Live From Old York: Julian Argüelles, Poltergeist, Dr. Feelgood & North Mississippi All-Stars
The University Of York
October 12, 2013
Saxophonist Julian Arguelles grew up in Birmingham, spent much of his career in London and can now be found stomping around the coastal village of Belhaven in Scotland. Over the years, he's developed an ongoing relationship with The University Of York, on both the teaching and performance fronts. This gig gave Argüelles the opportunity to present his current youthfully spry cohorts, nearing the end of their tour and preparing to record a newly-composed suite. He was joined by pianist Kit Downes (now one of the most notable newer generation players in the UK, both as a bandleader and as part of Troyka), bassist Sam Lasserson (the least familiar member of this quartet) and drummer James Maddren (increasingly ubiquitous).
The first set delved into the Argüelles back catalogue, whilst the second half was entirely devoted to the new suite, as yet untitled. The performance was delivered in an almost completely acoustic fashion, with only Lasserman plugging into a low-volume bass amplifier. This created a reverberant sound that actually made it harder for them to conquer the space, but as the first set evolved, both band and audience began to grasp hold of the music's heated core. By the time we reached the suite, the excitement was fully charged in its emanations towards the large span of tiered seats. Argüelles stuck to the tenor saxophone during the first set, opening with his old chestnut "Phaedrus," then breezing through the unsurprisingly Spanish-tinged "Asturias," which was originally arranged for big band. "Mr. Mc" was dedicated to the South African pianist and composer Chris McGregor, with Downes cutting out to leave a trio formation, then the leader himself taking a similar break. Argüelles opened up "Peace For D" with a completely solo tenor introduction, then as his playmates entered the bounce, a subtly South African feel grew in strength.
The second set surpassed the first in every way, the quartet doubtless fired up by a relative unfamiliarity with the new material. The seven-part suite was challenging in its scope, intricacy and need for a sustained level of burning energy. For much of its near-hour's unwinding the chase was swift indeed, constantly filled with dancing interactions between the players, spurring each other on in the communal navigation of a complex narrative journey. Solos were picked up in relay fashion, as the highlighted emphasis kept changing its hue and its direction. Structures and relationships were unpredictable. In a way, they weren't even solos, but more like raised voices during a lively discussion. Argüelles took up his soprano saxophone, reeling out a coruscating spiral of extreme high notes, pushing the edge of the music closer to freer waters, latching onto a further out-there borderline when set beside the more harmonious compositions of the opening set. Here, there was tension and release, many times over. There were a succession of beautifully sustained repeat climaxes, as each fresh wave of resolution arrived. Argüelles was correct when he observed that hardly any dates on the tour had featured an encore, due to the satisfying surfeit of demanding and compacted sonic activity. Nevertheless, the hardy York crowd clapped them back for more, and the quartet chose a completely contrasting ballad standard to close, "You Don't Know What Love Is" allowing the breathiest of soft tenor exhalations to send this audience off into the blustery night.
October 22, 2013
Two out of the three original members of Echo & The Bunnymen have recently formed Poltergeist, an instrumental outfit creating sounds that are quite distant from that old post-punk foundation. This solves the problem of being eternally compared to their old output, saving the challenge of having to replace singer Ian McCulloch under the demanding glare of nostalgic fan-expectations. Guitarist Will Sergeant is still an active Bunnyman, but bassist Les Pattinson is no longer involved, having departed on at least two occasions. The drumming position is filled by Nick Kilroe, who is the Bunnymen's latest sticksman. So, Poltergeist represent a significant part of rock history, even if their music offers something unfamiliar to their following.