CHVRCHES @ The Scala – Live Review

•February 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Chvrches @ The Scala, London - 17/02/2014

Photo: Andy Sidders

Monday 17th February, London

It feels like CHVRCHES have been around for years. That’s a testament to the immediacy of their synth-pop – it evokes an instant familiarity and a kind of euphoric connectivity that’s rare in today’s inattentive music climate.

However, the Scottish trio only came to light relatively recently – after they debuted their first demo online in May 2012. Since then, they have managed to effectively straddle both the indie blogosphere and mainstream chart territory, becoming social media darlings (unlike 99% of bands, they actual manage their own profile) and cementing singer Lauren Mayberry as a cherished social commentator (she penned an inspiring article on online misogyny for The Guardian). Although tonight’s show is confusingly declared both an NME Awards show and a Goodbye Records label launch – the label started by CHVRCHES of which (the mighty impressive) support act Soak is signed to – in actuality, this is simply a rare chance for fans to see the band in an intimate setting, ahead of their large scale UK tour next month.

Taking place with minimal production in the gritty confinements of London’s Scala, CHVRCHES overcome jetlag and a typical Monday night crowd to deliver a set of stunning pop music at its very rawest. From the opener of ‘We Sink’ to the encore of ‘By The Throat’, CHVRCHES display an element of vulnerability usually absent from their slick headline shows – and the band are all the more captivating because of it. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty’s handling of their synth and sampling equipment is not always smooth tonight, but they skilfully enhance all the subtle electronic flourishes that are easily overlooked on record; such as the jittery New Order-esque production of ‘Science/Visions’, the moody Tears For Fears undertones of non-album track ‘Now Is Not The Time’, and the warped, instrumental hip hop of the ‘Night Sky’ outro.

Photo: Andy Sidders

Photo: Andy Sidders

Aside from when Doherty takes over lead vocals for a surprisingly spirited rendition of ‘Under the Tide’, all eyes are naturally on the enthralling Lauren Mayberry. Her pitch-perfect voice is sweetly ethereal yet delivered robustly, and although her stage presence lacks confidence early on, her wildly infectious melodies are confidently executed, taking the focal point of every song.

Increasingly known for the inventive cover songs, the spritely frontwoman is quick to shoot down a heckler’s request for one, asserting that though they are humbled by the fact that people like their reimaginings, it’s the radio stations that force the band to record them and that tonight’s show will focus on original CHVRCHES material.

Although Mayberry’s mic regrettably cuts out for the climax, the thrilling ‘Tether’ remains a highlight. The other highlights come courtesy of the massive electro-pop singles ‘Gun’, ‘Recover’ and main-set closer ‘The Mother We Share’, all of which sound mighty in these modest and dingy club settings. With two sold-out shows at the sizeable Forum next month, it’ll be a while before CHVRCHES appear at a London venue of this size. A very special night indeed.

Originally published by Gigwise here

Matthew Halsall, GoGo Penguin + Mammal Hands @ Kings Place – Live Review

•February 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Saturday 15th February, London

For a man who exudes tranquillity, trumpeter Matthew Halsall seems to be rather hyperactive when it comes to his work ethic. Having set up the Manchester-based label Gondwana Records to release his own solo albums – of which there have been four since 2008 – he then expanded the remit of the label in signing GoGo Penguin and, more recently, Mammal Hands, both of which he has had an hands-on role in producing and championing. In addition, Halsall somehow manages to find the time to occasionally DJ and is working on a collaborative electronic project initially previewed at The Cockpit last year (mark my words, it’s going to be special!). Tonight’s Gondwana Mini Fest, as it’s affectionately titled, is something of a showcase for what the label has planned release-wise for this year. Taking part at North London’s Kings Place, it’s essentially two successive concerts – the first being Matthew Halsall and The Gondwana Orchestra, and the second being GoGo Penguinsupported by Mammal Hands.

Matthew Halsall And The Gondwana Orchestra

The Gondwana Orchestra is Halsall’s new collaborative band featuring a fleshed out version of the Matthew Halsall Quintet and new Halsall compositions, of which an album is in the works for a May release. However, what is evidenced tonight is that although Halsall may lead the band, this isn’t his show; Halsall is rarely the focal point, instead allowing the rest of this eight-piece band to propel proceedings. In fact, Halsall even explains to the audience that he doesn’t know whether the upcoming record will be released under his own name, The Gondwana Orchestra or a combination of the two.

