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Supersilent & John Paul Jones: London, England, November 18, 2012

John Eyles By

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Supersilent & John Paul Jones
Village Underground
London Jazz Festival
London, England

November 18, 2012

By its tenth and final night, the 21st London Jazz Festival, had featured such illustrious names as saxophonists Peter Brötzmann, Jan Garbarek and Sonny Rollins, pianist Herbie Hancock, and guitarists Bill Frisell and John McLaughlin. But, as festivals always seem to, it had saved the best for last... and made it difficult to choose which gig to attend. Across town, guitarist Jim Hall's Trio plus trumpeter Kenny Wheeler's big band were packing them in at the Southbank, while, at The Barbican, saxophonist David Murray's big band and singer Macy Gray were stomping and singin' the blues—both tough gigs to miss. But, at the less renowned Village Underground, was the gig that had grabbed many fans' attention when the festival programme was first announced. In fact, many had done a double-take to check their eyes were not deceiving them: yes, it really did say "Supersilent & John Paul Jones"—and the small print confirmed that the Led Zeppelin bassist would be playing with Supersilent, not as support.

The smoky haze of the cavernous brick-walled underground venue gave it a vaguely unreal quality. Through the gloom, the four musicians were spotlit on stage: trumpeter Arve Henriksen at the rear of the stage behind a large drum kit, with a bank of electronics to his left; Ståle Storløkken, stage right, surrounded by banks of keyboards, Helge Sten (aka Deathprod) seated stage left behind a table laden with more electronics, with an electric guitar to hand; and right in the centre, surrounded by the other three, stood Jones, with six-string bass guitar in hand, his own electronics readily accessible.

From the start, Henriksen adopted the role of leader, the first two improvisations beginning with his ethereal post-Miles Davis trumpet playing, creating a mood for the other three to react to and build upon. As momentum built, Henriksen switched to drums ,which he played with impressive energy and gusto, laying down a rhythmic barrage that owed far more to rock music than to jazz. Intermittently, he added wordless vocals, sometimes in a high falsetto or resembling a muezzin's wail. Aside from Jones—who was understandably the focus of many people's attention—it was Henriksen who most frequently attracted the audience's gaze.

At the end of a five-day UK tour, following appearances in Germany and Spain earlier in the year, Jones himself seemed like a fully integrated member of the group rather than a bolted-on guest star. Of course, the Supersilent methodology is that they only meet to play live or record, and never discuss or plan their music. So, compared to his past musical settings, it could not have been easy for Jones to slot in as a fourth member alongside the other three who had been together since 1997. Nonetheless, he played as if he was born to the role, not jumping in with both feet but tentatively feeling his way when he seemed unsure of what to do next; his initial response to that trumpet introduction from Henriksen was to gently massage the strings of his bass, producing a rumble that worked well. When the drummer was in full flight, the bassist was happy to join him, the two creating a solid foundation for Deathprod and, particularly, Storløkken.

Of the four, Deathprod attracted least attention, occasionally picking up his guitar to set up a loop or adding an electronic pulse. In contrast, Storløkken was his usual self, constantly in motion and switching between his keyboards or playing two of them simultaneously; some of his electronic effects brought an amused smile to Jones's face, as when the keyboardist unexpectedly extracted bell-like chimes from his equipment. When all four were playing flat-out together, they produced an awesomely dense wall of sound that had its own momentum; towards the end of one such improvisation, it seemed as if there was no way it would terminate easily and tidily—until Henriksen stood up behind his kit and loudly announced "Stop!" into his microphone, which all four promptly did. Magic.

Since founder member and drummer Jarle Vespestad departed Supersilent in early 2009, the group seemed to be marking time and waiting for the next phase to emerge. With the consolidation of Jones within their ranks, that waiting may well be over. With a Led Zeppelin reunion increasingly unlikely, the same can be said of Jones, too.

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