounds partnered the exposed beams and profiled composite construction of the venue better than most of its program. Its not often that an electric guitar is made to sound like an old VW golf trying to shift gears, or a collection of electronic devices from the pre-internet era being abused, but the intensity of the results, and the concentration put into them, was enthralling.
And then there were three, with In Bed With taking the stage. A trio formed by Sylvain Darrifoucq, the musicians are connected by a web of collaborations in recent years, enabled by interfaces between the Loop Collective and the COAX collective and the new Entente Cordiale that is the Jazz Shuttle.
In Bed With are a band with rock at their heart: this sort of evening is the reason that the Vortex sell earplugs alongside cheese and onion crisps behind the bar. Darrifoucq has always reveled in the alternative genre influences that inform his musical approach, and the opening piece’s square beats and crashing cymbals provide a sporadic rock backbone to the subterranean organ work of Kit Downes swaying from side to side. They play with the sort of bravado more commonly associated with Rage Against The Machine then a jazz ensemble. In the second piece their unbridled activity was followed by an urgent metronomic clack and submarine sonar sounds as Darrifoucq played with an array of toys. Their cultural reference points shift from 90s US rock and metal to 70s British prog-rock, but with the sharply changing dynamics and hyperactive bursts of a late 80s The Pixies.
Yet instead of a timeline of trans-Atlantic musical homage through a free filter, these sounds are mixed into an “In Bed With” sound, each style sampled and invited into the unconstrained environment that the trio create, molding rock conventions into an avant garde experiment driven by the push of the low organ and hanging chords over sharp machine gun drums. The ensemble are tight like a tiger, and clearly enjoy the experiment, with facial expressions swapping sheepish grins with engrossed concentration.
In announcing their final piece, Darrifoucq thanked the crowd for their curiosity in attending and seeking them out. And while perhaps his declaration of their last “tune” is stretching the limits of conventional interpretation of the word, immersed in his masterful rampaging drums and Desprez’s riffage was some deep musicality, dulcet tones and pensive electronics. Certainly drumming was at the fore (if not literally centre stage) but it was Kit Downes’ more reserved contributions that provided the necessary coherence to cling onto.
The goal of Jazz Shuttle is to encourage “une dynamique d’échanges culturels, un enrichissement et un élargissement du dialogue artistique entre les deux pays.” and for those pining for more French musical liberation in London, In Bed With were a treat that did just that.