On record there will be a string quartet and possible vocal contributions, but tonight The Gondwana Orchestra consists of Hallsall on trumpet alongside seven exceedingly able musicians (and, for those who have seen Matthew before, very familiar faces) on piano, double bass, drums, saxophone, flute, harp and koto (a traditional Japanese instrument). They open tonight with the title track from their forthcoming album, ‘Where The World Was One’, and while the meditative, dreamlike tones that characterise Halsall’s spiritual jazz remains paramount, the additional instruments create a more heated, almost sultry atmosphere, with the string instruments and flute adding an element of drama, or perhaps tension, that I haven’t before witnessed at a Halsall show. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a radical departure towards some kind of big band, orchestral jazz; the progression is subtle, with the newer instruments woven into the existing Halsall DNA.

The flute (Lisa Mallett), harp (Rachael Gladwin) and, in particular, the koto (Keiko Kitamura; appearing in traditional Japanese attire) bring Halsall’s eastern influences to life, especially on the hypnotic ‘A Faraway Place’ and the brazenly oriental ‘Kiyomizu-Dera’. Like the trumpeter himself, Halsall’s ‘Quartet’ members let others dominate the performance and are commendably reserved this evening. Phil France provides some decent accompaniment on the double bass (although it is a little too quite for the opener number), frequent Halsall collaborator Taz Modi (of Submotion Orchestra) is composed and restrained on the piano, and drummer Luke Flowers is predominantly delicate, especially on the brush-led ‘Falling Water’. That being said, all three musicians demonstrate increased urgency during the rhythmically dynamic ‘Sagano Bamboo Forest’. Naturally, the brass parts form the heart of the compositions, but rather than hog centre stage, Halsall often has Nat Birchall (who has released a couple of records via Gondwana in the past) and his saxophones lead the tracks, with his best work (though not his smoothest) being on ‘Falling Water’.

When Halsall does take to his trumpet it is with extreme confidence. Completely in control of his instrument, every single note is pitch-perfect and unleashed with so much purpose. His ‘less is more’ approach has been well documented, but it’s hard to comprehend how the emotional resonance he conjures up with his instrument seems to intensify with each performance. A beautiful set; I can’t wait for the record.

Mammal Hands

Although I have never heard the newly signed Mammal Hands before, within a minute of their short, sharp 25-min set it’s glaringly obvious why Gondwana is the perfect home for them. The young, lively trio – Nick Smart (piano), Jordan Smart (sax) and Jesse Barrett (drums) – create a sound that lies somewhere between GoGo Penguin and early Portico Quartet. Although they’ve been likened to electronic artists such as Aphex Twin etc, other than Barrett’s occasional forays into left-field beats (as well as the odd world music pattern), there is little displayed this evening to warrant such comparisons. What they make is interestingly melodised jazz, driven by Nick Smart’s richly textured piano style (a style utilised by GoGo) and with a beating sax heart. There is a casual lightness to their sound – unsurprising given the lack of bass – but the compositions are delivered with the kind of firmness characterised by bands much more senior, especially considering this is their first gig in London! There are few solos aired tonight, but this is fair given the short set time. The highlight is the melancholic ‘Kandaiki’, with its poignant piano parts. Their debut is expected in June, and I have a feeling that it will be my favourite debut of 2014.

GoGo

GoGo Penguin

In the lead up to this evening, I was unsure why Matthew Halsall had decided to play at the start of the evening, giving GoGo Penguin the later slot. However, half way through tonight’s show it made perfect sense – Halsall’s contemplative jazz would be too light to follow GoGo, especially on their current form, with the trio sounding heavier and tighter than ever. I have seen GoGo Penguin a few times (review here…), including some early previews of their new direction, but tonight’s performance feels different; the sound is a logical progression from their debut Fanfares, but the feel is different. I didn’t expect the band to have such an increased confidence in testing out new material from their upcoming second album (released next month); it appears they know how good it is and how much of a shift in gears it signifies.

