Jazzelectro Sounds: Live from Birmingham, England

Martin Longley By

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Birmingham, England
March 2008
Electric Kulintang at the CBSO Centre
New York percussionist Susie Ibarra last came to the CBSO Centre with trumpeter Dave Douglas, when he was premiering his Blue Latitudes piece with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. That gig found her in both composed and improvised states, but this time Ibarra's been asked back to present the Electric Kulintang project, an investigation of her Philippine heritage, in partnership with Cuban husband Roberto Rodriguez. Despite being an active hands-on percussionist, his role in this set-up is largely as laptop boffin, switching between sample-triggering and slapping his bassy cajon, a hollow box-resonator that's much used in flamenco, Cuban and Peruvian music.

Ibarra does most of the swapping around, moving from full drum kit to traditional Philippine Kulintang gongs, and briefly toying with her keyboard. Rodriguez sets up a series of gently undulating electro-wash patterns, over which Ibarra performs shimmering repetitions, establishing a mood of pulsating exoticism. There's a problem arising when this music is clearly suited to environmental relaxation but is here presented as a concert experience, scrutinised by a seated-in-rows audience. Somehow, there's not enough happening, with the live performance element lacking in thrust. It might have been better presented in a relaxed bar environment, with a greater sense of atmosphere, and some shimmering lighting effects. Here in the CBSO Centre, the music felt too exposed to cold analysis. It was frustrating that Rodriguez was largely preoccupied with his laptop, and when he did move over to the full kit, a fleeting taste of groove- empowerment was given, teasing the audience with what might have been, if this duo had been expanded by one or two players.

B.E.A.S.T. at the CBSO Centre

The Birmingham Electro-Acoustic Sound Theatre is celebrating twenty-five years of sonic-dispersal activity, ensconced in the music-laboratory bowels of Birmingham University, where composer and founder Jonty Harrison devotes himself to adding more-and-more outputs to his multi-speaker array. The last gong-shimmer died out at the Friday night Electric Kulintang gig, and the B.E.A.S.T. roadies were already humping in their massive bulk of equipment, setting up overnight for a weekend programme of electro- acoustic pieces, both old and new. Harrison was curating the first night, opening up with the indoor virtual fireworks of Scott Wilson's "BEASTLY Birthday Fanfare," straight away illustrating the capacity for the B.E.A.S.T. sound set-up to diffuse its sonic imagery around and about the Centre's arching spaces.

The most striking piece of the first half was Annie Mahtani's newly-composed "Past Links," which travelled from restrained faintness, tickling and ticking around the perimeter, to huge rumbling rushes, surging from forward to rear, within the subjective head-space. In the second half, Harrison's own "Undertow" held the audience's collective head below the surface, dissecting the sound of oceanic glugging, seemingly just at the point where air meets water. His careful sculpting turned random sound into momentous musical patterns, retaining just enough natural ambience to present the illusion of undoctored reality.

The Michael Janisch/Pete Zimmer Quartet at The Drum

Every Sunday night, saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch leads his Live Box session down at The Drum, inviting along guest players who'll invariably end up joining in with the evening's jam session element. A New York vibration was in the air, with drummer Pete Zimmer crossing the Atlantic for his first UK gigs, teaming up with bassman Michael Janisch, who's an American living in London. Completing the line-up are tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm (also from NYC), and guitarist Phil Robson, one of the UK's hottest guitarists. At first, they're in mainline blowing mode, playing in brisk post-bebop mode, but when Frahm introduces one of his own compositions, a homage to Ornette Coleman, the combo makes a sudden swerve, revealing their nervy aspect, sending the tenor man off on a careening path of escalating complexity and intensity. His pieces range from one that he composed the day before, to another that's been percolating for five years...

Charlie Dark's African Beats at The Jam House


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