|Aaron & The Argonauts at The Ivy House|
Photo credit: Doug Southall
(The Ivy House, 7 September 2017. Review by Harry Greene)
The Ivy House, located in deepest Nunhead, is London’s first co-operatively owned pub. Proud purveyors of original music it was the perfect venue to witness the eclectic extravaganza that is Aaron & the Argonauts.
The gig was set up in a sultry manner with Together Forever featuring bandleader Aaron Liddard and vocalist Giulia Joni Marelli. This harmonically explorative tune featured Liddard showing his strengths on tenor, flute and piano. An array of humorous and quirky rhythmic twists followed in Chicken Soup, with unusual shuffles peppered with eager outbursts of folky energy, settling down only for Liddard’s bellowing solo. Constantly pushing the limits of his tenor’s range, Liddard grabbed his horn by the scruff of its neck and put on a Pharoah Sanders-eque display of intensity. Guitarist Dave Ital of Chaka Khan/Incognito fame also featured on this tune, with Mike Stern-esque tones and melodies. Both Ital and Liddard are well-known for their work in the pop world, so to hear them stretch their legs in such a contrasting musical setting was a treat in itself.
Like many bands that feature predominantly original music, the Argonauts’ tunes are born out of an infinitely wide array of influences. 1,000,000 Children was inspired by an annual Bhuddist gathering, during which huge crowds of children gather to meditate. A dazzling display of rhythmic ingenuity climaxed as poet Segun Lee French performed a poignant original work entitled Black Angel Death Story, with all the half-spoken half-sung delivery of a manic preacher in full flow.
Manana was an unapologetic homage to the band’s Cuban roots, having originally formed as a collective of musicians who met playing on Carlos Acosta’s Cubania. Violin extraordinaire Omar Puente guested on this number with an outburst of expression and showmanship, enthralling the audience with his signature joyous style. A Santiago de Cuba expression, Manana translates as “one must play with not only excellence, but from the heart”. This tune encapsulated the meaning beautifully, featuring rhythmic intricacies and joyful melodies that fizzed with Cuban spirit.
Amid the musical drama, a stunningly intimate vocal performance of the ballad Beautiful was a welcome moment of delicacy. Marelli’s vocal delivery had hints of vulnerability, engaging in a sensitive musical dialogue with Liddard’s keyboard work. The rest of the second set was far more bombastic, featuring hints of free jazz, drum & bass and hip-hop. This was particular evident on Apples and Pears, which was propped up by a funky rawness that hadn’t been presented thus far.
French returned to the stage with George Benson-inspired scat inflections, all the while negotiating the tempo which was being pushed and pulled to within an inch of its life by drummer Jimmy Norden. Raucous displays of gritty intensity were ever present, with Liddard egging the audience on to get up and dance. Overloaded synth bass lines and explosive percussion solos shook the floorboards, the crowd becoming ever-more integrated with the music. The evening concluded with a well-reinvented arrangement of Brazilian percussion master Airto Moreira’s Misturada, again showcasing the fearsome rhythm section of Norden and percussionist Eric Young.
In many cases, bands that feature such diversity of material often feel like they are dipping in and out of influences without any real commitment. This couldn’t have been further from the truth with the Argonauts. The curiosity and creativity that lay behind the compositions tied the gig together with a coherent thread, giving the band that special something that all creative musicians seek: an instantly identifiable, unique sound.