All the elements that made GoGo Penguin – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner – interesting on their debut are considerably intensified tonight; and this is clear from the opener ‘Murmuration’, with its electronic beginnings and hefty post-rock backbone. Blacka’s double bass is heavy and off-kilter (apart from when he opts for utilising his bow, producing orchestral drama), Illingworth’s piano shows new intricacies, and Turner’s drums are impossibly frantic, particularly in his increasingly inventive use of the snare, which manages to be both jittery yet methodically precise. Although the two old tracks, ‘Fanfares’ and ‘Last Words’, are performed sharply, it’s the new stuff that sounds vital – whereas the old compositions were heavily focused on the piano melodies, in a Esbjörn Svensson fashion, new material like ‘One Percent’‘Fort’ and the hip hop influenced ‘Break’ (a new composition not on any album) exhibit vibrancy beyond typical piano jazz.

Main set closer ‘Garden Dog Barbeque’ is a hectic but enthralling dance song, with liquid drum’n’bass drums and a 90s house piano riff, all leading to a disco-indie climax; it’s about as far away from the melodious piano jazz that defined their debut album as they could feasibly get. They close tonight’s event with the relatively chilled encore of ‘Hopopono’, proving that they can still do delicate, piano-driven jazz when the time calls for it. But, as their upcoming album v2.0 implies, this is a new GoGo Penguin, and their confident fusion of electronica, jazz and post-rock is destined for greatness.

Originally published by AAAmusic here

Behemoth + Cradle Of Filth – Live @ The Forum

•February 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Monday 10th February, London

Behemoth’s ascension to the mainstream has been an unusual, tumultuous journey. Although they have been one of Poland’s premier extreme metal bands since the early 1990s, and a staple part of the international black metal underground for at least ten years, it was only with the release of 2009’s critically-acclaimed  Evangelion  that Behemoth broke through to the metal masses. Following this, in March 2010, frontman/songwriter  Nergal became tied up in an everlasting, formal freedom of speech court case in Poland, charged with blasphemy, and then five months later was diagnosed with leukaemia, underwent a successful bone marrow transplant, and took some much deserved time away from the band and spotlight to recover. Naturally, and almost distastefully, or at least diversionary, Nergal’s cancer survival story has prompted a significant increase in international media interest, with even publications such as The Guardian reviewing their new, tenth studio album – The Satanist. Just how far they’ve progressed over the past five years is evident tonight in the fact that their set is preceded by our very own Cradle Of Filth, one our biggest extreme metal exports. All this, however, distracts from the point; the point being that The Satanist is one of the best heavy metal albums of the last decade, and that Behemoth more than deserve their headline status and mainstream approval.

First up, however, is the ever dependable Dani Filth and his band of merry metallers, Cradle Of Filth. Although billed as co-headliners, the Suffolk-formed extreme metal band have the difficult task of going onstage ahead of Behemoth. That being said, they are rightly allocated the same set duration and have brought their full production tonight. And boy, what a production it is. Cradle Of Filth are often derided by the oh-so-serious heavy metal community for being too theatrical, but this is who CoF are; a tongue-in-cheek, gothic pantomime act, armed with serious musical ambitions.

Cradle Of Filth - Photo by Sarah Tsang

That’s right; behind all the makeup, leather, smoke, lights and visuals (including a screen of near-spoof-like video) is a canon of melodic black metal masterpieces, all of which are aired tonight during this greatest hits set celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. Although slightly hampered by initial sound issues (the bass is quickly pumped up), opener ‘Cthulhu Dawn’, from Midian, sets the tone – operatic thrash metal played by a group of committed and talented musicians who, while taking the craft extremely seriously, don’t take themselves particularly seriously. They are the black metal Judas Priest; a fitting comparison given their penchant for classic metal riffing and Dani Filth’s piercing wail-scream…thing.

