REVIEW: Okkyung Lee and Bill Orcutt at Cafe Oto

Okkyung Lee (left) and Bill Orcutt at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston . All Rights Reserved

Okkyung Lee and Bill Orcutt
(Cafe Oto, 28 September 2016. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

There was a curious hiatus in the evening between guitarist Bill Orcutt’s set with Pat Thomas (piano) and Paul Abbott (drums) and his headline set with cellist Okkyung Lee, during which the guitarist found himself left to his own devices and played a couple of solo numbers while Lee went in search of a lost cello pickup.

These turned out to be perhaps the most compelling numbers of the evening, a dextrous meander through a rich seam of metallic, electric folk-tinged blues (or blues-tinged folk) improvisation – albeit questionably eardrum-unfriendly at times.

What I caught of the first set (due to traffic delays) came across as one-dimensional, lacking the anticipated nuances and was devalued by poor sound balance (uncharacteristic of Cafe Oto, which usually offers impeccable sound quality) that over-amplified Orcutt and rendered Thomas’s powerful playing virtually inaudible at times, while Abbott lacked the adventurous gene, delivering quality if uninspired percussion in this setting.

When Lee returned with the pickup she was somewhat distracted. Once the duo set down to play, it took their performance a good while to take off. Whilst Lee has tremendous technical and inventive resources – and has delivered truly compelling performances – on this occasion, perhaps because of this unexpected hitch, she seemed to be going through the motions until about half way through their duo set.

Orcutt pulled out all the stops to help Lee exit the plateau. By adding softly restrained backwashes with hints of gamelan, banjo and distorted folk melody he supported Lee’s intensely articulated slides, slithers and scrapes on the cello fingerboard. Once the dialogue got in to gear, all manner of minor events abounded – splattering staccatos, feedback, wails, creaks and growls, hammered chords, screeching silences and blazingly energetic attacks – but ultimately the set had to be abbreviated due to the delay and did not quite live up to expectations. Next time!

Categories: miscellaneous

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