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Whiplash In Concert At Barbican Hall

Whiplash In Concert At Barbican Hall

Courtesy Edward Maitland Smith

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Multiquarium Big Band
Barbican Hall
Whiplash in Concert
London
July 4, 2024

Studying at a music conservatoire can stifle an aspiring young jazz musician, and to inhabit for a moment the world of the Whiplash baddie Professor Terence Fletcher, there are times when one might wish it stifled more of them. But no one, surely, would condone the catalogue of abuse inflicted on the freshman drum student attending the fictitious New York music school in director Damien Chazelle's 2014 movie. Indeed, the basic premise of the film is fantastical, for any contemporary educational establishment aware of such gross and bullying behavior would have paid off the faculty member and compensated the student faster than one could say non-disclosure agreement. Even ballet schools, the last practitioners of the sort teaching-by-tyranny depicted in Whiplash, had changed tack by the early 1990s, here in Europe at least.

Anyway, engage suspension of disbelief. Chazelle made the movie and now pianist Benoit Sourisse and drummer Andre Charlier have turned Justin Hurwitz's soundtrack into the platform for a concert, with their Multiquarium Big Band following with precision every baton stroke and drum beat on the screen behind them. Multiquarium debuted on record in 2016 with the excellent Multiquarium Big Band (Gemini). Check "L'Afrobeat Improbable" on the YouTube below and hang on in there until 2:26 when the titular groove kicks in. Their follow-up, Remembering Jaco (Naïve, 2020), should appeal to everyone with fond memories of the bassist who turned Weather Report into a posturing stadium act.

Hurwitz is not a household name in jazz, though he proved himself at home with the music in his soundtrack for Chazelle's La La Land (2016). He also has what might be called a jazz sense of humor, having written and produced a dozen episodes of the razor-sharp TV series Curb Your Enthusiasm. His work on Whiplash has authenticity. But how is the audience meant to approach the Multiquarium presentation? As a celebration of the music? As an opportunity for fans of the movie to enjoy it from a new perspective? As a geekish exercise in synchronization of sound and vision?

The questions became irrelevant once the Barbican show began. The 18-piece Multiquarium Big Band was devastatingly good and their in-your-face, perfectly synchronized performance of Hurwitz's score raised by several notches the intensity of what was already a compelling movie. It is to the stage designer's credit that big, loud and lit though Multiquarium were throughout the film's 106-minutes running time, one soon ceased to be aware of their presence. Attention remained focused on the screen behind them.

The Guildhall School of Music & Drama is literally just round the corner from Barbican Hall and it felt like many Guildhall students were in the auditorium, along with those from other music conservatoires. It was a young and knowing audience. It was a relief to hear the chuckles which greeted some of Terence Fletcher's most outrageous tirades—it meant the students found his behavior outlandish rather than familiar.

P.S. The success of the Barbican show inevitably leads to thoughts about other films that might lend themselves to similar presentations. Jazz and the movies had some good times together in the 1950s, peaking with Miles Davis' soundtrack for Louis Malle's Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud (1958). But the two artforms enjoyed their tightest embrace in the first half of the 1960s, immediately before rock took over as the hip soundscape de jour. Here are some suggestions for Multiquariumesque treatment: Krzysztof Komeda's soundtrack for Roman Polanski's Knife In The Water (1962), Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter's soundtrack for Arthur Penn's Mickey One (1965), Martial Solal's soundtrack for Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout De Souffle (1960), and Mundell Lowe's soundtrack for Jerald Intrator's jaw droppingly misogynistic Satan In High Heels (1962). A longer list of candidates can be found here.

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