With only one cut from their 2012 album The Manticore and Other Horrors‘For Your Vulgar Delectation’, this12-song set covers all their greatest moments. The keys add real depth to ‘Summer Dying Fast’ and ‘Nymphetamine (Fix)’, arguably their most commercial single, while the classic metal guitar work (note: with both official guitars absent, session guitarists were drafted in for this tour) sounds best on ‘Haunted Shores’, ‘Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids’ and over-the-top encore, ‘Funeral in Carpathia’. The highlights come courtesy of a rare outing of ‘Beneath the Howling Stars’, a triumphant‘Born in a Burial Gown’, and, of course, Cradle’s crowning moment, ‘Her Ghost in the Fog’, which predictably provokes the biggest reaction from the audience as it closes the main set. As ever, this is the Dani Filth show, and the prowling ring leader with a penchant for rampant hopping is in fine voice this evening – effortlessly switching between death metal growls, extreme screams and that distinctive high-pitched yelp. Come back soon, Cradle Of Filth.

Behemoth - Photo by Sarah Tsang

Although Nergal and co. favour a decent dosage of theatrics, Behemoth’s similar use of makeup, lighting, recorded intros and horror imagery avoids any element of farce – whereas CoF may forgo any true sense of danger through the use of their characters and production, Behemoth look and sound formidably evil. This is authentic black metal, and the crowd-chanting and movement noticeably moves up a gear once the band emerge. While I expected a set centred on material from The Satanist, tonight’s show sees the band cherry-pick from eight of their ten studio albums. Fan-favourites like the extremely fast ‘Slaves Shall Serve’ (Demigod), the devastatingly heavy ‘Christians to the Lions’ (Thelema.6), and the headbang-inducing, main set closer ‘Chant for Eschaton 2000’ (Satanica) are all death metal masterworks.

However, it is Behemoth’s most recent material that truly marks the band out as one of the most special forces of our times. The opening couplet of ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ and ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ from The Satanist is breathtaking; with the opener in particular already sounding like the modern-day extreme metal anthem it really is. These two songs are matched only when the band launch into the tracks aired from 2009’s Evangelion: ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ and ‘Alas, Lord Is Upon Me’, performed in succession – with the crushing, doom-laden riffs of the former being tonight’s standout cut. This newer material is still as black as Dani Filth’s nail varnish, but the death metal urgency has been replaced with a more groove-orientated, thrash-laced dynamic; this lack of unrelenting aggression, along with the decipherable delivery of Nergal’s lyrics, allows for a more menacing atmosphere.

Behemoth - Photo by Sarah Tsang

Nergal is an incredibly confident performer; one whose charisma stems from genuine humility. He stares intently at the audience as he roars his lyrics, and strides across the stage summoning crowd participation with a simple nod of his head, all the while smashes out intelligent guitar riffs. “It feels good to be alive London!”, he exclaims early on in the set; a sentiment of course made all the more powerful with the knowledge of his cancer battle, but one that feels particularly true and relevant because of the perfection on display in both the band’s performance and the reception of the audience.

They finish with a lone encore of ‘Father O Satan O Sun!’, the most operatic and progressive thing onThe Satanist, riding it out standing stationary wearing satanic masks with elongated horns, while a recorded spoken word outro propels the doom and gloom of the post-metal instrumentation. When they finish, there is an eerie but intensely powerful silence from both band and audience, while the crowd members throw their devil horns at Behemoth without a whimper; it only lasts a matter of seconds before the roaring applause kicks in, but it’s a moment that will stay with me for a long time to come – a moment where I truly comprehended Nergal’s sentiment about feeling alive.

Photos: Sarah Tsang

Originally published by AAAmusic here

BIG UPS – Eighteen Hours of Static

•February 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

BIG UPS - Eighteen Hours of Static

I have been away from the pages of our beloved Music Liberation for ages! It’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music. In fact, it’s been exactly one year and one day (at the time of writing) since my last album review for any publication about any type of music, which just so happened to be about punk music and written for Music Liberation.

