|L-R: Mark Sanders, Pat Thomas, Rachel Musson, and
(half in shot) Tony Dudley-Evans
REVIEW: Shifa (Rachel Musson, Mark Sanders, Pat Thomas)
Hexagon Theatre, mac, Birmingham. 27 March 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)
‘Shifa’ comes from a translation of the Arabic word for healing, and the healing appeal of new trio Shifa comes from the translations occurring between percussion, electronics and brass. Each player brings what they hear from the other two people into their own medium, each extending the range of their instrument and as a group forging a fascinating polyglot between the dialects of three very different voices.
The trio’s debut performance at the Hexagon, Birmingham, curated by TDE Productions, was a 40-minute improvisation involving three experienced and well-loved players, Rachel Musson (tenor/soprano sax), Pat Thomas (keys/electronics) and Mark Sanders (drums/percussion). Pat’s setup was a laptop and mini tablet used as a keyboard, opening the set with pitch-bent circuit-breaker type phrases of sinusoidal sound. To control and play these with his sense of musicality and phrasing is extremely unusual. The dialogue between his sounds and the tenor sax allows you to better appreciate the musical phrasing within the lovingly jarring electronic tone.
Musson’s switch to a curved soprano sax over a more drone-like glitchy backdrop led on to a more abstract saturated electronic sound. Returning to the tenor for a half-way point solo moment she used extended techniques including toneless voiced blowing, almost literally speaking with the horn. A tight group stop was followed by Musson reverse-muting the tenor sax with a can of Bonduelle Spinach, which, like Popeye, is strong to the finish and made the horn rattle and blast like a boat siren.
Earlier episodes were inverted in passages of quiet noise and tense multiphonic playing and Mark’s tonal use of chiming sound bowls that underlined the group’s translational nature, whereby often the electronics provide more of the rhythmic sense to allow the acoustic drum kit a precedent of freedom to colour the sound. The set’s conclusion was like a deconstruction of the Jimmy Smith style classic organ trio with Pat Thomas’ Hammond-like sound and off-kilter vamping playing off the free-stylings of saxophone and drums.
Their 5-minute encore found Pat Thomas in a supportive role creating a steady electronic rhythm steadily unsteadied throughout. The more abstract backdrop of rattling noise gave space for Mark Sanders to further explore tonal-rhythmic colourations on the sound bowls, and for the saxophonist to bring an almost classic-sounding jazz melodic sense with pulsing lows, spiralling arpeggios, power tones & bat notes.
Support came from young rising stars of the Midlands scene, Xhosa Cole (tenor sax), Harry Weir (tenor sax) and Rob Harper-Charles (drums). Their 30-minute free improvisation was driven by exciting live-sculpted blasts of sound from the two tenors, and delicately conceived maquettes of quieter introspection showcasing Rob Harper-Charles’s dynamic subtlety on the kit and the trio’s careful listening and creativity in maintaining energy in both loud and quiet moments.
The evening was organised by Fizzle Birmingham in association with TDE Productions, part of a series benefitting from Arts Council funding, whose renewal is currently being sought but isn’t certain. After the gig, a discussion was led by Tony Dudley-Evans in which he sought feedback from the audience. The thoughtful discussion was carried out in a healthy, open and constructive spirit, focusing on how much convergence there is in the music between jazz/ electronica/ noise / sound art / contemporary classical. and how a perceived ‘cliquiness’ among the different audiences might be overcome. For example, a contributor said turning up at one particular gig “can feel like gate-crashing someone’s wedding!” The willingness to cross-pollinate between the diverse related scenes was clear. The passion for the music was very strong, and the thoughtful discussion gave an exciting insight into the present and future of music in the Midlands.
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
SHIFA 27/03/18: analysis/breakdown
Sax and squeals
Curved soprano sax & a more sustained noise
More abstract saturated sound
STOP! Sax with spinach can
Jumpy fierce Cagey toy-like sounds
Sax solo with vocal utterance technique
Quiet noise and tense multiphonics
Percussion elements chiming
Solo hum noise
Classic organ trio deconstruction