2004 in Review: From John Cage to John Peel
Its John Cage weekend confirmed the Barbican as the most adventurous and innovative concert venue in London. The highlight of the weekend was Musicircus, a vast, free extravaganza featuring 433 musicians, which filled every nook and cranny of the Barbican's labyrinthine foyer spaces. The diversity of musicians and styles was overwhelming; Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones playing by John Tilbury of AAM on prepared piano, who was near the Cat and Fiddle Band on fiddles and accordion, next to the Trinity College of Music Composers' Ensemble... and so on. This was the spirit of Cage in action, every sound having value, and meriting attention. And that is even before they start combining in one's head into something else again. Musicircus was well named; it was a three ring circus that completely overwhelmed the senses. The time flew by far too rapidly; we would have liked it to go on all day and all night. Bravo to the Barbican for staging it, and to Cage confidant Stephen Montague who curated it.
February We were sad to hear of the death of Trevor Mainwaring, the driving force behind the Chronoscope and Paratactile record labels, both of which reflected his own particular musical taste. Trevor was always his own man, with strongly-held views about musicviews that he was only too happy to share, often in trenchant, Anglo Saxon speech! He was an unforgettable character who will be missed by all who knew him.
Elsewhere, SMiLE gladdened the heart of anyone who was lucky enough to see Brian Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall.
March In a year marked by the deaths of too many of the good guys, one of the most sadly missed is Alistair Cooke, a great broadcaster.
April Back in your town started as a monthly event at the Red Rose club in Seven Sisters Road, curated by Ashley Wales and Ian R. Watson. Its sense of fun and experimentation soon established it as an event to attend regularly. Wales and Watson were joined by bassist Pete Marsh and drummer Pete Flood plus a pool of occasional musicians that reads like Who's Who: Steve Beresford, Tony Bevan, Lol Coxhill, John Coxon, Rhodri Davies , John Edwards, Steve Noble, Eddie Prevost, Paul Rutherford, Mark Sanders David Toop, Mark Wastell, Alan Wilkinson... Currently on a break, it should resume early in 2005.
The annual Freedom of the City festival combined its best music ever with bad news about its finances. As it receives no grant from the Arts Council (or anywhere else), the festival is financed solely from ticket sales and/or the goodwill of the musicians. This year, the latter was too much in evidence, with some musicians playing for nothing, which is criminal. Let us hope that this wonderful annual celebration can survive, as the atmosphere and the music is second to none. Come on sponsors, let's see you put your hands in your pockets!
Freedom of the City is also a rich source of recordings:
Gail Brand & Morgan Guberman Ballgames & Crazy (Emanem 4103)
Brand and Guberman were one of the more surprising delights of the festival this year, Guberman's frankly eccentric vocals combining perfectly with Brand's trombone This studio-recorded album perfectly captures their interaction.
Sandell/Stackenas/Parker/Guy/Lytton Gubbrora (Psi 04.10)
Pianist Sten Sandell and guitarist David Stackenas are not well known outside of their native Sweden, which is one reason why Evan Parker chose to showcase them at the festival. They played a set as a duo and then later joined Parker's own trio for a quintet performance, their quieter approach making a fascinating contrast with the trio's more full-on style. All is captured here. Incidentally, "Gubbrora" is a traditional Swedish appetiser made from eggs and anchovies. The recipe is included, to serve 4. Enjoy.
Freedom of the City 2003 Small Groups (Emanem 4212)
These festival compilations are a handy way to sample the small group playing of many musicians on one album, and never fail to delight and surprise. This one is from 2003. The 2004 version is being prepared for the new year.
Phil Minton & Roger Turner Drainage (Emanem 4211)
Another astonishing vocalist in another fine duo setting. One CD is studio recorded, another is live, including their set from the 2002 festival.
Furt Dead or Alive (Psi 04.09)
Using sampling keyboards in real time, Richard Barrett and Paul ObermayerFurtweave electronic tapestries that are both complex and beautiful. Here is a studio session from June 2004, coupled with their 2002 festival set.
More sad news; after years of fighting for survival, the Vortex in Stoke Newington finally closed on May 31st when its lease ran out. We are promised that the club will re-open in February 2005 down the road, at the new, purpose-built Dalston Culture House. However, the Vortex Foundation is still fund-raising to equip the new premises, so watch this space...
And let's not forget Elvin Jones ...