Now, I ain’t going to lie – the main reason I haven’t reviewed any recorded music in a year is because life got in the way. However, I’m not bullshitting when I say it’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music, in any of its bastardised forms. Aside from the focus of my last review – the underrated ‘Victus’ by Fall City Fall – I have found nothing in the realms of punk truly worth writing about, and since I had grown tired of repeating the same old blogger jargon – “shows real promise”, “has real potential”, yadda, yadda… – and rehashing PR blurbs, I took some time off and promised myself I wouldn’t review another punk album until I truly felt something of a compulsion too; until I found something actually inspiring. I never expected this self-imposed exile from record reviewing to last a year! But here it is: the first punk album that has managed to grab and sustain my attention for longer than five seconds; the first punk album that I, who probably knows nothing, have deemed worthy of a review over the course of ONE YEAR AND ONE DAY. But enough about me. Just who is this band, I hear ya holler…

They go by the name of Big Ups, there are four of them, they formed in NYC in 2010, their debut album is entitled Eighteen Hours of Static, and they are the greatest punk band to emerge in forever. Despite being an obvious throwback to both the hardcore punk of the 80s, and the post hardcore and alt-rock of the 90s, ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’ is hands down the freshest, most urgent slice of punk rock of this decade and beyond. With 11 songs that clock in at under half an hour (I did the math: the average length of a song is two and half minutes), it’s very short and, despite its lo-fi aesthetic, undeniably substantial.

There is a plenitude of referenced influences sprinkled throughout the record, but the bulk of this racket has its foundation in 90s-era hardcore punk rock; and adding the ‘rock’ after punk isn’t redundant – Big Ups aren’t the metal tinged, growl-centric hardcore punk band that one often associates with the 90s, but more along the lines of a band like The Bronx. In fact, this could well be the best debut of this kind since The Bronx’s debut in 2003.

Frontman Joe Galarraga’s vocals fluctuate between angst-filled but coherent screams and fast-paced spoken word, the drums have a DIY urgency, the bass grumbles, and the guitars, when not generating distorted and basic riffs, add elements of post-punk, 90s alt-rock like grunge and shoegaze, and post hardcore. It all sounds like some glorious, spontaneous amalgamation of Drive Like Jehu, Black Flag, Quicksand, Mazes and The Pixies.

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Opener Body Parts eases us into the album with a slow, pulsating bass line and spiky guitar finger-work, before Galarraga does his best Black Francis impression – it’s probably the most sludgy, dirty moment of the album and, as brilliant as it is, doesn’t exactly set the frantic tone that follows. Next up is Goes Black, which introduces their characteristic hardcore punk; it’s a hugely energetic, semi-up-beat tune with simple but frantic guitar work, and is probably the song that sounds closest to The Descendents, the band Big Ups are most often compared to.

Justice’ showcases Big Ups’ subtle, quiet-loud dynamics, with the verse centred around spoken word and minimal guitar, and the chorus screamed over distorted fuzz. Songs like Grin and Wool incorporate the aforementioned emotive, post-hardcore effects, with the jarring guitar time signatures of the former recalling bands like Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard, and the slowed down pace of the latter achieving a sort of melodic misery attributed to bands early emo bands like Far. TMI is one of the album’s highlights and see the band return to a sound closer to the opening ‘Body Parts’. It has a headbang-inducing central grunge riff, detuned bass and impassioned screams, before a near-metallic closing segment kicks in – for some reason it brings to mind the sorely missed Blood Brothers, perhaps because of the off-kilter guitar work in the verse, which evokes the same kind of unease the BB track ‘We Ride Skeletal Lightning’.

Next up are two short, sharp bursts of frenzied hardcore punk – Little Kid andAtheist Self-Help – which sound somewhere in between Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies. Then comes the album highlight: Disposer. It captures and packages all the various components of the Big Ups DNA; there is the 90s alternative intro, featuring spoken word and restrained but infectious guitar work, and then the end switches between post-hardcore riffing and Minor Threat-paced punk. Fresh Meat follows, again moving from a slow-paced, sludgy beginning to a fast-paced, distorted outro, and the album is closed out with the angry, heavy Fine Line; perhaps the rawest cut of them all.

Lyrically, Galarraga focuses on accessible social commentary, and although it is refreshing in an everyday, relatable kind of way, it sometimes veers away from astute observations to the kind of empty, juvenile angst that is typical of political punk. But there is no denying that he howls and screeches with conviction, and all via a formidable punk rock voice.

It’s an excellent debut by an excellent band. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of references in this review (and every review of this album thus far), but these comparisons to punk rock greats are not hollow, music journo hyperboles; they are full justified. There is no need to talk about “potential” with Big Ups, as this band have seized this very moment, squeezing a genre from both ends – from its 70s origins to its present day saturation – to provide a half hour of vitality, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in yonks.

Originally published by Music Liberation here

RX Bandits – Live @ The Scala

•February 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Thursday 6th February, London

Another week, another anniversary tour. So many punk and hardcore bands are doing these shows –  playing the entirety of a fan favourite and/or landmark album – and nine times out of ten it reeks of cash incentives and unhealthy nostalgia. However, when I heard that California’s RX Bandits were coming to the UK to play The Resignation in full to celebrate its 10 year anniversary (note: the album was actually released in 2003, so the 10 year excuse has kind of expired), I didn’t feel an odd discomfort in my belly – one that usually accompanies such anniversary announcements.

Instead I felt genuine excitement; excited to hear again, in a live setting, an album so effortlessly interesting that I can safely credit it with expanding my teenage musical horizons. Furthermore, I felt confident that those aforementioned concerns with anniversary shows were inapplicable – this particular tour involves more intimate venues than RX are accustomed to, at least in comparison to The States, and that nostalgic element is only unhealthy when the band are either washed up and relying on old material, or if the album is naff and something of a guilty pleasure. RX Bandits are far from washed up, having continued to tour and release quality records (they have a new album in the works), and The Resignation has not only stood the test of time, but remains unsurpassed by their peers.

Tonight, at the dark and gritty London ScalaRX Bandits are in good company. The crowd are nothing but adoring. When the four ‘Bandits, joined by two additional horns players, take to the stage and launch into energetic opener ‘Sell You Beautiful’, and despite initial sound problems (quiet bass = quickly fixed), the audience ripples with enthusiasm. For the next hour or so, RX plough through The Resignation from start to finish, playing each track with sincere passion (i.e. not just going through the motions).

credit Mitchell Wotcjik

Their fusion of punk, ska and math rock is fuelled by the twin guitar fretwork of Steve Choi and frontman Matt Embree, with the latter’s impressive vocal range – even more notable today (see what I did there? Sorry) than 10 years ago – adding an emotive, post-hardcore edge not a million miles away from Far. When separated – such as with the galloping punk rock of ‘Newsstand Rock (Exposition)’and the dubby ska of ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ – these subgenres are easily identifiable. But it’s the unique but natural blending of them that make RX such a remarkable outfit – songs like ‘Dinna-Dawg (And The Inevitable Onset Of Lunacy)’ and ‘Prophetic’ come alive through urgent, near-prog-rock riffing, quick-fire drumming and melodic-punk melodies. Embree’s choruses truly soar; none better than on ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ and ‘Falling Down The Mountain’, the latter with a sublime, extended jazz interlude led by the sax player. The brass players only chime in from time to time, when the music requires it, but other than a few key moments – that jazz interlude, the ska-heavy ‘Taking Chase As The Serpent Slithers’, and parts of ‘Pal-Treaux’ – they mainly keep quiet.

The undeniable highlights are ‘Mastering The List’ and album and main set closer ‘Decrescendo’. They are arguably the two best songs RX Bandits have ever written; at the very least they are the best fromThe Resignation. Both feature intricate, intelligent guitar passages, infectious melodies, subtle ska undertones and heavy, math-rock riffs that would make Biffy Clyro weak at the knees. Both are complete packages, encompassing all the wonderful layers of this band. The final quarter of ‘Decrescendo’ has the whole floor opening up, while the band aggressively lunge around the intimate stage – one of my all-time favourite climaxes to a punk rock song, and the perfect way to end both a record and a main set.

After a reasonably lengthy absence, in which the audience chant “RXB”, the band return for an encore, playing a few non-Resignation tracks. To be honest, although this encore includes two of their best tracks – ‘In Her Drawer’ from …And the Battle Begun and a joyful rendition of ‘Infection’ from Progress, minus the screams – tonight’s set was all about The Resignation. And it was a pitch-perfect performance; not done for money or exposure or any kind of pointless trip down memory lane, but done for the RX fans who willed them over from The States to these modest settings via sheer love. These fans don’t love RX Bandits just for The Resignation – as they love what the band has done before and since, evidenced by the reception the encore tracks get – but they do possibly love RX because of The Resignation. Like me, this album would probably have been the introduction to their brand of politically charged, progressive ska punk. And the band knows this. They’re humbled by this. And this is why they’re here tonight.

Originally published by AAAmusic here

Christian Scott – Live @ Ronnie Scott’s

•November 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Thursday November 21st, London

The EFG London Jazz Festival 2013 has seen some of the new breed’s most exciting artists, but none finer than American trumpeter Christian Scott. Tonight’s Ronnie Scott’s concert is by far the most exciting and memorable of the whole week; a singular triumph that encompasses both the true spirit of classic jazz and the fiery ambition of contemporary jazz. In an age where our young jazz performers are closing their craft in on electronica, RnB and post-rock, it’s beyond refreshing to hear an artist work in inventive ways without compromising the core elements of the genre’s beautiful history.

Christian Scott, just 30-years-old, is one hell of a stage presence. Hailing from New Orleans, he fills this prestigious, intimate venue with his confidence; all hip hop swagger, steely eyes and sultry smirks. As a band leader, he is authoritative yet surprisingly generous, often allowing his guitarist (Matthew Stevens), bluesy double bass player (Kris Funn), formerly of Kenny Garrett’s band, and snare-loving drummer (Corey Fonville,  just 23-years-old!) to dominate proceedings while he nods in approval.

Scott explains that he’s rather emotional, as tonight is the penultimate gig with guitarist Stevens, his collaborator of 11 years, who is off to start his new band. The influence of Stevens on both Scott’s recorded music and show is considerable, as his melodic, near-indie guitar lines are a large part of what makes Scott appealing to those unaccustomed to the trumpet jazz greats. There are almost as many guitar solos – which are incredibly intricate and at times border on avant-garde rock – as there are trumpet solos, and the second track aired tonight, ‘After All’ from 2010 album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, was actually written by Stevens.

When Christ Scott does solo, it’s explosive and visceral in a way that this reviewer hasn’t heard since…ever. He is this generation’s greatest jazz trumpeter, in my humble opinion. He plays his instrument, which is bent facing up, in a trance, and the sounds are transportive, often aggressive, without ever leaving the attendees behind. His rendition of Herbie Hancock’s Eye of the Hurricane’ is sublime, as is his dedication to his wife, ‘Isadora’. Scott’s personality and humour shine through his many anecdotes, none more sincere than when he talks about his wife, who actually joins the band to sing Emily King’s ‘Georgia’. There is no love-drunk hyperbole in his declaration of her talent; she has a huge, soulful voice, and it’s delightful to see them riff off each other, staring adoringly into each other’s eyes.

The highlight is main set closer ‘K.K.P.D.’ from Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, a politically charged composition referencing Scott’s encounter with immoral police back home when he was younger. It’s extraordinarily heated, with Scott’s notes erupting from his gut; occasionally he turns his back to blow his trumpet down into a second microphone facing up from the floor. It wasn’t just the highlight of the set, but the highlight of the entire festival.

As an encore, Christian Scott invites the audience to join him on stage as they chant a ‘traditional New Orleans Indian call and response’ song – this includes the mighty pianist Robert Glasper who sidled in halfway through the set (only at the London Jazz Festival!). An intriguing finale to a storming set; Scott is in league of his own.

Originally published by AAAmusic here

Hidden Orchestra + Floex – Live @ The Scala

•November 23, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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Wednesday 20th November, London

With both of their ‘Orchestras’ programmed into this year’s London Jazz Festival – Submotion Orchestra last week and Hidden Orchestra tonight – Soundcrash (and the Soundcrash extended family) are safely riding 2013 out on a high, a year in which they have both cemented their status as London’s premier alternative event curator and significantly expanded their sphere of activity. Having been part of the Soundcrash fabric for some time (this reviewer first saw them supporting Daedelusat his 2011 Soundcrash KOKO show), this is Hidden Orchestra’s largest ever headline show in the capital – it initially was meant to take place at the diminutive Cargo before demand prompted a swift upgrade to The Scala.

