Vladislav Delay, Eyebrow and Food
November 12, 2009
This triple bill was a very 21st century affair. It could have been subtitled "Humans and Machines," so prevalent was the use of electronics throughout the evening of improvised music. Vladislav Delay was at the center of the bill, and delays themselves were also central to it, defining the sound of all the music. However, this was not a battle between humans and electronics but a productive collaboration.
Opening the evening were the duo Eyebrow, trumpeter Pete Judge (of Get The Blessing) and drummer Paul Wigens (once of Blurt). Judge employed the delay to good effect, having the vital knack of not overplaying or crowding the soundscape. He had the economy of effort shown by Miles Davis, allied to an awareness of Arve Henriksen's solo work. Wigens contributed sympathetic rhythms that complemented and enhanced the trumpet. The pair constructed music that drew the audience in and held them spellbound. Their short set definitely left them wanting more.
Vladislav Delay (aka Sasu Ripatti) produces music that is both mesmerising and relaxing, to the extent that it can be trance-inducing or even soporific. During his set, an uncanny sense of tranquility descended on the audience. Delay is certainly no showman, not providing enough activity to be the focus of the audience's attention. This is doubtless one reason why the stunning videos accompanying his music (see below for an example) are abstract and fascinating in themselves; footage of Delay himself in action would be far less enthralling. Tonight, without those accompanying visuals he had two things working in his favour. Firstly, the venue, Union Chapel, is a gem, having a Gothic splendor that is worthy of prolonged attention. In the subdued magenta light that accompanied Delay's set, many audience members gave artist and performance due attention. Secondly, Delay was joined by the Argentinean improvising saxophonist Lucio Capece, who held the attention of those audience members not entranced by the music or the setting. Unlike Delay, Capece did enough to merit attention: his range of effects, blowing techniques and uses of his embouchure was an education in itself. The sounds he produced were sufficiently sparse and varied to act as an unpredictable element in Delay's music. Indeed, Capece was well chosen as a duo partner,
Despite the appeal of Eyebrow and Delay, for many in the audience, headliners Food seemed to be the main draw of the evening. The onetime quartet is now a duo, consisting of saxophonist Iain Ballamy and drummer Thomas Stronen (plus occasional guests). Stronen was welcomed to the stage with warm applause. His prolonged solo at the start of the set mixed percussion and electronics in equal measure, setting the tone for the entire set. His ability to single-handedly create a full soundscape makes it obvious why Food no longer requires four members. In similar style, when necessary Iain Ballamy is more than capable of unassistedly occupying the solo spot for as long as necessary. Here, his saxophones were (surprise!) looped using delays, giving the occasional illusion of an extra player and allowing him to improvise a duo with himself. The results were as satisfying as anything heard all evening, with Ballamy alternating between tenor and soprano saxophones as required. Ballamy is no longer as prevalent as he once was on London stages, and it was a pleasure to welcome him back as a homecoming hero. For the closing number of their set, the duo was joined by guest guitarist Mark Wingfield from Cambridge, the threesome bringing the evening to a suitably rousing conclusion.