Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Forces Of Sound And Music

Steve Reid is currently regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful jazz drummers of modern times, having seen the developments in his music since his re-emergence in the past few years I awaited his appearance at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival with enthusiasm and a little trepidation. In recent years his live playing has received such reverence amongst audiences that I wondered whether a venue as large as the Barbican could receive his music without dissipating some its power. I needn’t have worried, although the atmosphere here at the Barbican did not reach the same levels as his previous appearance with his ensemble at Cargo in 2005 the audience was carried by the sheer force of will amongst all members of the ensemble. Beginning with his ‘Drum Story’ his drumming patterns created waves of rhythms woven amongst the sound textures created by Kieren Hebden’s electronic effects, this poem based statement of his musical vision created the point of entry for the audience to this evenings performance, at the culmination of this passage of music instead of the usual break before the next number the drumming and effects continued for the remaining band members to arrive on stage. Almost two hours of music ensued with a journey through a variety of rhythms and soundscapes some recognisable, such as Reid’s classic ‘Lions of Judah’, some unrecognisable, this was beyond jazz and in some parts beyond music, all the band members moved with musical fluidity through this vibrant and pure improvisational journey. Reid acts as driving force for the band and as band leader takes responsibility for directing the flow of the music with his many and varied drum patterns, however he has the modesty and courage to allow all band members not so much to solo in the traditional sense but to take the responsibility from him and to lead the music and take the band through new routes on the journey. Kieran Hebden in most part floats through the music creating the enhancements and textures reacting to and complementing the other musicians, Marmadou Sarr’s percussion creates a complement bouncing percussive tones and rhythms off Reid’s playing, Boris Netsvetaev’s keyboards soar and swoop in some parts and jump and drive the music in others, it is the breath of the music, the air that feeds the band. Joe Rigby’s saxophone and flute provided the most formal ‘jazz’ element to the music, Rigby was the only band member to play so sparingly in terms of the time spent playing, however his ability to play such creative and original solos whilst retaining the recognisable heritage of jazz in his playing provided the intensity followed by calm that influenced the atmosphere of the other band members contributions long after his particular part had been played. Rigby was also a great communicator between audience and band, his enthusiasm and attentiveness to his other musicians and bond with the audience with his humility and love when the audience showed particular appreciation to himself or other band members. My final praise goes to Simon Fell, the real star of the performance, his bass playing took the instrument to a different level this evening, Fell’s playing was the metaphor for the achievements of this band and of the music as a whole, hunched over his instrument he plucked, slapped and thumped the bass creating more sounds than you would imagine possible from this stringed instrument. With bow and sometimes two bows in hand he contorted his body to get every last sound possible from the strings. Rhythm, percussion, wailing, growls and hums came forth and without a break his ceaseless movement for the almost two hours of this performance showed a real love of music and experimentation in improvisational sound. This was music taken to the limits, some audience members could not really understand what was happening, it was beyond jazz, beyond music, sound became elemental, it was a night where music became more akin to geology or weather. Reid wants music to change the world, to move us so much we change our view of the world, our view of ourselves and our engagement with everyone around us, if any musician can effect this change Reid will be the one to do it.

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