Live reviews

Run Logan Run at Sage Gateshead

Run Logan Run at Sage Two

(Sage Gateshead, Sage Two, 18 February. Review by AJ Dehany)

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L-R: Matt Brown, Beth O’Lenahan, Annie Gardiner, Dan Messore, Andrew Hayes

Run Logan Run, the longstanding duo of Andrew Hayes and Matt Brown, can certainly play. To do a drum n’ sax duo you really need to be able to— and so in theory they don’t need to add other personnel and elements to impress – and yet, and yet… when 8-minute epic vocal single Silver Afternoon dropped it was still a revelation, a physical validation and proof of their musical imagination. 

Their third album Nature Will Take Care Of You finds them in a vastly expanded format with a band, strings, horns, electronics, the works. The live realisation (it’s a live reduction but felt like a realization) absolutely did live up to it. There’s still the sense that this is an expanded duo rather than an even group.

Annie Gardiner, who had performed a spectral support set earlier, joined the band for part of their set. Her voice does have a special beauty and just sits so well with the rest of the group in what they do. She’s got a pure unaffected voice that sits incredibly well rising above the expansive stereo of the saxophone fx and guitar rhythms around the low bass and locked-in drum grooves. 

Annie’s presence does enliven the group who suddenly sound more impassioned. The four-piece format covers for the energy of the album’s extra string and brass, and it’s to the credit of both the writing and the arrangement that the music could survive a return to the two-piece format but works extremely well with always just the right amount of embellishment to convey an atmosphere, evoke a mood, push a tune or drive a crescendo. They embrace technology while remaining a physical entity. The most retro thing about them might be their naming after the 1976 dystopian sci-fi classic Logan’s Run; for the most part they remain vitally contemporary, not least in their embrace of these older tropes of spiritual jazz and noise rock. 

The duo is solid as a progressive jazz duo in the lineage of Binker & Moses but the band with Dan Messore on guitar and Beth O’Lenahan on bass takes it over on the rock side of the jazz rock equation. Annie is not given scope to improvise, a decision to keep everything tight and songy rather than let the vocalist go off into some kind of jazz skat chicanery. In jazz contexts the voice is usually given an improvisatory impetus and a lot of creative potential for manoeuvre, but at other times it’s locked into a more rigid usage to deliver the vocals of the verses and choruses of a song; even the soloists solos are usually reined in. 

Comparable albums by Emma Jean Thackray don’t have a hell of a lot of improvisation and are usually kept to manageable pop lengths. Since Run Logan run’s second album Kōan they’ve been no stranger to 10-minute tracks and a friend who saw them recently in Brighton referred to “extended jamming” which doesn’t seem quite fair. 

Joyzine published a glowing review of their Bristol show (link) detailing what appears to have been the same set list. Some friends saw them at Brighton’s Rose Hill which is wonderful but tiny; I was going to go to see them at the great community venue the Crescent, York, but I was fortunate enough to fix up at Sage Two in Gateshead, which is small by comparison to Sage One but big for a jazz venue that always seems bigger than you remember it. Sage Two benefits from both a sense of intimacy and the cleaner sonic fidelity potential of a larger venue. While Suzanne Vega herself was packing out Sage One for a retrospective, the smaller venue rose to the occasion of a fresh direction. 

Opening with the mosh-worthy grind of “Growing Pains” is always a statement of fierce intent. I don’t remember them playing the meditative instrumental track “The Taste of Oxygen” which I like very much, in favour of more direct tracks. “Searching For God In Strangers’ Faces” on the record is led by rich strings and it sounds like battle music from a fantasy film for the first two minutes, before dropping into a mosh stomp headband rhythm with a sneakingly hooky and enjoyable saxophone riff.

“Silver Afternoon” has some of the grandeur and exoticism of Ellington’s “Caravan”, allied to a contemporary sense of drama. It opens with that 6/8 bassline at a ponderous tempo with imperious appeal to an epic sensibility, with eastern-tinged strings taking up much of the thematic writing between the verse vocals and as a response to the . It’s hard to imagine without the full on sonic appeal of the full arrangement, and yet live you don’t feel you’re missing anything… and this is a mark of the ‘reduced’ arrangement having enough there… the rest is noise, embellishment, as lovely as it is. Such an epic track is worth getting on 12”, especially with the locked grooves on the B-side (each track on the album is reduced to a single groove on a record that just goes round and round in a loop until you jostle the needle onto the next groove). 

So, most people wouldn’t be that bothered or particularly notice the lack of improvisation, but some might. There is a case for making more of it, particularly with their evident talents and creativity, but there’s also the fact that it would take it somewhere else beyond the song-based format they have evolved for this album. You’d probably lose more listeners than you’d gain, given their cachet as an act appealing to the non-purist crowd, the younger rock and pop audiences with jazz on their mind, and people who just like heavy music and the noise it makes.

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff


Artist website / albums

Their tour continues with dates around the UK 

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