“Why sometimes it just has to be live!”

An outdoor stage in Montreal

Photo credit: MIJF/ Frederique Menard-Aubin

Peter Slavid writes

Why it sometimes has to be live!

Some months ago I was sent a CD by London Jazz News, and after listening to it twice (I’m nothing if not conscientious) I decided it wasn’t for me. I really couldn’t get on with it at all.

Last week I went to see a trio with the same leader and another member in common, in the final concert in the Parabola Arts Centre as part of the Cheltenham Jazz festival, and I thought it was outstanding, and certainly one of the highlights of this year’s festival.

Which got me thinking about the differences between live performance and recorded music and my different reactions to the two.

First of all I should admit that my hi-fi system is fair, but a long way from perfect. I don’t use vinyl and I listened to the album as MP3s on some decent speakers. Would a better system have made any difference?

In the interests of science I dug the album out of the discards box and listened to it again. It did sound better because I could visualise the live performers, but I still couldn’t get absorbed by the music. I’ve had this experience before with free improvisation, but it was most notable here.

Why was that? And even more interestingly do other people feel the same?

First let me name names:

The CD was Sylvain Darrifourcq IN LOVE WITH Coitus Interruptus
Sylvain Darrifourcq: drums, composition
Théo Ceccaldi : violin
Valentin Ceccaldi: cello

The live performance was of the trio Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq (image below) but with Manuel Hermia replaced by another saxophonist Quentin Biardeau, i.e. a trio with two of the same members, and music in very similar vein.

This is difficult music to describe, but it’s intensely physical. This was jazz as a performance in the tradition of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Willem Breuker Kollektief and the ICP Orchestra. There’s vicious bowing on the cello, telegraphed popping noises on the saxophone and then Sylvain Darrifourcq, one of the most physical of drummers. His body is in constant motion. His head moving in all directions, his hand moving bells and alarms and cymbals and other devices on and off the drumkit. The music is full of long pauses and false endings sometimes in absolute stillness before erupting again. There is always something to watch.

I think this is a bit like enjoying a Shakespeare play, but not wanting to sit down and read the words. It doesn’t diminish the words, but they don’t feel right on the page, they are meant to be performed. I think I feel the same about this music. It’s natural environment is in live performance, and sitting at home listening to the CD isn’t the same thing at all. It can serve as a reminder of a live show, and it can introduce you to artists you’ve never heard before, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.

Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq playing live

Photo credit: Ziga Koritnik

Categories: Feature/Interview

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