June ... or Ray Charles or Steve Lacy . Lacy's death led me to recall a conversation I had last year with a distinguished jazz reviewer (hi, Brian) about the common problem of storage space for an ever-expanding numbers of CDs. He said that his solution was to ration himself to a fixed number of recordings of any particular artist, so that if a new one was included, an old one had to go to make room for it. His sole exception was Steve Lacy, who was given as much space as he needed. Amen.
June 10th. One of the most enjoyable concerts of the summer featured the contrasting talents of siblings Lola and Roland Perrin. Roland performed with The Blue Planet Orchestra, his ensemble that is steeped in African and Latin American influences and is guaranteed to get any room dancing. Fine as they were, it was sister Lola's opening set that easily stole the evening for me; her solo piano set held the audience spellbound, and you could have heard a pin drop in Spitz. Lola's music is as much ambient as it is jazz; tellingly, her set opened with Brian Eno's "Forced to Choose," and her own "Perpetual Motion" suite has many of the same qualities, radiating a mesmeric sense of peace and calm. Parts of "Perpetual Motion" were accompanied by visuals by Thomas Gray, abstract images derived from natural forms such as animal fur, running water or grass blowing in the wind. This marriage of sound and visuals was as good as any I have seen, even the works of Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggiopraise indeed. Click here for a taste of Gray's visuals with Lola's music. Lola Perrin's Perpetual Motion , and Introducing The Blue Planet Orchestra are both available on Blue Planet Records . Also, you can see Lola for free on Thursday February 10th at 6pm, when she appears at Ray's Jazz in Foyles Bookshop , 113-119 Charing Cross Road.
July Another very sad deathPaul Foot, campaigning, investigative journalist par excellence.
August Resonance 104.4FM goes from strength to strength. Listen!
September One of London's longest-running (and wackiest) club spaces, The Klinker , branched out further. After years of operating at the Sussex Arms in Dalston, The Klinker is still there every Tuesday and Friday, but it is now also south of the river at The Ivy House Pub in Nunhead every Thursday. Its programming remains as joyously idiosyncratic as ever, blending improvised music and performance art.
October Since they recorded their Disappeared album in 2000 and included John Surman on it, Spring Heel Jack have become a vital presence on the London improv scene. After releasing albums such as Masses, Amassed and The Sweetness of the Water on Thirsty Ear, the duo launched their own Treader label. The first three releases look amazing & highly distinctive, and feature music that demands to be heard. The music here is a logical extension of Spring Heel Jack's recent work with Evan Parker and Mark Sanders, live and on record.
Evan Parker with Birds
(for Steve Lacy)
Parker duets with recorded birdsong. How is it that so many people can proclaim birdsong to be utterly beautiful and yet not appreciate its qualities in improvised music? Discuss.
Trio with Interludes
The trio consists of Coxon, Parker and Mark Sanders, with interludes from Coxon &Wales.
A completely solo album from Sanders, displaying the qualities that make him the drummer of choice for so many musicians.
Bruce Naumann has converted the vast Turbine Hall at Tate Modern into a modern day Tower of Babel. After the past two years' imaginative uses of the spaceAnish Kapoor's Marsyas , an enormous curved surface, and Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project Naumann's Raw Materials is the boldest project yet, providing nothing to see, but a fascinating soundscape that alters endlessly as one wanders through the space. It runs until March 28th and is free. If you really cannot get to Tate Modern, you can hear the sound samples here . But they are a poor substitute for the real thing!
Another national institution died suddenly, John Peel, the only old age pensioner DJ on BBC Radio 1. Peel's openness to and enthusiasm for new music was awe inspiring. He is literally irreplaceable. End of an era.
November The London Jazz Festival found room for a trip down memory lane with The Ganelin Trio, and also for a wonderful double bill of Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor. The Braxton set was his first over here for a few years, and the highlight of the festival. Otherwise, it seemed dominated by jazz-pop vocal crossovers of the kind that has enabled Jamie Cullum to sell albums by the million. It is good that jazz is so popular again!
While we can, let's pause to celebrate I'm sorry I haven't a clue , easily the funniest programme on BBC Radio 4, hosted by trumpet legend and band leader extraordinaire Humphrey Lyttleton, who is also the funniest man on radio. Listen .
The seventh edition of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD arrived just in time to ensure that I do very little over Christmas and New Year other than thumb through it endlessly. As addictive as ever!
A PEACEFUL AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL.