(Stapleford Granary, Cambridgeshire. 18 September 2021. First date of a 20th Anniversary Tour. Review by Alice Williams)
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For many, coming back onstage post-pandemic feels like walking towards an old friend to whom one hasn’t spoken for years. What if conversation is stilted; what if it’s like starting again from scratch? Not for Acoustic Triangle. After two postponements, their return to public music-making is as if they have never been apart. It’s a moment for retrospection and new ventures as the trio celebrates its twentieth anniversary. A first tour in five years, marking the milestone, began intimately in Stapleford Granary, Cambridgeshire.
There’s a winding ease in their playing, filled with possibilities even more than usually welcome after the last eighteenth months. And this ease allows space for the unfamiliar, the unexpected. Old favourites found fresh sounds and new works made their mesmerising first appearances. Humour, friendliness, and an extraordinary capacity for responsive spontaneity are undiminished for Acoustic Triangle.
John Taylor’s Coffee Time, which the group recorded on their second album Catalyst was full of playful experimentation. With swerving energy, Tim Garland’s reeds danced cheekily around the power of Gwilym Simcock’s almost orchestral introduction. Humour folded into a willowy, minor uncertainty and Malcom Creese’s harmonic tremolos heralded a different soundscape. One of Acoustic Triangle’s strengths is an ability to combine sounds in limitless ways. Whether that’s playing a saxophone under the lid of the piano in Cole Porter’s All For You, ethereally pushing the borders of individual instrumentation, or holding a breathy trill between saxophone and bass harmonics that bridges the difficult moment between music and silence in a beautifully collaborative freestyle.
In keeping with the blending of genres which is central to Acoustic Triangle’s repertoire, Maurice Ravel featured this evening. Ravel himself shifted the edges of where jazz (in its early days) and ‘classical’ writing might meet. However, the work chosen here (Trois poèmes de Mallarmé) was written in 1913, over a decade before Ravel was swept up by the 1920s jazz scenes of Paris and North America. Garland’s arrangement, largely faithful to the original with open-ended improvisation opportunities, suggests possibilities for the meeting between Ravel with jazz before, as it were, Ravel had actually made its acquaintance. The two Ravel works, the first and third of his Mallarmé songs, brought out the flexibility in communication between these players. As with the bittersweet, lingering beauty of Rosa Ballerina, the group’s ability to respond to and transform each other’s sounds as an ensemble was breath-taking.
The new compositions were equally fascinating. Simcock’s world premiere, the second of a three-movement suite (the first and the third to feature later on in the tour), conjured an absorbing stillness, wistful and sometimes harp-like. Garland’s Spark was a smiling tribute to Chick Corea, spinning long, paragraph-like lines which nevertheless retained a core logic that concluded, with perpetual invention, somewhere completely new at each full stop. When playing each other’s music, the whole group are equal compositional partners, following each other’s instincts intently.
Who is not tired of mourning the losses live music has suffered in the last year? It was heartening to hear Acoustic Triangle taking us happily forward into better times, and fresh musical ideas.
REMAINING TOUR DATES:
Thu 23 September St. John the Evangelist, OXFORD
Fri 24 September Riverhouse Barn, WALTON on THAMES
Sat 25 September Turner Sims Concert Hall, SOUTHAMPTON
Sun 26 September The Main Hall, Walthamstow Hall School, SEVENOAKS,
Thu 30 September National Centre for Early Music, YORK
Thu 21 October Firth Hall, SHEFFIELD