Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sounds New

Saturday 21st May — a great day...beautiful weather, I heard my first cuckoo (the start of summer!) and saw, from very close up, an egret taking off from the stream in the woods between Tyler Hill and Broad Oak. In the evening I cycled out to "The Bungalow" on the Old Dover Road, current HQ of Canterbury bands Delta Sleep and Lapis Lazuli. Phil from Lapis had mentioned that there was going to be a party with bands playing — it turned out to have been going since early afternoon in the back garden, with gazebo and PA set up for the occasion. I'd just missed Delta Sleep (Adam the drummer assured me that they'd played "terribly"), but Lapis were just setting up, so I got to see/hear/record their set. A real treat. A bit later, most of Zoo For You turned up, from a rehearsal, and played a 45 minute instrumental set of mostly new stuff, also very enjoyable. I had my saz with me, but by the time acoustic jams had begun in the house it was all a bit loud and intoxicated (still fun though, sazzing along with Tony from Folkestone and his songs).

A great evening, the Lapis set having left a powerful impression. I thought they were extremely tight, but a few days later realised that what I'd experience had just been the band in relaxed party mood...they played a 140 minute set at The Ballroom for the Sounds New festival (a contemporary music and sound art thing that happens here every year) on Wednesday 25th. I recorded this too, and they were really tight (and properly mixed). So much going on with this band it's hard to keep track of. Most of their pieces are at least 15 minutes long, with numerous twists and turns, changes of instrument, time signature and/or mood. There's still a heavy prog/post-rock foundation, but Phil's tenor sax playing has added an interesting circus/Gypsy/Balkan times the sound almost reminded me of the classic era Cardiacs (the Cardiacs playing a kind of ska, at one point!).

Phil's also playing some accordion, so there are emerging tango vibes, as well as a kind of an epic "spacefunk" piece called "Big Bird" which evolves into a shakuhachi solo (as well as borrowing part of The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"!). They've got a huge, expansive sound, with Cameron on bass and Adam on drums comprising a seriously impressive rhythm section. This long set was fully engaging throughout, no sense of anything dragging or flagging or getting dull or repetitive.

Cameron was back on The Ballroom's stage the next night, as he's also part of The Boot Lagoon, who played the Thursday Sounds New slot. Seth the drummer had been away in Argentina (teaching flute, apparently), so the rest of the band had taken the opportunity to work out an acoustic set. Seth actually opened this with a virtuosic, rather "Flute Salad"-like flute solo, then quickly took his place behind the drums, Cal on piano, Cam on double bass, Pete on electric guitar (but no effects, they having all been recently stolen in Brixton). It was great to hear some of their familiar pieces given this new treatment (Cal sounding excellent on a grand piano).

We then got some poets (who I had already got a rather negative opinion of, due to their talking loudly through the Boot set, while sitting near me, up near the stage) reading over some specially prepared soundscapes. These varied. More interesting than a poetry-free setbreak, anyway. The Boot then came back and powered through a high-energy electric set. I captured both sets on my Zoom H2 (similarly with the Lapis gig the night before) and will almost certainly be podcasting some of this on future Canterbury Soundwaves episodes.

Going back a couple of days to Tuesday 24th, local psychedelic jazz fusion band The-Quartet also played The Ballroom for Sounds New. I arrived a bit late, just as guitarist Jack Hues was bringing a young singer called Violet to the stage. I happened to know that this was his daughter (Miriam from Random Article was once involved in a production of Under Milk Wood with her). She sang a song I didn't recognise, what I assumed to be a fairly recent pop song she'd chosen, not a particularly engaging arrangement (to my ears at that moment). I was a bit confused, having expected some kind of psychedelic jazz-rock experience — what was this?

It turns out that rather than rather than letting his daughter sing a song of her choice with the band, this had been Joni Mitchell's "Marcie", from her first album (which I've somehow failed to hear after all these years), and it turns out to have been an integral part of the evening's concept (more on that later). Next, also somewhat unexpected, but more enjoyable, The-Quartet ripped into David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair". They cracked that one right open, gave it the full American jamband-type treatment. I'd forgotten what a great song this is, and in going back to check the original on CSNY's Déjà Vu, I found this seriously powerful live version:

Unfortunately this had something to do with the execrable "Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame" (how un-rock'n'roll can you get?), but the sound is fantastic, Stephen Stills shredding on his Strat...and heartening to see that David Crosby's still flying his freak flag after all these years, and all he's been through.

Anyway, back to Canterbury. After the setbreak, Jack explained the concept. The-Quartet had composed a piece in collaboration with a pair of poets (from the University of Kent's School of English): Simon Smith and David Herd. The piece was executed with the poets reading sometimes in alternation, sometimes simultaneously. Everyone had been given a little booklet with the entire text, some people were following along carefully (unfortunately the poets weren't always easy to hear due to miking issues).

The piece began with an interpretation of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" (wonderful, and I got a reasonable quality recording, to be featured on Canterbury Soundwaves episode 8). "then it kicked off...big time" (opening words of the poetry). The character Marcie from Joni Mitchell's song recurs through the poem (with the melody drifting in and out), which explains why they played it in the first set. It also transpired that the drummer was Mark Holub from the mighty Led Bib, presumably filling in for Dave Smith, The-Quartet's current drummer. It's always a pleasure to watch MH drumming (his facial expressions and the general way he moves his limbs). And Sam Bailey on piano was a revelation.

Overall, the poetry collaboration was a great success apart from the problem of miking the poets effectively. I'm hoping they'll do it again...


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