First up tonight, however, is a very special supporting guest: Czech producer-composer Floex (akaTomáš Dvořák) and his band, for what is apparently the band’s first show in London. And Dvořák couldn’t looked more elated to be here; his big beaming smile and humbled body language implies that if he could extend his arms around each and every attendee for one giant hug, he would. Accompanied by a full live band – including a solid drummer, bass clarinettist (who also utilises some kind of ‘wind controller’) and female singer – Floex shows just why he’s an artist’s artist, and what London has been missing by his absence.

Floex

Dancing (literally) between electronic equipment, keys, percussion and his trusty clarinet, Dvořák and co. plough through extended versions of his Warp/Nina Tune influenced compositions. ‘Gone’ and ‘Nel Blue’, with their ethereal female vocals and trip hop underbellies, clearly influenced by Bonobo, are nice and chilled, while ‘Precious Creature’, with its pulsating woodwind groove, and a warped version of ‘Self Portrait #7’, which closes the set, best showcase the originality of their clarinet integration. At one point Floex is joined by members of his “favourite band” Hidden Orchestra, who he considers to come from the “same universe” as Floex (indeed he’s right!), but adding trumpet lines to dual clarinets results in a bit of a muddled sound. Instead, the highlight comes courtesy of a revved-up rendition of ‘Mecholup’ from his 2011 Zorya album – it boasts the finest and most melodic clarinet lines of the evening, a grumbling, bassier undertone, and an inventive techno beat via Dvořák’s manipulation at his production desk. Soundcrash, please get Floex back to London for a headline show ASAP; they are more than worthy.

Hidden Orchestra have come armed with a new AV show – and no, this doesn’t mean a white screen with projected images of landscapes or computer generated patterns, something that has become customary for live electronic music. H.O.’s show is the most inventive I’ve seen in some time: several groupings of white discs – some stacked horizontally and some placed in front of the band’s central desk, with one big disc placed high in the background – display intelligent, morphing images such as speakers, eggs, candles and live footage of the band, all controlled by an onset live AV manipulator.

As interesting as the visuals are (and they are very interesting), what marks Hidden Orchestra out as a truly memorable live band is, of course, their music and choice of instruments. Mainman Joe Acheson (bass) and Poppy Ackroyd (violin, keys) are set up behind a desk of electronic equipment, from which they also control the mixing and samples, etc, as is their touring trumpet player who joins them for much of the set. Flanking the desk are two drum kits set up to face each other, from which drummers Tim Lane and Jamie Graham either fire different layers of intricate hip hop beats at each other, or, when the music is at its most climatic, hammer their drums in unison or take turns to smash out erratic fills or mini solos.

The band kick off with the opener of their 2012 album Archipelago, ‘Overture’ – a track that sums everything about H.O., from the brooding bass, trumpet murmurs, melodic strings and Portishead-esque beat; all of it slowly building from a quiet intro to a crashing, post-rock crescendo. From here on the setlist is pretty much perfect – the menacing dramatic movements of personal favourite ‘Reminder’, the bass-heavy wobble of ‘Tired and Awake’ and ‘Flight’, the latter containing oriental flutters, and the melodic contemporary jazz of ‘Seven Hunters’ are all played with perfection. The chords, pacing and effects on ‘Spoken’ are melancholic in a fine, Thom Yorke sort of way. Ackroyd’s little dances with her violin bow and shuffles when on keys are a joy to watch, and Acheson is convincingly genuine in his repeated ‘thank yous’ to the crowd.

One of the set’s highlights is when Hidden Orchestra are joined by Floex (the man not the band) on clarinet for ‘Hushed’, a song they co-wrote “over the Internet”. The other highlight is main set closer‘Antiphon’, from their debut 2011 album Night Walks, which is hypnotic in a Portico Quartet kind of way, but with added classical drama – the dual drumming in the last movement is beyond thrilling. They reemerge to deliver what is fast becoming their standard encore, a little known B-side called ‘The Revival’, which boasts hypnotic violin squeals, rock drums and an aggressive bass core. This performance is nothing short of a triumph for Hidden Orchestra, a forward-thinking jazz-electronica fusion band who not only deserve their billing at year’s London Jazz Festival, but deserve to be commanding bigger audiences at grander venues.

Originally published by AAAmusic here

 
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